Today’s NBA lesson, reinforced with the power of a LeBron James dunk: the NBA is – and has been for four decades now – a player’s league. More so than any other league, too.
Players have always had power – or at least since the advent of NBA free agency in 1976. Remember, Magic Johnson advocated the dismissal of a championship coach (Paul Westhead), and it happened.
But that power has grown in the last decade, and it’s playing out in dramatic, transparent, league-altering scenarios right now.
Not only do players decide where they want to play, they choose with whom they want to play, orchestrating moves that give them the best opportunity to win a championship.
All-Star point guard Chris Paul is the latest example, coordinating his way from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Houston Rockets where he joins All-Star guard James Harden on a team that won 55 games last season.
And free agency doesn’t begin until Saturday.
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Indiana Pacers forward Paul George informed the franchise’s front office – via his agent – that he won’t re-sign with the team next summer during free agency and prefers to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. But he’s also investigating other options. Perhaps Boston or Cleveland or even Houston.
In New York, Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony – and other outside forces – won a power struggle that ended with Phil Jackson’s dismissal.
While some of this is done privately with phone calls and texts, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas on Instagram encouraged Clippers free-agent-to-be Blake Griffin to join the Celtics.
None of that is against NBA rules per se. There is nothing to prevent Harden and Paul from having a conversation. Or George and James. The league can’t stop friends from having conversations.
As long as a player’s team isn’t instructing him to recruit another player before the start of free agency, it’s not tampering, which is hard to prove without a paper/e-trail.
Some teams/front offices are the benefactors of this new-era team-building; others are not.
Shorter maximum length contracts have played a role in a player’s ability to change teams with greater ease while still in the prime of his career. Thirteen years ago, a player could sign a seven-year deal. Now, the longest a player can sign for is five years with his own team and four years with another team.
This recruiting isn’t brand new, either. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did it in Miami. James repeated it, returning to Cleveland alongside Kyrie Irving and eventually Kevin Love.
At the 2006 FIBA world championship in Japan, people around USA Basketball recall James, Wade, Bosh, Anthony and Paul discussing the idea of playing on the same team. They talked publicly about it, too.
Think about today’s grassroots environment where AAU teams play all over the country. Players are creating friendships with players they may want to play with someday. USA Basketball’s under-19 team is in Egypt for the FIBA world championships. These players know each other by the time they get to the NBA.
When Kevin Durant met with the Golden State Warriors during free agency last summer, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala participated in the meeting, and according to ESPN, Green communicated with Durant after Cleveland beat Golden State in the Finals in 2016.
If you can’t join the Warriors, you might as well try to beat them, which is exactly what NBA Commissioner Adam Silver encouraged 29 other teams to do.
“Let’s create more great teams,” he told The Washington Post.
That’s what Houston is trying to do. Boston, too. And Cleveland knows the status quo is not good enough to beat Golden State.
Add Paul George. Add Blake Griffin. Add Gordon Hayward. Get as many great players on a team as possible.
Great players with power are trying to do that as often as possible.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.