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The Chronicle Misfires

We normally hate to call out the Chronicle, but Robert Samuel's most recent
article about Carlos Boozer and the Cavs is just poorly informed, and
that's being charitable. We'll just reprint what our pal Stray Gator said at the
time, and add a couple of mild points to it:

  • Whether Boozer decided "he deserved more money" or whether he
    just understood what his value was on the open market is an important
    question. Pretty clearly, there was a consensus that he was
    dramatically underpaid. Even the Cavs agreed with this. Understanding what
    you are worth in the marketplace is not to be equated with the greedy and
    arrogant notion of arbitarily "deciding" you are worth more
    than you actually are.
  • We have not seen anywhere that former agent Rob Pelinka "refused to
    represent Boozer in the future." He did in fact resign as Boozer's
    agent. However, he also negotiated the contract. Presumably, he was
    involved in all aspects of the negotations, so unless he was totally
    disgusted with himself, it seems unlikely that he would be disgusted with
    his own efforts. He resigned because of the unpleasant fallout of his
    own work, not because he was upset with Boozer. This is not the sort
    of reasoning, frankly, we'd expect from a Duke student.
  • We have seen absolutely nothing to suggest that Larry Miller was thinking
    about sending Boozer "back" to Cleveland. Not a word, not a
    hint, nothing.
  • We'll leave the rest to Stray Gator's precise analysis, but $68 million is
    not "a few bucks." The language in this article
    is prejudicial and disingenous. It's much like
    complimenting Boozer on his character and community involvement, then saying
    it's meaningless. But on to the meat:

1. To say that Gund's version is "more consistent with what everyone else says went down" is not only incorrect, but begs the question. For one, Bret Bearup agrees with Carlos. Now, one might protest that Bret's opinion should be discounted because he got his facts directly from Carlos. But then, the same criticism should apply with equal force to those who are simply regurgitating the party line they were fed by Gund or others in the Cavs' front office. To the extent that there is any substantial inconsistency in their stories--and I'll come back to that issue--the resolution of such discrepancies must ultimately depend on the credibility of the individual participants. That most Cleveland fans and sportswriters tend to believe Gund, while most Duke fans are inclined to believe Carlos, is only natural. Thus, to observe that Gund's account is more consistent with the version being recited by everyone who got their information from Gund, and who want to believe him, and who have reason to support his organization, does nothing to answer the real question: "Who is telling the truth?"

2. Once the calculated spin and carefully crafted semantics are set aside and the material facts are distilled to their essence, Gund's letter doesn't seem to contradict Carlos' account of what transpired in the discussions; rather, it provides a selectively slanted interpretation of what the discussions meant. Notably, Gund does not dispute that Pelinka pulled out the collective bargaining agreement to remind the Cavs' management of the prohibition against any contractual commitment of any kind; Gund does not dispute that all parties recognized no enforceable agreement was permissible; and Gund does not dispute that Carlos did not sign any agreement, or promise to sign any agreement with the Cavs. It is also noteworthy that Gund acknowledges Carlos earned "trust and respect" based on "his record on the court, with the franchise, and in the community."

3. While he couches the conversation in terms of "trust" and "respect," Gund's letter unequivocally admits that he was deliberately trying to circumvent the restrictions imposed by the collective bargaining agreement:

"I told Carlos we had two options. He could play this year on his existing contract and test the market for free agency next year, or we could elect not to exercise the option if we had the understanding with him that as soon as legally possible he would negotiate a contract with us for the maximum we could pay him under league rules."

Gund further concedes that when he conditioned the release on the understanding that "we would have to trust one
another's intentions," what he really meant was that he expected a binding commitment from Carlos to sign a contract with the Cavs for an amount that would not necessarily bear any relation to his true market value:

"I said I define trust as his intention to stay in Cleveland and enter into a long-term contract with us as soon as possible under the league rules."

Thus, even Gund's own self-serving version of the discussion refutes any notion that the Cavs were releasing Carlos from the last year of his $700,000 contract "as a gift." Gund's decision to release Carlos was motivated by the Cavs' own interest in securing Boozer's services for a bargain price. Cavs' fans are saying Gund was counting on Carlos to be "a man of his word"; Gund is saying he "trusted" Carlos to "respect" their "understanding." But considering the fact that Carlos never gave his "word" to do anything other than "negotiate" with the Cavs for a new contract at the earliest permissible date, and the fact that the CBA prohibited any "understanding," a skeptic might say Gund was simply gambling he could make a chump of Carlos by playing on the young man's sense of guilt and desire to avoid controversy.

4. Has it occurred to those who condemn Carlos that a principal reason for the collective bargaining agreement's prohibition against teams negotiating "winking agreements" or "silent understandings" with players regarding future contracts is to prevent a player from being put in this very position--where an organization with superior resources, business experience, and the unquestioning support of local media and fans could put such immense pressure on a young player to sign a contract that pays him far less than he is worth?

I don't fault the Cavs for trying to make a good deal for themselves. I don't think they should fault Boozer for taking a better deal. As some have said, Gund gambled and lost; and I understand why he feels disappointed and defensive, and even resentful. But in the end, all that happened is that he tried to take advantage of a young man he thought was in his pocket, and the gambit failed. Instead of accepting his miscalculation gracefully, however, he is now trying to divert blame by attacking Boozer's character. No one can deny that Gund got more than his money's worth out of Carlos. The fact that he did not succeed in squeezing more value out of his investment certainly does not justify this campaign to villify a player who, by Gund's own admission, was an asset to the organization and a contributor to the community. Carlos may not be faultless in this fiasco or in the way he has handled the controversy; but it appears to me that Gund has no standing to accuse anyone of being greedy, or selfish, or dishonorable.