NBA

Disgruntled players lead to dysfunctional teams

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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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Sometimes it was much easier to coach in the CBA than it is to coach in the NBA. For example, as the Rockford Lightning began the 1987-88 season, I was inclined to use Ken Green as a sixth man. Green was a 6-8, 215-pound power forward from Pan American, who was a hardened CBA veteran and, in the previous season, had also played in seven games for the Knicks. He was a quiet guy, but he was clearly unhappy with the off-the-bench role I had assigned him — which I did only because he was reluctant to pass, defend and run plays. Also, he seemed somewhat dispirited, as though deep in his heart of hearts he understood that he'd already blown his shot at the NBA. In any event, after the fourth game of the season, Green approached me to say that he was unhappy in Rockford and wished to be traded. "I'm an NBA player," he said too loudly, as though trying to convince himself. "So there's no way I shouldn't be starting in the CBA. Get me to a team that knows how good I am." With no agents, salary cap or guaranteed contract to worry about, I traded Green that very same night for "future considerations." Unfortunately, it's not so easy to trade a disgruntled player in the NBA. Just look at Carlos Boozer and the Jazz — he wants to be elsewhere, and Utah's front office would be delighted to accommodate him. Trouble is, no other team wants him badly enough to come up with an acceptable deal. So, even though Boozer can read the handwriting on the wall and has recently made conciliatory comments, it looks like Jerry Sloan will at least have to start the season with a player who would rather be playing for another team. Something similar occurred last week when Stephen Jackson made public his request to be traded to a more competitive team than the Warriors. (Although why Jackson — with his poor defense, inadequate handle, erratic jumper and shoot-first attitude — believes that any of the NBA's elite teams would be eager to obtain his services is a mystery.) For this transgression of the league's by-laws, Jackson was fined $25,000 — pocket change for an NBA multimillionaire. Of course, Jackson then retraced his demand and made nicey-nicey with his current employers. Some time ago, Kobe expressed his desire to be traded and so did Andrei Kirilenko. But both ultimately changed their minds and are now considered to be solid citizens on their respective teams. But how does a coach deal with important players who have publicly stated their desires to be traded? At best, it makes for a tricky and potentially combustible player-coach relationship.
It would be entirely understandable for the coach to simply distrust the play-by-play and game-by-game commitment of the disaffected player. Is the guy only interested in padding his personal statistics to make himself more attractive to other teams? The most probable answer is "yes." Which means that the beleaguered coach might be reluctant to call any play that requires said player to pass the ball. And for a coach like Jerry Sloan, who values discipline and teamwork above all other virtues, he might even be disinclined to give Boozer his normal quotient of playing time. As for Jackson, given the Warriors' me-first offense, it will be hard to determine if he plays with more than his usual selfishness. On the other hand, there's always the possibility that the unhappy player might be too distracted to play all-out, all the time. Indeed, some subconscious instinct could easily limit his focus and his desire so that he'd perform poorly enough for his team-of-the-moment to entertain unsatisfactory trade offers that they'd previously rejected. Of course, there's one sure way to prevent such a disgruntled player from griping in public — winning. No player — not even a team's 12th man who's glued to the bench — can afford to complain about anything as long as the team wins. What, then, can a coach do to prevent further trouble?
  • Make believe that everything is A-OK and do nothing.
  • Take every opportunity to praise the player to the media.
  • Motivate the player by appealing to his pride — if he has any. The coach, and the team's administration also have other options that are designed to bring matters to a head.
  • Dramatically limit the player's daylight so that his personal numbers are greatly diminished. This tactic could conceivably cause the player to lose his cool and say something stupid — which would allow the team to suspend him. This is exactly what the Knicks did with Stephon Marbury last season.
  • At the first complaint or perceived instance of disrespect — made either in public or in private — quickly suspend the guy. A totally unacceptable scenario is for the dissatisfied player to grumble and grouse in such a way as to infect his teammates. Indeed, this is the primary reason why both Boozer and Jackson should be sent out of town ASAP. Perhaps they could be traded for each other! Anyway, it says here that both Golden State and Utah should excise their potential cancerous agents, eat whatever salary they must, accept draft choices and role players, or whatever — and thereby save their seasons.
  • Tagged: Warriors, Knicks, Jazz, Stephen Jackson, Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Stephon Marbury

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