The Mini-Max Contract: Where 2010 All Began
No one likes the Free Agent Super-Summit, even those rumored to be involved. It may or may not be collusion, and on a good day, makes LeBron James and friends look like ardent disciples of Mikhail Prokhorov -- without the funny accent that charms out all into submission.
Certainly, the forced drama and posturing around the event, which may or may not have ever been meant literally, grate on even the most pro-player observers. And admittedly, there's a hill of difference between this summer and Jim Brown -- an avowed supporter of LeBron's hunt for fulfillment -- trying to get some basic dignity for himself and other NFL players. But silliness and bad public relations aside, there's an important middle ground missing here. It's the place where NBA players, all too long held hostage by incompetent organizations and the truism that heaven was six years at max money, risk stability for a chance at some leverage.
It's the mini-max effort of 2006, where James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh coordinated shorter deals exactly so their teams would have to do right by them (and so they could sneak in under the upcoming CBA). Was the goal solidarity down the road? Or just smart business they all suggested to each other? Either way, it was such a good idea that Chris Paul and Deron Williams followed suit two seasons later.
No longer could a superstar be paid off and taken for granted -- or, if you want to be glum about it, invested in heavily and find themselves an albatross down the road. This was a power-grab, but in a much-deserved way.
You see other stars regretting, however implicitly, their more traditional contracts. Dwight Howard calls for change to the Magic, but is locked in through 2012. Carmelo Anthony, who at the time was in no position to hold the franchise hostage, now has an extra year of uncertainty with the Nuggets before deciding if that team will ever be able to keep its head on straight through the postseason.
As I suggested when Wade first made, then denied, his comments. this whole thing strikes me as little more than sound labor practice, executed poorly. Granted, these max-contract free agents aren't reaching for rights that all players can enjoy. However, to say that they are forcing teams to grovel, unfairly sharing information, or trying to take over the NBA unfairly makes the next leap, mistaking style for substance.
Cleveland Frowns built on Dan Shanoff's claim that LeBron left Cleveland hanging this season, and thus never intended to stay. I see it a different way. The Cavs brought in Shaquille O'Neal, thinking that guaranteed them the title LeBron craved. They refused to swing a deal for Amar'e Stoudemire because J.J. Hickson was too valuable. Antawn Jamison was brought on board, with little or no effort to integrate him into the offense -- whatever that was.
James said, in effect, show me the championship team. The Cavs came up short. For this, he owes them? He should have signed before this season, so they could have gotten away with murder? Shaq was a blunder, and Cleveland just might have to pay the price for it.
I know, it hurts the fans and kills team morale. A lame duck superstar is bad for entire communities. But guess what? It's not their responsibility to securely lash themselves to a team, regardless of the direction its headed in. Free agency has long been about chasing cash. Except when you look at a team like the Knicks, who have made an art form out of financial mismanagement, or that Bulls team that, no matter what Wade thinks, has a GM who fights with coaches and few indications that it knows how to build a winner.
Forget for a second that these are multi-millionaires who, in some vague way, owe each and every one of us. Do they also owe us their blind faith?
Again, sympathy for these select few is hard to come by. But I'm not clear as to why it's a question of tyrants run amok, or volunteered slavery (to paraphrase William Rhoden by way of Rashaan Roland Kirk). The mini-max made a strong statement, it was a decision that James, Wade, and Bosh came to together, and by consolidating their power base, they didn't just earn more power or money -- they demanded respect.
Teams had to put up or shut up. If this is a new paradigm, then it's one we might have to get used to, instead of condemning it according to old standards. Either that, or we really do want franchises (and fans, their sentimental proxies) to hold all the cards -- even though they are hardly the model of competency. If you think of this summer as nothing more than superstars trying to take over the league, then it's kind of gross.
However, if it's an extension of the mini-max -- an attempt to whip front offices into shape and fight the assumption that a James or Wade can be bought indefinitely -- then what's so bad about continuing to put pressure on teams? Maybe it's LeBron's fault that the Cavs came up short. Still, he shouldn't be the one dealing with inertia. If he has limitations, he needs teammates, and an organization, that gloss over those.
Unless, really, we want superstars to end up as either part of the family, scapegoats, or hamstrung buffoons unable to master their own destinies. Anything less than mini-maxes and Super Summits continues to put too many of the cards in the hands of teams and fans who frankly have done nothing to deserve them.
Maybe they're out for power, but power isn't always a bad thing. After all, as Amar'e's arms have long screamed, knowledge is power, and knowing is knowledge.