By Daniel B. Kline
Dwight Howard, a talented player who has yet to win anything, wants Stan Van Gundy, his coach, fired. And, since NBA superstars are a rare commodity who must be coddled by management, he will get his wish at the close of the season if not sooner.
Because the NBA is a star-driven league with not enough stars to go around and salary cap limitations that make it impossible to overbid for a top player’s services, teams who have a superstar under contract must bend to his will. Instead of leaving the decision of who coaches the team up to management, Howard can demand that Van Gundy be fired either because he thinks it’s the right call or simply to show how powerful he is.
Had Howard said nothing and simply played basketball one of two things would have happened. Either Orlando would have made an unlikely playoff run past the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat, at least making it to The Finals, or Van Gundy would be fired anyway.
Howard, after pouting, posturing and being the subject of near-constant trade rumors signed a one-year extension. As he did this, he made it clear that he was not so much committed to his team as he was committed to keeping up the “what will Dwight do” intrigue for another year.
Howard’s act, which has grown tired now that his on-court performance has become erratic, simply marks the latest chapter in the ongoing soap opera featuring the divas of the NBA. Whether it’s Lebron James and “The Decision,” Chris Paul whining his way out of New Orleans or Carmelo Anthony tanking his way to the Knicks, the players have all the power.
These situations are happening because David Stern and the NBA’s owners were unwilling to give up a season in order to actually fix the league. The NFL – pretty much the model for success these days – has addressed the issue of signature superstars with its franchise tag.
The NFL’s rule allows teams to hold onto players it deems absolutely essential. Using the franchise tag comes with a cost (both in dollars and player goodwill), but its existence brings stability and allows teams to make long-term plans for their franchises.
In the NBA, long-term plans usually involve shedding as much salary as possible while losing a lot so you can beg a superstar to sign with your team. For most teams, this generally means getting rejected by one of the very few available superstars and instead having to overpay whoever is left on the free agent pile (and still being not a title contender).
Going into any NBA season you can make a case that as few as four, but no more than eight, teams have a legitimate shot at the title. To get to eight this year you have to include unlikely possibilities like aging Boston making one last run and the Los Angeles Clippers somehow gelling with Paul improbably quickly.
Even if fans in eight cities actually believe their team has a chance to win, that leaves 22 cities knowing they won’t. And while the NFL certainly has favorites, very few teams are counted out from day one (sorry Cleveland).
If the NBA enacted a franchise rule then Lebron James would be in Cleveland, Chris Paul would be in New Orleans and Carmelo Anthony might not be a Nugget, but he also might not be a Knick. More teams would be competitive and fans would actually have something to cheer for.
Instead, we get divas like Howard demanding their coaches be fired in order for them to maybe possibly consider staying or at least playing hard sometimes.
Reach Daniel B. Kline at firstname.lastname@example.org, subscribe to his Worst Ideas Ever podcast on iTunes or listen at dbkline.com. Follow him on Faceook at facebook.com/dankline.