The NBA is progressing.
The pace is getting quicker. Positions are gradually becoming a non-factor in rotations. Versatility is at a premium rather than one specific skill.
All of those factors are examples of what’s transformed within the game itself, but there’s been an evolvement off the court that has bucked tradition more frequently as the years have passed.
Usually, when you name a team, it’s linked to a franchise all-time great. For example, bringing up the Boston Celtics automatically makes a basketball enthusiast think about Larry Bird. Mentioning the Los Angeles Lakers evokes the memory of Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson.
You can even go outside of the bigger markets. Somebody says Minnesota Timberwolves and the first thought is Kevin Garnett. If the same question is about the Atlanta Hawks, who doesn’t immediately have Dominique Wilkins pop up in their head?
Sadly, or not so much depending on personal opinion, the days of players sticking around with the franchises that drafted them are fading away. If that’s not the most obvious takeaway after how this summer has gone, then nothing will convince the fans otherwise.
Loyalty is turning into a rarity. The hunger to compete for a winner is at an all-time high. The desire to be marketable, for some, plays a huge part in deciding a future. Few guys are patient enough to go through a rebuild.
Last offseason, Kevin Durant went to the west coast to join the Golden State Warriors to make a run at a title — and who could blame him? He accomplished that and they won the whole thing.
One year later, look at how much the landscape of the league has truly transformed.
Jimmy Butler was traded on draft night because he wasn’t happy with the Chicago Bulls’ downward-trending direction. Paul George had reportedly been thinking about going to L.A. for the last two years before the Indiana Pacers shipped him away to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kyrie Irving basically forced the Cleveland Cavaliers’ hand to move him because he wanted something different, even after three straight Finals appearances.
In free agency, Gordon Hayward felt it was best for him to sign with the Celtics instead of coming back to a Utah Jazz team that took him ninth overall in the 2010 draft and was highly competitive in its own right.
The point is: Dirk Nowitzki’s are nearly extinct. Aside from Damian Lillard and his unbridled, extremely public commitment to the Portland Trail Blazers, there are few superstars who will follow that path.
That also extends to the not-so-big names. Once Udonis Haslem hangs it up after an entire career with the Miami Heat, who will be the longest tenured player with a ball club?
The change isn’t solely on the talent, either.
Take the NBA’s most recent blockbuster deal, for example. Isaiah Thomas finally thought he found a home in Boston. He was a believer in what the team was building there and even played a huge role in recruiting talent. Al Horford’s choice to sign with the Celtics had a lot to do with Thomas’ efforts.
The same was true for Hayward, who admitted in Friday’s introductory press conference that Thomas was vital in his decision to don the green and white. He was elated to create something special between the two. Unfortunately, we’ll never know what could’ve been.
In his quest to acquire an elite talent to push the Celtics to the next level, Danny Ainge traded away Thomas and Jae Crowder—who also helped bring Horford to town—for Irving.
So, to review, the man who was instrumental in building an Eastern Conference powerhouse roster and gave his all in the playoffs despite a horrific family tragedy was moved. All of that progress and assistance he provided was gone, just like that.
Now, this isn’t to take a shot at Ainge because he saw an opportunity and took it. Rather, it’s to make the point that this league is strictly a business. There are concerns with Thomas’ hip in addition to the potential decision of whether or not to pay the man a maximum contract next year. Crowder went from a main piece of the team to an afterthought in the rotation in an instant. It’s a harsh reality, but the Celtics wanted to act and did.
The fact that loyalty is going out the window is affecting many fan bases.
There are idiots out there who are burning jerseys and directly mentioning players in tweets and messages to bad-mouth them, but those people don’t represent the true feelings of the majority of us who admire this game and devote our time to it.
Do feelings get hurt? You bet.
Do fans hold a grudge against whoever spurned their favorite organization? Most definitely.
But as time goes on, these things will continue to happen. Players are thinking about what is best for them. Believe it or not, different people have different priorities.
Whether that’s right or wrong in the grand scheme of things isn’t for us to decide.
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