During a recent locker-room appearance by Mark Cuban, the Mavericks' owner touched on numerous topics -- but none more sensible than his take on the NBA's involvement in international basketball.
Cuban has made his distaste for NBA players participating in the Olympics and FIBA competitions known before, using his personal blog as a forum to assail the easy targets that are the various Olympic governing bodies. But I've never heard him do quite this good a job dunking the absurd notion of NBA owners giving their assets away for free without getting a dime in return.
"We take all the risk," Cuban said, "and get none of the upside."
At a time when literally everything has to be on the table as part of the NBA's labored labor negotiations -- contraction, relocation, team- and league-oriented cost-cutting instead of just massive pay cuts for the players -- there has never been a better time to re-evaluate the NBA's relationship with FIBA and the Olympics.
|David Stern and the NBA don't see eye-to-eye with Cuban on international competitions. (US Presswire)|
General Electric Corp., of course, owned Olympic broadcast rights-holder NBC until Comcast Corp. took control of the network Friday.
"So right now, the economics are, GE plays a s***load of money for TV rights to the Olympics," Cuban said. "That money goes into the pocket of the Olympics. They give out little morsels to the different national teams for all the different sports. Basketball is one of the biggest draws, right? GE makes a s***load of money. On the other hand, we spent a lot of money on these players and have a lot invested in them and we give them to them for free.
"What I would do is say, rather than us giving up players to General Electric Corp. to make all that money on the U.S. Olympics, we'll create the NBA International Basketball Tournament and make them part of it and create a system that makes the NBA money," Cuban said. "Then it'd be all right for everybody to play."
As with most of Cuban's proclamations, there are issues with this one. First, there are those who still view the Olympics as some sort of pure exercise in competition, sportsmanship and national pride. Shame on those people, Cuban said.
"If it was all amateurs, it'd be fine," Cuban said. "But this is a business. It's a business where they make billions of dollars. And you know what they call someone who gives players to those guys to make all those billions of dollars? A moron. We've been morons. I've been a moron. I mean, it makes no sense at all."
But the FIBA World Championships don't make any money, and NBA players compete there, too.
"Which is even dumber,' " Cuban said, "because no one even watches it. We give them players and no one even [expletive] cares."
Cuban's vision for an NBA-owned and operated international basketball tournament to replace the league's participation in the Olympics and FIBA competitions would solve plenty of problems -- but it would create some, too. NBA owners are in the process of asserting that they are losing some $400 million a year under the existing collective bargaining agreement and have proposed a two-pronged fix: slashing player salaries by $750 million to $800 million, along with a revenue-sharing plan they have yet to explain publicly or to the union. If Cuban's idea came to fruition, all that red ink would be converted to profits -- which would be good for everyone, provided owners are serious about distributing the money in a way that allows small-market teams to compete and make money.
"It'd sure make a difference," Cuban said. "And I can't comment on the CBA, obviously, but anything that's a win-win is something that should be considered."
The issue of players participating in NBA-sponsored competition beyond the scope of the current 82-game and playoff schedules would have to be addressed in the ongoing discussion of player salaries. Those selected to compete in this new NBA international tournament would have to be compensated for the extra games, practices and training. If the NBA owned international basketball, such compensation would have to be written into the uniform player contract. No big deal, if you ask me. The U.S. national team members already are competing outside the realm of the NBA schedule. All they get is a financial bump from shoe companies, paid expenses and per diems, and in some cases, endorsement opportunities they wouldn't have received if not for their presence on the world stage. Dwight Howard, for example, scored a spokesman deal with McDonald's during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and it later expanded into a full-fledged endorsement deal.
But those are fringe benefits for the players, not their NBA teams, and so Cuban's point remains valid: the NBA owners who pay Olympians' salaries and absorb the injury risk that goes with added competition get nothing but some intangible feeling of national pride. David Stern, the global-minded commissioner who still dreams of having a European division in a league where franchises are dying in Sacramento, Memphis and New Orleans, wouldn't like this idea.
Despite Cuban's concerns, the NBA's approach to this is pretty straightforward: Money doesn't need to be exchanged for international exposure to be good for business.
"The NBA has historically benefited from the global attention that international competitions have brought to the game of basketball," said league spokesman Michael Bass.
FIBA certainly wouldn't like the idea, either. But Cuban has an answer for that, too.
"The president of FIBA would have a heart attack, but who the [expletive] cares about him?" Cuban said. "Seriously, why the hell do I care about FIBA? I don’t. This is a business. We've got a business that we're trying to run here and you've got to do the smart thing for your business. ... They know that's my feeling. Whether or not they're willing to do it, who knows."
And on that note, on to the rest of this week's Post-Ups.
• Richard Hamilton still hasn't played for the Pistons since Jan. 10, a time when misinformation spread that a trade sending Hamilton to New Jersey with Carmelo Anthony was 48 hours away. It's been nine games, and Hamilton is no closer to being back on the court. The latest explanation is that Hamilton has the stomach flu; he's already been described as doubtful for Sunday night's game against the Knicks, though Hamilton was with the team, in the team hotel, in Miami on Friday. Starting with Hamilton's surprising DNP-CD on Jan. 12, coach John Kuester has been described by sources as simply searching for combinations that will jump-start his woeful team, opting to give Hamilton's minutes to Ben Gordon. Detroit lost that game against Memphis, giving Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince license to publicly assail Kuester for the decision. But the Pistons are 5-3 since then, and Hamilton's future is no clearer. The only thing that's clear is that anticipated interest from the Celtics (where Hamilton would team with fellow UConn alum Ray Allen) and Dallas (which could use Hamilton's scoring punch off the bench in the absence of Caron Butler) would come only if Hamilton is bought out. Thus far, the Pistons have detected no trade interest in Hamilton, who has two years and $25 million left on his contract -- $21.5 million guaranteed. His inclusion in the trade talks with Denver and New Jersey would've benefited the Pistons the most -- with $17 million in savings and the removal of an unhappy player from the locker room. Coincidentally, it was Hamilton's very inclusion in the proposed trade by the agents he shares with Anthony that became one of the biggest sticking points in the failed trade. So what now? Hamilton can't receive a buyout until the Pistons' ownership change is completed, and a person familiar with the team's strategy said it would be "way too extreme" to proclaim that Hamilton has played his last game in a Pistons uniform. That being said, it's difficult to imagine Hamilton returning to the rotation under Kuester, with whom Hamilton's relationship seems irreparable.
• The Heat haven't had any significant internal discussions about a reunion with Jason Williams, who was released by Orlando and appears headed to Memphis. The Grizzlies' interest in Williams only increased with word that O.J. Mayo has been suspended 10 games for taking a banned supplement -- the same one that resulted in Rashard Lewis being suspended in 2009. This is the second off-court incident for Mayo in a matter of weeks, coming on the heels of the embarrassing mid-air fight over a card game with teammate Tony Allen. The issues have resulted in a significant chilling effect in Mayo's trade value, according to a rival executive who said teams have become "very hesitant" to pursue Mayo.
• Alleged unrest in the Pacers' organization has been somewhat overblown, though there remains a significant degree of uncertainty as to whether team president Larry Bird, on the last year of his contract, will be back next season. That has more to do with Bird deciding his future than it does with owner Herb Simon's level of happiness with the direction of the team. "Larry loves the job," a person familiar with Bird's thinking said. "He's extremely competitive and knows he's really close to rebuilding the thing and I think he wants to be there to be a part of it and do it." Speculation about significant organizational changes has stemmed from the fact that Bird's contract has the same expiration date as GM David Morway's and coach Jim O'Brien's. That was by design, according to a source who said Simon agreed to give the trio three years to put the franchise on the right footing after the decline that followed the brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 2004. The plan all along has been for Simon to evaluate everyone after the season, but one source said the owner is "happy" with the progress of the team. Having said that, if Bird decides to walk away, the domino effect could be significant. The key player in this whose future would appear to be most uncertain is O'Brien, to whom Bird recently gave a faint vote of confidence by saying he'll be evaluated after the season. Currently, there are no plans to make an in-season coaching change, but Pacers officials wouldn't rule it out if the losing continues.
• Indeed, the Pacers have lost 16 of 21 and appear to have little chance of climbing into the playoff hunt. So what is Simon so happy about? Bird and Morway have created arguably the most cap flexibility in the league heading into a summer of labor uncertainty, and there's reason to be forward-looking with the potential of Roy Hibbert, Paul George and Tyler Hansbrough. Obviously, they need more size and another scorer to complement Danny Granger (who has struggled in the absence of another legitimate option) and point guard Darren Collison. That's where three key pieces come into play: the expiring contracts of Jeff Foster, Mike Dunleavy and T.J. Ford. The plan had been to let those contracts, totaling $27 million, fall off the books and make the Pacers a significant player in the next two free-agent classes. But things change; with no concrete knowledge of what $27 million in cap space will be worth under a new CBA, the Pacers "would aggressively pursue a deal now" for one of those expiring contracts if the right player were offered, according to a person familiar with the team's strategy. Such a move would allow Bird, who as noted above could be on his way out, to convert expiring money into a known asset rather than wait until the summer, when its exact worth will be unknown.