NBA’s player movement era creates buzz for league, freedom for players. But is there a downside?

SALT LAKE CITY. All stars agree that the seemingly overwhelming player movement is good for the league because of the interest it generates and the social media hype that keeps the NBA on a 24-hour spin.

But are there any unintended consequences to this?

NBA commissioner Adam Silver estimated that about 10% of players were traded just before the trade deadline as the spike in activity was driven by the relative parity the league seems to be enjoying.

More teams feel like they’re competing than ever, with Silver calling this the most competitive season in league history.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have defended the idea that players are fishing for trades under the pretense of taking control of their careers. For the last two weeks, Irving wanted to leave Brooklyn because he didn’t get the maximum contract extension, and then Durant followed suit and was sent to Phoenix.

Irving spoke about freedom and agency in his career. Durant’s framing was interesting, speaking of the interest generated by Twitter and talk shows. Each is on his fourth team, and Irving could sign a fifth team this summer if he and the Dallas Mavericks don’t come to an agreement.

LeBron James has two stints in Cleveland on his resume, as well as four years in Miami, and is currently a player for the Los Angeles Lakers.

It’s becoming more common to see stars pack their bags or use practical leverage to force trades, and players are no longer tied to teams. Fans pack their bags when their favorite player makes a move one, two or three times.

Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia, forward Kevin Durant and general manager James Jones speak to the media at Durant's opening press conference at the Footprint Center in Phoenix on February 16, 2023.  (Rick Scooteri/USA TODAY Sports)
Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia, forward Kevin Durant and general manager James Jones speak to the media at Durant’s introductory press conference at the Footprint Center in Phoenix on February 16, 2023. (Rick Scooteri/USA TODAY Sports)

How many times do we hear a fan say, when asked about his favorite team, “I’m a LeBron fan, wherever he goes, I go.”

“You can put LeBron on the Akron Zips and people will watch, KD on the Harlem Globetrotters and people will watch,” New Orleans Pelicans defenseman CJ McCollum told Sportzshala Sports Saturday. McCollum is also the president of the NBPA. “It’s more about the talent and the work the player puts into it. You should be able to go wherever you want, especially when your contract has expired.”

This, of course, is not discussed, at least not here – especially in the realm of free agents. It was fought decades ago, and today’s players enjoy the fruits of this labor.

And eyeballs will go, in the micro where the stars go. And it seems like there are more stars than ever in NBA history. Despite the fact that both missed a lot of time due to injuries, James and Anthony Davis are real stars.

And the Lakers are far from fighting for the championship.

So the urge to move around will be more annoying than ever, especially given the endless rabbit hole of social media.

“It brings more attention to the league, more people get excited,” Duran said at Saturday’s All-Star practice. “The tweets I get – the news we got from me being traded, Kyrie being traded – it just brings more attention to the league and that’s really what makes money when you get more attention. So, to be honest, I think it’s great for the league.”

However, this rabbit hole has created some unhappy players like Durant complaining about the conversations casual fans and TV shows make around narratives about things other than the game itself.

In 2019, Silver said, “We are living in a time of anxiety. I think it’s a direct consequence of social media. A lot of players are unhappy.”

And Silver also said Saturday night about the trading requirements, “I think that’s bad. I think it causes corrosion of the system. Of course the fans don’t like it. Even a lot of players don’t like it, because in the end they can move to a particular team, believing that this player will still be there.

Drama is winning on social media, but it’s hard to see if this is really a good trend for a still-growing league that has exciting players and games. And if the eyeballs watch the games the way they should, compared to being tired or fed up with the day’s minor issues.

Star player stagnation or bad relationships are not good for the league at all. The negligence or incompetence of the franchise should not be rewarded with blind loyalty. There are many examples where players have put pressure on their franchises and the results have been positive. The greats of yesteryear have often begged players to take the lead in their careers to prevent bad history from repeating itself.

With that said, it might be a little nostalgic, but it felt like the league could have told a better, fuller story when its stars were consistent in the right situations.

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird came up with ready-made situations and won quickly, while Isaiah Thomas, Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon went through the ups and downs of creating a franchise before rewarding that capital with championships.

Not only did these players stay in uniform, the franchise and teammates added a level of depth and texture. Supporting players have become household names as well as stars and not just footnotes at the moment.

The players became synonymous with the cities they lived in. You can’t think of Los Angeles without thinking of Magic, or Chicago without thinking of Michael. Whether these players knew it or not, superiority kept these franchises on the map during periods of recession.

“You have Steph Curry, Dame Lillard in Portland, Giannis in Milwaukee, Jokic,” McCollum said, referring to players who have become and remain synonymous in the cities they drafted.

The world got to know Clay Thompson, Draymond Green and many more surrounding Steph’s orbit, and with one or two more rings we could certainly say the same about Giannis and his team of teammates.

There is definitely a line, or at least a balance, between franchise power and player power. None of them should suppress, each should complement.

The world is moving faster than ever, especially the NBA. So it will not be easy to calculate the indicators of this era as quickly as we would like. More people are consuming the game than ever, or at least conversations.

How the public reacts to too much of something good will predict the true future of the NBA.


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