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NBA’s New Era of Empowerment

We are currently in the era of player empowerment in the NBA. Never in league history have the players had more control over their own destiny and where they want to play. Many see the start of this development in the 2010 offseason when LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh decided to join the Miami Heat to form one of the first superteams. Since then, it has been a league-wide trend for superstar players to request trades from their team for a better chance at winning a championship. Stars like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Paul George are some of several high-profile players who asked to be moved during the offseason. 

The ways that championship-level teams are built have altered. In the player empowerment era, superstar players are more available to be traded than ever. The Toronto Raptors felt like they were a piece away from winning a championship, traded for a disgruntled Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs and won a championship that same year. On the other hand, small market teams that don’t get big-name free agents can lose their homegrown talent. The New Orleans Pelicans were forced to enter a rebuilding period when Anthony Davis requested a trade.

Seemingly, front offices hate the movement. An anonymous NBA GM told Isaac Chotiner of the New Yorker, “Player empowerment is a catch-all 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.” 

Fans have mixed opinions. Some players are praised for their loyalty toward a franchise, others are criticized for staying loyal, and some are criticized for opting to do what’s best for themselves and leave a middling organization. As of this writing, two players are in the midst of trade request battles with their current franchises.

On July 1, Portland Trailblazer guard Damian Lillard informed the front office that he would like to be traded. Lillard, the franchise’s leading scorer, has made it clear that he would like to play for the Miami Heat. Many thought after 11 faithful seasons, the Trail Blazers would trade the seven-time all-star to his requested destination out of respect. 

The Trail Blazers are in no rush to move their franchise star. Miami reportedly offered a package including former NBA Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro, several young players, and multiple first-round picks for the seven-time All-Star. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported that Portland is “still showing no interest in doing a deal with Heat.” Three months after his request, Lillard is still a Blazer.

The other star still waiting to be moved is James Harden. Unlike Lillard, this is not Harden’s first attempt to jump ship. His first messy exit was from the Houston Rockets when he got moved early in the 2020-2021 season to the Brooklyn Nets. Harden didn’t last a full season in Brooklyn before requesting another trade. 76ers general manager Daryl Morey, who had lots of success with Harden in Houston, saw the opportunity and acquired him midway through the 2021-22 season. 

In the following offseason, the 10-time all-star re-upped with the Philadelphia 76ers’  on a 1-year team-friendly deal with a player option, which allowed the team to add depth players like PJ Tucker & Daniel House. After the 76ers lost in the second round, Harden opted into his player option with reports that the 76ers were looking into trade options for the former MVP.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that after searching for trades that would keep their title hopes alive, “the 76ers have ended trade talks on guard James Harden and plan to bring him back to training camp for [the] start of the season.” said Wojnarowski.

Two days later, Harden made some harsh comments towards 76ers GM Morey in China during an event for Adidas.

 “Daryl Morey is a liar, and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of. Let me say that again: Daryl Morey is a liar, and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of,” stated Harden.

Some theorize that these comments are due to Morey not following through on a potential big contract that may have occurred when Harden took the team-friendly deal. As a result of his comments, Harden was fined $100,000, and the NBA has launched an investigation to determine what led to his outburst. It continues to be widely speculated that both Harden and Damian Lillard will eventually be traded, but only time will tell.

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