The 2019 NBA summer offseason showed a league’s shift towards a strong sense of player control, destruction of small market teams, and the absence of loyalty from players and franchises.
This summer, of 2019 we saw a massive reshaping of the NBA as almost a third of the players were up for a new contract. NBA teams follow a salary cap system, a soft limit on the amount any team is allowed to spend on contracts each year.. This is to ensure league-wide equality and to decrease the likelihood of super teams due to superstars demanding large contracts. This idea was recently disproved by the Golden State Warriors, but this begs the question of loyalty.
The Golden State Warriors had just won the NBA Championship when former MVP and top 3 player in the league, Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder to join them. This move wouldn’t have been as controversial if not for the Thunder losing in the Western Conference Championship to the Warriors. This move of disloyalty was seemingly the start of a trend.
The current Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard, is a prime example of a player forcing an issue and disregarding loyalty. Having won a Finals MVP and built a reputation with the San Antonio Spurs, Kawhi forced the Spurs to trade him to the Toronto Raptors, whom he left after a year to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Raptors, in order to land Leonard, decided to trade franchise player Demar DeRozan for him. The lack of loyalty and lack of certainty around the trade created a backlash against the Raptors.
Kawhi Leonard’s ability to force a trade led multiple players to follow suit with All-Stars Anthony Davis and Paul George replicating the same trades this past off-season. Both moves forced the hand of their franchises,determining their paths for the upcoming years. While forcing someone to play against their will is not the answer, shouldn’t players have some loyalty to the contracts that they have signed?
The lack of loyalty shown by players has lead to a less competitive league and the destruction of small-market teams. Prevalent in professional sports is this idea of market size. Large cities provide attractive locations for players and big markets for teams to profit. The lack of loyalty in the NBA is making the success of small-market teams even more difficult. It is almost impossible for a city like Memphis to attract a superstar to come play and this forces them to build through the draft and trades. There is no clear answer to this, but a change in culture must occur within the NBA in order to save the small-market teams and loyalty as a whole.