Loyal to Rings

Growing up, the one thing I always heard about was players leaving for money. Ben Wallace was one of the first players I remember doing this. He was the first 2004 Champion Starter to depart the team when he signed a four-year contract with the Chicago Bulls for 48 million dollars.

Lots of players were willing to follow paychecks but, unlike today, the top talent seemed to be more prideful and loyal. Players like Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kobe Bryant were some of the most competitive players in the league and they refused to leave their home teams. Even players like Carmelo Anthony and Steve Nash stayed loyal to their teams until ownership decided to move them.

Today we see tons of star players making trade requests and are leaving the free agency to join forces with other stars in pursuit of championships. Kevin Durant may have been the tipping point when he left a championship contending team to join the team that eliminated them in the playoffs. This left lots of fans with a salty taste in their mouths. Unfortunately, this is becoming more common. Some other notable players that have decided to team up with other stars to try and win championships include: Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Jimmy Butler.

Now, players aren’t even waiting for their contracts to expire before moving (such as Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler). This has really seemed to hurt small market teams and the competitiveness of the league. Players have decided that it is more important to bring in rings so they put themselves in a position to join other stars; teams with only one or two All-Stars don’t seem to have a chance at winning a title.

Requesting trades has become extremely common among top talent NBA players. The latest player to request a trade is New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis. Davis is arguably top five talent in the NBA and is passing up on at 240 million dollar supermax extension to find a new, more competitive home.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Brooklyn Nets
Anthony Davis: Photo Credit usatoday.com

This puts New Orleans in a very sticky situation as the February 7th trade deadline quickly approaches. Next season is his last guaranteed year on contract which hinders New Orleans trade leverage around Davis as it is obvious that he will not be looking to pick up his player option. This means potential trade partners may be more interested in waiting and trying to sign him out of the free agency instead of having to give up the insane amount of assets Davis’ trade value will surely command. If the Pelicans want to get anything out of Davis before losing him to the free agency, they will likely have to let him go cheaper than what he is worth.

The Wild West

For quite a while now, there has seemed to be a discrepancy between the competitiveness of the Eastern and Western Conferences in the NBA. And, for as long as I can remember, the discrepancy has always seemed to favor the West.

In recent years and this season especially, we continue to see this difference in the NBA’s competition level.  This year, eight out of 15 teams in the East that have a 50 percent winning percentage or greater. In the West, there are 11 teams at or above the 50 percent mark in winning percentage. If any of the top 12 teams in the West were to move to the Eastern conference today, they would be a playoff-qualifying team. This seems to happen every year. There are always a few teams in the East who make the playoffs that wouldn’t even get a sniff of them if they were competing for a sport with teams in the West.

The discrepancy between conferences seems to grow almost every year when the free agency rolls around. In recent years, some of the biggest names to flip from the Eastern Conference over to the West are Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, and LeBron James. There doesn’t seem to be one clear answer as to why the West tends to attract and retain better talent. We have seen players move from team to team to follow friends, All-Stars, and coaches while other players seem more interested in large sums of money and the local nightlife. Perhaps some of the movement is based on the competitive nature of players. To some players, it may have felt less rewarding to be one of the best in the East so they moved over to take on a new challenge. Whatever the players’ reasoning for choosing their teams it seems like the majority of big names in basketball end up in the West.

It is certainly much harder for players to make the NBA All-Star team in the West due to the saturation of star players. In the interest of basing these claims on statistics, a friend and I took a minute to look at each player and make a list of this seasons star caliber players based on their performance thus far. Labeling of these players was discretionary based on this year’s performance only compared to the rest of the players in the league (scoring, assists, rebounds, steals, shooting percentages, and blocks were considered in the decision making). After sifting through the data, we found that there were only 18 star players in the East Compared to the 28 star players in the West (full list in table below). Every team in the West has at least one star player while in the east we see five teams (Brooklyn, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland) with no star caliber players at all. Many of these teams do have up and coming talent such as Trae Young, but they just aren’t performing at a level that puts them above and beyond their competition yet.

NBA Star Players as of 11-21-18

If the skill level discrepancy was a once and a while issue, it wouldn’t be a problem. But, year after year we see deserving teams miss the playoffs just because they happen to be surrounded by stronger competition. I believe that the best teams should be represented in the playoffs regardless of their geographic location and under the current system they aren’t. The NBA should make playoff qualifying decisions based on overall record and not solely on conference placement.