The following is a conversation between Blazer's Edge staff members about the NBA moratorium period. We began last Thursday night and present it to you today.
This has been a zoo. A madhouse, even. From the anticipation of LaMarcus Aldridge signing to the drawn-out circus of his eternal meeting cycle to the dominoes falling after him (and then re-falling in the case of DeAndre Jordan switching back to the Clippers from the Mavericks), this is the craziest moratorium period we've ever seen.
Note that I didn't say this was the craziest moratorium period there has ever been. No doubt there have been some doozies over the years. But we live in a social media age now, where every agent and every team has access to media voices ready to share the slightest hint of a rumor. We're not even talking real-time coverage here, we're talking prognostication, possibilities reported before they happen. NBA fans have access to moratorium week proceedings like never before.
Which is part of the reason I'm going to argue that the NBA ought to do away with it.
Media circuses are all well and good when they draw the right kind of attention, but this one threatens to cheapen the league and give rise to bitterness. Too much familiarity can breed contempt.
We already know this is a player's league. Free agency confirms this. If you want to root for the most excellent, winning franchise in the Eastern Conference you don't root for any team uniform; you adopt whomever LeBron plays for. Fair enough. Better switching allegiances with players than going back to the days where those players had little or no control over where they ended up.
But this year's moratorium went a step farther than that. Prominent free agents not only exercised the right to play where they wished, they made several franchises who were chasing them look stupid in the process. This was not the intent or fault of the free agents themselves. It was a by-product of the coverage.
We had LaMarcus Aldridge holding the fate of several franchises in his hand while people tried to parse out who he was eating with, what colors he was wearing, and whether Kobe Bryant was a friendly face or an off-putting distraction. We had Mavericks fans seething as DeAndre Jordan played cards with his buddies and drew the shades so Marc Cuban couldn't peek in the window. The juxtaposition of perceived franchise-changing power and the mundane, almost ridiculous nature of moment-to-moment reporting makes every team participating in the process look desperate and foolish. It's like The Bachelor without roses and without rules.
During that July week we have nothing else to watch. The whole weight of the NBA is resting on small moments that won't hold that much without bowing into ridiculousness.
It's fine that the Spurs and Clippers ended up big winners last week, but the Blazers, Suns, and especially the Mavericks ended up looking stupid in the process...not just to outside observers, but to their own fans. Phoenix watched the mayor put up signs. Portland heard about Damian Lllard visiting Aldridge, then no...he just called. Wait a minute, did he call instead of flying down or did he fly down and then call? IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE!!!
Really? This is what we've come to?
Free agency shouldn't leave the losing teams feeling ridiculous. Nor should the winning teams feel like they have to engage in ever more dramatic circus shows in order to woo prime free agents. Today it's Hollywood meetings and banners Photoshopped onto downtown buildings. What'll be necessary next year? Parades and flying monkeys?
It's not dignified. Perceiving that a team's future rides on guarding the house so opposing representatives can't sneak in isn't good for anybody. It's like a C-grade comedy movie come to life. "Ferrell, you watch the front door; Hart, you get the back! Jonah Hill, you're on second-floor window duty. Jack Black, get out of the refrigerator and get back to blocking off the chimney!" This is the NBA, supposedly the most elite basketball league on the planet.
There's no way to change the process, nor the inevitable slide of the NBA free agent period into college-like recruiting. There's no way to retreat back to the days when these things happened behind closed doors and the public only heard the results when they were final. But there is a way to lessen the potential image damage all of this causes.
For a solid week in July the media and public have nothing to do but speculate. No contracts are signed. No welcoming speeches are given. All we get are rumors and retractable promises. That week is turning toxic. It needs to go.
I understand why the league's fiscal year needs to end on June 30th and why they need 7+ days to get the numbers right. Why doesn't free agency begin after the job is done, with players able to sign right away? You'd get the same hullabaloo, all the drama, but there would be actual acquisitions to distract from the rumor and innuendo, actual motion to detract from the frustration of not knowing. Teams, representatives, and free agents would be doing something instead of just waiting around and stewing. Public attention would be spread farther around the league instead of zeroing in on what Player A had for breakfast this morning.
I hear what you're saying about teams looking bad as a consequence of their actions during the moratorium. But I'd argue that has more to do with the actions of team and less to do with the moratorium.
Consider: Who has looked the worst so far? Kobe Bryant/the Lakers and Doc Rivers/DeAndre Jordan. In both cases, the parties involved brought the bad publicity on themselves. Kobe Bryant by acting like an egomaniac who would expect the most sought after free agent of the summer to be happy taking a "Pau Gasol role" in the Lakers' offense. The Lakers look bad by asking for a second meeting after blowing the first by failing to even talk about basketball in a basketball free agent meeting! Doc Rivers looks bad for being desperate and literally locking himself in a player's house, while DeAndre Jordan looks bad for being indecisive and immature. Contrast this with San Antonio who did nothing more than what was expected to recruit LaMarcus Aldridge - they met with him a couple times and cleared the cap space to sign him. Had Aldridge chosen a different team the Spurs would not have looked bad. They simply would have had to move on to plan B.
All the moratorium does is amplify the personalities involved. It reveals the egomaniacal or immaturity in some, and the order and calmness in others. It does not create these traits, it makes us more aware of them. Those types of free agent stories will not go away if the moratorium is eliminated.
As for the fans feeling jilted, again that is literally impossible to avoid. Aldridge did nothing to personally insult Portland fans beyond taking a few days to make the biggest decision of his life, yet many were left feeling very disappointed and insulted. That is a natural and unavoidable response when a player shows that he does not want to return to your favorite team. DeAndre Jordan's actions have left the Dallas fans feeling no more jilted than if he had signed immediately and then demanded a trade back to LA next Summer when it became apparent he regretted signing with Dallas. And that ignores the damage that having a malcontented player could do to team chemistry! Again, this is more about DeAndre Jordan's decision making than about the moratorium.
Sure, but doesn't the granular-yet-speculative, he-loves-me/he-loves-me-not nature of the coverage exacerbate those perceptions? It's one thing to think you might be breaking up with someone. It's another to know every event on your possible-ex's schedule for the next week, including that they're having dinners with prospective new partners. But it's a whole ‘nother level to have 1000 people telling you (and everyone around you) what's happening at every moment during their dates. "She leaned in. That might be a sign of attraction! No...now she's flirting with the waiter. Rumors says he's going to kiss her goodnight soon! But that might be just a polite gesture."
I certainly don't deny the insanity and hilarity of any non-Blazer event in this past week's moratorium. I could make a case for it being good or bad for the NBA. But in the end, the moratorium isn't really for max players like DeAndre Jordan or LaMarcus Aldridge. Their ability to "play the field" is just a perk of the position. Either way, they're getting paid. Really, this moratorium is about Mo Williams. Jeremy Lin. Robin Lopez. David West. Greg Monroe. And every team trying to plan a cohesive strategy for the long-term direction for their team.
While players are typically flattered by the "you're our first call at midnight!" mentality, in the bigger picture it's rarely meaningful. Blazer fans saw that first-hand with Monroe, who listened to the Blazers' best offer, then signed with Milwaukee. Without a moratorium, the power shifts. Teams need to get players under contract IMMEDIATELY. Players need to grab money before it's spent on other players. Suddenly, a player like Greg Monroe could be given a "take it or leave it now, or we need to move on ASAP" offer from the Blazers. Should he grab it while he can? Turn it down and hope some team like the Knicks or Bucks are excited about his services? With the moratorium, Monroe can learn about his other options, and the Blazers can also talk to, well, apparently nobody.
David West had no ultimatum, and the freedom to wait for Aldridge. Mo Williams waited for LeBron James. Jeremy Lin had the freedom to talk to every interested team before finding the team offering the best role for the money. While expediency is still important, they have the time to do their diligence and find the best location. In the end, dealing with a few max players getting wined and dined is a small price to pay for (most) players and teams to maintain some decorum during the process.
That's not to say the length of the moratorium is necessary anymore. Any player who is in demand during a moratorium can employ capable representation. They can video conference, text, call, and even charter a private jet when necessary. They don't need 7 days now. Cut the time down to 4 days. It'll not only make the process more exciting, it'll also force players to make decisions quicker. This could be the best of both words: Teams still have time to talk to free agents, but there may still be a smaller free-for-all at midnight when signings open.
Lastly, it seems easy to point the finger at the media, but let's do it nonetheless. Reporting crazy rumors have become its own sport during free agency. The DeAndre Jordan fiasco simply took it to an insane new level, with every reporter seemingly wanting their own moment in the limelight. Meanwhile, readers hangs off the announcement of the next "deal" that can't even be official when announced. And both teams and agents seemingly feed their preferred narrative to seemingly whichever reporter owes them a favor (or vice versa), and suddenly another rumor has gone viral. The NBA is leakier than a 1973 VW Beetle, and at least the Beetle can be fixed.
From a fan perspective, following the stories of the free agency moratorium has been ridiculously enthralling. I think I wore out F5 on my keyboard last week waiting for updates about LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, Tyson Chandler and all the others.
For diehard NBA fans, this is a great new development. It used to be that you'd open the Oregonian and once a week find out the Blazers had traded Kevin Duckworth for Harvey Grant, or something similarly mundane. No reading about dinners with teams, no in-depth discussion of salary caps, no analyses of how different pieces would fit together. July was a dead period for the NBA.
But this year we have been treated to high quality content from a number of NBA blogs and reporters that have increased our understanding of how the league functions. We have learned about the strategies and thought processes that GMs put into these decisions, and discovered aspects of player's personalities that would have otherwise remained hidden. Without the moratorium, we lose a good chunk of the excellent writing from the last week.
The annual July soap opera also helps keep fans interested in the league by giving us players to love or hate. In the modern NBA, where Chris Paul, Lebron James, and Dwyane Wade ride banana boats together in the offseason despite playing for different teams, the fans and announcers often lament the loss of rivalries with authentic emotion behind them. When the Mavericks and Clippers inevitably play on Christmas day this season the crowd, and players, will have real reason to despise the opposition. That's rare for a mid-season NBA game in 2015.
The moratorium has also delivered in droves for fans that love TMZ, celebrity gossip and the accompanying drama. The news of Kobe Bryant single handedly torpedoed the Lakers' chance with Aldridge, for example, has provided a good laugh for literally millions of NBA followers. The only way the moratorium could get more ridiculous is if DAJ backing out started a chain reaction of other free agents frantically changing their minds at the last second. Again, it gives fans a rare reason to care about the NBA in July.
Finally, the moratorium also gives someone like LaMarcus Aldridge time to make his decision. Without the moratorium the players would feel pressure to immediately make a decision and may not have time to fully weight all their options. Snap judgments in situations like this would result in players regretting their contract and then demanding a trade the following season; the occasional moment of indecision from players like DeAndre Jordan, Carlos Boozer, and Hedo Turkoglu is far less chaotic than multiple players jumping the gun on their signings due to external pressure from fans and media.
I suspect players would still have, and take, time to decide though. They have the power in this situation. Nobody's going to move them off of it. I don't think fans and media factor much into their decisions either. If they did, Aldridge certainly got national attention (read: ridicule) right around the time of his second meeting with the Lakers. That attention wasn't great and that's the kind of publicity the league needs to avoid.
I hear you on the good reporting. This moratorium had some gems. But it also breeds all the bad, useless reporting, growing like bacteria in a petri dish because there's no actual motion (concrete signings) to provide perspective. One person was seen in an airport here, another buying a house there. If we had hard evidence--or even soft evidence like a report that a guy was ready to sign a contract any minute--those rumors would be put into perspective...still interesting, but ultimately less indicative than real action. When players and teams aren't able to take real action, those reports are all we have. They are the action. Each one seems as weighty as the other. So you get the ridiculous situation of the best players in the world--plus franchises with championship and Hall-of-Fame legacies that run back decades—being judged on who ordered what soup and who else showed up 10 minutes late. It reduces everyone.
In the moratorium environment what you do in front of the media is as important as anything that happens behind the scenes (since you can't actually do anything to move the process along). Everybody's already starting to figure that out. Even if you know a tactic has no chance of success, you do it anyway because it makes you look good during a time when looking good is all you have. At some point these media stories are going to propagate themselves. TMZ-like stuff will happen because it's the new currency, not because it's intrinsic to the process.
It feels like we're halfway there already. Before we stumble blindly the rest of the way, giving into the faults of an old process in a brand new environment, it's time to stop and take stock. Whatever happened last week—good or bad, ridiculous or exciting—the NBA and everyone involved with it can do better.
How do you feel? Do you think the moratorium is fine as-is? Do you love it, even? Or does something need to change. Join in the conversation below.