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An anonymous NBA GM spoke with Isaac Chotiner of The New Yorker to explain why player empowerment is the worst thing to happen to professional sports. He’s probably right.
“Player empowerment is a catchall for the fact that the league has done a terrible job of empowering teams. The players have all of the leverage in every situation. I think it’s the worst thing that ever happened to professional sports on all levels.”
LeBron unapologetic about “The Decision”, believes it helped athletes take control of their careers https://t.co/sAWnE6K32B— Sportando (@Sportando) May 31, 2021
Of course, this GM feels this way because control has shifted towards players ever since LeBron’s infamous “decision.” That’s fair — yet we should still recognize why this happened. At the time, the roster around LeBron wasn’t getting any better, so he believed the only way he could improve his chances of a championship was to leave. Plenty basketball fans compared that move to Michael Jordan staying put and losing to Detroit until Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman came along. But what if those players never made their way to Chicago? Does MJ pack his bags for the Lakers or somewhere else? It’s a hypothetical question we’ll never know the answer to because the Bulls never pushed him that far.
But back to this GM’s point that player empowerment is the worst thing to happen to professional sports — he’s right. It stinks that every star athlete who struggles to win immediately packs his bags for the greener grass on the other side. The ole “it’s not me, it’s this team” excuse.
Ultimately, no GM or team owner can convince anyone to stay. It’s just a big game of musical chairs, and it’s costing the league fan interest. Fans who used to cheer for the NBA have no clue who’ll be on the team come next year because of all the roster turnover. It’s a joke.
What’s the fix?
The NBA already has financial penalties in place for leaving an organization after your five years under a rookie contract. Those max contracts diminish significantly, yet it seems players don’t care. They’d rather win and build their brand earning less money than sign with a bad franchise for more guaranteed money.
These agents are convincing them that winning is the best path to money, and that mindset is destroying basketball. Now everyone cares more about their brand than their team. That’s never going to help the product of a league.
Did LeBron’s decision ruin the NBA? In a way, yeah. It showed players that sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side. LeBron went to Miami and finally won his coveted championship — twice. He got what he wanted. Now, every player thinks he’s one decision away from immortality.
But it’s worth mentioning that if LeBron didn’t do this, someone else would have at some point. Players in the past like Kevin Garnett and Charles Barkley used the trade market to their advantage. LeBron James just did it a bit differently, and the league has paid for it. Will commissioner Adam Silver do something about this? Don’t count on it — super teams pay the bills come playoff time. They always have.
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The top end guys can take less on a max contract. In 2020 Steph made 44 million on endorsements alone.
Is that a lot of money?
Depends before or after taxes
In California or New York, no. In Florida, Texas, Virginia (at least for now), Tennessee and a few other states yes.
I’d like to have it for research purposes of course.
Used to call it the inmates running the asylum
Can’t argue against this at all. 100% correct and it extends far beyond just them leaving teams as well
One correction: The super teams *used* to pay the bills. Now, people are tuning out so that may no longer be true.
To be more precise, the super teams are paying the largest fraction of the bills. You’re right, the pie is getting smaller.
lebron has ruined the NBA in more ways than one. Haven’t watched since 2019 and frankly thought I would miss it but I don’t.
The Jordan comparison here is irrelevant and distracts from the actual issue. Cleveland did everything wrong and then blamed LeBron for it (and I think LeBron is the most overrated player in NBA history and it isn’t close). It wasn’t that they didn’t build a winner around LeBron, it’s that they gave operating control of the team to LeBron while he was playing there, and he was a TERRIBLE GM. And once that power is given away, you’ve already proven completely inept as a franchise (otherwise why are you asking a basketball player who’s 23 years old with zero life experience who barely understands the NBA to make personnel decisions), so who in their right mind would stay? LeBron should be trashed for a lot of reasons, leaving the worst run franchise in professional sports isn’t one of them. And today’s bad NBA franchises learned exactly the wrong lessons from what happened with LeBron (sounds a lot like politics). Instead of realizing the issue was they gave him TOO much power, rather than maintaining separation of powers and allowing each function to do it’s job (GM, President, Coach, Players), they’ve all convinced themselves the solution is to give the players MORE power, and look where it’s gotten us? you would struggle to name 10 NBA franchises that are “well run,” and it’s because they’ve all forgotten that great organizations create great teams (See Jordan, Michael and the Bulls – you can hate Kraus, but the guy was a genius). We’ll get back there, but it’s going to be a slow painful slog to get back there (welcome back to the NBA in the early 00’s) and it’s going to require a new generation of NBA leadership more concerned with building sustainable organizations than chasing shiny objects and a new generation of NBA players who WANT to be coached, want to be developed, and want to build a legacy within an organization (when Steph retires, it’s going to be celebrated a LOT more than when LeBron retires… who even knows what team is supposed to claim, much less care about LeBron, at this point)
This is the problem with unions and syndicalism in general. The workers essentially create a mafia and control the means of production. They collude, strike, engage in mutiny when they have to do something they don’t want for the fan or club. In short, there are not incentivized to create the best product for the fans(consumer,), or do right by the club, but instead they do whats best for themselves and their cronies. This always creates an inferior product and inferior customer service because the needs of the fans aren’t priority but its the player.
What they fail to see is the player only really exists because of the fan.
Thus we now have an NBA which is pretty much a WWE sideshow that is almost staged. There is little parity in the game and its 1-4 megateams in contention every years. Big players taking nights off and doing just enough to back into the playoffs. It’s not a great product.
But it will always have its diehard base who stick with it much like WWE.
It’s also part of the problem with public schools. Teachers in unions put their individual interests before students.
Exactly right. The product ultimately suffers. These guys get a lot of money because of the revenue coming in from the fans. As more eyes look away from the sport, the well will dry up. Sure, they will have some fans, but the money they make will decrease substantially. Then the players can thank LeBron.
Recently, Durant and LeBron said they didn’t need certain fans. Let’s see if the next generation feels the same or will they beg for fans when the money dries up.
99% of fans think “players” make too much $$$$ “for playing a game” for a living. Yet no owner has ever gone bankrupt for paying those high salaries. … Is that because the owners simply pass the cost on to fans with high ticket prices ??? … IF fans really are turning away in droves that could create problems with the leagues’ pass long economy …
I like that players care more about winning than money. What I don’t like is that top players seem not to care about beating each other and only want to put together their own version of 1992 Team USA v. the world.
NBA is Dead for a lot of reasons.
The “Super Teams” help kill it and I don’t think the TV ratings are coming back anytime soon. They will survive as long as they do what their Chinese Taskmasters tell them to do.
Be honest, LeBron James is diminishing, has diminished, the league. Sure, he’s raking in the money, but he’s brought the league down and he doesn’t care. It’s now back to a second tear sport…leaving football all alone. And politics and diva qbs is working on the NFL.
It is what it is and there’s no need to over analyze or over think this. Lebron single handedly killed the NBA.
I think it’s fair to say Magic, Bird and Jordan grew the league. LeBron shrunk it.
It makes one wonder why even bother naming the teams? You just follow players, and see how many rings they can amass, not the team. It’s almost like tennis doubles or beach volleyball, instead of a real team sport.
The best thing to happen to the NBA is the fans buttoning up their wallets and telling the empowered punks to take a hike. No one cares about the NBA. They should move the franchise to China and be closer with their overlords. SJW indeed, slaves make their gear, they make millions. The freedom loving people in Hong Kong are told to stick it. Fuck the empowered sissy punk ball bouncers. To hell with them all. America Matters.
NBA is in trouble. The hard core fans will stay but many casual fans have faded away. I’ll watch a game or a half every once in a while but I’m not going out of my way to tune in.
Two biggest problems are level of competition & politics. The regular season is largely boring. Lot of big name players sitting on “load management” and too many teams make the playoffs for how many games they play. On top of that it seems most people already know only 3-4 teams have a realistic chance at a championship. Throw in terrible defense, 3-balls every play, fouls called on everything… an overall shitty product compared to the mid-2000’s.
Easiest fix is the politics. If they could just distance themselves from the social justice bullshit it would do them wonders. I don’t need people I watch in movies to be “more than an actor”. Just act, bitch. Players are paid to entertain people. Nothing more, nothing less.
That’s right. I have played in pick up games that are better quality basketball than the NBA. I stopped watching about 5 years ago because of the quality of play. Add in the politics now and it is dead to me. Social media is to blame. People like LeBron think they are smart because of his sycophant followers who like his dumb ass tweets. Kyrie Irving thinks the earth is flat for goodness sakes, but he wants to lecture us on race relations. It is a joke.
Gary, interesting you use Barkley and Garnett as examples using the trade market to their advantage. Barkley did eventually force his way out, but never did win a ring because of Jordan. As for Garnett, he actually had to be convinced to agree to a trade to leave the Wolves to go to Boston. His loyalty to Minnesota nearly cost him a ring with the Celtics.
Hey Gary. I tend to agree with the thesis. The NBA has a severe competition problem.
The NBA is the only league whose championship is decided in the offseason.
When three buddies Kevin Durant, Kyrie and James Harden all text eachother in the off-season and decide to play with eachother instead of •compete against• How is that interesting?
Players rest and take games off during the season followed by an entirely non-suspenseful postseason. The Nets are going to roll and everybody already knew that. Zzzzzzz’
Gary, enjoy your writing but one minor criticism of this article. The second half you title it “What’s the Fix?” yet you only mention the one thing the NBA has tried, and not any potenital fixes. Would have been a much better article if the GM had been prompted for potential fixes, or if you had a few suggestions that other insiders might have thought of. Course the problem might be that there are none.
If I didn’t list a fix, then that’s because there is none. The entire first half of the article explains why. Thanks for reading.
Gary, Enjoy your writing. You are mistaken with Kevin Garnett. He did not want to leave the Timberwolves. He did not force the trade. The Celtics gave up a stock pile to get him. They also needed Pierce and Allen to convince him to join them. Ray Allen was traded for also. It was all part of Danny Ainge’s plan. That is how it should be done. It stinks that players now run everything in the league. The fans get left behind. Keep up the great work.