As the clamor surrounding the Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams trades mercifully subsides, it would be easy to lend credence, as some basketball observers have done, to a silly and shopworn conclusion: that the inmates are running the asylum. Last week, Dick Vitale used almost those exact words to describe Anthony's decision to bull his way out of Denver, ignoring the fact that both players and teams are captives of exceptional circumstance as the NBA tilts toward a lockout.
Similar notions about Anthony have popped up everywhere. Anthony The Greedy wanted his money and a reality TV show for his wife. Anthony The Selfish wanted his money and a championship ring. Anthony The Torpedo Artist wanted to get rich and to lay waste to both the Nuggets and the Knicks. Here's Shaun Powell doing scutwork for the NBA in advance of labor negotiations in which topics like max salary and franchise player designation will be up for debate:
[Anthony] wanted the cash he possibly stood to lose — $15 million, perhaps? — under the next labor agreement if he waited and signed with the Knicks as a free agent this summer or whenever the NBA re-opens for business. That would've allowed the Knicks to keep three young and talented players and, along with Melo and Amar'e Stoudemire and Landry Fields, New York would upgrade to contender status almost instantly….But in order to receive a contract extension that will pay him the max, roughly $20 million-plus a season, 'Melo had to join the Knicks now. Which means those players, and any thoughts of the Knicks causing a shiver in Boston or Chicago or Miami anytime soon, had to be sacrificed.
The only reason Deron Williams hasn't come in for such scorn is because his trade didn't occur after the press had been tossing chum in the water for six months. (All the media's frustration with Carmelo's maneuvering was just misdirected frustration with their own breathless reporting on Carmelo's maneuvering.)
Hey Deron Williams - you just destroyed pro basketball in Utah, what are you doing next?" "I'm going to Disney World!
And here's Rick Reilly being Rick Reilly and whining about players whose 'egos," as George Karl puts it to him, "are bigger than the game":
In Denver, our hearts are as black as Johnny Cash's closet, our eyes mere lumps of coal. We are the emptiest thing fans can be: an NBA city without an NBA superstar….Don't laugh. You could be next….This is what the NBA has become: very tall, very rich twenty-somethings running the league from the backs of limos, colluding so that the best players gang up on the worst. To hell with the Denvers, the Clevelands, the Torontos. If you aren't a city with a direct flight to Paris, we're leaving. Go rot.
Reilly, who knows something about ego, obviously prefers the days when shorter, richer fifty-somethings ran the league from their corner offices, colluding so that the best players made less money than they might have on a real open market. Go rot.
If anything, Anthony makes it easier for David Stern to claim the NBA is a broken business model and extract concessions from the players' union. Anthony's reasons for leaving a stagnant franchise in Denver were so obvious that he was scarcely booed as he exited stage left. He knew the Nuggets were about to enter a rebuilding phase. He knew a more-restrictive CBA would undermine his earning potential. He behaved, in short, like a muscular Ayn Rand. In other walks of life — the ones in which salaries don't get capped — Americans are praised for similar self-interest. In basketball, where the CBA's looming expiration has sent both teams and players scrambling after anything certain, a guy who chases a better deal is vilified (by the sort of people who themselves aren't above chasing better deals). The wardens still run the asylum; they just don't want us to think they do.