The NBA has arguably the most exciting free agency period in all of professional sports. From the minute free agency goes live, a frenzy of deals start pouring onto news feeds around the nation. This year’s frenzy out of the gate included the news that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant would be teaming up in Brooklyn and that the Philadelphia 76ers were replacing Jimmy Butler and J.J. Reddick with Al Horford and Josh Richardson.
But for as exciting as the immediate news of all of these superstars moving from team to team is, it highlights the fact that the NBA clearly isn’t enforcing its own rules on tampering. While players are allowed to talk amongst each other about potential free agent destinations, team officials aren’t supposed to speak with players until free agency is officially underway. The fact that these rules are not being followed is not lost on Commissioner Adam Silver.
Adam Silver claims to be unhappy with free agency
Kawhi Leonard was the only big-name free agent on the market that didn’t have a new home virtually immediately, taking his time before eventually signing with the Los Angeles Clippers. ESPN’s NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski was reporting on stars like Kyrie Irving being set to sign with the Nets and Kemba Walker being ready to sign with Boston a day before free agency began.
Adam Silver had a lot to say on the matter in his annual summer league news conference. Here are a few quotes from that conference:
“My job is to enforce a fair set of rules for all our teams and a set of rules that are clear and make sense for everyone. I think right now we’re not quite there.”
“My sense in the room today was, especially when it comes to free agency and the rules around it, that we’ve got work to do.”
“The one strong conviction I have is that we should not have rules that are not strictly enforced, and we know that’s the case right now.”
If he really doesn’t like it, he should crack down
This complaining from the commissioner rings hollow to me. Why is he talking about this issue as if he has no power to do anything about it? He’s the commissioner of the NBA!
The league fined Los Angeles Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers $50,000 for tampering last season for simply complimenting Kawhi Leonard on an ESPN broadcast. What is stopping Silver from investigating the teams that have had deals leaked before free agency began for tampering? If a compliment on television is worthy of a fine, certainly a handful of fines should be levied out for such an egregious disrespect for the rules?
Silver isn’t wrong in suggesting that conversations should take place between himself, the player’s union and league owners on this issue. But to act as though he can do nothing about it in the meantime is disingenuous.
Does the NBA’s free agency system need fixing?
Is Silver trying to fix something that isn’t broken?
Sure, a line has to be drawn somewhere. There is already so much midseason speculation about free agency that eliminating rules on tampering altogether and creating a chaotic recruiting scene during the season wouldn’t be good.
But I don’t see the big deal in players and teams with mutual interest having discussions after the NBA Finals have come to a close. Some teams may complain that they don’t get a fair shake in free agency, but in reality, the sooner a team knows it isn’t going to get a certain player, the better; that opens the door for them to use time and resources on other options.
The NBA free agency period and the hoopla around it every year is great for the game. There is room for improvement on both the rules and the enforcement of them, but this doesn’t strike me as a high-priority issue for the league.