Gregg Popovich: Hypocrite?

Andrew Ungvari@DrewUngaSenior Writer IFebruary 13, 2008

The Lakers' trade for Pau Gasol has sent shockwaves throughout the NBA.

Some coaches and general managers have decided it was best to not comment.

Others, like Spurs' head coach Greg Popovich, were willing to speak to anyone who would listen.

Popovich has issued the strongest criticism of the trade, telling

"What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension. There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense. I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I would have voted no to that L.A. trade."

What makes Pop's comment so funny is that had such a committee existed, there are a number of transactions made by his own team that would have been "scratched."

Popovich seems to have no problem with his team's ability to sign bought-out players or ones that were released because of the league's Amnesty Rule, without providing compensation to the player's previous employer.

What's more lopsided, Pop—the Lakers providing the Grizzlies with immediate cap space this offseason, or you getting Michael Finley without having to give up anything while Mark Cuban writes him a $19 million check that has counted against the Mavs cap for the last three years?

Not only did the Lakers give the Grizzlies cap space—they also gave them two future first-round picks, a first-round pick from this past year's draft and a player that is the leading candidate to be the Spanish League MVP—who, had he been in this year's draft, would have been a first-round pick.

I won't deny that Cuban has saved $19 million in luxury tax payments per year by releasing Finley, but that's beside the point. Popovich didn't have to give up a player or draft picks to the Mavs as compensation and the Mavs won't be able to benefit from Finley's departure until his contract runs out this summer.

Ask Mark Cuban which package he'd rather have had, the $19 million payment for nothing or the package of draft picks and players to go along with immediate cap space? 

To add insult to injury, Cuban had to watch Finley win a ring on his dime a year after his own team choked in the Finals against the Heat.

Teams make trades for a variety of reasons, and Popovich fails to mention that the Gasol trade can't fully be judged until we see what the Grizzlies do with their newfound cap space.

Look at two of the trades Popovich and Spurs' GM, R.C. Buford, have pulled off in the past few seasons:

* 2003: Traded Danny Ferry to the Pacers in a three-team deal that netted the Spurs Hedo Turkoglu and Ron Mercer.

* 2005: Traded Malik Rose, out of his rotation and in the third year of a ridiculous seven-year, $42 million contract, to the Knicks for Nazr Mohammed.

Guess who won the championship in each of those two seasons.

What I'm getting at is that while neither of those trades were as earth-shattering as the Gasol trade, all three would have probably been disallowed by Pop's proposed committee.

But the bigger issue is not so much about trades, but about this new trend that has popped up over the last few years—losing teams are buying out or waiving unhappy veterans, and those players are signing on with title contenders for prorated minimums.

No team has benefited from this more than the Spurs have. If Pop is so concerned with fairness, then why is it fair for the rich to get richer while lower-seeded playoff teams sit and watch—and lottery teams are forced to pay them while getting nothing in return?

Tim Thomas was waived by the Bulls, signed on with the Suns, and hit the shot that saved their season. 

Alonzo Mourning was bought out by the Raptors, signed on with Miami, and helped to win them a championship. 

Chris Webber was bought out by the Sixers, signed on with the Pistons, and helped them get the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

Eddie Jones, Steve Francis, Juwan Howard, and Jalen Rose were all waived by teams and signed on with title contenders for no compensation.

Not only did the Spurs steal Michael Finley away from a division rival, but they recently signed point guard Damon Stoudamire after he was released by the Grizzlies.

Every team in the NBA had a chance to get Gasol from the Grizzlies. It was no secret that he wanted out or that the Grizzlies were looking to trade him.

But no team had a better package than the Lakers, did based on what Memphis was looking for.

Teams had to not only give them an expiring contract, young players and draft picks, but also had to be willing to pay Gasol for the remainder of his contract—which runs through 2011, when he will be paid $18 million.

The only other teams that had enough expiring contracts needed to make a deal were the Sonics with Kurt Thomas, the Timberwolves with Theo Ratliff, and the Heat with Ricky Davis and Jason Williams. All three of those teams are rebuilding with young players, and thus uninterested in a player trying to go to a winner, and unwilling to give up draft picks they will need to rebuild their own franchises with.

I wrote an article ten days ago about Mitch Kupchak's genius in pulling off this trade. I mentioned in the article that Kupchak surprised Laker fans when he decided to exercise the third-year option on Kwame Brown's contract in the middle of Brown's first season with the team—Brown had shown no signs of promise, and the option was for $9 million.

Kupchak had missed out on getting Baron Davis from the Hornets because he lacked the large, expiring contract that Golden State had with Dale Davis. He knew that in that third year, Kwame Brown would be his Dale Davis.

The Spurs entire roster is made up of guys who are playing for below market value because they chose to play for a contender. Shouldn't this committe also be given the task of making sure that players sign equitable contracts, since Popovich is now so concerned with competitive balance?

In addition to Stoudamire and Finley, the Spurs are paying less than market value to Bruce Bowen ($4.13 million), Robert Horry ($3.63 million), Brent Barry ($5.55 million), Fabricio Oberto ($3.6 million), and Matt Bonner ($2.68 million). Even Manu Ginobili could get more than the $9 million he's getting this year.

You never hear anyone complaining about his contract extensions, trades or free-agent signings. If anything, he's applauded—especially by me.

Popovich has every right to be bothered by the trade, since it makes his job that much more difficult. Don't forget that Popovich compared the Shaquille O'Neal-to-Miami trade to the fall of the Soviet Union.

He would know, considering he's an expert on Russian history. I just don't think he should complain about it, considering the way he does business.

It's quite a coincidence that Popovich is also a wine enthusiast—considering that his remarks about the trade reek of sour grapes.


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