Noah Brier | February 5, 2020

Why is this interesting? - The Trade Deadline Edition

On basketball, bureaucracy, and the fascination with trades in sports

Noah here. You might have heard of Andre Igoudala. He was 1/5th of the Golden State Warriors “death lineup” which also featured MVPs Kevin Durant and Steph Curry as well as All-Star/All-NBA players Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Iggy, as he’s known around the league, was clearly the fifth man on what was probably the most dominant five-man unit in NBA history. With that said, he’s hardly without his own accolades with an All-Star appearance, two All-Defensive teams, and, most notably, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP trophy. Iguodala is widely regarded as one of the smartest players in the NBA and a key to the Warriors’ run of success, as he was able to play multiple positions on both offense and defense.

He also hasn’t played professional basketball since June. After Kevin Durant left the Warriors for the Brooklyn Nets over the summer, the Warriors blew up the team that had won them three championships, trading Iguodala to the Memphis Grizzlies in the process. The thing is, Iguodala is 36 and not really in the part of his career where playing with a bunch of 21-year-olds on a middling team sounded appealing (they turned out to be a lot less middling than everyone thought they would, but that’s another story). So he worked out some kind of deal with the Grizzlies that involved him not showing up in Tennessee while Memphis tried to trade him to a team that would compete for a title.

Everything seemed fine with that plan until we got to the end of January. With the NBA’s trade deadline looming on Thursday, Iggy is still on the Grizzlies and it’s not totally clear what’s going to happen next (I’m keeping my fingers crossed that between writing this and sending the email things won’t change). Per NBA reporter David Aldridge, Iguodala’s camp is saying he “is prepared to sit out the rest of this season if Memphis isn’t able to orchestrate a trade with one of the agreed-upon teams he designated by Thursday’s trade deadline.” Around the same time NBA reporter and former Vice President of Basketball Operations for those same Memphis Grizzlies, John Hollinger tweeted a word of warning: “If not traded, Iggy's camp needs to be a bit careful they don't burn bridges to the point he gets Ben Gordoned -- Charlotte cut him on March 2 a few years ago, mere hours after playoff eligibility deadline, just to nuke his chances of signing with a playoff team.” You’ve got to believe he knows that for which he speaks. Meanwhile, the other players on Iggy’s “team” are saying mean things on Twitter and his former teammates are defending him. Drama!

Why is this interesting?

If you’re a sports fan it’s hard not to be fascinated by the machinations of the league. To those of us who aren’t able to compete at elite levels, the business is a lot more relatable than the athletics. 

What’s more, this is game theory playing out in real life. Andre Iguodala is still a very good NBA player who is available to be traded but if the Grizzlies don’t find a trade partner for him they would need to either make a choice to either buy him out and only get a bit of savings or cut him in the way Hollinger describes, leading to both sides getting nothing and ruining his chances to sign with another team this season. As with any negotiation, when the options are limited and all parties understand that, it fundamentally changes the offers and dynamics. The choice the Grizzlies are faced with is simple: Do you trade a guy for less than what you think he’s worth or wait until it’s too late and get nothing? Adding to the complications is Iggy’s potential destination: if the team does end up buying him out, there’s a good chance he signs with the Lakers, a likely first-round playoff competitor for the Grizz.

Beyond the specifics of this situation, though, the fascination around Iggy’s situation is indicative of a bigger shift in sports. It’s one that Will Leitch articulated well in his 2014 New York Magazine story “Why Fans Are Now More Into Free-Agent Negotiations Than Games”:

I can’t comprehend what it’s like to play in the NBA Finals, or to have to memorize thousands of inbounds plays, or to find the open man on the fast break, or to dunk. (Or even to dribble without falling.) Those things are beyond my imagination. What I can grasp is what happens off the court. Draft lotteries. Salary-cap maneuvering. Free-agent negotiations. Roster construction. And not only grasp: Like just about every other sports fan in America, I’ve been doing all of those things in fantasy sports for two decades. Also like just about every other sports fan in America, I’ve started to think I’m pretty good at it. We all have. Which has made the action on the court, or the field, feel somehow like the subplot.

So as you watch the countdown to the NBA trade deadline approach (don’t forget to turn on Twitter notifications for Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA’s most plugged-in reporter), keep an eye on Iggy and appreciate how weird it is that millions of people are fully engaged with not the sport of basketball, but the bureaucracy. (NRB)

Photo of the Day:

An Afghan man in Kabul waits for customers at a tea stall near the Qargha reservoir. Photograph: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters. (CJN)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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