NBA Trade Demands Part Three – Leveling The Playing Field

Alex Bab

Welcome back to our examination of NBA trade demands!

In part one, we examined how trade demands are not inherently selfish but rather depend upon the context of the demand. In part two, we looked at how trade demands were traditionally portrayed by the media and how that narrative is being changed by social media and other avenues.

But we still have to look at the other major issue, which is the uneven playing field that exists between players and teams when it comes to trades and trade demands.

The whole idea for this piece started when Draymond Green spoke out on the Cleveland Cavaliers/Andre Drummond situation. In a nutshell, Green was calling out the double-standard that when a player publicly requests a trade, they can be heavily fined by the NBA. But when a team decides to suddenly trade a player, or sit one prior to a trade (like Drummond) they’re essentially free to go unchecked.

For the record, I believe Green is absolutely correct. There is a double-standard and it needs to change.

In part one we discussed Anthony Davis’ public request to be traded from the New Orleans Pelicans in 2019. After making the request, the NBA fined Davis 50,000 dollars.

In early 2020, Dewayne Dedmon told the Sacramento Bee that he would like to be traded to a different team. He received the same fine as Davis.

Look, I know NBA players make an obscene amount of money. But $50,000 for saying you want to switch jobs is absurd. It is in the current collective bargaining agreement that players cannot publicly request trades, but the penalty is too high.

It looks even worse when you look at how teams can treat players and suffer no repercussions.

We have the current Drummond situation as one example. He is being paid by the Cavaliers to play basketball but they have decided he is not part of their long term plans. So they have elected to hold him out of games, presumably to prevent an injury that would lower his trade value.

While wanting to prevent an injury is understandable, how is it acceptable that a team can do that but if a player simply expresses the desire to be traded he can be fined large sums of money?

It’s a complete double-standard to be sure, but it goes further than that.

We’ve heard and seen the unceremonious ways players have been suddenly traded. For example, in 2017 DeMarcus Cousins found out he had been traded from the Sacramento Kings to the New Orleans Pelicans while he was giving his press conference after the All-Star game.

So Cousins had just finished playing in what should be an NBA celebration, was trying to enjoy the moment, and was then told that he would have to relocate his whole life.

Yes, NBA players make a lot of money. Yes, there’s some things that come with the territory. But to find out like that is just flat out rude and disrespectful.

What penalty did the Kings face for this breach of decorum? You guessed it, absolutely nothing.

But I think one of the most egregious examples of poor treatment of players by teams happened to Blake Griffin between 2017 and 2018.

In the summer of 2017 Griffin was a free agent. According to reports, the Los Angeles Clippers convinced Griffin to resign with them by telling him he would be “A Clipper for Life.”

How did the Clippers make good on these promises? They traded Griffin to the Detroit Pistons the following January.

So a team can make promises but as soon as they decide you aren’t part of the long term plan, they can just break those promises and do whatever they want. But if a player signs a contract and even suggests they don’t see the team as part of their long term plan, they are fined and portrayed as problematic.

Calvin Fong of Clutch Points summed it up perfectly in a 2019 article:

“If teams are allowed to build their title-contending team by whatever means necessary, shouldn’t players also be allowed to pursue championships by whatever means necessary? The media and fans often compare all-time greats by how many rings they have. And in doing so, they have inadvertently created a culture where players do whatever they can to win a ring.”

This is the double-standard Draymond Green was alluding to. I may have a solution.

Now, I’m by no means an expert on the intricacies of NBA contracts. But maybe the answer doesn’t require a doctorate in trade negotiations, just some common sense.

I see a lot of fans saying players with no-trade clauses in their contracts don’t have to worry about this, so maybe more players should try to get them. After doing some research, I don’t think most people realize how rare a no-trade clause is.

To even be eligible to discuss getting a no-trade clause, a player must have at least eight years of NBA experience and have been with their current team for at least four years. That makes getting a no-trade clause next to impossible. And if every player had one, teams would be unable to operate with any flexibility. We can’t overcorrect and create a new issue.

My solution is simple. Hold teams equally accountable.

Whenever a player is negotiating a contract with a team, there should be an independent arbitrator who observes and records everything that is discussed in those meetings. That’s step one.

Step two comes in when two criteria come into play. One: either a player requests a trade or a team trades a player, and two: less than 50% of that player’s contact has been fulfilled. When both of those criteria occur, the league consults the independent arbitrator prior to accepting the trade or doling out fines to players. Fines can be waived if it is determined the player is justified in their request and additionally (and this is the key part to this) the team can be penalized if it is determined they negotiated in bad faith.

Let’s look at the Griffin situation as an example. We already established what the Clippers reportedly promised him. The contract he wound up signing was for five years and he was traded a mere seven months later.

So we have both of our criteria: Griffin was traded and less than 50% of his contact (which in this case would be two and a half years) had been fulfilled.

Using my proposed solution, an independent arbitrator would have been present during the contract negotiations. They would be consulted while the trade awaited league approval. Presumably, the ruling would be that the Clippers acted in bad faith by selling on Griffin on being a “Clipper for life” only to ship him off to cold Detroit a few months later.

Based on this, the Clippers would face punishment. This would include a fine, though that won’t be much of a deterrent. The real punishment would be forfeiting the team’s next first round draft pick.

THAT would make teams think twice about what they use as selling points during negotiation. Additionally, the player involved (Griffin in this example), can still choose to accept the trade. Even if the player accepts the trade, the original team still faces the punishment.

This would level the playing field between players and teams. Additionally, players can still be fined for publicly requesting a trade, but only if the arbitrator deems the fine appropriate.

So hypothetically, let’s say when Bradley Beal signed an extension with the Washington Wizards in 2020, part of what they promised him was that they would keep him and John Wall together. Now let’s say Beal publicly requested a trade today. The league would be unable to fine Beal as the Wizards would have not held up their end of the deal in this scenario, as Wall has been traded.

But, if a player requests a trade and the arbitrator finds that the team has fully upheld their end of the agreement, the player can still be fined. Under this criteria, Paul George should have been fined when he requested a trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder.

And keep in mind, this only comes into play if less than 50% of the contract has been fulfilled. If a player requests a trade on year three of a four year deal, there will be no fine levied. Of course, the team is still under no obligation to honor the demand.

I chose 50% because it wouldn’t be fair to team or player to expect them to predict the future. Organizations’ plans change as do those of players. After half the length of a contact I feel it is fair to afford teams increased maneuverability, but at the same time players shouldn’t be fined for merely speaking their opinions.

So, my solution holds teams accountable for their practices while also still keeping players accountable. But it also eliminates blanket punishments for players and requires each situation to be carefully examined and ruled upon.

Because, unsurprisingly, I’m emphasizing the importance of context.

This change won’t and likely can’t happen quickly. Teams will fight against it tooth and nail, because the current system heavily tips the scales in their favor. They are given excessive freedom to operate free of consequence, while players face punishment for simply expressing their own desires.

Keep in mind, players are punished for stating they want a trade. They can’t make the trade happen. But teams have the power to promise a player one thing and do the opposite, and that power is unchecked.

The balance will eventually tip to a more level field. Maybe my solution isn’t perfect but I believe someday this solution will exist in some form.

I know some will say ownership will never allow this to happen. But remember, the narrative is changing. Players have more of a voice and influence in the media and that trend is not going to suddenly reverse itself. That movement will get stronger.

As their voices are amplified, others will take notice. If a team negotiates in bad faith like the Clippers did with Griffin, eventually they will earn a reputation among players and coveted free agents will no longer entertain meetings with those teams.

Fans will notice, too. If a team continues to behave in such ways as I’ve outlined here, players like Draymond Green will continue to speak out. It becomes an ugly business then. When that happens, ticket sales drop. And that’s when the door opens to potential changes like the one I’m suggesting.

As usual, to enact change, target the wallet.

If my solution, or one like it, were ever adopted, it would change a lot about the negotiation landscape. Theoretically, it would eventually lead to a significant decrease in trade demands, as the dialogue between player and team would be incentivized to be more open and honest.

And then we can just get down to the business of playing basketball.

 

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