Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul and Paul George are “Patients Zero” for the trade epidemic that has rocked the NBA the past two years. Following disappointing ends to their respective 2016-17 seasons, each demanded a trade and was subsequently dealt to a new team that June. Butler went to Minnesota. Paul maneuvered his way to Houston. George ended up in Oklahoma City. Little did we know that this was only the tip of the iceberg as seemingly every star in the NBA over the next two seasons was traded, some more than once, and many of them at their own request. Check this out:
Kyrie Irving to the Celtics
Eric Bledsoe to the Bucks
Blake Griffin to the Pistons
Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors
DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs
Jimmy Butler to the 76ers
Kristaps Porzingis to the Mavericks (so the Knicks could open cap space up for…Julius Randle and Bobby Portis!)
Tobias Harris to the 76ers
Marc Gasol to the Raptors
Mike Conley to the Jazz
Anthony Davis to the Lakers
Kevin Durant to the Nets (sign-and-trade)
D’Angelo Russell to the Warriors (sign-and-trade)
Jimmy Butler to the Heat (sign-and-trade)
Paul George to the Clippers
Russell Westbrook to the Rockets
Chris Paul to the Thunder
I mean, look at that list! It doesn’t even include high-end role players like Danny Green or stars of yesteryear Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, who were traded multiple times. Also, isn’t it fitting that the three Patients Zero were traded multiple times since the summer of 2017?
Who’s got next?
The next Collective Bargaining Agreement (the current is up after the 2023-24 season) must limit player movement or else (a) small-market teams will have even more trouble retaining top-end talent and (b) the league may start to lose fans as the concept of loyalty and rooting for a team will lose its meaning if most star players are constantly changing teams.
The NBA could tinker with NFL-like franchise tags as a mutually beneficial way for a team to hold onto a player for an extra season or two while paying the player the one-year equivalent of a max contract. The NBA could restrict players from being traded during the first two years of a max or supermax contract. It could lengthen rookie contracts from three to five years before a player hits restricted free agency (or gets an extension). It could make the supermax even more lucrative by extending it to six years, but only paying the player at that supermax rate so long as he remains with the team that signed him to the deal (otherwise his salary reverts to the regular max).
Finally, along the same lines, the NBA could create designated player exceptions, like in the MLS, and allow teams to pay a supermax player an uncapped amount of money, but only have it count toward the team’s salary cap as a max slot. This way, a franchise player could make his true fair market value, but the team wouldn't be completely hamstrung by his contract.
Whatever the NBA and NBA Players Association agree upon, much of those negotiations will depend on whether players continue to demand trades at an alarming rate, as they have the past two years. The following is a list of young stars or potential stars who could find themselves at a career crossroads in the next season or two, and perhaps the focus of the next wave of trade talk.
[Note: For the purposes of this exercise, we are not considering Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2021. Let’s hope for the good of the NBA’s small-market teams that he doesn’t demand a trade before that summer. If he does, all hell might break loose. Twitter will shut down, Stephen A. Smith’s head might explode on "First Take," and there could be a lockout in 2024. We don’t want any of that.]
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: Get ready for this one to start heating up soon if Beal does not agree to the three-year, $111M extension that is apparently on the table in Washington. As Candace Buckner of the Washington Post recently reported, some well-connected people in the league believe that “[Beal’s] out of there.” Beal, who's 26 and coming off the best season of his career (25.6 ppg | 5 rpg | 5.5 apg) would be an ideal fit with any contender. His career 38-percent three-point shooting makes him an excellent off-ball threat, and his improved playmaking (his assists per game have increased each of the past three seasons) would allow him to fit into any backcourt situation. Expect the Celtics, Heat and a bevy of other teams to make strong offers for Beal should he turn down the Wizards’ extension.