Sunday Sports Blogging: Going to the Well Once Too Often

Watching the NBA coverage on ABC over the last half hour or so, I’m reminded how tired I am of the pervasive excuse for everything that seems wrong in sports at the moment; “The Economy.” The latest thing The Economy seems to be to blame for is the lack of activity at the NBA trading deadline. Well pardon my French, but that’s just bullshit, and not very good bullshit at that.

First of all, some context. It was always insane to expect another deadline like last years, or to expect the flurry of All-Stars changing teams that pervaded the NBA since roughly the time Allen Iverson was traded to the Nuggets to the time he was traded to Detroit. There is a reason, after all, that we say the NBA stands for No Balls Association, and it was last year, not this year, that was the outlier.

As it pertains to the shortage of major deals, allow me to offer a much simpler explanation; the league’s top teams are more or less happy with the teams they have. There’s no need for the Lakers to go out an acquire a Pau Gasol this year. Cleveland is happy with the way their team is playing, and sees no reason to make any major changes. Boston is contending for the top seed in the East again. San Antonio is confident they can still compete in the playoffs if healthy. Orlando did go out and fill their only glaring need, getting Rafer Alston to replace the injured Jameer Nelson for the rest of the year. And there were some fairly important deals made. The Shawn Marion for Jermaine O’Neal makes both the Raptors and the Heat better immediately, and represents a major gamble on the part of the Heat. It also blows up the idea that the economy is looming that large in teams’ minds, as O’Neal is scheduled to make $25 million+ next season.

On the other hand, there just weren’t any big names on the trading block. Amare Stoudamire was never going to get traded, especially once Phoenix canned Terry Porter and brought back the 7 second offense. Chris Bosh wasn’t leaving Toronto, if he wasn’t being replaced with Amare. The one big name that was somewhat likely to move, Shaquille O’Neal to Cleveland, fell through because Cleveland is happy enough with their team this season that they don’t need to give up Wally Sczerbiak’s $13.8 million expiring contract, and there was no reason for Phoenix to swap the All-Star O’Neal for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic if it was only going to free up $5.5 million in cap space.

The question I’m left with then is why, exactly the economy is getting trotted out so often, and the most likely answer seems to be that management is going to use it as a club against players. Reporters are reporting what they’re hearing from executives, after all, so it’s general managers and so forth who are trotting out The Economy as the excuse for all of these things. David Stern is already using it as an excuse to lower the salary cap, even though it’s hard to understand what that has to do with anything. If teams don’t have the money to spend on players, they won’t spend it and players won’t get paid. There’s no need to reduce the salary cap in that situation. It is convenient, however, to use it as a public excuse to drop the cap and artificially force down players’ salaries, putting more money in management’s pockets. And I suspect that’s what you’re seeing in the NBA, and I expect Major League Baseball to use a similar line of reasoning to further agitate for forcing a salary cap on the players.

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