NBA free agency won't and shouldn't change because of DeAndre Jordan

LAS VEGAS — A fun fact that seems to have been lost in NBA circles: The July moratorium, depicted as such a scourge over the past week, benefits teams and players.

The moratorium has taken a beating thanks to DeAndre Jordan's free agency indecision, but consider that it has been a valuable tool in dampening the blow of significant free agent losses for a number of teams, as what might have been outright signings were turned into sign-and-trades. The most notable example was the Warriors’ would-be signing of Andre Iguodala, whose exit would have left the Nuggets empty-handed. Because the league was in a moratorium, the Nuggets, Warriors and Jazz worked out a deal that brought Randy Foye to Denver.

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The Suns wound up with four draft picks (later used to procure Brandon Knight and Archie Goodwin) when the Lakers signed Steve Nash. The Raptors and Cavaliers got picks from the Heat when they lost Chris Bosh and LeBron James in 2010. Toronto did especially well, getting Jonas Valanciunas and, through another trade, James Johnson from the deal.

The league could still have sign-and-trades even without a moratorium, of course, but it has proven to be a useful incubation time to get those deals rolling.

That’s one reason that, when it came to possibly upending the troubled moratorium altogether on Tuesday at the NBA Board of Governors meeting, the solution was to tell everyone to chill out. Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA owners, when they got down to practical changes that might be made, could not come up with anything.

“Nobody had a great idea, frankly, in terms of how to change it,” Silver said. “I think there was some discussion about whether the moratorium potentially should be a bit shorter, but as I have said, it is an imperfect system and I think we’re striking the right balance between teams having the opportunity to talk to players when they become free agents and creating certainty at some point when contracts are entered into.”

Doing nothing on this issue is the right thing. Fact is, the moratorium has been on the books for many an NBA summer. It’s a necessity, the period in which the league calculates its income from far and wide, gets it verified by its own accountants and by the NBA players union, and from that, comes up with some pretty important math: The league’s salary cap and luxury tax is based on that math, as well as the total payout the league was supposed to give to players the previous year.

In the decades of the moratorium (which starts on July 1 and, now, runs for somewhere between seven and 10 business days, depending on the calendar) hundreds and hundreds of contracts have been agreed upon and are made official at the end of the moratorium. The process works nearly every time and only elicits this kind of criticism when something goes wrong.

That was this year, when Jordan agreed to jump to the Mavericks three days into the moratorium, had a change of heart and decided to return to the Clippers before the moratorium was up.

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The Jordan fiasco has led to much hand-wringing about the moratorium, with suggestions that it should be shortened or even eliminated. But the cooler heads running the league have prevailed. That pretty much has been the hallmark of Silver’s tenure as commissioner thus far—he has a lot of big ideas and has been forward-thinking in his approach, but that has been tempered by caution and an unwillingness to indulge in knee-jerk reactions.

Tinkering with the moratorium simply because of one high-profile reneging would amount to an irrational overreaction. The moratorium exists because the league still is balancing its books and making sure every scrap of basketball-related income is accounted for in order to set the upcoming season's salary cap. The league could push back its recruitment period until the math is calculated, not allowing teams and players to agree to deals until, say, July 9.

But why? July 1 is the ideal starting point for free agency—the end of the season flows from Finals to draft to free agency to the summer leagues. It keeps the NBA on the front of sports pages well into the summer. Silver certainly was not going to say it, but the Jordan saga was not a terrible thing for the league. Again, it kept the NBA front-and-center among the major sports.

“I can say, from a personal standpoint, it was not a great look,” Silver said, “There was a breakdown in the system to a certain extent. Teams come to rely on those assurances. Having said that, I think, certainly, there are decisions I’ve made in my life where I have had second thoughts, and if you’re not bound by an agreement — DeAndre Jordan was exercising a right that he has under the collective bargaining agreement. I’m not sure it is his proudest moment,


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Silver was also asked about the notion of player tampering — teams, of course, are not allowed to interfere with opponents’ free agents until July 1, but opposing players have become increasingly vocal and public in their recruiting efforts. There’s no rule that prevents them from contacting potential teammates before July 1, as long as they are acting as individuals, not on behalf of their organizations. Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons has detailed his extensive June courtship of Jordan, which he then thought had successfully convinced the much-needed center to join him in Dallas.

But Silver, acknowledging that the issue is an uncomfortable one, said the league would not get involved in policing player interactions.

“It’s largely out of our realm,” he said. “I technically would not call it tampering. We made a decision that when a player is talking to another player, saying, ‘I’d love to play with you,’ and that’s not done at the behest of the team, we accept that. It’s not ideal because preferably you wouldn’t want a player doing what a team couldn’t otherwise do. But I think there is also a practical reality that, the notion that we would try to restrict players form having private conversations with each other — or even social media conversations with each other — just doesn’t make sense. It’s part of the world.”

The league is not going to move on the moratorium — or on issues like player recruiting — unless it becomes an annual problem. If a player were to sabotage a situation by agreeing to a deal before changing his mind and jumping to a rival team, there would be a problem. If teams began to use the moratorium as a sort of restricted free agency, inviting players to get other offers before re-approaching them with a better deal, there would be a problem.

But Jordan’s knuckle-headed waffling was, as Silver suggested, an embarrassment as much for Jordan as it was for the league. It hasn’t happened before on this scale and is not likely to happen again. The Mavericks would disagree, but on balance, the moratorium still brings more good than harm.