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Saturday Sports: NBA Trades, Baseball's Free Agents

Feb 9, 2019
Originally published on February 9, 2019 8:52 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Spring training - pitchers and catchers open next week in Florida and Arizona. But how many of the players are going to follow them? So many big names unsigned while, in the NBA, some star players are trying to rearrange the rosters. Howard Bryant of ESPN and ESPN The Magazine joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott. How are you doing?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. The NBA trade deadline passed this week. And there were several blockbuster trades and several busted blockbuster trades. What do you see as being the most important?

BRYANT: Well, I think what I see as the most important isn't any one individual deal but the way that the landscape of the NBA is shaping up. The players have displayed so much power during this period. We always know that the NBA is a best-player-wins league because there are only 10 guys on the court at once. And so when you have a Michael Jordan or a LeBron James, you can completely change the landscape.

But for so many years, the players didn't have the same power that they have now and that now the players have opt-out clauses, they can become free agents. This year you've got - Kevin Durant can be a free agent. Kawhi Leonard can be a free agent. Anthony Davis, as you can see, he's not even a free agent until after next season yet tried to force a trade out of New Orleans.

And then on top of that, Kyrie Irving with Boston, he can become a free agent. But supposedly, if the rumors are true, Scott, he's trying to tie where he goes to wherever Anthony Davis gets traded so they can move together - almost like the way LeBron James and Dwayne Wade engineered their Miami trio several years ago.

So what you see in basketball right now is that the players really are controlling - they're controlling the teams whereas, for years, the teams had the power to move players around. Now the players are taking a lot of that power back. And the teams are scrambling to find out where these great players want to go. They're creating their own landscape. They're deciding what this is going to look like.

SIMON: And by contrast - or is it a contrast? - why so many unsigned players, including big stars, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and others in Major League Baseball?

BRYANT: Well, baseball has got big problems. And when you look at what's happening with that sport, it's been going this way for years. You know, baseball over the last 25 years - they've had relative labor peace. They haven't had a strike since the 1994 walkout that went into the 1995 season when Justice Sotomayor ended up saving baseball in 1995.

So they've had no real labor strife on the surface - under the surface, all kinds of problems. Baseball analytics have changed the way front offices deal with player evaluation. So now you're starting to see teams not wanting to sign guys to these massive 10-year, $300 million contracts after they're 30 years old.

The players believe that the owners want it both ways - that the way the system is set up, the players get to be controlled for six years before they can become free agents. So if you're 23, 24 years old, you become a free agent when you're 30. But now the teams don't want to pay you when you hit 30.

So the battle is really going to be a pretty significant one. The labor - the deal is up in 2021. People are talking about heading toward a strike or some sort of work stoppage at some point coming up before that. And this is difficult for baseball. You've got two of the best players in the game, neither one is 30 years old - Manny Machado and Bryce Harper - neither one of them have a job. And the season starts tomorrow.

SIMON: I think they'll find one.

BRYANT: I think they will, too.

SIMON: They're always welcome here.

BRYANT: Well, Bryce Harper decided not to stay in Washington.

SIMON: No, no. I meant here.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: I meant here.

BRYANT: They can come here, yes.

SIMON: Let me ask Stu Rushfield, our technical director, would you do the show with Bryce Harper?

BRYANT: Could you take Bryce Harper?

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: He's pretty good.

SIMON: Two thumbs up. OK. Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: Thanks, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'INDECIS' "PLAYTIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.