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Dwightmare on Elm Street II: the Dwight Howard Saga

August 30th, 2012 at 10:37 AM
By Lee Oliff

All too often in professional sports, we have seen organizations victimized by their own. Last summer, the main story was Chris Paul’s trade demands, which handicapped an entire team, franchise, and city Initially, the New Orleans Hornets reached an agreement, in principal, to send Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers in a three-way deal that included the Houston Rockets. The deal would have had New Orleans receive Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, Goran Dragic and a first round pick and the Houston Rockets, would have received All-Star Pau Gasol (Paul trade). Commissioner David Stern vetoed the deal in lieu of the upheld, far less appealing, deal with the Clippers. 

This summer we were treated to the Dwightmare on Elm Street II. Dwight Howard, another superstar, demanded a trade out of Orlando. In the end, Howard was traded to the Lakers as part of a four team deal.

The Orlando Magic franchise appears to have been another victim of superstar narcissistic behavior. Howard’s public complaints and demands backed the franchise into a corner by letting the entire league, if not the entire world, know that he was unhappy.  As a result, teams were able to bid lower for the superstar because it was well-known that Howard must be traded. To further inhibit the organization, Howard had a short list of teams to whom he would agree to a trade. The Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers were at the top of the list. Eventually, the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year was traded to the Lakers as part of a four team deal involving the Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets (Howard trade). Orlando gave up Jason Richardson, Chris Duhon and Earl Clark, in addition to Howard, and received Aaron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga, two second round picks (one conditional), and three first round picks (two conditional). 

It is clear that Howard was the main piece of the four team deal, but it is noteworthy that two other current All-Stars, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bynum, were involved in the trade, and that current All-Star, Pau Gasol, remained with the Lakers. Despite the All-Stars’ involvement in the trade, Orlando did not receive a single one, but only two serviceable players (Afflalo and Harrington). Although Orlando received three first round picks, two are conditional. One of those two belongs to the Lakers, who are pre-season favorites to win the Championship. Therefore, if the Lakers finish with a mere top five record in 2015 (as expected), the pick will be at the end of the first round and of little value. 

Trade demands, holdouts, and to some extent, free agency, have been an unfortunate consequence of superstar behavior. Although not necessarily legally culpable, such behavior has forced league front offices to take a more authoritative role. League and commissioner authority is best limited, but is necessary to keep the league’s best interests aligned. Superstars have been seeking to change teams in an effort to win championships. While that is understandable from a player perspective, it limits the overall talent to a select group of large market teams, e.g. the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers of recent memory. It appears the days of one team superstars are few and far between.

It is interesting that the media constantly portrays the organizations as the bad guys when they drop players and do not honorably uphold their end of contracts – but what about the players, who constantly hold out and demand trades? Holdouts and trade demands generally are a nuisance for the franchise involved and sometimes require the attention of the league office. 

Last season, Commissioner Stern intervened and vetoed an apparently fair trade involving Chris Paul, raising the issue of Commissioner Stern’s ultimate authority. At the time, the Hornets were owned by the NBA, rather than a single owner. As such, the question surrounding the Paul trade is whether Stern was acting with ownership authority in the best interest of the Hornets or as a league authority in the best interest of the league. Stern later claimed his decision was motivated by “basketball reasons.” One must assume that the commissioner was acting in his league authority. Commissioners are given authority to act in the best interests of the entire league, while not rendering arbitrary and capricious decisions. If Stern was within his authority to veto the Paul trade, thus establishing precedent, why not veto the Howard trade? 

Arguably it could have been Cleveland Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert’s letter that forced Stern to take another look at the trade. Still, Stern had the ultimate authority to veto, which would allow for a league vote amongst the owners. In fact, the Paul trade was reversed after an owner-wide vote. If Paul’s trade was not in the best interest of the league, how is it possible that Howard’s is? The Hornets were surrendering the best player in the trade, but received back four serviceable starters, a first round pick (Knicks) and forced the Lakers to trade Pau Gasol. Contrarily, the Magic surrendered the best player in their respective deal without even receiving one of the two All-Stars involved in the trade. 

I am not suggesting Stern acted outside the scope of his commissioner authority (although some do), but rather he acted inequitably. Either Paul’s trade should have been allowed, thus not even rendering a discussion for the Howard trade; or Howard’s trade should have been more adequately addressed. Quite frankly, Stern’s veto of the Paul trade irritated his already increasingly unpopularity among the public and he may have not wanted to make the same mistake twice. However, as an authoritative figure acting in the best interest of the league, a commissioner must be objective and allow equal consideration for all transactions. 

The format of professional sports has become a superstar driven league, which has created just as many problems as it has solved. A commissioner is necessary to regulate fairness and equality in the best interest of the league. If Stern continues to inconsistently intervene, his reign as commissioner may be coming to an end sooner rather than later.      

Tags: Chris Paul, David Stern, Dwight Howard, Sports, Sports Law

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