After Postponed NBA Season, A Flurry Of Trades

With a compressed season due to a contract dispute, the NBA has seen a flurry of big trades in the past two weeks. Lynn Neary talks with sportswriter Stefan Fatsis about where players are — and aren't — going.

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LYNN NEARY, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Lynn Neary.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. It's been a crazy few weeks for the National Basketball Association. After postponing the start of the season because of a labor dispute, the league and its players finally cut a deal. But as soon as the ink was dry, chaos broke out in the market for NBA players.

NEARY: Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now, as he does most Fridays. Welcome to the program, Stefan. Good to talk to you.

STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Lynn.

NEARY: So, first, fill us in on the end of the NBA's labor shutdown. What are the major changes in the sport now?

FATSIS: Well, the players' share of NBA revenue is going to drop to between 49 and 51 percent from 57 percent. This is going to cost the players $200 to 300 million a year during the deal. And if you're a player, you say that's a lot of money. The owners, on the other hand, say it'll just trim the fat - bad contracts given by them - to underperforming players. Some other important changes: shorter player contracts, financial incentives for players to stay with their current teams, and increasingly punitive taxes on teams that exceed the league-wide salary cap. The idea there is to improve competitive balance across the league.

NEARY: And you know how it's going so far?

FATSIS: Well, the news has been dominated by a stunning move by the NBA's commissioner, David Stern, last week. He vetoed a trade of the star point guard Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, the Hornets have been without an owner, so the league has been overseeing the team's operations. Stern said that the deal that the Hornets management cut with the Lakers and a third team, the Houston Rockets, wasn't good enough. The Hornets did wind up trading Chris Paul to the other team in Los Angeles, the perennially woeful Clippers, who suddenly feature two of the NBA's hottest young stars, Chris Paul, and the dunk machine and human highlight reel, Blake Griffin.

NEARY: So, what's the reaction to all of this around the NBA?

FATSIS: Well, there's been a domino effect for the Lakers, the Rockets and a few other teams that wanted to go get players contingent on what was going on. And certainly it's raised questions about conflicts of interest and motivations. The Hornets thought that they had cut a fair deal that would have made them a better team now. But from the NBA's perspective, maybe it wasn't a deal that would have made the team attractive to a buyer. And it certainly wasn't the deal that other small market owners wanted to see: a young star shipped for older players to one of the league's marquee teams, the Lakers, who also would have cut their payroll and their tax payments, which go to those smaller market teams by a lot. And that would not have helped smaller market teams compete. One owner complained to Stern in an email that he was turning 25 of the NBA's 30 teams into the Washington Generals - the team that always loses to the Harlem Globetrotters.

NEARY: Well, Stefan, explain something to me: if Chris Paul is such a talent, why was he being traded in the first place?

FATSIS: Because he wanted to be traded. He's going to be able to opt out of his contract after this season. The Hornets wanted to get something of value rather than lose him for nothing in free agency, and that's what happened last year with Carmelo Anthony, who, after months of headlines, wound up in New York. It's happening again now in Orlando, where the center, Dwight Howard, has demanded a trade to a very short list of teams. So, the labor deal didn't resolve the increasingly common issue in the NBA: superstars holding teams hostage while they sort out where they want to play. This is not where the league wants the focus to be as it prepares for its regular season.

NEARY: And when does that season begin?

FATSIS: On Christmas Day, five games. The league stacked all of its big team names and star names on one day. I'll start with the Boston Celtics against the New York Knicks. Then you've got a finals rematch between LeBron James and the Miami Heat against the champion Dallas Mavericks. Then the Lakers play the Chicago Bulls. Then Dwight Howard in Orlando go against another star, Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City. And finally, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers go up against the Golden State Warriors. Teams are still assembling rosters. This Christmas date is kind of nuts to start, but the league is cramming as many games as possible into a truncated season. We'll see how it goes.

NEARY: OK. Well, thanks so much for joining us again, Stefan.

FATSIS: You're welcome, Lynn.

NEARY: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.

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