July 26th: Holding A Franchise Hostage

This past week, Kyrie Irving asked the Cleveland Cavaliers to trade him. Apparently, playing with the greatest player in basketball (perhaps ever) doesn’t suit him, especially when it means losing so much vacation time playing in May and June. In a league where players are all scrambling to join forces on super teams, Irving wants to take his one-man-show to a destination all by himself.

The baffling part of the story is that, after asking for a trade, the Cavaliers seem to be shopping in order to make a deal. The NBA is one of the only industries in the world where you can make outlandish demands of your employer with relative certainty that you will get what you want. Of course, the Cavaliers don’t HAVE to agree to trade Irving, but a disgruntled star’s performance is unlikely to be more valuable than any of the possible players that could come back to Cleveland in a trade.

KyrieThis doesn’t bode well at all for Cleveland. With rumors already swirling about LeBron James leaving next summer as a free agent, the Cavs could very quickly go from being the three-straight Conference Champions to a franchise struggling to regain an identity. Kyrie Irving’s demand only accelerates that process.

Irving isn’t the only player who has put his team in a bad spot because of a demand for a change of scenery. Carmelo Anthony has made it known not only that he wants out of New York, but that he specifically wants to play in Houston, putting incredible pressure on the Knicks. Paul George’s desire to play for the Lakers in the future forced the Pacers to trade him, for fear of losing him to free agency with nothing in return. The NBA offseason continues to leave teams scrambling to fill out a roster before contracts change the game again and again, while the players look out for their own self-interests with demands and threats.

The 2017 offseason has seen a collection of teams amassing talent while others are forced to rebuild. A season after one of the least dramatic playoffs in recent memory will show a small collection of powerhouse teams clashing, while almost all competition takes place in the Western Conference. Power dynamics are all out of whack, even before we consider the whims of what a particular player wants.

Kyrie Irving’s trade demand is selfish and damaging to the Cleveland fans and the league as a whole. The nature of a contract is that he is expected to play for the team for a certain duration of time, with the freedom to choose a new home when it expires. Trade rumors and speculation may be fun in the short term and get people talking about the sport while it isn’t on TV, but this kind of hijacking of a team can prove dangerous for a franchise that, until recently, was hoping to build a tradition of success.

May 18th: A Tale of Two Playoffs

The NBA and NHL playoffs have kept pace with one another, both beginning in early April and continuing through the first few weeks of June. On the one hand, basketball has pitted two powerhouse teams on either side of the bracket, with a virtual destiny to meet for the third time in a row in the Finals. Meanwhile, the NHL has four teams remaining, two of which are competing for their first championships in team history, while a third looks to seal the deal on a dynasty. Two sports in very different places have, by fate of scheduling, put themselves in position for comparison, and the results are striking.

The NBA has always gotten the attention of the American public. ESPN covers basketball to an almost obnoxious degree, with every single game, character, and personality analyzed. Because of NBC’s stranglehold on the rights to the NHL, hockey is, at most, a few moments on any given night of Sportscenter, dramatically preventing the public from getting the chance to see the excitement that goes into a playoff hockey game. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are some of the most intense, dramatic, and exciting contests in professional sports, but most Americans would never know that.

Curry

While there have been a dramatic number of overtime games this year in the NHL, the NBA is dragging out a snooze fest. With some of the largest margin of victory in the history of the league, the Cavaliers and Warriors have made the playoffs “must-miss TV,” with a very low chance of getting to see anything surprising or exciting. There have been a few games of intrigue (Game 7 between the Celtics and Wizards being one of them), and the Finals are supposed to be an epic clash of the Titans, but, in general, NBA fans have had little drama to get them excited or to incentivize tuning in for a game.

One of the reasons that the NHL has been so successful at creating intrigue for the extended playoff season is that their playoff structure stacks exciting matchups early. Intra-division playoff series start each post-season, meaning that teams are facing bitter rivals right off the bat. As the playoffs grow deeper, the gravity of the situation spurs on the intensity, having gotten the boost from prior round’s enthusiasm. The hardwood could learn a thing or two about this by restructuring the divisions in the NBA (which are seemingly worthless now), to allow a playoff structure that would create more engaging and entertaining matchups than watching a top seed abuse a squad with a losing record.

The bottom line is that this spring, two sports have both had the chance to exhibit their greatest chases to the ultimate crown. One of those races has proven to be as exciting and engaging as ever, with matchups that keep the attention of just about all fans of the sport, while the other has put forward a generally unsuccessful attempt to stir up drama where it doesn’t exist. While there is still a ways to go, both sports are forcing fans to choose which they would prefer to watch, and the result may be that the more casuals fans are choosing to watch neither at all. If those fans can’t get the updates and highlights they want on a major network, and are getting highlights that aren’t worth watching, it takes the fun and excitement out of the playoff chase, the time when both sports should be able to shine the brightest.