BY: ALEX BOGACH
I’ve always opposed people who believe strongly in the NBA and its sinister conspiracy plots. One of the most famous theories is that the NBA Draft Lottery is rigged. The theory’s momentum is based around the 1985 lottery when the Knicks won the first pick to get Patrick Ewing. Back then, when all non-playoff teams had equal chance at the top pick, David Stern would play BINGO by selecting envelopes out of a round rolling bin, calling out the teams one at the time. People believe that to ensure the Knicks got Ewing, Stern froze the Knicks envelope and just had to pick the cold envelope last. An even more convincing theory is that the Knicks’ envelope had a bend on one of its corners—which if you watch the YouTube video is pretty eye-opening.
But I’ve been against these movements. Does the league want big market teams to be successful? Of course. Some believe the NBA compensates teams with high lottery selections—like Cleveland who landed with the 1st and 4th overall picks in the lottery this year after losing LeBron James. Some believe that the NBA will do anything to see the Lakers and Celtics win with evidence like the foul discrepancy in the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and Kings, the Celtics forming around Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce or the Kwame Brown-Pau Gasol trade.
The problem with this logic is that you can form history to say almost whatever you want. How come Minnesota, who has never won the 1st overall pick, never got ‘compensated’ for trading Kevin Garnett, ditto for the Grizzlies giving up Gasol, what about Detroit and San Antonio winning championships? If they love big markets so much—why the hell are were the Clippers the worst managed team…ever.
But even that does not convince the conspiracy theorists. And I understand that. Stern wouldn’t want the Celtics and Lakers to win every title (just 33 of them). The Tim Donaghy scandal appears to be only a “rogue” example and not a league-wide trend—but how do we know for sure? There’s reason to be skeptical.
But here’s what I’ve always said to people that believe in these theories. There is no way that the NBA takes such a large risk for such minimal gains. Yes, they make more money if the Lakers, Celtics and Bulls are successful, but if their so-called conspiracy becomes confirmed they lose everything! If the NBA is rigged, it’s over. The league is done. If ESPN starts getting confirmed reports that the entire playoffs are rigged then the league is done. If the lottery is rigged, there are serious ramifications. If that information exists somewhere and gets leaked, then that’s it. Game over, NBA. It didn’t make sense for the NBA to get involved with these things because the risk is too high.
The league already makes so much money—why do they want to risk it all? They have a successful business model. Why contaminate it with rigging the league? Good basketball brings money to the league. That’s the truth. It’s the reason why last season was such a success. We had good teams battling hard, playing competitively and passionately on TV every night. No need for the league to mess with the product they have.
Vetoing Paul to the Lakers raised suspiction throughout the NBA world.
But amidst all of this finger pointing, conspiracy theorizing and dot connecting, there has been nothing as damning as the Chris Paul fiasco. The league stepped in and ran negotiations for the Hornets and created a clear conflict of interest. We can argue whether they got a better deal than what Dell Demps was hauling in from the Lakers and Houston, but the truth of the matter is that they had no business doing what they did. Maybe they got a better deal, maybe not. The point is that now the NBA has raised suspicion.
The NBA has turned from the guy looking a little suspicious at the airport to the guy fumbling through mysterious wires, cables and unidentifiably metal objects in his carry on baggage. The first guy draws suspicion and an extra look; the second guy will get questioned at every corner he turns.
And that’s where the NBA is now. Every turn it makes, it’s going to get questioned. That argument that the NBA would never be dumb enough to rig the league just lost a lot of weight in the debate. It’s not to say that all conspiracy theories are now true, but rather that if you never thought Stern had the balls to get seriously involved in this league’s basketball operations—we have hard evidence now he’s not afraid to get involved.
I still don’t think the lottery is rigged. I think getting involved with the Paul stuff (despite it being so flat-out dumb) is not as ridiculous as the NBA rigging the draft lottery. At least with Paul, they felt they needed to protect the re-sale value of the team.
But now the NBA is facing a new type of scrutiny. As the Clippers began to pull back from Paul discussions early last week when Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe and the Minnesota 1st round pick were required by the league, many people wondered how the Hornets were going to function this year. They had 6 guys signed to contracts in training camp, their team was completely depleted and Chris Paul was still on the roster with pre-season games beginning this week! The NBA needed to find a home for Paul fast while still not taking a sufficiently inferior deal with the Clippers.
[Note: Not getting Eric Gordon from the Clippers would have probably lost Stern forever for me. That would be undeniably saying: “The league just decided where its best point guard should be playing”]
In New York, the signing of Tyson Chandler forced the Knicks to amnesty Chauncey Billups to free up the needed cap room. Billups became subject to a secret auction. All teams under the salary cap could place bids on Billups and the highest bid is where Billups would have to play. He wouldn’t have a choice.
[Note: This was largely to prevent amnestied players, like Billups, from ignoring other teams and simply forcing his way to the Heat/Lakers etc. The NBA restored some degree of competitive balance with this rule because it allows teams to keep good players away from the Heat/Lakers and other over the cap teams. More on this later]
Billups is now in L.A with the Clippers and a backup to Chris Paul.
So, with numerous bids on the table for Billups’ services, it turned out that the Clippers had placed the highest bid ($2,000,032—2 million plus Blake Griffin’s number for good luck) and got Billups! What a coincidence.
Now, what if the league told the Clippers how much to bid. What if they told Clipper executives what to bid, under the condition that they make the deal for Paul and give up Gordon. Or maybe the Clippers were afraid of losing Eric Bledsoe and wanted another guard and the league said “Fine, keep Bledsoe, you can get Billups. You should bid anything over $2 million and you’ll get him”.
Pretty scary, right? The league is not only screwing over the Hornets now, but every other team that made an honest bid on Billups. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports! brought up this scenario as a hypothetical in one of his columns. And what if it did? That would be something that could certainly seriously threaten the league’s credibility and public image. Stern would be done. The league would be facing intense legal action. And oh, remember those fans that were pissed off about the lockout—yeah, I’m sure they’d be forgiving.
Not only that but that competitive balance you’ve been harping all summer becomes a blatant lie. You just took a starting point guard (Billups) and put him on the Clippers so you can trade the best point guard in the league (Paul) to them. Yep, balance.
But I never liked conspiracy theories. I don’t believe in them for the NBA. It just doesn’t make business sense. It’s too big of risk! But after what it’s done with the Chris Paul negotiations, who the hell says the NBA wouldn’t tell the Clippers what to bid on Billups? Isn’t that a totally possible scenario? Isn’t that something we could see the league doing after it seized basketball operations from a team they said they were giving full autonomy!
David Stern never addressed the fact that he told the Hornets just don’t pay luxury tax and you can do whatever you want. He put Jac Sperling in charge of the franchise to avoid a situation exactly like we’re seeing right now!
Devious, deceitful and manipulative behavior from the commissioner’s office has always been a trademark accusation from the conspiracy theorists. Now, with the way the NBA has handled this situation, they’ve opened everyone’s eyes.
Earlier this year during the season, when both the NBA and the players’ association began their PR campaigns while anticipating a lockout, David Stern tried to intimidate players’ union officials by famously declaring that he knew “where the bodies were buried”.
Now in the post-Paul trade era, NBA fans may not know where the bodies are buried they but there’s a dreadful smell coming from the commissioner’s office.
Follow Beating the Buzzer on Twitter @btbsports and “Like” our Facebook fan page here. You can also follow Alex Bogach on Twitter @the_REAL_alexb.
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