Friday, October 23, 2009

When Families Negotiate

There’s something that gets missed when discussing contract negotiations in the NBA. The focus is on the money, the respect. There’s talk of salary cap implications and “basketball-related income.” And people know things can get contentious, feeling can get hurt, pride can be wounded, but for Kevin Pritchard and LaMarcus Aldridge, those notions of negotiations don’t get to where the real difficulty resided during the process of locking LA up for the next five seasons in Portland.

The NBA is a business. Everyone knows that. But sport, especially basketball, is a business unlike most. There aren’t huge rosters like in football and baseball. You’re talking about 15 guys, guys you see every day during the season. And when you’re talking about the Trail Blazers, a team and an organization that is more tight-knit than most, you’re talking about relationships that are close and important. So when something changes those relationships, even temporarily, people feel it.

That was the case when it came to Aldridge’s contract negotiations. It wasn’t that the respect LA and KP had for each other changed, because it didn’t. Both have a sincere appreciation for the other, personally and professionally, but the fact is when it comes to hammering out a contract, each side has to approach each other differently. You have to give the other space so as to not give the impression that you’re trying to use that respect and those relationships you’ve cultivated to your own advantage. To do so would cheapen that bond. So you pull back, put your personal feelings aside as much as possible and conduct yourself in a professional manner befitting the importance of the moment.

“The hardest part for me is you grow close to these players and then you start the negotiations and all the sudden you have to step back and make it more professional, and I have a hard time with that,” said Pritchard. “I like talking to the players. I like helping them as much as I can in any way. But LaMarcus has been terrific in knowing we had good faith.”

It’s difficult, even when you know everyone is acting the way they should. There’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in this team, in this goal of winning a championship. The hugs, the handshakes, the high-fives, these things are like breathing for the guys in the clubhouse that is the practice facility. And when you have to put those things aside, even for a short period of time, it adds a complexity to the negotiations that people who are never involved in the process can’t realize. Teams are supposed to bring people together, and they do, but when you have to keep your distance for the sake of the team, it breeds a sort of mock conflict.

“I would see (Pritchard) but I would kind of be distant too because you just want to keep it professional,” said Aldridge. “You don’t want to make it like you’re talking to him to try and get information or you’re trying to butter him up, so you try to keep it professional on both ends. We would speak but it wasn’t like it used to be because it was just professional and we didn’t want to give each other mixed signals.”

“It’s a little bit like a Chinese water torture for me cause I’m a basketball guy,” said Pritchard. “I love smelling the gym and being in here and when you’re doing a negotiation, both sides, there are struggles. You’ve got to get to a fair point. But … we always felt good about it.”

It helps that KP has been a player. He knows the mind of an athlete and he knows LaMarcus. And this isn’t his first rodeo when it comes to negotiating. But KP is as connected to his players as any GM in sports. He’s not locked up in an office making decisions from on high. Everyday he’s feeling the pulse of the team. Part of that is being a good executive, but that’s just an ancillary bonus. The reality is with the players is where he wants, almost needs, to be. And when you take that away, it’s challenging. Some could take that forced distance the wrong way.

“I think he understood and I understood that it’s a business,” said Aldridge “It was being professional. I never took it personal that he didn’t talk to me as much and I don’t think he took it personal because we know at the end of the day we get along pretty well. We know it was circumstances that put us in that position, but that’s over with now.”

Indeed it is. Now they can go back to where they were before, hopefully better for the experience.


aneebaba said...

Thanks for the insight Casey. It's great to know that they have that relationship and can still act professionally in such circumstances.

bedgeannie said...

In that photo Kevin looks like a proud papa looking at his much beloved son.