Miscalculation or mistrust?
So I'm sitting on the couch with the World Brothers, drinking liquid refreshments and downing some chips, listening to Kornheiser and Wilbon yuk it up, when the phone rings and one of my moles drops dime and gives me the word: Carlos Boozer is signing an offer sheet with the Utah Jazz for $68 million.
Perfect, the younger World -- nice kid, always taking the high road -- pipes up.
"How could Boozer and his agent do that?" Perfect asks. "He promised the Cavaliers he'd sign for the mid-level. That's the only reason they let him out of his contract. He was gonna make $695,000 next year, but he said he wanted a new deal. The only thing Cleveland could do was give him the mid-level and take it out six years. That would have been more than $40 million!"
That's when Real -- the older, more worldly World -- starts in on the Cavs.
"Suckers!" Real bellows. "They got what they deserved. Ain't no way you let a 23-year-old kid who's startin' to blow up in the NBA become a free agent. And he's a big man, too? They're suckers! You don't take nobody at their word when there's money on the table. Everybody's gonna do what they have to."
Perfect is getting angry. I can tell.
"Doesn't your word mean anything?" he asks. "How can anything get done in this league if people don't honor their word? It would have been one thing if the kid was a free agent and the Cavs tried to lowball him with a cheap offer, but they couldn't give him anything more than they offered! That's the rule!"
Real is just as angry.
"You wouldn't last five minutes where I come from," he says. "There were three teams sittin' out there -- Denver, Atlanta and Utah -- that each had more than $20 million in cap room. And Phoenix and San Antonio had more than $14 million each to spend. You've got to be real. You can't let a kid that dropped 17 and 10 the second half of last season out on the market. What did you think was gonna happen? Somebody was gonna drop some cash on him. Big cash."
"What about the Suns and Danny Manning?" he asks. "Jerry Colangelo had gotten Manning out there on a one-year, $1 million deal. He promised Manning he'd get a $40 million contract the following season. And then, while he was on the $1 million contract, Manning blew out his knee. Colangelo had no obligation to make good. But he'd given his word. And he gave Manning the contract."
"So?" asked Real. "When you're the Cavs -- the sorry Cavs -- and you get LeBron James dropped in your lap, you're on the big stage. You're competing with sharks. Rob Pelinka is Boozer's agent. He's Kobe's agent. This is the big leagues. Don't nobody feel sorry for you. You gotta bend some rules to keep your squad together."
"How are the Cavs supposed to ever trust another agent?" Perfect asks. "Or another player, for that matter. You've got to have some trust to be able to run any business. If I tell you that I'll sell 50,000 widgets, and I don't, you go out of business. You have to trust me. And the Cavs trusted him."
"You think the Jazz give a damn about your honor and your word?" Real says. "They're tryin' to win! Nobody felt sorry for them when they couldn't get any free agents there last year. How do you think LeBron's gonna respond to this? His muscle is going to Salt Lake City! You can't be all nice and 'honorable' when you've got a kid that good. You've gotta keep him happy!"
"That's exactly why I'm giving Cleveland its props," Perfect says. "Gordon Gund, the owner, could have done some sneaky, under-the-table deal like Glen Taylor did with Joe Smith in Minnesota. He could have promised him a max contract if he signed a one-year deal this summer. Then he would have been unrestricted next summer and the Cavs could have given him anything under the Bird rule. But Gund didn't do that. Jim Paxson didn't do that. They are men of honor, and they tried to treat Boozer like one."
"And they got burned!" counters Real.
"This is about more than basketball," Perfect says. "What are you supposed to tell your kids about keeping their word, doing what they said they were gonna do?"
"What do you think?" Real asks me.
Well, I talked to Boozer a few times last season, and he seemed like a real stand-up guy. That's what the Dookies that I know around the league say about him, too. Said he liked Cleveland. Loved playing for Paul Silas. Said it was just a matter of time before he and LB became All-Stars. But he does his own thinking. When you're from Alaska, you tend to do that, I guess. And he's always said that Karl Malone was his idol and his standard. And I can't get mad at a kid who's offered $68 million and can take care of his family and their family and the family after that.
"But what do you think?" Real asks. "Who's right? Who's wrong?"
I don't know. I don't know.
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