The first few years of a young player’s career should, in a perfect world, be the least eventful. A rookie contract should serve as an opportunity for a young player to acclimate into the league and slowly develop his skills. Nowadays, such opportunities are growing increasingly rare. Just ask Tyrese Maxey, who hasn’t even started his fourth season, but has already watched two superstar teammates make ugly trade demands.
In 2021, right after Maxey’s rookie season, Ben Simmons made it clear that he would not be returning to the Philadelphia 76ers. General manager Daryl Morey refused to acquiesce to his demands, and Simmons remained on the roster without playing until February 2022. Morey only dealt Simmons when he was offered a suitable replacement in James Harden.
Now, it’s Harden seeking the trade, and Maxey, having already been through this once before, is remarkably unphased by the situation. “It’s crazy to say this, but it’s not our first rodeo, honestly,” Maxey said on his Maxey on the Mic podcast (h/t Liberty Ballers). “That’s funny to say, but that’s life. James is his own individual and he’s able to do whatever he pleases. I’m preparing right now to play with him or without him. … and I love James. If James decided he’s going to come back and play for us, there’s nobody in this organization that would be upset about that.”
Maxey was a reserve as a rookie but saw his scoring leap from eight to 17.5 points per game as a sophomore with Simmons out. Once Harden was acquired, though, he handed over the role of primary ball-handler to the former MVP. In other words, he doesn’t need to prepare to play with or without Harden. He’s already proven that he can cycle between the two roles within a season comfortably.
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Yet it’s still somewhat jarring to hear such a young player speak of a superstar’s trade request as if it’s a standard obstacle players and teams need to overcome. In the modern NBA, he’s right. Almost every team has experienced either the loss or acquisition of a star in the past decade or so. Star movement can uproot half a dozen players or more in a single trade, and it is becoming so common that players need to be prepared for it. Even those who don’t directly change teams in the process need to learn to work with new players. Surviving the whims of a superstar, today, is an essential NBA skill.
Maxey learned it the hard way already. Newer members of the 76ers will have to figure it out on the fly, but even if they hadn’t in Philadelphia, they would have eventually. There’s no such thing as stability in the NBA of 2023. Maxey has realized it, and the rest of the league likely has as well.