MINNEAPOLIS – We live in an age of league sources, of team sources and just plain old sources. It’s as vague as vague can be. There are human mouthpieces and long-standing relationships all hiding behind a shroud of anonymity, and information filters through at will. Couple that with Twitter and blogs and the big bad Internet, and really, there isn’t a trade rumor these days that doesn’t have legs.
Joe Fan in his basement, with little more than a rudimentary knowledge of the NBA collective bargaining agreement and barely a clue as to teams’ needs and relationships, can, with a few clicks, test the viability of any trade he could imagine. No, online trade machines will spit out, you’re over the salary cap. No, you’re over this provision, or that provision, for some reason or another. No, no, no, and so another swap is conjured out of cyberspace.
It’s not bad, not good, but merely the reality. Rumors flourish. They’re more available to the masses, and therefore, it’s easier even for players who don’t read a word of news about themselves to get phone calls, tweets, emails asking them whether they’re going to be shipped to goodness knows where.
The answer is usually no, but that doesn’t make it any less aggravating.
And so it’s no wonder David Kahn felt the need for a talking-to with reporters Friday after rumors surfaced that his team was in talks to trade Nikola Pekovic and Derrick Williams to the Lakers for Pau Gasol. It was all untrue, Kahn said, and further, he hasn’t talked to the Lakers since June.
That could have been it. Rumors, gone – or at least quelled – and Kahn walks away.
But the Timberwolves president of basketball operations went further, criticizing the media outlets that ran stories about the supposed trade for not calling to confirm it with the team. (As if they’d have gotten a straight answer; that’s not how this works.) Moreover, Kahn seemed agitated by the simple fact that his players, especially Pekovic and Williams, might have heard the rumors, that they might have caused some sort of disturbance below the surface of a season that’s progressing better than one might expect.
“What bothers me is it has an impact on a team and its players and its family members, and it’s not appropriate for that reason,” Kahn said of the recent trade rumors, and really all such chatter. “And so I think you can tell by the tone of my voice, I’m not upset. But it’s something that I don’t want to see spiral any further.”
I’ll give it to Kahn: He came out and said what he felt, and at the root of his frustration was a genuine concern for his players. It’s not that teams aren’t culpable in all this, too, with the way they leak information – read: they are culpable in their own ways – but they’re also the ones who must deal with the fallout. They have to wonder how much of Williams’ lack of confidence is a result of the fact that he’s heard his name being mentioned in trade rumors at nearly every turn since he entered the league last season. They feel guilty when Pekovic’s friends call him and ask if he’s heading to Los Angeles, when he has to answer no and then wonder if he hasn’t done enough, when really he’s done more than anyone could have hoped.
So yes, there’s more information today. It’s not necessarily that players are so much more likely to hear that they’re being dealt but rather that everyone seems to think they know who’s being traded and that they’re qualified to offer their opinion. Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko, who’s been in the league since 2001, admitted that though “it’s still the same NBA,” the information today is a little more open. It’s not that what’s circulating is any more correct than it was 10 years ago, but it’s flowing freer.
Kirilenko, though, takes the situation lightly, looking at trade rumors as humorous diversions rather than any threat to confidence.
“For all my career, for the duration of my career, I’ve been traded like 20 times,” Kirilenko joked. “But I played 10 years in the same team.”
That’s easy for the 31-year-old to say, to laugh and shrug when he’s past the point in his career where he needs to foster confidence or prove himself. He’s not going anywhere, so he can laugh. But for others, like Williams, the rumors can be a bother. He’s all over Twitter. Of course he is; he’s 21 and in the NBA. He’s no doubt getting questions and rumors thrown at him from strangers, as well as from the media. All last winter, he’d comment: No, the rumors weren’t getting to him. He just can’t think about them. It’s not something he’s worried about.
He said everything he was supposed to say, with as much conviction as he could muster. And now the rumors are back and Kahn is fed up, and so he did something he never did last season, when maybe the rumors had a bit more teeth: He shut them down. Because this time, it was worth it, at least for now. This time, he said, the team isn’t working on anything imminent, and to let players like Williams and Pekovic wonder and wait would be unfair.
But that’s the lot they’re dealt in the NBA today, where, as Kahn pointed out, you can count on two hands the number of players in the league right now who will go their whole careers without being traded. That’s why they’ll take Kahn’s words as true for now, but they’ll remember what he said, about waiting for the team to jell and going from there. Because going from there doesn’t rule out future trades, and the rumors will be back. That’s just how this works.
“Personally, me, I never, I didn’t read nowhere,” Pekovic said. “I didn’t even pay attention. But just a few of my friends, they just asked me, ‘Is there anything about these rumors?’ I just never think of it. It’s just no way.”
And Pekovic’s voice trailed off. It’s just no way. That’s a lot of faith in a league where so many words and rumors and insidious questions can tell you to have none.