Insider Trading in the NBA, A Not So Dirty Little Secret


Guest post written by Olivier Gibbons, an NBA guru and fan of Le Basketbawl.


None other than Los Angles Lakers Legend Jerry West presented his beloved organization the Western Conference Finals Trophy, following its hard fought victory over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.

It could not have been more appropriate. West, more recently the Memphis Grizzlies GM, served as a paid consultant for the Grizzlies when it shipped Pau Gasol to the Lakers in a widely criticized trade that failed to net the Grizzlies a single player in the Lakers rotation.

The warm embrace at the trophy presentation last week shared by West and his former apprentice, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, reflects the cozy relationship between former colleagues and executives that has shifted the balance of power in the NBA.

“It’s real special moment to present this trophy to one of the most incredible people I’ve ever been associated with in my life, Mitch Kupchak” said West, before imploring the Lakers to win it all.

To the league’s glee, the Lakers’ Finals opponent is none other than the Boston Celtics, a foundering team that went from Lottery-bound to Eastern Conference Champions following the trade for Ray Allen and franchise Center Kevin Garnett.

Celtics boss Danny Ainge orchestrated the Garnett deal with former teammate and Celtics’ great Kevin McHale, the longtime embattled Minnesota Timberwolves GM. McHale’s decision to trade Garnett to Boston just might be his greatest assist ever. In the process, he also may have saved the job of down-on-his lucky Danny, whose tenure as Celtics president could best be described as sketchy, before last summer’s blockbuster moves.

For his troubles, McHale received All-star caliber Center Al Jefferson, the expiring contract of Theo Ratliff, a first-round pick, and little else: Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair and Ryan Gomes. A year earlier, Minnesota could’ve gotten a much better package from the Golden State Warriors, revolving around highly sought after Latvian Center Andris Biedrins and Monta Ellis, potentially, a future hall of fame guard.

A year ago, the Lakers were in no better position. With seemingly little prospect for improvement, Kobe Bryant went on a summer tirade — criticizing the front office for not bringing in an impact player — even going so far as demanding a trade.

But the Lakers got off to a fast start in the 2007-08 season, paced by an unselfish Bryant, along with the emergence of Lakers Center Andrew Bynum. But the Lakers’ newfound championship aspirations took a hit as Bynum injured his left knee and never recovered.

Ironically, Bynum’s last game of the season was Jan. 13 against Gasol and the Grizzlies. Three weeks later, the Lakers addressed its gaping hole in the middle created by the absence of its 20-year-old center, by trading for another 7-footer.

For the Spanish sensation, once viewed by the Grizzlies as its untradeable franchise player, the Lakers dealt the rights to Gasol’s brother, Marc, described as Europe’s best center, along with talented but unproven rookie Javaris Crittendon, Kwame Brown, the former first pick and ultimate bust of the 2001 draft. The Grizzlies are also getting two future (and likely, low) first-round picks.

At the time of the trade, Grizzlies’ players reportedly said they believed West orchestrated the deal, and thought the Grizzlies could’ve gotten a lot more for Gasol. Rival Western Conference executives were furious that the Lakers received such a good player without breaking up its nucleus. That the Lakers won 14 of its first 16 games with Gasol in the lineup further infuriated matters, prompting Spurs’ Coach Gregg Popovich to half-jokingly suggest that the NBA form a committee to review trades.

But Poppovich’s team also benefitted from a little inside trading. Confronted with the Lakers’ acquisition of Gasol, coupled with the mid-season trade that brought the Phoenix Suns Shaquille O’Neal, the Spurs needed to get big in a hurry. So they turned to an old friend: Seattle Sonics General Manager Sam Presti.

Presti, once a mainstay in the Spurs organization, rose from intern to second-in-command behind honcho R.C .Buford. He has Buford to thank for his ascent from Spurs intern to Sonics GM. So when the Spurs came calling in February for veteran Forward/Center Kurt Thomas, the youngest GM in the league handed his former employer the playoff tested Thomas.

What did the Sonics get in return? Journeyman big man Francisco Elson, Brent Barry and a first-round pick (the Spurs annually pick near last in the draft). The only problem for the Spurs was that the sweet-shooting Barry is a core reserve, who wound up averaging almost 18 minutes a game this season.

But to the Spurs’ delight, the Sonics almost immediately bought out Barry’s contract, leaving him free to sign on with any team. After feigning interest in the Suns, Rockets and Celtics, Barry re-signed with San Antonio, where his family had remained following his trade.

Ultimately, three of the four conference finalists — Los Angles, San Antionio and Boston — all benefited, albeit to varying degrees, from cozy relationships and sweetheart deals. One wonders if the fourth team, the Detroit Pistons, would’ve made the Finals had Isiah Thomas hooked up his former Bad Boys’ backcourt teammate and current Detroit GM Joe Dumars.

Maybe had Isiah known the Knicks were going to dismiss him as President and Coach, he’d have donated the Pistons skilled shooter Jamal Crawford and whatever else it would’ve taken for the Pistons to beat Garnett’s Celtics on the way to a showdown with Gasol and the purple and gold.

3 Comments

  1. Conspiracy theory crap.

    Memphis was losing. Gasol wanted out. Memphis got an enormous amount of salary space, the best center in Europe in Gasol (age 23), a decent young guard in Crittenden (age 21) and a second first round pick. Wallace said he looked around the NBA for the biggest expiring contract he could find: it was Kwame Browns’. Memphis is a small market team. It doesn’t make much money and if it’s going to get good players, it will have to pay so it needs cash. The Pau Gasol experiment was done. It didn’t work, period.

    Suppose the Grizz can use that second pick to move up one place in the draft or use the combination to get a decent player. Suppose Crittenden and Gasol turn out to be solid players and bargains, leaving a lot of money to play with.

    Why is this deal any worse than the 2004 deal that sent Vince Carter to the Nets for Alonzo Mourning, Eric Williams, Aaron Williams, and two first round picks? Babcock didn’t have any relatives in New Jersey. The Raptors bought out Zo and used one of the picks to help them dump another bad contract in Jalen Rose. With all that cap space, the Raptors paid Bosh, signed a couple of good European players and won the division over the Nets the next season.

    Teams trading superstars rarely if ever get equal quality in return. What they get is cap space, draft picks, a good young player or two.
    Wallace did better than Babcock. Babcock didn’t even get a good young player from the Nets.

    Timberwolves may have given up KG– who got them nothing the last two seasons but cancelled checks. So what they get in return: a good young player in Jefferson, a lot of cap space and two picks.

    In none of those cases–the Griz, the Raptors, the Wolves–did ANY of the picks turn into lottery picks. In all of those cases, the superstar wanted out: Gasol, Carter, and KG all made it clear, to some extent.

    Memphis, Toronto and Minnesota are all small market teams. They need the money to survive and to recruit the best players.

    It’s an uneven playing field, not a corrupt one.

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  2. I totally agree about the insider trading. Garnett to the Celtics because of Kevin McHale and Gasol to the Lakers because of Jerry West and their ties to their former organizations. The Grizzles got nothing vaulable in the deal, and haven’t been a good team since they entered the league with Big Country as their star. Gasol was losing valuable years in Memphis, and Jerry West was wasting his time their as well. West wanted to see Kobe Bryant and the Lakers return to the finals, and Gasol would be the key fit for Jackson’s triangle offense. McHale hasn’t seen his green and white in the finals for 21 years, and it finally dawned on him to move Garnett back to the Celtics because K.G. wanted out, and the only team that could have him was Boston. The Lakers offered Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for K.G. but that wasn’t enough, the Celtics gave up who in that trade? Yeah I didn’t think he made any impact for the Timberwolves this season. The NBA has it’s problems from the mafia run referee’s to the insider trading between former players, and now current GM’s and so called “advisors” I’m sure the Grizzles owner would like a refund.

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  3. Bobbo well said. The Wolves deal was a good deal for them, much better than that GS deal. You don’t build around a one dimensional foreign player and a prototype undersized combo guard (potential HOF, haha wow are we jumping the gun after one break out season). Jefferson was a great pick up in a trade that was going to happen no matter what. The Wolves tried to trade Garnett to PHX and LA but things fell through.

    I wasn’t happy with the Gasol trade either but a change needed to be made and they got what they wanted – valuable trading chips and expiring contracts. Typically in deals that involve a superstar you aren’t looking for an equal value player in return because its nearly impossible that is why the traded player is a superstar.

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