Coming off a lockout that left the NBA with an unsightly black eye, the league, its owners and players added a matching black eye and a kick to the groin to boot on Thursday.
We're of course talking about the fiasco surrounding the Chris Paul trade talks. In the span of less than 24 hours, we saw all of the worst the NBA has to offer.
The climax of the disaster came when commissioner David Stern, acting on behalf of the league-owned Hornets, decided to step in and squash a three-team deal that would have sent Paul to the Lakers.
It was reported that a group of NBA owners were livid that the Lakers, arguably the league's most powerful team, would receive arguably the league's best point guard. Cleveland Cavaliers owner and noted crybaby Dan Gilbert even put pen to paper and wrote a letter to Stern.
Stern relented, and canceled the deal, saying it was in the best interest of the Hornets to keep Paul rather than receive the package of players coming their way, effectively cutting off general manager Dell Demps' legs.
By the way, reports surfaced Friday night that the teams are still trying to find an acceptable deal. Somehow, if they come to a deal that's marginally better for the Hornets, the NBA will could even jump to approve it in the wake of the negative publicity they've gotten recently. Fun times.
It has turned into a real mess.
It's unfortunate for all of the parties involved, but the fiasco is a representation of a flawed system more than anything else. The economics of the NBA suck. There's not much debate there. Some teams, like the Lakers, are filthy, filthy rich. They attract the game's superstars. The other superstars want to play with their superstar friends and walk to the NBA title, all while doing so in the league's best markets. Hey there, Miami Heat.
Not fun, right? The owners should obviously do something, right? Oh yeah, that's right. They did. They locked out the players for a few months over basketball-related income, got things situated and then unlocked the players, so to speak.
To the casual observer, it didn't seem like much changed at all, at least in helping the competitive balance of the league. Thursday, those presumptions were confirmed.
The NBA needed to reform the system to help level the playing field between small- and big-market teams, and simply put, it did not. Now, Stern's move looks like a retroactive stopgap to address that gaping hole in the new collective bargaining agreement.
In theory, the lockout should have been seen as a move of power by the owners. Yet, as NBA business gets rolling again, the power remains with the players. That's why we see a player like Paul able to hold a franchise hostage. That's why we get reports like Dwight Howard meeting with the Nets while he's still under contract with the Magic for another year (that's also called tampering, kids). And those guys are just carrying the torch passed to them by LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and the like.
The players know that they can get away with this, so why not abuse the system? They didn't engineer it. At the same time, though, is it too much to ask for these players to handle themselves a little bit more professionally? Lamar Odom is apparently upset that he was to be dealt before Stein rode in on horseback to save the day for NOLA. Odom, by the way, would be advised to cry all the way to the bank where he'll cash in on $8.9 million worth of paychecks for playing basketball. Don't forget about his piece of the Kardashian empire, either.
Pau Gasol was reportedly headed to Houston as part of the deal. Friday was the first day of Lakers camp, and wouldn't you know it? Gasol's quadriceps flared up, and he did not practice Friday. Go figure. Maybe he can go home after treatment and put his leg up — on a stack of $100 bills. He is, after all, set to make a hair under $19 million this season. Tough life, bud.
Yeah, these guys have a reason to be upset, but at the same time, whatever happened to just doing your job? I'd play basketball in Fargo for a sliver of that, but that kind of perspective is naturally lost on these guys. Simply "doing your job" might be a novel concept for millionaires who apparently can have their way as long as their crossover is good enough and their jump shot silky enough, but come on.
Again, the owners locked out the players this summer in order to try and put a stop to this. Again, that lockout is set to be lifted, and again, things haven't changed. You figure it out.
It's getting ugly for the NBA, and it's not going to go away any time soon.
The NBA was facing an uphill battle to regain some credibility following the lockout. That hill got a little bit steeper this week.