CHARLOTTE — Adam Silver hopes to see greater discretion from NBA players when they request a trade.
The NBA commissioner delivered his annual All-Star Weekend address Saturday at Spectrum Center, taking questions on the Anthony Davis situation, tampering and competitive balance. While Silver expressed confidence that his league can “investigate and potentially prosecute” tampering allegations, he acknowledged his limited authority to squelch high-profile and controversial situations such as Davis’s decision to publicly request a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans in January.
“I don’t like trade demands, and I wish they didn’t come,” Silver said. “I wish all those matters were handled behind closed doors. . . . I think we could do a better job as a league in avoiding those situations that get to the point where players are demanding to be traded or, in a worst-case scenario, saying they won’t honor their contract.”
In response to comments by Davis’s agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, Silver issued a $50,000 fine. Silver said that he fined Davis because the request came in such a public and direct manner but added that he didn’t want to become an authoritarian on the issue because a heavy-handed approach probably wouldn’t be effective.
“Nobody who is part of the NBA wants to live in a police state,” he said. “Trade demands are nothing new in this league. Some of the greatest players in history have demanded trades. Having said that, no one likes to see an instance where a player is demanding that he be traded when he still is in the middle of a contractual obligation to a team. That’s one reason, in the most recent case, I fined the player. I recognize that there’s very little I’m going to do to ever stop that completely.”
The commissioner added that, while trade rumors and free agency buzz generate enormous media and fan interest, his league isn’t seeking that type of attention.
“It’s perfectly appropriate that [trade request] conversations take place behind closed doors,” he said. “When they make a public spectacle of it, [there is] enormous media interest . . . but that’s not the kind of media interest we’re looking for.”
During recent collective bargaining agreement negotiations, the NBA shortened player contracts in an effort to more closely align performance with pay and prevent teams from being held up by overly expensive contracts for declining or injured players. Silver said that those structural changes have led to an environment where 40 percent of NBA players will be free agents this summer.
With so much player movement, it’s natural that a star — even one on a long deal — would be more proactive in seeking a change of scenery. The NBA had hoped to combat this trend by giving teams the option to negotiate lucrative extensions before players hit free agency, but that hasn’t worked as expected.
In Davis’s case, the focus was this summer — his last before he could enter free agency in 2020 — and he would chose between accepting a contract extension from the Pelicans or potentially being traded. Instead, Davis and Paul attempted to fast-track the process by requesting to be moved before the Feb. 7 trade deadline.
“I think everyone recognized in the case of the Pelicans that the pivotal time was this summer,” Silver said. “Either he was going to make a commitment to the organization, or they were likely going to trade him. The difference is you don’t want to see that play out publicly. Here there was a trade demand, and it creates a very awkward position between the team and the player. . . . There’s the law of unintended consequences, and it hasn’t worked as precisely as we had planned.”
The fear is that Davis’s approach will become the new standard, and that superstar players will be increasingly assertive in pressing their organizations to move them to higher-profile teams or bigger markets well before their contracts end. Silver said that he wasn’t convinced that early trade demands have negatively affected the league’s competitive balance and pointed out that three prestigious big-market clubs — the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks — missed the 2018 playoffs.
“Whether an early trade demand has an impact on competitive balance, I’m not sure,” Silver concluded. “I think we’ve got to continue to look at the issue. ... But I don’t want to defend the system as smoothly operating. It’s an area where we can do better. It’s something we have to sit down with the [National Basketball Players Association] . . . and say, ‘How can we create the best competitive system for 30 teams?’ ”
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