Once upon a time, when Mark Cuban was in his embryonic stage as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, he expressed to DallasBasketball.com his frustration with the way other teams’ owners were “getting in the way’’ of trades he’d orchestrated with those teams’ GMs. This owner or that owner wouldn’t sign off on a deal Dallas thought it’d completed, and Tony Cubes naively characterized it as inefficiency on the part of those old-fashioned tortoises.
But those “dummies’’ were, in fact, using the oldest, slickest negotiating tactics in the book.
Two of them, to be specific:
Tactic One, a lesson taught us by the late Bob Ackles, the long-time NFL executive and the rare guy who bridged the Dallas Cowboys front offices of Tex Schramm/Gil Brandt/Tom Landry and then Jerry and Stephen Jones. Regarding negotiations, Ackles used to preach, “You lose money every time you’re the one who picks up the phone.’’
Apply this to the Hornets, their “boss’’ Stern, and their dangling of Chris Paul: Who do you think is phoning whom?
Tactic Two, and if you’ve ever been to a car dealer, you’ve found yourself tossed into this whirl of nothingness:
"I gotta ask my boss," your friendly salesman tells you and the wife. He disappears into a mysterious backroom and finally emerges – only after, of course, you have begun to really lock in on getting that car of your dreams – and your friendly salesman says, "I personally like your offer, but my boss is a stickler and he says it's not enough for this incredible automobile … But I know you really want it, so let’s re-work what you might be able to afford I'll try to talk him into it."
Young Cuban was dealing with some of the sharpest salesmen/negotiators/dealmakers on the planet. He knows that now, and he’s become one of them … a master of “Asset Management.’’
But we’re amused how so few others get it.
Oh, Simmons is emotionally involved in this, so maybe we can excuse his over-reactionary behavior every time he hears that Paul is going to his Clippers … and then … ooohhhhh, a twist, and the carrot is removed from the stick and the car salesman must speak to his manager and THE WHOLE DEAL THAT WAS ALMOST DONE IS DEAD! NO!!!
Let’s examine Stern’s motivation here. It has nothing to do with the Hornets having too few people in camp today; what a tiny-pictured concern for only the tiniest-brained people. The overriding issue for Stern and the Hornets’ 29 temp owners is not the immediate viability of the roster but the long-term health of the New Orleans Hornets franchise. If they lose a preseason game this weekend because they don’t have enough guys? Not only is it not a “travesty,’’ as some writers have called it; it’s barely a story compared to where Stern is trying to guide this thing.
First comes the health of the franchise. Then comes the best trade possible to allow the Hornets to be a part of “competitive balance.’’ By not signing off on the Clippers’ first offer – which Hornets GM Dell Demps was all excited about – Stern let LAC make another phone call … and a better offer.
Now the Hornets boss (Stern) has essentially turned down that offer, too.
The reaction from some very smart NBA watchers who are acting like this is the cliffhanger end of an episode of the TV show “Batman’’ and they are just shocked by the suspense of it all (“Will Batman get killed by the extremely slow-moving conveyor belt? Find out next time, same Bat Time, same Bat Station.’’)
Survey the coast-to-coast conniptions:
From ESPN’s Chris Broussard: “Sources say in addition to Bledsoe, league asking for another pick from Minny. Stern is trying to make this impossible.’’
From Tony Kornheiser: “If David Stern lets Chris Paul go to the Los Angeles Clippers, and I'm the Los Angeles Lakers, I quit the league.’’
From ESPN’s “The Sports Guy’’ Bill Simmons: “Just got word the Clips/CP3 trade is definitely off. Can only be revived if NBA bends on its super-steep asking price. This is I-N-S-A-N-E.’’
“I-N-S-A-N-E’’? Why? Because the Clippers aren’t getting what they want when they want it?
Dead? In mid-December, three months ahead of the trade deadline?
Stern’s Hornets keep saying “no’’ (even as Demps' Hornets keep saying “yes.’’) And saying “no’’ keeps jacking up the take that New Orleans will eventually net.
From SI’s Sam Amick: “All I can offer at this point in CP3-to-Clippers talks comes from source close to situation: "This is a circus.’"
From Woj at Yahoo: Agents are finding it increasingly difficult to negotiate even minor deals with the Hornets’ front office. “Stern has made them inoperable,” one prominent agent told Yahoo! Sports. “I’ve given up trying to do anything with them …’’
From Kurt Helin at ProBasketballTalk: "And now you have to wonder: Next time a league GM sees Hornets’ GM Dell Demps’ number come up on his phone, will he just send it straight to voicemail? Who is going to want to trade with the Hornets now?''
A circus? Granted. A situation in New Orleans so "inoperable'' that teams or agents won't deal with the Hornets? Preposterous. Chris Paul (an innocent bystander of a sort here) is not going to suddenly lose the trade value he represented on a Monday just because it becomes a Tuesday.
Allow us to solve Kurt's quandary:
Q: Who will answer the phone when the Hornets call?
A: Errrrr, everybody who would like to explore adding Chris Paul to their team. So, like, everybody. And yeah, that includes the "exhausted-by-the-process'' Lakers and the "frustrated-by-the-process'' Clippers and, may we remind you, it quite certainly includes Mark Cuban's Mavericks.
Kurt writes, "Chris Paul is not going to Los Angeles.'' But ... sure he is. As soon as somebody in Los Angeles calls and offers enough for the Hornets to say "yes'' to. Shoot, that might happen tomorrow. Or in March.
Cuban, a fast study, quickly learned a lesson about all this and learned the truth. Everybody doesn’t move at his pace and sometimes it’s a crafty idea not to.
Bill Simmons is antsy as a reporter and panicking as a fan because his Clippers are being negotiated with and he's scared they won't get Paul and the drama is torturing his sports soul.
Bill's pained wails are the loudest, but they is just part of a Southern California chorus.
“They're going to keep LAL from getting Paul! No fair!’’ scream the Lakers fans.
“No fair, they're keeping him from LAC!,’’ scream the Clipper fans.
And amid all the screaming (and with “poor Demps’’ and his willingness to take that first deal right when the window opened being pushed aside) … the price for Chris Paul keeps escalating. The other teams keep calling and the Hornets CEO keeps saying “no’’ and conferring in that mysterious backroom.
If you think Stern has no right to do this, we remind you: HE is the Hornets “owner.’’ All deals by all teams must be signed off by somebody. In Dallas, Donnie Nelson cannot finalize a deal without Cuban’s signature. So it is in New Orleans with Demps and Stern. (No matter what you read, again, from very distinguished NBA writers, there is no such thing as “Demps having autonomy.’’ It cannot happen. The owner is The Decider. It just took New Orleans a moment to re-realize which suit is said Decider.)
If you think all the reporters are unbiased so they must be correct in their attacks on the process, you fail to understand that some our colleagues are, frankly, so in the tank for their sources (execs in dismay over Stern’s power and more, agents in dismay over anyone’s power but their own) that they cannot see the forest for the trees. (By the way, we’re not saying that over the course of doing this for a living for 28 years, we’ve not been guilty of the same thing.)
They are telling stories and stories are best told with “good guys’’ and “martyrs’’ and “villains.’’ The “good guys’’ are their sources and all the other characters are forced to play their roles.
And with all of us in this racket, there is this:
From Bill Simmons: The CP3/Clips trade veto ruined what I had written …’’
OK. Been there. Gotcha.
Anyway, if you think, and if Bill Simmons or anyone else thinks that "Stern doesn't want a deal,’’ well, see there? Stern’s negotiating is working.
Eventually, Chris Paul is leaving New Orleans. (When’s that trade deadline again? It’s not tomorrow, right?) And the NBA doesn’t want that to happen without the Hornets salvaging something that will make them palatable to a potential new owner. But the salesman’s negotiation tricks are working so well right now that the observations on the Hornets have completely reversed.
They’ve gone from there being a perception that "NO has to take whatever it can get" to "That Stern is so crazy, they might not even do a trade!"
Which gets people panicking.
Which raises the price.
Which makes the Hornets more viable.
Which, for the Hornets and their CEO David Stern, is the whole goal.