Tag Archives: Dream Team

THE CUBAN FALLACY

With the opening of the Team USA minicamp in Vegas this week, the American basketball world is focused on international hoops for what may be the last time before the Rio games kick off in 2016. In addition to rampant speculation over who will make the final squad, and drooling over potentialdream rosters, this camp will also invariably spark new debate over the participation by NBA players in international play.

Mavs owner Mark Cuban has long held the mantle of opposing NBA player involvement in international competition. He does so not on the basis of traditional arguments in favour of the principle of amateurism, but rather based on the specious view that NBA teams are getting screwed because the IOC and FIBA are profiting off of NBA players without compensating their teams or the league. He argues that NBA teams are taking all the risk, without benefitting from the arrangement.

Unfortunately for Cuban, under the current agreement between FIBA and the NBA, there isn’t much he can do about it. At present, it is up to NBA players to decide for themselves whether or not they want to play for their countries. Teams can only prohibit a player from taking part if there is a “reasonable medical concern” motivating the decision (as is the case this year with the Spurs and Manu Ginobili). Absent such a basis, teams can only attempt to subtly influence a player’s decision (as Cuban reportedly did with Chandler Parsons in 2014). Of course, teams cannot be prevented from factoring the likelihood a player will play internationally into decision-making around contract negotiations – though they cannot prohibit a player from pCuban2artaking as a term of a contract.

While Cuban’s concerns are understandable, particularly in light of the recent season-ending injuries to Paul George and Dante Exum, his views are short-sighted and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of his relationship with his team’s players.

To begin with, participation in international competition is good for players and for owners. Players do not get paid to play for their countries, but it does pay dividends by helping them build their brand. Besides winning an NBA championship, MVP or maybe a scoring title, there are few honours available to an NBA player that outrank playing for the USA in the Olympics or World Cup. The exposure and prestige that come with wearing the red, white and blue factor into contract negotiations, endorsement deals and any number of other financial opportunities. NBA players in international competition is also good for the NBA. It raises the profile of the game internationally and makes Olympic and World Cup competition marquee events in the global basketball calendar, putting NBA players on centre stage outside of the traditional North American market.

Most significantly however, Cuban’s remarks reveal a fundamental and troubling misunderstandingCuban 1 of his relationship with the players that play for his team. Cuban needs to understand that he and the other owners employ their players, they do not own them.

NBA players are paid, handsomely, to play in 82 regular-season games, any playoff games their team qualifies for, and to show up for practice and other mandatory team functions. When an NBA team enters into a contract with a player, they are agreeing to pay them for those services, just like any other employment contract. An NBA contract may include certain other terms intended to limit risk – terms like, no sky-diving or hang-gliding or running with the bulls. These terms may well be reasonable and, if both parties agree to them, unobjectionable. If Cuban simply wanted the right to negotiate a no international competition term into player contracts, that would be a fair point.

Cuban wants much more than that, however. What his criticism implies is that he feels that NBA teams should have an exclusive right to profit off of their players. This is a radical departure from the standard employment contract model and would be akin to suggesting that a factory worker can’t bag groceries on the weekend without the factory getting a kickback. It would also be a major departure from the traditional nature of NBA contracts. Players have always used their spare time to earn extra income in a way that does nothing to further the interests of their teams. If Cuban wants USA Basketball to compensate him for engaging his players, he should also demand the Aug 12, 2012; London, United Kingdom; USA players stand during the playing of the national anthem after defeating Spain 107-100 during the men's basketball gold medal game in the London 2012 Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sportssame from Nike or Adidas or McDonald’s or any other company that uses his players as spokesmen. While the risk of injury may be lower, it is certainly conceivable that a player could be injured shooting a commercial or attending a promotional event.

What Cuban fails to understand is that NBA players are people, not assets. An NBA contract is a substantial investment, but it is an agreement to provide a service, not a transfer of ownership. Having a player under contract does not give a team or an owner the right to dictate what players do with their free time, and certainly does not grant them an exclusive right to the profits generated by those players. While Cuban’s concerns about potential injury is understandable, he needs to accept that the risk of injury simply comes with the territory of being an employer.

THE USA NEEDS TO RE-THINK THE PAN AM GAMES

The USA is currently playing in a major international basketball tournament. The Pan Am games are underway in Toronto, and the United States is one of eight teams competing for gold on the men’s side. Americans are used to having the most talented team, by far, 2004(2)in any international tournament. Anomalies such as the 2004 Olympics aside, they are also accustomed to winning.

USA Basketball has taken a different approach to the Pan Am games, routinely fielding inferior teams and failing to take home the gold medal that should be the birthright of the greatest basketball nation on the planet. The USA took home the bronze at the last Pan Am games in 2011, and finished fifth in 2007. In fact, it’s been 32 years since the USA took home the gold at the Pan Ams.

When we look at this year’s roster, we begin to develop an understanding of the reason for these Ron Bakerdisappointing finishes. This years’ team is made up mostly of college upperclassmen like Ronald Baker of Wichita State and Malcolm Brogdon of the University of Virginia, alongside a handful of NBA Journeymen such as Ryan Hollins and a couple of international players in Bobby Brown and Keith Langford.

The USA could be forgiven for not fielding an Olympic-calibre Dream Team for the Pan Am games. While a major tournament, it is not the Olympics or the World Cup. It is not even the biggest international tournament of the summer, with the Olympic-qualifier Tournament of the Americas set to tip-off on August 31st.

This does not mean that USA is justified in mailing this one in in the way that they are. First of all, America has a reputation to uphold. The 2004 Ryan HollinsOlympics were a major blow to the nation’s basketball identity. Failing to win gold in three consecutive Pan Am games should not be viewed as any less of a failing. While Steph Curry and Anthony Davis are unlikely to show up for a lower level tournament like the Pan Ams, the USA could certainly have fielded a better team than the one currently in Toronto, and should have done so for reasons of pride alone.

Secondly, the USA is missing out on a great opportunity to bring young players into the USA Basketball fold and gain valuable international basketball experience. None of the players on the Pan Am roster will ever play in the Olympics or World Cup – the two marquee international basketball events and the clear priorities for USA Basketball. The challenge faced by the USA in these tournaments is not a lack of talent – the USA could field five teams with enough talent to place 1-5 in any of those events.

2004The challenge faced by the USA in any international tournament is bringing together a group of superstars and getting them to play with sufficient cohesion to let their talent carry them through to a gold medal. As seen in 2004, this is not always an easy task. Moreover, the rest of the world is quickly catching up to the USA. Spain has fielded teams with multiple NBA all-stars for years. Canada now has the potential to produce a roster comprised entirely of NBA players. Other nations have routinely competed with much more talented American teams because of experience playing together and familiarity with the systems run by the national program.

By ignoring tournaments like the Pan Am games, the USA is foregoing the opportunity to build this kind of cohesion and familiarity. Instead of fielding a team of players that will likely never again don a USA uniform, the American team should be comprised of future potential dream teamers, players that would not make the 2016 Olympic team, but who might have a shot at the 2020 or 2024 Olympics. This is what teams such as Canada are doing, playing Kentucky-bound point guard Jamal Murray significant minutes at the age of 18. While Murray is unlikely to be a factor in the Olympics, he should be a fixture with the team over the next 10-15 years. By giving him an important role now, Murray builds international experience, becomes familiar with Team Canada’s systeArgentinams, and maybe most importantly, builds a relationship with and loyalty to the Canadian National Team.

The 2004 Olympic Team was headlined by Allen Iverson, Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwayne Wade, and was captained by Tim Duncan. The Argentinian squad that beat the Americans was talented, but with the possible exception of Manu Ginobili, had no one that would have come close to making the American Team. If that American team had played together in the 2003 Pan Am games, or in Olympic Qualifying or in the 2002 World Cup, the 2004 Olympics might have turned out much differently.