In their legendary Oprah show appearance, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley spent most of the time making fun of each other and making everyone laugh. But for a moment, they had a serious reflection on young players getting paid too much too soon.
“In our sport, you get paid off of potential. A rock star, you first have to be good. Most young kids now, we don't know how good they'll be, but they got five-year guarantees, millions of dollars, admiration of many, endorsement deals. When you look back in our era, Michael Jordans, Magic Johnsons, Larry Birds, Charles Barkleys - we earned what we got.”
Michael Jordan, Oprah Show
MJ made sure to point out he doesn't want to bring the young players down. But as an owner, he stayed close to the game and can see first hand the difference between his era and nowadays. In Jordan's eyes, the stars in his era had to prove they are worth it before getting it. Kids these days get too much upfront, and MJ thinks that's a problem.
“I think it sets a bad work ethic. When you get something so easily, you won't work as hard.”
Michael Jordan, Oprah Show
Mind you, that was in 2004! While MJ was primarily referring to money, his overall point applies to other parts of the game. The 2010s were the era of the total rebuild. From The Process in Philly on, blowing up your team, getting a high upside guy, and giving him the keys to the franchise was seen as the way to go.
The logic is simple - let the young stars in the making play through their mistakes for a few years, and when you get a few young studs, surround them with good players and attack the playoffs. Blake Griffin explained the other side of that coin, and why the veteran presence of himself and Rose is important for their rookies. It doesn't have to be money - you can corrupt players with minutes and a lack of accountability.
“With young players, you can pick up bad habits really quickly if you're not a veteran or you don't have a good example. Some fans are all about tanking and playing the young guys as much as possible. Bringing guys along and not giving them too much at one time is very important.”
Blake Griffin, Twitter
The Atlanta Hawks are a perfect example of this. Trae Young put up numbers on a bad team and decided all the praise and attention mean he's ready for playoff basketball. Young's been compared to Steph Curry because of his frame and range, and the worst outcome for the Hawks happened - Trae believes the comparisons are legitimate.
Young is shooting under 40 percent from the field for the season and just 26.5 percent from 3-point range. He is average at best - 26.5% from three this season and 33% for his career. Steph Curry numbers, those are not. While the Hawks were tanking, they let him take absurd shots and praised him for it. Now, the chickens have come home to roost.
This is a shot Steph, Dame, and maybe LeBron get to take. For everyone else, it's a horrible shot. Having good shot selection is a part of being a good shooter, and Young's shot selection is horrific. His greatest skill is his playmaking, but Trae sees himself as a shooter.
The same way pandering to Harden led to the chaos we saw and read about in recent weeks, other teams are giving too much authority and leverage to players that didn't prove anything yet. It's no coincidence we found out how many teammates didn't like playing with Harden, and the same is starting to happen to Young. At the beginning of the season, Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce was talked about being on the hot seat, in large part due to Young's pressure on the organization. What did he achieve in his career to have such influence? Nothing.
MJ told Oprah getting something easily affects your work ethic. It's not just about the hours you put in - work is also facing your (current) limitations and being strong enough to admit you are not as good as you thought you are. That's character work, and it's often the difference between winning and losing.
They may be labeled as the future of the franchise, but there still has to be a structure in place to let young players know in the present, there's a lot of work to be done to earn the status they think they deserve.