The Anthony Davis saga—and the trade demands of NBA players in general—loomed large during Adam Silver’s All-Star press conference Saturday. The commissioner repeated two talking points he’s grown accustomed to sharing over the years: His disgust for tanking, and his wish that players keep their trade demands private and choose to honor their contracts. The latter conversation was much more interesting, especially with Silver also touching on the “unintended consequences” of the supermax contract extension. It’s clear both situations are weighing heavily on the league office. Will the NBA take the necessary steps to correct them?
First and foremost, Silver’s position on trade demands is questionable at best. He recognized it was a “fair point” that teams also blindside players with trades, such as in the cases of Blake Griffin and DeMar DeRozan. Still, Silver seemed to direct most of his frustration at players when discussing the publicness of trade demands—after all, he did fine Davis after his agent Rich Paul made his request public.
“No one likes to see an instance where a player is demanding that he be traded when he still is in the middle of a contractual obligation to a team,” Silver said Saturday, continuing later on with, “But I would just say, blanketly, no, I don't like trade demands, and I wish they didn't come, and I wish all those matters were handled behind closed doors.”
There are ways for the NBA to fix this, but almost all of them involve the league being much more progressive than its owners would ever let it be.
One idea: Get rid of trades! The thought seems completely far-fetched. Trades have become an integral part of team building in the NBA, and the speculation around them drives much of the social media conversation for the league. Still, other sports survive without trades, and instituting loans and transfers could make some sense for the NBA. What if, instead of the Pelicans getting rid of Anthony Davis forever, they loaned him to the Lakers for a ridiculous sum of money and rebuilt the team in the interim? This would create all kinds of new tanking complications—like can a team loaning a superstar still get the No. 1 pick? Frankly I hardly understand loans and transfers, so maybe this system is too big of a step for the NBA.
Another idea would be to institute automatic no-trade clauses for NBA players, maybe at least for everyone who signs a max deal or long-term contract. That would help mitigate situations like Griffin and DeRozan, two players who signed seemingly with the intent to honor those deals in the way Silver talks about. Instead, both had the rug pulled out from under them, and were shipped away in the best interests of the team. Shouldn’t they be protected? Shouldn’t their employers have honored their contracts? It’s an argument Silver is at least aware of, and one he seemingly has some respect for. This seems like an actual realistic middle ground for the league, especially if Silver is going to continue to publicly stand against trade demands.
The most simple situation? Let players demand trades! We’re all adults here. Stop insulting the intelligence of the fans and pretending this somehow offends the sensibilities of people rooting for their teams. Fans love player movement—certainly many Raptors fans cheered the arrival of Kawhi Leonard. The NBA could go a long way in stopping the creation of villain narratives around their own players if they instead put the onus on teams instead of players. If someone of Davis’s caliber says he wants out, it’s probably because his front office hasn’t done enough to help his career. The NBA isn’t well served if Davis toils in lottery obscurity—the league should want him in the playoffs. I have sympathy for the Pelicans fans who are attached to Davis, but any ire they hold should be directed at the departed Dell Demps for squandering Davis’s youth with subpar teams.
Silver also talked about supermax extensions in a roundabout way Saturday, saying they were instituted to help keep trade demands private, but acknowledging players turning down the extensions (like Davis and Kawhi did) have created new problems for teams. How do you fix the supermax? Get rid of it entirely. It never made sense for players to have to choose between making the most money or leaving the team that drafted them for a better situation. Does getting rid of max extensions completely fix the issue at hand? Not really! But again, the NBA needs to put more pressure on front offices to create compelling teams and less pressure on players to (theoretically) choose between money and winning. Other teams, like the Wizards, have handed out the extension and may come to regret the player (John Wall) having agreed to it. It’s not really clear the supermax has leveled the playing field or is beneficial to creating a title contender. I understand the league wants parity, or parity of opportunity, but often missing in these conversations is the role front offices play in creating disgruntled superstars.
There’s no perfect system for the NBA to give every team a realistic chance at building a title contender, short of investing a laboratory that can create more than 30 franchise players using some sort of science fictiony DNA experiment. Until then, the league should stop creating bad guys out of players who want to win. Front offices need to take more responsibility in why their players may want to leave and stars staying quiet for the benefit of the league when they want to leave for greener pastures doesn’t solve the bigger issue at hand.