Report: NBA teams increasingly interested in opening free agency before draft

2019 NBA Draft
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

NBA free agency unofficially begins before the draft.

Could the league officially open free agency before the draft?

A few years ago, the Rockets proposed starting free agency before the draft like the NFL does. The idea gained renewed attention last offseason, as the NBA overhauled its offseason calendar amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The offseason order has remained intact. But apparently, proponents of flipping the draft and free agency have gained traction since Houston raised the issue in 2018.

Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports:

A league source told Yahoo Sports about two-thirds of the teams were against it

But quietly, momentum is changing and two general managers told Yahoo Sports they believe it’s a 50-50 split across the league.

One is a strong proponent for it, the other would favor it but wouldn’t fight hard for the change.

The GMs reached by Yahoo Sports didn’t come down to a 50-50 split, they were more in favor of the NFL model by a decent margin.

It’s often difficult for people to support change unless there’s a problem with a status quo, and the current system works well enough. Flipping the draft and free agency wouldn’t be a perfect solution, either.

Sometimes, teams regret draft picks based after seeing how free agency plays out. If the order of events were switched, teams would sometimes regret signings after seeing how the draft plays out.

The NFL comparisons are also overblown. Football players are much more likely to enter the pros ready to contribute, so it’s more important NFL teams understand their positional needs entering the draft. NBA teams already place too much emphasis on immediate fit when drafting. They don’t need reason to do it even more.

That said, if the draft were held later, there might be a better-overall allocation of players to teams. Teams would have more flexibility to shape their rosters and trade picks before the draft. Then, picks would be more likely to belong to the teams that actually want to draft in those slot, and they could select their desired player.

But this isn’t just a theoretical exercise. Delaying the draft would delay summer league and reduce the summer break of team and league employees. That might be the biggest source of resistance – which is reasonable. A slightly better-organized calendar isn’t worth people in these high-pressure jobs having even less time for family, friends and relaxation. Burnout would be damaging.

Again, the current system works well enough.