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NBA, Adam Silver

Why NBA hiatus should expedite change to make free agency before draft

The expected lengthy hiatus of the 2019-20 NBA season will bring along plenty of headaches for the league and its executives. But with it comes the potential to bring much-needed changes to the year-round infrastructure of the league.

A few team executives have pushed to hold free agency before the NBA Draft takes place, something that would allow front offices to tailor rosters around tangible, experienced talent instead of gambling away in the draft process.

With the remainder of the NBA season in limbo, a recent conversation on “The Boardroom” between ESPN’s breaking news extraordinaire Adrian Wojnarowski and NBA analyst Jay Williams brought on the possibility of a major change:

“You know, there’s been a movement in the league, Jay, in the last few years about trying to move free agency before the draft, the way the NFL does it — and I don’t know if that’s what comes out of this,” said Wojnarowski. “I think it would be kind of bang-bang at the end of the season. But if you’re not gonna have a Summer League, if you don’t have an environment where you can start working with them, then I think it’s easier to move the draft back.

“Everyone’s gonna have to just wait and maybe there’s some sort of a Summer League or it becomes a Fall League after the NBA season ends, if it resumes.”

Before dropping that potential Woj Bomb, the ESPN reporter was bantering about the viability of holding the NBA Draft on June 25. So far it looks like the date will most likely be moved to a later month unless the season is canceled altogether.

Owners and league executives have been hell-bent on providing some sort of finality to this NBA regular season, which was more than three-quarters through before it came to a sudden halt on March 11.

Having free agency take place before the draft offers plenty of benefits:

  • It offers another transfer window almost immediately after the postseason. This allows for players to stay in their respective markets or move to new ones fairly earlier in their offseason, allowing for more recovery time and vacations.
  • It gives front offices the ability to center their strategy around known talent and make draft picks an auxiliary resource for help. Besides a handful of picks, not many players can impact a team right from the get-go.
  • It allows teams to use draft picks with less margin of error, able to at least tell what grouping (top-three, top-five, lottery) to aim for in trades. That would make teams more enticed to get a deal done instead of getting trigger-shy due to the unknown nature of said picks.
  • It makes the NBA Draft more streamlined. Teams will be more prone to draft in positions of need than pure upside, which will result in a more even balance of upperclassmen getting a shot to help an NBA franchise in need.

While this would change the overall scope of how the NBA has handled its offseasons, it could certainly become a change owners and teams would welcome.

The NBA might not have been pressed to make this change until the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2023-24 season. Yet this unforeseen pandemic might force their hand to make this tweak, considering there will be wholesale changes all around once the virus has been contained.