Superstars have too much control in the NBA.
Relationships and location continue to drive player movement.
Small market teams will always lose in free agency.
Last week, I boldly predicted on my podcast that the NBA is now America’s favorite sport. It was a statement based on this summer’s historic free agency; but also, a gut reaction to the freedom NBA players have.
No other sports league in America gives players the ability to move to different teams like the NBA. In just two weeks, we saw Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, and Paul George join new teams.
That amount of change brings forth a lot of hype to this upcoming 2019-20 season. But why is the hype surrounding the NBA so big? Well, the league has parity now. Before, the NBA was not balanced and had a “dynasty problem.” The last nine NBA Finals featured two teams, two dynasties in the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors.
Now, the league no longer has a “dynasty problem” because of the dynamic duo pairing. Today, superstars are teaming up with other superstars not to necessarily form dynasties, but to play with players they know in cities they call home. Now that the dust has settled in free agency, I’ve realized that the NBA has another problem, a player problem.
Superstars Power of Influence
Blinded by all of these blockbuster signings and trades, I thought free agency was a big demonstration of player freedom. But I was wrong, free agency demonstrated how much power players have in the NBA. Specifically, superstars like Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis.
These players flexed to the world that the deals they made this offseason were orchestrated by them. A lot of fans including myself get intoxicated with the headlines that a player signed with this team and got this big of a contract. We tend to forget that there is a bigger story behind how that player got to that specific team.
Case in point, look at Kawhi Leonard. News broke late on Friday the 5th that not only would the LA Clippers be getting Kawhi, but also Paul George via trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Sending shockwaves across LA and the NBA, it took a couple of days for the entire sports world to find out that it was Kawhi himself who brokered these deals, not the Clippers.
Yes, Kawhi Leonard pulled off a LeBron-Esque powerplay and persuaded Paul George to join him in LA with the Clippers. With two seasons left on his contract, George requested a trade out of Oklahoma City when Kawhi was taking his free agency team meetings with the Lakers and Raptors. Nobody expected that a quiet guy like Kawhi would be that type of person.
So, to ensure that the Thunder would play ball and trade George to the Clippers, Kawhi gave the Clippers an ultimatum in their team meetings. He basically said, get Paul George and you will get me; otherwise, I might be suiting up with the purple and gold. By taking that level of approach, dictating what a team should do to sign him, the Clippers complied with Kawhi.
They mortgaged their future giving up an unprecedented amount of future assets to the Thunder. The Clippers agreed to give up four unprotected first-round picks (2021, 2022, 2024, 2026), two pick swaps (2023 and 2025), a protected first-round pick (2023), and players Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari.
Basically, the Clippers sold the farm just to get George and it came at a huge price. Although this trade ensures that the future is now for the Clippers, it’s a huge risk. The franchise’s future lies in two players: Kawhi and George who both have an injury history, both are in their late 20s and under contract with the Clippers for three years.
Superstars Are Always Free Agents
The big takeaway from the Paul George trade and Kawhi Leonard signing is that contracts do not mean anything in today’s NBA. Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said it best in a farewell tweet to George saying, “I suppose we all have to get used to the NBA reality that stars are free agents even when they’re not.”
Holt is right, stars like Paul George who are under contract with one team still have the power to orchestrate their exit and play with another team. Just look at Anthony Davis, for the entire 2018-19 season Davis wanted out of New Orleans. He demanded that the Pelicans trade him to a team like the Los Angeles Lakers.
But why the Lakers? Well, Davis’ agent, Rich Paul from Klutch Sports Group, is LeBron’s agent. This move would give Davis, a 26-year-old player in his prime the best opportunity to win a title and be closer to a place he calls home. But Davis’ path to the Lakers was not easy, he needed help from his agent, Rich Paul.
After the Lakers and Pelicans “pulled out” of negotiations in February, it looked like the Pelicans were going to send Davis to a team not named the Lakers. When the trade was dead, Rich Paul did a Sports Illustrated cover story hinting that any team looking to trade with the New Orleans Pelicans should not.
We’re going into free agency. Why does it matter to me where he goes? Earth: We’re going into free agency. He has a year, he has to play. But after that, I can’t say it no bigger: WE ARE GOING INTO FREE AGENCY. 2020: ANTHONY DAVIS WILL BE IN FREE AGENCY.
Did Paul’s statement work? Yes, Davis is a member of the Lakers now. Were there other factors involved? Yes, the Pelicans got the number one draft pick in the lottery and signed 18 year old phenom Zion Williamson. Regardless, Anthony Davis and Rich Paul dictated the narrative even when it did not favor them at the beginning.
Are Superstar Duos Hurting The NBA?
With the level of dynamic duos increasing, the NBA is currently experiencing a player uprising. Although the NBA has always been a player-driven league, the power truly resides with the players and their agents. They are the real General Managers of the NBA. Team executives and owners no longer have any leverage.
To me, that’s scary as a diehard basketball fan. When friendships and location heavily influence a superstar to move, that’s when small market teams like Orlando, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Cleveland, and Charlotte get hurt. Even though I grew up in LA and worship the Lakers, I sympathize for fans living in small market cities who don’t have superstars.
To be an afterthought or have no chance of getting into the playoffs still haunts teams in the NBA. Despite the NBA having more parity, having a dozen dynamic duos, and having no clear-cut juggernaut; the league still has a problem.
Players who are superstars have too much power. By moving away from the teams that drafted them: Is it fair to say that superstars can hurt the NBA’s future? Time will tell. All I know is that fans have to be cognisant of buying jerseys. You never know when your team’s top player can jump ship and sink that ship you call your team.
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