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Why do NBA players change teams so much?

It seems as though more than ever we are seeing NBA players change teams much more often than they used to, but why? 

Why do NBA players change teams so much? There are a few reasons why NBA players change teams so much including a bigger salary cap, fewer trade rules, more player power and the ever expanding understanding of front offices wanting to either compete for a title or rebuild.

It seems as though in the NBA, there are very few superstars who stay with one team for a very long time. Guys like Steph Curry, Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson are a few of the exceptions to the rule. But just in the last four years, we have seen superstars like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and many more move to a new team. 

There are even players like Russell Westbrook and James Harden who have moved multiple times in the last few years. There are a few reasons why these players are able to move easily, as the players in the past weren’t. 

Star Power 

Superstars are more important to success in the NBA than pretty much any other sport. As there can only be five guys on the court at any time, having a superstar massively increases your chance of a title. The last championship-winning team without a true superstar was probably the 2004 Pistons. 

Superstars are so important that they have a lot more control than before. This allows these players to pretty much decide where they want to play. NBA teams are happy to get rid of a few role players if they can land a superstar because you need a superstar to win an NBA title

Teams at the moment are not really looking to build chemistry with a good group of players. Instead, the template for winning titles is getting good role players around 1 or 2 superstars, which is often a recipe for success. It allows superstars to move much more freely when teams hold them in higher standing than in the past. 

Shorter Contracts 

One of the trends that we have seen over the last few years is NBA players taking shorter contracts to allow them to move more freely. This is a trend we have particularly seen with players in their third or fourth NBA contract

Lebron James is a good example of this. Despite talking about wanting to play until the 2025/26 season, he only signed a two-year extension with the Lakers, a contract that does include a player option for the third year. It is an example of a player choosing to have a shorter contract to give them more options to move in the future. 

Part of this trend has been pushed by the NBA and the owners. The maximum contract length used to be seven years but this has been decreased to five years. This was a rule put in place by NBA owners in order to reduce deadweight contracts. While it has achieved that, it is also a factor in players moving around a lot more. 

Teams being happier to move on

While the 1990s and 2000s did not see as much superstar movement, it did still see a lot of players requesting a move. We think of players like Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant as one-team men who we won’t see replicated. 

But both of these players requested trades in their time. Duncan was desperate to move away from the Spurs in 2000, while Kobe requested a trade in 2004 and again in 2007. What we have seen is that if a superstar is unhappy, teams don’t really want to spend the time trying to rebuild the relationship. 

It seems like the value of superstars makes teams a lot happier to move players on when they request it. As there is with any of these reasons, there are exceptions to the rule. Kevin Durant is one of the examples of a player who requested a trade and then worked it out with the team. 

Free Agency and Trades rules relaxing 

The Collective Bargaining Agreement has changed quite a lot over the past couple of decades. It has relaxed the rules around trades and free agency. In the past, it was difficult for players to find a move either to a club in free agency or in a trade. 

But with the NBA Players association recognising how important superstars have become to success, the rules have been changed so that players get more say than ever before. It makes sense that the power balance is shifting more towards the players rather than the owners. 

The reason fans love the game is because of the players. In general, players are getting more say in pretty much everything, so it is hardly surprising that the rules have been relaxed to allow more players to move around. 

Which NBA player has moved around the most 

Jim Jackson is the player who has moved to the highest number of different teams. Jackson played for 12 teams in his 14-year NBA career. Jackson’s career began by being drafted fourth overall by the Dallas Mavericks. He eventually formed a brilliant young trio of himself, Jason Kidd and Jamal Mashburn. 

But after arguments and rumours of a love triangle including Kidd, Jackson and singer Toni Braxton, Jackson was traded to the New Jersey Nets. After one season, Jackson was traded away by the Nets in order to draft Keith Van Horn in the 1997 NBA draft.

This would be the beginning of Jackson moving around the league, looking for a competitive team. Jackson would play single seasons with the Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers before signing with Atlanta. 

Having originally moved around a lot due to lack of success, Jackson found himself rarely getting offered contract extensions. In fact, after a short spell with his home town Cavaliers, Jackson would have to wait till December to sign with a team in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. 

Jackson would continue bouncing around teams as a bench player for the rest of his career, finishing his career after 13 games with the Los Angeles Lakers. When he retired, Jackson had played for 12 teams across both conferences. 

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