Take a Second to Think About Why You’re Mad at Anthony Davis
As yesterday’s NBA trade deadline came to an end, the talking heads of the sports world went to work telling everyone what to think about what went down over the past few days of rapidfire player movement. Among the endless supply of analysis on Twitter, ESPN, FS1, and whatever the fuck else people go for these days, one voice that stood out for me was Bill Simmons, arguably the well-known sports writer of all time. On his podcast, he dissected the ins-and-outs of what happened with Ryen Russillo, another well known sports personality. For most of it, they just went through each trade, discussed whether it was a good or bad trade and then reflected on what it might mean for the players and teams themselves long-term. Boilerplate stuff.
The ground they covered was being covered by about 9,000 other people in a relatively identical way. You can’t blame them, trades and player signings are easily some of the most exciting parts of each respective league’s season. Instead of focusing on the tunnel-visioned discussion of the actual games, fans want to broaden their scope and think about both the short and long-term possibilities for each player, as well as each team. Transactions like the ones that took place this week play a big role in this discussion because if a talented player is on a bad team, his legacy will be tainted. The same goes for a team with high expectations for greatness not having a good enough roster. So while, yeah, so much of this is derivitive, the demand for it is so high that it has to be churned out.
The reason why simmons’s podcast stood out to me, however, was the discussion that picked up steam around the 17:40 mark:
At that point, Russillo and Simmons just go into a lengthy diatribe about ‘player empowerment’ and how while they think it’s a ‘good thing’, they worry that we’re reaching a point where it’s ‘gone too far’. This, of course is in response to the endless rumors that are thrust upon fans on a day-to-day basis concerning where NBA superstars like Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, and Kyrie Irving plan to play once their respective contracts are through (and in Davis’s case, he doesn’t even want to wait that long).
The constant speculation and rumor milling about these players are exhausting. They give a hopelessness to the fans who simply just want to watch watch these elite athletes play on their teams, and they frustrate both the player being discussed as well as his teammates who just want to know what’s true and what isn’t. These are legitimate factors, so Simmons and Russillo are right to voice their frustrations about the endless speculation regarding where these players will go. But to do it in a way that villifies this confusingly growing narrative of ‘player empowerment’ is a farce. Because it’s undeniable that the most elite players in the NBA are better able to dictate their futures now than ever before. But it’s important to note that this power is only reserved for the the absolute upper echelon in the league. For the other hundreds of players, it’s still the same NBA.
In any given season, there are some where around 450–500 players who’ve been slotted into an active roster spot on an NBA team. Of those players, maybe 15 of them have the sort of power Simmons and Russillo are ranting about. The very trade deadline they used as an excuse to lambast the likes of Durant, Davis, and Irving for their ‘players have gone too far’ diatribe proved to be the perfect counterargument to whatever truth they thought they were getting at.
Just over the course of this week, here are a few deals that went down and the context around them:
Marc Gasol, someone who had been the starting center for the Memphis Grizzlies for nearly a decade and one of the most beloved players in franchise history, was traded to the Toronto Raptors. Gasol and the fans knew for the better part of a year that this was probably going to happen, so when word came out that it was finally done, everyone had already made their peace about the situation. It’s a business, after all.
In a more surprising trade, Tobias Haris, an all-star caliber wing in the midst of his best season to date, was dealt by the Los Angeles Clippers to the Philadelphia 76ers. This was the fourth time Harris was traded, the past two times being within the span of a single calendar year.
Nikola Mirotic was also dealt for the second time in a year. This time by the New Orleans Pelicans, who sent him over to the Milwaukee Bucks.
These deals pale in comparison to what happened to Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin IV, though. Both were traded three times thi week alone before inevitably getting waived. On The Ringer, Simmons’s website, Rodger Sherman wrote up a piece about Baldwin’s and Stauskas’s week-long limbo with a tongue-in-cheek tone throughout, concluding his piece like this:
“I like to picture them cruising down the road, following whichever highway they think will bring them to their next basketball home. Unfortunately, they might not be very good at basketball, which is probably a bigger problem”
Way to go Rodg, you fucking bootlicking asshole. Listen, I get it; that’s the business, bay-bee. It’s a cold, unforgiving business that fans have reluctantly accepted in order to be entertained for a few hours a day. Points have been established to legitimize front office behavior, like the fact that they’re paying these people good money to play a game they love. When you’re getting paid, there’s no way you should complain about being sent to live in a different city or released out of your contract at the drop of a hat, with absolutely no notice whatsoever.
Players like Stauskas and Baldwin do not have much power when it comes to which teams they play for next. They’re borderline rotation players who might have one or two offers come their way over the next few months. As a talented upcoming free agent, Harris will, in fact, have the power to pick which team he’d most like to play for of the available suitors. It will be the mark the first time in his career where such a he’s been able to have such a luxury of choice to this extent in his 8-year career.
That’s how it is for everyone in the NBA. As college players, they declare themselves eligible for the NBA Draft, a process that rewards terribly run teams by letting them select the most talented college and international prospects in the world without giving a single option to the young players themselves. Once their first contracts expire, they’re then able to become free agents. Well, *restricted* free agents, a title that allows them to receive offers from other teams, but if they agree to that offer, their original team can still match it and immediately keep them. Again, without any alternative option for these players.
Critics of Davis’s handling of his current situation with the Pelicans point to the fact that he is still currently under a contract. A contract that he himself agreed to sign. He can’t just demand to be traded because he doesn’t feel like being on this team anymore. They fail to mention is that his contract with the Pelicans was an inevitability because of the nature of restricted free agency. Even if he had waited for his contract to completely expire, the idea that New Orleans wouldn’t have matched any offer Davis would have received is ludicrous. Davis was stuck in New Orleans, a team in a market indifferent to basketball and owned by a family of skuzzballs who are notorious for having a dangerously incompetent medical staff.
Simmons chalked Davis’s dissatisfaction with New Orleans up to him being a product of the ‘swipe left’ generation. This is despite the fact that player movement dictated by front office executives continue to be on the rise, and the people who make up those positions are almost entirely Gen-xers and Baby Boomers. Sure, it isn’t exactly groundbreaking to point out the hypocrisy in the idea that when players want to choose where they play, they’re being fickle and selfish, but when front offices trade a player after likening him to Martin Luther King and assuring him they want him there forever, it’s just business. The real problem goes deeper, though. Because everyone continues conflate Davis’s situation, which is has proven to be an exception because of his transcendant skill level, with every NBA player having more power over their current role and situation than ever before, and that’s simply not true.
It must be said that the handful of players who do have this rarified amount of power aren’t exactly likable for being deliberately opaque or conversely straight-up demanding they be traded. With that power, though, come the insane expectations. Kevin Durant, for example, is one of the greatest scorers of all time. He’s able to shoot from beyond the arc, in the paint, and he can annhilate any defender on a pick-and-roll. His greatness was the reason why the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to survive playing in such a miniscule market that commissioner David Stern and his buddy Clay Bennett forced the the team to play in upon moving the team there from Seattle over arena disputes. Despite being the reason for the team’s meteoric rise, fans and writers alike still weren’t satisfied, literally calling Durant, a multiple-time scoring champ by this point, Mr. Unreliable in the midst of a playoff series. Why would they do this? Because when a team has a player like Durant, it automatically becomes ‘championship or bust’ situation. So, sure, these players weild more power than ever before because of their skill level. But with that power comes a much higher level of scrutiny, too. Which is why it’s baffling that, for these same writers, it’s more of a travesty that a star like Anthony Davis wants to leave a team that’s been mismanaged for the better part of two decades than it is for, say, front offices to be allowed to trade players like Baldwin and Harris an infinite amount of times without any restriction.
Furthermore, it’s impossible to not look at this issue through a racial lens when a industry so dependent on black production continually gets chastised and outright mocked by the sports media industry, which is absolutely flush with white writers who use black culture as a costume they take on and off whenever it best suits their financial needs. This is something dire to consider. Because while the media business is predominately white in general, it still being this white in the sports world is a downright troubling sight. It leads to a complete lack of understanding of the subjects at hand, and it creates a bottomless pit of dogwhistles that even the youngest, most progressive-seeming white sports writers contribute to on a daily basis.
That’s where Rusillo’s ‘at what point are we past the tipping point’ question really perks my ears. Not to get all pre-law here, but I’m gonna get a little pre-law here and say that this is a very hack ‘slippery slope’ argument prevalent in the absolute worst civil rights cases in the country’s history. For some context, from the 1970s onward, conservatives fighting off desegregation had their prayers answered when the Supreme Court started churning out decisions that essentially deemed nearly all forms of school integration policies unconstitutional. From Bakke v. California to Milliken v. Bradley, the opinions left by these judges claimed that enough was enough; the actions made in attempts to desegregate schools have gone too far, and it was time to put an end to them. The same thought process was on display in Casey v. Planned Parenthood, a pivotol case for women’s rights that saw the majority of the court arguing that women have been given far too much leeway in regards to their right to choose whether or not they should have an abortion, and that the state should now be given a stronger voice on this issue.
Rusillo and Simmons are not intentionally channelling their inner-Sandra Day O’Connor to make these points. These are very dumb guys who watch nothing but sports and read nothing but articles about sports, their brains are mush. Tt’s very telling for sports analysts as a whole, though, that when they see a group of people — who are nearly always the first in their family to break away from the pattern of gross poverty and overt oppression — get a semblance of power in this capitalist hellscape of a country, their first instinct is to excorciate them for selfishness and vanity. That’s some old-fashioned, zoot-suit-hating shit. For anyone to say that this era of NBA player movement is out of control because of the players, and their reasoning for that is based off a few rare exceptions, whether they know it or not, they’re arguing in favor of team ownership having even greater control of players than they already do.
Criticizing players for wanting out of a situation they no longer like is not an alternative to this problem. Actual solutions that could prove to be both entertaining and helpful are never discussed for pretty obvious pro-ownership reasons. Do you really want fewer Anthony Davis situations? Okay, then get rid of the NBA draft and let rookies become free agents as soon as they make themselves eligible for, and then get rid of restricted free agency while you’re at it. Get rid of the salary cap and max contracts. This way, when a team that’s actually done a good job developing talent and putting a winning team on the floor, they won’t have to worry as much about the repercussions that follow paying an important player their desired contract because there will be fewer of them. Also, without a salary cap or max contract restricting a superstar like Davis’s earning potential, he’d probably be able to make something like $80 million a year, which is about twice the amount that the highest-grossing year of a typical max contract gives out.
That last part would be my favorite because during a contract negotiation, the story that’s given to us by sports writers is, again, rather….telling. Every time, the general manager and ownership are portrayed as the good guys who just want to keep the team together (if they only had the money, aw shucks). The player, on the other hand, he’s the selfish asshole who wants too much. The reason why these owners were able to buy a sports team in the first place was because they made billions of dollars by being slumlords, loan scammers, and hedgefund owners. They’re the literal scummiest of the scum who use state governments across the country to pay for their overblown stadiums that straight-up decimate the town’s local economy and real estate market within a 1-mile radius. And we’re made to feel sorry for such boldfaced demons by these writers. It’s a fucking farce!
So hey, if you’re actually defending these god damn ghouls against LeBron fucking James, then congratulations! You’ve officially become a foot soldier for the ruling class. Way to go, sports guy!