Report: NBA attempting to discourage teams from saying they’ll match offers on restricted free agents

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For as long as anyone can remember, teams with stars facing restricted free agency have been saying publicly that they’ll match any offer sheet those players get. It’s a way of both reassuring fans that their favorite player is in the team’s long-term plans and making other teams think twice about tying up their cap space with an offer sheet.

According to a new report by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the NBPA isn’t thrilled about the practice, and the league is attempting to discourage teams from doing it.

ESPN.com has learned that the NBA, as far back as November, issued a memo to all teams warning them that the NBA Players Association has officially taken the position that the well-worn “we’ll match any offer” reflex strategy and its corresponding intent to discourage interest in a particular RFA is a circumvention of the salary cap.

The league’s memo, sources said, took the rare step of further cautioning teams that, while the NBA itself doesn’t concur with the NBPA’s view, league officials see enough potential merit in the union’s stance to advise those who persist with match-any-offer chatter that they could be opening themselves up to legal action.

This is going to be a big summer for restricted free agents: the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler, the Warriors’ Draymond Green, the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, the Pistons’ Reggie Jackson, the Cavs’ Tristan Thompson and the Bucks’ Khris Middleton lead this year’s crop. All of those players will undoubtedly draw interest around the league, but particularly in the case of Butler, Leonard and Green, it’s widely expected that their teams will match anything.

This stance against the “we’ll-match-any-offer” rhetoric is right in line with the approach NPBA executive director Michele Roberts has taken since she started as the leader of the players’ union. It’s exactly what she should be doing. Restricted free agency is a tricky issue, because the NBA wants teams, particularly those in small markets, to have a mechanism to keep their young stars, and the players want the freedom to choose their own teams.

There is some merit to the idea that a team saying publicly that they’ll match all offers can kill a player’s earning power and leverage. Under normal circumstances, Eric Bledsoe would have been one of the most sought-after free agents on the market last summer, but teams were so convinced that the Suns would match their offer sheets that they showed no appetite whatsoever for going after him. Bledsoe dangled in restricted free agency until almost the start of training camp, when he finally agreed to a five-year, $70 million deal to stay with the Suns. Roberts wants to prevent a similar situation from taking place with someone like Butler or Middleton.