You might want to avoid Mark Cuban today. Nobody can really blame him for being in a bad mood — DeAndre Jordan, one of the best centers in the game, verbally agreed to come to Dallas, and then at the last minute backed out and re-signed with the Clippers. Jordan started what became one of the wildest days in free agency memory by calling up Doc Rivers directly, blocking out his agent and refusing to take a call from (let alone meet) Cuban face-to-face. It blew up the Maverick’s summer plans to try and be one of the elite teams in the West (they were probably still on the second tier, but if Jordan hadn’t given them a verbal Cuban likely would have gone in a very different direction this summer).
Cuban isn’t the only team executive ticked off.
There are a lot of other front offices around the league that thought this looked bad for business — players hiding out at a home, avoiding responsibility while playing cards and video games. It was certainly dramatic. It was also unprofessional. There are a lot of people — scouts, assistant coaches, and so many others that work for teams on the business side — whose livelihoods depend on the $5 billion NBA business, and this made it look like a toy.
What Jordan did was within his rights, I don’t have a problem with a player deciding to go where he wants. I don’t blame the Clippers — they got a direct call from Jordan saying he was having second thoughts, and their title hopes hinged on him changing his mind.
But there will be fallout from how this is done.
Other teams also saw how this shook out and feared the repercussions. For one it could mean even when a free agent decides to move on — and it doesn’t happen that often, major targets stay put about two-thirds of the time — the recruiting of them might not stop. Up to now, there had been an unwritten rule that once a player verbally committed everyone backed off. What’s more, teams note that Jordan’s decision to go to Dallas led to a number of other dominoes to fall in free agency. Teams chased other players, and those players made decisions based on Dallas not having cap space. Dallas likely doesn’t sign Wesley Matthews to a $57 million deal if Jordan says no the first time. Now all of that could open up again.
As a result, there is one thing you can bet on this summer — there will be a push to change the NBA’s moratorium period.
The challenge is that the moratorium is collectively bargained, so that changing it requires the union to buy in and tweak the CBA. That is a combative relationship as the two sides posture for the 2017 lockout, getting that done may not be easy. Plus don’t forget the Clippers’ Chris Paul is the union president, and that long break worked out pretty well for him this year.
There are couple reasons for the moratorium, which is usually seven to nine days (although next year it is scheduled to be until July 12.). One is to allow the league to crunch the numbers from the previous season, then use the final financial figures to set the new salary cap and tax line for next season. This year, that number jumped from the anticipated $67 million up to $70 million. That also impacts how much a max salary is and more.
The other (and league officials will tell you the main reason) is to give other teams the chance to meet with free agents and pitch them fairly. If there is no moratorium, it encourages teams to tamper and talk to players before free agency starts (which happens anyway through back channels, this would just make it more imperative and a larger operation).
Team officials would like one of two things to happen: The moratorium gets killed all together, or it gets shrunk down to three or four days.
The league wants free agents get the chance to meet with multiple teams and make a more patient, less pressured decision. That had some advantages for teams, but now some teams would like to do away with it all together. From Zach Lowe at Grantland.
That brings us to a simpler solution popular among team executives: Finish the damn audit on June 30, set the cap, and start real free agency — signings and everything — on July 1. Kill the moratorium. There would still be some back-channeling ahead of July 1, but since all players are technically under contract through June 30, such pre-free-agency chitchat would fall much more clearly under the league’s tampering rules. If some free agent were to switch teams at 12:01 a.m. July 1 without taking a single meeting, it would raise huge red flags.
If the union goes along with this — and that is no guarantee — my guess is next season will see a three-day moratorium. Maybe five tops. That way, the next time a player changes his mind, other teams and other decisions are not so far down the road. And the entire thing looks more professional.