NBA Stars Who Should Be Furious with Their Front Offices
If only NBA front offices could please everyone.
Across-the-board satisfaction is a myth in basketball circles. Someone will always want more playing time, seek additional touches, pout amid trade rumors, question his team's makeup or be generally unhappy with his situation.
Rankled egos are an occupational hazard. Most of the time they're overlooked or briefly acknowledged, before moving on. But that changes when marquee names have solid grounds for displeasure. Their feelings cannot be swept under the rug or ignored altogether. Even when they're unwanted or unneeded by their incumbent squads, these emotional wrinkles matter.
Not every player is proven furious. Common sense and faux mind-reading are at play here. We're looking for those who have been subject to suboptimal conditions, bad moves and broken promises since the start of summer—the type of baggage they'll carry into the regular season if things don't change.
Don't forget: Teams aren't necessarily in the wrong at every turn. They're usually trying to act in their own best interests.
Their agendas just no longer align with those of some ridiculously important players.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony is not an entirely sympathetic figure.
The New York Knicks would have jettisoned him already if he weren't so particular about his end destination. He still refuses to waive his no-trade clause for any team other than the Houston Rockets, according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski, making this a problem of his own partial design.
But the Knicks gave Anthony vetoing power. He needn't bend at their unwillingness or inability to work around it. Broadening his scope of prospective homes only makes sense if he owes them something, and he's not the least bit indebted to them. They provoked this stubbornness.
Former team president Phil Jackson spent months dragging Anthony's name and (already ebbing) trade value through the mud. And the Knicks let him. They didn't officially condone or endorse his sentiments, but prolonged inaction translates to tacit empowerment. And new general manager Scott Perry and team president Steve Mills are still navigating this fallout, as Wojnarowski wrote:
"As Perry starts to shape the front office and impact policy, another realization has washed over the organization: Months of organizational harping on Anthony, driven largely by deposed president of basketball operations Jackson, has dramatically lowered Anthony's trade value. Mills and Perry are evaluating whether it's worth allowing time for Anthony's standing around the NBA to be rebuilt, as opposed to trading him at an all-time low, league sources said.
"The Knicks realize the odds are long of convincing Anthony to simply forget trade talks and accept a return to New York, especially given how aggressively Jackson pushed to run Anthony out of town. While Jackson was primarily responsible for going to great lengths to publicly shame and discredit Anthony, he wasn't the only one within the franchise to play a part in the campaign."
Things between Anthony and the new regime aren't as destructive. He conveyed respect for Perry during a chat with The Vertical's Michael Lee, and Mills seems open to the idea of retaining the 10-time All-Star. But Anthony has no plans to make nice long term, per Wojnarowski—nor should he.
New York is ditching illusions of an instant turnaround in favor of a more traditional rebuild. Tim Hardaway Jr.'s four-year, $71 million deal cheapens that vision, but suspect execution doesn't change the direction. The Knicks have finally committed to a timeline independent of Anthony, and he should be ticked that the letters across his jersey don't yet reflect it—particularly when a more competent franchise would have traded him last summer or earlier, when his list of amiable landing spots wasn't as restrictive.
Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns have done everything to move on from Eric Bledsoe...without actually moving on from him.
They shut him down late last season to fire up the tank, a decision he didn't quite embrace, per AZCentral Sports' Scott Bordow. They avoided spending real money in free agency to conserve flexibility for incoming salary dumps. And, most notably, Wojnarowski reported they were among the teams to make an offer for Kyrie Irving—another point guard who they wouldn't have acquired without giving up Bledsoe.
Everything points to the Suns starting over without their fringe-star floor general, and he knows it.
"I love everything about it," Bledsoe said of Phoenix, per Bordow. "At the same time, I want to win."
The Suns are smart to do their due diligence, and they could not force the Cleveland Cavaliers to expedite Irving's departure. But Bledsoe, at 27, is ready to win now. He looks wildly out of place on a team that's deliberately steering clear of the Western Conference's brutally deep postseason hunt.
Holding on to Bledsoe wouldn't seem so senseless if the Suns were equivocating on their position. They're not. This roster isn't built to contend for anything special anytime soon. If they don't ship him out now, they'll send him packing later, around the trade deadline or at season's end, after they've once again shut him down to protect their lottery odds.
Prolonging the inevitable becomes flat-out cruel at some point. Joining new digs is always easier over the summer. Letting this situation leak into training camp, and then the regular season, bilks Bledsoe of valuable acclimation time.
Remember: His free agency isn't that far off. He'll hit the open market in 2019. Any extra reps he gets with a different squad between now and then factors into his stock. And if he's headed to the East, he'll want to get there as soon as possible. Switching conferences is his ticket to All-Star candidacy and a bigger contract in two years' time.
Granted, Bledsoe's next payday isn't the Suns' problem. They won't be the franchise bankrolling it. But this when-will-they limbo is unfair to him. He deserves to know where his future might lie, because it sure as heck isn't Phoenix.
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today first brought word LeBron James was "frustrated and concerned" less than three weeks into free agency. And no one could blame him. The Cavaliers had done ample and unfathomable damage to their stock by that point.
Consider their greatest hits:
- Showing the door to general manager David Griffin, a James favorite.
- Whiffing on Chauncey Billups, their top choice to replace Griffin.
- Striking out in the Jimmy Butler and Paul George sweepstakes.
- Signing Jose Calderon on the first day of free agency.
Some of these issues can be forgotten—so long as you stretch the definition of forgiveness.
Facilitating Griffin's departure was objectively dumb, but he wanted more power, according to ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst. Spit happens. The Cavaliers are also light on trade assets and barren of cap space, in large part because they tried maximizing James' timeline before the Golden State Warriors were the championship dictator they are now. They cannot be totally crucified for the absence of offseason miracles, no matter how close they came to a lucky break.
But the situation has devolved in the weeks since, beginning and ending with Irving's trade request.
James was part of the reason he wanted out, according to Windhorst, and the Cavaliers never took the necessary steps to reshape that notion. They secured an admirable return from the Boston Celtics in Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets' 2018 first-round pick, as The Vertical's Shams Charania first reported, but sources told Wojnarowski they sought out Irving deals under the guise that James will leave as a free agent next summer (player option).
This approach is easy to spin. Cleveland couldn't justify flipping a 25-year-old star for a return completely tailored to the window of a player who has already left once and could bolt again. At the same time, if you're James, this can't sit right.
The Cavaliers were having a questionable, if terrible, offseason in the first place. They rebounded nicely with the Irving trade, improving their title chances for at least one season. Thomas is close to a lateral move on offense when healthy, while Crowder beefs up their perimeter stopping power. But this return doesn't erase all tension from weeks and months past. If James had wandering eyes before, he'll still have them now.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Give the Knicks credit. Few teams are impressively bad enough to ruffle the feathers of an aging star and budding superstud in the same summer.
Guessing games are irrelevant here. We know Porzingis is furious with the Knicks. He skipped his exit interview with then-president Phil Jackson, in protest against the organization's relative unrest, only to become public trade fodder.
Junking the Zen Master experiment has smoothed things over to some extent. Porzingis was adamant he wants to remain in New York in an NBA.com interview, while a source told Newsday's Steven Marcus and Mike Rose that Mills and Perry have resisted dangling him in packages for Irving.
Still, let's pump the brakes on any and all good vibes.
Teams don't get brownie points for not foolishly trading a 22-year-old cornerstone. The Knicks must be graded on a curve, because they're the Knicks, but the standard cannot be set that low.
Besides, distance continues to exist between them and Porzingis, according to Wojnarowski. Failures don't get much larger or more potentially detrimental, and the Knicks have earned every bit of distrust and frustration he harbors.
For all this talk about a youth movement, they continue to want for measurable direction. Overpaying Tim Hardaway Jr. doesn't depict a devotion to change. They could have used this cap space to absorb similarly unsavory contracts that came with picks. Or they could have holstered it altogether until next summer, when fewer teams figure to be in play for the biggest free agents.
Developing Willy Hernangomez and Frank Ntilikina would be a good start to assuaging Porzingis' grievances, but who knows if that's even a priority? Hernangomez might end up losing time to Joakim Noah, and Ntilikina won't get green-light grooming if he's playing in a rotation that includes both Anthony and Hardaway.
Rolling over Anthony's situation into next season only complicates matters. The Knicks shouldn't pull the trigger on a bad deal, and Porzingis doesn't want him to leave. But they also need to deliver clear, unmistakable evidence of their interest in turning over a new leaf. Shelling out $60-plus million for Anthony, Hardaway and Noah sends Porzingis mixed messages at best.
Dwyane Wade, Chicago Bulls
Dwyane Wade cannot be unconditionally annoyed with the Chicago Bulls. He opted into the last year of his deal before they traded Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he did so knowing a teardown was possible.
Then again, Wade can and should play the Carmelo Anthony card. Chicago gave him that $23.8 million player option last summer. You don't do that if there's even the tiniest chance Butler is on the way out.
Pleading ignorance doesn't work. The Bulls flirted with moving Butler in 2016. This scenario was always on the table. They're either guilty of reckless spending amid future uncertainty or overestimating the ceiling of a Butler-Wade duo—or both.
Wade was smart to get his money. It would have taken him at least three years to recoup that value in this year's penny-pinching market. He has no obligation to help simplify Chicago's directional shift, and that extends to eventual buyout negotiations.
Vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said back in June the Bulls wouldn't pay Wade to bounce unless the agreement was "advantageous" for the team, per the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson. That stance may have softened a bit; people around the organization believe "a deal that would allow Wade to play elsewhere will eventually get worked out at some point during the season," according to ESPN.com's Nick Friedell.
If and when that day comes, Wade's (theoretical) irritation can subside. For now, he's the Bulls' only player over 30, trapped on perhaps the league's worst roster, with no way out that doesn't include financial concession.
To say this isn't what he signed on for would be a gross understatement.