NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 28: Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets walks off the court after a 98-80 loss as Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles after winning the series in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 28, 2011 at New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Conrad: As you probably know by now, there is an abundance of chatter surrounding the best point guard in the world, Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets. He is slated to be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2012 yet he is already the focal point of many NBA discussions. While nothing is truly official, the general consensus is that Chris Paul will not be re-siging with NOLA in the summer and would prefer to play for the New York Knicks with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. That's good for him, but the problem is that while he is still under contract it's not his choice. He can say he wants to play basketball on the moon for all I care, it's not up to him until he plays out the remainder of his contract. All other things aside, I just can't stand hearing a player talk about a potential future team while he is obligated to play for his current team. What are you thoughts on the kinds of statements that Chris Paul has made about playing in New York?
Aaron: Putting it lightly? It's not that fun to watch. One of my good friends is a Magic fan, and talking to him about the NBA has become borderline excruciating. He's on tetherhooks, swinging from "we're gonna get CP3 and be the next big dynasty" to "my franchise is the worst in human history and I want to stop watching the NBA." He's a pretty hyperbolic kind of guy, but his general response to all this trade chatter seems pretty apt to me. It's leveraging franchises against each other, burning bridges, and making fans of your franchise feel dismissed and anti-basketball. For all the "help" it does the NBA by putting stars in big markets, the damage it does to basketball in the smaller NBA markets is long-lasting and isn't going away. Not that I think the "help" caused by putting them in large markets isn't debatable -- I think it's bunk -- we live in the age of new media and endless connectivity, and you're really going to BS me that moving from one of the 20 largest markets to one of the 5 largest is going to lead to untold millions?
Honestly, though -- returning to the harm. I have relatives in Denver, and while their team still looks well-positioned to challenge for the playoffs next year, all of them stopped following the NBA amidst the Melo-drama of 2010. Maybe they'll come back someday, but the goal for them isn't just "challenging for the playoffs" anymore. The franchise (and the league) in their mind need to make up for the crap they went through in losing Melo, it doesn't really matter if they made out like bandits in the trade. The amount of damage that does to the NBA in those cities is hard to measure. And in the end, I don't think it's entirely the players' faults. Or even mostly. The media deserves the lion's share of the blame for sensationalizing it and bombarding the fans with trade rumors and blow-ups of the most minor things stars say. They say it drives traffic, and that's true, but the damage to NBA basketball as a whole isn't worth the extra traffic you get from large market fans hungry for another title. It's up to the stars not to demand trades in the first place, but I'd argue it's more importantly up to the media to not read so much into everything a star says. Or engage in crazy trade speculation. Or push their sources for more and more info about where stars want to go. Completely takes the power from the franchises and the player to present the trade. Not that it would help all that much, but it would avoid the Melodrama that took place in Denver and would stand at least a little chance of keeping their fans.
Conrad: See, you said something that really piques my interest. You said that your friend from Orlando is upset with his franchise, something that we did not see very much of when LeBron James decided to leave Cleveland. Instead, and correct me if I'm wrong, I'd say that 99% of the vitriol was aimed at LBJ while most Cleveland fans were not particularly upset with Dan Gilbert. In the cases of Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, however, it seems that so many people are upset with how the front office is handling their potential departure. The fact that the players are being more open than LeBron was certainly helps. Although, by being so open about where they'd prefer to play, they end up hijacking the franchise. It's all well and good for Chris Paul to say that he won't sign an extension with New Orleans, but I think it's absurd for him to be talking about his potential destinations and attempt to force his way to a particular city.
It brings me back to the point that Charles Barkley made when LeBron was constantly flirting with other teams about the summer of 2010 and his impending free agency. Barkley went on SportsCenter and said that LeBron should "shut the hell up". I agreed with him then and I believe the same advice ought to apply to CP3 and D12. Be up front with your current team about your plans for the future, but do so in private. There's no need to tell the media that you want to team up with Amar'e and Carmelo when there is no chance that the Hornets trade you there. After all, you signed a contract and it is your obligation to play out the remainder of that contract. After the contract expires, Chris Paul is free to talk about the New York Knicks all he wants, but until then, it's insulting to his current teammates, fans, and management that gave him a chance in the first place. When LeBron James decided to take his talents elsewhere, people outside of Cleveland consistently maintained that he "didn't owe us anything". That's true; he gave us 7 years and he (usually) played his hardest. The same will be true about Chris Paul after his contract expires. He won't owe anything else to the city of New Orleans, but at the same time, the Hornets don't owe him anything either. They ought to pursue their own best interests and get the best trade package for him if that's the route they decide to take. There's no need to accommodate Chris Paul by sending him to NYK for a few extra basketball pumps. In the end, we have to remember one thing: this is a business. As much as we like to make it out to be something more than that, at the end of the day, it's business. When all is said and done, Chris Paul will do what he thinks is best for Chris Paul and the Hornets have to do what they think is best for their franchise.
Aaron: I wouldn't say 99% of Cleveland fans were happy with the franchise in the wake of LeBron's departure -- it was high, but it'd be more like 80-90%. There were certainly fans who thought the franchise had failed in an existential way to put talent around him. And while I agree with your second point, that players ought to be less forthcoming about these things so his team can get fair return for him, I'd stop just short of giving them all the blame. To be sure, they should do things in private. The way CP3 is handling this trade is, quite honestly, atrocious. It's essentially saying that Hornets fans don't matter. If he's "not going to accept" an extension anywhere else but the Knicks, why did he need to say that? Why couldn't he at least let the Hornets try to get a fair deal for him instead of automatically taking half the teams in the league off the table? But, again -- as irritated and sad for Hornets fans as this makes me, I stop short of fully blaming the player. Because you have to keep in context the fact that neither him nor Melo ever said anything to that nature publicly. The media have gotten almost TOO good at the undercover-sourching game. And in this drama-focused media culture, they don't see anything problematic about torpedoing one franchise if they can get the latest scoop. A lot of the blame falls on the players -- they shouldn't be trying to force trades in the first place, I agree that they should just play out their contract and let things work themselves out. But a not-insignificant portion of the blame falls on the media for sensationalizing tidbits and rumors from unnamed sources to create these monstrous narratives out of hearsay. That's what really bugs me about all this. It's a business, yeah, but in explicitly torpedoing the value that the Hornets can receive in a trade, the media effectively sabotage the Hornets business to the gain of the franchises he named. It's still a business, for the media that leak this stuff. Just... not one where small markets have any real power, that's for sure.