A lot of things are wrong with the NBA – and professional sports in general. The seasons are too long. The owners are obscenely wealthy and yet hold cities hostage for new stadiums. College players are used in what basically is legalized slavery.
A lighter issue with the NBA is the topic of superstars changing teams every year. A trend kicked off with LeBron in 2010. He set the precedent that a player of his status could leave a team without giving them any form of compensation. Kicking off the era we are in now, which has been defined as “Player Empowerment” which is pretty appropriate.
First it was Bron. Then Kevin Durant in 2016 – and again in 2019. Players of a lesser status followed suit. What he did was justified and ought to have been done decades ago. While I wish to have lived in an era where superstars resides on one team for their entire careers, absorbing the city and its culture I understand I view this time with rose pedal glasses. Perhaps Magic Johnson and Larry Bird would have left their teams if they felt they had the power to pull the strings. We know Magic wanted to be traded as soon as 1982.
Kobe Bryant is Mr. Laker, but he demanded trades lots of times and nearly left Los Angeles in free agency too.
Free agency has become an annual holiday for fans. Due to the the length of contracts only being four to five years, this gives players and teams windows of opportunity to strategize for the faithful date of July 1st.
Like the NBA lottery, it is somewhat idiotic to have something people in high positions constantly wring their hands out and do nothing to fix the situation. The league enjoys owning a significant chunk of the summer calendar. It’s a drug they cannot kick. Oh, sure. There were outcries when the Clippers brass took DeAndre Jordan as a willing hostage in 2015. And again when the Warriors formed their super team in 2016. But nothing was done to prevent this from happening again. These events create narratives and sensually drive interest in the product up. If the ratings took an actual dip that hurt the league’s overall wallet, then you’d see even the NBA Players Association help the league reform the system because their money is tied into this also.
But LeBron and Durant weren’t the first big time superstars to take full advantage free agency. Bill Walton signed with the Clippers (then of San Diego) and the Trail Blazers were given starters Kevin Kunnert, Kermit Washington and the first round pick as compensation. To use an example for modern times: this is like when the Celtics signed Kemba Walker, and had to give the Charlotte Hornets Daniel Theis, Bradley Wanamaker and a 2020 first round pick. Suddenly losing a Star wasn’t such a big deal. Walton was always injured to begin with. But at the time of the signing people believed he was going to turn the franchise around.
How would this work today? When Durant signed with Golden State does that mean they throw Draymond Green to the Thunder? (Oh, the irony!)
Perhaps. Would it beat the current system we have where it’s winner-take-all? Yeah.
The NBA needs to establish rules for free agency. Here are some I have come up with.
- The team signing the star must provide the team losing the star with adequate compensation of at least one quality player and a first (or if possible, two second) round picks.
The NBA will have to define the worth of their players into categories. LeBron and Durant are five stars, so when team A loses them is given a little more compensation. But if the star spent only four years on their team, then they get no compensation.
If a player is a four star talent (Al Horford, Kemba Walker), Team A is given one quality player and a pick whenever Team A decided to; if they wish to use Team B’s pick near or on draft day they will have to swapped picks.
If a player is a three star quality or lower (Joe Ingles, Kyle Korver, Derrick Favors) then Team B isn’t required to give Team A any compensation. It isn’t the end of the world if the Thunder lose Steven Adams.
2. Lengthen the years a contract can be signed too and also incentivize signing longer term… with cash if you’re not catching my drift.
You can’t incentivize players to stay with their original teams with the super max the NBA concocted in the wake of Durant’s departure from OKC. Superstars are extremely rich and if healthy do not need the financial security. Players who have signed the contract (Russell Westbrook and John Wall) either ended up traded within three-years or proved to be damage goods, thereby becoming albatrosses around the teams’ necks.
In order to access this compensation system, your superstar must’ve spent at least five years with you. LeBron spent four years in Miami and his second stint in Cleveland, respectively. So they won’t access any compensation.
- Move free agency to before the draft.
This’ll give teams – and players a better idea of what the landscape for the next season will be and perhaps play a role in who they’ll sign with. And if a team is anticipating a rebuild they can better plan for the new era.
So that’s it. If you’re still reading let me know what think you of this.