Time for another edition of the Blazer's Edge Mailbag! Today's topic was repeated multiple times over the last couple weeks of e-mail. A representative sample is below. If you have questions relating to the Portland Trail Blazers, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kevin Durant to Golden State? That's a betrayal of the whole league and an affront to basketball itself. This shouldn't be allowed to go through. What are your thoughts on how free agency might be ruining the league? OKC is in shambles now of course. Doesn't he have a conscience?
So wait a second, Durant is an MVP candidate (in his prime) and he just signed with the team who had the best win record in the history of the league? How is this good for the league? And while I am at it, how is this more passable than Chris Paul signing with the Lakers a few years back? Gasol, West? Should there be an offensive bandwagoning rule in the league?
Adam Silver recently said kd moving to the warriors was bad for the nba. Do you agree? How bad do you see it as?
I was off last week so I didn't get a chance to address this topic. As you can see, it's generating a lot of angst!
Free agency is called "free agency" because it's FREE. Players don't get the right to choose their teams early in their careers. First-round picks have to serve out the terms of their rookie contracts, up to five years if their drafting team wishes. If they want to become an unrestricted free agent after that span, they have to bear the risk of playing through a single-year qualifying offer from the team that owns their rights. If they suffer a career-ending injury during that season, that's it. They don't make a dollar more from their NBA tenure...only the relatively paltry amount their rookie-scale contract offered. If they're not willing to take that risk (or, as commonly happens, are fine with their original team) restricted free agency is their only option. They get to field offers from 29 other teams but their franchise of origin has the right to match, sewing them up for another few years on top of the rookie deal. Most players of note end up serving at least seven years with the team that drafted them before they get to choose anything.
That's seven years of service in a league where a decade of quality play is the mark of true talent and anything more signifies greatness. How much longer do you want these guys to wait? They don't get to come back at 45 for a career renaissance. Cementing them in place until they're 30 eats up their entire prime, at minimum. Tying them to a sub-standard team for that long would rob them of the chance to make the most of their ability.
Players deserve rights. You cannot take the greatest talents of their age and bind them to a career wholly beyond their control. Drafting teams can't be left in the lurch early, but after a certain point keeping employees in place involuntarily becomes indentured servitude. That's a worse offense than a player making choices other people don't like. They're choices. If you can only go one way, they don't count.
The idea that Kevin Durant or any player has "betrayed" their team, the league, or the sport by leaving a team strikes me as unpalatable. Failure to live up to the terms of your deal is betrayal. Not producing to the peak of your ability and not giving full effort to the team that signed you are betrayals. Damaging the franchise's brand and reputation by your actions while under contract is a betrayal. Fulfilling the terms of your contract admirably then choosing to sign a different one after it's completed is not a betrayal in any way. A player does not owe his team a thing once the clock expires on the agreement between them. Suggesting differently would be just as silly as saying that a team should re-sign a player who hasn't produced or suffered a debilitating injury that rendered them unable to play. Fans are generally glad to say goodbye to players they don't see helping the team. Players should be able to bid farewell to teams in the same way.
As a side note, I find the trend of down-talking players--particularly star players--after their departure far more disturbing and betraying than the player leaving. It seems like once a player chooses another team, all the dirty laundry comes out about how cranky he was. Actions and contributions deemed important and selfless when he wore the uniform get downplayed or recast as selfish. This is reprehensible. If something is important enough to say, it should be said at the time it happens. Going back later and besmirching a player's character or tenure once he's gone (when the besmirching party not only doesn't have to face the player in question, but gets lauded by all the sour grapes people for tearing him down) is the definition of chicken you-know-what.
Frankly, I wish Durant had re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder. That's not just sentimentality for stars staying with their teams. I wanted to see him team with the backcourt of Victor Oladipo and Russell Westbrook, plus the versatile frontcourt of Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, and Domantas Sabonis. The combination of size and versatility up front and defense among the guards would have been something to behold.
Even with that personal bias, I understand and support Durant's decision to sign with the Golden State Warriors. His choice wasn't accidental. Golden State earned the right to a sit-down with him through their play and the way they structured their franchise. Winning, a strong brand, and cap manipulation speak loudly in the modern NBA. The Warriors have all three. If Durant felt that playing in the Bay Area gave him the best chance to win and solidify his personal brand, of course he'd sign there. If any of the other teams had matched Golden State's accomplishments and available cash, they'd have gotten an interview with him too. All other 29 sets of fans--including those in Oklahoma City--should be looking to their own front offices for explanations rather than disparaging Durant.
Some will respond to that assertion by talking about "superstars" and legacies. I understand the talk, but from Durant's point of view the relationship between him and the people making those arguments is not reciprocal. How many dollars do the people applying those labels put in his pocket? Zero. They make a living off of labeling him; he does not make a living off of those labels. Why should he pay attention to them when making career decisions?
No matter what anybody calls him, Kevin Durant is one of the best players in his generation. He's capable of transforming a franchise along with the best players in league history. Nobody can give that to him or take it away no matter where he plays. Any argument beyond that is specious. "Superstars don't do that" makes no sense. Durant is a superstar and he just did it.
Finally, let's address what the Commissioner said. First off, Durant's situation is not comparable to Chris Paul's. David Stern had the power to veto Paul going to the Los Angeles Lakers because the league technically owned the New Orleans franchise at the time, Adam Silver does not have the power to veto otherwise-legal signings under the Collective Bargaining Agreement even if he believes they're ill-advised from a league standpoint.
I believe Commissioner Silver would have claimed that the league being dominated by a pair of "superteams" was bad under any circumstances. His role so far has been a mouthpiece for the common fan. His assertion fits that pattern and he likely believes that the perspective has validity. Nevertheless, we should take the statement with a small grain of salt. If the powerhouse team in the East played in New York City and the powerhouse team in the West wore purple and gold, the Commissioner might make the same claim but it'd hold much less force. Dominant teams are only "bad for the league" when they're in non-marquee cities like Oakland and Cleveland. Otherwise the NBA and everyone involved in it would bemoan the lack of parity while enjoying rating boosts and raking in dollars.
No opposing team should be happy that one team cornered the market on Western Conference superstars this summer while another is monopolizing LeBron James. But non-marquee fan bases should at least appreciate that building a championship-level team is possible. Parity doesn't mean every team is equal at all times, it means that all teams have roughly equal opportunities. If the league moves to stop what Golden State and Cleveland have done, smaller-market teams should view it as a punishing a couple of franchises who finally made it out of obscurity. They should also question whether the same measures would be taken had the Knicks and Lakers accomplished the same or whether it simply would have been chalked up to "superior decision-making" by "superior teams".
Like most of you, I wasn't happy when Durant joined the Warriors. Even so, I am happy that he had the right to do so and I'd object strongly to anything getting in the way of that. The problem, if there is one, will correct itself in another cycle. The implications of trying to limit or correct the issue are far worse than just playing out the string and seeing if the Warriors can live up to their supposed potential. This is still a sport. Nothing is guaranteed. Let the situation play itself out and see what happens.
Don't forget to send your questions to email@example.com! The off-season is a great time to get wacky topics addressed, so don't hold back! And thanks to everyone who wrote in with Durant concerns. I hope I wasn't too hard on you!