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Monday, February 28, 2011
Updated: March 1, 10:01 AM ET
NBA power shift? Don't blame players

By Scoop Jackson
ESPN.com

You hear words like "ruining" and "destroyed." You hear that these players drag the process out to the detriment of the team. You hear that they've become bigger than the game; and because of that, the game has become un-fantastic.

If you listen to the public and media reaction to recent player movement -- starting with LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire this past summer and continuing with Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams last week -- the NBA is going to hell in a hand basket. No, worse. It's going there in a handbag. Furla.

The commotion has reached the point that it can no longer be ignored. Too many people are being falsely accused of something they haven't done. Stick your nose to any TV, computer or iPad screen, or hold your ear to concrete. You'll hear screams of blame being placed on players for sculpting the game's power structure into a shape that -- if it isn't stopped -- will result in the annihilation of professional basketball.

Carmelo Anthony
Yes, Carmelo Anthony wants to play in New York and has the smile to show it. But remember, the Nuggets chose to send him to the Knicks.

Really?

Truth? The new "problem" with/in the NBA -- the so-called "LeBron" epidemic  isn't a problem at all. At least not one that should be blamed on the players. No rules have been broken; no franchises have folded.

Really.

The blame game. It goes something like this.

• Blame the players for situations in which teams put themselves.

• Blame the labor for decisions made, for the most part, by management.

• Blame Anthony for the state of the Nuggets. Blame Williams for the state of the Jazz. Blame Blake Griffin right now for leaving one L.A. team for another in … when? 2015?

The only thing missing is Chris Rock.

It is blame misplaced. More perception than new rule. In a recent ESPN.com SportsNation poll, the question was asked: What is the biggest challenge facing the NBA? The answer option that came in first, with 40 percent, was this: How To Defend Jimmer Fredette. (It was an attempt at humor.) In second, with 34 percent of the votes: Stars Leaving Small Markets. (No laugh track.)

The point: Players deciding where they want to play and being able to exercise that option is the prelude to what some are claiming will be an epidemic.

But where is it? Where is this epidemic? Where will this mass exodus of star players come from? Who else will leave of his own accord and leave his old team in ruins?

Let's see, LeBron left Cleveland and Bosh left Toronto. Outside of that, who else left? What's being overlooked is that Denver chose to trade Anthony; Utah chose to trade Williams. Phoenix (after three years of attempting to deal him at the trade deadlines) chose to part ways with Stoudemire. Last summer, the Jazz chose to part ways with Carlos Boozer. Minnesota, a few years ago, chose to trade KG to Boston. Seattle chose to trade Ray Allen to the Celtics.

LeBron James
LeBron James made a decision to leave Cleveland for the love in South Beach. Does that make him a bad person?

Yet the players are the ones being blamed for leaving small markets for marquee cities. That's the equivalent of blaming CBS for Charlie Sheen's behavior, arguing that by allowing Sheen to play the character Charlie Harper on "Two and a Half Men," the network is partially responsible for his private life spiraling out of control.

Remember, Dwyane Wade stayed in Miami. Joe Johnson stayed in Atlanta. Kevin Durant re-upped in OKC. Dirk Nowitzki stayed in Dallas. Rudy Gay stayed in Memphis. David Lee left a large market (New York) to go to a smaller one (San Francisco/Oakland). But no one talks about that; no one wants to remember those small but significant details.

It's time to stop blaming Anthony because the Nuggets panicked and Williams because the Jazz did the same. Don't blame Chris Paul and Dwight Howard for the likelihood that New Orleans and Orlando one day will … panic. As players, they have every legal right to see what free agency is like, but it seems they get labeled as "disloyal" if they give the slightest indication that they might want to test the open market, even if it's just to find out what they might be worth.

Even when the decision to leave is made for them.

And that's wrong.

But the fact remains that people -- the media and, to a degree, fans -- are upset, maybe because no one is used to this. The pecking order is being disturbed, and comfort in the results can't be found.

Forgotten is how the NBA did not fall apart and teams did not fold when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar left Milwaukee for L.A., or when Shaquille O'Neal left Orlando for L.A., or when Baron Davis left Charlotte for L.A. (OK, in Davis' case, it was for the L.A. Clippers.)

Deron Williams
Deron Williams wouldn't have wound up with the Nets if the Jazz hadn't traded him to New Jersey.

The real issue here is power. Power that most people aren't used to seeing be exercised by players, who many wish would remain powerless. The fact that NBA players have become more savvy about the stipulations and loopholes in their contracts and are taking advantage of them is irritating and intimidating to some. It's something "we" (and I use that term very, very lightly) are not used to or comfortable with. To too many, the players should remain the "Forty Million Dollar Slaves" so dubbed by William C. Rhoden in his book. To too many people, they should remain as is, as we have forever seen and viewed them: pawns.

Every team runs the same risk. It's profit vs. loss. Regardless of the way all these deals unfolded, most of the recent decisions to move superstars (regardless of where they ended up) were made by organizations, not by players.

All contracts between a player and a franchise are agreed upon by both parties. It's all a part of negotiating tactics and leverage, which in turn is all a part of the business of sports. A player should never be blamed for the fear an organization has that it possibly could lose that player. That comes with the territory. That comes with the structuring of a contract. That comes with the structuring of a collective bargaining agreement. That's all a part of the other side of the game.

Yet there's anger when certain players take advantage of their power, when that power can be brokered in their favor.

I was once told that the "haves" in sports generally feel the following way about the "have-nots": "They don't want them to get smarter."

You know who "they" are, and you know who "them" are. So stop being mad at "them" for no longer being dumb.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.

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