I don’t think that’s such an outlandish question to ask. In fact, I think that it’s pretty fair. Do NBA players indeed have too much power? If you’re a fan of the NBA, and your team happens to have a star player, then I suggest that you develop some thick skin, ’cause you’re going to need it.

Hard times in Houston.

Unless you’ve completely detached yourself from anything media-related, then chances are that you’re aware of the James Harden drama that’s happening in Houston. Now if you have detached yourself from all media, and chose this article as your welcome back, then allow me to fill you in. Briefly. James Harden reportedly doesn’t like the direction that the Houston rockets are going in and has requested a ticket out of town. The reasoning behind it is still hazy, but it’s a mixture of lacking faith that they can contend for a title, not wanting to be the leader anymore, and James may or may not be supportive of his owner who is, well, a Donald Trump supporter. It’s all a big mess, it’s all confusing and quite frankly, it’s a bit tiresome to keep up with.

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with my bold opening statement. Well, another factor in the James Harden debacle is that he still has 3 years left on his contract extension, with a player option for the final year. He still wants out. He’s more than likely going to get traded. This, folks, is where we have arrived with the state of player empowerment. There used to be a time when players would make a stink at the end of their contractual tenure in order to get traded.

We’re all familiar with the saying “it’s a slippery slope,” right? Bam! Exhibit A. Player empowerment has slowly snowballed into the possibility of contracts going extinct. Or at least, contracts as we currently know them. If a guy can sign a multi-year contract, and then request a trade a year into it, then what’s even the point of the contract?

Now, technically, the organization doesn’t have to cooperate with trade demands. They can simply say no. But if recent history has taught us anything; the player always gets his way. And just to make things clear, I’m talking about star players here. Stars who request trades will get traded at some point during the season. Kawhi Leonard wanted out of San Antonio; he was traded. Paul George wanted out of Indiana; he was traded. Goran Dragic wanted out of Phoenix; he was traded. Anthony Davis wanted out of New Orleans. You get the point.

Media circus

With a player’s intentions going public, an entire ripple effect can be felt throughout the sports world. Teammates can question why. Teammates are asked why by the media (they don’t want to answer those awkward questions). Fan bases become irate with the player for turning his back on them. Reporters utilize their reach, speak with members of the organization or with those who are close to it, leaking even more information. An entire messy domino effect is cast. This becomes a headache for management. So what do they do? They trade them.

If players move around to different teams so often, then why should a fan get attached if their team lands a star? If stars are going to request trades by the second year of their contract, then why would a fan even get excited about the deal in the first place? It’s only going to get worse. This is why I suggested developing thick skin.

I don’t want this article to come across as me being anti player or pro-management, but I do think that some kind of compromise has to be established. A player should have the freedom to play wherever he or she chooses. A player should want to one day team up with his friend and have the ability to dictate if it happens. Just as the everyday worker can choose wherever he/she works, so can an athlete.  A player should not have to feel shackled to one organization. But a contract is a contract. At the end of the day, the player does know what a contract is and how it operates. Now, it doesn’t have to mean a player signs their soul over to the organization; but there’s a knowledgeable sense of commitment when it comes to these negotiations.

An ugly side to player empowerment.

With every form of professional sports being a business at its core, players are well aware that things can get pretty cutthroat. The majority of the time, it’s the organization who gets the blame for being cold, and rightfully so. But star players can also play a pretty harsh part in how the team is constructed.

Think about it. Star players make “suggestions” for other players whom they believe can improve the roster. Management will then try to acquire these players to satisfy their star’s request. Half the time that is through a trade. You know what happens in a trade right? Players are swapped. So if a star feels like “Player X” will be a great addition to the team, and Player X happens to be under contract, then guess who’s going to have to literally pack their bags and find a new home? I’m looking at you role players. A perfect and recent example of this is when Anthony Davis wanted out of New Orleans. It was made public that he wanted to be a Laker.

Everybody knows that Lebron James basically runs the Lakers. Lebron needed a second star alongside him in Los Angeles. I’m not flat out saying that Lebron James told management to do what they did, but I also don’t think that I have to. I mean, fans would chant “Lebron will trade you” to heckle any of the young guys on the roster. We all know how this turned out. Almost the entire young core of the Lakers roster was traded for Anthony Davis.

I don’t want to get too grim or anything like that, but these aren’t playing cards that are getting traded. It’s people. Lives are being changed. God forbid if a player was a part of an organization for years and grew fond of how his life was; only to have a disgruntled star want to get traded and so now there is a real chance that that player’s life will be changed because he has to be used in the trade. That is an actual thing that happens a lot in sports.

Fandom

Trades will always be a part of sports. Players know now, more than ever that it is a business and there is a real chance that they can be included in a trade. But the fans may suffer the most from this. Sports teams bring cities together. Star players, bring hope to the sports team and the city. Fans want nothing more, than for their guy, the star player of the team, to want to stay in their city. These players become icons, legends, and heroes. If a player signed a contract, then there is a collective sigh of relief in knowing that this person wants to represent the city you love. But if the fan can’t rely on the comfort of said star putting pen to paper, then this all becomes just one, well, big game.

Player empowerment has never been stronger. And I cannot stress enough, that I am all for this. A player should have the freedom to choose where he wants to play. Trade demands are not always a bad thing. Some organizations simply do not deserve to waste their player’s time, because they are inept at running the team correctly. But at what point do you draw the line?

We have guys (Paul George) literally announcing at concerts that they’re re-signing, only to bolt a year later because another player (Kawhi Leonard) wanted him on his team. Mind you, the Clippers had to basically mortgage their entire future in order to trade for Paul George. Kawhi Leonard’s contract has a player option after only 2 seasons! That is A LOT to give up for only 2 seasons. Player options are put in place, just in case someone wants to end things a little early and seek greener pastures, and even those are becoming pointless now.

With James Harden causing a public stink, it’s now a matter of when rather than will he get traded; the newly signed contract be damned. Giannis Antetokounmpo just signed his mega extension and some folks are legitimately questioning if he’ll want out after a season or two, and I don’t blame them! If this is how the league is trending then honestly, as a fan, why should I even invest myself in a player, when there is a real chance that they have absolutely nothing to keep them from leaving? Maybe I’m overreacting. I don’t think that I am. But hey, like I said; thick skin.

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