“I don’t think it’s good for the league, just to be really clear. I will say whoever is the prohibitive favorite, try telling that to the 430 other players who aren’t on those two teams. I mean, we have the greatest collection of basketball players in the world in our league, and so I’m not making any predictions, but there’s no question, when you aggregate a group of great players, they have a better chance of winning than many other teams…. But just to be absolutely clear, I do not think that’s ideal from a league standpoint. I mean, for me as I discussed earlier, part of it is designing a collective bargaining agreement that encourages the distribution of great players throughout the league.”
That was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, talking about Kevin Durant‘s move this summer to the Golden State Warriors. Silver is essentially the voice of the owners, he works for them. He went on to say he and the owners hope to fix some of the “anomalies” in the system to prevent a superstar from going to a 73-win team.
Jerry West, the Golden State consultant who did his part in the pitch to Durant, is having none of that. West was on The TK Show, a podcast hosted by San Jose Mercury News sports columnist Tim Kawakami. Here are West’s comments (hat tip Zach Harper at CBS).
“It’s sour grapes. We (when he was with the Lakers) signed Shaquille O’Neal and it wasn’t as big an uproar as this. Listen, the owners make the rules. They negotiate with the players. And for them to say something like that, to me it’s wrong on their part. The commissioner said something like that and I called him about it. I told him I didn’t think the comment was fair. It’s not fair to Kevin. It’s not fair to the Warriors. It’s not fair to any team going forward who will sign a free agent of this stature.
“The players bargained for this. They have a chance to go play where they want to. I only wish I had that opportunity in my career and I’m sure a lot of other people felt the same way.”
For the record, there wasn’t free agency in the NBA, as we understand it, until 1988 (which is why you never saw Magic or Bird or Bill Russell, etc. leave in their prime — they were stuck). West could never have left the Lakers.
West is correct. Both that there were some sour grapes from other owners, and that what Durant did was well within his rights as a player. He earned the right to be a free agent and go where he wanted to go, play with who he wanted as teammates. Just like you or me, he should have the right to change work environments if he wants.
But that’s not the only complaint of owners — they like the idea of flattening out the talent pool. The moves of the last CBA were largely about preventing another LeBron-era Heat team from forming. We can get into how this is misguided — the NBA has been at its most popular when there are one or two dominant teams — but it is what owners want because they think success in the NBA should be easier than it is. The frustration from fans — that Durant took the easy route to a title — also probably rankles West, who would be happy to tell everyone just how hard it is to win a ring.
Nobody is really questioning Durant’s right to do what he did — including Silver. The Commissioner said in that same statement Durant had earned the right to be a free agent and make his choice. It’s just that the owners didn’t like it.