David Stern on LeBron James' Free Agency: That's Our System
That's what the NBA Commissioner said in so many words Monday night prior to the Cavs loss to Boston in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Stern stressed he hopes James stays in Cleveland, but his words no doubt did little to quell growing angst from Cavs fans.
"You know, that's the deal," Stern said. "Here's the draft. Here's where you go. Here's where you sign yet another contract. And then you have an option as a player. I hate to take the other side, because I was trained to fight against it. But it's been great.
"Hopefully he'll stay. That's the way the system is designed, to make it better for him to stay and easier for the team to do it. But I guess it was so hard-fought by the players, and they gave up other things to have that ability. Something called free agency."
Stern pointed out that the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement gives teams the advantage when it comes to keeping their players, but it does not guarantee it. So Cavaliers fans who are edgy about losing James will have to stay edgy until he makes a decision.
"There were good negotiations and we came up with what we thought was a fair balance. And that's where we are," he said.
The rules do allow the Cavs to pay James an extra year to stay, but he will have options, which is what he has always said he wants. James' seven years in Cleveland have included consecutive MVP Awards and serious devotion from fans. Prior to the game, James spoke after being presented the MVP trophy, but said nothing about the future.
"The talk of free agency, the players bargained for that," Stern said. "I was there ... When Junior Bridgeman said to Abe Pollin, 'We should be allowed to have free agency and go wherever we want at some point in our career.' Abe said, 'You know what? He's right.'
"So it was agreed. We have these two competing considerations, but it works for us. It's actually interesting for the media and fans to contemplate and it's going to be part of the very exciting part of our season after our season is over, hopefully."
Stern also said he's not inclined to mandate that MVP votes become public because three votes in Orlando went to Magic center Dwight Howard. He almost scoffed at the notion of "transparency" for voting.
"Why?" he said. "To embarrass somebody who voted for Kevin Durant or Dwight Howard for MVP? Those are good votes."
Howard had legitimate MVP credentials, but all of Howard's votes came from Orlando-area media (including FanHouse's Tim Povtak, a former Magic beat writer).
"I think it's a fair subject to look at," Stern said. "It shouldn't be unfairly done, but it works for us. It isn't close, and so we're going to go pick on three media members because they saw (Howard) more?"
Finally, Stern said the league rule -- he said it's not a loophole -- that allows a team to re-acquire a player it has traded should be changed.
The Cavs brought the rule to the forefront when they sent Zydrunas Ilgauskas to Washington for Antawn Jamison at the trade deadline. The Cavs showed a lot of remorse and angst at the time of the deal -- GM Danny Ferry nearly cried when discussing it -- but Washington almost immediately bought out Ilgauskas' contract and he was back with the Cavs before April.
Ilgauskas could have signed with any team immediately after being released, but had to wait 30 days to return to Cleveland. The entire transaction brought rolled eyes and smirks around the league, because most expected him to return to Cleveland.
"I think that it's not a great idea," Stern said. "I guess when we did it 30 days seemed enough. It's not. I'm sure that on the table will be a longer period."
Boston coach Doc Rivers and Lakers coach Phil Jackson both said the rule should be changed, but before Monday's game Rivers also said a player like Ilgauskas, who had spent all of his 11-year career in Cleveland, deserved to return.
"It wouldn't have almost been right if he would have gone someplace else," Rivers said.
That being said, after all the angst and talk, Ilgauskas has barely been on the floor in the playoffs. He played a total of 33 minutes in five games against Chicago, and has been on the floor all of five minutes in two games against Boston. He missed two games entirely -- including Game 2 against the Celtics.