Off-Topic Theater: David Stern, Dune And Principles Of Leadership

"Give as few orders as possible," his father had told him once long ago. "Once you've given orders on a subject, you must always give orders on that subject."

Frank Herbert's Dune via Good Reads

Precedents are everything when delineating areas of responsibility. Anyone who has ever raised a child knows; if you break a rule you set for their children; aggrieved injustice is mere seconds away. In my case, I learned the phrase 'double standard' when I was five years old and it was all downhill from there. Once you break a rule, it stays broken. Especially when it comes to matters of import.

The league's utter failure to address anything approaching parity was put on glaring display when David Stern blocked the NO-HOU-LA trade for "basketball reasons". (What basketball reasons?) The consequence of breaking a good faith agreement to allow Hornets' GM Dell Demps to do his job? The trade market for a small market superstar has been frozen and now it is far more possible New Orleans won't even get the indignity of a traded player exception.

Back to the original quote, now that the precedent of David Stern's interference in Chris Paul's future has been established, every GM in the league thinking of trading for him has to consider that as well. Just like when a rumored agent decertification coup threatened to undercut Billy Hunter's negotiating authority with the league during the lockout, Dell Demps' ability to negotiate has likewise been all but negated. Who will talk to him? Here's an anonymous exec's take on it:

"We were all told by the league he was a trade-able player, and now they're saying that Dell doesn't have the authority to make the trade?" said an NBA executive who had periodic talks with New Orleans throughout the process. "Now, they're saying that Dell is an idiot, that he can't do it his job. [Expletive] this whole thing. David's drunk on power, and he doesn't give a [expletive] about the players, and he doesn't give a [expletive] about the hundreds of hours the teams put into make that deal."

Woj via Ziller

In the word's of Toy Story's Slinky, 'Golly-bob-howdy!'

"She asked me to tell her what it is to rule," Paul said. "And I said that one commands. And she said I had some unlearning to do."

Dune via Google Books

Consistency with respect to maintaining those areas of responsibility is key. Let's fast-forward to adulthood. You are overseeing a group of employees to whom you have delegated objectives with specific limitations on how they can achieve them. Those limitations are your control and also a good faith agreement.

In exchange for those limitations, you give your employees the creative freedom to pursue their objective in whatever manner they deem fit. Violate that pact and you destabilize your relationship with your workforce by effectively stepping into their kitchen and changing their recipe.

What's the logical result of this action? You have hamstrung your employee's ability to achieve their objective by inhibiting their innovation, made it exponentially more difficult to achieve based on the complexity of the task they are set. But it's worse than that, because we're focusing on precedent.

Any time the league owns a team with a superstar on an expiring contract, this ploy is fair game. What happens when the Commisioner's Office essentially hijacks a franchise's decision-making process on perhaps the most crucial personnel decision of perhaps its entire history and the franchise loses its marquee player for nothing? Game over, man. Game over.

Did the David Stern really think the Rockets would also surrender Kyle Lowry to get Pau Gasol? As if surrendering Luis Scola and Kevin Martin wasn't overpaying already? Or that the Clippers would really surrender Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman and an unprotected first...from the Timberwolves? Does Chris Paul represent the kind of upgrade from Chauncey Billups that would justify losing a star, young talent, cap relief, and a high pick in a loaded draft after screwing up the Baron Davis trade? Was Billups picked up at auction to sweeten the pot and perhaps retain Eric Bledsoe?

"But the important thing is to consider all the Houses that depend on CHOAM profits. And think of the enormous proportion of those profits dependent upon a single product-the spice. Imagine what would happen if something should reduce spice production?"

Frank Herbert's Dune

It is truly amusing to watch David Stern employ the "all it takes is one team to overpay" philosophy. Who knows what the Clippers will do? Superstars are indeed the spice of the NBA and an enormous proportion of postseason success depends on those players. David Stern has control of one, but it's the following quote that comes to mind:

"What is money," Kynes asked, "if it won't buy the services you need?"

Frank Herbert's Dune

In the end the spice, the superstar, may trump all other factors and we can chalk one more on the wall for the "all it takes is one team to overpay" trope, and some of you may disagree about what is or is not overpaying for Chris Paul. But if the trade with the Clippers doesn't get a shot of life and no other suitor steps forward, it isn't difficult to imagine the storyline.

David Stern hijacked Dell Demps' authority and the other GMs froze him out for his temerity. Reminds me of the HBO movie, "Too Big to Fail" when the CEO of Lehman Brothers, Dick Fuld, interrupts a confab between his company and the Koreans, causing the deal to fall apart and the company to fall into ruin. As the Koreans packed up to leave with Fuld's jaw on the floor, the head negotiator Min laid it out clear and simple:

It is not about the price. It is about how you have handled these negotiations.

Too Big To Fail

By sticking the Commissioner's Office in the middle of this, Stern made it that much more difficult to find a trading partner while establishing a dangerous precedent. Every NBA-owned team's GM in the future is going to have limited autonomy and will have a more difficult time finding trade partners. Worse, the franchise may be forced to execute team issues with an eye towards executing a league agenda. This is not a position the NBA wants to be in.

If no trade is made, Stern will have set the Hornets back years, and practically by fiat. Should that happen, the conversation will probably go one of three ways. Either the GM and crew have absolute autonomy or it swings back to the root cause of the NBA having to buy the Hornets in the first place and contraction makes its way into the discussion. Of course, George Shinn's horrendous stewardship of the Hornets is at fault, but if Chris Paul walks for nothing, I won't expect a particularly reasonable debate. The third way? A major component of the next CBA might center around limiting the role of the Commissioner himself. Egregious abuse of authority is only tolerated for so long.

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