Friday, July 09, 2004

The Best Policy

Money talks: Boozer, Jazz agree on $68M deal

This is a bad situation for the Cavs.

Here's what happened, as I understand it. The Cavs could have picked up Boozer's contract for about $700,000, which is quite low for a player of his caliber. That being the case, they decided to decline the option and let Boozer become a free agent, with the understanding that they would sign him to a long-term contract at a much higher salary. They couldn't actually sign the deal until later this month due to NBA rules, and other offers started coming to Boozer as soon as he became a free agent. The Cavs could only offer so much due to the salary cap, and other teams were able and willing to offer more. The end result is that Boozer signed an offer sheet with the Utah Jazz, and will officially sign with them later this month unless the Cavs can find a way to match the offer. It's unlikely they can, so the Cavs are essentially letting Boozer go without getting anything in return.

Last year was Boozer's second season in the league, and he came on strong. He averaged double figures in scoring and rebounds, and became a fan favorite in Cleveland. This is something that few people expected after he was drafted in the second round out of Duke University. He showed the ability to be quite a force at power forward, and I'm sure he figured in the Cavs long-term plans. Their willingness to waive the last year of his original contract and sign him to a better deal shows their recognition of his importance to the Cleveland franchise. This was an act of good faith on their part, a reward to Boozer for playing so well under a small contract. He went back on the agreement when he saw the larger offers on the table.

The Cavs were offering around $40 million, which is a pretty sizeable chunk of change. The offer from the Jazz, though, is for $68 million. The disparity in those two figures makes it hard to fault Boozer for taking the better deal. Still, if he made an agreement with the Cavs, he should honor it. That's the only reason he's a free agent right now, after all.

In reality, the fault for this mess probably lies with the Cavs for taking Boozer at his word. For trusting him. That's sad, but probably true. They shouldn't have cut him loose until such time as they could immediately re-sign him to the bigger deal, with no time in between for other teams to nose their way into the bidding. I don't know all the NBA rules, so I don't know if that's possible. If it wasn't possible, then they should have made him honor his "small" contract for next year. They could have negotiated a longer, more lucrative deal over the course of the year, or at the very least they could have traded him and gotten something in return. Now they have to try to find a power forward that will approach the contribution that Boozer made over the past two seasons.

It seems that honesty is something of an outdated concept in the world of sports. Everything revolves around the almighty dollar. I can't blame just the players, either, because I'm sure there are just as many examples of team management going back on their word. A couple of years ago, after the Reds fired Jack McKeon as manager and were searching for a replacement, they offered the job to Ron Oester. Thinking the offer was solid and that they were in negotiations, Oester asked for a higher salary. The next thing you know, the Reds had hired Bob Boone to manage the team without even making a counteroffer to Oester.

Lately, there's been some talk about Thad Matta, the new head basketball coach at Ohio State. He left the same position at Xavier University to take the OSU job about a week after saying publicly that he was not a candidate. You don't expect a person to publicize the fact that they're seeking a new job while they currently have another one, of course, but he definitely could have worded it differently so that it didn't sound like an outright denial. It makes the person look bad, and can create a lot of tension if that person does indeed take a different job.

This leads, of course, to the case of Urban Meyer. I'm still at least a little bitter about this, and I'm not the only one. Coach Meyer was hired in 2000 to be the head coach of BGSU's football program after the resignation of Gary Blackney. He was an instant success, bringing high-profile victories, national rankings, and a winning atmosphere to the Falcon program. He was even more emphatic than Matta, saying after the 2002 season that you'd have to "pry him out of [Bowling Green] with a crowbar." I couldn't find that exact quote in this article, but you can read it and get a general sense of how certain it was that he was sticking around for a while. You can then read the announcement that he was leaving for another job, dated one week later.

The moral of these stories? Simply put, almost everyone is looking out for number one, and you can't take at face value any statement that implies otherwise. "Gentlemen's agreements" aren't worth anything anymore, and statements to the press have to be taken with a grain of salt. This isn't true across the board, but taking someone at their word is an invitation to get burned. It isn't limited to the sports world, either. If you don't have something in writing, you don't necessarily have an agreement. Sad but true.

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