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Can we just be honest and say this is about LeBron?

Oct 23, 2011, 7:00 PM EDT

LeBron James AP

When “The Decision” happened, we said it would change the course of NBA history. We didn’t exactly see this coming.

Since the lockout began, there have been several storylines beneath the primary conflict. The racial component, the in-fighting between agents and union officials, the superstars’ interjecting themselves, it’s been a party of subplots. But this one has been just as talked about, even if it’s not written about as much. Dan LeBatard took it on full force Sunday.

If you think the hawkish Gilbert wouldn’t try to throw away an entire season out of pure spite for James, you didn’t read his crazy-crayon letter in a rare moment of raw, rabid public honesty from an owner — a temper tantrum unlike any in the history of an American sports ownership that includes George Steinbrenner. And you didn’t notice how small he could behave by having his Fathead company price the James poster at $17.41 — the year of Benedict Arnold’s birth. And you don’t know how petty rich people can be when playing this kind of negotiating game of ego and power, emotion trampling logic just like when a divorcing wealthy couple spends $100,000 in attorney fees arguing over a thousand dollars in china.

Think about all the ego and money in the room when those owners meet. Think about how accustomed these men with yachts are to getting their way in every walk of life. That kind of wealth isn’t usually accrued by sharing and compromise; these men tend to be rich because cutthroat is what wins in business. Given that there are so many different interests in that room, and given that these owners aren’t really in it for the money, why would Gilbert want to help Arison with urgency, exactly? Even if he is not motivated by spite, what exactly is Gilbert’s impetus to settle quickly? You think he’s in a big hurry to go 19-63 again? Better for him to lose the season, break the union, fix the system and win that way than to fight the Timberwolves for worst record again. Trying to beat the players in a negotiation is more fun than that. Letting Dwyane Wade age another year next to James without playing would be a happy bonus for Gilbert, even if it isn’t his outright goal.

via NBA lockout pits selfish owners against each other – Dan Le Batard –

You may be the sort to think that Gilbert is a businessman, concerned with his business, the one of making money. That he wouldn’t allow personal feelings to drive a decision-making process of this magnitude. To that I would offer you to revisit Gilbert’s personal and public jabs at James. All Gilbert had to do was release a statement about his disappointment with James and then move on, and not keep needling, and he would be considered a victim. As it stands, Gilbert has come off as someone playing a personal vendetta out, and it appears to have taken to the lockout as well.

In the bigger, non-Comic-Sans sense, though, this lockout really is about the summer of 2010. You had teams from Dan Gilbert and Robert Sarver’s teams head to East Coast teams with huge payrolls. The Heat aren’t a huge market. But Arison, as LeBatard notes, is obscenely rich, as opposed to Gilbert, who’s just ridiculously rich. Then a year and a half later, we’re in danger of losing a season because those same owners are diametrically opposed to anything short of a system that puts them into a closer bracket financially with those teams, and, oh, yeah, would cost Arison a year of his super-team.

A nasty consequence of this comes with the implication that the owners are revolting against player power. That’s what the past year has been about. James, Bosh, and Wade forming their own future. Carmelo Anthony forcing a trade, but not just anywhere, to the exact team he wanted. The hints that Chris Paul would be joining Melo and Amar’e. It all points to a redesign of the power structure in the NBA, which has always been star-lead but team-controlled, to a system where manifest destiny is the norm. The lockout seeks to end all that.

To be sure, the players will get benefits from staying put. But the lowered cap, be it through a hard cap or advanced luxury tax structures, seeks to hinder the ability of a player’s suitors from nabbing him in free agency. The elimination or redefinition of the mid-level exception is geared to keep supporting players’ salaries low and from being an albatross. In short, the team regains control of the players. That’s part of the objective. It’s not the biggest objective, that’s simply to take back lots and lots of money to stop the bleeding of losses in one move. That’s reasonable.

But the moderates and extremists among the owners are made up of owners who can afford to spend to win, who treat the team as an expensive toy, and owners who have lost their stars and are vindictive about it, or in the case of Peter Holt, know that next time they may not be so lucky as to have a reasonable, loyal superstar to re-sign.

Players play on contracts. They’re supposed to be movable commodities. But in the owners’ mind, those commodities are to be moved by the owners, not by the whims and desires of the product. At least not to the level the power play over the past year and a half has shown. Certain owners are committed to disallowing the players from determining their future. And some, it certainly seems, are committed to punishing those players who turned their backs on the teams that drafted them.

  1. goforthanddie - Oct 23, 2011 at 7:24 PM

    Well, if you wanna blame Gilbert and his hate-on for leb, you have to give him credit: it’s brilliant, and it’s working.

  2. beagle11 - Oct 23, 2011 at 7:36 PM

    Great article…. Really makes a lot of sense

  3. mondzy805 - Oct 23, 2011 at 8:21 PM

    All these petty Owners, want insurance on their mistakes. Some have no idea how to build a winning team, yet they want guaranteed profits. And don’t get me started on the players. If theirs no Christmas Day games, I’m really gonna be pissed.

  4. darealrandolph - Oct 23, 2011 at 8:52 PM

    if stupid Dan Gilbert want lebron to stay he shuld have pulled the trigger on J.J Hickson for Amare Stoudemire then maybe we wouldnt have this mess. image if Lebron and Amare in Cleveland maybe Gilbert wouldnt be pushing for the lockout

    • ljl2 - Oct 24, 2011 at 2:27 PM

      Hm…I wonder how Gilbert “pulling the trigger” would have changed the Suns from being the ones who declined the trade?

  5. micklethepickle - Oct 23, 2011 at 9:00 PM

    The second half of this article was great (I doubt that the other owners would indulge Gilbert’s bitterness this way if there weren’t valid reasons for the lockout), and it illustrates exactly why every NBA fan that doesn’t root for LAL/BOS/MIA/NYK should hope the owners regain control of the league. It’s fun to hate on the Big 3 from MIA/BOS, but in all honesty I’d much rather see MIN or WAS (or some other perennial crap-heap) make it to the Finals.

    • jamaicanjasta - Oct 23, 2011 at 9:44 PM

      The owners already have control of the league. If you’re saying that large market teams shouldn’t dominate as much as they do based on finances I get that. But honestly the owners themselves are the reason why certain teams are struggling competitively and/or financially. Being a big market team hasn’t made the Knicks a competitive team in the recent past, nor has it precluded teams like the smaller markets like the Spurs from winning multiple championships.

      A labor deal should be based on fairness and of course the players were going to have to give back this time, but a balance shouldn’t be made that guarantees terrible front office decisions will be rewarded with profits. I see that a lot of ‘owner supporters’ claim they want parity like the NFL, but parity is achieved in that league not by non-guaranteed contracts or anything like that.

      Several teams in the NFL have had terrible streaks rivaling ANY of those of NBA franchises, a fact that contradicts the point that many of you have made that the players are to blame for the terrible contracts NBA owners hand out.

      I also see the terribly fallacious argument that because the owners assume ‘the risk’ that they deserve not only the lion’s share of profits (because a proposed 50/50 split of BRI is disingenuous, as money is already taken off the top before the split by owners for expenses) while neglecting the fact that the players are simultaneously the PRODUCT and the EMPLOYEES. You can’t claim that the players should accept whatever the owners offer when they’re also the product the owners are selling.

      Finally, I find it mind-boggling that many of those who support the owners are saying (and I quote from a post I’ve read here) they should “crush the players” and that’s capitalism, are also supportive of extracting hundreds of millions more from large market teams to subsidize the smaller markets.

      This whole episode boils down to the owners wanting to guarantee profits for their individual franchises no matter how terribly they’re run and no matter how many terrible contracts they sign (Joe Johnson, Hedo, etc). Obviously, the players were going to have to return money this time around but blaming the inequities of this system on them alone is short-sighted.

      The owners are to blame for the lack of parity in the NBA, not the players. The same with the finances, they are the ones signing these contracts, they’re not being forced to do so.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Oct 24, 2011 at 12:20 PM

        “Several teams in the NFL have had terrible streaks rivaling ANY of those of NBA franchises”

        name them.

      • jamaicanjasta - Oct 24, 2011 at 5:08 PM

        I’ll gladly list them Chris.

        Over the last 10 years (not including 2010, so 2000-2009, the same will be the case for the NBA teams), the worst teams in the NFL in terms of winning percentage:

        Detroit Lions 42-118 W/L .263 Winning Percentage
        Cleveland Browns 57-103 W/L .356 Winning Percentage
        Houston Texans 49-79 W/L 383 Winning Percentage
        Oakland Raiders 62-98 W/L .388 Winning Percentage

        Of these teams, only two in the last decade have even made the playoffs, and for Oakland that was at the beginning of the decade (2000). In the same period of time, the Lions only won more than 7 games (still a sub .500 record) once.

        Now let’s compare that to the worst NBA teams in that same period:

        Charlotte 156-284 W/L .355 Winning Percentage
        L.A. Clippers 311-512 W/L .378 Winning Percentage
        Atlanta 312-510 W/L .380 Winning Percentage
        Memphis 317-505 W/L .386 Winning Percentage
        Golden State 322-500 W/L .392 Winning Percentage

        Almost of these NBA teams had a better winning percentage than the NFL teams I listed above. Also, the Clippers, Hawks and I believe Charlotte made the playoffs in that period.

        I guess what I’m saying is, regardless of the sport and league, bad front office decisions will make bad teams.

      • borderline1988 - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:02 PM

        I disagree.

        There is a major difference between the NBA and NFL. You are correct in that bad management can render NFL teams inept for years on end (just like the NBA). However, if you were to stick good management and good coaching on any team in the NFL, it’s very likely that that team will develop into a quality, contending team within 3 – 4 years.

        Contrast that with the NBA. You can stick amazing coaches and incredible GMs on the Raptors, and the chances of them becoming championship contenders within 3 – 4 years is still fairly small. The only way for a small-market NBA team to turn itself into a legitimate championship contender is to get lucky in the draft (ie OKC, Spurs, etc.). You need to draft a superstar and then hope things go your way before he leaves in 7 years. Everyone talks about how well OKC is run, and that it is an example for small market teams.
        Absolute nonsense. Drafting the NBA’s leading scorer, KD, was all luck. Had they had the first pick in that draft, they would’ve drafted a certain centre, and they would still be mired in conference basement.

        On the other hand, let’s look at the Knicks. To become championship contenders, all they have to do is dump contracts, trade draft picks, and then wait for superstars to become free agents. It’s true that the Knicks were bad for half a decade due to mismanagement. But when they finally got serious, it took them maybe 3 years to become one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. And after they sign Paul or Howard, they will be a championship contender.
        The NBA is clearly heading in that direction. The Knicks and Heat became championship contenders simply by waiting for superstars to fall in their lap. In the end, it’ll be a 4-5 team race to the championship. Dallas, LA, NY and Miami. Those will be your perennial contenders, because they are destination cities. If you don’t think the NBA is heading in that direction, you’re delusional, or simply choose to ignore what has happened in the past 3 years.

      • borderline1988 - Oct 25, 2011 at 10:18 PM

        I should also point out that if you were to argue that inputting hard caps or changing BRI structure is unlikely to change how the NBA works, you’re probably right. The NBA will never have the parity of the NFL, b/c one player is worth so much. Getting lucky in the draft is the only surefire way of elevating a basement-dwelling team, regardless of what the new CBA says.

        That being said, I would argue for the following: Allow one superstar per team. Each team should only be able to pay more than, say $12 million, to one player only. That way, if superstars want to pull a Heat-move, they would have to agree to major reductions in salary, which ultimately, I doubt they will. It would bring a lot of parity into the game.

        I also would not allow contracts of more than 4 years in length. I know that bad management is the owners faults, not the players. But it’s ridiculous that b/c of a stupid move by one manager, the team will be hampered for like 8 years (see the Hawks).

        In the final analysis, NBA players get paid ridiculous amounts of money, and have average salaries that are much higher than the other major leagues. Money is not a big issue in my opinion. Parity is. That should be the focus of the new NBA.

        I’m from Toronto btw. And its maddening to see both the Raptors and Blue Jays have practically no shot at championship contention for the past 15 years b/c of the way the NBA and MLB are structured. It sucks and I can tell you, over time, teams lose fans when the teams stink for long periods of time.

      • yournuts - Oct 26, 2011 at 10:17 PM

        Unfortunately Jamaicajasta you blame the owners for everything. Sorry Charlie thats not the way it is in the real world. If the owners put up the money for the league they HAVE THE RIGHT to make the rules and the PLAYERS, who are EMPLOYEES, can play somewhere else if they DON’T LIKE TO PLAY BY THE RULES.

      • yournuts - Oct 26, 2011 at 10:25 PM

        So by not signing a contract with the players association now, the owners have the right to LOCK THE PLAYERS OUT, until such time as the players association accept a deal with the owners? Right? Is that what your saying? In one breath you say that the owners signed a bad deal before and it’s not the players fault? Right? But the owners are not signed to any deal anymore? Right? That means the players have to come to some agreement with the owners? Right? SO WHATS YOUR POINT? THIS IS WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT!

    • dcipher80 - Oct 23, 2011 at 10:26 PM

      Exactly… Been saying this for weeks. I do feel bad for rooting against the ability for an individual to seek his hearts desire anywhere he sees fit but I am. The owners may be jerks but what they want makes the product better, so I gotta be all for it (as a die hard NBA fan).

    • blueintown - Oct 24, 2011 at 8:01 AM

      @mickle — why?

  6. ryanbarc - Oct 23, 2011 at 11:21 PM

    Well stated Moore! Try not to fumble in OT in the future.

  7. lameasish - Oct 23, 2011 at 11:27 PM

    This is so funny to me, has anyone seen his show? He’s on there with his dad…it seriously is the worst sports show on TV, just another loud mouth looking for ratings

  8. savocabol1 - Oct 24, 2011 at 8:15 AM

    One owner can’t derail everything. It isn’t an all or nothing negotiation. You really think if 29 owners want something they aren’t going to get it all because of one guy? This is really a great, short-sighted “article”.

    Plus, of course someone like Lebatard is bashing the Cavs owner…..Lebatard is a Miami writer. This site’s hate for Dan Gilbert is almost as strong as its love for Lebron.

    • sknut - Oct 24, 2011 at 10:32 AM

      I agree this is about a group of small market owners willing to kill the season to fix the league and they should. Yes the Knicks haven’t been competitive for some time but the fact they are New York and players want to go there and force their way there is what is frustrating the small market owners. Its as if the small market teams are farm systems for the big boys.

      I do agree to a players right to choose but they are running the asylum and need to be stopped at some point.

  9. fouldwimmerlaik - Oct 24, 2011 at 12:11 PM

    I am all for letting the owners take back control. The league was much better when they had it. As for punishing the arrogant players, well, that is just an enjoyable by-product.

  10. ljl2 - Oct 24, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    When did Dan Gilbert get control of half of the league’s teams? I must have missed the coupe that gave him deciding power on negotiations.

    Though, I did get the memo last season where he was elected by owners to the Board of Governors…

  11. silk32 - Oct 24, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    This is what Gilbert “really” meant in his rant about Lebron >> .. The media which co-signs for the owners, is the other part of this triangle you failed to mention.

  12. rreducla1 - Oct 29, 2011 at 4:31 AM

    It’s probably not “about LeBron” for anybody except maybe Dan Gilbert. LeBron is, however, a handy way to shape the narrative to allow the owners to fool the ignorant, the uninformed, and the bitter, and it’s working with some people, as the comments and likes/dislikes here show.

    The post by the Toronto guy, borderline1988, is at least honest, and that is exactly what frustrated small-market fans want–that, a franchise tag, and a hard cap. Small-market fans basically want one team–THEIR TEAM–to be able to pay a homegrown superstar if they are fortunate enough to land one. If they land a guy like that and he wants to leave after a few years to play for the Lakers or the Heat or the Bulls or the Brooklyn Nets, they want him to have to leave tens of millions of dollars on the table to do it or better still, not be able to do it at all. Whether the league would be better off that way is highly debatable. My guess is that it wouldn’t, but I don’t know.

    But the owners don’t care about competitive balance or small market fans. If they did, they would change the nature of their demands and get serious about revenue sharing. What they care about is money and power.

  13. rreducla1 - Oct 29, 2011 at 4:45 AM

    One thing that no one seems to bring up about Gilbert and Sarver: supposedly, Amare Stoudemire was headed to Cleveland at the 2010 deadline, but the Cavs held the deal up, thinking they could win the title with Antawn Jamison at the 4 and also wanting to hold on to JJ Hickson.

    Gilbert and Sarver, or at least the GMs they picked, were both deadass wrong.

    Phoenix made the WCF with Stoudemire, and could have been in a Game 7 with the Lakers as easily as not.

    Cleveland, of course, lost in the conference semis to Boston in large part because Kevin Garnett destroyed Antawn Jamison.

    So, Sarver and Gilbert might want to look in the mirror rather than blaming the system.

    • georgiared - Nov 8, 2011 at 4:30 AM

      Holy “not knowing what the crap you are talking about” Batman, it’s another idiot!

      1. Danny Ainge(Phoenix GM) is the one to nix the Stoudemire trade because he thought he could resign him, NOT Cleveland.
      2. Jamison WASN”T even on the Cavs when this deal was being discussed. It was after Ainge pulled the deal that the Cavs went out and aquired Jamison from Washington, so the fact that you said “thinking they could win the title with Antawn Jamison at the 4.” pretty much shows your complete lack of knowledge.

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