On using your leverage, Giannis, and the fecklessness of siding with ownership

Now please bear with me as I try to tie these threads into a story.

We’ll start with the end and go backward: Deadspin dead, as of two days ago. The apogee might have been when 20 writers and editors quit. Or it might have come the next day when a freelancer foolish enough to accept Jim Spanfeller’s dirty money published the site’s first posthumous story, which he retracted after the internet collectively called him a scab.

The long and short of the affair is that the staff of Deadspin, long one of the few progressive platforms in sports media, received a corporate mandate to ‘stick to sports’—c-suite interfering with editorial. Longtime editor Barry Petcheskey was fired for violating the edict and then staff began to quit in droves.

On Twitter the quitters drew plaudits from some, but many, most loudly Barstool Sports’ Dave Portnoy, had the bootlicker/stoolie take, which goes that any action that contravenes management is bad and that the former employees of Deadspin, thus, are bad. And that because Deadspin is (was?) a for-profit enterprise, all of this—the editorial nonfreedom, the asset-stripping, the collapse—is not only understandable but logical, even inevitable.

My question: Why side with ownership? Why not with labour?

And this segues almost neatly into our second point: Giannis, the Bucks, and Malcolm Brogdon.

That players should be leery of management is a certainty. Their interests are (often) not aligned. Management’s mandate is to make the organization as profitable as possible.

An individual player’s mandate varies. Some players genuinely care about winning, others about amassing wealth or building a personal brand, still others about extending their playing career. Many care about all of the above.

Players are under no obligation to consider profitability, as it has no impact on them (there is revenue sharing in the CBA, but there is no revenue sharing at the level of the individual player, nothing like stock options). Management, however, must consider the players’ mandate, as they are the material out of which any profit is created.

Preamble finished, how must Giannis feel about the Milwaukee Bucks right now?

The team wouldn’t pony up for Malcolm Brogdon and now he’s having a career year for the Indiana Pacers.

What made the 2018-2019 Bucks such an impressive team? (And they were an incredible team, don’t let the four straight losses against an even more incredible Raptors team fool you.) It came down to two things: shooting and length.

Length which, for years, the Bucks had prioritized, even fetishized.

This was evidenced most famously by their selection of Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick of the 2013 draft, a no-brainer now, two picks after Kelly Olynyk and one before former Raptor stalwart Bebe Nogueira.

But Giannis wasn’t the first longboi they picked. In 2012 it was John Henson, he of the long arms, thin frame, and no game. Two years before that it was Larry Sanders, a long-armed jumper who struggled with mental health issues before walking away from the game at 26. In 2011 the Bucks broke from tradition in the first round to pick up t-rex-armed Jimmer Fredette, but in the second they got supersize shooter Jon Leuer.

And it continued after Giannis. Jabari Parker, the #2 pick in 2014, deosn’t exactly fit the mold with his subpar wingspan, but he was the consensus best player available at the time. In 2015, the team picked Rashad Vaughan, about whom I know nothing, and our own long-armed Norm Powell.

In 2016 it was Thon Maker, known for his length and the YouTube highlight mixes that emerged from the Athlete Institute, an elite basketball prep school in Orangeville Ontario where he’d been recruited to play. And then Malcolm Brogdon.

You can almost see the shift here, as the team realizes that length isn’t enough. That shooting is a prerequisite for NBA success in the latter 2010s.

This paradigm shift culminated in the signing of Brook Lopez in 2018 after his Los Angeles renaissance.

That’s how the 2018-2019 team ended up with a most-used starting lineup of Brook Lopez, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and Malcolm Brogdon, a stunning balance of length (everyone) and shooting (everyone minus Giannis and Bledsoe). Brogdon’s injury threw things a little out-of-kilter, but this was the starting lineup that dominated the league for much of the season.

The offensive strategy for a roster like this is simple: Giannis rebounds the ball or otherwise gets it as soon as possible, and pushes down the court. Shooters and Bledsoe space. Giannis finishes at the rim or kicks it out. On defense there’s length and athleticism at every position.

Which is why it was such a bad idea not to re-sign Brogdon. If the plan was to stock the roster with length and shooters, letting one of those long shooters walk, especially one who has proven to work well with Giannis, is a mistake.

Which brings us to leverage.

Players (labour) rarely have much. Kawhi, bless him, has made it a personal challenge to explore just how much leverage a player (labour) can wield. First by sitting out for the Spurs, and then by playing the Lakers, Raptors, and Clippers against each other to give himself the best possible situation and opportunity to achieve his goals.

All those first round picks the Clippers are going to forfeit? I’m sure somebody in the Clippers front office cares about those, but Kawhi doesn’t and shouldn’t. A player’s career is short, a franchise’s lifespan is long.

So, in the summer of 2021, when Giannis is a free agent, I hope he uses too uses his leverage to the best of his ability.

And I hope that all fans, even those in Milwaukee, understand that where the organizational mandate (saving a few dollars by letting Brogdon walk) conflicts with the player’s mandate (Giannis: winning) that it is fair play to do absolutely anything one might want to do to rectify the situation.

As of right now, the only significant cost the Raptors have on the books for 2021 is Pascal Siakam, who was hounded by Giannis into a 7/19 shooting night but still finished with a +5.

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