On July 2nd, 2018, Demarcus Cousins shocked the NBA world by signing with the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Cousins is coming off of an achilles injury and stated, “We reached out to teams. Pelicans, there was no offer… We reached out to some other teams. We got answers like we don’t believe it’s a good fit, or we gotta see what we’re doing with our rosters right now. Just kind of bull – – – – answers. And then there were some that were just flat-out, we can’t take that risk.” Cousins settled with the one year, $5.3 million mid-level exception. He will spend the next year rehabbing surrounded by the the best team in the NBA, arguably ever. And as with any notable signing, Cousins’ deal was met with much scrutiny. The NBA community has proven to be brutal in the past, and the case was the same for the Cousins signing, going as far as Knicks center Enes Kanter, a notorious trash talker, tweeting multiple complaints, including one of an NBA logo on fire with the caption “Mood: All around the league”. Along with the complaints was a plea to commissioner Adam Silver to veto the signing. Although this idea may seem bizarre, we have seen a commissioner cancel a transaction once before; the infamous Chris Paul to the Lakers trade was struck down by then-commissioner David Stern. However, the circumstances were very different, as he was being traded from a team without an owner, which brings me to my point: should the NBA be able to veto free agency signings?
Seven years ago, David Stern drastically changed the landscape of the NBA with two words, “Basketball reasons”. That was the reasoning the league offered the public as to why then-commissioner David Stern canceled the notorious three-team trade that would’ve sent superstar Chris Paul to the Lakers and Pau Gasol to the Rockets. Today, we know that Stern vetoed the trade to keep the competitive balance even throughout the league. However, that competitive balance that he fought so hard to keep then seems to have faded in recent years. Today’s NBA is top-heavy, with the super teams at the top, the tanking teams at the bottom and a struggling middle class. There have always been good teams and bad teams in the NBA and to suggest otherwise is irrational. However, today’s NBA has seen the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers go to battle in four straight finals, with the Warriors winning three of them. Not to mention the rich getting richer, with the record setting 2016 Warriors signing former MVP Kevin Durant two years ago and 4-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins just this offseason. Additionally, with LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason, the NBA seems as lopsided as ever.
Many blame this on the CBA, or the collective bargaining agreement. The CBA outlines the terms between the NBA and its players setting forth the terms and conditions of employment such as compensation and other working conditions. The 2016 CBA outlined how the massive 2014 9-year, $24 billion TV deal would be inputted into the salary cap. The NBA suggested “cap smoothing”, which would gradually increase the cap instead of a massive spike in 2016. Nonetheless, the players’ union declined this option and rather opted for an abrupt spike in the cap. This decision allowed the defending champion Golden State Warriors to sign Kevin Durant in the first place, subsequently causing commissioner Adam Silver to express concern over the signing and whether it would sabotage the competitive balance of the league. “Just to be absolutely clear, I do not think that’s ideal from the league standpoint,” said Silver during a news conference after the league’s annual board of governors meeting. “For me, part of it is designing a collective bargaining agreement that encourages the distribution of great players throughout the league.” Silver also mentioned the he did not want to “necessarily want to overreact to a particular situation,” referring to Durant’s decision. Although Silver may not want to make a decision, he may be forced to.
On the other hand, many see the prospect of a commissioner stepping in and vetoing a transaction as an abuse of power, in addition to the notions of collusion and unfair play that would accompany it. If the commissioner was to veto a signing, it might appear that they are dictating where the athlete will play, something that many accused David Stern of back in 2011. And when Paul was eventually traded to the LA Clippers, the fallout was immense. Some say it isn’t the commissioner’s place to impose his views on the NBA. After all, Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the phrase free agent as, “A professional athlete that is free to negotiate a contract with any team.” Key phrase here- “any team”. Dictating where a player signs would contradict the free in free agent. Additionally, the NBA has never had this power. David Stern was only able to veto the Paul trade because the Hornets were owned by the league at that time. And it appears commissioner Adam Silver has no plan to change his powers. During a press conference after the league’s annual board of governors meeting, Silver stated, “For me, part of it is designing a collective bargaining agreement that encourages the distribution of great players throughout the league. On the other hand, I absolutely respect a player’s right to become a free agent…” Despite the fact that Adam Silver may not like the current NBA landscape, it’s not his place to change that at this moment.
Hopefully, the NBA finds a fair solution to the troubling problem soon. As for my opinion, I believe the commissioner should be able to veto a free agency signing if he gets approval from the 29 other owners. We saw something similar to this with the Chris Paul trade where many owners voiced their complaints, including Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who wrote a strongly worded letter to then commissioner David Stern. This decision would have to be ratified at the next CBA discussions in 2023, and would incite much controversy, but I believe this is a reasonable compromise for both sides. This is not a simple question, and will garner heavy debate and criticism, but eventually a decision has to be made.