In 2020, with the sports media industrial complex at large constantly handing out anonymity like its Halloween candy to agents and team executives looking to push their chosen narrative at the back end of a scoop tweet, the constant veil of secrecy without accountability has created an environment where some content consumers have been conditioned to see a person who won’t put their name to something as more credible than someone saying the same thing in broad daylight.
This is true in all forms of media, but especially in sports, something I’ve been thinking about a lot since my friend Basquiatball pointed it out anonymously on Twitter this morning:
I feel like we on this platform tend to grant more authority to "Anonymous [Job Title]" than we would to those same sources if they were identified, which is pretty backwards— Contrarian Stentorian (@basquiatball) December 11, 2020
But jokes aside, this is a reality that I was also struck by while reading a story from Sam Amick of The Athletic this morning, in which anonymous personnel from around the league were given a large platform to share their opinions on the Lakers’ and Clippers’ offseasons without having their names attached. And since we don’t know who the opinion is coming from, we can’t judge the validity of the source beyond whatever importance you take from the credibility the level of their anonymous title lends. There is a name for this in philosophical terms: The appeal to authority fallacy.
In situations like that, we’re left to let the basketball merits of these people’s comments speak for themselves, and as was on full display in this piece, that does not always lend a lot of credence to their opinion.
For example, take the thoughts of “Front office executive No. 1” on the Lakers’ offseason, emphasis mine:
“The Lakers seemingly got better. I’m concerned they lost JaVale McGee, because I thought he was pretty good for them. Yeah, he didn’t play at all during the bubble, practically. I don’t think they’re going to miss Dwight as much as people might think. So getting Gasol — in the playoffs, that’s where he should really help them just because he’ll be able to stand out on the perimeter, open up space for LeBron and AD to attack the rim. And he can hit that 3. Defenses have to respect him. He can shoot. He can pass. So they got a lot better right there. But I still think they’re going to miss the live body that JaVale McGee was — just kind of the energy.”
To paraphrase philosopher and presidential candidate Kanye West:
But okay, let’s take this piece by piece. To start, I think most of us would agree that “the Lakers seemingly got better.” Less people in this community probably are concerned about the loss of McGee, but let’s play devil’s advocate for a second. I actually do think that McGee could have helped this team. He started nearly every game during the regular season, and was a valuable big body to sop up minutes so Anthony Davis didn’t have to play center as much. That has value, even if many fans grew frustrated with him.
What you can’t believe earnestly — at least if you watched the playoffs — is that the Lakers will both miss McGee and not miss Howard very much. Howard showed far more utility in the postseason, and was honestly the better player in the regular season, too, even if he came off the bench. He’s also cheaper, considering the one-year, $2.5 million veteran’s minimum deal he agreed to with the Philadelphia 76ers is less than what McGee will make this year ($4.2 million). But either you agree that a big body like an extra big body to spell Marc Gasol and Anthony Davis like Howard and McGee would be is something the Lakers will miss, or you don’t. It can’t be both.
However, that’s not this executives’ only instance of essentially admitting they have no idea what they’re talking about. They’re even more explicit about acknowledging it just two paragraphs further down.
Once more, emphasis mine:
“Montrezl doesn’t fit (the Lakers). I don’t know how he fits with that team, but he’ll help them in the regular season for sure. But I don’t know. That remains to be seen. I think the biggest thing about getting Montrezl is that they took him from the Clippers, where he was productive. And he didn’t go somewhere else. But I’m not sure exactly how he fits with them. He needs somebody who spoon-feeds him, because he’s going to run the court and he’s going to be active on the glass. He’s going to do all that stuff — run the high pick-and-roll, dive to the basket and finish and get spoon-fed, so spacing is not great. The Lakers don’t have great spacing. So I don’t know where he fits, but he will give them a chance to rest AD and LeBron during the regular season. During the playoffs, he probably won’t be as much of a factor.”
Again, this isn’t all wrong. Most of us would probably agree that if your name isn’t LeBron James or Anthony Davis, you will probably be less of a factor during the playoffs when those guys take on a bigger role. What is kind of funny, though — beyond this person saying at a) Harrell doesn’t fit and then in the very next sentence saying they b) don’t know how he fits and that he’ll also help them in the regular season (???) despite not fitting, then finishing it up by saying it all remains to be seen — is this person’s take that Harrell “needs somebody who spoon-feeds him” on offense.
To be absolutely fair, Harrell did have more of his baskets assisted (61.8%) than unassisted (38.2%) during his Sixth Man of the Year season last year, per NBA.com. The only problem with using that as a criticism? Well, let’s let our old friend Coach Pete take that one:
"He needs somebody who spoon-feeds him" is a plainly false basketball take. He can get his own just fine.— Laker Film Room (@LakerFilmRoom) December 11, 2020
And even if he needed that (he doesn't)...we have LeBron James? Who's a better passer than anyone on the Clippers?
In the end, I understand why these people don’t get named, and this is not an attack on Amick’s work. These people were granted anonymity to speak candidly about other players and teams, something they could not do on the record without incurring (at worst) tampering fines and (at best) an inability to work with those teams/players they criticized again. It’s journalism that lets us see how the Lakers are perceived within the league, something we wouldn’t realize otherwise. And the rest of the Lakers takes from the insiders in his article are actually pretty reasonable!
However, while all these people do work in the league, it’s amusing that we on the outside tend to grant their opinions more credence because they said so anonymously. Like let’s just pretend for a second that, say, Detroit Pistons general manager Troy Weaver talked about what the Lakers did this offseason. If he didn’t rip the team, would you care? Probably not. But when “Front Office Executive No. 1” does it, all of a sudden we’re supposed to treat them as an expert? As if there aren’t bad opinions within the league too, or bad executives building continually failing teams?
In the end, that last part may be the most valuable journalistic takeaway from all this. Not the opinions themselves as a way to influence how we view the Lakers, but a reminder that authority doesn’t mean infallibility. As someone who has had some incredibly dumb basketball takes over the years, it makes me feel a lot better about myself that there are people who get paid seven figures to have them too.
NBA executives: They’re just like us! Even the anonymous ones.