Addition by Subtraction: Sports Superstars That Just Might Have to Go
It’s a truism in sports that some of the best deals are the ones you don’t make, but another truism is that the benefits of trading a superstar may sometimes be the key to forward progress.
That is what is known as addition by subtraction, and in the case of the star athletes on this list, it may be time for them to go because they’ve hit a brick wall. In some cases, that wall has nothing to do with diminished talent and everything to do with attitude or a reputation of not being coachable.
The athletes on this list for one reason or another (bad contracts, bad attitudes, trading for assets) are holding their teams back. And though they are all talented, their drawbacks may now be larger than the benefits they bring to each of their teams.
NBA teams will more than just kick the tires if the Sacramento Kings make 27-year-old DeMarcus Cousins available for trade.
But is he worth it?
The easy answer is “yes” based on career numbers of 20.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. And his stats this season through 44 games are even better, as he’s posting an eye-popping 28.0/10.2/4.4 line.
And yet Cousins is a polarizing figure because he has gained a reputation as a player who can’t be coached, and whose emotions often derail his game.
He has caused plenty of publicity nightmares for Kings management, and even with his impressive array of skills, he has yet to lead Sacramento to the playoffs in his six full seasons.
The Kings could rebuild by trading Cousins for players and draft picks, but would they be giving up on a potential future Hall of Fame center?
And if they keep him, can they control his behavior?
In a recent profile, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN wrote that the key to keeping Cousins happy is establishing trust, something that Kings management has not done well the past few years.
At this point, it does seem as if team chemistry would improve if Cousins was traded, but does Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive have the will to do it?
Time will tell.
The Carmelo Anthony saga in New York appears to be in its final act.
For the past few weeks, the mercurial small forward has waged a public war of words with New York Knicks general manager Phil Jackson about whether Anthony wants to remain in the Big Apple.
Last Wednesday, ESPN’s Marc Stein and Chris Haynes reported that the Cleveland Cavaliers had turned down an offer of Anthony for Cavs power forward Kevin Love.
Things in New York came to a boil when Anthony took issue with an article written by a friend of Jackson’s, which critiqued his playing style and fit with the team.
Anthony met with Jackson after the article was published, but the meeting appeared to bear little fruit.
“If they tell me they want to scrap this whole thing, yeah, I have to consider it,” Anthony said, per Al Iannazzone of Newsday.
Through January 29, the Knicks are 21-28 and 2.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They are 4-6 over the last 10 games, and their uninspired performances have made it unlikely that the team will make a real run at the playoffs.
Per Matt Moore of CBSSports.com, as of January 29 the Clippers were aggressively trying to acquire Anthony without giving up Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan or Blake Griffin and were looking for a third team, such as the Boston Celtics, to facilitate what would be a blockbuster trade.
Despite his All-Star status, Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls is on shaky ground with the franchise.
With the Bulls unable to separate from the pack of Eastern Conference also-rans, with a pedestrian 23-25 record through January 29 and a 4-6 record the past 10 games, speculation has intensified as to whether Bulls management should blow it all up and start over.
That would likely mean trading Butler, the team’s best player who, along with future Hall of Fame teammate Dwyane Wade, was benched for the Bulls’ January 27 game against the Miami Heat for critical comments the pair made about their teammates’ lack of passion in a recent loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
Things grew tenser in Chicago when guard Rajon Rondo sniped back at Butler and Wade in an Instagram post for their lack of leadership, and fans are wondering whether head coach Fred Hoiberg is the problem, or whether a house-cleaning is in order.
Trading Butler, who is on the cusp of superstardom, would net the Bulls draft picks and at least one good player. And given the bad vibes in the Second City, it’s hard to imagine Butler remaining with the Bulls for the long term.
The Los Angeles Clippers are now in the sixth season of the Blake Griffin and Chris Paul pairing, and though that alliance has yielded five consecutive playoff berths, each season has ended in disappointment.
Griffin is going to be one of the most prized free agents after this season ends, and it stands to reason that the Clippers could be better off finding a trade partner to get as much they can now, rather than signing him to an astronomical new deal that won’t promise any titles.
This has nothing to do with Griffin’s talent because he’s still a top-10 player when healthy, but at this point is there any reason to believe that Griffin can elevate the Clippers past the second round?
And if that is the case, wouldn’t it make sense for the Clips to get as much as they can for Griffin now?
Nathaniel Friedman of GQ writes that the Clippers and the New York Knicks would both be well-served to explore a Griffin-for-Carmelo Anthony swap which he believes would benefit both teams.
The Knicks would jettison a player who has become disgruntled, and the Clippers would gain a player whom Paul trusts and who doesn’t clog the lane for center DeAndre Jordan.
Though the Clippers are pursuing Anthony, the team believes it can snag him without having to give up Griffin.
But a fresh start for all sides may be the best solution.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Superstar NFL receivers are known to attract drama, so it’s no surprise that Odell Beckham Jr. is a walking beacon of controversy, so much so that even fans in New York are wondering if he’s worth it.
It’s not just the grandstanding moments on the field, it’s also the way Beckham allows opposing players to get into his psyche and throw him off his game.
Beckham’s meltdown with then-Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman in 2015 was one for the ages, with Beckham showcasing his immaturity.
Per James Kratch of NJ.com, Beckham was fined a total of $108,926 through December 10 of this past season, including $36,000 in Week 2 for a blindside hit on Kenny Vaccaro of the New Orleans Saints and $12,154 in Week 13 for verbal abuse of an official.
Beckham has also had numerous sideline incidents involving emotional outbursts.
And his excursion to Miami the same week as the Giants' wild-card playoff game against the Green Bay Packers was seen by some, such as Chris Chase of Fox Sports, as a contributing factor to his game totals of four catches for 28 yards and three crucial dropped passes.
Beckham has to prove he can come up big in the playoffs and maintain his composure during the 2017-18 season, or the Giants may decide that he’s worth more as a trade piece than as a sporadic receiver who kills team chemistry.
Although Josh Gordon has very different issues than Beckham Jr., he has a similar set of breathtaking skills that makes general managers salivate, even as they’re wondering how they will keep him from getting into trouble.
Since entering the league in 2012, Gordon has only played in 35 games and missed the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
But his career line of 161 receptions for 2,754 yards and 14 touchdowns is the reason he will remain a hot commodity.
Brown is still technically a member of the Cleveland Browns, but he remains suspended by the NFL for alcohol and drug-related issues.
Browns fans were ready to welcome back the talented receiver this past season, but just as he was coming off his four-game league ban, the NFL extended the suspension indefinitely, and Brown checked himself into a rehab facility.
Per Des Bieler of The Washington Post, the Browns are done with Gordon, though they can’t trade him until his suspension ends.
“Obviously Josh is not here and doing what he thinks he needs to for life, which we support 100 percent,” said Browns head coach Hue Jackson. “I think what we need to do is just close that chapter right now.”
Why would the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim trade their best player, who also happens to be a once-a-generation talent?
Because in his first five full years in the MLB, Mike Trout has only tasted the postseason once, and it’s clear that the Angels lack the pitching and role players to make a serious run at a World Series.
Trout has and will continue to be the ultimate team player, but it is his transcendent talent that makes it untenable for him to remain mired in mediocrity.
Bad contracts (Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson) have crippled the team’s ability to compete, which is why former agent Leigh Steinberg, a contributor for Forbes wrote, “The Angels have one invaluable asset with the potential to deliver enough in trade value to reinvigorate the franchise, Mike Trout.”
The problems Yasiel Puig has experienced with the Los Angeles Dodgers have nothing to do with his massive talent and everything to do with his misbehavior and attitude.
Per R.J. Anderson of CBSSports.com, as of November 2016, the Dodgers brass was still mulling the idea of trading Puig, with suitors such as the Chicago White Sox in play.
The question is why the Dodgers would feel the need to unload a player who, when dialed in, is a devastating combination of speed, power and outstanding fielding.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports provided an answer in a 2015 piece that chronicled Puig’s clashes with his teammates, including arguments that nearly resulted in physical altercations and prompted one unnamed teammate to say, “At this point, it would be addition by subtraction.”
In August 2016, the Dodgers demoted Puig to the minors after manager Dave Roberts tired of Puig not showing up on time for batting practices and meetings.
Although Puig returned to the team in September and appeared in the team’s playoff run to the NL Championship Series against the Cubs, the club may decide that trading Puig for assets could rid them of a persistent problem.
It’s difficult for a pitcher like the New York Mets' Matt Harvey to get the benefit of the doubt when he can’t stay healthy and actually contribute to his team.
Mets fans are growing weary of Harvey’s litany of injuries, the latest of which occurred in July 2016 and shut him down for the season.
Harvey had corrective surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, ending his season just three months into the campaign.
In 2013, Harvey suffered a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, which required Tommy John surgery.
Harvey missed the entire 2014 season and since then has been engaged in back-and-forth drama with the Mets about an innings limit to help protect his valuable right arm.
But with two major surgeries in three years, it’s fair to suggest that the Mets can’t be sure if Harvey will ever make it through another full season. Trading him might be a better option in terms of obtaining pitching prospects who could actually take the mound every five games.