No one is following the NBA’s free agency rules, and the commissioner knows it’s an issue
LAS VEGAS — Commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged issues in how free agency is being conducted by several, if not all, NBA teams who are jumping the proverbial gun on the moratorium to negotiate.
Although Silver would appreciate teams waiting until the June 29 date to actually schedule meetings to discuss contracts and the June 30 dates to actually begin negotiating, he fully realizes none of his 30 clubs are adhering to those rules.
Players such as the Celtics’ Kemba Walker and the Nets’ Kevin Durant agreed to deals when the 6 p.m. Eastern deadline began, even though they were only allowed to “negotiate” deals at that time. Tampering is rampant in the NBA, and the Celtics were victims a few weeks ago when Al Horford opted out of the final year of his contract and then spurned Boston’s extension offer because he had a better offer on the table.
But offers weren’t supposed to be discussed for another two weeks. Horford eventually agreed to a four-year, $109 million deal with the rival 76ers just two hours into free agency, but it’s believed that deal had been consummated several days before.
So inasmuch as Silver is enjoying the free-agent frenzy and the NBA being the top sports story line weeks after the NBA Finals have concluded, he knows there’s an issue. Either change the rules to allow earlier negotiations or penalize teams that are reaching deals with players before they are allowed to.
“Obviously the deals are being announced immediately after the discussion period begins, there have been prior discussions,” Silver said at his summer league news conference. “I think to a certain extent we always knew that was some leakage, some slippage around those deadlines. There was a certain amount that has been acceptable in the league but the consensus is we need to revisit and reset those rules.
“I’d say No. 1, some of the rules we have in place may not make sense. I think it’s pointless we have rules that we can’t enforce. I think it hurts the perception of integrity around the league if people say, ‘You have that rule and the teams aren’t totally complying, then why do you have it?’ There certainly was a sense that we could do a better job.”
In addition, nearly 40 percent of NBA players were free agents this summer, causing an unprecedented amount of player movement. The Celtics lost Kyrie Irving, Horford, Marcus Morris, and Terry Rozier to free agency.
While NBA free agency has become a major offseason story and has dominated the sports scene this month, Silver said the effect of such movement is two-fold. Many of the league’s premier players – Irving, Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Walker and even Anthony Davis through a trade — have changed teams in the past month.
“We knew with shortened contracts several years ago that the math would be the case, with shorter contracts you would have free agency and more player movement in the summer,” Silver said. “It’s always a two-edged sword. On one hand it creates a sense of renewal in a lot of market, it gives teams an opportunity to rebuild but the downside, of course, for other teams is that potentially lose players.
“I also think with shorter contracts it creates more of an ultimate sense of urgency for players. It creates greater incentives for teams. On balance, it’s working well. We didn’t do it to create more interest in the offseason but obviously it’s created more media interest and fan interest. That’s been something that’s been positive. There’s pluses and minuses to almost everything we do.”
Silver finally acknowledged that the league and finances are growing faster that many of the owners and players expected. For example, the NBA’s salary cap was $58.044 million 10 years ago. The cap was just set at $109.14 million last week for the 2019-20 season.
The influx of television money and the popularity of the league both in the United States and internationally has turned the NBA into a 365-day per year sport with unrelenting interest. It’s about time the league starts making rule adjustments to foster and accommodate that growth.
“What we’re realizing, and I think it was a constructive discussion among the team owners, was that it’s less about pointing fingers at the end of the day, it’s that the world has changed, and in part we’re the victims of our own success,” Silver said. “We never used to have this kind of coverage in the offseason. We never used to have this kind of attention to Summer League basketball. And as I say, the 24/7 attention on free agency creates new pressures.
“In fact, the reason we set up the system where you could begin discussions prior to the setting of the cap was in the old days before we had the system, we had a similar issue in terms of what we have now. The cap would be announced, and instantaneously deals would be announced, and people would say, how could that have happened? So we said, all right, let’s create time. We’ll have this built-in time where we’ll have discussions before you can enter into a binding agreement. But clearly then whether teams lived under that system precisely, I’m not sure, but clearly that time then advanced. So we’re back where we used to be.”