After a tumultuous stint in Brooklyn, Kyrie Irving was traded to the Dallas Mavericks. The trade occurred after the controversial superstar guard, Irving requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets. The news is nothing surprising to the Nets. After a failed attempt at assembling a "Big 3" involving stars Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Irving, Irving was the last member of the trio to request a trade from the Nets. Out of a possible 113 games, Durant, Harden, and Irving only played 16 games together, before Harden requested to be traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. A few months later, Durant stated that he wanted to be traded as well, although he ended up staying with Brooklyn. Neither Durant nor Harden were fined by the NBA for their trade requests, but the NBA has not been so consistent in these situations. The question is if the NBA will penalize Irving for his request per the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") or do nothing as was the case with his former teammates.
The NBA's CBA, as is the case with the other professional sports league CBAs, sets out the governing principles of the league which are not in its constitutions or by-laws. Article XXX, Section 4 of the NBA’s CBA, discusses the "Best Efforts of Players Association." It states in part, "The Players Association will use its best efforts: (e) to prevent each player from making any demand upon the NBA or any of its Teams…" If a player violates this clause, the league may take action against the player. Though throughout the many times that players have requested trades since the current CBA went into effect in 2017, there has not been a steadfast rule that the NBA has enforced.
Two of the biggest names of those who have requested trades include Harden and Durant. First, in 2020, reports were out that Harden wanted to be traded from the Rockets. He was only fined $50,000 at the time for violating Covid-19 protocols, but not concerning his trade request. A couple of years later, in February 2022, Harden made headlines again when he requested a trade from the Nets to the Philadelphia 76ers.
A few months later, in June 2022, Durant also requested a trade from the Nets. Once more, there was no fine. Furthermore, in 2018, former Cavaliers guard JR Smith was asked by a reporter if he wanted to be traded and he answered in the affirmative. After an NBA review, Smith was not fined.
However, the NBA has taken action against some other players. In 2017, while Eric Bledsoe was playing for the Phoenix Suns, he tweeted "I don't want to be here." He was fined $10,000. Most notably, all-star power forward, Anthony Davis was fined $50,000 after his agent told the media that Davis requested a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans and would not sign a contract extension. The following year, Dwayne Dedmon, after signing a three-year contract with Sacramento Kings requested a trade after being demoted from the starting rotation. The NBA also fined the Kings’ center $50,000, calling the comments "detrimental to the NBA and its teams."
Although not explicitly set out in the CBA, the difference between the players who have been fined and those who have not seems to be based on the public nature of the requests. However, it appears that players who want out of their current situations have found a loophole to avoid being fined. All they need to do is, tell an inside source to leak the requests. For example, when Harden requested a trade from the Nets to the 76ers, he resisted making a public comment to avoid public backlash, but since someone else leaked the news, the liability was removed from him.
For the most protection, the source of the trade request has to be somewhat attenuated. In Anthony Davis’ case, his agent Rich Paul made public comments, not him. Even though the applicable section of the CBA is titled “Best Efforts of the Players Association”, which would make it seems that only if Davis had made the comments would there have been repercussions. However, as NBA agents are certified by the unions only after an agent passes the union's exam, they are considered an extension of the Players Association.
It does not appear that Irving will be fined for his trade request unless he personally, or his agent had publicly stated that he wanted to be traded. However, even if one of them did, it is possible the NBA still would not do anything, as was the case when Durant's agent, Rich Kleiman was the one to tell ESPN about his trade request and there were no consequences.
Elliot Schwartz is a 3L at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. While at Yeshiva University, he was a player and manager of the nationally-ranked Roller Hockey team. He can be reached on Twitter and LinkedIn.