NBA free agency has been underway for just shy of a week. The league’s most talented players have been relocating at a dramatic rate. With the current flux of roster building and talent swapping, one of the biggest names on the market still has yet to choose his next destination: Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard is coming off a dominating NBA Finals performance in which he deservedly earned MVP honors. However, the performance that brought Toronto its first NBA title in franchise history has quickly flown under the radar. How can a performance and an accomplishment of such magnitude lose its place among the headlines so suddenly?
The answer is simple: tampering between teams and the NBA’s elite players.
The Free Agent Experience
In today’s world of “who had the information first” and “give me the information right away,” it seems incredibly odd that a player of Leonard’s caliber would still be determining his next move. The truth is, Leonard is experiencing free agency how it is supposed to be.
It seems like the distant past, but remember that Kevin Durant held free agent meetings with five teams in the Hamptons during the 2016 off season. Durant then proceeded to announce his choice to join the Golden State Warriors via an article published on the Player’s Tribune. What does that have to do with Leonard and the 2019 free agent landscape? It is demonstrating that Leonard is doing the exact same thing. He has reportedly visited with the Lakers, Clippers, and Raptors; all teams in which he has interest in signing with. He is carefully exploring his options and will ultimately decide on his own terms.
The concept of this seems like common sense. The problem is that other top tier players in the 2019 free agent class did none of this. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant had all but sealed their fate to play together at the 2019 All Star Game. Al Horford squandered rumors of a reunion with the Celtics based on an agreement with the 76ers reportedly a week before the free agency period began. Kemba Walker was replacing Irving before the Celtics were even sure that Irving wasn’t returning. Additionally, players like Anthony Davis are facilitating trades to destinations where they want to play while diminishing their trade value significantly for other interested teams. All of these players had their destinations determined far before the 6 p.m. opening of Free Agency on July 1st.
All-In or All-Out
It’s clear that these players and the teams they have agreed with are violating the tampering rules of the NBA collective bargaining agreement. Players want to have full control of who they play with and where they play. While this can be a detriment to some smaller market teams, it is generally a good thing for the NBA in generating publicity and promoting their stars.
The league needs to take a hard stance on the matter, one way or the other. If tampering is to be illegal, players who conspire to play with each other while under contract should be fined or suspended games to prevent future occurrences. If the league wants to allow teams and players to continue to have agreements in place prior to the opening of free agency, then penalties for tampering should be eliminated entirely. It is foolish under the current landscape to punish executives for discussing players under contract with other clubs while those same players are plotting to join forces months later in the offseason.
A Prominent Reminder
Perhaps fittingly, Kawhi Leonard has approached free agency similar to his on-court demeanor. He has proceeded with a business-like, by-the-rules mentality that should be a reminder of how the free agency process should be.
So while we anxiously await his decision that will undoubtedly change the NBA landscape, let’s be thankful that at least one player is seemingly working at his own pace within the rulebook.