Throwing in the towel to ensure a shot at an NBA superstar used to be so much easier. If you were the Cleveland Cavaliers trying to get LeBron James as he came out of high school, all you had to do was (allegedly) tank a season to get a high Lottery pick. If you were the New York Knicks trying to get Patrick Ewing out of college to revitalize the franchise, all you had to do was (allegedly) rig the Lottery drawing. If you were the Minnesota Timberwolves trying to afford a No. 1 draft pick without breaking the bank, all you had to do was (really) pay the guy under the table like a migrant farm worker.
It’s not that easy anymore. When the Knicks decided they were going to make a run at signing free agent LeBron James in 2010 — or at least Dwyane Wade or Joe Johnson or some franchise-changing superstar — it was a years-long process of sacrificing season after season in the name of acquiring contracts that expired at the same time LBJ and his high-profile friends hit the free-agent market. In their far-sighted efforts to get LeBron, the Knicks alienated thousands of fans, became a League-wide punch line, and took one of the most high-risk gambles in sports we’ve seen since the tailback in The Last Boy Scout brought a gun onto the football field.
Only it didn’t work. At least not as well as New York had planned.
The Knicks did end up signing Amar’e Stoudemire this summer and gave their fans at least some reason to be optimistic (and there’s still Carmelo Anthony and Tony Parker in 2011). During their preseason opener in Italy last week, NY announcer Mike Breen openly admitted that this year’s Knicks team was the first one in a while “that was put together to be a team, not to collect expiring contracts.”
And the way the Knicks handled the situation is something NBA commissioner David Stern doesn’t want to see happen again.
“One of our generalized goals in collective bargaining is to come up with a system in which teams are not doomed by their past mistakes for an inordinate amount of time, so fans can have hope,” Stern was quoted in Newsday when talking about the Knicks.
It’s not like what the Knicks did was illegal, but it’s kind of like when teams rest their starters near the end of the regular season, or subtly tank to get better draft position. The League can’t necessarily stop it, even if the fans don’t necessarily like it. So while Stern hopes the next Collective Bargaining Agreement can have something in there that prevents another situation like the 2005-2010 Knicks, there may not be anything he can really do.
What do you think? Can the League do anything to avoid another team ending up like the Knicks?