Last week, just before the NBA reached its deadline for trades, the Boston Celtics dealt Enes Kanter Freedom to the Houston Rockets. The Rockets then cut the outspoken critic of Red China.
Kanter Freedom went to Houston in a multi-player deal. To me it looks like Houston got more value in terms of player personnel than Boston did. The center Boston obtained in the deal, Daniel Theis, has less impressive stats than Kanter Freedom (they are about the same age). And Boston sent Houston two other players, one of whom, Dennis Schröder, is a pretty good guard.
But often NBA trades are more about swapping contracts than players. It’s plausible to believe that Boston made this trade for salary cap, not political, reasons. However, the possibility that politics factored in certainly can’t be ruled out.
What about Houston’s decision to cut Kanter Freedom? Here, too, politics can’t be ruled out. However, cutting the big center makes basketball sense for the Rockets in this day and age.
Houston has no shot at the playoffs. Kanter Freedom might help them win a game or two, but the Rockets are in rebuild mode which, these days, means they lack interest in winning games.
Where political concerns — i.e., fear of China — are most likely to determine Kanter Freedom’s basketball future is when other teams decide whether to pick him up. If no contending team does so, then it’s likely he’s being blackballed for speaking out against Red China.
Dan McLaughlin puts it nicely:
Unlike Colin Kaepernick or Chris Kluwe, Kanter Freedom is not just a fading player using politics as an excuse for running out of jobs. He was still averaging 14 rebounds per 36 minutes, and, at 29 years old, he should still have some years left as a banger in the paint.
Certainly, he’s a guy that a contending team could use — say, a team like the 76ers, who just traded backup center Andre Drummond and could use a guy with a little of the Spirit of 76.
Kanter Freedom predicts the NBA will blackball him. If it does, no one who has been paying attention will be surprised. When China talks, the NBA usually listens.
UPDATE: A friend reminds me that it was Houston’s then-general manager, Daryl Morley, who caught so much flak for expressing solidarity with the people of Hong Kong. My friend suggests that the Rockets may have tried to do the Chinese a favor by sidelining Kanter, thereby atoning for the “sin” of employing Morey. Could be.
By the way, Morey is now the head of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers. If he follows Dan McLaughlin’s suggestion and picks up Kanter Freedom, Red Chinese heads will explode. I wonder whether Morey has that much courage.