Superstars on the Move: Good or Bad for Sports?
By: Michael Malandro
We all watched with heightened interest what happened with Anthony Davis in New Orleans, James Harden in Houston, and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay—instances where superstar players were able to influence their personal trajectory mid-contract; no doubt just the start to what’s becoming a seismic shift in power between teams and their players.
The top superstars of each league can now dictate their futures in ways like never before. Take James Harden for example; he demanded a trade out of Houston and when they denied his request, he showed up to camp out-of-shape and disgruntled, publicly stating that he didn’t want to play anywhere except for Brooklyn or Philadelphia. The Rockets ultimately had no choice but to move him, but when he essentially told the other 29 teams that he didn’t want to play for them either, they dropped their offers. Why pay fair market value for a “rental” in James Harden who would potentially demand yet another trade in a similar fashion? This lowered his market value to the point where Brooklyn could essentially acquire him at below fair market value—certainly not to the Rockets’ advantage.
Do these power moves by the players serve as a risk to teams and their owners' chances of winning, or as a positive catalyst for the entire league and its fans? Seeing old faces in new places is exciting for many reasons; 1) it adds to the storylines and drama of every season; 2) it draws more attention to the sport, and forces us to constantly reevaluate the landscape of the league, and 3) it keeps old fans engaged, while attracting new fanatics as well. This has been proven time and time again in traditional free agency moves--everyone wanted to see what Tom Brady would do in his first year in Tampa, and Lebron James jersey sales spiked when he went to the Lakers. Rosters are much more fluid now, and it’s something everyone should be excited about.
One common trend in most of these moves is that in each instance, the players are ultimately looking to improve their chances of winning in the short term. This motivation to win now, makes the right small market team just as attractive as any big market franchise, essentially evening the playing field (along with salary caps and luxury taxes, of course). A good example of this is the Toronto Raptors, who would have never gotten close to winning their first championship in 2019 if it wasn’t for Kawhi Leonard forcing his way out of San Antonio in 2018.
There is immense pressure placed on superstar players to live up to their “potential” and win championships. If they’re on a losing team, or one that’s just not good enough to get over the hump, it has become an expectation that they will leave for the team that has a better chance of winning a ring. This mentality holds the best teams accountable to their superstar talent and keeps the worst teams just a move or two away from giving their fans a championship-caliber product. A better product leads to more viewers and more viewers means that media rights continue to increase exponentially. This subsequently boosts team values, which will continue to increase players’ salaries. Everybody wins.