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"This Is Just So Unbelievably Wrong"

The Luther Head story is becoming more intriguing, and honestly, depressing by the hour. A rundown of what's happened thus far and the future implications:

Saturday, July 10, 13:31 CST: Hornets, Head agree on 2 year, $2.3 million contract. Bower announces deal.

Tuesday, July 13th, 16:52 CST: Jeff Bower leaves team. Sources say president Hugh Weber, director of player personnel Brian Hagen, and Monty Williams will run team. 

Wednesday, July 14th, 12:12 CST: Hornets withdraw Luther Head contract offer on basis of failed physical. Sources claim "decision... did not have anything to do with Jeff Bower and Hornets agreeing to part."

Wednesday, July 14th: 22:00 CST: Head's agent disputes failed physical claim, describes move as "unsettling."

My first instinct was to believe the Hornets' side of the story. Luther Head has, unfortunately, struggled with injuries throughout his career. A failed physical didn't come as the most shocking thing in the world. Additionally, Head (somewhat) filled a role in New Orleans- third string point guard and shorter shooter (a type of player New Orleans has carried since the David Wesley days). Head came cheaply too, so unless one firmly believed that the Hornets had two free agents they still wanted to sign, the initial Head report didn't raise too many eyebrows. 

The initial reports on the "fabricated" physical were none too convincing. Very few quotes were run, and Mark Bartelstein came across as simply trying to salvage Head's chances with other teams. But then the other side of the story emerged in full force:

From the AP's Brett Martel:

"That’s absurd," Bartelstein said by phone Wednesday night. "There’s nothing wrong with Luther Head. Nothing. They’re doing tremendous damage to a player by putting out there that there’s something physically wrong with him when there’s nothing wrong with him. … I spoke to the Pacers’ medical staff this morning. They said he passed his end-of-the-season physical with flying colors and there should be absolutely no issues."

A compilation of tweets from Y!'s Adrian Wojnarowski:

Just hung up the phone with agent Mark Bartelstein, who's irate over Hornets empty suit Hugh Weber reneging on a contract for Luther Head. After firing Jeff Bower as GM, Weber is trying the slimy trick of 'failing' a healthy player on a physical to back out of a deal Bower made. Weber is one more clown act running a team who doesn't know if the ball is stuffed or blown. With Shinn, he undermined Bower at every turn.

"This is just so unbelievably wrong," Bartelstein said. "This is just not the way I do business in the NBA."

The statement from the Pacers' medical staff is rather damning, as is this quote from Bartelstein:

"I made a deal with Jeff Bower. If a team had an issue with a physical, you would never ever get a phone call saying, 'The deal's been rescinded. We're moving on.' The team would call you and say, 'Hey, we've got something we're concerned about in the physical. Let's figure out a way to work around it. Let's deal with it.' Maybe you put an exception to a particular injury (in the contract). You would discuss it. You wouldn't just flat out rescind the contract and say, 'That's it, we're moving on,' with no communication unless your intentions are something else."

I've never negotiated a contract as a player, as an agent, or as a GM. Neither have 99.99999% of you (hi, Kevin!). But that last quote from Bartelstein seems... eminently believable. Here's an established, respected NBA agent that's been in the business for 25 years, explaining how failed physicals and new contracts work. Obviously, he's got a stake in the future of Luther Head. It would be foolish to forget that.

But if what he says- teams calling agents about failed physicals to discuss them- isn't true, he'd simply be hurting himself in future negotiations around the league. Bartelstein represents 36 NBA players, two all-stars (D. Granger and D. Lee), and represents NFL players as well. Luther Head ranks somewhere around Bartelstein's 40th most "important" client. I'm sorry, but an agent, especially one of Bartelstein's quality, is not laying into an entire franchise for one of his least paid clients unless he truly sees wrongdoing. I'm taking Bartelstein's word over Weber's, plain and simple, until I read more.

The Hornets have no real way to clean up the mess either, as they obviously can't release medical information. Short of Luther Head coming out and saying, "yes, I failed a physical," the he said-he said will continue. If the Hornets did indeed invent Head's injury, the implications are staggering. 

In the end, the Hornets do get what they want- freedom from Bower's last signing and the ability to pick up two guys "they" want. But at what cost? Bartelstein's quote is one that will hang over the team through all of free agency. If true, the Hornets are seriously damaging the career of a player that's barely clinging to the NBA. They simply could have chosen to not honor Bower's agreements of the past week. Such a policy would have surely drawn criticism, but certainly not to this level. By ostensibly lying about Head's health, the team damages its ability to attract other free agents and opens itself to question by every agent in the league. 

And thinking about it from Chris Paul's point of view is even more sickening. This summer, he's watched his friend Lebron join a super team. He's watched Amar'e join a team loaded with cap space. He's watched his friend Deron Williams and his team add Al Jefferson for nothing more than a trade exception (for what it's worth, New Orleans has almost $10 million in exceptions that they'll likely let expire in the fall). He's watched his own team mismanage a coaching search. I love Monty Williams and think he's a better hire than Thibodeau, but seeing the team announce Thibodeau as the first choice and fail to get him was embarrassing. He's watched his team fire its GM at a completely random and inopportune time. And now he's watching as his "ownership" gets universally blasted by national media. 

I'm not hitting the panic button just yet. The summer's just begun, and the team could reverse course with a new owner and a new GM at any moment.

But for now? "This is just so unbelievably wrong," indeed.