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The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

NBA off-season raises debate on player loyalty


This NBA off-season has been one for the books. As Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant secured his first championship ring this season, most expected a quieter summer than last, devoid of 3-1 jokes and triple doubles. Battles between owners and players, between loyalty and free will, and the hurt of beloved players departing from their original teams set the NBA world ablaze last year. Teams were left scrambling in an arms race to find ways to defeat the juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors.

But the NBA landscape is slowly changing. While Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James certainly did not start the concept of joining other players to create a “super-team,” he surely made it easier for players such as Durant join a “better” team without facing as much backlash.

LeBron showed the fans and team owners that the power of free agency should reside with the players. Athletes should be able to choose where and with whom they want to play because at the end of the day, the NBA is a business, and there is no sense in being loyal to a team that doesn’t treat you right just because they want to make the most money by having the best team.

Take a look at Cavs point guard Isaiah Thomas for example. This past year has been a whirlwind of emotions, passion, and hunger for Thomas. Thomas’s emotion came from dealing with the death of his younger sister in a fatal accident. He still played in the NBA playoffs that week and dropped 33 points because according to Thomas, “quitting isn’t an option” and “his sister wouldn’t want him to stop.” His passion stemmed from his desire to prove to the world that despite his 5-foot-9-inch stature and the fact that he was selected last in the 2011 draft, he is still a superstar who is ready for the big moment. He held a hunger to chase a title and storm through James, the best player in the world.

Later in the off-season, it was revealed that Thomas suffered a hip injury that could potentially be worse than the organization thought. Without a moment’s notice, he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. Where is the loyalty in that? Thomas carried his team after enduring the death of a family member, and what does he get in return? An Instagram post wishing him farewell by the organization he gave his all for.

Fans scream for players to be loyal and stick to one team as shooting guards Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and forwards Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki did, but what happens when the organization is not loyal itself? Let’s not forget that forward Jimmy Butler, an All-Star and franchise player who was given the keys to the Chicago Bulls was traded away as well (to the Minnesota Timberwolves).

Basketball is a business, and we have to hold both sides accountable. This is best summed up by Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum, who tweeted the following statement after center Enes Kanter was traded to the New York Knicks: “Kanter released a statement about his love for OKC and the organization. 4 days later he got traded. Stay woke, it’s a business.”

With organizations making decisions to put themselves each in the best position to win, more and more players are finding ways to put themselves in the position to grow as a player. A prime example would be Irving, who made one of the biggest headlines in recent NBA history.

In Game Seven of the 2016 NBA Finals, Irving hit one of the best shots in NBA history. He knocked down step-back three-pointer against the then-reigning MVP point guard Steph Curry, with seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter to win his first title, and the first-ever in Cleveland Cavaliers history.

Fresh off a loss in a rubber-match against the Warriors in 2017, Irving responded this summer by requesting a trade. Many analysts and fans compared this to the separation of Kobe and Shaq after they won three titles together. However, Irving simply wanted to leave to be the focal point of another team instead of living in LeBron’s shadow.

While I find it hard to understand his wanting to separate from one the greatest players in NBA history, I respect his decision because it made him feel fulfilled. Fans should not bash a player for moving to another team, when that move will make the player more content and satisfied. The same thing happened with forward Gordon Hayward when he left his team to join his former college coach in Boston, but his move was applauded. Why does one get praise and another anger and hate from the fans? Where is the line drawn?

All of these trades have made the Western Conference more competitive, which is what every fan wants. However, in a world where loyalty seems to be so highly valued by fans, it has become clear that there is a predicament. Players are scrutinized for making business decisions when in fact the National Basketball Association is just that, a business. With all that being said, the season is upon us. The off-season drama has all played out, and now all that is left is for the players to do what they do best, play.


*Photo by Keith Allison via*

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NBA off-season raises debate on player loyalty