Sometimes, surprisingly, life shows us where business practices originate. It’s not often, though, that we can tie them to an NBA trade. This past weekend, our beloved Sixers traded Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a second-round pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton. Why is this noteworthy, and what does it have to do with business concepts? It all has to do with incentivizing your employees.
The Sixers picked up Covington, an undrafted player and were dedicated to motivating him with playing time and faith into become one of the best defenders in the NBA on a very team-friendly contract. The fact that an undrafted player became so valuable is very rare in the league. So valuable in fact, he was the keystone of the Sixers being able to make the deal for a top 15 player (maybe higher, depending on who you ask).
But why would the Timberwolves give up one of the top players in the league for a previously undrafted player, another with weaknesses that get amplified in the playoffs, a guy with injury issues who can’t get on the court and a second-round draft pick? Because they failed to incentivize Butler and he had made it very plain that he was inconsolably unhappy with the Timberwolves. Sure, he was being paid a lot but, obviously, that was not enough to make him feel a real part of the team, to have a commitment to the team. In other words, he felt no ownership in the team.
What if the players had some ownership in their teams. At least the super-coveted stars of the league? Might it not make them focus on the team’s best interest? Why not? It’s done in every other area of business except sports. Companies issue stock options and other equity awards to their employees in all fields of enterprise—why not sports? Yes, we all know that the owners want to keep as much as they can for themselves, but isn’t that short-sighted? Isn’t that true in every business? Yet the owners and management of literally hundreds of thousands of businesses in the U.S. alone issue what we call equity awards to their employees–why? Because they figure that owning most of a business where all the players are shooting for the same goal (puns intended) will get them more than if they control 100% of an entity where everyone is just thinking of their own, individual success. If nothing else, offering stars and superstars equity would likely have impacted the very public, franchise-tarnishing sagas of Kawhi and Jimmy.
Stock in the Timberwolves for the players? Who knows, maybe Jimmy Butler would still be there instead of packing his bags for Philly. He probably would’ve handled his displeasure differently, at least.
In the meantime, Philly picks up a point-of-attack defender who’s a threat from deep and gets isolation buckets in a crunch. Sounds like just the kind of guy you’d like in a second-round playoff matchup with our northerly neighbors. This helps start a sixers dance party if you’re in the mood.