Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Midseason Acquisition

Based on the holes that I've seen in the New Orleans Hornets' play the past week, the team is badly in need of a midseason acquisition. This necessary piece of the puzzle is not a player however, but an owner. Until the Hornets get an owner, they will lack the ability to build a true contender. The rejected Chris Paul-Lakers-Rockets trade is only the most egregious example of the conflict of interest inherent in a team being owned by the league it competes in. As long as any deal makes the Hornets (or any other team involved in a trade) immediately better than a rival team, there will always be the danger of the deal being squashed, not for basketball reasons, but because of pure self-interest on the part of the owners.

Think about it: Why would any self-interested person who is full owner of a team ever allow a team that they are partial owner of (and are paying the bills for) to become a genuine title contender? Even if a proposed deal didn't make the Hornets better, but significantly strengthened another team involved in the trade, rival owners would have a tremendous incentive to kill the deal.  For example, Mark Cuban was one of the most vocal owners in opposing the Paul-Lakers trade; his Mavs play in the same division as the Hornets and Rockets and are one of the Lakers’ main competitors.  In this sense, the NBA was 100% correct in saying that the deal was nixed because of “basketball reasons”.

The Chris Paul trade fiasco will also likely make other teams hesitant to negotiate trades with the Hornets for fear that the deal will be vetoed by other owners; in the case of such a veto, the almost-traded players involved in the deal could be disgruntled and unsettle their almost ex-teams. Lamar Odom's reaction to the Paul-Lakers trade is a great example of this; Odom was so upset by the failed trade bid that he demanded a trade and the Lakers ended up giving away one of their most valuable assets for virtually nothing.

Additionally, because every NBA owner needs to sign off on a deal involving the Hornets, no trade proposal made involving the Hornets will ever really be secret. If no deal can be kept under the radar, the discretion that makes a really savvy trade possible is eliminated. The Hornets successfully making a great trade would be like trying to win a poker game where everyone at the table knows what cards you're holding.

Moving beyond the philosophical, the other reason the Hornets need an owner is that they won't have the financial freedom to pursue any roster moves that contribute significantly to their future payroll until they have an owner. For all of the backward-rationalizing and subterfuge that surrounded the Paul-Lakers veto, the deal with the Clippers did minimize the Hornets' future payroll (relative to the Laker deal) and possibly make the team more attractive to potential buyers. The Hornets clearly need to make some roster moves, but the need to keep the owner-less team's future financial obligations to a minimum will severely limit their ability to do so.

Because of the reasons above, the most necessary midseason move is not for this team to acquire a big-time player, but for a big-time financial player to acquire the team.

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