ESPN Has Created Another Phony News Cycle Out Of Its Own Fart

Illustration for article titled ESPN Has Created Another Phony News Cycle Out Of Its Own Fart
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“Anthony Davis trade talk is the biggest story in the NBA,” screeches the headline on this Zach Lowe article on In a blog making broadly the same argument over on the Ringer, Kevin O’Connor writes that a Davis trade could cause “a seismic shift in the league,” like trades involving Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in earlier eras. A reader might conclude, on the basis of these and any number of similar preceding articles on those websites and others, that a trade moving the five-time all-star out of New Orleans is, if not imminent, then at least in the works.


What both of these articles lack, however, is any reporting, even of the anonymously sourced sort, to the effect that either the Pelicans or any faction of Pelicans officials or Davis or Davis’s representatives want him traded. Or any reporting of even broad trade offers that other teams have pitched to any of the above. Or any even anonymous acknowledgement by anybody in the Pelicans organization or Davis’s representation that either party might eventually accept that he must be traded. Or ... anything. What these articles lack is anything.

I’m not kidding! Read them, if you dare, or take my word for it. No member of the New Orleans Pelicans has ever issued anything on the record or on background other than a strong categorical denial that the franchise has any interest in trading Davis, ever. Davis, for his part, has never, so far as anyone can report, demanded a trade, and has never come closer to publicly signaling interest in one other than offering athlete-speak non-answers about how We’ll see when the time comes but right now my focus is on the New Orleans Pelicans. Ever. Neither Lowe nor O’Connor nor anyone else can report as fact—or even as particularly credible rumor—that an Anthony Davis trade is happening, or is in the works, or is something either the Pelicans or Davis are even considering.

What these blogs feature is a thin grey gruel of conjecture and game theory, supporting neither the claim that Davis will be traded, nor the claim that either Davis or the Pelicans are exploring the possibility of a trade, nor the particulars of any trade offer or offers—but rather, only and entirely, defenses of the claim that a trade might eventually happen, on the basis of the fact that these basketbloggers can convince themselves of a scenario in which that will make sense. Neither blogger can so much as definitively state that the “Anthony Davis Sweepstakes,” as O’Connor calls it, is happening at all. But it could happen—basketbloggers can imagine what might cause it to happen, if it happens—and therefore is happening, and therefore is the biggest thing happening in the NBA, and therefore must be explained.

Comments by LeBron James, and Davis, “could have freaked the Pelicans into accelerating their timetable on potentially trading him,” according to Lowe, who evidently could not find a source who would even speculate that that hypothetically could have happened. Meanwhile, according to the Ringer’s O’Connor, “Jayson Tatum [whom he cannot report the Boston Celtics are even vaguely interested in trading] could trump all other assets were the Celtics [whom he cannot report are even tentatively exploring trading Tatum or anyone else for Anthony Davis] to make him available.” On the other hand, “a surprise team could always enter the sweepstakes.” The word could appears an appalling 38 times—thirty-eight fucking times!—in these two blogs.

Davis could decide that taking a series of shorter-term contracts that maximize his leverage and flexibility, like LeBron James has done the past few seasons, holds more appeal than accepting New Orleans’s five-year supermax contract, which it will offer him next July. Therefore Davis could signal his intent to decline that offer, in which case the Pelicans could decide that trading him gives them their best protection against the possibility of losing him for nothing in free agency. In which case such-and-such teams could decide to try to trade for him, and could dangle the following players and assets in possible offers. The Pelicans could decide that losing Davis necessitates a full roster rebuild, in which case teams that land draft slots near the very top of the next draft could have an advantage in putting together trade packages that appeal to New Orleans’s front office. On the other hand, Davis, who can become a free-agent after the 2019-20 season, could signal that he will not sign a contract with certain teams, which could effectively cancel them as prospective trade destinations. This could give the following teams an advantage, if Davis sees them as more attractive places to live or play long-term, as he has possibly indicated via the following vague interpretive possible signals but definitely has not indicated in any even indirectly verifiable way, ever.

Now, I don’t want you to think these blogs are totally devoid of reporting. Lowe writes:

“Davis has not yet told those close to him that he is dead set on the Lakers or any other specific team should he decide to leave, according to a source familiar with his thinking. He does not appear ready to demand a trade. All of that could, of course, change at any moment.”


The phrasing is funny and telling, here: Not that Davis has said something indefinite or indecisive, but that Davis has not said ... anything at all. But eventually he could! There’s, like, an ontological problem, here: Are you even a source familiar with someone’s thinking if what you have to say is I dunno, he hasn’t told me anything? This, my friends, is not the good shit.

It’s important to note that, while basketbloggers have been diddling themselves periodically over the idea of Anthony Davis being traded out of New Orleans since like 15 minutes before the Pelicans drafted him, this latest flare-up in Davis trade speculation is yet another instance of ESPN manufacturing the illusion of a story out of, essentially, nothing. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin asked LeBron directly if he’d like to play with Davis. LeBron said of course he would (because who on earth wouldn’t?), and now we’re in, what, Day 3? Day 4? Day 97? of breathless follow-on coverage of a purely hypothetical trade that no one, anywhere, can report has been so much as discussed among any of the people who would have to pull various levers to make it actually happen. Small-market NBA general managers are mad that LeBron wasn’t penalized for tampering. LeBron doesn’t think he should be penalized for tampering. Stephen A. Smith doesn’t think he was tampering at all! Neither does Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, but it doesn’t matter, because he also says they won’t trade Davis under any circumstances.


Lowe, at least, is smart enough to understand, on some level, what he’s doing and where he fits into this embarrassing manufactured cycle. That explains, I think, the weird, preemptively defensive tone of his article, which leads with a summary of the criticisms it will receive for existing and then asserts, flatly, that “the media did not make this a story. The calendar did.” Which, I am sorry to say, is flat baloney: Nothing in particular about Dec. 27, 2018 lends any urgency to a pure hypothetical premised on the mere possibility that Anthony Davis will signal an unwillingness to sign a contract extension at some point between now and next July. Even if the Pelicans did want to trade him this season—literally no one can report even an anonymously sourced claim that they do!—the trade deadline is in February. The only sense in which “the calendar” made this a story is the sense in which McMenamin pulled the lever on this machine a little over a week ago, and it hasn’t wound down quite yet.

You also can’t blame the calendar in the sense that it’s not a particularly slow news day, or week, or season, that needs to be filled up with coverage of Davis’s future. It sure as hell looks like the best NBA team of all time is either entering its decline or being poisoned by internal chemistry issues; the top 13 teams in the Western Conference are separated by a mere 6.5 games; an incandescent seven-foot-tall point guard is putting up Shaquille O’Neal numbers and winning ballgames in friggin’ Milwaukee; a 19-year-old Slovenian rookie with slick handles and eyes behind his ears is rapidly becoming one of the new faces of the sport ... and “the biggest story in the NBA,” somehow, is that in the total absence of absolutely any firm basis for reporting that an Anthony Davis trade is happening or will happen or that the principal actors in any potential Anthony Davis trade are even a little bit interested in participating in one, some basketbloggers have successfully titillated themselves by imagining one of infinite possible future universes.


Your dicks are not weathervanes, my friends! They’re just dicks! Put them back in your pants and do basketblogs about shit that actually is happening, or get the fuck out of my face!!! Thank you!!!!!!!!!