Photo: Sarah Stier (Getty)

So I guess ESPN got what they wanted. Days after LeBron James said “duh” when asked if it would be cool to have one of the best players in the world on his team, rival general managers are reportedly losing bowel control over the terrifying implications of a player acknowledging aloud what is plainly obvious to any observer, anywhere. And who should be there to scoop it all up but ESPN man-who-tells-you-who-will-be-traded-ninety-seconds-before-the-teams-announce-it-via-press-release, Adrian Wojnarowski:

In the wake of Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James publicly endorsing pursuit of a trade for Anthony Davis, several small-market general managers are privately expressing outrage over what they believe is the NBA’s unwillingness to enforce the league’s tampering rules.

[...]

“It’s New Orleans’ problem today, and a problem with a different player tomorrow for the rest of us,” one Eastern Conference GM told ESPN. “It’s open season on small markets and our players.”

By “open season,” this very serious professional means that players will use their words to express how neat it would be to play with certain other players, which is for sure not something they have been doing literally for as long as trades and free agency have existed. But as fun as it would be to mock these general managers for being little tattletale-ass crybabies, what’s especially sleazy here is how Wojnarowski has now participated in this story at multiple stops along ESPN’s cynical flood-the-zone campaign. First he supplied the bait that colleague Dave McMenamin used to pull the reaction from LeBron, and now he’s positioning ESPN’s own multilayered coverage as part of a “tsunami of reaction” that “can be seen as designed to destabilize an opposition organization.” Look at this shit:

New Orleans has had to spend the past week answering questions — both internally and externally — about the future of a player who’s under contract through the 2019-20 season. Pelicans management, coaches, players and families have been left to deal with the implications of James’ powerful and peerless platform — and the fallout that comes with it.

There’s an implied acknowledgement, here, that anything LeBron said to McMenamin could’ve and probably has been said innumerable times directly to Davis, and probably in ways that are a lot more persuasive than “golly, that sure would be a knee-slapping good time.” The only concern this report can muster isn’t that LeBron is destabilizing the Pelicans by courting Davis, but instead that he’s destabilizing the Pelicans by forcing them to answer a lot of phone calls. As if Wojnarowski’s original trade analysis didn’t rely upon what is presumably already common knowledge among NBA general managers, and wasn’t designed to create just this sort of intrigue.

“Interference is as bad as tampering — maybe worse in this case,” one Eastern Conference GM told ESPN. “This becomes a campaign meant to destabilize another organization, install chaos and unrest that make it harder to keep an environment that the player would want to stay in. There’s no use in complaining to the league about it. We all get that it’s a players’ league, but there are rules on the books that they need to follow too.”

Advertisement

So now LeBron’s answer—which took all of like 15 seconds to say aloud and literally included the word “duh”—is “a campaign” of interference. And all of that hype obscures the fact that there’s still, still, nothing actually here: the privately expressed outrage of these anonymous general managers appears to have been communicated to no one of importance beyond Pelicans general manager Dell Demps, and Demps isn’t talking. And, as Woj admits, “there’s been no indication that New Orleans has complained to the league office about James’ public proclamation.” In a league where the salary cap and profit sharing and even max contract thresholds and restrictions are all responses to small market executives freaking out over players making decisions about where and with whom they want to work, here we have ESPN eagerly advancing that agenda to its next frontier, where players are penalized for even pondering aloud a hypothetical. And we still haven’t learned anything about Anthony Davis maybe someday joining the Lakers.