With the NBA trade deadline approaching on Feb. 8, there are players that will soon be on the move as front offices look to move pieces. Some of those players may have already experienced being traded, but others may be moving for the first time.
By the time offseason comes, the narrative changes – players who are up for free agency can decide their own fate. These players, though, get treated differently.
A team’s front office deciding to trade a player is a business decision, one to better a franchise. A player who leaves in free agency, or even requests a trade, is a decision made in the same light.
But fans do not see it that way.
NBA fans take a player looking to leave their favorite team personally, criticizing their loyalty. Many videos were taken of fans burning LeBron James jerseys when he left Cleveland, and then Miami. More fans did the same when Kevin Durant made the decision to leave Oklahoma City for powerhouse Golden State.
In Durant’s case, fans viewed the move like this: if you cannot beat the Warriors, then join them. Durant built the Thunder into what the team was and then left for the enemy.
It is understanding for this type of move to be a crushing blow to fans, but just as crushing can be one made by a front office.
Loyalty in the NBA comes in two forms. One that fans most familiarize themselves with is the loyalty of a player to a franchise. The converse, though, holds true in a team’s loyalty to a player.
One way a team or front office can show loyalty to a player is through money. The larger a contract a front office is willing to pay the player, the more stake it is putting in that player for the organization’s future.
For example, the Los Angeles Clippers gave Blake Griffin, the team’s No. 1 pick from 2009, a five-year, $173 million contract in the summer of 2017. After Griffin agreed to the deal, Clippers president Lawrence Frank dubbed the 28-year-old as a “Clipper for life.”
The commitment and loyalty emitted by that phrase did not last for long. On Jan. 29, just seven months later, Griffin was traded to the Detroit Pistons with two of his teammates in return for three players and a future first-round draft pick.
Fans, generally, did not get mad at Griffin for this. There is no reason to. He always showed his loyalty to the team and his fans, yet it was the team who saw potential elsewhere.
It was a business decision, one that is usually advertised to the betterment of the franchise. The Clippers recognized they could not compete with the Warriors and had to start making changes to set the foundation to do so.
The goal of making moves is to get closer to a championship, which is why free agents move teams, whether it be because of a better opportunity in terms of winning or money. Free agents who move get berated by fans, though, while front offices often get the benefit of the doubt. That is not to say front offices still do not get their fair share of criticism in disagreement from fans because there is never a shortage of that.
The fact here is though that there is a double standard and James stated so on Jan. 30.
“When a player gets traded, [the front office] was doing what was best for the franchise,” James said, according to ESPN. “But when a player decides to leave, he’s not loyal, he’s a snake, he’s not committed.”
Emotions get the best of fans, but at the end of the day, the NBA is a business. Decisions must be made by both front offices and players alike about what the best move is. Any move is a gamble, and leaving the familiar may be daunting, but growth does not come without taking risks. Sometimes players need new scenery to revive their careers or find new motivations.
The players were loyal in their time with the team, but moving away is taken as a dagger to fans. Just like a front office trades players with the future in mind, players do the same.
This is the narrative that exists in the NBA, and even as these moves continue to happen, it will probably never escape.
Elizabeth Swinton is a broadcasting and visual media major from Linden, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @eswint22.