It’s not the remarkable wealth cascading upon players in free agency that bothers NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. His league and its owners are well-financed and positioned to pay players what they seem to be worth. And most times they do so very happily.
What seems to trouble Silver is the manner in which its all being done. So he spent most of his address at the league’s Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas talking about how to change the system.
“There is work to do,” said Silver.
It’s clearly apparent the deals which brought Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn, Kemba Walker to Boston and Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers, to name of few, were negotiated and agreed upon long before the start of free agency – June 30 at 6 p.m. Silver is not sure he likes that.
“I think they’re (teams) put in difficult situations, because when they’re sitting across from a player and whether it’s conversations that are happening earlier than they should or frankly things are being discussed that don’t fall squarely within the collective bargaining agreement, it puts teams in a very difficult position,” said Silver. “They are reading or hearing that other teams are doing other things to compete, and at the end of the day, that’s what this league is about: competing for championships.
“I don’t necessarily see it as player versus owner, When we step back, what’s best for the fan? I think what’s best for the fan is a 30-team league which everyone has the opportunity to compete with a fair set of rules. I think to the extent that the balance of power is out of whack a little bit, we should address it.”
What Silver appears to be saying is, some clubs are being adversely impacted playing by the rules by waiting until the proper time to begin speaking to players and their agents.
In the meantime, teams skirting the rules are creating unfair momentum with players, something that becomes clear to everybody when news of signings begins to leak before the gates are supposed to swing open.
We all knew Walker was headed to the Celtics days before it actually happened. The signings of Durant and Irving came immediately after the start of free agency. Most of the movement was confirmed within 24 hours, which means teams had been working on deals far in advance.
“I think the consensus at both our committee meetings and the board meeting was that we need to revisit and reset those rules, that some of the rules we have in place may not make sense,” Silver said. “I think it’s pointless at the end of the day to have rules we can’t enforce. I think it hurts the perception of integrity around the league if people say, ‘Well, you have that rule and it’s obvious that teams aren’t fully complying, so why do you have it?’
“We should think about what does make sense for our teams so that ultimately we can create a level playing field among the teams and that the partner teams have confidence that their competitors are adhering to the same set of rules they are.”
Another perception problem with NBA has, and shares with Major League Baseball, is that most of its superstar free agents wind up in big media markets. Admit it, no one thought for a minute Indiana, Portland or Sacramento would ever have a shot of signing Durant, Walker, Leonard or Al Horford (Philadelphia) and Jimmy Butler (Miami).
“I will say I’m mindful of this notion of balance of power, and I think it applies in many different ways,” said Silver. “An appropriate balance of power between the teams and the players, an appropriate balance of power I’d say among all our 30 teams, big markets, small markets, some markets that are perceived as being more attractive than others, tax issues, climate issues. At the end of the day, you want to make sure you have a league where every team is in a position to compete.”
And then there are the cases of players making demands to be dealt. Some are obviously conspiring with each other so that they can play together. The Anthony Davis trade to the Lakers and Paul George’s to the Clippers were kick-started by the players asking to be dealt to certain teams.
“That’s nothing new in the league in terms of trade demands. But it concerns all of us,” said Silver. “I mean, it falls in the same category of issues of the so-called rule of law within a sports league. You have a contract and it needs to be meaningful on both sides. On one hand, there’s an expectation if you have a contract and it’s guaranteed that the team is going to meet the terms of the contract, and the expectation on the other side is the player is going to meet the terms of the contract.
“I will say, without getting into any specific circumstances, trade demands are disheartening. They’re disheartening to the team. They’re disheartening to the community and don’t serve the player well. The players care about their reputations just as much. And so that’s an issue that needs to be addressed.”
It will be interesting as time moves on to see what changes the NBA proposes and whether teams will adhere to them.
The top 2021 free agent is MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Will he allow the Milwaukee Bucks to sign him to a mega-deal before he can test free agency or will he demand a trade? And if not, when will the teams that want him start sniffing around him?
Silver will be watching.