LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 27: Jared Dudley #3 of the Phoenix Suns reacts to a play by the Los Angeles Lakers in the first half of Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 27, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
NBA labor negotiations have made it impossible to take anything at face value.
It really shouldn't take this long to congratulate Jared Dudley on his new contract, but none of it added up. I asked my editor for another day to mull over the deal. What did it mean?
The five-year, $19-22 million deal for the young forward clearly told us something about the Suns' plans for next season, when the Collective Bargaining Agreement rolls 'round again for ratification by the players and owners. After all, NBA executives didn't drop hints about hard salary caps and salary rollbacks for players right around the deadline to decide the fates of third-year first-rounders coincidentally.
Heavens, someone must have whispered into Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley's ear moments before he inked nominal point guard Mike Conley, Jr. to a five-year, $40-45 million deal. Did he learn from the NBA front office that the owners should have full confidence only 60% of that will survive? Grandfathering outside the current cap? All deals over three years will be pruned back?
(So maybe it wasn't Adam Silver breathing heavily into Heisley's ear. Perhaps old secret Soviet broadcasts on US soil hitting his fillings just right? A desire to show his affection for Jodie Foster in a more healthy fashion than others?)
Lon Babby has taken an Atlanta Braves-style approach to resource management in his first months in office. The Braves tend to draft young men from Georgia and trade with old Braves front-office executives now running other teams. Babby selected his previous clients to join his new venture; at least he had them well-scouted.
(Of course, all the acquisitions that occurred before Babby came on were wildly coincidental and/or deeply vetted to this pattern. Probably the former.)
Dudley represents the first significant move regarding someone outside that circle. Did the Marcus Banks-esque contract represent knowledge that CBA negotiations would favor players acquired before the new contract's ink dried? Five years is still a long time for any player, Banks being a prime example. Again: will two years disappear with the swipe of a pen and the collapse of a union?
I spent the last 24 hours trying to root out the ulterior motives for the signing. What did the tea leaves reveal to me about next year? What's the scoop?
Nothing. It's all exactly as Seth Pollack described yesterday: cost certainty at market value for a young man that will probably hold that value to an NBA franchise over time. Considering all the gut-churning day-to-day manipulations coming up to an almost-guaranteed lockout, Robert Sarver and Lon Babby chose to lock down what they could and wait out the rest.
The NBA has encouraged us all to consider the CBA constantly since last summer's mega-Heat machinations made it clear the players and agents felt Armageddon is due in 2011 back in 2008 and nudged their contracts to coincide with the last big payday of the 21st Century.
Now it's nearly impossible to experience any NBA action without trying to find the underlying motive in labor negotiations. The Wizards don't seem to be in a hurry to deal Gilbert Arenas: will each team be allowed to blow up one contract? Will a team trade for Carmelo Anthony and preemptively sign him to grandfather him into the new CBA?
And, for heaven's sake, what does it mean when the seventh-best player on a middling NBA franchise signs a middling deal for an unfortunate number of years? What does it mean?
It means David Stern (on behalf of the owners) and Billy Hunter (on behalf of the players) have buzzed the NBA fan base in their crop dusters with enough CBA pesticide to leave a toxic, sticky film over every surface of the NBA. (And you thought asbestos was bad.) It's not enough to kill us yet, but you can't help but wonder if ingesting this much poison is a good idea.
And just when you think you've scrubbed it off, they dive bomb us again. You can't get clean. I just hope they find a way to come to some consensus before next summer so we can get back to enjoying what should be the best season in some time and I can stop wondering why anyone would want to keep Jared Dudley around for a half-decade. I mean, he's charming company and doesn't put his feet up on your coffee table.
Earl Clark being let loose into restricted free agency next year, though? That one didn't take any time to figure out at all.