Hampered Negotiations

About 57 days ago, I admitted I was looking forward to seeing Kevin Durant on the Phoenix Suns following his trade request from the Brooklyn Nets1. Nets owner Joseph Tsai (or 蔡崇信 if you prefer) made it clear he was staying, and Durant announced to the media shortly2 after that he would be. At the end of this 2022-23 NBA season, the owners and the players union can mutually opt out of the CBA and begin negotiations on a new one. Regardless, the current CBA expires after the 2023-24 season; as Stephen A. Smith has alluded3 to multiple times, the owners will be looking to gouge this sort of behavior from occurring with such frequency going forward.

My initial reaction to the Nets trading away James Harden was that it would be in Durant’s best interest to get out of Brooklyn. Is it looked on favorably to force trades and change teams, as Durant has, amongst fans? No, but after a decade of player empowerment and several seasons of positionless basketball, these requests have become the norm.

While I commend Giannis Antetoukounmpo for his attitude on staying with the team that drafted him and building a winning culture, it’s practically an anomaly in today’s era. Stephen Curry, thus far, has played every season of his career for the Warriors, but he gladly stepped aside to allow Durant to come in and tip the scales in their favor from 2017-18 to 2019-20. Antetoukounmpo’s best teammate during that same time was and still is Khris Middleton. Of course, I don’t hold that against Curry, but when Durant is the one winning two Finals MVPs while you’re considered the team leader, it’s clear Antetoukounmpo has had less help in that department. Durant left the Warriors system to team up with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn and lead them to a championship; there is truth in Charles Barkley’s comments about being “the bus driver.” That’s why Curry and the Warriors’ fourth championship in eight seasons was an important narrative-shattering one. There are plenty of franchise stars looking to win a championship for their franchise; Jokić, Tatum, Embiid, Booker, Morant, Dončić, but it’s always uncertain and, nowadays, unlikely they stay with one team for their whole career.

This article isn’t to disparage the work done by the NBPA, the oldest trade union of the four major North American sports leagues, as they have accomplished quite a bit for player empowerment since its formation in 1954. However, it’s fair to say the players have gone too far with their entitled demands in the past decade. When LeBron James made a spectacle of his free agency decision in the summer of 2010 with The Decision, most players adopted a similar attitude. Recently, as in the case of Ben Simmons, it’s led to franchises overly coddling their star players, only to end up with eggs on their faces when those same players demand a trade. How can a franchise be expected to pay a guaranteed multi-million dollar salary for a player who demands a trade from the said franchise after not meeting expectations?

While it has led to unpredictable moves from franchises and players alike, the view of the NBA as a player’s league has contributed to older players and fans dismissing the accomplishments of what they view as ring-chasers. Twenty years ago, we reserved the term ring-chaser for older players granted a trade after several seasons of highly productive output or who left their team when their contract was up. However, with 28-year-old in their prime athletes hopping from team to team in the hopes of landing on a championship contender, the term can be applied league-wide.

Is that a bad thing? It’s tough to say, as people who enjoy the sport, such as myself, have gradually accepted this as a new reality. However, players have gotten significant backlash from fans and the media for these decisions, keeping the old-school “bus driver” mentality alive. Would I prefer to see the NBA go back to the ’90s when star players and their teams battled against other star players’ teams for basketball supremacy? Sure, but after decades of player empowerment, it’s unlikely to happen unless the NBA owners win negotiations against the NBPA. The strike-shortened seasons of 1998-99 and 2011-12 were significant wins for the NBPA, and owners do not want to lose money through inactivity. However, would they rather piss money away on ungrateful superstars demanding a trade to another team for a less-than-desirable trade package? It remains an unanswered question for now, but if we want to return to that old-school mentality, the new CBA must change the framework of contracts and the financial compensation of NBA players.

Editor’s Notes

  1. Havarti – 7/9/2022 – Better Late Than Never
  2. Yahoo! – 8/23/2022 – Kevin Durant staying with Brooklyn Nets after initially wanting trade to Phoenix Suns
  3. Sportskeeda – 4/17/2022 – “Call it the Ben Simmons rule, call it the Kyrie rule, hell call it Ja Rule” – Stephen A. Smith believes the Ben Simmons and John Wall sagas could affect the next CBA

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