Like clockwork, something happens ever NBA season that turns the basketball world on its head. These things tend to be trades or free agent pick-ups. Sometimes retirements send out shockwaves. Recently invoking the new CBA’s Amnesty Clause has been a big news item.
These big-deal incidents are often followed by articles and blog posts parsing every element, detailing the impact on teams involved, teams not involved, and the league as a whole, and opinions from far and wide. As certain as a big trade gets done or a toxic contract gets excised is the truism that follows: the “B” in NBA stands for Business.
And it’s true. The NBA is a business. It has been since the day it was birthed. It will be the day it finally dies. James Harden’s trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets (my “expert” analysis: a great team got a little worse, a bad team got a little better, a rich young guy got a lot richer) over the weekend was strictly business.
Call it whatever you want, Sam Presti and his cronies in OKC’s front office care about one thing, the bottom line. They dealt Harden, who is in that perfect spot of one more good season and he’s a superstar and one really bad season and he’s Rashard Lewis, to make sure their bottom line was protected at least until Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are both Lakers.
But I’m not here to talk about James Harden and whether or not he shaves his beard in Houston and rebrands himself as a clean cut Texas oilman. Plenty of very talented writers have taken very good shots at that topic already. (Some I’ve read and enjoyed: Dave Zirin, Zach Lowe, and Matt Moore). I’m here to talk about a business decision made by the Portland Trail Blazers that has more than a few fans scratching their heads.
Coming into the weekend, Portland made their final roster cuts, waiving Adam Morrison, Coby Karl, Dallas Lauderdale, Justin Holiday, and Demonte Harper. Lauderdale, Holiday, and Harper were long shots to make the team.
Coby Karl played well in extended preseason minutes, and Adam Morrison’s triumphant return could have been one of the best stories of the season, but even then, the fact that one of those two didn’t make the team came as no real surprise either.
What was surprising, though, was Morrison or Karl didn’t make the team because Sasha Pavlovic did. As has been pointed out, Pavlovic doesn’t really fit with what Portland is going for in 2012-13. In fact, if he’s given minutes over guys like Will Barton or Victor Claver, which is possible according to reports coming out of practice, he could have a direct negative impact on the Blazers’ future.
So, why did Portland choose a middling, journeyman veteran with barely any upside and the potential to derail at least one promising rookie career over a feisty point guard who will kill himself on the court if it helps his team and a world-weary former Lottery Pick who wants nothing more than to prove to every person on the planet that he deserves to be on an NBA roster? For business reasons. It’s that simple.
Sasha Pavlovic comes to Portland with a guaranteed contract that is being paid by the Boston Celtics. That means Pavlovic is a free player. If Morrison or Karl made the Opening Day roster, Portland would have to pay them. It might not sound like much, considering neither Morrison or Karl would make more than the league minimum, but it’s enough to keep them off the roster.
The showdown for Portland’s final roster spot this season reminded me of a similar competition for spot number 15 a few seasons ago, way back in 08-09. The final two players vying for the Blazers’ last roster spot were Shavlik Randolph and Steven Hill. In case you don’t remember, Randolph was a part-time pro basketball player and a full-time rap video superstar and Steven Hill was (and likely still is) a seven-footer from Arkansas with a great head of hair.
As the preseason was winding down, and Portland was nearing the deadline to make their final cut, Portland’s radio analyst Antonio Harvey made a very well informed statement about which player he thought would make the roster. Harvey said it would be Randolph because between the two, he was the one that was likely to play. He said that in the situation that Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla both went out with injuries, the Blazers would make a trade for a center before they would play Steven Hill.
Harvey turned out to be right on all counts. Randolph, a forward not a center, made the team. When Oden and Przybilla went down, which happened a season later, Portland made a big move and brought in Marcus Camby instead of trying to find something buried deep in their bench. Randolph played only a little in 08-09, but he played. The Blazers went with the thinking that it’s just irresponsible to pay somebody you have no intention of playing.
So what does that have to do with the Morrison-Karl-Pavlovic situation? I just didn’t see a scenario where Coby Karl or Adam Morrison really plays, garbage time aside. Karl proved worthy of a look at backup point guard after Ronnie Price went down, but when Price is healthy there’s no contest as to who gets the backup PG minutes. Furthermore, point guard is one of the places where the Blazers are in serious need of help depth-wise. My bet is if Price ends up hurt again, Portland will work a deal to bring in another backup. It won’t be Coby Karl.
Morrison is a nice story, but just like the story in OKC of the three-headed monster of hipster basketball youth wasn’t enough to make Sam Presti mortgage his team’s long-term profitability, chasing a good comeback story isn’t really that fiscally responsible.
I know that by default I’m saying that Sasha Pavlovic should play. I don’t really know if that’s true or not, I’m leaning hard towards not. I hope, though, if head coach Terry Stotts decides to play him it’s because he can get Pavlovic to do stuff Sasha’s been unable to do previous to his stop in Portland.
But whether or not Pavlovic can or should play is not really the point. It’s about business. If you don’t pay a guy who isn’t going to play, you absolutely don’t have to play a guy you aren’t paying. You just don’t cut him.