2022 All-Star

Adam Silver covers player empowerment, pandemic and more in All-Star press conference

NBA Commissioner discusses variety of topics at his annual state-of-the-league All-Star press conference.

Adam Silver feels the league is returning to normal

With All-Star weekend back, Commissioner Adam Silver says the NBA feels 'much close to the normal we were working with.'

CLEVELAND – A mere week before the NBA’s All-Star break began, James Harden and Ben Simmons were traded for each other, landing in Philadelphia and Brooklyn respectively. Both had instigated their trades by fussing while under contract, something commissioner Adam Silver has frowned on repeatedly for several years.

It was a topic that received extended attention from Silver Saturday in the question-and-answer portion of his annual All-Star news conference.

“It’s no secret that I’ve expressed my unhappiness with public trade demands,” Silver said. “I don’t want to pretend standing here that I have some secret idea that I know can fix that problem.”

Simmons’ case in particular was what Silver called a “stalemate,” featuring the player refusing to play and the team withholding salary. Harden’s was different, with the one-time Most Valuable Player appearing to modulate his performance or accentuate injuries to push Brooklyn management to deal him.

“I think you’re dealing with situations where you have players with literally a unique skill on the planet, and that’s always going to give them leverage,” Silver said. “And you have teams with leverage.”

Harden nudging the Nets to move him just 13 months after he did the same thing to the Rockets, similar to Anthony Davis pushing New Orleans to trade him in 2019 to the Lakers (and only the Lakers), is more than just a bad look for the league or a measure of symbolic power between players and teams.

It’s an issue for how the league’s franchises conduct business, for teammates who might have based their own decisions on a given star’s presumed whereabouts in coming seasons, and even for fans who purchase tickets in advance according to players they were told would be under contract.

Silver also was asked about players occasionally getting paid, in essence, not to play, such as point guard John Wall in Houston this season or forward Al Horford with Oklahoma City last year. Their teams felt it was best for their long-term plans not to devote playing time to veterans who might not appreciate being glued to the bench.

“If it truly is by mutual agreement, I’m not sure the league office should be interfering,” the commissioner said. “On the other hand, you have an aggregate hard [salary] cap. … For every dollar that goes to a player that’s not producing on the floor, that’s $1 less that’s going to a player that is performing. That shouldn’t be ideal for either players or teams.

“Do I have a ready fix? No. I think, again, I’m hoping that those are the kinds of issues that when we sit down with the players, we can approach collectively.”

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have a collective bargaining agreement that can be re-opened after the 2022-23 season.

Silver touched on a variety of topics in his media session before the All-Star Saturday events at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse:

• The league had a scaled-down All-Star Game last March in Atlanta, making this weekend more of a return to some normalcy after nearly two years of COVID impact. The virus and the NBA’s reactions to it hurt financially while testing the league’s resourcefulness. It was only a few weeks after All-Star 2020 in Chicago that Silver made the decision to suspend that regular season.

“We hope it ends up bookending these two events,” he said. “Sort of the beginning of what was the worst of the pandemic and hopefully this is the beginning or the middle of the end of the worst of the pandemic.”

Specifically addressing Brooklyn’s predicament with guard Kyrie Irving — the All-Star guard is unvaccinated, running afoul of a New York ordinance requiring it of home (but not visiting) players — Silver said he hopes restrictions will be eased. But he has not spoken to Mayor Eric Adams and is waiting for the city to act.

• Staging preseason games internationally will resume in October with a trip to Abu Dhabi. And European destinations might be visited as soon as this fall, too.

• Asked about the league’s commitment to diversity hiring, Silver said the league continues to evaluate teams’ performance in that area. He noted that 16 of the 30 head coaches are “people of color. Fourteen are black.” Silver added: “I also don’t want to discount what we’ve seen in terms of progress with general managers,” and disputed a suggestion that many of those jobs are titular only, without traditional GM decision-making responsibilities.

• Silver said he likes the Play-In Tournament that was instituted last spring more than he expected. “What I wasn’t anticipating,” he said, “[was] that we would create races to ensure that teams were within the first six slots in their conference so they could avoid” the one-game elimination risk of the play-in. Meanwhile, teams lower in the conference standings had something to play for deeper into the schedule.

“If my numbers are roughly right, we had 24 teams still competing to get into the playoffs with two weeks to go, which I’m told is a record for the league,” Silver said.

The results were so positive, Silver said, they encourage him about an in-season tournament under consideration for as soon as 2023-24.

• Silver called it “incredible symmetry” that the All-Star Weekend celebrating the league’s 75th anniversary would be held in the same city where the 50th anniversary was held. To those who might have wondered “Why Cleveland again?” the commissioner said the decision was “somewhere between coincidental and intentional” based on the Cavaliers’ bid to host again and the memories of the 1997 events.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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