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NBA’s Player Empowerment Has Gone Too Far
The NBA player empowerment era has reached a new low, or high, depending on what side of the fence you sit on. What essentially started with LeBron's decision in 2010 as he hit free agency has slowly morphed into a world where superstars like Kevin Durant attempt to force their way off a team despite having multiple years left on their contract. Something must change to equalize this trend, or we risk a dangerous collective bargaining situation in 2024.
The state of it all has gotten so bad that the coolest commissioner in sports, Adam Silver, actually came out and decried Durant's actions. In what is a parallel to that super loveable Dad who enforces no curfew telling his child he's not mad, just disappointed.
Before diving into why that 2024 date is so important, let's analyze how we got to this era of player empowerment where superstars feel zero obligation to follow through with their contract.
We can trace this back to 2010 with the LeBron James' free agency sweepstake labeled The Decision. In what stands as the classic example of that slippery slope figurative tool your English teacher went over if you paid attention in high school, The Decision was the first in a chain of events that led to where we are now. It wasn't as if LeBron was the first superstar to leave a team in free agency, but he was the first to wield his power to put together his own roster. By convincing another star, Chris Bosh, to follow him to Miami, LeBron showed the NBA world that a player of his magnitude could and should leverage their pull to craft the perfect destination. That decision upset just as many as it delighted, but what was unanimous was that NBA superstars would now hold more power than ever.
While LeBron had every right to make that decision as a free agent, players have wielded similar power despite not being free agents. You have what happened with Anthony Davis, where he told the Pelicans he wouldn't be resigning once his contract was up the following season. Not only forcing them to trade him rather than lose him for free but also giving them a list of teams he wouldn't resign with, essentially forcing his way to Los Angeles because who would give up heavy assets for a star letting the franchise know he would no more than a one year rental. Then we have players like Jimmy Butler in Minnesota and James Harden in Houston who sabotage their teams at the start of preseason to make it clear they had no intention of fulfilling contractual obligations.
But at least those players were down to the last year of their contract, so leveraging that power made sense.
What we just saw with Kevin Durant is a player who, despite having four years left on his contract, still had the audacity to not only demand a trade out of the blue but give the Nets a list of desired destinations. With legit zero contractual leverage, Durant is attempting to force his way out of Brooklyn to a contender, and for the sake of the future of the league, I think they need to make a stand by sending him to NBA purgatory.
By NBA purgatory, I mean a franchise like the Sacramento Kings, Charlotte Hornets, or Washington Wizards that are not only small markets but have struggled mightily historically. The Nets cannot afford to let Durant go to his desired contenders like the Miami Heat or Phoenix Suns because of the precedent they risk setting. If he wants to do that, he can play through the four years on his contract, then leave.
Just imagine I'm Dr. Strange, and I've looked at all the possible scenarios here to tell you Kevin Durant needs to be traded to Sacramento to save the league.
It may mean receiving less desirable assets, but it is a much-needed sacrifice to reset this era of player empowerment. Players will learn they can't just sign a contract for hundreds of millions, regret the destination, then turn around and tell a team where they trade them. Nah, you want a trade so bad? Say less. Let's see how much you like playing basketball in Sacramento, California, or Charlotte, North Carolina, on a Wednesday evening.
I'm NOT saying everyone needs to be a Damian Lillard prototype that is super loyal to a team and refuses to run from the grind- please, some of them need to run from that grind (Bradley Beal). I'm a fan of player empowerment, but only in free agency. Otherwise, follow through with your word and fulfill your contractual obligations. Or else, when this current collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners ends in 2024, the league will come back with the type of vengeance that will lead to a lockout and-or a situation where NBA contracts are no longer fully guaranteed.
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