The player empowerment era has led to a good deal of controversy. The culture of the NBA has changed from lauding players for being loyal to the teams that drafted them out of college or high school to players being encouraged to leave if they can’t win a title with that first team.
Since the turn of 2010s, future Hall-of-Famer LeBron James was able to leverage his status as the best player in the NBA and the threat of him leaving to make sure the Cavs and Lakers front office did all they could to build a title threat around him. From there, superstars like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Anthony Davis were able to negotiate trades or sign with other teams so they could win a ring or be in a better position to do so from behind the scenes.
Well into the 2020s, Durant has used his status as another surefire HOFer to demand a trade out of Brooklyn just three seasons after first signing with the team in 2019.
The reasoning behind the trade demand comes after the Nets have failed to win a title with a core of Durant, KyrieIrving, and James Harden, and Harden himself demanded a trade out of Brooklyn due to the uncertainty around Irving’s vaccination status and wanting to reunite with 76ers president Daryl Morey. Irving’s complex extension negotiations also played a part in Durant wanting out of playing with the Nets.
Durant reportedly wanted to play with the Suns or Heat, two teams with title aspirations that have fostered great team cultures within their locker room. Irving’s preferred destinations were the Clippers, Lakers, Heat, and Dallas, amongst others.
The concerns about the rise of trade demand may be overstated, but it’s nothing new for the most prominent names. Even guys who played for one franchise their whole career (i.e., Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan) threatened to leave via free agency or trade. Guys like Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal could be the next iteration of one-team players.
For the middle class of players like Draymond Green, he applauded players for treating themselves like “businesses” during a recent episode of his podcast. His voice has been joined by Alex Caruso, who is happy to see that “players are finally treating this like the teams and organizations have for so many years.”
“(The players) finally are realizing the business side of this,” Caruso said. “Like, ‘oh okay, I have leverage, I am an asset; let me make this work to the best of my ability because if the organization or the team has a chance to upgrade, they’re going to upgrade.’”
— TheOldMan&TheThree (@OldManAndThree) July 15, 2022
Caruso saying that probably stems from the fact that fans expect players to be loyal to teams but not necessarily the other way around. Think of the recent example of what happened between the Celtics and Isiah Thomas after IT4 suffered a career-altering hip surgery on top of losing his sister to a car accident while leading the C’s to a conference finals appearance.
Or the divorce between DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors. On the other end, though, teams have made sure to do what’s best for players after a long tenure with their first teams. Think Kevin Garnett to the Celtics, or what happened just a few weeks ago when the Spurs traded All-Star guard Dejounte Murray to the Hawks so that he could play on a playoff team instead of wilt away on the lottery-bound Spurs.
Like I said earlier, ‘you’re a victim of circumstance.’” Caruso added. “If you’re in the League and you have this type of wealth and income, it’s a different type of thing than if you’re sitting at home reading about this guy tryna get from $40 mil to $50 mil.
“I understand that that’s a real thing, but you have to sit back and look at it and just think, there’s so many years, you’ve heard horror stories of guys finding out on Twitter or finding out on TV that they got traded. I think it’s finally just to the point where players are just like, ‘well alright, well I’m gonna do the same thing.’”
The tensions between who has power between players and team owners will always be present. When you go through a decade of unprecedented growth that coincides with player empowerment, the players union and its constituents will be less likely to wanna give that up.
The CBA between the owners and players can be negotiated as soon as December. Negotiations will likely get contentious as players and team owners will battle about the player empowerment era, particularly around the issue of players demanding trades with multiple years left on their contract, skipping games, and a plethora of other labor issues.