Let me begin today with NBA free agency and that portion of the calendar year when NBA teams adjust their rosters. Gordon Hayward signing on with the Boston Celtics must feel like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn; he seems to be the only top-shelf NBA free agent ignoring Horace Greeley’s advice, “Go west, young man.” Paul George went west from Indiana to Oklahoma City in a trade; Jimmy Butler went west in a trade from Chicago to Minnesota; Paul Millsap took his talents from Atlanta to Denver; Chris Paul changed teams but remained in the Western Conference; Gordon Hayward went from Utah eastward to Boston. For his efforts, reports say Hayward will get a contract for $128M over 4 years.
The new NBA TV deals that kicked in last season have left the league awash in cap room; the soft cap in the NBA is just a shade under $100M for the upcoming season so the contract numbers you are seeing now – and will be seeing over the next year or two – are going to seem outlandish. Get used to it…
The Celtics went to the Eastern Conference finals last year losing there to the Cavaliers 4-1. The Celtics drafted Jayson Tatum a few weeks ago and he looks like a bona fide prospect; now they added a premier free agent – perhaps THE premier free agent of the 2017 class – to the roster. Therefore, people now want to opine on the obvious question:
- Have the Celtics done enough to be able to unseat the Cavaliers as the “big dog” in the NBA Eastern Conference?
The Cavs have basically stood pat so far this off-season; their only major change was the firing of their GM and not replacing him to date. Gordon Hayward definitely makes the Celtics a better team but the Celtics still lack a dominant rebounder and what has come to be called a “rim protector”. As of today, I do not think the Celtics have overtaken the Cavs in the East but I do wonder if the fact that they have made no moves signals another LeBron James departure from Cleveland next year when his contract is up. Were that to happen, the Celtics would be the heir-apparent to the Cavs in the East…
I said above that some of the numbers you will read regarding NBA free agency would seem outlandish. Here is an example; the Washington Post reports this morning that the Brooklyn Nets have extended a max contract offer to Washington Wizards’ free-agent, Otto Porter, Jr. [Aside: Porter also had a max offer from the Sacramento Kings but did not accept it; he has accepted the one from the Nets.] Given Porter’s 4-year tenure in the NBA, his deal maxed out at 4 years and $106M. Last year was Porter’s most productive season as a pro and here are the highlights:
- 32.6 minutes/game; 51.6% field goal accuracy; 43.6% 3-point accuracy; 13.4 points/ game; 6.4 rebounds/game; 1.5 assists per game
Otto Porter, Jr. is 23 years old; I think this contract offer represents “betting on the come”. Those are nice numbers but somehow, I don’t think they – as the most productive year of Porter’s career – stand out as mandating a max contract offer.
Porter is a restricted free agent meaning that the Wizards can match that offer and retain his services. The Wizards have indicated they have “every intention” to match the offer indicating to me that there are at least 3 NBA teams – Kings, Nets and Wizards – who think Otto Porter, Jr. is a max-contract player starting right now.
The Hawks loss of Millsap means that the team has lost two important players in two consecutive seasons. Last year, Al Horford left the Hawks to sign with the Celtics. Two seasons ago, the Hawks won 60 games in the regular season; without Horford and Millsap, I suspect they will struggle to win 35 games next year.
And what of the Utah Jazz? In addition to losing Hayward, they also lost point guard George Hill to free-agency and replaced him with Ricky Rubio acquired in a trade with the Timberwolves. They still have Rudy Gobert as a significant defensive presence but I do not see a way for the Jazz to find a “replacement” for Hayward at this juncture. In the loaded Western Conference, the Jazz will struggle next year to make the playoffs.
Enough NBA stuff for now… Let me turn to the intersection of jurisprudence and sports. The US Department of Justice has withdrawn from a pending case in court that would have barred the Washington Redskins from maintaining their trademark based on a provision of the Lanham Act. That act said that the US government could deny trademark protection to words or phrases or images that were offensive to peoples. As I noted recently, a decision by the US Supreme Court in a totally unrelated case struck down that provision of the Lanham Act saying that it violated the First Amendment protection of free expression.
The protest over the team name has waxed and waned for decades. Long before this ever went to court, I remember calls for the team to change its offensive name going back to the late 1970s or the early 1980s. In the last 3 decades or so, there have been marches and protests; various news outlets have forsworn the use of the team name; a host of sportswriters and commentators have railed against the use of this racial slur. Former president, Barack Obama, publicly aligned himself with the protest movement and suggested that Danny Boy Snyder change the team name. None of that amounted to a dash of doggie doo-doo.
Finally, it seems that the protesters focused on the only path that might get them to the goal that they set for themselves – namely the team name gets changed. They stopped trying to make this a moral issue and turned it into an economic issue. Had they prevailed and stripped the Washington Redskins of trademark protection the path to forcing a name change would have been a lot smoother; with this defeat, they have two choices open:
- Go back to making this a moral issue. That is not going to work so long as Danny Boy Snyder owns the team, but it will make lots of the protesters and the sportswriters/commentators feel good about their continued righteousness.
- Find another economic angle to this protest that allows the protesters to use the potential loss of dollars as the fulcrum for their change objective.
I am not trying to be “Negative Nancy” here, but I really do not think there are any other things to do now. [Aside: Some suggested that the DoJ should have kept the case alive because the Supreme Court could still have ruled favorably in this case because it has some differences from the one that generated the previous decision. The problem with that “argument” is that the Supreme Court decision was a unanimous 8-0 decision; there is no assurance the Court would even take the case.]
Finally, let me try to end today’s rant on a lighter note. Consider, please, this comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:
“A British soldier won the National Cheese Rolling Championships where competitors chase a 9-pound wheel of cheese. A group of humans dressed in wiener suits racing around a U.S. baseball stadium stopped in front of a TV monitor to go, ‘Stupid!’”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………