What the next CBA could mean for disgruntled players wanting off NBA teams

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have until Dec. 15 to decide whether to opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement. If either side chooses to do so, the current deal, which went into effect in July 2017, will expire June 30, 2023 — setting up the potential for an NBA lockout.

But while there is little to no chance of a lockout taking place — the relationship between the two sides is arguably stronger than ever — ESPN NBA Insiders Tim Bontemps, Bobby Marks and Kevin Pelton discuss something that could become a major part of the next CBA negotiations: player movement, particularly in the wake of high-profile situations involving Ben Simmons, James Harden and Kevin Durant.

Bontemps: As we continue to monitor the Durant saga, are there any solutions — via the collective bargaining agreement — for the NBA’s increasingly thorny problem of star players demanding trades despite being under contract for multiple seasons.

We saw Simmons throw Philadelphia’s season into chaos, and likely cost himself well into eight figures in money, by deciding not to show up last season. We ultimately saw him traded to Brooklyn for Harden, who showed up without exactly showing up for his final few games as a Net, making it clear he, too, wanted to play elsewhere.

This offseason, we have seen Durant request a trade before his four-year contract extension worth nearly $200 million even began.

As a result, this is something that has become a huge topic of conversation in NBA circles, especially because it has now involved three different All-Stars in big markets. But, I will throw this question out there:

Can a new CBA fix any of this, or is this simply life in the modern NBA?

Marks: It’s important to differentiate player empowerment into two different categories. There are circumstances when a player asks to be traded and eventually holds out when he is not dealt. We saw that last offseason when, despite having four seasons left on his contract, Simmons held out of training camp.

Philadelphia eventually fined Simmons $50,000 for every practice he missed and an additional $360,305 for each game missed. Simmons then filed a grievance to recoup the $19 million he lost in fines, which was recently settled with the 76ers, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

At the time, NBA commissioner Adam Silver labeled the Simmons situation as a “one-off” and should not be perceived as a trend, because it had been unprecedented that a player under contract did not report to work.

The second and more common situation is when a player under contract asks to be traded, reports to work and is eventually dealt. This is nothing new, and you can go all the way back to the late 1990s, when Stephon Marbury asked out and was eventually traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the New Jersey Nets.

The Timberwolves recouped multiple draft picks and players for Marbury. I don’t have an issue when a player under contract asks to be traded, considering the front office could trade him without his approval.

A good example is Donovan Mitchell, who signed a rookie extension in the 2020 offseason with the belief the Utah Jazz would contend in the Western Conference. The Jazz have clearly waived the white flag by trading Rudy Gobert to Minnesota, and Mitchell is within his right to ask for a trade now.

The unknown with Durant is whether he will report to training camp. If he does hold out, what more can the NBA do in the next CBA besides imposing significant fines?

Brooklyn could try to void his contract for failure to render services, but then Durant would instantly become a free agent and the Nets would lose his services without recouping anything in return.

Pelton: The first thing the NBA should consider is avoiding a fix that’s worse than the problem.

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