The notion of players forcing their way from a franchise has been around for generations. It worked for Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who went from Milwaukee to Los Angeles in 1975. Charles Barkley swapped Philadelphia for Phoenix in 1992.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, asked about the clout wielded by many NBA players in recent weeks, cited those examples as somewhat comparable to the requests of, say Oklahoma City stars Paul George and Russell Westbrook.
Another NBA power play, involving the Pelicans and the Lakers, was more difficult for Kerr -- and many others around the league -- to accept.
“I’m talking more about the Anthony Davis situation,” Kerr said on The Warriors Insider Podcast. “Where a guy is perfectly healthy and has a couple years left on his deal and says, ‘I want to leave.’ That’s a real problem that the league has to address and that the players have to be careful with.
“When you sign on that dotted line, you owe your effort and your play to that team, to that city, to the fans. And then (once the contract runs out) it’s completely your right to leave as a free agent. But if you sign the contract, then you should be bound to that contract.
“If you come to an agreement with the team that, hey, it’s probably best for us to part ways, that’s one thing. But the Davis stuff was really kind of groundbreaking -- and hopefully not a trend, because it’s bad for the league.”
At the dawn of last season, there may not have been a more widely appreciated player in the NBA than Davis. His talent was undeniable, his conduct admirable, his character unquestioned.
Much of that came apart as the season unfolded, with Davis’ new agent, Rich Paul, leaking a trade request for his client in January, with the Lakers being the preferred destination. In short order, the Lakers imploded under the weight of hourly anticipation, the Pelicans overhauled their front office and Davis became a part-time player, biding time until he was dealt.
It was a bad look for all parties.
“As a former player, I would always sort of lean toward player empowerment, guys who have earned their right to free agency,” Kerr said. “If they want to make a move for their own careers, I’m all for it. They’ve earned that right.
“My only issue is when a player who is under contract decides not to honor the contract. That’s a problem. That’s something that can really affect the league.”
Davis, who hired Klutch Sports representative Paul after the 2017-18 season, was in the third year of a five-year max extension he signed in 2015, with a player option in 2020-21.
Once Paul went public with Davis’ desires -- in the middle of a season -- the temperature of both the Lakers and Pelicans nosedived. Moreover, it may have sent a signal to others that there was no need to wait until one’s contract was running out before stating a desire to leave.
Becoming a free agent and signing elsewhere is business as usual. It’s what Kevin Durant did in leaving the Warriors for the Nets this month, what LeBron James did last summer, leaving the Cavaliers for the Lakers, and what Kawhi Leonard did this month, moving from the Raptors to the Clippers.
“There’s a way to move and a way to not move,” Kerr said. ”What LeBron did, played out his contract. What Kevin did both when he arrived at Golden State and when he left. You sign contracts, you play them out and you move on. That’s how it should be done.
“But it’s a little disturbing that there has been some action that happens before contracts are up, where teams are sort of held hostage and the league is sort of held hostage. I’m not a big fan of that. That’s damaging for everybody.”
Davis eventually landed in Los Angeles. The Pelicans received an impressive package of players and future draft picks. Both sides say they are happy.
It all worked out in the end, but it probably could have been handled in a much quieter fashion. And it would have been much healthier for the league if Davis had played out the season and then gone to the franchise this summer.