Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Rise of the Player/General Manager

Death Blogger Mike's post on Dwight Howard reminded me of one of the most interesting trends in the NBA, and I'm calling it (okay, stealing the phrase from someone, I just can't remember who) "The Rise of the Player/General Manager".

This guy knows what I'm talking about. You've got the Heat and the odious MV3. You've got Howard demanding a trade because the Magic front office wasn't consulting him on other trades. You've got Kobe more or less running the whole show over in LA. It's the wave of the future, man.

I think it's kind of justifiable, too. The ownership obviously wants to keep the superstars happy, and you can often count on them to understand their own game and what compliments it. Not always, but they at least should have the opportunity to try, I think. Moreover, the NBA has max contracts and role players can usually be gotten for shorter-term contracts, so the risk isn't particularly dire. So I think you're going to see more of this.

You probably won't see it in other sports, though. First of all, baseball, the NFL, and the NHL just haven't clamped down on contracts enough to mitigate the risk. But I think the structures of those games auger against it, too. The NFL obviously has intense specialization in every position. The NHL has one highly specialized position and some important differences between forwards and defenders, as well as the shift system, which means a player is only on the floor for, at most, a minute or two at a time. Baseball has a pretty obvious distinction between batters and pitchers (half the pitchers aren't even expected to touch a bat anymore).

This all means that there's a lot of players in these sports who don't completely know what it takes to excel at someone else's job in the same sport. I'm sure there's exceptions- Eli Manning comes to mind, at least on offense- but for the most part, we're dealing with sports where the players have distinct roles in a larger system, and that means their ability to recruit for the other parts of the system are iffy at best. Put that together with the higher financial risk, and I think you won't get to see Albert Pujols orchestrating a trade anytime soon.

The NBA is obviously different, though. There's no division between the offensive team and the defensive team. I'd even argue that the differences between, say, a center and a point guard are of degree, not kind. And so, an NBA player just has a much better understanding of what his fellow players do- both because they do a lot of the same stuff he does, and because he works with them on every play.

And if the Heat continue choking? I don't think it matters. Players are always going to want more control over their destiny, and the structure of the game will always give that some justification. At most, the Heat's failure will just make the players change their tactics on it.

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