CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Not all media attention is good media attention, NBA commissioner Adam Silver confirmed Saturday at his annual All-Star Weekend news conference.
Don't get it twisted, the NBA relishes the idea that it can dominate news cycles and sports chatter across 12 months. The idea that free agency, roster maneuvers, trade deadlines, buyout markets, summertime player development and even rumors and gossip can keep tongues wagging and ratings high has been widely embraced at league headquarters and by its member teams.
But that doesn't mean all of its business should be conducted in the street. What the NBA, the New Orleans Pelicans, All-NBA center Anthony Davis, his agent Rich Paul and the Los Angeles Lakers have been embroiled in over the past three weeks would have been better handled “behind closed doors,” the commissioner told reporters at Spectrum Center in the hour before State Farm All-Star Saturday Night.
“When they make a public spectacle of it,” Silver said, “I hear you in terms of the enormous media interest that comes from it. But that's not the kind of media interest we're looking for.”
Paul notified the Pelicans near the end of January that Davis would not sign a contract extension and preferred to be traded to a championship contender. He didn't just tell the Pelicans, though; he went public, less than two weeks before the Feb. 7 trade deadline. The league fined Davis $50,000 for violating a rule in the collective bargaining agreement prohibiting players or their representatives from making public trade demands.
The plot was thick from the start because Paul's biggest client is LeBron James, giving the instant perception that James and the Lakers were trying to leverage Davis to them.
From there, a series of nasty dominoes fell: Paul issued a list of four preferred destinations. Davis' father publicly tried to thwart Boston's interest. The Pelicans declined to cut a deal with L.A. – and got accused of intentionally trying to stir discord within the Lakers' locker room by allegedly leaking players' names.
Once the deadline passed, the NBA reportedly reminded New Orleans that sitting out Davis – to protect its asset until the offseason by avoiding potential injury – was not an acceptable tactic, even as the team seems committed to losing for draft-lottery position. It all led to Friday, when Pelicans GM Dell Demps, who held the line against the Lakers' overtures, was fired.
All of that is the sort of chaos, and headlines, the NBA would prefer to avoid.
“Whether it be a team or a player not meeting a contractual obligation,” Silver said, “that's something you just don't want to see as a league.”
While Davis had 18 months left on his New Orleans contract before he could become a free agent, Silver noted that current CBA is structured to encourage players and their teams to address such stalemates a year in advance. In this case, it would have been fine for Davis and Paul to notify the Pelicans this summer that the All-Star would not re-sign in 2020, thereby giving the team time to probe trades in an orderly fashion.
That's where the closed doors matter. Just in the past two years, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Davis and Kristaps Porzingis have gone public while under contract with trade requests, to varying levels of disruption to their teams.
Silver acknowledged that teams can “blindside” players by abruptly trading them, such as occurred last season with Blake Griffin and DeMar DeRozan. But loyalty isn't the same thing as a guaranteed contract; no-trade clauses, while rare, can be negotiated.
The NBA, under both Silver and his predecessor David Stern, has long been committed to player movement via free agency. But players forcing their way out, in a desire to land in destination markets for basketball or even outside business reasons, can affect the balance of power in the league and the ability of less popular markets to compete.
“I don't want to be overly defensive here because I don't want to defend a system that is ‘smoothly operating,'” Silver said. “I believe it's an area where we can do better. Something we have to sit down with the players' association.
“But I'm ultimately confident that these are not endemic problems with the league. To me, these are very fixable issues.”
Silver fielded questions on topics both related and unrelated to the recent trade demands/tampering controversy, including:
He said it's too soon to know if the league's changes to the draft-lottery -- flattening the odds of landing the No. 1 pick to 14.0 percent each for the three losingest clubs -- will have the desired effect of discouraging “tanking.”
Four NBA teams entered the All-Star break on pace to win 20 games or fewer this season. Silver does not believe a race to the bottom is in either the league's or those teams' best interest. Especially when franchises do it for multiple years.
“I understand genuine rebuilding,” he said.
But the idea that, if you're going to be bad, you might as well be really bad? Said Silver: “I believe, personally, that's corrosive for those organizations.”
As encouraging as the current standings might be -- with teams in Milwaukee, Denver, Oklahoma City and Indiana thriving -- Silver sees payroll issues as potentially undermining competitive balance. Some teams have more money to spend, others chose to spend to the point of unprofitability. He noted that the NBA has had seven different champions over the past 11 Finals, while the NFL -- known for its parity -- has seen New England play in nine of the past 18 Super Bowls.
Asked about the Dallas Mavericks' front-office sexual harassment and discrimination scandal that grabbed headlines almost a year ago, Silver said the team's and the league's follow-up has generated results. “What was reported to me and through the organization was that there was a complete sea change in culture on the business side of the Mavericks,” he said. Silver recently traveled to Dallas and spoke with employees.
The idea to invite aging legends Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade to the All-Star Game, adding a roster spot for each, came from a fan's e-mail, the commissioner said.
Silver called the Currys -- father Dell and sons Steph and Seth -- the “first family of Charlotte, at least this week.” Dell Curry played for the Hornets, with All-Star Steph and fellow 3-point contestant Seth raised in the area.
Silver provided background on the shift of Charlotte's All-Star Weekend from 2017 to 2019, the NBA's response to a political battle in North Carolina that critics said discriminated against members of the LGBTQ community. He credited Hornets owner Michael Jordan, team president Fred Whitfield and others with helping to get the controversial HB2 bill repealed and bringing together those on both sides to restore the game.
Some numbers of note:
- Approximately 150 former NBA players came to Charlotte and volunteered in community service events, clinics and other activities.
- An estimated 1,500 NBA “guests” participated in a day of service Friday in the area.
- About 150,000 people have traveled to Charlotte, Silver said, to attend All-Star events. And the state and city are estimating that All-Star Weekend will have $100 million in economic impact.
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