D.A.: Westbrook Trade Again Proves NBA, MLB Headed In Opposite Directions

The NBA is surging in popularity, while MLB is dying a slow death, D.A. says

Damon Amendolara
July 12, 2019 - 9:57 am
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It happened again. Thursday night was another seismic moment in an NBA offseason stuffed with them. The Rockets parted with a slew of draft picks and Chris Paul's bloated contract for the volcanic-yet-dazzling Russell Westbrook. In the immediate aftermath, Houston is vastly improved, upgrading from a declining Paul to an MVP triple-double machine in Westbrook. The Rockets had gone all-in to acquire CP3, figuring it was the final piece to a championship puzzle, but James Harden and Paul grew disillusioned with one another and GM Daryl Morey decided it was time for a reset. 

You can't blame Morey for trying. That's the heartbeat of this new NBA. Every team is trying, and the resets come fast and furious. There is massive risk in this trade for the Rockets. Harden needs the ball in his hand. Westbrook needs the ball in his hand. Harden already had friction with a veteran strong-willed point guard. Westbrook has been labeled as being difficult to play with. There's the distinct possibility this blows up in everyone's face. But this NBA summer, all two weeks of it, is the definition of crazy, so why not try? 

Since Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers less than a month ago, the league's plate tectonics haven't stopped shifting beneath us. The Raptors became champions. The Warriors crashed to Earth. The Nets added Kyrie and KD. The Clippers acquired Kawhi and Paul George. The Heat signed Jimmy Butler. The Sixers lassoed Al Horford. The Jazz picked up Mike Conley. The Celtics grabbed Kemba. Now the Rockets have jumped into the NBA's Supermarket Sweep. 

The whiplash pace of movement is somewhat unique to this year. Last summer's massive moves were LeBron to L.A. and the trade of Kawhi, but nowhere near this amount of chaos. Next July the top targets might only be Kyle Lowry and Paul Millsap. But eyes are already peeking ahead to 2021, when Kawhi, LeBron, George and Blake Griffin can opt out, and Giannis could hit the open market. In the new NBA where superstars are signing shorter deals for flexibility, freedom of movement, and getting to their Bird Rights faster on new teams, everything has changed. In a world where the news cycle is constantly looking ahead, fantasy fans fancy themselves as amateur GMs, and young people desire the next emotional charge and dopamine hit constantly, the NBA has unwittingly stumbled onto brilliance.   

The new CBA wasn't supposed to encourage this type of mayhem. It was aimed at keeping small-market teams competitive by allowing teams that drafted stars a higher probability in keeping them. Those Bird Rights meant more years and more money than any other team could offer. The new agreement was crafted to avoid stars teaming up, super teams created, and players holding organizations hostage by demanding trades. But it hasn't unfolded that way. Because of the hard salary cap, the players' power comes not from open-market value, but instead choosing their destination and running mates. LeBron may not be able to make $55M a year, so instead he'll challenge ownership to build him a winner, spend money to flesh out a roster, and tell the front office who he wants to play with and for how long. And every few years he has negotiated himself the "Get Out of Jail Free" card. 

It has led to a league that garners daily speculation about players' happiness and their next zip code, and ground-shaking moves almost daily this summer. These are the types of stories that dominate the airwaves, headlines and social-media chatter. Contrast it with baseball. This winter, three of the biggest names in MLB inked new deals. Bryce Harper signed a 13-year, $330M deal with Philly. Manny Machado got 10-years, $300M in San Diego, Mike Trout hauled in a 12-year extension, worth $430M with the Angels. That means the next time one of these three players is on the open market will be 2029, i.e. about the time Florida and California are submerged under water because of melting glaciers. 

There is certainly something to be said for league-wide roster stability. It's comforting, it's familiar. Massive player movement can leave fans feeling disenfranchised and dazed. These athletes are leaving towns that grew to adore them, and learning new rosters and lineups can be dispiriting. What team is Dwight Howard playing for? But the speed at which the modern news cycle churns – and the constant action young people demand – are perfectly suited for the NBA's offseason. It's the antithesis of how baseball is trending. We could see an unbelievable six teams lose 100 games this season, all because they are in tear-down mode. Tanking was once the scarlet letter of the Sixers, dressed up as "The Process," but 20 percent of baseball is doing the exact same thing. Teams flush with revenue-sharing money realize they don't need to spend to be profitable. They can sell to their fans the success of the Cubs and Astros. But 10-year-olds today are less likely than ever to patiently watch 3-4 years of horrendous, losing baseball for the possible payoff down the road. In many ways, it's a prudent move for the O's, Royals, Marlins, Tigers and Jays. But in terms of fan interest, building a new generation of customers, and being relevant in the sports landscape, baseball couldn't be further from it. 

The NBA has unintentionally created a system where players hold all the cards and are bouncing between teams like lottery balls. MLB has evolved into a landscape where the best players are locked down for more than a decade by one contract. One league is surging in popularity with young people, while the other is dying a slow death with Gen Z. The separation will only get wider. 

Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 9:00AM-12:00PM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.