NBA: Player Mobility and the Upcoming Storm of Free Agency

Jackson Toomey   Staff Writer


The end of the NBA regular season is usually a quiet affair. Playoff seeding is often already determined and teams elect to rest their more talented players. The 2018-2019 regular season instead ended with two of the more significant stories of an action-packed regular season.

Two all-time great players, Dwayne Wade and Dirk Nowitzki, played in what would be the final game of their careers. Both are also known for the amount of time they stayed with just one team. Nowitzki played for the Dallas Mavericks his entire career, while Wade spent almost all of his with the Miami Heat. Through the good and bad, both won a championship for their respective franchise (three for Wade) and are now treated like royalty in the cities they called home.

While this used to be the dream for players entering the league, the trend of current players shows a shifted focus. Longevity is no longer the goal, even championships have taken a backseat in some cases. 2018-2019 has shown star players redefine their own success. Personal fulfillment and media perception are becoming more and more important to these players.

Multiple stars have tried using their leverage to leave their current team while still under contract. This strategy has worked for some, such as Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler. Both players requested to be traded because of issues with their previous employer. Leonard lost trust in the organization when he felt they tried to rush him back from a serious injury, attempting to put his career in danger. Butler questioned the motivation of his younger teammates and did not have the patience to wait for them to figure it out. Both have had success with their new teams (the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers, respectively) and enter the playoffs in better situations than their former teams.

Others have seen this strategy backfire. Anthony Davis is viewed as one of the most talented players in the association. He has spent the entirety of his career with the New Orleans Pelicans, who have struggled to build around their once-in-a-generation player. After switching agents, Davis went public in requesting to be sent to the Los Angeles Lakers. His decision to be so vocal about wanting to leave actually hurt his trade value, because teams knew the Pelicans would not have to option to just keep him. However, this is exactly what they did. This led to Davis essentially losing a year of his prime while the NBA had to force the Pelicans into playing him.

While the motives may be different, the overall theme of these moves comes down to one idea, player empowerment. These superstar athletes understand their leverage. In the NBA, the players sell tickets more so than actual teams. Whether it is for more success, a bigger market, or being more at peace with their life, these athletes are taking charge in ways we do not see often in other sports.

The playoffs are now underway, but the larger story this summer is how this trend will continue. Two players who fit the above description are expected to become free agents this summer. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are two of the biggest names in the league. They both previously left franchises again for personal reasons. It has not always been smooth sailing for the two. Irving left a team he had already won a championship with because he wanted more of a leadership role. Once landing on the Boston Celtics, he has struggled to take over in the way he had hoped. Durant did the opposite, leaving the team he had led his whole career for a place he knew he could win a championship. He now has those championships (and two finals MVPs) but has been bashed by the media for joining the already established Golden State Warriors.

Those two could very well relocate this summer, along with some of the other players mentioned above (Leonard and Butler can opt to be free agents, and Davis is still expected to be traded.) This trend is not slowing down, as this summer will be another chapter in the NBA free agent drama.

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