How Could NBA Teams and Players Fully Honor Their Contracts?


In the era of player empowerment, star players are being moved more frequently at a rate the NBA has never seen before.

And what led to the phrase “player empowerment” was this: when the front office traded a player, it was “doing what’s best for the team” but when a player decided to switch teams, it was “not being loyal to the team.”

Star players are looking out for themselves and their career, regardless of what the front office, fans and media think.

Speaking of fans, the excitement of receiving that “Woj bomb” from ESPN senior insider Adrian Wojnarowski or a tweet from The Athletic reporter, Shams Charania, announcing a trade or a star switching teams, is now a tradition during trade season.

The issue is that contracts are no longer honored by both sides. Front offices are constantly cutting ties with the player before the contract is completed. Some star players are not finishing their contract with their current team because they are unhappy with their situation and demand a trade.

Business decisions are being made.

One notable example of the front office failing to hold their end of the bargain came in January 2018. The Los Angeles Clippers traded Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons in a deal that also sent Tobias Harris to the Clippers.

Backtrack to six months earlier, Griffin and the Clippers agreed to a five-year, $173 million contract in the summer of June 2017. So, the Clippers essentially re-signed Griffin, only for them to trade him not even a full season in the new deal.

During the free agency process, the Clippers even pitched a vision of Griffin having his jersey raised in the rafters after he retired.

That’s how dirty this business can be.

Now, to the flip side of a star player deciding to end their contract prematurely. In the summer of 2018, Paul George agreed to stay in Oklahoma City on a new four-year, $137 million contract.

George would follow up his first season under the new contract with a career highs in points per game (28.0), in rebounds per game (8.2), and led the league in steals per game (2.2). George finished third in MVP voting that season.

The Thunder ended the 2018-2019 with a disappointing first round exit to the Portland Trail Blazers.

In the summer of 2019, George saw that the Thunder had hit their ceiling and requested a trade to the Clippers. George re-signed on a four-year deal, just for him to depart the team only one year into the contract.

On what was suppose to keep the Thunder in playoff contention, George did not honor the contract and forced the Thunder to move on.

Conversely, there have been relationships where both sides agreed to move on and had an amicable breakup.

In 2022, Blazers traded C.J. McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans in return for Josh Hart and other assets. At the time of the trade, McCollum was in the second year of a three-year contract extension that was worth $100 million.

After nine and a half years together, the breakup ended smoothly and both sides ended on good terms.

In his article for the Players’ Tribune, McCollum said that he was well aware that the Blazers were going to trade him prior to the trade being announced. McCollum and the Blazers parted ways and there was no bad blood between the two parties.

Solution to Maximize Contract Values

The value of the contract significantly lessens when one party decides not to honor the deal.

Here’s a potential solution to maximize the value of contracts.

To keep excitement of trades for fans, players must enter the final year of their contract before they can seek a trade or the team can look to trade them.

Now, include the factors of team options and player options that are typically included in the final year of the deal.

If a contract includes a player option and the player opts in to the final year, the front office can trade the player and receive something in return before the player potentially departs the team in the following offseason when the contract expires.

If the player opts out of the final year, then they can enter free agency or perhaps sign a new deal with their current team.

If a contract includes a team option and the team picks up the option, the player can request a trade and because of the growth of player empowerment, the front office must trade the player before the deadline.

If the the team declines the option in the final year, then the player enters free agency.

Simply put, players cannot ask for a trade nor can the front office trade until entering the final year of the deal.

Contracts would be honored.

Enforcing contracts to be honored can lead to star players agreeing to shorter contracts because in today’s era, neither side is committed to a five-year deal.

Fans value basketball as entertainment, while the league value basketball as a business.

About Mac Pham

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