LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, John Stockton, David Robinson and, *checks notes* Bradley Beal.
This list of superstars — and one not quite on the same level — makes up one of the most elite and selective groups in NBA history: The only players with full no-trade clauses in their contracts.
When Beal signed his five-year, $251 million max contract last week to remain a Washington Wizard, he became the only active member of that club — James and Melo had no-trade clauses in previous contracts, but no longer. Two-time MVP and one-time Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t have one. Neither does the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić. Not even the reigning Finals MVP and four-time champion Stephen Curry.
Just three-time All-Star and member of the 2021 All-NBA Third-Team, Bradley Emmanuel Beal, Sr., a Wizard his entire career so far, who has never reached an Eastern Conference Finals and never received even a single MVP vote.
So this begs the question: Why aren’t these no-trade clauses more common in the NBA? Why aren’t other players fighting to implement them into their contracts to avoid the risk of being shipped away?
Well, the answer is pretty simple: In today’s NBA, it’s more likely that the superstar himself will want out before a team is ready to unload him. Players in today’s league have demonstrated less loyalty and commitment to their teams, and a lack of hesitation to jump ship when a season doesn’t exactly go their way.
And while an NBA title will always be a great accessory to these superstars’ legacies, the way they’re achieving it has ruined the game of basketball.
Take Kevin Durant for example.
He’s one of the most talented scorers in NBA history, and elevates any team to a championship level. He’s also a player who hasn’t been shy in his desire to leave when a season hasn’t ended the way he hoped.
He did it in Oklahoma City, when he joined the Golden State Warriors, who went 73-9 the previous year. He then left the Warriors to form his own superteam in Brooklyn with Kyrie Irving (and later James Harden). And now, he’s publicly demanding that the Nets ship him off to a team of his choice, even though nothing in his contract gives him any say in that decision.
People say, “Another star won’t want to come if the Nets don’t handle KD’s request correctly.” I think teams shouldn’t want KD for how he’s handling it. Or, there should be some additional language in these NBA contracts that prevent a player like Durant, who just signed a four-year extension last August, from holding a franchise hostage in the first place.
So here’s my proposal: A player signed to a max contract must have two forms of no-trade clauses. One clause says he has to remain with the team for a certain number of years of his contract. And one clause that says if he requests a trade when those years are up, the team has to choose from a list of his preferred teams.
The MLB has a similar and successful rule implemented called the 10-and-5 rights that say that if a player has spent 10 years in the league and five years with the same team, he is eligible to decline any trade a team throws him in, and can essentially choose where he wants to go if he wants a change of scenery.
So why does this work for both sides?
Well for starters, a team can sign a superstar with the expectation that they’ll be committed for at least some of their contract. Because if they’re not, they’ll be left to go wherever the team decides to send them (and can get the greatest return).
And after they’ve “done their time,” they first have the obvious option to stay — after five years they should have a pretty good sense of what they like and what they don’t. And if not, they will have the ability to scour the trade market and find the best fit for them. Truly a win-win.
Now, this may remove some of the excitement of the NBA offseason, as nothing livens a random, July day quite like a “WojBomb” saying a superstar wants out. But that’s about the only negative in terms of the product of the league. And the positives could greatly change the game of basketball for the better.
Teams will be able to build from the inside. The draft and free agency (and of course trades not involving superstars) would be the backbone of the league. You won’t be able to shop around for any superstar you have the pieces to trade for, you’ll have to build your own. Through your scout team. Through your development team. Through your coaching staff.
The NBA won’t be the league where you’re struggling to remember which team a star plays for, because they’ll somewhat be in it for the long haul.
And the teams who may not exactly be “superstar destinations,” won’t have to feel as left out. Because without the ability to trade for a superstar, the draft (and future draft picks) become so much more important.
Yes, superstar trades are exciting. It’s exciting to see the returns and think about the proposition of great players joining forces. But this isn’t the way to do it.
At some point this offseason, a team will most likely give up just about everything they have (outside of their best player) for Kevin Durant. They might give an All-Star. They might give a few young, promising talents. And they’ll for sure give up picks. Lots and lots of first-round picks.
While in the moment, it’ll be fun. And maybe, for the team that lands Durant, as fun as the day they won a championship (unless they haven’t yet — I’m looking at you, Phoenix), it’ll just be another instance where the NBA failed to have a star player tough it out and try to win on a team he built.