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The Works: Dreary Doings in Denver; Z-Bo's Strange Desire

Nov 10, 2010 – 12:00 PM
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In The Works today: charting the cha-ching! NBA owners have heard over the past 20 years and how Zach Randolph's alleged desire to be a Piston is weird.

But first we take a look at the machinations, or lack thereof, of the Nuggets front office.

Downsizing in Denver

The latest shake-up in the Denver front office is news, largely because the Denver front office has to make a decision on Carmelo Anthony at some point before season's end. Unless the Nuggets magically improve tenfold and entice Anthony into staying, these executives will either preside over the deal that reboots the franchise (way to pass on Derrick Favors, guys) or catch the tomatoes with their faces if 'Melo leaves as a free agent -- leaving the team empty-handed.

But as much as the Nuggets' executive soap opera makes for good news -- largely because it relates to 'Melo's future -- it's a smokescreen. The Nuggets have no choice but to trade Anthony; they passed on the best deal they're going to get, and it was good even before Favors surpassed all expectations. Whoever is left in the unenviable position of, well, doing anything in Denver's basketball operations department, is being set up for failure. The franchise is changing hands -- even the outgoing owner Stan Kroenke is lucky like a rat jumping off a sinking ship.

Fine, upstanding professionals should want to get out of the Nuggets. Unless there's some young, Sam Presti-like whiz kid lurking in the organization with a master plan for rejuvenation, in the short-term, this is a dead-end job. Actually, it's worse: it's a suicide mission.

Reading the 'Melo tea leaves based on the coming and goings in Denver won't tell you whether 'Melo stays or goes. He's going. The question is when, and for how little, and how exactly the team will run damage control. They need to bring in a patsy, or ultra-slick suit, capable of taking blame or restoring confidence while the team's future slouches towards an uncertain future. And, once it gets there, buy time while the new owners track down a Presti-like whiz kid to pick up the pieces in grand fashion. If not, some poor soul is going to get stuck in the crossfire -- or rather, the slow death -- that is this organization waiting on 'Melo. Place the emphasis on the last syllable there for a really dumb, really apt, joke.

So we can keep monitoring the Nuggets for signs of what's next. But we all know what's next. When it comes to their front office, the question isn't when 'Melo leaves -- at this point, it's academic -- but what sap is left holding the bag. Or exactly what kind of political spin doctor is installed to convince folks that the Nuggets aren't in limbo, just waiting to be broken. Who knows, maybe turning the organization itself into the point of interest is itself the first step in a master strategy. (BS)

Lying Liar and Their Lies, Part II

Yesterday, we talked about whether David Stern is a liar for saying NBA teams are losing as collective $350 million a year while teams like the Warriors are being sold for a record $450 million. I argued that the issues are separate, and that Stern is clearly treating the issues separately, which may be disingenuous. For the league and union to treat the issues separately is certainly disingenuous. If owners squeal that the business of running a basketball is too costly, requiring payroll cuts for the players, then the players have every right to question why the immense growth in team value owners see isn't involved in the equation.

Owners could argue that team value growth is just paper, not real revenue. But the $450 million that Chris Cohan and the soon-to-be former Warriors owners just earned would disagree. So would the green the Pollin family pulled when selling the Wizards, and what Pistons owner Karen Davidson will receive in exchange for the franchise her late husband bought for -- no joke -- $8 million some 35 years ago.

Team valuations should be central to the discussions the league and union have next summer as they (fingers crossed) iron out a new collective bargaining agreement. As I argued Tuesday, rich men don't buy NBA teams to turn an immediate profit. There are Pinkberry franchises for that. Folks buy NBA teams because it's a long-term investment that comes with a whole lot of glamor. It's basically a sure bet, if you're willing to hang on to the asset for a decade or so.

To lubricate the discussions of how team values should be considered going forward, I present the following chart depicting what franchises were worth when their current owners bought them and what Forbes reports that they are worth now. Teams that have officially changed hands this year -- the Nets, Wizards and Bobcats -- have been omitted.



If you bought your NBA team any time before 2000, congratulations, you have turned a farthing into a pile of pounds sterling. If you bought your NBA teams in the new millennium, congratulations, chances are you have turned a pound sterling into a shiny houseboat on the Seine. Cohan bought the Warriors for $119 million in 1995, made the playoffs once in 15 seasons, and sold the team for $450 million this year. That is not something Stern can expect the union to ignore when Stern is asking the players to give up a third of their paychecks.

The current set of owners minus brand new bros Michael Jordan (Charlotte), Mikhail Prokhorov (New Jersey) and Ted Leonsis (Washington) have seen the combined values of their teams grow $6.5 billion since those 27 owners bought their respective teams. Jerry Buss has seen the Lakers' value grow $587 million in 21 years. Michael Heisley has seen the Grizzlies' value grow $97 million in 10 years. Dan Gilbert has seen the Cavaliers' value grow $101 million in five years. Mark Cuban of the Mavericks: $166 million in 10 years. Cablevision with the Knicks: $286 million in 13 years. And on and on and on ...

It ain't cash until you sell, but Cohan and the Pollin family have proven that those valuations are worth something. The Davidsons will soon prove it again. (Please Lord Almighty let Heisley and Sterling soon prove it true, too.) It's disingenuous for the league's owners to ignore the golden eggs they are sitting on while arguing that the players are bankrupting them. These gaudy valuations don't make Stern a liar. They just make him look like he's trying to hide a giant pot of gold from his players. (TZ)


Z-Bo's Motown Sound

I know it's fashionable to dump on the Grizzlies, especially after the odious Mike Conley extension. But has it really gotten so bad that Zach Randolph -- the team's most established star -- would want to bolt for Detroit? I couldn't tell you whether the rumors are true about Randolph preferring the Pistons, or that Z-Bo is looking for a three-year deal from Chris Wallace. Certainly, though, the non-team that is the Pistons would be a more dire destination than the Grizz. Is Detroit a worse place to live than Memphis? I can't call it, but neither city is South Beach.

It makes some sense that Randolph would only want three years, so he could chase a ring. By that logic, though, wouldn't he want to go ahead and pack off to somewhere promising ... somewhere other than Detroit? Randolph has evolved from a malcontent to a socially acceptable anchor for a roster. As the Commercial Appeal notes, the Conley deal does sort of put the pressure on the Grizzlies to make Randolph a good offer. The last thing they should want to do is make the All-Star power forward think he's less wanted than an inconsistent point. If Randolph is maybe looking for a better situation down the road, maybe they can get away with a less-than-proportional offer; it certainly makes sense that he might not be looking first and foremost for job security.

But Detroit? It's hard to understand how a bad team in an economically-depressed state would fit into this equation. If Randolph were to link up long-term with the Pistons, suffice it to say that it might be the worst basketball decision of all time. You don't have to be Bill Walton to make that claim. (BS)

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The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is now available.

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