Was Anthony Davis Demanding a Trade Bad for the NBA’s Future?

With one year still remaining after the 2018-19 season on his 5-year, $127 million contract, Anthony Davis made his demand for a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans public on January 28. Davis’s agent, Rich Paul, informed the Pelicans that Davis had no intention of signing a contract extension with them and that he would like to be traded from the team.

Anthony Davis was fined $50,000 for the public demand, a somewhat laughably small number given the gravity of the situation, but the most that the CBA currently allows. Other players have demanded trades before, but seeing an elite player like Davis do so mid-season with another year left on his contract sent shock waves through the NBA. Would this sort of thing become the new norm?

Steve Kerr and Adam Silver make the case against demanding trades

Steve Kerr speaking to the media
Steve Kerr speaking to the media | Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Golden State Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr had some strong feelings on the matter. On the Warriors Insider Podcast earlier this week, Kerr said the following:

“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 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.”

“It’s a little disturbing that there has been some action that happens before contracts are up,” Kerr continued, “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.”

Adam Silver spoke in Las Vegas last week about the NBA’s ongoing issues with free agency and trade demands. Along the same lines of what Kerr said, Silver stated:

“You have a contract, and it needs to be meaningful on both sides. On the one hand, there’s an expectation if you have a contract and it’s guaranteed that the team is going to meet the terms of the contract, and the expectation on the other side is the player is going to meet the terms of the contract.”

But it isn’t quite that simple

DeMar DeRozan signed a 5-year, $139 million contract with the Toronto Raptors in 2016. Two seasons later, he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs in a deal for Kawhi Leonard.

In an interview with ESPN.com’s Michael C. Wright, DeMar DeRozan expressed his frustrations with the trade; “I definitely was extremely hurt. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t. I always made it clear that Toronto was where I wanted to retire.”

There are of course countless other examples of a player being traded against their wishes. It’s a business, everyone always says.

So why is it that if a team decides to move on from a player that is under contract it’s totally fine, but if a player under contract wants to move on from the team, it isn’t?

What’s the alternative?

Anthony Davis looking frustrated with the New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis looking frustrated with the New Orleans Pelicans | Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Anthony Davis has every right as a professional in his field to request a trade if he feels that is what’s best for him and his career. You could even argue that he was doing the Pelicans a favor in letting them know of his intentions so that he didn’t walk away for nothing at the end of his deal.

Does it set a dangerous precedent in the league? To some extent. It puts the team receiving the trade request in an awful spot, and it definitely will make it more difficult for small-market teams to compete if they consistently have young stars demanding to be traded elsewhere.

But would it really be a much better situation to have a disgruntled player who isn’t happy creating a toxic environment in the locker room instead of demanding a trade? Sure, some players can set their emotions aside and keep a positive attitude even in a negative situation. But others can’t, and for these players, it is usually best for all parties involved to work out a trade.

Behind closed doors

Adam Silver attending the 2019 NBA Awards
Adam Silver attending the 2019 NBA Awards | Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images

It’s hard to disagree with another statement that Adam Silver made in Las Vegas; “I would just say, blanketedly, no, I don’t like trade demands, and I wish they didn’t come, and I wish all those matters were handled behind closed doors.”

Yes, in a perfect world, these matters would be handled behind closed doors. But what doors are even really closed nowadays with social media and leaks and insiders? It was actually refreshing to hear about Anthony Davis’s trade request straight from the source instead of through the rumor mill.

Demanding a trade is a big decision with real consequences. It can change the way that teammates, fans, and endorsers feel about and look at a player.

This isn’t going to become an epidemic. Most players will continue to play out the contracts that they sign. And when players do demand a trade, it’s probably the best course of action for the team involved anyway. The NBA and its future are going to be just fine.