Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Insanity of NBA Trade Talk

Credit: Eye on Basketball

A long time ago, ESPN’s Colin Cowherd said that NBA trade rumors and the offseason are more interesting than the games themselves.

And that was one of the last times I intentionally listened to nationally-syndicated sports radio.

Whether it comes from media or the creativity of our own minds, the analysis of potential moves in the NBA inspires efforts like the ESPN staple trade machine, prematurely customized jerseys and obligatory blog posts discussing our opinions on the opinions of these dreamt-up transactions. (You love this, don't you?) If there’s something in sports that truly defines ‘insanity’ – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result – the NBA rumor mill fits the bill.

This is why on so many levels; the chatter around Carmelo Anthony is pretty amusing. It’s full of the expected irrationality that makes the rumor mill spin so wildly day after day.

So before going further, let this excerpt from the latest from The Perpetual Post stay with you throughout the rest of this Scribe post:

“… for at least the next few seasons, any significant NBA player who has a chance to write his own ticket now will be placed under the same microscope as (LeBron) James. It’s a shortsighted perspective because no other player took on nor was bestowed such hype around his every move as James was.”
And that’s the nature of trade talk, isn’t it? No matter what the situation is, player movement will naturally be compared to yesterday’s blockbuster.

There’s something about the NBA, rather than other sports, that allows for the trade rumors to stick around as long as they do.

What keeps the rumor mill less insane in baseball is the length of the season. It’s long enough all fans have the same sense of hope about their teams in April and May, no matter how dire reality might be. When teams fade in June, the chatter will reign because a) the higher profile teams are always looking and/or b) like the Nuggets, a mediocre-to-bad team can’t let a free agent star just walk away without trying to get something in return. In addition, there are about a gazillion players in a baseball organization with the major league club and several minor league teams, giving managers there wherewithal to essentially trade one fan base’s fervor for right here, right now with another’s deep reserves of hope and patience.

With baseball, you have a media culture that seeks out anything to be a story because they spend about as much time with the players as the coaches and managers do. Some will sound the five-alarm bell around the trading deadline, but more often than not, stories about slumps, hot streaks and tired bullpens tend to linger over the course of a season.

In football, trades are a big deal because of their relative rarity. I say relative because while moves such as Clinton Portis-for-Champ Bailey are pretty rare, moving players for draft picks happens slightly more frequently (see Moss, Randy). In the NFL, you’re moving draft picks because while a roster has 53 active players and a handful more for the practice squad will be veteran-laden, football is a sport that ravages men quickly as they age. Draft picks, more so than existing players, are vital because of the meat grinder the sport I truly is.

With the intense and short season, the media in general tends to be focused on the present. After all, a majority of the active roster hits the field during a given game, compelling reporters to seek out multiple players and coaches in order to meet their deadlines. The most far reaching it gets is the postseason thanks to the wild cards and division titles on the line. Only after the Super Bowl does it get heavy into player movement and as we evidence these days, lockout talk.

Ah, the NBA. Fifteen guys per roster. Even with the growth of the D-League, you still have less than twenty players officially affiliated with a NBA club. Maybe it’s the lack of anonymity of the players on the court. Maybe it’s the image questions that have forever swirled around the league. Maybe it the painful dearth of credible basketball reporters (some are better than others, but those with an agenda make themselves heard over the respectable ones in the field). A combination of this let rumors drench NBA coverage like Patrick Ewing’s sweat.

[It’s hard to speak on other leagues such as the NHL and international soccer brands, but they must share some traits with the three most popular American sports leagues.]

So for those who seem to be fatigued by the latest spin on Carmelo’s future, consider that we’ve been down this road far too often. Though it’s easy to believe that this is a recent phenomenon, it’s the nature of the league, dating back generations to when the NBA first began to gain a foothold in the popular sports landscape. Sadly, it’s not going to change any time soon.

Insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

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