December 13, 2011
By pretty much any possible standard, the NBA has mishandled the Chris Paul situation in New Orleans, creating a state of affairs in which the only deal that could be deemed acceptable would put Paul in much the same situation he's in now, on a team with few other assets and little room to grow. Many people can be blamed for this mess, but Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert deserves special mention for writing a strongly worded letter to David Stern after the first trade with the Lakers was already set. Without that intervention, we might not be forced to deal with this story line for the next few months.
At least one notable NBA commentator decided to call Gilbert out for his petulance. Here's what former Suns GM and current TNT analyst Steve Kerr had to say on San Francisco sports leader KNBR (via Deadspin):
"Every one of them is wrong and I don't know how many there are either but I've been angry all day long about this whole thing because I think it was a great basketball trade. There are so many trades made these days that are lousy trades that are made for financial purposes. I mean I made one of the worst trades in NBA history. I traded Kurt Thomas and two first round picks to Seattle for nothing, to save 16 million dollars for our organization. Where was the NBA then to veto that trade for basketball reasons? That had nothing to do with basketball reasons. I understand what they're saying is they own the Hornets and ultimately they have the right to veto any move. Okay so from a legal standpoint I guess they're okay, but the problem I have is that this was a great trade for the Hornets. There's no way they can duplicate that. [...]
"The Lakers make more than any team in the league so [Gilbert] would have gotten all that tax money that he wanted or whatever. It's such a crock that he would even mention that. That guy is a billionaire, they have been way over the cap while they had LeBron, way over the tax. He's still upset that he lost LeBron and he needs to get over it. LeBron gave that franchise the best seven years they have ever had. He was a free agent and he decided to leave. Nobody likes the way LeBron left, even he apologized for it the other night on TV but the fact is there is a thing called free agency and if a superstar player wants to leave when they are agents, they can leave. That's their right."
It's worth noting that Kerr is maybe the only GM in history to resign instead of sticking around for as long as possible, so he clearly has some strong feelings on the actions of small-market hawks like Gilbert and Suns owner Robert Sarver. As Kerr mentions, general managers make cost-cutting measures because of ownership pressures and are never stopped for vague "basketball reasons." What made this case extra special? How can the league stand for that sort of hypocrisy?
More generally, it's easy to see how Kerr's reaction could become a problem for the league's image. If Stern vetoed the deal to appeal to casual fans intent on seeing each team have a chance to compete, it's possible that they won't read too much into this situation and think that he has every franchise's best interests at heart. But those same casual fans watch Kerr and other national TV personalities, to the point where they're more likely to take their cues from those commentators instead of league officials. If Kerr and others are annoyed, their opinions are likely to become conventional wisdom. Only bloggers and reporters read league statements, but everyone watches TNT and ESPN.
So, good job, guys. You've alienated the very same people who help mold the average fan's take on the state of the NBA. Way to avoid that PR disaster.