Throughout the massive playground known as the National Basketball Association come cries that the game is broken. The rules, they say, mean nothing. And with apologies to political correctness, the nuts are running the asylum.
In basketball terms, time has come for somebody to take their ball and go home.Problem is, nobody seems to know whose ball it is. If recent incidents are any indication, players and agents may have taken possession away from the NBA and its owners.
"I wouldn't say the dam has burst," deputy commissioner Russ Granik told The Sporting News. "But we've seen a little leak, and we would like to plug it before it bursts."
The NBA's response to players refusing to report when traded or squashing deals behind the scenes sounds an awful lot like talk aboard the Titanic on that infamous night to remember.
"I think it's of some concern. There are certain things as to how we handle trades we will look at," Granik continued. "(There are) other procedures or agreements we might require."
Negotiations thereof could begin this summer if the NBA opts to reopen it's collective bargaining agreement with the player's association. Trade talk has moved to the forefront in the wake of Kenny Anderson and Rony Sei-kaly refusing to report after being dealt to Toronto and Utah, respectively. Both wound up in different, and more personally desirable, places to play.
"Clearly, we can't let these things happen. Because it's not just the Jazz, it's all of basketball," said Scott Layden, Utah's vice president of basketball operations. "We've seen more of it in the last little while and it's not good. It's not good for our game."
In the days leading up to the NBA's trading deadline, several players reportedly succeeded or at least attempted to kill deals agreed upon by teams. The cast of culprits ranges from highly touted Damon Stoudamire, who wound up returning to his native Oregon in a trade with the Blazers, to blue-collar veteran Doug West. The latter fought a Minnesota-to-Vancouver transfer before eventually giving in, though it took a threat of being suspended without pay before he'd report.
"If I were the powers that be in the NBA, I would be concerned by the fact that players who have contracts can dictate where they go in trades," Orlando coach Chuck Daly said. "This has never been the situation before. At some point, the league will have to take a stand or address that situation."
Boston Celtics executive Red Auerbach said teams already have the authority to regulate the situation.
"What they ought to do is suspend them," he said. "The (general managers) have to send a message."
That didn't stop the Celtics, however, from acquiring Anderson, who flat-out refused to play for Toronto when traded from Portland.
"I don't think any of us learned about how to deal with some of these experiences in Basketball Op 101 class. We're learning things as we go here. There have been new experiences here that would be new for anyone," Magic general manager John Gabriel said after striking a last-minute deal for Seikaly with New Jersey after Utah voided its deal for the center. "As long as you stick to your guns and your principles of doing the right thing, everything will work out. But not only do Scott Layden with the Jazz and the Orlando Magic need to do the right things, but organizations across the league need to be unified in making sure everybody is playing by the rules."
Not everyone shares Gabriel's view that teams may be able to police themselves. Phoenix coach Danny Ainge thinks it'll take a cooperative effort between owners, league officials and the players.
"I certainly hope the fans don't think that the majority of NBA players are like the few that refuse to report. The bottom line is someone needs to take a stand on those guys and punish them. I think the league should try to do something about that," Ainge said. "I think it's a very solvable issue that needs to be resolved. I wish that the players association would try to help instead of defending bad behavior, to try and build up the image of the league and try to resolve the image."
Mark Eaton, a former vice president of the NBA Players Association, agrees that players not reporting is definitely an issue.
"Is that representative of the state of the league?" he said. "I don't necessarily think so.
"I think the NBA has been on such a growth spurt for so long that you're bound to have a little tapering-off period. I think it's just a matter of refocusing their marketing," the former Utah Jazz center added. "The players are an important part of the league, that can't be dismissed. Sure they need to show up where they're supposed to show up. They need to be held accountable for their actions, but I don't think (some of the recent) actions, in and of themselves, are representative of a league-wide trend in any way."
ESPN analyst Jack Ramsay calls the NBA a "thriving, thriving business" with strong leadership. He scoffs at the notion agents are seizing control of the league with the advice they are giving their clients.
"I think (agents) have an exalted opinion of who they are and what they do with their players. You know, players could dump them in a blink of an eye if they didn't think they were getting the right deals that are necessary for them," Ramsay said. "I think the agents have much less power than they think they have. You hear that David Falk runs the NBA. Well, David Falk doesn't run the NBA. David Stern runs the NBA and there's no question about it."
Falk and his colleagues, however, aren't powerless.
"I know that I have a certain measure of power," Falk told ESPN. "When you speak on the behalf of a (Michael) Jordan, a (Patrick) Ewing, or a (Alonzo) Mourning, I think it gives you a certain sense of influnce and power. I certainly try to use that power productively to advance the interests of the players."
At what price, remains to be seen. Will it eventually lead to the demise of small-market franchises? What about competitive balance?
"I think things are getting blown out of proportion," Eaton said. "It's still a great game. It's still the greatest athletes in any sport. Sure, it's going to have its problems like anything else, but overall I think it's healthy and poised for more growth, especially internationally. David Stern has done a magnificent job getting it to this point."
In the meantime, Orlando vice president Julius Erving said the league is trying to regulate and improve itself. The recent rash of refusing to report for trade, he insists, may be more of a public relations mess than anything else.
"I think the trade situation will be one of the things addressed this summer - how to deal with it so that it's not so publicly embarrassing and so publicly exaggerated," Erving said. "When a player takes a stand or an agent takes a stand and slows down a deal or refuses to be part of a deal after two clubs come to a sensible agreement is not good for the league. It's happened before over the years, but it just hasn't become as much of a public issue as it became this year. There are a whole lot of things that are new going on in the league that we haven't experienced and other things that are not new but are just now coming out in public.
"The NBA is not a private entity any more. And it never will be again. It's big business now."