NBA Commissioner Adam Silver didn't like the circumstances that led to the blockbuster Ben Simmons-James Harden trade. He just doesn't see a way to fix them.
Silver noted that players being unhappy with their teams and asking for trades is nothing new. But the commissioner said Saturday that a player taking the stance Simmons did with the Philadelphia 76ers, refusing to play knowing he would be fined, is more complicated.
“I don’t have something specific in mind that can prevent a situation like this,” Silver said. “But I think we and the players have a collective common interest in ensuring that contracts are honored.”
Silver started his annual All-Star news conference with an upbeat tone, saying people around the league were feeling more at ease as the coronavirus pandemic shows signs of easing and restrictions are lifted. He talked of taking the league back on the road again, for games outside the U.S. and more community-based events around the country.
“It’s been a difficult time for so many, but I’m frankly thrilled to be back here in person with so many people,” Silver said. “I would say it’s been a celebratory mood for people in the NBA family.”
But he couldn't hide his disappointment about the circumstances surrounding the deal at the trade deadline that ended with Simmons moving from Philadelphia to Brooklyn, just 13 months after the Nets had acquired Harden from Houston.
“Again, it’s no secret that I’ve expressed my unhappiness with public trade demands,” Silver said.
“In the case of Ben Simmons, I don’t think — I can’t think of a change to the system that to the extent you have a player that is willing to sit out and not be paid, which is the scenario we have right now," Silver said. “I don’t want to speak for Ben, but that was the posture we saw in that case of a player saying that, ‘I’m unhappy in the city, and I’m not going to play.’
“And you had a team saying, ‘We’re not going to pay you, and there’s going to be discipline.’ There’s a stalemate."
Silver said he was sympathetic to the players' wants, noting the additional stress caused by the pandemic. But he is also concerned for the teams, and the players who are affected when trade rumors leak.
“Of course, as the commissioner of this league, we want our players to be happy. We want them to find themselves in situations where they think they can be most productive,” Silver said. “At the same time, we want to run an orderly league, and so like a lot of things in life, we have to find the appropriate balance there.”
Simmons cited mental health concerns for his belief he needed to leave Philadelphia, saying last week they began before last season and the 76ers were aware of them. Silver said he didn't know the specifics of Simmons' situation, but that mental health was something teams were spending more time on even before the pandemic.
“I think it’s something that we have talked a lot more about in terms of all our community programs, and it’s another area where I really don’t have any doubt we can do more,” he said.
Silver also addressed several other topics:
As soon as it's safe, Silver wants the NBA back in overseas markets and has had discussions about doing so as soon as next preseason.
“We’re very much a global league, and the opportunity to bring teams to other continents, to other places in the world, is part of how we believe we grow the sport,” Silver said. “Because we can have, I think, a dramatically larger impact by showing up in those cities, creating a lot of excitement around those teams.”
REPORTERS IN THE LOCKER ROOMS
Reporters covering NBA teams haven't returned to the locker rooms since the pandemic began in March 2020, with interviews being conducted in conference rooms or via Zoom.
Silver downplayed the possibility of a return to the old format, not only for health and safety reasons, but because he believes there could be a better system that would provide more privacy for players.
“I just think this is an opportunity in the pandemic — and there’s some real health and safety issues on top of that for all of you and our players as we’re still living with this virus that we should include in the mix — but I can’t believe we can’t find a better way,” Silver said. “Maybe it will require some additional appearances, additional media time from our players, but we should take a fresh look at it.”
Silver said the play-in tournament, that has the teams finishing 7-10 in their conferences playing a mini-tournament for the final two playoff spots, has been even more successful than he hoped.
“In many ways, it’s been better than we had anticipated,” he said. “I don’t want to overstate it because I don’t have many years to go by, but we’re pleased.”