Thursday, October 28, 2010
On renegotiating a trade after the fact
By Henry Abbott
As you may have already seen, Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune writes:
According to a league source, the Timberwolves have asked the NBA to look into whether Portland knowingly traded them an injured player when the Blazers dealt Martell Webster to Minnesota for the 16th overall pick in last summer's draft.
Webster on Monday underwent surgery to repair a disk in his back and is expected to miss about six weeks. He said the injury dates to last spring's playoffs, when he was undercut and fell hard in a game against Phoenix.
The Wolves are likely looking for a draft pick as compensation.
(This, apparently, is the play in question.)
My first thought was: maybe the "league source" was wrong. Maybe the Timberwolves aren't really appealing to the league.
I asked the Timberwolves, and had the following exchange:
Timberwolves: This is something that we don't want to discuss publicly at the present time.
Me: Just to super double extra-clear: That means the team is not shooting down Zgoda's report.
The league would not comment.
My main thought was: If only the league had some standard procedure for a team to determine if a player was healthy or not. For instance if, before trades were finalized, the player's new team could do a thorough physical examination of the player -- and if they player didn't pass the physical, the trade could be voided.
Oh wait! They have that already!
The Thunder, for instance, rejected Tyson Chandler this exact way in 2009.
Now, is there some obligation, on the part of the player's old team, or the player himself, to disclose medical issues to the new team? Might any number of trades be rescinded any time a team discovers an undisclosed medical condition?
There would have to be such a rule for the Timberwolves to have any claim at all.
I scoured the collective bargaining agreement and found no such thing. (Trade rules are discussed beginning on page 181 of the document you can download here.) There are rules saying players risk voiding their contracts if they are not honest with teams during physicals at the time of signing deals. But I couldn't find anything in the rules governing trades that requires teams to point out medical issues.
It may be that such rules are part of the NBA constitution, or their operations manual -- two shadowy documents that have never been public.
In any case, several league sources confirm that what is certain is that disclosing injury history is a focal point of those trade calls we always hear about.
A typical NBA trade goes like this: Marc Stein breaks the news, and says that the trade will be official once the trade call with the league is complete. And then 12 hours later, teams e-mail out press releases. For as long as anyone can remember, a call like that has consisted of representatives of the relevant teams, and league officials and lawyers, all digging into the nitty gritty of contract particulars, bonuses and trade kickers. And part of those calls, whether by tradition or rule is unclear, is to declare known injuries.
The question is whether, on his last day on the job, then-Portland GM Kevin Pritchard or his staff did or did not know about, or declare, any Martell Webster back injuries.
Officials from other teams say it almost doesn't matter, and that the only prudent approach is operate in "buyer beware" mode, and assume every player is injured until doctors on the team's payroll prove otherwise.
Nobody can remember a time failing to disclose an injury in a trade call has ever resulted in any kind of sanction or other league intervention, although sources allowed that a trade could, at least in theory, be rescinded for that.
However, everybody I talked to says it's unlikely the Timberwolves could prove information was withheld.
"We're all laughing about it," says one front office executive, who expressed no sympathy for Minnesota's reported position. "You can't watch the freaking playoffs? That was a pretty obvious incident, right on national TV."