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Worst NBA media day in recent memory was stuffed with obfuscation

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Never has the discussion been focused so little on basketball in the course of the NBA’s annual media day. And for good reason. The league has been embroiled in turmoil throughout arguably its wildest offseason in history.

Roughly a 3rd of the NBA’s 30 teams faced questions on off-court dynamics starting from awkward to morally and legally reprehensible, and allow us to just say team personnel are usually not at all times equipped to be public relations spokespeople for his or her organization’s failings. Players have commanded empowerment across the multibillion-dollar corporation, and the league has repaid them by positioning them to reply for its faults.

‘That is not the Robert Sarver that I do know’

We’re two weeks faraway from the NBA suspending Phoenix Suns managing partner Robert Sarver for the season following an investigation into allegations of racism, misogyny and other workplace misconduct. Widespread criticism of the league’s decision to not ban him for all times spilled into last week, when Sarver announced plans to sell the team and passed blame onto those unwilling to forgive his abhorrent conduct.

The Suns didn’t make interim team owner Sam Garvin available to the media, which left general manager James Jones because the face of the organization on Monday. Jones had previously defended Sarver in the times after ESPN’s Baxter Holmes uncovered most of the allegations the NBA’s investigation would later confirm.

“None of what’s been said describes the Robert Sarver I do know, respect and like — it just doesn’t,” Jones said in an announcement issued by the Suns in October 2021, alongside Sarver’s own denial of any wrongdoing.

Jones had to reply for that on Monday.

“After I made my statements last yr, I stand by that that is my experience, and I still to today cannot speak for others and their experience, but now that we all know, those things aren’t acceptable, and they are not cool,” Jones told reporters gathered in Phoenix. “I feel those that have been impacted deserve our respect and our support. I’m here for that, but I won’t discount what I said, since it was my experience.”

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He mustn’t have issued an announcement undermining the experiences of others, and he definitely mustn’t be standing by that statement now. All of us read the report, and Jones, as an executive within the organization, is liable for speaking for others, prefer it or not. What Sarver did was disgraceful. Period. End of sentence.

Such is the issue when employees must answer for his or her employer’s faults. They’ve been thrust into an uncomfortable position, and they’ll not or cannot at all times be as contrite as we wish them to be. Who amongst us could be confident the best words would come if publicly asked to clarify our bosses’ behavior.

League-wide, not one team owner made himself or herself available to handle cultural concerns on Monday. Unfortunately, when leaders fail to properly account for the organization’s missteps, players might follow.

“It’s tough for me, because that is not the Robert Sarver that I do know,” Suns star Devin Booker told reporters. “That is not the Robert Sarver that welcomed me to Phoenix with open arms, but at the identical time, I’m not insensitive to everyone who’s involved in this case, and I understand everybody’s personal experiences with other individuals are going to be different. But it surely’s tough to read, because that is not the person I do know.”

Once we don’t hold those in power accountable for his or her abuses, we fail their victims. The unwillingness of Sarver’s peers to place his team ownership to a vote has left everyone else within the Suns organization to clarify his paltry punishment, so players grow to be the figureheads for the failures of the NBA as an entire.

As Jones conceded, “It’s a troublesome position to be in. We’re visible. I prefer to say loads of times, simply because you are visible doesn’t suggest you’ll want to be public, or simply because you are public it isn’t at all times needed to be visible. Those with a platform, those which are comfortable speaking out and may lead in that way, I commend them, since it’s tough. You’ve gotten to place yourself on the road. You open yourself as much as criticism.”

Not a single NBA team owner is commendable, then. Nor are some executives. That has a trickle-down effect that forces players to bear responsibility for all league matters, often unfairly and uncomfortably.

The Boston Celtics’ Grant Williams poses for photos during media day at High Output Studios in Canton, Massachusetts, on Sept. 26, 2022. Of suspended Celtics coach Ime Udoka, Williams said this: “When it comes to character and relationship, he was an incredible coach.” (Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

‘No one died, so I didn’t lose anything’

The Boston Celtics similarly shared little of factual substance about their suspension of head coach Ime Udoka. In a news conference on Friday, three days before players met the media, managing partner Wyc Grousbeck and president of basketball operations Brad Stevens wouldn’t confirm reports that Udoka engaged in an “improper … relationship with a female member of the team staff” and allegedly made “unwanted comments toward her.” Citing privacy reasons, they’d not even say whether or not they felt the independent investigation uncovered allegations against Udoka of harassment or harm to his coworkers.

The Celtics simply said Udoka violated multiple team policies and asked for our trust that his suspension is “well warranted and appropriate,” whilst they did not disclose the length and terms of their sanctions.

That led players on Monday to specific “loads of confusion,” “shock,” “surprise” and internal “speculation,” because “loads of the knowledge wasn’t being shared with us or members of the team.” The players didn’t ask for this, and yet, since the team has failed to clarify Udoka’s suspension, they’re answering for it.

Players were subsequently put into position to defend a supervisor whose conduct has not been defined.

“No one died, so I didn’t lose anything,” said Marcus Smart. “I still love Ime, personally and as a coach. It’s just something unlucky that happened to him. It doesn’t take away from what he did as a coach.”

“When it comes to character and relationship, he was an incredible coach,” added teammate Grant Williams. “He was a person who challenged you and held you to a high standard, and I feel he’ll proceed to do this.”

Neither answer will sit well with anyone contained in the organization negatively impacted by Udoka’s behavior, but again, when leaders fail to account for improprieties, it might probably erode the culture of all the workplace.

‘I’m hoping we get him [back]’

Same goes for the Charlotte Hornets, who didn’t make managing partner Michael Jordan or general manager Mitch Kupchak available to reporters during media day, leaving head coach Steve Clifford and his players to face questions on the uncertainty of free agent Miles Bridges’ future with the organization.

Bridges was arrested on the eve of free agency on a felony charge. The next day, his wife publicly shared disturbing images, videos and documentation of Bridges’ alleged domestic violence against her.

The Hornets haven’t commented since issuing an announcement on July 19, when Bridges was formally charged with “one felony count of injuring a toddler’s parent and two felony counts of kid abuse under circumstances or conditions prone to cause great bodily injury or death.” The team’s statement read, “We’re aware of the fees that were filed today against Miles Bridges. These are very serious charges that we are going to proceed to observe. As this can be a legal matter, we could have no further comment right now.”

The preliminary hearing for the case against Bridges is ready for Sept. 29, so the Hornets asked Clifford “not to talk on any aspect of it,” the coach said. He was unprepared to supply any semblance of sensitivity to the matter, likening Bridges’ absence to an injury or a COVID-related absence. Within the absence of leadership addressing the topic, we heard worse from Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, who said of Bridges, “I’m hoping we get him [back], so I’m probably not attempting to throw in any negative energy, just attempting to keep it positive.”

Not considered one of the team’s highest-profile members was even willing to publicly offer compassion for the alleged victims, let alone declare, if Bridges is found guilty of spousal and child abuse, that he mustn’t be welcomed back. What message does it send throughout the organization when players are more willing to guard their very own than allow for the chance that somebody less visible might be negatively impacted?

‘I am unable to comment’

Addressing far less severe off-court issues, two more high-profile executives also evaded accountability.

Facing tampering charges from the league office for his team’s offseason signings of James Harden, P.J. Tucker and Danuel House, Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said, “I am unable to comment,” despite Tucker’s concession on Monday, “Me and James were trying to return the yr before.”

At the least Morey made himself available. Knicks president Leon Rose, who’s under investigation for alleged tampering within the offseason signing of Jalen Brunson, met only with team-owned media on Monday. He has conducted a news conference once over a tumultuous two years within the league’s biggest media market.

All of it makes you wonder what type of erosive effect this could have on fans’ trust within the league.

If Brooklyn Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving cannot even accept responsibility for his or her contributions to the team’s tumultuous offseason — an NBA story that dominated the summer and now seems trivial compared to situations in Phoenix, Boston and Charlotte — what faith do we now have that we got straight answers from anyone on media day? That’s of little consequence in relation to transactional news and rumors, however it is of grave concern when people’s well-being is amongst that which the league is obfuscating.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff author for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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