Since Lebron took his talents to South Beach, we have heard statements from Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Magic Johnson saying “I’m a competitor, I would never join two other guys, I would want to win on my own”. One of the most vocal people in the media about this is hall of famer Charles Barkley. Why do they have such a strong stance against player movement? According to Barkley, he’d rather have no rings than join a super team. So what if stars want to align and have a chance to compete for a championship? What is the true problem here? For decades we have seen super teams being built either through the draft or through free agency. Regardless of route the ultimate goal remains the same, to win a championship.
You have a group of NBA players who are jealous of this new crop of ballers. Think about it. Back in the day player movement was non-existent unless it was via trade or draft. Free Agency didn’t really exist until 1988 with Tom Chambers. He was the first player that I have found who actually became an unrestricted free agent. The rules for a player to become one was the following:
- He had to have been in the league for 7 years or more AND
- Have played through 2 NBA contracts
Think about this now. As a player I would’ve had to be on the same team for 7 freaking years, AND had to have an agent smart enough to know about the 2 NBA contracts rule. Well, we all know that a lot of the stars didn’t have these types of contracts at all. On top of that, they nor their agents were smart enough to understand player mobility. Here are the contracts for some of the NBA elite back in the day:
Charles Barkley: Signed with Philly for 4 years, then signed again with Philly for another 4 years. Barkley could’ve became a free agent in 1992 but he signed an extension with Phoenix after he was traded there. Why did he stay and not exercise his right to be a free agent? Well, who would’ve left Kevin Johnson, a 2 time all-star who was averaging around 20 PPG over the past 2 seasons? Yep, Chuck had a chance to be a free agent but decided against it. Also keep in mind that before the Phoenix deal, Charles had almost been traded to the Lakers. You think he would’ve complained if that deal went through? Probably not.
Magic Johnson: Signed a 25 year $25 million dollar contract as rookie. Never gave himself a chance to be a free agent.
Michael Jordan: Signed a 7 year contract then an 8 year contract midway through his first deal as a renegotiation. Basically locking himself in for about 12 years. The way he got out of it? Retirement, yep, then MJ cashed in on his final 2 years in Chicago. He pioneered the way in regards to big time deals for potential free agents, but he didn’t do himself any favors for 10 years of his career. Jordan brand, well that’s another story.
Larry Bird: Larry legend could’ve easily signed elsewhere. He went through 2 contracts and played 7 seasons in Boston. By the time it was his turn for a 3rd contract, the Celtics were still competitive so it made no sense for him to leave.
Shaquille O’Neal: He left Orlando high and dry after his rookie deal expired. There are stories on both sides of this deal. Had the Magic been smart he would’ve stayed. Shaq is the first big name free agent who left on his own. I would call him the pioneer of big time player movement.
My point being, if any of these guys had a chance to really leave or were smart about their own contracts they would’ve done so. The superstars back then didn’t understand leverage, nor was free agency a big thing. Those guys were more concerned in locking in long term contracts to give themselves a stable financial future. Has anyone ever criticized them about this? Nope, and they shouldn’t. But in the same way the players now shouldn’t be criticized because they are smarter around their money and opportunities.
Historically before free agency players had to force trades to get to a contender. Forcing trades was basically the only way a player could get out of a bad team. Wilt did this to find a place he could potentially win can be one of the biggest examples of this. Nobody criticizes these moves by players back then so they could win. They wanted to join better players just as much as this generation did. Who didn’t want to load up and take down Russell and the Celtics?
Also, nobody was mad when Gilbert Arenas screwed over the Wizards. Or Rashard Lewis signed a deal Scottie Pippen would’ve been jealous about. Media and fans alike have never cried foul when a player has screwed over a team just so they could get paid. So why get mad when a player decides to forego the money for a chance to win. The financial opportunities that have opened up over the past few decades have helped NBA players tremendously. Also think about this. Owners basically owned players. They traded them as if they were POGs (90’s kid reference here), and didn’t care if a player was a cornerstone guy unless they were an incredible talent. Shoot, the player was the bad guy if they asked for a trade when it actually at times made complete sense.
You can get mad at these guys for not competing or flopping too much on the court. Get mad at them for making JR Smith like plays or off the court issues. But don’t get mad because this new generation is smarter than the last. You owe yourself a good product and they are providing just that. When was the NBA discussed year round and NBA free agency exciting? Exactly, and why?
Now don’t get me wrong, there are some pros and cons to player movement. Some obvious cons to this is the fact that teams could go from perennial playoff team to lottery team overnight. LeBron has caused this to happen a couple of times. Another con is the fact that franchises lose a face to their teams. League owners then do not have that driving force to sell tickets. For players, you could be the second or third option and that is tough to do when you have been the primary guy somewhere. Something else to consider is that it can lead to lopsidedness in quality. Some teams are super good and some are horrible. Finally as a player, you could lose a chance to make more money by staying with the current team you are with.
Pros to player movement are plenty as well. The player decides what happens to his career for the first time. Players do have more endorsement opportunities so money isn’t always the deciding factor. Dwyane Wade, Paul George, and LeBron James are a few players who have done just that. An opportunity to win is huge for these players as well. Some of these guys have been on losing teams and they want to win a playoff series, or championship. A lot of the guys who came into the league are alphas and are not used to losing every single year. Social media creates quite a stir, and is very active around NBA player movement. Woj bombs are dropping because these players are making things very interesting. Finally, I also believe the David vs Goliath theory holds a lot of weight around sports. If a team inferior to the Warriors brings them down, you better bet that there is going to be money made.