In 2021, the Phoenix Suns reached the finals with a core of Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and Jae Crowder along with a deep bench of 12 other players who suited up for the squad. Now, just two seasons later, the Suns’ only remaining player on their team from that 2021 Suns roster is Devin Booker.
The modern NBA is considered a “player’s league” where players often have the power to work their way out of an organization via free agency or a trade to an organization where they desire.
In modern free agency, players have elected to team up with other players to create a “superteam”, and rather than being the sole star on a team, opt for a team role at the hopeful price of a championship.
The most infamous “decision” was by LeBron James in 2010, when he decided not to re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers and team up with All-Star Dwyane Wade, who was already with the Heat, and All-Star Chris Bosh, who signed after previously belonging to the Raptors. James’s presence brought over Bosh along with other role players. In doing this, James created the “superteam”.
Despite the trio winning two championships, fans saw this move from James as sickening. James abandoned the city that loved him and tampered with the state of the league. To fans, he “created” a league where his team was guaranteed to make the championship.
Additionally, when a star player wants out, he gets out. Ahead of the 2021 season, The Brooklyn Nets acquired three superstars: James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant. The team had a championship-or-bust mindset. However, the trio had a hard time playing at the same time. They were plagued by injuries, COVID issues, and organizational disputes. When the team failed to reach the conference championship in two straight seasons, all three players forced themselves out and were all traded. The result: The Brooklyn Nets longest-tenured current player is 23-year-old Nic Claxton.
But, in my opinion, what’s of greater significance is the rift between the city and the organization.
A fanbase is a community of fans supporting an organization. This community is the only thing that stays constant within an organization. Players, coaches, and even owners filter in and out while the fans stay supporting.
Fans must be connected to players.
The fan and player dynamic is a relationship that takes time to build. But, that relationship is important. It creates passionate fans. It creates culture among the fan base. It creates a fanbase that knows their players for more than what they do on the basketball court.
A player needs time for fans to treasure them. When a player starts with a new team, not everyone knows who he is, his personality, and his style.
As players stay loyal, fans get to know them and they become more loved.
They start to become a part of the identity of the organization. When fans don’t know their players, not only isn’t there an identity of the organization, but there isn’t a culture among fans.
Lastly, taking time to build that identity within an organization creates a fanbase that knows what a rebuild looks like and is grateful for the team they have when they are successful.
Winning the right way:
Winning the right way is acquiring talent via a trade or free agency and developing that talent so it’s better than what a team initially had resulting in winning.
What winning the right way isn’t, is acquiring pure talent via a trade or free agency in the case that a team’s best players are new and talent that a team was developing as well as the team’s longer-tenured players are no longer on the team.
Does it really matter?
It doesn’t in the case of pure statistics. But it matters for the sake of the league and the fan’s experience. Which, I would argue, is of greater importance.
The NBA should try to avoid a scenario where every NBA team is fighting to become a superteam via free agency or trades. Unfortunately, this is what many NBA teams are trying to do and feel like they have to do.
Winning the right way creates disciplined fans who understand the process of turning a team around and who have connections with their team’s players.
Winning the right way will be better for team fandom, the NBA, and the game of basketball.