Aug 20, 2011, 9:00 AM EST
Over at TrueHoop, Kevin Arnovitz is the latest in a long stream of really thoughtful people to start trotting down a path that is hyper-supportive of the free market and very skeptical of the value of any handouts. The topic in this particular instance is the draft, and how if the 2011-2012 season is lost in totality, perhaps the NBA should abandon the draft. The concept is to allow players to just enter as free agents and let the chips fall where they may. Its foundation is based on a conversation between Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons (because if I’m searching for practical solutions to real-life problems, THAT’s exactly where I’m starting) about how the real answer to contention is free agency, not the draft, and because it’s illogical to reward losing, every team should have an equal shot in the lottery. Arnovitz takes it a few steps further. It’s the NBA deregulation equivalent of saying “really, that toxic spill is the ducks’ problem.” But Arnovitz makes a good case as he always does:
If you wanted to extend Gladwell’s idea even further, why not eliminate the draft altogether in 2012 in the event of a lost season? Declare every eligible incoming player a free agent and allow the market (and the restraints of the salary cap) to dictate where they land.
We often assume that small-market teams would get the shaft, but are we absolutely certain that Harrison Barnes would agree to take a minimum salary (for the sake of this exercise, let’s say there’s a “rookie minimum exception” of $2 million for teams with zero cap room) from the Lakers when Sacramento could back up the truck for his services and guarantee him the starting small forward position for years to come? Would a Jared Sullinger or Anthony Davis be willing to play out of position as a fourth option in Miami for millions less than he could earn in Indiana?
We don’t know, but for a league that’s grappling for a new financial model and examining issues like revenue sharing and competitive balance, it would be useful to find out. In a draft-less world, rookies would be paid at market value and teams that have been frugal would have an advantage over those who have spent lavishly. Most incoming players would have to balance factors like dollars, touches and the allure of a marquee market.
Couple of thoughts here, and because I’m not a good enough writer after forty-nine days of lockout brain damage, I’m going to use bullets. That’s right. Bullets.
- As a starting point, let’s take a quick review of contending teams in the NBA. The Spurs were the top seed in the league, and have won four championships in twelve years. Plus they’re a small market. It’s a good thing that they’ve negotiated free agency so well to get Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Gino… oh, no. Well, hold on. Oklahoma City has all that cap space, and they were within range of the Finals, everyone says they’re going to be champions at some point with this core. I remember when they made that offer to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in… no. Well, hey, the Celtics did completely build their core around the guys they brought in in 2007. Not like they drafted Paul Pierce and then used younger players they drafted to pull in Garnett and Ray All… whoops. I’ve run the joke dry, so, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Dwyane Wade all drafted. Can you win with free agency? Yeah, pretty sure the Heat prove that theory, but it’s a combination of both.
- Next, there’s this prevailing concept that there is no reason to try and weight things against small markets, that the open market will take care of itself. Getting beyond the absurdity that is the fact the Lakers have been in 31 of 63 Finals and both Boston and Los Angeles have more combined championships than the Steelers, Cowboys, Patriots, Broncos, Raiders, 49ers, Packers, and Dolphins, a quick trip down memory lane brings up a few fun ones. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sticking Milwaukee and heading to LA for his prime, Shaq abandoning Orlando for the same, Dennis Johnson’s career in whole, Bill Walton all the same, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Amar’e Stoudemire, Pau Gasol, we’re not really lacking for examples of the cream rising to the largely populated top. But let’s just take those as outliers, rare random exceptions in a sea of small market success. In fact, let’s get past the whole impact of markets in general.
- The real problem isn’t even necessarily markets. It’s the perception that winning is success and that success is any sort of indicator year by year of whether the team is run well. That sounds moronic, right? How can it be wrong to determine how good a team is by looking at their success? The answer is that these things go in cycles. Let’s take Jared Sullinger for example. Let’s say Jared enters the big ol’ open market and the Spurs are interested for a lower price and the Hornets are interested for a slightly higher value. Arnovitz is correct that Sullinger will weigh the fact that if he goes to San Antonio he’ll be sitting behind Tim Duncan and if he goes to New Orleans he takes David West‘s spot. But Sullinger’s going to look at the two choices and examine which has a better chance of winning a title. Because while players love money, in their youth there’s also the idea that they can earn the money later. Win now, and your market value goes up immediately. But in reality, he wouldn’t sign with San Antonio. Or New Orleans. He’d probably sign with the Lakers. Why? Because when Pau Gasol is gone, he’s the Lakers’ power forward. Then he gets paid. So he gets to compete for a title now, take over when Gasol is gone and get the money, and on top of it? These are kids. Young men. And young men care about how cool something is. Brandon Jennings is a Buck and is happy enough about it. But he wanted to be a Knick because that’s cool. And that factor, which is exaggerated by the success of larger markets, is self-propelling.
- The real harm in a system without the draft isn’t to small market teams like New Orleans, or San Antonio. It’s to places like Minnesota, Milwaukee, Indiana, and Cleveland. Places that have terrible weather in the winter, no big reputation for being awesome, aren’t mentioned in songs, and are the kinds of places people on the coasts don’t care about. That’s a huge part in all this.
- You know what’s really frustrating? Back before the internet was really booming, when you needed an immediate weather update on a huge deadly storm in the Midwest, you went to the Weather Channel. Your local stations couldn’t afford updates in the middle of the day on a Saturday, so you went to the Weather Channel to find out if your house was going to be blown away. Unfortunately, the only updates you could get would be on how the weather was in Long Beach (GUESS WHAT, IT IS SUNNY AND 75 AGAIN TODAY!) or Long Island (mild rain showers, be sure to get those umbrellas, New York!). The results is that while houses are being blown away, the Weather Channel is focused on places that don’t have bad weather. That’s kind of the same deal here. Milwaukee’s ownership hasn’t been flawless, but they haven’t been cheap. They haven’t drafted exceptionally well, but they haven’t been terrible. But trying to compete in a free agency only system would drive them into nothingness. Which a lot of people are fine with because that means they end up getting contracted. Most of these people live on coasts and root for teams with great chances of winning a title next year.
- In reality, it’s good for the league to have some sort of idea that anyone can win a title, that the rest of the teams aren’t just around to be Washington Generals. I can definitely buy into the concept that we shouldn’t reward bad ownership (yet we do under the current pro-big-market system by letting Donald Sterling make a profit), and that this isn’t about helping out those who can’t help themselves. But creating change is good. Having a fanbase go from good to bad makes it more interesting when they have a revival. It lets them ease up on costs for a while as they rebuild, and re-evaluate. And having teams go from bad to good is essential in growing the fanbase of the entire league.
- Now, again, Arnovitz’ central idea is that it’s worth seeing if an open market would result in Sullinger signing with Milwaukee, or Charlotte, or Brooklyn with the decision weighted on what’s best for the player. But the risk is too great of some teams never being able to sign any young players, constantly over-paying for marginal veterans and staying in the range of terrible-to-barely-mediocre. Proof of that lies with the Bobcats of the past several years. They weren’t denied draft picks, they just traded or sold them. The Bobcats tried to rely on veterans, they used the trade market as their free agency counter. The result was a disaster it will take years to dig out of.
- Maybe it’s possible that all markets really are equal and that these 18 and 19 year-olds will follow the advice of their agents and make the best overall decision considering all factors. Maybe we’ll see equality throughout the land and it will serve only to further punish those teams who aren’t ran well. But it’s just as likely that teams that are run well but not exceptionally so in places that don’t have metro systems will find themselves tumbling down the wheel of disaster, with no way to slow their momentum or recover from a free agency departure or a bad injury. The bad get worse, and the worse get even worse, unless they’re metropolitan, in which case they lean on legacy and endorsements and they’re fine. At some point, we’ve got to decide whether we as fans want a league of teams or to seek out the elimination of those teams who aren’t doing well at this particular moment in time.
Dec 6, 2013, 11:47 PM EST
Russell Westbrook wasn’t the only one showcasing his range under pressure on Friday. Paul Millsap of the Hawks heaved a shot from well beyond half court to beat the first quarter buzzer against the Cavaliers, and it found nothing but the bottom of the net. We’d like to tell you that this particular heave mattered…
Dec 6, 2013, 10:31 PM EST
Anytime a player on either team hits a shot from a distance that borders on the absurd, the announcers on the telecast seemingly can’t wait to break out the local references in describing just how far away the attempt actually was. In this case, we had Russell Westbrook hitting a shot from near halfcourt to…
Dec 6, 2013, 9:23 PM EST
Ray Allen couldn’t do it. Neither could Reggie Miller or Stephen Curry or any of the other three-point marksman you can name. Kyle Korver has now made a three in 90 consecutive games, breaking the record Dana Barros set in 1996. He did it midway through the first quarter from above the break on the…
Dec 6, 2013, 6:52 PM EST
Otto Porter, the No. 3 pick of the Washington Wizards and the guy seen as their small forward of the future, could make his NBA debut Friday night. Porter, who strained his hip flexor in September and missed all of training camp and the start of the season, is active for the Wizards Friday night…
Dec 6, 2013, 6:04 PM EST
Kobe Bryant decided to stay home from Sacramento, but he will be in the Lakers lineup Sunday night against Toronto. Steve Nash went with the Lakers up to Sacramento after a week of limited practices but nobody has any idea when we will see him. Or even if we ever will. Nash spoke with reporters…
Dec 6, 2013, 5:23 PM EST
Kobe Bryant’s jersey has faced snow, rain and wind. Yet, it’s endured. That’s the lesson I took from the above video, which Kobe posted to Facebook today. Oh, and that Kobe will return Sunday against the Raptors. I guess he’s been through a lot, too. Sunday will mark just 240 days since he tore his…
Dec 6, 2013, 3:59 PM EST
Kevin Love will not suit up Saturday night when the Timberwolves host the Miami Heat for the one time this season. Love’s grandmother has passed away and he is not with the team right now. Timberwolves assistant coach Terry Porter said Friday Love will not play Saturday, tweets the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The Timberwolves…
Dec 6, 2013, 3:22 PM EST
UPDATE 5:37 pm: Kobe Bryant will make his return on Sunday night — he made the announcement in a Facebook video. Apparently he owns some FB stock. 3:22 pm: The Lakers are in Sacramento tonight. Kobe Bryant will be at his home in Newport Beach, trying to get his daughters to turn off the “Muppets…
Dec 6, 2013, 3:02 PM EST
Dana Barros, a little point guard out of Massachusetts who got to play for the Celtics as part of a 14-year NBA career, and while there he set a record: Eighty-nine consecutive games with a made three. If Kyle Korver knocks down a three Friday night when the Hawks host the Cleveland Cavaliers Korver will…
Dec 6, 2013, 2:19 PM EST
I would say the fact Houston has put Omer Asik on the trade block is the worst kept secret in the NBA, except it’s not a secret. Everybody knows it. The only questions are when he gets moved and where he lands. Talks have not progressed all that quickly because while other teams come in…
Dec 6, 2013, 1:54 PM EST
“They hate me, they hate me. I don’t know why, but it is what it is. I already know I’ve got the target on my back, but I’ll play through it; I don’t care. I really don’t. It doesn’t bother me none. If I get a call, I get a call. If I don’t, I…
Dec 6, 2013, 1:45 PM EST
The USA Today has a fantastic feature speaking to Rajon Rondo’s high school coach, Steve Smith (not the player Steve Smith, different guy). It’s well done, you can learn about Rondo as a young player. Then came this interesting tidbit when Smith was asked if he thought Rondo could bounce all the way back from…
Dec 6, 2013, 1:00 PM EST
Apparently Glen Davis was a big child. Very big. Big Baby just returned to the lineup for the first time since last January, when he broke a bone in his foot that took two surgeries to repair properly. He’s looked pretty good since coming back — he had 33 points in the game against Philadelphia…
Dec 6, 2013, 12:39 PM EST
Dwyane Wade is going to be taking a lot of games off this season as the Heat try to rest his knees for the playoffs. It started in the second game of the season and it will continue as he has been out 5 of the Heat’s 19 games (he missed the Bulls game Thursday…
Dec 6, 2013, 11:38 AM EST
Brook Lopez’s second season in the NBA the Nets went an ugly 12-70 (with him as their best player). This wasn’t a team trying to tank for the draft — the Nets got the third pick thanks to the lottery and chose Derrick Favors, who was moved in the Deron Williams deal — this was…
Dec 6, 2013, 11:12 AM EST
When the Knicks got Andrea Bargnani the sales pitch from the pro-Bargnani side was he could do things Steve Novak couldn’t — play some defense in the post and put the ball on the floor and blow by guys. Whether those skills are really worth $23 million over two years is now a moot question,…
Dec 6, 2013, 10:50 AM EST
LeBron James doesn’t like wearing his new shoes. I mean literally his shoes — the LeBron 11 by Nike. Usually if you have a signature shoe you wear it, and in LeBron’s case when he slips on the shoe it’s a lot of free promotion considering the spotlight on him. LeBron outsells any current player…
Dec 6, 2013, 8:44 AM EST
As Holly MacKenzie and plenty of other women will tell you, proposing to your girlfriend at a sporting event is your idea of a cool proposal, not hers. But if your girlfriend is a “Luvabulls” dancer in Chicago (that’s what they are called, it’s not my name) you can get away with it if you borrow…
Dec 6, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
Over the years, Dirk Nowitzki has cemented his status as one of the most unguaradable players in NBA history. There have been better scorers, and there have been better shooters, but Nowitzki is second-to-none when it comes to getting his shot off. It would be easy to peg Nowitzki’s 7-foot frame as the sole reason…
Dec 6, 2013, 2:38 AM EST
Our nightly grades from around the NBA, or what you missed while singing Doe, a deer, a female deer… Ray, a drop of golden sun… Mike Woodson, coach New York Knicks. For a night, the Knicks looked pretty good and so Woodson can sleep without the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head. The core…
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- Rumor: Carmelo Anthony recruiting Rajon Rondo to come to New York in 2015 17
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- LeBron not wearing new LeBron 11s, Nike “redefining” shoe for him 15
- LeBron says Wade is “getting that Kobe deal” in next contract. Should he? (64)
- Michael Beasley finding a role, groove in Miami (43)
- The Extra Pass: Our awards at the quarter pole, plus Monday recaps (42)
- Dwight Howard frustrated with Rockets’ effort in recent losses (40)
- Kobe Bryant dunks, looks good in Lakers practice; Friday return possible (38)