As a general rule of thumb, any time Gregg Popovich is legitimately peeved about something, it probably merits a few minutes of consideration.
Any time the San Antonio coach is bothered enough to let his frustration seep into his comments to the press, there will certainly be a few minutes of amusement. This time around, the subject is that of the oft-discussed trade of Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies to the Lakers last Friday. Like many employees of the Lakers' Western Conference rivals, Pop remains irritated with the way the deal went down. As reported by SI.com's Chris Mannix:
"What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension," said Popovich. "There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense. I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I'd like to elect myself to that committee. I would have voted no to the L.A. trade."
When told that Wallace had challenged executives to criticize the deal publicly, Popovich replied, "Well, there you go. I'm on the record."
Frankly, those sorts of comments are just one more reason why I'm a big Pop booster. He is an excellent coach and teacher as well as a fairly humorous dude when he decides to open up a bit.
But given the outcry that has come from many others in similar positions around the league, this isn't a joking matter to Popovich or anyone of his allies on the subject.
And that is where the discussion about the Gasol trade begins to go a little too far.
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The Lakers and Grizzlies made a trade last week. In the short-term, it was extremely lop-sided in the Lakers' favor, and the likelihood is that it will be in the long term as well.
But see, here's the thing: There are winners and losers in just about every front-office dealing. Sometimes both teams win, or both teams lose in their own way. A lot of the time, one team ends up significantly more successful than the other. But the whole point of running an organization is to do the best job possible to bring that organization to prominence, part of which involves capitalizing on the mistakes of other organizations.
The Lakers' brass managed to persuade the Grizzlies' brass that the Gasol trade was one worth making. Mitch Kupchak and friends deserve credit for that.
The Grizzlies' front office people made what certainly looks to be a big mistake. Perhaps Chris Wallace was outfoxed by Kupchak. Or perhaps they simply messed up.
It happens all around basketball. Isiah Thomas has been butchering the Knicks for years. He helped the Bulls immensely by taking Eddy Curry off their hands and did the Blazers a huge favor by taking on Zach Randolph. The Clippers have spent years failing to build a successful franchise. The Bulls paid Ben Wallace $52 million to vegetate. Teams try to make themselves better. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes, the screwing-up part isn't as evident until after the fact. In the particular instance of the Gasol move, it was. Or at least it appears to be.
For a long time, it didn't appear to many that Danny Ainge was doing a particularly conscientious or competent job at the helm for the Celtics. He broke up a competitive Celtics team by trading Antoine Walker for fifty cents on the dollar, if that. He destroyed a winning streak by dealing beloved role players and good chemistry guys for Ricky Davis. In one season, he turned a 44-win team into a 36-win team. Ainge foolishly traded for Sebastian Telfair, and he made a few other moves that left observers baffled. That same dude is now in the running for Executive of the Year, since he finally compiled the assets he needed to deal for a superstar (or two) and now presides over a team that sits atop the NBA standings with a 38-9 record.
This isn't to say that there was some particular motive that justifies the Gasol trade or that the Grizz are en route to title contention anytime soon. But there is a lot that goes on behind closed doors, and in many regards, there is a different plan of attack in each front office war room. Again, some of them work, and some of them don't. Chances are, whatever Chris Wallace's plan is won't work. But it's worth noting that plenty of people shared the same sentiments about Danny Ainge's so-called plan over recent years, and far fewer Celts fans seem as unhappy about him now as they were back then.
Sure, even though we don't have all the information as to what the greater plan is for these general managers, there isn't anything wrong with being critical of a particular move as an observer. There is no shortage of inept management across the league, and many of the individuals at the helms of franchises in this league have made some truly deplorable mistakes, for which they deserve to be critiqued. In every business field, some people aren't as good at doing their jobs as others are. But it seems hard to imagine that any of these folks are looking to screw up their organizations. Their jobs are to do the best they can for their franchise, as they see fit. When they mess up, that's called being human.
To suggest that any given mistake should be prevented by the league seems a bit far-fetched.
Especially when the one time that suggestion is registered by certain folks just happens to be the time a rival team benefits from another organization's ineptitude.
And especially when one's own team has had the success it has over the last decade at least partially due to the fact that its front office has been so much smarter and craftier than that of nearly every other franchise in the league.