Each week during the 2020-21 NBA season, we will take a deeper dive into three of the league’s biggest storylines in an attempt to determine whether the trends are based more in fact or fiction moving forward.
The NBA is built on a double standard
Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green took issue with what he felt was a double standard in the NBA when it comes to the treatment of players and teams looking for trades. He equated James Harden quitting on the Houston Rockets to the Cleveland Cavaliers quitting on Andre Drummond, noting the narrative attached to both.
“To watch Andre Drummond, before the game, sit on the sidelines, then go to the back, and to come out in street clothes because a team is going to trade him, it’s bulls***,” Green told reporters. “Because when James Harden asks for a trade and essentially dogged it … no one is going to fight back that James was dogging it his last days in Houston — but he was castrated for wanting to go to a different team. And everybody destroyed that man.
“And yet a team can come and say, ‘Oh, we want to trade a guy.’ And then that guy is to go sit. And if he doesn’t stay professional, then he’s a cancer. And he’s not good in someone’s locker room, and he’s the issue.”
It is not a great analogy. Harden wasn’t necessarily “castrated” for requesting a trade. He was “castrated” for his behavior on and off the court after the trade request, which was completely unprofessional. Are we to believe that what the Cavaliers have done — working in coordination with Drummond and his agent — is as unprofessional?
Green’s larger point is a fair one. The NBA empowers its franchises more than its players. The players are the actual product consumed by fans, so shouldn’t they have equal say in the matter? Teams would be nothing without their players, but players could be anything without their teams. It sounds right until you remember how business works.
Let’s say Jaden Harmes works for Frito-Lay. He is so good at making Cheetos, he signs a four-year, $171 million deal to make Cheetos. A couple years in, Cheetos are no longer doing it for Jaden. He wants to make some Doritos.
He asks his boss, “Hey, do you think you could move my contract from Cheetos to Doritos?”
“Well,” his boss says, “we really like you with Cheetos. How about we get you some help making Cheetos?”
A displeased Jaden stops making Cheetos. He parties in Las Vegas, shows up days late to work and calls out his co-workers for not being good at making Cheetos. People who love Cheetos wonder why he’s sabotaging Cheetos.
But the boss over at Doritos knows how good Jaden is at making Cheetos. She still wants Jaden making Doritos. She offers to save Cheetos some money. She gives Cheetos the better pick at the next great maker of snack foods through 2027. She offers some of her best young Doritos makers, even flips one for someone better at Tostitos.
They agree to the swap. Doritos get better. Cheetos get worse. Does everyone who works for Cheetos have to like Jaden? Do the people who love Cheetos have to like him? Is Jaden’s behavior a positive reflection on Frito-Lay?
Now, let’s say D’Andre Rummond and Allen Jarrett also work for Frito-Lay. They are currently making Fritos.
D’Andre is owed $28.8 million to make Fritos this year. He’s good, but he isn’t making Fritos any better, and his deal is up at the end of the year. Ruffles felt the same way about D’Andre. They practically gave him to Fritos for nothing.
Allen is making Fritos for $3.9 million this year. He does the same job as D’Andre. Allen performed well for Doritos, and Fritos got him for a bargain when Doritos made room for Jaden. Fritos likes Allen better. Fritos thinks he will make them better. Fritos is willing to give Allen a hefty raise at the end of his current contract, when D’Andre’s salary comes off the books, and Fritos thinks they would be better served giving Allen the reps D’Andre was getting now.
“D’Andre,” his boss says, “we think you’re good at making snack foods, but Allen is the future at Fritos. We are going to hire him when your contracts are up. We still think you can help Frito-Lay, and we’re looking for a spot for you. In the meantime, it’s silly for you to work under Allen. You might even get hurt on the job, and then you wouldn’t be able to help anyone — Lay’s, Rold Gold, Cracker Jacks, wherever. So, we’re actually going to pay you not to work. If we can’t find a spot for you, not only will we pay what we owe you, Doritos will also pay you to help them.”
“Oh, man,” D’Andre says. “It’s kind of embarrassing to lose my job to Allen, since I was a star for Ruffles and put up numbers for Fritos, but I wasn’t all that happy working for either. I still like Frito-Lay. I could probably help Doritos.”
Then, Deen Graymond over at Rold Gold asks, “Aren’t Jaden and Fritos the same? Both want what’s best for them. So, why does Fritos get a pass for quitting on D’Andre when everyone was killing Jaden for quitting on Cheetos? Why does Frito-Lay operate this way? Shouldn’t Jaden be able to make the same business decision as Fritos?”
In an ideal world, sure. Everyone is happy. We do not live in an ideal world.
Frito-Lay is in the business of doing what’s best for Frito-Lay. The business thrives when Cheetos, Doritos and Fritos all make people who like Cheetos, Doritos and Fritos happy. If each can accomplish that while also accommodating every employee’s preference, all the better, so long as everyone stays professional. But what happens when all the best people at Frito-Lay want to work for Doritos? That would be great for Doritos and their fans. It’s not so good for Cheetos or Fritos or Frito-Lay as a whole. Jaden and Fritos are not equals, even if both are working for Frito-Lay.
Only when James Harden or Jaden Harmes can earn $171 million playing basketball or making snack foods on his own will he render the NBA or Frito-Lay powerless. Even then, Rockets and Cheetos fans don’t have to follow them.
So, yeah, the NBA is built on a double standard. It’s a business.
It’s panic time for the Celtics
The Celtics improved to a league-best 7-3 record through 10 games on Jan. 9, the same day Marcus Smart suffered a calf injury and Jayson Tatum was diagnosed with COVID-19. Without Smart and with Tatum still feeling side effects from coronavirus, Boston has gone 7-11 since, dropping to .500 and fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Logic should tell us the Celtics will be fine when they are at full strength. But what is fine, and what is full strength?
Tatum’s scoring efficiency has fallen considerably since returning. Likewise, Boston’s defense was 8.1 points per 100 possessions better with Tatum on the floor prior to his diagnosis. It has been 3.4 points per 100 possessions worse with him on court since his return. He is not carrying lineups on his own the way he did last season, when his units outscored opponents by 7.6 points per 100 possessions with Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker on the bench.
Smart’s absence only compounds this issue. Not only is he a First Team All-Defensive talent who can run the offense, he is the only non-big capable of consistently contributing behind Boston’s three highest-paid players. Jeff Teague has been dreadful. Late first-round pick Payton Pritchard has been a revelation, but it says a lot about these Celtics that he is their most reliable role-playing guard or wing right now. Celtics coach Brad Stevens has no idea what he is getting from Semi Ojeleye, Grant Williams, Javonte Green and rookie Aaron Nesmith on any given night.
You know who would be perfect for this team? Gordon Hayward. The Celtics committed the mid-level exception created by Hayward’s free-agency departure to Tristan Thompson. In theory, he is a big body who can do battle in the post with Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid, only Embiid has outscored Thompson 80-6 in their two meetings. In practice, the Celtics committed $9 million to a center little to no better than Daniel Theis or Robert Williams III.
Then, there is Walker, the max-salaried four-time All-Star point guard who has been a shell of himself since his knee started bothering him a couple months into his Boston tenure. His health, along with Smart’s injury, Hayward’s exit and Boston’s failure to draft and develop quality depth, has left Stevens with few options beyond praying Tatum and Brown can carry this burden. In his quest to unlock any semblance of a rotation, the Celtics coach has even resorted to playing Theis at power forward alongside Thompson, something he never would do last season for good reason.
Fine for the Celtics has been making the Eastern Conference finals, which they did last season without Hayward or Walker at full strength. Maybe they can talk themselves into that as a ceiling again if Tatum and Brown play at an All-NBA level, Smart returns and Walker gives them anything, but the emergence of a super-team in Brooklyn makes it more difficult to realistically convince anyone that Boston at its best is anything but second-round fodder this year.
The Celtics do have a massive trade exception, but without a bona fide star on the trade market — and without the assets to acquire him — they will be left trying to improve on the margins. It may be worth the risk of losing the exception to carry it into free agency for the potential of a more impactful acquisition on the sign-and-trade market.
And none of it may matter if Walker never regains his All-Star form. His health has significantly lowered Boston’s ceiling and could continue to for the life of his contract. Walker’s deal does not expire until 2023, when Brown will be entering the final year of his deal and Tatum will be a year away from the final year of his four-year max extension.
The Celtics should be better. The Celtics will be better, but when has that ever stopped Bostonians from panicking?
NBA Top Shot is cool
If you have not heard of NBA Top Shot by now, you have not been reading about the league this week. At least three stories on the subject dropped in a two-day period — via ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin and The Action Network’s Darren Rovell — bringing my attention to this $2 billion company featuring 50,000 users.
As best as anyone can explain, NBA Top Shot is a digital version of the trading card industry in which seconds-long highlight clips are traded rather than tangible cards. That’s it. A Zion Williamson block sold for $100,000. A LeBron James dunk sold for $47,500. A Ja Morant dunk sold for $35,000. A freaking Kyle Lowry jump shot sold for $2,175.
All of those highlights are readily available on YouTube for free. This is absolutely insane.
As Windhorst noted, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wrote on his blog, “Some people might complain that I can get the same video on the internet anywhere anytime and watch it. Well guess what, I can get the same picture on any traditional, physical card on the internet and print it out, and that doesn’t change the value of the card.”
Jack Settleman, the 24-year-old who bought James’ dunk for $47,500, echoed the same sentiment to Highkin: “With physical cards, it’s just a photo. Your LeBron rookie card that’s worth thousands of dollars, it’s just a random picture of him in a Cavs jersey. These moments give you the ability to actually watch and have more meaning behind it.”
What are we even talking about here? It’s not that I don’t understand their argument. It’s that it is utterly ridiculous.
If I were to show my friends a legitimate Michael Jordan rookie card, they would think it’s cool. If I showed them a printed-out version of a Michael Jordan rookie card, they would think it’s extremely not cool. If I were to show them two versions of the same Michael Jordan highlight — one on YouTube and the other on NBA Top Shot — they would think they were equally cool. If I told them to pay me $1 million to watch one of them, that would not at all be cool.
You weren’t at the game when Williamson got his first block. You weren’t even watching it live on TV. Maybe you saw it on “SportsCenter” the next morning. Are you paying $100,000 for a highlight you experienced third- or fourth-hand? Tell me another thing: Would you rather have a signed Kobe Bryant jersey or video of Bryant signing a jersey for someone else? These feel closer to the equivalent of NBA Top Shot than any comparison I’ve heard to trading cards.
I have an idea, too. I was at the game Ray Allen passed Reggie Miller to break the career record for 3-pointers. It probably cost less than $40 to get in the building. I will tell you and your friends about it for $1 million. Is that cool?
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