Player power takes a grip
Nothing of significance was really expected to happen before the NBA's trading deadline. Owners, general managers and players had gathered in Los Angeles for the All Star game last weekend, and the consensus was Thursday would come and go with modest player movement.
Then Carmelo Anthony was finally dealt by the Denver Nuggets, and players started moving across the country so quickly you worried they might run into each other in mid-air.
When it was over, three things seemed clear: the biggest cities remain the players' main destination; the shift of power from the West to the East continues; and the much-discussed NBA lockout after the season has never seemed so real.
It is the star players who are in control, who dictate where they will play. And they are drawn to New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami. To the brightest of lights, to the biggest of markets.
Whether they move as free agents (a la LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami) or, in the final year of their contract, force teams to move them where they want to go (Anthony to New York, Deron Williams to New Jersey), the players are taking control.
Currently it has shifted the balance of power from the West to East. Carlos Boozer leaving Utah for Chicago. Amare Stoudemire from Phoenix to New York and now Williams from Utah to New Jersey, and Anthony from Denver to New York.
Whether next it is Chris Paul wanting to move to New York or Dwight Howard eying Los Angeles, the rich franchises intend to stay fat and happy, while the smaller markets struggle. Rare is a player such as Tim Duncan, happy to spend his entire career with the San Antonio Spurs.
The players are simply taking advantage of the situation available. They can form their club team in a city of choice. And if most people could freely choose between living in Cleveland or Miami, they would make the same decision Dwayne Wade, James and Bosh did.
Which is why it is growing more difficult for the Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Unlike in most other sports, in basketball it only takes one or two key players to make a significant difference. Witness the Cavaliers with James (50 victories every season) and without (not even 20).
Players do what is best for players, not for teams or cities.
Which is why talk about a player lockout after the season is far from simply the rattling of cages. The NBA needs a new system.
Whether it is a hard salary cap, a franchise tag for a player, less guaranteed money, something will have to change in next collective bargaining agreement with players. The trading deadline showed that, again.
Updated: February 28, 2011 04:00 AM