It feels like we've barely had time to emotionally recover from this year's whirlwind NBA Finals, which ended with a stunning Cavaliers victory just eight days ago. There's likely trash still littering the streets of Cleveland from Wednesday's massive championship parade. Cavaliers gunner J.R. Smith has only recently put a shirt back on.
But buckle back up, because the NBA offseason is here. And it's the best offseason in all of professional sports.
From the time the victors hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy until the ball goes up on the new season in mid-autumn, there's nothing for players, GMs, coaches, and agents to do but tinker, schmooze, brainstorm, wheel, and deal. There are emojis. And oh, is there drama.
Before the Cavs' celebratory Champagne had fully dried, former league MVP Derrick Rose was swapping the Willis Tower for the Empire State Building after he was traded Wednesday from his hometown Chicago Bulls to the New York Knicks. Another pair of point guards swapped jerseys in a three-team trade. The Philadelphia 76ers told Louisiana State University forward Ben Simmons they'd select him first in Thursday's draft; the Los Angeles Lakers quickly called dibs on Duke forward Brandon Ingram at number two. And we had only just begun.
What did we learn about the 2016-2017 NBA in just a few days? The top two picks of the draft are lanky, versatile forwards who can dish like point guards, score like shooters, and weaponize their height like centers. The top two teams in the league this year boasted, between them: a versatile forward who can dish like a point guard, a big man who can score like a shooter, and an oversized guard who weaponizes his height with a punishing quick release. The league has decided what's valuable — and now we get to watch as 30 front offices chase it.
The NBA's free agency period is the best one in sports. You might salivate over baseball's Hot Stove Season or the compacted action of hockey's downtime, but in no other league are the proceedings so affected by personalities, personal relationships, ad deals, touchy financial restrictions, and media all at once.
Take, for example, agent Rich Paul. His biggest client is Cleveland's LeBron James, arguably the best basketball player on the planet. And would you look at that — Paul also represents Cavs forward Tristan Thompson, who after a protracted negotiation with Cleveland last summer, landed himself a near-max contract despite averaging just 8.5 points and 8 rebounds the prior season. I'll let you connect the dots — or let James' Instagram account do it for you.
Or we can look at last year's ridiculous, emoji-laden start to the free agency period. Every summer, starting July 1, players who are free agents can sign contracts with teams on agreed-upon terms. But because the offseason starts before July 1, sometimes teams and players agree verbally and then wait until 12:01 a.m. July 1 to actually put pen to paper. Normally, this is fine — but not when there are tweets to read and narratives to thread.
To recap last summer's public hysterics: Coveted free agent center DeAndre Jordan, coming off a strong season with the Los Angeles Clippers during which he led the NBA in rebounding, acquiesced to a seductive pitch from the Dallas Mavericks to anchor their defense and lead their offense. The wooing happened before July 1, so Jordan gave the Mavericks a verbal agreement, which was all they needed — until, as chronicled via emojis, Jordan's spurned Clippers teammates descended upon his house in Houston, talked him into re-signing with the Clippers, and then held him hostage inside his own home until the stroke of midnight, when he signed on the dotted line.
(For extra drama, I must add: Jordan's agent at the time was Dan Fegan, who also counts as a client Chandler Parsons, a forward for the Mavericks who led Dallas' efforts to land Jordan.)
In what other league would players cheekily tweet their multi-million-dollar recruiting efforts?
And as nice as an online platform is for self-promotion, NBA stars are uniquely drawn to media-saturated markets. There's little good reason the Lakers should have had a shot at Dwight Howard, a meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge, or a mention in every major free agent rumor for the last few years. The team is bad, the front office in turmoil, the coaching job a revolving door — but the bright lights of L.A. are always touted as a free agent wooing factor. Part of the reason Derrick Rose, a born-and-bred Chicago kid, can be excited about shipping off to one of the most tumultuous franchises of the past few years is because the Knicks, well, they play in New York. Big markets mean big money, as ad deals come rolling in.
Every year from October to June, we devour on-court basketball in 48-minute bursts of dazzling athleticism and excitement. And then it ends, all falling confetti and tearful speeches.
And that's when the real fun begins.