There have been a rash of surprisingly misinformed articles lately about the NBA, from well known and respected media outlets.  Let's examine a few of these, shall we?

The Guardian (it's the British version of the NY Times) has this short post on one of its blogs about David Stern's comments last week that he wants to expand the NBA by adding franchises in five European cities in the next decade.  It is basically a list of the issues that Stern might run into, if he actually tried to expand to Europe Land.  There are some good legitimate reasons in there, but some don't hold much water.

In practice, for several reasons, a disaster. Firstly, as Richard Scudamore has rapidly learnt, you don't just wander into other countries and set up shop without permission from the locals. Although the growth of European basketball has been stifled due to the multitude of vested - and competing - interests, why would FIBA Europe, the Euroleague and the existing clubs just roll over and allow the NBA to repatriate away all the available cash? Why indeed. Not when the likes of Real Madrid, Alba Berlin, CSKA Moscow and, erm, London Capital, have already put in time and effort to sow their own seeds.

Very good points.  I thought of FIBA right away, and definitely I doubt there will ever be a US sports franchise in Moscow, or even in Eastern Europe, in my lifetime.  It's just too chaotic dealing with government officials and departments over there.  I'm willing to bet that just getting the visas for players to make a trip for an exhibition game in Moscow will be enough of a headache to make David Stern reconsider.

However, several Western European locations are less troublesome.  For example, London.  Seriously, do you think the London Capital team can compete or fight off the NBA?  I wouldn't bet on it.  And that's how Stern will move, if he is serious.  He will start in a American business friendly locale like London, with a large population and tons of corporate opportunities.  He will slowly develop that franchise and population (wait until the hooligans and Ron Artest meet!), then use that as leverage into the next location, perhaps Spain.  Spain is admittedly less friendly to Americans and has a bit of nationalistic streak, but Stern will use his Spanish players (Pau Gasol!) to make leeway into their culture, and probably (wisely) partner with Real Madrid (wealthy, owners of the soccer team which is one of the biggest sports franchises in the world). 

The author then correctly points out the likely reluctance of some players to play in Europe, citing the "Steve Francis in Toronto" example.  He has a very valid point, though I think there won't be as many players reluctant to play in, say, Amsterdam.  And no, not just because they can smoke weed everyday (good lord, can you imagine visiting teams there?  How fast would it take for Damon Stoudemire to become the first player to demand a trade there?  And would Amsterdam surpass Orlando, New York, and LA as the premier destinations for free agents?), but because the city is also really friendly to African-American culture and visitors.  Real good vibe, that's all. 

But then the author strikes out again on this last point:

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement - brokered between league and union - which governs player signings and movement, currently depends on a legal foundation which effectively binds those involved in return for luxuriant salaries and perks.

It is not dissimilar to the transfer system employed in football 30 years ago, where the players were beholden to their clubs. Where they signed their lives away on the dotted line. If there is one reason why the NBA's expansionism is doomed to fail, it is due to Jean-Marc Bosman. One suit filed in the EU courts, and the entire premise of the league comes crashing down. Stern may see the pounds and euros available. As a lawyer, he will eventually see sense and let Europe be.

First off, the current NBA CBA and salary cap system is not like the system in soccer 30 years ago!  Not even close.  In fact, it was the Jean-Marc Bosman ruling (which was inspired by the similar ruling in American sports bin the Curtis Flood case) that brought soccer to the system that matches American sports now.  In case you aren't aware of what the Bosman Ruling is:  It means that as soon as a player's contract expires, the team loses it's rights to him, and he can sign a contract with whatever team he agrees to terms with.

In the NBA we simply call that "free agency".  Cheerio.

Speaking of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, let's move on to Slate (a popular online news magazine owned by Microsoft), where yesterday's Sports Nut article is about the NBA's "Byzantine Mess" of trading.  In the interest of disclosure, I was ticked at author Josh Levin's negative title and approach.  Mainly because it's well known that the NBA has a perception problem, and articles framed in this tone really don't help.

Even worse, it is another example of poorly laid out article whose arguments seem confused and misleading.  Levin's basic premise is that the NBA is inferior to other sports because it is hard to make simple trades in the NBA.

In any other sport, it would have been the easiest trade possible. An aging superstar wants off a mediocre team, and a championship-caliber team has a young player to offer at the same position. But pro basketball isn't like any other sport.

No, it's not.  Its iconoclastic system (since the 80's the NBA has been the leader in how to manage a sport) is not MLB, where the 5-10 teams that can buy players will take veterans on in trades from the 5-10 teams that can only afford to pay low cost players.  And the NBA is certainly not the NFL, where trades rarely occur (and especially never so in the middle of the season), because players are nothing more than cheap labor and replaceable parts.  Oh, and when a big trade does occur, it might involve a late fourth-round pick ("I have a 60% chance of making the team!") being traded for the best wide receiver in the game (or at least the most talented).

In pro baseball and other sensible sports, teams typically trade for players based on their on-field talent. In the NBA, that's just one small consideration.

Oversimplification alert!  By the way, it's a pet peeve of mine when lame hackish sportswriters use subtle adjectives that are unnecessary to subtly convey their viewpoint ("other sensible sports").  Hackish writing alert!

This was educational, though.  Levin just taught me that the recent Johan Santana was purely about on-field talent.  So that's what the trade was about for the Twins, huh?  Not salary considerations!

You know, this is a prime example of NBA Salary Cap Misconception # 59:  "Salary caps considerations don't exist in other sports."  They might not be a salary cap in MLB, but there is certainly salary considerations.  The reason there isn't a "trade machine" in MLB isn't because the MLB lacks " provisions [that] are so byzantine and irrational"; it's because salary considerations in those sports are unknown to us fans. 

See, even the freaking NY Yankees have salary considerations... if they didn't, Johan Santana would be a Yankee (and Carlos Beltran, if you go back a couple of winters).  In both cases, they didn't want to exceed an in-house limit on salary.  And don't get me started on the salary "caps" of teams like the Marlins, Royals and Pirates....

The things that Levin is complaining about the most - the "list of special circumstances", including every exception - are the very things that NBA fans appreciate about their sport.  It's these very same rules that govern everything a GM has to deal with in order to complete a trade that makes almost every serious NBA fan a secret GM.  NBA fans love to talk about possible trades, salary cap ramifications, contracts, and, of course, second-guess every "dumb" trade or signing a GM has made, because they know exactly how it will effect their team in the short and long-run.  All the information, and limitations, are at their fingertips.  And therefore most of them all think they can do a better job than their GM! (note: this is actually only definitively true for sure in Minnesota, though I admit that in several other locations, including NYC, it is a commonly held belief)

And my final beef with this article is that it poorly presents several "trading blocks" as possibly being equal.  For example, Levin cites the players the Nets got back in the Kidd trade from Dallas as "coupons"; these are, for the most part, how he describes the expiring contracts the Nets got back. 

These coupon players are the building blocks of every big NBA trade. Just as the Mavericks couldn't get Jason Kidd without passing along a bunch of scrubs, the Suns couldn't have traded Shawn Marion for Shaquille O'Neal
without throwing in Marcus Banks' $4 million contract. The coupon player is advised not to get too comfortable with his "new team." Once he's done his job—that is, allowed some other player safe passage to San Antonio or Indiana—he's liable to get tossed aside like yesterday's garbage.

Um, Marcus Banks is not a "throwaway" player in the deal with the Heat.  He's the exact opposite of the "coupon players" in the Kidd deal; he's a salary cap clogger, as far as the Suns were concerned.  They didn't need a third-string point guard making that much money (really only about $4 million) for that long, not when they are trying to stay under the luxury cap.  So he was as important in this trade for the Suns as any of the other two players involved.  In fact, Banks and Marion were both "coupon players", if you think about it.

And this line (which follows the above snippet) is absolutely awful:

On Dec. 19, 2006, the Nuggets trumpeted the team's acquisition of Allen Iverson and Ivan McFarlin from the 76ers. Three days later, the team issued a much briefer announcement: "Nuggets Release McFarlin."

Just clicking on the link provided, you see that the name of the article is "Nuggets acquire Iverson".  Presenting that trade like the Nuggets were "trumpeting the team's acquistion of... Ivan McFarlin" is absolutely misleading.  Even an avid NBA fan (and blogger) like me had no idea who Ivan McFarlin was until Josh Levin mentioned him.  And I know who Von Wafer is!


And finally, I was going to take this opportunity to do the rare for SML, but very much in style, "rake on Bill Simmons" for this trading machine post he did yesterday.  Honestly, I looked at it, and only a third of the trades even seemed reasonable (and I only got about midway through the article before I gave up), but then this site did a much better job of breaking on Simmons for one of his trade suggestions

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[February 21, 2008 6:53 PM]  |  link  |  reply
mcbias said

That Levin article was a mess. I'm glad someone criticized it.

[February 21, 2008 7:13 PM]  |  link  |  reply
Canadian DJM said

Slate is owned by the Washington Post, dude. Microsoft bounced years ago.

[February 21, 2008 11:18 PM]  |  link  |  reply
stopmikelupica said

Word? The WaPo owns it? F*ck those Kaplan mo-fos....

[February 22, 2008 12:37 PM]  |  link  |  reply
mcbias said

Kaplan is a WEIRD place to work--their insistence on referring to every technique as "The Kaplan way" or "The Kaplan method" is creepy.

[February 25, 2008 7:04 AM]  |  link  |  reply
MODI said

Great post and points SML.

The fact is, for all of Sterns flaws, there is no better collective bargaining in sports than the NBA. The NFL's hard cap makes it impossible to keep great teams together, and MLB's no cap ensures that the Kansas City Royals season is over by game #2. All sports should have the "soft cap" model.

[March 19, 2010 8:47 PM]  |  link  |  reply
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[April 2, 2010 6:55 PM]  |  link  |  reply
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[April 3, 2010 10:45 PM]  |  link  |  reply
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