Is the age of loyalty over for NBA stars?
Magic, Bird, Russell, Isiah, Miller, Stockton, Duncan, Dirk, Kobe. These are just a few NBA franchise players, who stayed on their respective organizations throughout the entirety of their careers. As we have progressed to the modern game, the importance of staying with the franchise that drafted you has greatly diminished. Nowadays, the hunger for a championship ring by moving teams has never been more sought after, perhaps in part because Kevin Durant successfully completed a 1 year transition to a new team and an NBA title to his name. That said, what has become commonplace for our NBA stars/superstars, has not only eliminated the level of competition in the game, but destroyed a lot of the hope for a smaller market organization to legitimately compete for an NBA title.
Over the last week of free agency madness we’ve all been exposed to, we have seen multiple star players, who were the faces of their franchises I might add, move teams. However, not all of these transitions have occurred with regard to the player’s personal desire, as witnessed by the Jimmy Butler trade on the 2017 draft night. Jimmy may have gone down as one of those franchise players who went on to be the face of the Chicago Bulls for 10+ years, but now we’ll never know. Butler was actually quoted as saying,
“I guess being called the face of an organization isn’t as good as I thought.”
That alone, makes it clear that it’s not just the players who are stopping themselves from playing the totality of their careers in one city.
Perhaps the conclusion we must ultimately come to is that there has to be a little bit of luck involved in a particular player’s situation, in order for him to stay the franchise player, regardless of the market size. By luck, I mean the combination of being a consistently great player, wanting to stay on the organization they were drafted by(through thick and thin), and having a management group around them who believes that individual is not only an integral part of winning, but also a player who grows the brand of that franchise. The Mavericks, for example, will always be synonymous with Dirk Nowitzki, at least in my eyes. Now, you can make the argument that not every player who stays with one franchise as long as Dirk did will be that connected to one organization, but being on one team seems to add to these player’s greatness(particularly if they win a championship).
The story of this off season has really become a matter of building teams with other great players, and maybe that’s just a phase the league is going through. Obviously we saw the trade that sent Butler to the T-Wolves, but Paul Millsap will be joining the Nuggets, Paul George joining Westbrook and the Thunder, CP3 to Houston with Harden, and now Hayward to the Celtics with Isaiah and company. By the way, Carmelo Anthony will likely be added to this list, via the Rockets or Cavaliers.
So, is the age of loyalty for NBA stars/superstars over? I’ll answer that with another question: Was there ever an age of loyalty in the first place? Because in all honesty, it really just depends who you ask. Kevin Durant has been torn apart by fans, analysts and former players across the country, for choosing to play for Golden State after 9 years in OKC. For me personally, I feel no sympathy for OKC given my history as a Sonics fan, so 9 years in one city while putting that city on the map absolutely spells loyalty in my eyes. Hayward should be scrutinized just as badly as Durant was, especially given the fact that Durant brought a lot more success with him in OKC than Hayward did in Utah. Durant brought Oklahoma notoriety, a Finals appearance that was probably premature, and multiple Western Conference Finals appearances in a hurry. There’s just so many interpretations of what really is loyalty in the NBA, and to be honest, I’m starting to think that the players I listed at the top of this article are just anomalies. It’s so rare for one star player to stay with one franchise his entire career, that although fans of the Bulls, Pacers, Jazz and Clippers maybe frustrated at losing their franchise faces, they have to realize that this is only natural for what is happening in this league. Maybe players are losing loyalty and chasing championship rings, but being a great player and still wanting to stay in one city doesn’t guarantee you a future there. Heck, just ask Jimmy Butler.