This article is part of our 2010 NBA Draft Review series.
Subject: Give and Go
Date: March 3, 2008 1:31 PM PDT
Caron Butler has been the best player on one of my teams for the better part of this season. So like a lot of fantasy NBA players, I was pretty frustrated by the way the Wizards have handled his latest injury. For those who haven't been keeping close tabs, the updates went something like this:
Day 1: Ah, he tweaked his hip. He's day-to-day.
Day 2: He's day-to-day.
Day 3-10: He's day-to-day.
Day 11: He's got a torn something-or-other, he'll be out for a while.
(I'll leave the actual description of the injury and its ramifications to our esteemed colleague Mr. Russo.)
I don't know if the Wizards weren't being honest, or if they just didn't know the extent of the injury at first. But I can't help but think that they weren't being 100 percent straight with me. I imagine it's a similar feeling to what baseball owners went through with B.J. Ryan of the Blue Jays last season. (That was, "it's a sprain... it's a sprain... it's Tommy John surgery," for those who blocked out the details.)
So my question is... how much information do sports teams owe fans/fantasy players, where player injuries are concerned? On the one hand, there's an obvious competitive advantage to playing these things close to the vest. But on the other, there are any number of reasons that it's only fair for fans to know whether or not their favorite players are suiting up on a given night. If I'm dropping a couple hundred dollars on tickets to an NBA game, I want to have some assurance that I'm going to see Kobe Bryant and not Sasha Vujacic, y'know?
Then, there's the whole issue of privacy. As I understand the current regulations, my doctor isn't even allowed to phone in a prescription to my pharmacy, because doing so would reveal information about my medical condition that I might not want to share. But if I was an NBA shooting guard, any injury or illness would become legitimate fodder for a press release. How does that work, exactly?
Things get even screwier when player and team aren't necessarily on the same page with regard to treatments. The most recent dust-up between Curt Schilling and the Red Sox -- he wanted surgery, the Sox wanted rehab -- is probably the best example, but there are plenty of others. There have been reports of conflicting priorities with Yao Ming's stress fracture... what he wants vs. what's best for the Rockets vs. what the Chinese officials want him to do with the national team and Olympics, etc.
What's your take on injury updates? Do you think teams have a responsibility to play it straight? Or are you OK with Belichick-style reporting?
And are there some teams you trust more than others where this sort of news is concerned? That's a particularly relevant question as we're getting to the time of year when non-contenders might start sitting players with the old "phantom tendonitis" in the hopes of improving draft position...
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: March 4, 2008 1:03 PM PDT
Butler is an annoying case, and I have him on a team as well. It also reminds me of Fred Taylor in 1999, when he was expected to return every week, and then simply didn't. It got him the tag "Fragile Fred" not because he missed most of that season but because the way in which he missed it - constantly disappointing expectations week after week - was so frustrating to fantasy owners. And when you're dealing with a season-making fantasy player like Butler or Taylor - it drives people nuts. It's one thing if your best player blows an ACL and is out for the year - you grieve and get over it. But these situations are tough.
Which is a separate point from the one you raise, but it speaks to the urgency and frustration facing fantasy owners. The next question is whether the team or player knows more than we do, i.e., whether the Jaguars really thought Taylor would be back each week - and whether the Wizards thought the same of Butler until recently. I bet Mr. Russo would know which injuries' full extent were more knowable in advance, and which were genuine surprises to the teams. I've been told that muscle strains can linger, and the team can't really be sure how long they'll last, for what it's worth.
Finally, assuming the team does know in advance, your question is whether it's legit for them to be deceptive for the purpose of creating a strategic advantage, and I'd say it depends on the rules of the particular sport. In the NFL, you can't trust the Pats or Broncos, and it's pretty clear that neither of those teams is really abiding by the spirit of the league rule. In that case, they should be forced to divulge more. And I don't see the confidentiality argument with football - ligaments, muscles, bones - that's not stuff that really requires much privacy. All other illnesses (anything not mechanical in nature), I think could be kept confidential and described as "out due to personal matters." People will realize they're out anyway, and being out because you have cancer or because your wife's father is gravely ill could be grouped under the same confidential "out" designation. But I can't see how you'd need to hide a sprained ankle for confidentiality reasons.
As for basketball teams, I trust them more than football ones for the most part. Maybe it's because there's less play-to-play guesswork and therefore less incentive to make the opposing team prepare differently for you. If you're playing the Wizards and think Butler's playing, when really he isn't, I'm not sure how that's going to affect your game-planning, i.e., I see no significant advantage the Wizards would get by lying about it.
I also think the Lakers can (within the rules) say what they like about Kobe, and if their fans show up, and Kobe's not there, well, too bad for them, and too bad for the Lakers getting those fans ever to shell out money for those seats again. In other words, a team can neglect to inform its fans at its peril.
As for the Yao Ming situation, it's tough for the Rockets, but there's nothing they can do about it. Playing basketball for China is very important to him, and even if they were able to flex some legal muscle and prevent it, then they'd have a miserable star player, and that's probably worse than just taking the chance of having him play before they'd like.
Finally. teams tanking for draft position the way they did last year is terrible for the NBA and even worse for fantasy leagues. That the West is so competitive this year helps a little bit, but impact players like Dwyane Wade, Butler and others will affect league outcomes significantly still. I'm not sure how the NBA would force players like that to play through nagging injuries down the stretch, though. Any idea what can be done about that?
Subject: Give and Go
Date: March 4, 2008 1:37 PM PDT
As far as "not trusting particular teams," I'll see your Pats and Broncos (and really, all the teams on the Belichick coaching tree -- Jets, Browns, etc.) and raise you the New York Knicks.
Don't know if this story made the press in the national or fantasy media -- there really aren't too many Knicks that warrant fantasy attention these days -- but the latest story circulating in the New York papers gives me (yet another) reason to distrust any announcement coming out of Madison Square Garden.
Apparently, Isiah Thomas submitted his inactive list for Saturday's game against the Magic, not knowing that Zach Randolph's foot injury was going to keep him out of the game. (He's only their leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, so I can understand why Zeke wasn't concerned.)
As a result... the Knicks went into a game against the best center in their conference with their starting four sidelined and a perfectly healthy big -- Randolph Morris -- on the inactive list. They wound up playing Malik Rose (all 6-7 of him) on Howard for extended stretches. Howard went for 26 and 22.
The moral of this story: don't own any Knicks. If you do, don't trust what their coach/GM has to say about their status.
As for the tanking issue, I suspect there's really nothing that can be done about it.
It's sort of like this... my four-year-old son plays a little game when he doesn't want to go to bed. He says he needs to go to the bathroom. He knows that's the one excuse that trumps all others and gets him out of his bed for a couple of minutes.
Now, he'll ask to "go potty" six or seven times some nights. Obviously, he doesn't need to go that many times... unless he's hiding a beer ball under his pillow, in which case I've got bigger problems. Sometimes it drives me nuts... sometimes I need him to go to bed so I can settle in my office and get some work done. But I always let him up, because I know the time I say no will be the time that he really does need to go.
Same deal with checking up on injury reports. Sure, the NBA can make some general ruling about players needing to play down the stretch -- but how would they enforce it? I guarantee, 95% of the players in the Association have a legit case of tendinitis -- or something along those lines -- at this time of year. Could the league force guys to play despite seemingly "minor" injuries? Sure.
But what happens if a guy like Wade aggravates a minor injury while "playing through it?" I guarantee, the repercussions of that would be a lot messier than my son's sheets.
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: March 5, 2008 1:49 AM PT
Right, that's why the rule is so hard to enforce, and it's why teams can and will tank. I suppose the viewership and attendance numbers enforce it to an extent, but then again, I can't imagine the Heat are a hot ticket even with a healthy Wade these days.
Isiah is like George W. Bush - the incompetence is so enormous that deception is almost beside the point.
Article first appeared on 3/4/08