I've been thinking a lot about player empowerment and the terms people throw out about it (i.e. "entitled players" "whiny stars," etc.). The truth is, it's all a question of power -- and not the power we fans have, because we don't figure into it, but the power balance between owners/management on the one hand, and the players on the other. There's a spectrum:
Owner Dominant Partners Player Dominant
A spectrum from one end to the other with shades of gray, but ultimately three main models for the player-management relationship.
(1) Owner/Management Dominant: On one extreme is the owner dominant model, in which the owner/management runs the team, the players have no say, and they come and go based on the whims of the owner or management.
(2) Player Dominant: On the other extreme is the player dominant extreme, which some fans derisively refer to as appeasing players or "letting the inmates run the asylum." Here, the owners and managers kowtow to their superstars' every whim, offering little to no pushback on either player demands or misbehavior.
(3) Partnership: And in the middle is true partnership, in which the management and ownership consult with the star players, each solicits the advice of the other, and they try to work together to put the team in the best position to succeed.
When talking about the "player empowerment" era, fans have a tendency lump the second and third together, but they're quite different.
The first approach is probably best exemplified by James Dolan. Can an owner-dominant team win? In decades past, yes (see the '90s Bulls). In the current era? Maybe, but only if the owner lucks into drafting star players who don't mind being good soldiers. The model works better with a superstar GM/management that's earned a ton of player credibility. Still, star FAs may be reluctant to sign with such teams, giving the team less paths to contention.
One of the better examples of the third approach would be the current Lebron-led Lakers. Can you win with that approach? Yes, if you have a proven winner superstar, but even then, you hamper yourself because the player might not know what's best for constructing the team. Was Lebron right to push for adding Westbrook and Melo and DeAndre Jordan? No. He's a helluva player but not great at roster construction.
Clearly, the best path to team-building is the second approach, the true partnership. It's how Pat Riley built his Heat teams. Is there any question that the Warriors' braintrust consults with their stars? Or that the Bucks talk to Giannis? And is there anything wrong with this approach? Players can change franchise's fortunes when they switch jerseys. They can make owners billions, sometimes generating far more value than their max contracts are worth. And players have limited playing careers; their primes last less than a decade. Is it wrong for them to want a say in where they go, who they play with, whether they have a chance to win a title during their limited window?
So what have we learned about the Nets in the past month? A lot of fans are saying "this is great -- Tsai is rejecting the player dominant approach!"
I'm not so sure. Was KD coming in with a list of demands, or did he just want to be treated like a partner, consulted by the franchise? If it's the latter, and the Nets refused to so much as talk to or consult KD about what they planned to do this off-season... then maybe what's happening is not that the team is rejecting the player-dominant model, but that it's committing to the owner dominant one as opposed to the partnership approach.
If so, then regardless of our feelings about KD and Kyrie, we have reason to be concerned about the future of the Tsai era.