Traditionally, when an NBA player was signed or drafted by a team, they were likely to stick with that team until they weren’t wanted anymore. In recent years that has changed, now players have more power than ever when it comes to deciding who they play for and when .
This level of influence has been slowly progressing over many years, but it got a big nudge by LeBron James when he decided to go to the Miami Heat in 2010 as part of the “Big Three”. A super team formed by himself and two other all-star players, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade. Recently, Kevin Durant collaborated with Draymond Green of the Goldenstate Warriors in order to sign with the Warriors when he was a free agent. Kawhi Leonard, who was the San Antonio Spurs’ star player, demanded a trade after he became discontent with what he perceived to be a lack of care for his well-being by the coaches and training staff. Leonard even provided a list of teams he would like to be traded to. Kyrie Irving, who was the star point guard of the Cleveland Cavaliers, was able to force a trade to the Boston Celtics when he became unsatisfied with certain teammates (LeBron James). Then there is Jimmy Butler of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who has also demanded a trade and provided a list of teams he would like to be traded to. In light of all of these recent or pending moves, all of which were initiated by the players, it does certainly appear that players have a new level of control.
Of course, not just any player has this kind of influence. A third string shooting guard doesn’t have the same clout as the starting shooting does, and rightfully so. If absolutely all NBA players had this level of control, the league would be in a constant state of upheaval. Also, there have been past players that have forced a trade for some reason or another, but it wasn’t as common as it is today. Nor ever before were players communicating with each other about getting on teams together in an effort to win championships. The NBA players of the past seemed to have a mentality of wanting to beat each other for the title, rather than joining forces to win it.
Another aspect of control that some players have now is in regard to the offense and the way it is run. Perhaps the most obvious example is LeBron James. Each team he plays for runs their offense through him, meaning he shoots when he finds it prudent and he passes to whom he pleases. This is important because he gets the ball at the start of most possessions. Which means he decides who gets shots and who does not. This contrasts sharply with a more team oriented style of play. Good examples of team play would be the San Antonio Spurs and the Goldenstate Warriors. Their players are trained to pass the ball to whoever is open, with no regard for who it is. The open man gets the shot, period. This leads to no one player standing out far above the rest in terms of assists or points. There will still be someone with more assists than the rest or someone with more points, but the difference between them and the rest of the team won’t be as great. In a team that features a single player as the soul of the offense, that player will have a noticeable lead in points and assists. This makes the player appear significantly better than the rest of his team, but in truth, the stats are a simple byproduct of how the offense is run. It is important to understand the difference between the above mentioned methods of offense because it helps illustrate just how much control James has on his teams.
James has never been on a team that played selfless basketball. He doesn’t even know how to play in such a system. Which is one reason he forces his teams to play offense through him. He may also force this issue because it makes him look like a greater player in his quest to be considered better than Michael Jordan. That, however, is a subject for a different time.
Is this new level of control that many players have good for the league? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it can certainly be good for the players as they make the most of their brands and opportunities at winning championships. In the realm of professional sports much of what a player can do is rooted within his brand, and a brand can be strongly rooted in championships. I personally think they should have the chance to make the most of their careers. After all, you never know when that career might come to a crashing halt.