I’m not saying anything profound by declaring that the NBA is a business. Dollars and cents clearly take precedence over loyalty and feelings. But while this harsh reality may often come as a surprise to devoted season ticket holders, the bottom line is the bottom line. There’s a reason teams fire coaches and let the GM take a seat on the bench. Perhaps it’s not the correct basketball move, but the Band-Aid is much cheaper than the surgery.
After the Hornets dealt Bobby Brown to the Clippers yesterday in exchange for a conditional 2014 second-round draft pick, the New Orleans franchise made it clear to the rest of the League what had been apparent for months: they’d rather receive the approximately $5 million rebate that all teams with payrolls below the $69.9 million luxury tax threshold in 2009-10 get, opposed to writing a check to Mr. Stern.
Since July 28, 2009, when New Orleans shipped Tyson Chandler to Charlotte in exchange for Emeka Okafor, the Hornets have rid themselves of millions in payroll through several tax-motivated salary-shedding trades. These have included:
August 12, 2009: Rasual Butler and cash traded to L.A. Clippers for a conditional 2016 second-round pick
September 9, 2009: Antonio Daniels and a 2014 second-round pick traded to Minnesota for Bobby Brown and Darius Songaila
January 11, 2010: Hilton Armstrong traded to Sacramento for a conditional 2016 second-round pick and cash considerations
January 25, 2010: Devin Brown traded to Chicago for Aaron Gray
January 26, 2010: Bobby Brown traded to L.A. Clippers for a conditional 2014 second-round pick
Five trades later, and all the Hornets roster has to show for it is Songaila (who’s playing almost a career low 17.4 minutes per game) and the newly acquired Gray (who has appeared in only eight games for the Bulls this year). As for the glut of conditional second-round picks, those will most likely never materialize.
After 44 regular season games, the Hornets currently sit 24-20 and tenth in the Western Conference. With Brown’s trade to Clippers, the Hornets are now left with only 12 active players (as Ike Diogu, who signed as a free agent this summer, underwent season-ending micro-fracture surgery to repair his left knee in December); and oft-injured Morris Peterson, who has only appeared in nine games so far this year, is not likely to contribute much. Still, the Hornets faithful stand behind their team’s moves â€“ both personnel and fiscal.
“I think the overall goal, from the very beginning, was to get under the tax line,” says Rohan of AtTheHive.com. “As one of the NBA’s only owners without an additional side venture, George Shinn, by all indications, needs the NBA’s $5 million dollar payout for teams under the tax.”
“I don’t think it’s cost-cutting, rather prudent business,” says Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune. “If you look at the overall standings, the Hornets are right in the thick of the chase for anywhere from the fifth through the eighth seed in the playoffs. Hilton Armstrong was a non-contributor. Marcus Thornton had become much more reliable than Devin Brown. The Bobby Brown trade isn’t part of any roster dismantling because he’s not part of the rotation.
“Why pay a luxury tax unless you’re a team such as the Lakers? The Hornets have proven they can win with a modest payroll.”
Have they though? The Hornets lost their series to the Nuggets in the First Round last year 4-1, after pushing the Spurs to seven games in the Conference Semi-Finals the year before. Hornets coach and general manager Jeff Bower feels that the deals have helped the Hornets avoid the tax, while also keeping their core players.
“You’ll notice who they’re not trading away,” says Sarah Tolcser of HornetsHype.com. “Everyone assumed they couldn’t get under the luxury tax without trading someone like Okafor or [David] West or even CP (but the very idea of that is so insane that they might as well fold the franchise).”
“Jeff Bower has slowly been whittling at the team,” adds Ryan Schwan of Hornets247.com, “but here’s the cold, hard truth about the players the Hornets have traded away: Hilton Armstrong, Bobby Brown and Devin Brown should be a team’s 15th, 14th and 10th best players respectively. Only Devin Brown should be in any team’s rotation â€“ and then only for a bad team.”
So who is the future? Even with the scrubs gone, the Hornets are still fighting for a playoffs spot. And with Paul, West and Okafor locked in for at least the next couple years, it’s not exactly clear that the Hornets have the pieces to win now and keep CP3 happy. But as Tolcser points out, none of this works if second rounder Thornton (who the Hornets traded their second round picks in 2010 and 2012 for his draft rights) doesn’t come out the blocks strong this year.
“The Hornets are looking like they lucked out with that pick,” says Tolcser. “In his starting debut he put up 19. He’s a faster, more athletic, young guy. If you watch Chris Paul, he spends a lot of time both on court and on the bench talking to Thornton and [Darren] Collison, and you have to think he’d be psyched about playing with a young shooting guard who’s a better fit for his abilities â€“ even if he is a rookie.”
Hampered by the virtually untradeable contracts of the Three P’s â€“ Peja, Posey and Peterson â€“ New Orleans has somehow found light at the end of the end of the tunnel. But if I’m a Hornets fan, I’m more concerned with the happiness and well-being of my superstar point guard.
“He’s really savvy about what he says and typically says the right things,” notes Schwan about Paul. “I think he was more bothered by what happened over the summer â€“ Chandler for Okafor and Butler for nothing â€“ than what the Hornets did in-season. Chandler was a friend of his, and Butler was the only player other than West whom he’d played every season of his career with.
“At least in Chandler’s case, I think Paul’s able to see that the trade was good for the team â€“ Chandler has missed 17 games already in Charlotte, while Okafor has played every game and duplicated Chandler’s production.”
“Overall, I think CP understands [the trades],” adds Rohan. “At the end of the day, he probably sees that even the bad contracts were failed attempts to make the team better. I’d feel a lot more uneasy had New Orleans not locked him up last summer, but I’m not worried he’s gonna demand out or something.”
So with 38 games left to play, time will only tell what will become of this year’s Hornets squad. After all the trades and roster movement, if the Hornets don’t make the playoffs, you better believe Paul will let his discontent be known.
What do you think?
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