Progress is almost never linear.
In some cases, it more closely resembles a pendulum than it does a consistently traceable series of events on a singular trajectory. The NBA has watched its stars gain gradually more power, watch that power slip away, gain it again, lose some again and so on and so forth. Yes, we have arrived in a place where they (rightfully) wield more power than ever before, but it hasn’t been a smooth path to this point.
In recent years, stars have really exercised their leverage, to varying degrees of success, and now, as things get even uglier between Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets (and, if we’re being honest, LeBron James and the Lakers), one can’t help but wonder if that trend is nearing its end.
Before we go any further, we really need to stop calling this movement “player empowerment.” Trust me, no players outside of James, Durant, Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving have felt particularly powerful over these last few years or so.
To be absolutely clear, stars earned the right to have the opportunities James and Durant got to run organizations. Hell, their turn probably should’ve come before coaches were entrusted with their typical coaching responsibilities as well as personnel power. But, just as we learned with coaches, it’s impossible to have sustained success when two crucial jobs that require one’s full attention are held by a single person.
Had James and Durant overseen consistently successful and stable franchises, then perhaps we’d see more examples of stars having that kind of sway. But, as success has been more the exception that proves the rule than the rule itself, not only are team governors running out of patience, other stars have seemed disinclined to put their brands on the line as publicly as James and Durant.
So, you combine team governors getting sick of the volatility that comes with stars wanting all the responsibility but none of the accountability with younger stars on track to have the kind of leverage James and Durant have perhaps choosing not to wield it to the same degree, and we might be witnessing that pendulum nearing the end of its swing.
Today on “The Anthony Irwin Show,” I welcomed Matt Moore of The Action Network to discuss the star empowerment era, its impact on the league, and what comes next on the macro and micro levels.
And for a short-form recap pod, check out Lakers Lowdown, in which Anthony Irwin recaps the previous day’s news and gets you ready for the day ahead in LakerLand, every weekday morning on the Silver Screen & Roll Podcast feed.