December 05, 2011
Last February, Chauncey Billups(notes) was traded from his home city of Denver to the New York Knicks. Whereas most players would be happy to play in such a large market, Billups and his family weren't especially thrilled, although they didn't make too big a stink about it. He's a professional, after all, and getting traded is part of the NBA life.
That said, there comes a point at which being traded often becomes a sizable nuisance and not just a known occupational hazard. Now that the Knicks are regular patrons at the rumor mill for Chris Paul(notes), Billups has been mentioned as part of pretty much any potential major trade. He's not very happy about it, as he told Howard Beck of The New York Times (via EOB):
Although a deal is only a remote possibility, it would surely involve Billups, who plays the same position (point guard) and who is one of the Knicks' few valued assets.
"It wouldn't make me happy," Billups said Friday in a phone interview from his Denver home. "Because for me, at this juncture in my career, I just want to win." [...]
"I want to win another championship," he said. "I think we got some good pieces in New York. I felt like we were making that move to be possibly one of those top teams. I don't want to play for no team that's rebuilding."
All talk of winning a championship aside, Billups has every right to be upset about this treatment purely in terms of his lifestyle. Certain professions involve lots of traveling or movement from city to city, but few require a player to move around as if he were a professional make-weight rather than a valued employee. Billups has been in New York for less than a year and still could be on his way out at the earliest opportunity. That's no way to live. And, if the new collective bargaining agreement changes the league as expected, we may see many more cases like this one in the future.
The new CBA allows for less player movement, but in doing so restricts a team's ability to make trades for important players. That means that few teams will have many tradable assets, both because cheap contracts will become more valuable and because it'll be difficult to make deals work legally while approaching anything like reasonable value. Certain players, particularly good players with not-small contracts like Billups, will become regular trade chips. It's not a particularly new thing in the NBA -- saying that contracts and not players have been traded is a regular occurrence -- but for the most part worthwhile starters have been prized for their talents, not their financial situations.
It's a bizarre situation for a league that tends to value veteran leadership and steady play. Billups has been an NBA Finals MVP and five-time All-Star, so it's not as if he's useless. The NBA isn't a normal work environement, but it's still pretty weird for good players to be turned into little more than numbers in a ledger. Ultimately, is the league better off when more and more players become thought of in terms of finances and not their production?