The Resigning Ilgauskus Debate Verdict

March 24, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer.

This debate was especially difficult to judge for yours truly because, as frequent TSD readers know, I am a firm believer that life isn’t fair, and neither are sports. Yet for this debate I was assigned as an arbiter of fairness.

After reading both arguments, my gut reaction was to declare Bleacher Fan the winner. Looking at the situation legally, it appears as though Zydrunas Ilgauskas was acquired following all the right procedures. It appears that Cleveland’s legal advisors made sure the Cavaliers dotted all their “i”s and crossed all their “t”s. All empirical evidence indicates that the Cavs were well within their rights to reacquire Ilgauskas.

Then I re-examined the introduction to this debate and discovered that the premise of today’s debate was not whether the Cavaliers acted legally to reacquire Ilgauskas, but whether or not the action was fair.

Then I considered the point that Loyal Homer kept hammering home – that the trade made an already great team even better for virtually no compensation. He is correct. What did the Cavaliers really give up to get Antawn Jamison and Sebastian Telfair? Basically one first round pick. This is even less valuable than it appears since NBA draft picks are basically nominal after the lottery. When you look at the situation through this prism Loyal Homer is correct – Cleveland got something for virtually nothing. I can see how that would not sit well with his sense of fairness.

Both Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan make convincing arguments. Loyal Homer points out that the series of events that transpired seem to more than stack the deck in the favor of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He also makes a strong case that there is enough evidence for a reasonable person to suspect some covert and suspicious activity. Bleacher Fan did exactly as I predicted in the introduction and provided a thorough examination of every step of the deals which brought Big Z to Washington, and then back to Cleveland. He pointed out how the Cavaliers complied with NBA regulations every step of the way.

Ultimately the debate was decided by the answer to one central question – was Ilgauskas’ acquisition unfair. In a word – no. As Bleacher Fan pointed, out every team had an opportunity to sign Big Z and only the Cavaliers were able to. That is not an unfair advantage. Even if Ilgauskas’ acquisition even gave the Cavaliers that great an advantage, wouldn’t it stand to reason that another team would attempt to sign him so that Cleveland did not end up with him? Both the Yankees and Red Sox are notorious for this tactic. But Ilgauskas did not garner enough competitive suitors besides Cleveland, therefore no team stepped up with an offer compelling enough to block the move and force Z to reconsider his options. This is in no way an unfair advantage. That’s why this debate victory is awarded to Bleacher Fan.

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The Resigning Ilgauskus Debate

March 23, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer.

Last summer the Cleveland Cavaliers traded for Shaquille O’Neal. Many in the sports world, including myself, began to ponder the ramifications for an already very good Cleveland team. Could this be the elusive piece of the puzzle that finally puts a ring on King James finger? That’s left to be seen. But while O’Neal’s arrival meant an upgrade for the Cavaliers, it also meant a demotion for former starting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Big Z could see the writing on the wall. He told the New York Daily News that the move “means I’ll probably be coming off the bench.” His words proved to be prophetic, but they do not take away from the overall improvement that the Cavaliers made. Having two seven foot centers the caliber of O’Neal and Ilgauskas makes the Cavs more dangerous. Certainly there must have been some speculation about trading away Ilgauskas, but few could have predicted the trade shenanigans that occurred around the trade deadline.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas was traded to the Washington Wizards as part of a multi-player, three team deal on February 17th. About a month later Ilgauskas is headed back to Cleveland, where he signed a one year contract today. Confused? I don’t blame you, but maybe I can help.

The Wizards decision to acquire Ilgauskas was motivated largely by finances. The struggling team is undergoing an overhaul to restructure the talent and salaries within the organization. Washington was able to deal Antawn Jamison’s hefty price tag to the Cleveland in exchange for Ilgauskas’s smaller and soon to be expiring contract. The Wizards were then able to free up even more money by buying out Ilgauskas’ contract early, making him an unrestricted free agent. Shaq then suffered an injury that could put him out till the end of the regular season… and you can guess which team quickly became the number one suitor for the big man. Or I can just tell you – the Cleveland Cavaliers. Sure Ilgauskas had to clear waivers first, but that was easy. Then he simply waited until the league told him he was allowed to resign with the Cavs. But, the crazy coincidence and timing of this trade and release and resigning have some questioning the validity of a trade that allows a player to rejoin the team that traded them 30 days later.

Which brings us to today’s debate. The Sports Debates will explore the question: Is it fair that an NBA team can trade a player, then end up with the same player 30 days later?

Bleacher Fan will argue that the Cavaliers’ actions were both fair, ethical, and did nothing to that hurts the NBA as a whole. He is sure to provide a thorough explanation of the rules regarding player acquisition and how the Cavs did nothing to tamper with those rules.

Loyal Homer will argue that this trade was both unfair and not in the best interest of the league. He will question the credibility of a system that allows a player to be traded and return in less than a month. Loyal Homer is going to have to make a stronger argument than a simple violation of the “spirit of the law” defense if he wants to win this debate. He must address how trades like this are bad for basketball and cannot continue.

Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer are worthy opponents who know each other well. While they may respect each other, they are going to have to dish out some brutal honesty, because you don’t win the respect of Babe Ruthless until you get vicious. Gentlemen, we’re all sitting courtside. Now it’s time to impress.

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The Resigning Ilgauskus Debate… If They Come Back To You It Was Meant To Be!

March 23, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

I just LOVE debating topics of fairness.

Most people evaluate fairness through a one-way mirror. Their opinions and perceptions are skewed by the information they see, and are primarily concerned simply with how a situation affects them. They fail to recognize (or simply ignore) that they may not know or understand the “whole story.” When a situation occurs that impacts them negatively, it is deemed unfair. Yet they would have no problem with the situation if it were benefitting them in some way.

Think about that the next time you are watching a basketball game. Every time the ref blows the whistle half of the fans agree with the call while half disagree with it. They will scream for a charge every time one of their players is knocked to the ground while on defense, but will turn around ten seconds later and cry for a blocking foul when it is their team driving the lane. The difference is perception. Nothing has changed except the beneficiary of the call. When you are on the losing end, it SEEMS unfair.

There is a big difference, though, between something SEEMING unfair and something BEING unfair.

This situation with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have re-signed center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, is a perfect example of where one-sided perception makes something SEEM unfair. That perception is understandable until you look at ALL the facts.

On the surface, the Cavaliers SEEM to be getting something for nothing. In a trade which took place one month ago, the Cavs dealt away Ilgauskas and a first-round draft pick for Sebastian Telfair and Antawn Jamison. Now they are going to bring Ilgauskas back into the organization during the exact same season when they traded him away… it SEEMS unfair.

However, when you look at how the whole process played out, a different picture is painted. Stop me when this ACTUALLY becomes unfair:

  1. The Cavs traded Ilgauskas away in a completely fair way. The Cavs were willing to part ways with him knowing full well that he would become a player for the Washington Wizards.
  2. The Washington Wizards bought out Ilgauskas’ contract in a completely fair way. The Wizards had the opportunity to keep him on their roster, but decided they would rather “gain financial flexibility” and buy his contract out early)
  3. Ilgauskas became an unsigned free agent with the restriction that he could not sign with Cleveland for at least 30 days in a completely fair way. The Cavs traded him away and Washington did not want him. He is now eligible to sign with any other team in the league.
  4. No other team was able to make Ilgauskas an offer he was willing to accept. Thirty days passed, and now the Cavaliers can enter the bidding for Ilgauskas in a completely fair way. Every other team had 30 full days to sign Ilgauskas, but they failed to do so.

Nowhere in that process is there a guarantee that Ilgauskas was going to re-sign with Cleveland. When they traded him away at the trade deadline in February, they did so with the knowledge that he may never don a Cavaliers uniform again. The Cavaliers did not force Washington to buy out his contract and they did not force Ilgauskas to re-sign with them. They simply entered the bidding, just like every other team out there.

In contrast, the only truly UNFAIR thing to do in this process would be to prohibit Cleveland from re-signing Ilgauskas. As an unemployed, unrestricted free agent, Ilgauskas has the right to sign on with any team that makes him an offer. Preventing him from signing with Cleveland is restricting an opportunity for him to find employment. What if he had received no other offers? Is it fair for the NBA to force a player to remain unemployed simply because the only team that will have him is one that traded him away?

Likewise, because Ilgauskas is an available player who is not under contract anywhere in the league, the Cavaliers deserve the right to pursue him whether he played previously with the team or not. The only players who are “off-limits” to a team are those who are CURRENTLY UNDER CONTRACT elsewhere. The Wizards bought out Ilgauskas’ contract, making it null and void.

The Cavaliers organization should not be penalized simply because the system worked in their favor. At any point during the last 30 days EVERY SINGLE team in the NBA had the opportunity to meet with Ilgauskas and attempt to sign him. For whatever reason, those teams failed to do so. It is not the Cavaliers’ fault that Ilgauskas either chose not to (or was not invited to) play with those other franchises.

After 30 days, if the Cavaliers want him and no one else will (or can) take him, then he has every right to return to the team that traded him away. In a completely fair way.

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The Resigning Ilgauskus Debate… It’s Just Not Fair

March 23, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

There are some things in life that are not fair. Like, for example, the jerk seemingly getting the girl while the nice guy watches from afar. Perhaps you were passed over for a promotion at the office even though you have more than paid your dues.

Sports are not fair either. Maybe your team gets hosed on some calls that cost them the game. Maybe your star quarterback gets hurt in the first quarter of the national championship (see Colt McCoy). Maybe Jeffrey Maier or Steve Bartman shows up at the game. Yes I know, go ahead and say it before someone else does. LIFE IS NOT FAIR. Well, guess what? Neither is the situation involving Zydrunas Ilgauskus, as highlighted by Babe Ruthless in the intro to this debate. I told Bleacher Fan and Sports Geek this about a month ago when we all saw Big Z was likely going to resign with Cleveland after being bought out by Washington (much to their laughter). But it just really chaps my behind that this whole situation was allowed to happen in the first place.

You can throw all the parameters into the situation out the window. I don’t care that Washington bought him out. I don’t care that Ilgauskus lost money in the deal. I don’t care that Cleveland gave up a 2010 first round pick, which figures to be a LATE first round pick anyway. If I am a fan of an Eastern Conference team (which I am) that will be trying to bring down the Cavs in the postseason, I am livid – which I am. Make no bones about it, the Cleveland Cavaliers essentially got Antawn Jamison for NOTHING. The best team in the East has gotten better with addition BY addition (as opposed to addition by subtraction). Big Z certainly is not the player he used to be, but he is a warm, BIG body. His presence could be key to the team’s success in the playoffs, especially if the Cavs face the Orlando Magic. If nothing else, Ilgauskus would have his six fouls to offer. Those would come in handy since, as we all know, Dwight Howard is less than stellar at the charity stripe (he stands at 60 percent through Monday’s action).

The Cavs, and I am not really blaming them because they are well within the rules to do so, are not the first team to do this. Back in 2005, the Celtics traded Gary Payton to the Atlanta Hawks, only to waive him so he could eventually resign with Boston. On a less grand scale, the Magic traded Adonal Foyle last year, only to resign him after the Grizzlies waived him. I know that publicly, no underhanded deals are made as far as making arrangements to resign before the completion of the original deal, but one sure has to wonder. Even coaches like Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers have publicly stated that something is wrong with how the system is currently set up.

Teams are going to continue to take advantage of the loophole in the system as long as it is there. It is up to the NBA to eliminate it, and good luck in getting the union to help seal that loophole. The loophole makes it possible for the best teams to get better without having to give anything up. In the interest of the fairness in the league, this loophole must close.

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