The Tables Have Turned: Players Controlling Their Destinies

By Joe Kotoch


Over the weekend it was reported by various news outlets that Carmelo Anthony had informed the Denver Nuggets he will not sign the extension they offered him. Further, Melo has told the Nuggets if they trade him he will only sign an extension with the New York Knicks. My suggestion to Melo is to enjoy his time as the most sought after free agent this season because he has made himself a target in the new CBA negotiations.

In the court of public opinion players are often vilified for things that everyday Americans do, or want to do, which is change jobs. When a player states he wants to play elsewhere he becomes a pariah. Players are out of touch with fans because of the soaring salaries they make for playing a sport that most fans would willingly play for free.

What we are witnessing with the Melo saga is that superstar players are trying to dictate where they play, whom they play for, and whom they play with. After the Decision and the backlash and resentment that LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh were served, Carmelo and Chris Paul became the next big targets of constant media speculation about their future. Chris Paul allowed for the rumor mills to churn out constant speculation about his pending 2012 free agency. Almost immediately, Paul distanced himself publicly from these rumors so as not to offend his fan base in New Orleans and to vilify himself like his friend, James. The Hornets hot start quashed the speculation until this past week when the transfer of ownership from George Shinn to the NBA fueled new rumors regarding Paul’s future.

Melo, on the other hand, never went to the same lengths to publicly distance himself from such speculation. This could be in part because Melo is a free agent after the end of the season. Initially it was reported that Melo was willing to be traded to the Knicks and Chicago Bulls. Almost instantly trade rumors were thrown out regarding which players from those respective teams needed to be packaged to get Melo. Oddly, New Jersey got into more serious talks with Denver and seemed like the ideal landing spot, especially since Brooklyn will be their future home. However, Melo didn’t intimate that the Nets were an acceptable landing spot.

Then over the weekend reports surfaced that Melo’s camp is in a New York state of mind and only willing to sign the extension with the Knicks. While a free agent is permitted to sign with any team willing to sign him, a player under contract should not, and cannot, publicly dictate their future. Melo’s action is a slap in the face to the loyal fans of the Nuggets who have supported him through good times and bad. Not long ago, Melo was getting into fights, which were recorded and put on the internet, and playing uninspired ball.

Melo should look to his dear friend, LeBron, for advice. After all LeBron could tell Melo to play out the year in Denver and then leave if he wants. While it pains Clevelanders the way in which LeBron left, most can agree he at least didn’t publicly or privately try to steer his way to New York, Miami, or Chicago. Melo owes Nuggets fans that.

Unfortunately, the way Melo is handling this situation is undermining Denver’s leverage. Think about Denver potentially losing an All-Star, a top-ten talent, and a superstar while not receiving any compensation. Denver could trade Melo but at this point what will any team be willing to offer? Chicago has no incentive to include Joakim Noah in any deal nor should the Nets trade the promising Derrick Favors in exchange for Melo, who will not sign an extension and could leave either team high and dry after the season. Rather than trade for equal value, Denver is now forced to deal Melo for 40 cents on the dollar. If you are Donnie Walsh and the Knicks, you are confident Melo will be a Knick no later than the summer. So if you make the trade, why give up anything more than expiring deals or role players?

If Melo winds up a Knick, now or this summer, there will be instant scrutiny of the NBA and whether it has a fair playing field. While Melo is trying to force Denver’s hand, this is not a violation of league rules. Under the current CBA there are no rules addressing players’ requests to be traded or talking about their contracts publicly. However, Melo needs to know that he will be a pariah in certain circles of the union because of the way the superstars from the 2003 draft are handling their futures and the looming ramifications for all players as a result.

As I have said many times, owners are billionaires. Billionaires make their fortunes by being cold and calculating, rarely do they get duped or played. With the amount of embarrassment that several owners felt after this past summer and now watching Melo conduct himself in the same manner, the players and the union must prepare for the wrath of the owners.

Already there are whispers of hard caps, limited free agency, smaller contracts, less money, and smaller raises. The owners know from the 1998 lockout that they can break the union by locking them out and withholding paychecks. Certainly the majority of franchises want to address this disturbing issue now. It is no coincidence that the league is loaded with young talent that has not yet hit unrestricted free agency. Teams outside of New York, L.A., Chicago, Miami, and Dallas will want to ensure that if they draft and develop a star player that they will not be held hostage for 2-3 years leading to that player’s free agency.

I am not a judge nor jury. Players have a right to test their market value and play elsewhere if they have fulfilled their contractual obligations but they cannot allow speculation to drag out and damage the team’s leverage in a potential trade. Whether fines, a franchise tag comparable to the NFL’s, or some other punishment instituted, something needs to be done to show fans of teams outside of the largest markets that their teams can compete.

Simply put LeBron, Wade, Melo, and the others come across as selfish and maniacal by allowing their looming free agency and trade demands to be handled publicly. While fans consider the NBA to be a sport, both owners and players view it as a business that relies on its customers, the fans, to go to games and buy merchandise. At some point the league needs to intervene for the sake of fans. As the old adage goes “revenge is a dish best served cold”. When the owners constrict around the throat of the union and get the concessions they demand, including new procedures for dealing with free agency, the remaining members of the union will have nowhere else to look but at LeBron and Melo, the poster boys of selfishness.