It’s October 13th, and the Golden State Warriors are preparing for a matchup with the Denver Nuggets. Notoriously outspoken forward Draymond Green is talking to the press about the recent criticisms of Kevin Durant, most notably by former Celtic Paul Pierce.
In trademark Green fashion, he doesn’t hold back. He jumps right into it, stating that no one cares what the 10-time NBA All-Star did or who he did it for. He goes on to compare Durant’s former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, to Apple, the tech giant. He likens the move to an executive leaving the company to go to Google:
“Aren’t they in competition with each other? Nobody talks junk about the CEO who leaves Apple and goes to Google. As a basketball player, you are the CEO of a business. You are a business. Kevin Durant is a big business. He is the CEO of that business. So him going to play basketball for a different team … The CEO decided to leave where he was at and go somewhere else.”
In calling out Pierce, Green unknowingly touches on a much bigger issue: is loyalty in the NBA even a reality anymore?
When posing such a question, one must examine what loyalty even means in the NBA.
Firstly, there is the loyalty on the part of a player to a franchise. This often manifests in the form of fandom. That’s the connection you and I feel with our favorite players. I mean, if Isaiah Thomas ever left the Celtics, I would RIOT.
With that being said, he probably will leave eventually. In a league of increasingly high salaries and super teams, it’s just not realistic for a player to spend his entire career with one franchise. The NBA lifer is a dying breed: Kobe retired, Duncan retired, and there is no doubt Dirk Nowitzki will soon follow suit.
I would like to think fans are fairly understanding of this. In 2013, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded to the Nets to the tune of minimal criticism and, in some cases, even gratitude. Granted, the Celtics were no longer considered title contenders after being dismantled by the Knicks in the first round of the previous postseason. The Big Three were broken up, the Celtics acquired three first-round draft picks, and all was pretty friendly in Boston. No hurt feelings.
The really questionable calls tend to occur when players leave teams on their own accord. Kevin Durant is an excellent example. He left the team when it seemed they were poised to succeed, and therefore will bear the blame for their current failures for the rest of his career.
Yet, KD is not the first to bite the hand that feeds. Stephon Marbury left a fairly skilled Timberwolves team in 1999 when he refused to sign a contract renewal; Karl Malone went ring chasing for his final season, leaving John Stockton in Utah as he joined the Lakers; Vince Carter’s last season in Toronto … The list goes on and on.
However, the biggest player-on-franchise betrayal pre-KD came in July 2010. It was just seven words, but it shattered a franchise: “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.”
The departure of a young LeBron James to the Miami Heat almost ripped the city of Cleveland in two. It was only remedied two titles and four years later, when the superstar decided to come home. The conclusion of him bringing a title to Cleveland last season pretty much smoothed over any last lingering feelings of betrayal.
That leaves us with Kevin Durant—young, extremely talented, and poised for a season with equally skilled floormates. It’s hard to question his decision if you think about it from his perspective. Yet, fans remain distraught.
With that intensely personal aspect of basketball loyalty in mind, one has to now look to the front office side of things. Though players receive lots of flack, the front office continues to enjoy a double standard when it comes to loyalty.
Just this year, Lance Stephenson was cut from the Pelicans after suffering a groin injury that would keep him out for 6–10 weeks. Instead of sticking with him, the Pelicans released him shortly after. There was minimal reaction from fans.
Mario Chalmers ruptured his Achilles tendon last year on March 10th. Despite the proximity to the end of the season, the Grizzlies proceeded to waive him.
With that being said, neither Stephenson or Chalmers are superstars. So what happens when a franchise leaves one of their marquee players out to dry?
One only has to look to Dwayne Wade. The guard left the Miami Heat after Pat Riley lowballed him, believing the veteran would never leave the place that had given him so much throughout all his years in the league. Wade cut his losses to the tune of a $47 million, two-year contract with the Chicago Bulls.
It’s clear loyalty only goes one way in the NBA. Perhaps as fans, it’s time for a gut check. We need to hold owners and GMs to the same standards we do our players. At the end of the day, basketball is a career that puts food on the table for players’ families. Maybe I’ll just let Draymond Green finish this off:
“What’s the difference on the basketball court? It’s your day job. You want to do what’s better for you—if it’s better for your family life, better for your happiness. Ain’t no one criticizing them. I don’t understand it. I’ll never understand it.”