NBA doing everything it can to marginally disrupt player empowerment

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The NBA league office prolonged the current stalemate between the Portland Trail Blazers and Miami Heat over a deal for Damian Lillard. A memo was circulated to all 30 franchises Friday saying that any player, or agent, who makes public comments about an unwillingness to “fully perform the services called for under his player contract in the event of a trade” will be subject to discipline.

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The overt warning to Lillard and agent Aaron Goodwin — who did more or less just that after the guard’s trade request — feels like the league office stepping in situationally to attempt to give Portland an iota of leverage in this situation. The All-NBA point guard only wants to go to South Beach, and we know as much because he had his agent do what every other NBA agent does in these situations, and offer a list of preferred destinations.

Sometimes it’s two to three teams, sometimes it’s more, or less, but this is standard operating procedure, and while Goodwin might not have made an explicit threat, it’s implied. I can’t remember another instance when the league spoke up about something this arbitrary since the hullabaloo over tampering, and they’ve taken aim at each for the same reason: To give franchises the illusion of a level playing field, that they’re all a free agent pitch, or a trade away from landing a big star.

What Lillard and Goodwin did is every bit as normal as tampering, yet it’s a lot harder to enforce/prove, and isn’t going to speed up this standoff, expand Lillard’s list, or prevent the next agent from doing the same thing.

What’s the holdup?

This is taking forever because the Heat aren’t going to give up what the Blazers want, and view Portland’s Joe Cronin, a relatively green general manager, as an easy mark. He shipped out CJ McCollum for nothing, gave Jerami Grant a five-year contract that was bad before Lillard requested out, and has been indecisive about this roster since taking over.

It’s only a matter of time before Cronin cracks and takes far less than what the Washington Wizards got for Bradley Beal. The Blazers have stated they want a king’s ransom for the best player in franchise history, are acting entitled to it — and they should be.

The catch is the guy doing the negotiations doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, and only got the job because the team needed a replacement after Neil Olshey got fired for incompetence/being a dick.

As previously laid out, Cronin can’t fuck this up. Taking Scoot Henderson was defensible if the Blazers had operated as if they were rebuilding, but seemed blindsided that Lillard shook his Stockholm Syndrome. Anyone who thinks this franchise knows what it’s doing doesn’t have a reasonable explanation for the Grant deal, so, yeah, maybe Adam Silver stepped in like Mo Cheeks with Natalie Gilbert and tried to help the timid front office exec remember the first few lines of the anthem.

How long will this continue?

Miami isn’t going to crack, and there isn’t another contender who needs a point guard, has a cache of draft capital, or the salaries to match Lillard’s huge contract. I fully expect this to drag on for months, as Cronin foretold, because Portland has zero urgency, or a GM who can read. The Blazers are going to suck this year, and if they show any signs of life, they’ll promptly call up a bunch of G Leaguers and have them throw games until Portland is in position for a top-five pick.

They’d happily take shit players if they were accompanied by a handful of draft picks, or promising younger guys on a similar timeline as Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe, but Miami doesn’t have those things. It’s, “Here, take Tyler Herro, salary filler, and some first-round picks that’ll be in the late 20s,” and that’s it.

Damian Lillard should get those courtside fits ready, because he might be Ben Simmons-ing it the first 20 games of the year. The NBA is trying to make it so that when a player requests a trade, they don’t also get to dictate the destination. It’s a noble thought right up there with taxing the rich, incarcerating Donald Trump, or human rights, but, like those pipedreams, there’s no foolproof way to go about achieving them.

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