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Loyalty in the NBA, a hypocritical double-standard

If you’re a Blazers fan, there have been some dark days in your life. Seeing the player that you passed on in the 2007 Draft (Kevin Durant), turn into an all-time great. While the player your team picked (Greg Oden), couldn’t even stay on the court because of injuries and retired after only 7 seasons. You’ve also watched Brandon Roy become a star in the league, and then retire literally 50 games later due to knee injuries. Enough to make a fan go insane.

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And suddenly, the loyal Blazers’ king, the one glimmer of hope in a bleak and desolate franchise, requested a trade. After being stuck in one of the weirdest trade talks for the last 3 months with the Heat, the Bucks made it happen in a couple of days. Woj reiterated that Giannis had nothing to do with the trade.

Damian Lillard received a lot of hate during the summer, especially because of many years preaching the importance of loyalty and his disliking view of superteams.

“Anything other than loyalty, ain’t worth it.” Lillard’s own words in JJ Reddick’s podcast.

Back in 2022, Lillard was asked to choose any active player to play with. His answer, Giannis Antetokounmpo. 18 months later, his wish becomes reality and he now has a real chance of winning, forming one of the best duos, arguably, in NBA history with the Greek Freak.

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Over the last 50 years, there hasn’t been a single duo that averaged at least 30 points per game and then played together in the following season. There is no team in the league who has the defensive personnel to cover the deep ball, the pick & roll and the low post.

Dame has been in the league for 11 seasons, and he has played with only one all-star (LaMarcus Aldridge), and that was in his rookie season…

The Blazers just didn’t give him a chance to win, Dame gave everything he had for a decade-plus. He managed to rally his way to the Conference Finals in 2019, for the first time in two decades, just to get swept by the Warriors and never return.

After Udonis Haslem’s retirement, and the Bradley Beal and Lillard trades, the Warriors have the 3 longest-tenured players in the entire league. Obviously referring to Curry, Klay and Draymond, all of them drafted, developed and matured in the team. The Golden State franchise is the last of a dying breed in the increasingly mercenary NBA.

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Beal experienced a similar situation to Lillard, with his move from Washington to the Suns. The no trade clause and his massive salary allowed Beal to veto any trade destination.

Players nowadays must become bloodless businessmen because franchises will always treat them like assets over actual human capital.

Lebron was the first real example of player empowerment, how to gain leverage contractually and how to keep teams on their toes when they have you. Even now, in his 21st year, he’s still doing it.

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Jrue Holiday got traded to the Blazers (then to the Celtics) one day after saying he wanted to retire with the Bucks.

“You get there and it’s like: ‘Hey, nice to have you here’ but there wasn’t no loyalty from nobody to me there, see how they traded my a**”, Chris Paul on Reddick’s podcast.

Where are the critics to these franchises that traded away loyal players? To Boston after trading a player that played with a broken heart, Isaiah Thomas, the day after his sister passed away. They traded him a couple of months later, and now he’s literally offering himself to teams via Twitter.

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Or what about DeMar DeRozan, he chose loyalty, picking Toronto over a chance with his hometown Lakers, just to see the player they traded you for (Kawhi Leonard) win a Championship in the first season with the Raptors.

We’ve seen many players criticized for abandoning the teams they began their careers with, when LeBron and Kyrie left the Cavaliers, when Harden left Houston, when Anthony Davis went to LA, when KD left OKC… perhaps the last one is more understandable, choosing the team that just beat them in a Game 7 of the Conference Finals.

While teams that trade away fan favourites get away with the “The NBA is just a business” excuse. It is a horrible and hypocritical double standard.

“The NBA is about making money, it’s about winning, not as much about being loyal”, Dirk Nowitzki said, 6 years ago in The Jump.

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The NBA is a cold, cold business. Always has been. Franchises only seek their goal, normally focused on growing money. Remember when Kobe asked for a trade? Dwayne Wade nearly did as well. Loyalty comes with a major sacrifice from one side, and it’s never the team’s side, so it all falls on the players and their careers.

“Just know that what I left is better than what I inherited” “I leave at peace ’cause I know in the end that this is business”, two verses in Lillard’s new song called “Farewell”.

Damian Lillard’s trade request wasn’t some breach of loyalty, it was his attempt to regain control of his career, to earn a real chance at winning.

Dame always wanted to be loved in Portland and always wanted to avoid this ugly messy divorce, just to ultimately end like that.

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How many all-time greats put their loyalty first and foremost, and paid the price because of that? Reggie Miller, Dominique Wilkins, Patrick Ewing, generational talents whose careers gets lost in the shuffle, because they never climbed to the top of the mountain. It’s almost as if all the All-Star selections, big performances, playoff wins become an afterthought, because the ultimate goal was never achieved.

Is it better to stay with one organization with hopes that things will eventually work out, despite things never quite working out?

Or after years of holding up your end of the deal, is it better to finally do what’s best for you and put yourself in a position to win?


  • Òscar Llopis I Balanyà

    23-year-old sports journalist, fluent in French, Catalan and Spanish. I am a football addict, who’s also interested in basketball and futsal. Above all, I’m a Barça lover and the biggest Messi fan in the world! If you have any exciting information or questions to ask, don’t hesitate to contact me!