As the brief NBA exhibition season is set to begin, and as fans in Los Angeles are clamoring for the start of a new era in Lakers’ basketball led by Lonzo Ball, politics and finances are the issues that today dominate throughout the media. Unfortunately, it looks like the office of the NBA Commissioner is begging for a fight with players, and I’d have to believe that they will get just that.
In a memo distributed to teams throughout the league late today and then obtained by ESPN, the NBA has prepared itself to abide by the earlier statements of Commissioner Adam Silver, though exactly how it will deal with dissidents is yet to be determined. Commissioner Silver seems to have with this stance totally abrogated his lofty position as
not just the most progressive commissioner in US professional sports, but also as the most popular commissioner among players in any pro sport. Silver had stated that he “expected” all players to stand for the playing of the national anthem before league games, and the memo elaborates on that position by stating that:
“‘…the league office will determine how to deal with any possible instance in which a player, coach, or trainer does not stand for the anthem.’ The memo states that individual teams ‘do not have the discretion to waive’ the rule that players, coaches and staff must stand for the anthem. The league has the discretion to discipline players who violate the rule.”
I guess that Silver, as bright and talented as he is, has never heard of the First Amendment, nor does he understand the deeply held convictions of so many professional athletes, who are tired of seeing themselves and their fellow minority citizens treated as less than citizens, as less than human beings. I guess that he fails to understand that anthem protests are a visible means of exercising basic rights and that they are NOT defaming anthem, flag or country, but rather are a means of bringing attention to the pervasive issues of racism seen day after day, week after week, month after month, throughout this seemingly enlightened country.
I hope the Commissioner’s office is geared up to handle the large numbers of disciplinary matters that will begin coming in as soon as the first exhibition game is to be played.
On the financial side of things, the other news today is also of considerable interest on a couple of fronts. First and foremost, a new record for idiocy has been set in the area of overpaying athletes to play a game for the amusement of sedentary Americans. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Russell Westbrook today reached an agreement for the Thunder to pay the former UCLA star a record-breaking average of $41 Million per year for five years. While it appears that the total under the contract is a paltry $205 M, it’s actually more than that, as Westbrook has a year still pending on his prior contract, meaning that over six years, he’ll receive $233 M. As well as further outrageously raising the financial bar for all teams in the league, this also has significant meaning for teams, especially the Lakers, who have had their eye on soon-to-be free agent Paul George. George, you’ll remember, was acquired in a deal earlier this off season by the Thunder, who then in the past few days also traded for Carmelo Anthony. All that did not mean too much with the possibility/probability that Westbrook would go elsewhere after this coming season, and that George would also leave, presumably for Los Angeles. Now, however, with Westbrook there long-term, the likelihood is that a solid 2017-2018 season in Oklahoma will be all it takes for George also to re-up with the Thunder, crushing the hopes of Lakers’ fans who think so highly of George. Clearly I am not one of them, as I
believe he is significantly overrated and that the Lakers’ youth movement is much more important to their progress and near-future success than signing overpriced overrated free agents.
As to the Lakers, they begin 2017-2018 play tomorrow night with a meaningless exhibition game against Minnesota, but it marks the first time for Ball to show in a real pro, NBA setting that he is the future of the team, and that that future can be exciting, successful and being based around young players, not too soon to be broken apart by free agency.
The Lakers’ roster is so vastly improved over last season and over the last three seasons, it’s hard to even contemplate. Gone are the likes of worthless protoplasm such as Ronnie Price and nick young, gone are over the hill space-takers like Carlos Boozer and Roy Hubbard, gone are never-weres such as Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelley, and yes, D’Angelo Russell, and gone are the likes of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak,
Starting this season, crafted primarily by Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ roster is full of engaging young talent like the 19-year-old Ball, the 20-year-old Thomas Bryant, the 22-year-old Josh Hart, the 20-year-old Brandon Ingram, the 22-year-old Kyle Kozma, the 20-year-old Ivica Zubac, the 24-year-old Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the 24-year-old Larry Nance Jr., plus a couple of solid, new veterans in Brook Lopez and Andrew Bogut.
Tomorrow night’s game against the Timberwolves is one of only six exhibition games, with the real season set to tip-off in less than three weeks, against the Clippers. The young Lakers get a major scheduling break at the beginning of the season, playing four of their first five and seven of their first ten games at home at Staples.