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Free agency has been a fact of the NBA for several decades, but in the wake of this summer’s Miami Heat fiasco, all of a sudden folks are freaked out by it. Teams and fans are realising that, when players’ contracts are up, these employees are free to go play wherever they please. Sacre bleu!
Everybody knows that basketball was better when there were fewer teams (just ask LeBron about that) and players spent their entire careers faithfully gutting it out for one squad (ask Cleveland about that nostalgia).Of course, free agency didn’t keep the 1980’s Celtics or Lakers from staying together, and in fact, the salary cap instituted in 1999 set limits on payroll and individual salaries. Yet somehow, last summer still happened, and now, the world is a scarier place. Especially if you live in Orlando.
The Orlando Magic have a very good, if never great, team built around dominant centre Dwight Howard, strong team defence, and three-point shooting. This year, Howard got even better by refining his once-chaotic post play, and the Magic shook things up by acquiring solid shooting guard Jason Richardson, retread Hedo Turkoglu, and wild card Gilbert Arenas.
There’s also, though, a sense of desperation about it: If the Magic can’t win a title, and appears to have peaked as a team, Howard might bolt for greener pastures.
Well, Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi is having none of that, especially when the city has put money into the construction of a new arena. He wants to see the NBA adopt a “franchise” tag like the NFL has, which would allow cities to make sure their prized players couldn’t walk:
Cities and taxpayers are being defrauded by NBA defections, and Stern better do something about it. After all, it was Stern who came to Orlando and told us we absolutely had to have a new arena here. And let’s be honest: One of the major reasons Orlando believed him is because of Howard — an exciting and charismatic young big man who said back then he wanted to spend his whole career in Orlando.
I left out the part where Bianchi claims that because players will still be rich, they have no business complaining that this would limit their rights. After all, the “franchise” system ensures that a player receives what the market has deemed a fair salary for a player like him—and in Howard’s case, that would be max money.
However, what Bianchi doesn’t seem to get is that a quality NBA team doesn’t depend utterly on one player. Yes, there are superstars, and if they leave (as when the Magic lost Shaquille O’Neal), there’s some time spent out in the wilderness. If the organisation is high-quality, they can handle the transition intelligently, and draft and trade their way back into the playoffs before too long. Can the Magic count on having another Dwight Howard right away, or any time soon? Probably not. But it’s hardly their divine right. After all, when Shaq left, it seemed like the end of the world, and then they found themselves with Tracy McGrady and then Howard.
Cleveland has every right to feel like it blew its only good chance ever, but Orlando’s franchise has been blessed with good luck and good decision-making skills. Fans should be thankful for that, and accept that, if a player wants to leave, it’s on the team to rebound. They themselves are the living proof of that.
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