Player empowerment

By Henry Liao August 14,2019
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Player empowerment

By Henry Liao August 14,2019
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PLAYERS now call the shots in the NBA.

Top-tier players demanding a trade from their teams while still having a “live” contract seems to be in vogue nowadays.

Take for example the cases of Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Paul George and Jimmy Butler.

According to Golden State bench boss Steve Kerr, the trend of players who are not free agents forcing trades to get out of existing contracts, as evidenced by the Davis-to-the-Los Angeles Lakers and the George-to-the-Los Angeles Clippers deals, is a “real problem.” “It’s a little disturbing that there has been some action that happened before contracts are up, where teams are sort of held hostage and the league is sort of held hostage. I’m not a big fan of that. That’s damaging for everybody. The Davis stuff was really kind of groundbreaking — and hopefully not a trend, because it’s bad for the league.”

As early as late January, Davis, through his new sports agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group (LA Lakers forward LeBron James is also a client), had gone public to seek an out from the New Orleans and a trade to the LA Lakers. He even stated that he would not sign a contract extension with the Pelicans once his pact ended in the summer of 2020.

The NBA fined him $50,000 at the time for making his trade demand public but the damage had been done. The Pelicans slipped badly in the team standings for the remainder of the 2018-19 wars and Davis eventually was shipped to — where else but — the Lakers last June.

Leonard wanted out of San Antonio in the summer of 2018 with a year left on his contract. The Spurs, wary of an unhappy camper, jettisoned him to Toronto prior to the 2018-19 wars.

The Raptors eventually captured their first-ever NBA title since their debut in the league in 1995-96. But the partnership essentially turned out to be a one-year rental as he thereafter shifted his loyalty to the LA Clippers.

And for Christ’s sake, Leonard, the first NBA Finals MVP ever to leave his team following an NBA championship finish, also forced the hand of Oklahoma City to accede to the trade demand of NBA MVP third-placer Paul George so that Leonard could team up with his co-Southern California native with the Clippers.

George himself sought a trade from Indiana in the summer of 2017 while still under contract. The Pacers gave in and peddled him to Oklahoma City, where he was employed for the past two seasons.

And now, for a second time, George has forced his way off the Thunder and eventually landed with the Clippers.

“You have Paul George, one of our premier players in the league, who was paid very well by the team, suddenly announce, ‘Hey, I want to be traded,’” said New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry. “You have no recourse but to get the best deal you can. I hear players say, ‘Why is it different from a team trading us?’ Because this isn’t football (National Football League), where they can say, ‘If you’re not playing well, we’re gonna cut you and you won’t get paid.’ We (the NBA) pay our players and it’s guaranteed.”

Butler was in the same boat as George in the summer of 2018. Despite an existing contract with Minnesota, he made a lot of trade noise and even lambasted his teammates along the way so much so Minnesota was forced to send him to Philadelphia sometime during the 2018-19 wars to avoid a schism.

It turned out to be a less-than-year rental for the 76ers as Butler, an unrestricted free agent, subsequently hooked up with Miami last June in a sign-and-trade.

Others prominent free agents who changed addresses this summer were Kevin Durant (Brooklyn from Golden State), Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn from Boston), DeAngelo Russell (Golden State from Brooklyn in a sign-and-trade).

With a rebuilding program on the way following the defection of George, the Thunder also traded All-Star point guard with three straight triple-double season averages and 2017 NBA MVP Russell Westbrook to Houston for once-dominant but now aging and injury-prone playmaker Chris Paul to team up with back-to-back NBA scoring champion and 2018 NBA MVP James Harden with the Rockets as the league is back with the dynamic duos scheme instead of the “superteam” concept that was popularized by Golden State during the Warriors’ five-year NBA Finals stint that was effectively scuttled with the departure of Durant, Andre Iguodala (a trade to Memphis), Shaun Livingston (waived), DeMarcus Cousins (lost to the LA Lakers in free agency) and Jordan Bell (lost to Minnesota in free agency).

“There’s too much movement — too much unexpected movement. You can’t plan beyond next year,” said Gentry with the trade requests and numerous player changes this summer. “Teams traditionally map out a five-year plan (or longer) for growth, factoring in future drafts, trades and free-agent signings. But you can throw that out the window now.”

And if your team somehow performs badly, it’s the head coach that usually gets the pink slip.

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