Since we live in The Onion now anyway, here’s a headline from this week in sports: “NBA fines Bucks for tampering with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is on the Bucks.”
Yes, that is indeed accurate news.
Bucks general manager Jon Horst said during a televised town hall that Milwaukee plans to offer the reigning league MVP a “supermax” extension next summer. It pretty much amounted to stating the obvious, but it also amounted to “violating league rules governing the timing of discussions regarding future player contracts and permissible commitments to players.” The correct answer for Horst to give would have been something like “of course we want Giannis here long-term, but we can’t talk about that until next summer.”
This summer’s NBA free agency period was wild, with the landscape of the league changing significantly as superstars moved all over at a shocking rate. A big part of it was blatant disregard for the rules regarding contract negotiations, which has been a thing for years, but got so out of control this time around that it was impossible to keep up the charade that everything was being done by the book.
So, the NBA decided to crack down on tampering, with stiffer penalties and tighter monitoring of teams’ behavior. By fining the Bucks for “tampering” with Antetokounmpo, the league did a few things that are not as dumb as they look.
First, and most obviously, the NBA showed that it is serious about its stricter policy on premature contract talks. Even though, if we’re being honest, this summer was lots of fun, and it would be even more fun to have a constant undercurrent of free agency buzz, you also can understand why the league would want to present itself as both devoted to its own rules and fostering a competitive environment.
Meanwhile, the Bucks should still benefit from Horst’s comments, because having it on the record that they plan to offer Antetokounmpo the supermax deal sends the message that they plan to build around the 24-year-old superstar and compete for championships for several years to come. The cost to them for energizing the fanbase about the future was a mere $50,000, which they should be able to recoup from a few extra Antetokounmpo jerseys sold – not to mention that billionaire owner Wes Edens isn’t exactly going to miss that 50 large.
What’s more, the NBA managed to get headlines in September, the deadest period of its calendar, between the end of the free agent madness and the start of training camp. Do you usually think about the NBA at this time of year? Are you now kinda hyped to watch some Antetokounmpo highlights on the NBA’s YouTube channel? Interesting.
Everything here works for everyone, including for Antetokounmpo, assuming that the Bucks have otherwise followed rules and had not previously communicated to him their desire to offer him the biggest contract they possibly can offer. Not that he’d be exactly sweating his future, but it’s going to be impossible now for the Bucks not to make that offer, and if he wants to stay in Milwaukee, he knows the negotiation will be… not a negotiation at all, because he’ll just take that offer.
And now the rest of the NBA knows that the league means business with these rules, which may even lead to the free agent drama playing out over a couple of days rather than a couple of hours, because the real reason for the league to view this as important isn’t about creating competition that does not and really cannot exist, but instead about eventually making that “free agent negotiation period” a real thing where the league does have that dramatic buzz for days instead of hours. The NBA continues to know exactly what it is doing.