CHARLOTTE – Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Anthony Davis have taken turns dominating the news cycle with trade requests.
“That’s not the kind of media interest we’re looking for,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.
The NBA even fined Davis $50,000 for his trade request.
“I don’t like trade demands, and I wish they didn’t come,” Silver said. “And I wish all those matters were handled behind closed doors.”
I’m sure Silver dislikes all trade demands. But in context, I think he meant specifically public trade requests. Because trade requests are quite common. Deep-bench players often ask to get moved, hoping a new situation will increase playing time. Those requests rarely become public.
But Irving’s, Leonard’s, Butler’s and Davis’ trade requests all did. Yet, only Davis’ drew a fine.
It seems the difference was Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, putting his name behind it. Irving, Leonard and Butler leaked their trade requests through anonymous sources.
“I think it’s perfectly appropriate, that conversations take place behind closed doors, where players or their agents are saying to management, ‘It’s my intention to move on for whatever reasons,'” Silver said.
The distinction is practically nonexistent. Irving, Leonard and Butler could claim only the least-plausible of plausible deniability, and none of those three really tried to deny it, anyway.
Insisting on this level of secrecy is a disservice to fans. If a player requests a trade, he shouldn’t be punished for revealing it. The NBA usually engages fans through openness – but not here.
Silver said he was worried about the worst-case scenario – a player not just requesting a trade, but refusing to honor his contract. However, the Collective Bargaining Agreement already has rules in place for that. Someone who withholds playing services for 30 days after training camp begins faces suspension and fines, won’t accrue a year of service and can’t become a free agent the next offseason.
For what it’s worth, Davis never threatened to hold out. In fact, he repeatedly said he wanted to keep playing if not traded. Unhappy players continue reporting to work all the time. This is not a unique situation.
Silver’s stance also also raises questions about transparency that are particularly relevant as the NBA embraces gambling. Either a player has or hasn’t requested a trade. If he has and the information is kept private, only select people will know it – and those people will have an edge in betting.
Public trade requests aren’t pretty. Neither Davis nor the Pelicans nor teams trying to trade for him appear happy with the fallout.
But I’d prefer that honest uncomfortableness to hidden tension.
Perhaps, Silver disagrees because public trade requests can create tricky situations for him. Right now, he’s still overseeing what Davis and the Pelicans do the rest of this season.
“It creates, understandably, a very awkward position between the team and their player and what their role is with the league in terms of injecting itself in the middle of what a team’s decision on playing that player,” Silver said. “These become very context-specific issues for the league office and not subject to computer programs that spit out answers.”
I agree there’s rarely an easy answer. But I’d rather lean toward transparency.
Davis decided he’d prefer to leave New Orleans. It’s his right to feel that way.
It should also be his right to disclose that to whomever he wants.