The New Era of the NBA

Jason Upton, Sports Editor

Two years ago, the NBA was an entirely different league. Paul George was still carrying the Pacers, Kyrie and LeBron still had the Cavs relevant, New Orleans was still hopeful in a future with Boogie Cousins and Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan was still playing with his best friend in Toronto, Kawhi was known as a non-dramatic player, the Clippers were known as Lob City, and Jimmy Butler was on a Bulls team whose chemistry was more fragile than Kristaps Porzingis’s knees. And now, it has been turned upside down by bolstered egos, higher salaries, and superteams. This is making the NBA a year round sport, but at the expense of exploiting the loyalty of the players.

The NBA is a business. That’s the response most executives and general managers give when confronted with their harsh trades. Take Isaiah Thomas, who came in fifth in the MVP voting in 2017. Thomas was traded that year in cold fashion in a package deal for superstar Kyrie Irving. Thomas played in Game 2 of the Celtics’ playoff game that year, a game that he played on his late sister’s birthday (she died less than a month before the game). Not one person would have a problem with him sitting out that game, but Thomas played through the pain and dropped 53 on the Wizards in a game the Celtics won in overtime. In addition, Thomas played for them on an injured hip throughout most of the playoffs. That hip has set Thomas out for the past year. If teams are open to trade anyone, especially under these circumstances, how can any player have trust in their organization? Can we blame Anthony Davis and Kristaps Porzingis for requesting trades?

Going back in time to the older NBA legends, many of them stayed with the same team for the duration of their careers. Stockton and Malone, Elgin, Jerry West, Havlicek, Bill Russell, Magic and Bird, Reggie Miller, David Robinson, McHale, the original Isiah Thomas. All are known and valued for the loyalty they had, an underrated aspect of their careers. Those characteristics are dying down in today’s NBA with Kobe, Duncan, and Dirk being the last shimmers of that kind.

So what kind of value can we place on players like Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, or Damian Lillard? Is their talent all we can consider, or should their loyalty to one singular team merit a special sort of appreciation? Getting a player to sign with your team that you can count on is a rare asset to have, as the Celtics have learned. Kyrie Irving gave his intent on re-signing back in October of last year, but a lot has changed since then. Irving is part of an underwhelming Celtics squad that has the talent, but not the chemistry. Now, Irving refuses to speak on free agency, saying “Well, at the end of the day, I’m going to do what I feel is best for my career.” In addition, when asked about his original commitment, he said “Ask me July 1 [the first day of free agency].”

The irony is real with the Celtics. Trading a loyal, fan-favorite player for a guy that is saying things that are causing people to question his ability to commit. This is just one example of how things are coming full-circle in the NBA.

Teams need to hold on to players they deem loyal. The Currys and the Lillards of the world are harder and harder to come by. This may be why Giannes is considered the most untradeable player in the NBA. Sure, he’s talented and young, but he has committed himself to staying with a small market team in the Bucks.

In two years, who knows where the NBA will be? KD will have probably left to the Knicks, AD will have most likely been traded, and no one knows what will happen with players like Klay, DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie, and Kawhi. It seems like the best thing to do now is just go along for the ride.