LAS VEGAS – Kevin Durant’s commercial order appears to be a turning point in the era of player empowerment, and an opportunity for NBA team owners to reset the paradigm after more than a decade of star-studded action.
After all, if a star in the New York market just entering a four-year, $200 million extension succeeds in forcing him out, the contract between player and team could be written in vanishing ink.
The period that began with LeBron James exercising his right as a free agent to leave his neighboring hometown of the Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami in 2010, sparking a flurry of pick-up-and-go players wherever they wanted, appears to have veered — and that’s telling everyone panicked in the wake of Durant’s request.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke about the balance and tried to walk the fine line between acknowledging that the league has evolved over the past 20 years while also acknowledging that it has helped the NBA grow in popularity.
“It takes us and the players’ union to sit down and I think acknowledging the principles that are at stake here, which is the sanctity of contracts and the desire for stability that affects not only that player, but other players as well,” Silver said. Following the Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas on Tuesday. “We have a very productive relationship with our players’ union. We won’t necessarily eliminate players who ask to be transferred completely, but we will find a way to bring attention back to the field.”
Multiple league sources told Yahoo Sports that the issue of player movement has not been brought up among owners of NBA teams, although it will almost certainly be discussed in some form when the National Basketball Players Association and team owners meet in the next round of collective bargaining.
They have bigger topics on their agenda at the moment – the gap between big market teams and small market teams, in particular, rich vs rich and the future of revenue as it relates to local and national TV deals.
Not that someone like Durant asking for a trade deal didn’t send shock waves through the NBA system, but, as one team owner pointed out to Yahoo Sports, the Nets don’t have to trade it.
“It is not an issue for players looking for multi-year deals [remaining]The team owner said. “Honestly, the players in this position can test their influence, but at the end of the day, they are under contract and you don’t have to trade them.”
To be clear, Sliver said “we don’t like to see players asking for deals, and we don’t like to see them play out the way they are,” so it would be a wise move for the Brooklyn Nets to trade in Durant sooner rather than later, so that cloud isn’t hanging over their heads , or on Durant or League.
Whether or not Durant’s desire to leave is appropriate given the amount of agency he has in the Nets is immaterial. Faced with the Nets’ Kyrie Irving and all his complications because of Durant, he hired Steve Nash as head coach with Durant’s blessing and certainly gave his voice a lot of weight.
But it’s the NBA way, the power structure is tilted and doesn’t seem to be swinging backwards anytime soon. For a star who wants to leave, there are many who choose to stay. For the superstars who want to leave, there’s a team with a treasure trove of draft picks, plenty of space, and a chance just waiting to absorb the wayward star.
Not everything is good for everyone, but it has never been this way. Teams with a championship imprint in the post-supplement expansion period (since 1984) aren’t plentiful, but that’s not the norm for every star player or franchise.
“I don’t think that’s changing at all,” said Yahoo Sports’ general manager.
The NBA could be a quiet summer, as fans see some connective tissue between players and teams until the story matures a bit. But in the league’s endless quest for world domination, constant hype and staying on top of the news circuit in July don’t seem to bother them – even if they stay away from matches in November and into April.
“I think, in fact, it creates a sense of renewal in certain markets and gives players and teams more opportunities to rebuild and change conditions,” Silver said. “You want to find the right mix. At the end of the day, it all stems from the game. So we don’t want the game to be a social media sideshow and all the intrigue around our players.”
The scene is multi-layered and no longer linear. Is the player’s primary responsibility to himself or his privilege? Himself, or the NBA in general? These are all different agendas that seem conflicting rather than running along the same path.
Blake Griffin traded six months after telling the world he’d be a “Clipper for life,” Rudy Gobert signed a five-year extension with the Utah Jazz before the start of the 2020-21 season to be shipped to Minnesota just two weeks before — with no general trading order.
Of course, none of those players were in Durant’s stature, a generation player with an inherent responsibility to carry the league on thin shoulders.
Only a handful of guys have this allure. This annual All-Stars event will not generate interest.
It’s a concern, but it’s a bit exaggerated.
It’s not impossible, but it’s hard to tell a player to look out for the greater good of the franchise or the NBA in general when words like “legacy” are used incorrectly daily to discuss a star’s reputation – as if that’s not an impressive goal that won’t be final until the time utility To allow us all to take a few deep breaths.
It was easier for players in previous generations to remain cultivated, and to grow roots where they were crafted. Free agency was not a viable option, the 24 hour news cycle was not as loud and evaluates their careers in real time as it is now. And although the money was great at the time, it wasn’t astronomical.
Players, team owners, and the league itself have entered into an era to grow the game, and it’s the responsibility of making the pie bigger so everyone can eat.
Well, the pie is pretty big now, and it was built out of those players who helped make the game global and boosted by today’s stars. It will likely increase in size in a couple of years, when the TV rights deal expires and is sure to add more money to team owners’ coffers and players’ pockets.
The greatest elixir is evidence of two other champions, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Golden State Warriors. Both are star-centred (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry) who exude down-to-earth and institutional stability, organizations that have deepened the resources financially and what’s more – the stars trust the organizations to do their jobs efficiently.
This is a model that the next generation of stars will aspire to replicate. For all of Durant’s great gifts and even his legitimate desire to leave what appears to be an unstable organization, no teams line up with their best offerings to disrupt him.
What’s to stop Durant from pulling the same act 12 months from now, as some teams can frankly see. It’s not a Durant shot, but some teams have no idea what it will take to survive if he comes.
It’s an unintended consequence, one created by the National Basketball Association to protect its teams from bad decisions. Long-term deals (from six to seven years) have been cut heavily to help them evade bad contracts, which means even the most reliable stars will hit free agency multiple times over the course of a long career.
Trades keep the beginners range funneling early pay while older players can take a bigger chunk out of the cap – which means they’ll always choose to settle on the front end and worry about geography later, often in the form of a trade order.
There is no perfect solution, as the market will determine the next direction – whether it’s for players’ salaries in the early years of deals should the player stay in place or some other mechanism the league and the NBPA come up with.
But Durant’s order is not a turning point or inflection point in the era of player empowerment, because no one really wants it that way.