If you are the GM of a professional sports team and your biggest player informs you that he will not be returning the next season, what would you do?
You can either trade the player and take a PR hit or enjoy the present and worry about the future later. The superstar usually doesn’t overtly state their intentions to leave but rather they make their plans known through actions and behavior. This makes the task even harder for the people in the front office, who have to determine what’s best for the team.
Dan Gilbert and the Cavs were too busy succumbing to the needs of LeBron that “The Decision” caught them completely off guard. Yet, they were aware that should they fail to win a title in Lebron’s last years, he would most likely be gone. While James was taking his team to an NBA Finals appearance this past year, the Cavaliers suffered through an embarrassing 19-63 campaign.
The Denver Nuggets made sure that they avoided “a Lebron” by dealing Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks along with Chauncey Billups in return for a group of promising players including rising Italian forward Danilo Gallinari. When it became clear through his actions that Melo’s future wasn’t in Denver, the Nuggets knew that they had to unload the superstar for the best package available. Likewise, the Utah Jazz followed suit and sent Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets. The Jazz weren’t sure about Williams’ future in Utah and knew that they could get an attractive bargain by trading him more than a year before he would become a free agent. They were able to get a proven starting point guard in Devin Harris, a promising young forward in Derrick Favors, and a couple of first round draft picks. Time will tell whether the Nuggets and Jazz made deals that changed their franchises for the better, but one thing that’s sure at the moment is that their fate is already better than the Cavaliers.
Following the Orlando Magic’s premature playoff exit, Dwight Howard is a name that has been floating around in many trade rumors. Orlando faces a tough decision, but the proper thing to do is to trade the All-Star for the best package available. Unless the Magic are convinced that they can field a championship caliber team in Dwight’s last year, they must start thinking about trading him. Howard has indirectly made it clear that his future is not in Orlando, and by facing the inevitable the city of Orlando can be saved from the eventual heartbreak.
This dilemma is not only prevalent in the NBA, as general managers and owners of MLB teams also face the problem. Unable to finalize a long-term deal with Albert Pujols, the St. Louis Cardinals are on the fast track to experience “a Lebron” with their longtime first baseman. Pujols has been the face of the Cardinals for the past decade and the thought of him in a different uniform seems far fetched. Unfortunately, he is 31 and wants a huge contract to take him throughout the latter part of his career. The Cardinals haven’t seen eye to eye with him and the contract talks died before the season began. The recent injury that has sidelined Albert Pujols is going to hurt the team obviously because they will miss his bat in the lineup. Additionally, it likely prevents him from being traded especially if the Cards are contending around the deadline.
Though it may seem ludicrous, it would be more efficient to have traded Pujols and acquired some bright prospects in return then go after a cheaper superstar like Prince Fielder in free agency. After all, Fielder would provide similar power with a slight drop off in batting average.
In 2007, the Texas Rangers decided to trade the face of their franchise in first baseman Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves a year before his free agency. GM Jon Daniels determined that he would not be able to sign Teixeira to a long-term deal, so instead he shipped him to the Braves for a haul of prospects. That group of prospects, led by closer Neftali Feliz, would eventually take the Texas Rangers to a berth in the 2010 World Series.
Breaking up is hard to do, but sometimes necessary. You can’t have the present and the future, but since the future lasts longer than the present you might as well …