Sports

The NBA Should Keep All Player Movement Secret Until Opening Night

A modest proposal.

Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook
Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook share a laugh during a practice in Las Vegas in 2015.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

NBA trades and free agency deals are like buses: You wait all season for one, and then 100 arrive at once, all the bus drivers switch uniforms, the routes get totally scrambled, and you have to check Adrian Wojnarowski’s Twitter feed to find out what the hell is going on. You know, classic bus stuff. On Thursday, this mass transit waltz continued, with the Oklahoma City Thunder trading talismanic point guard Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul and a whole bunch of draft picks (and the right to swap draft picks).

This is the second major trade completed this month by Oklahoma City; the team shipped Westbrook’s superstar pal Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers for a king’s ransom just last weekend. Remember that? It happened in unison with Kawhi Leonard’s decision to join the Clippers, one of the roughly 900 roster moves that have occurred since season’s end. (Want to feel old? The Toronto Raptors won the NBA title all the way back in June. Clippers star Kawhi Leonard played for them.)

The NBA is more than happy to be a 365-day-a-year sport, and it embraces the fireworks of frenetic offseason movement. Commissioner Adam Silver moved the July 1 free agency deadline up from midnight to 6 p.m. ET this year in order to take advantage of prime-time television scheduling. It didn’t quite work. Wojnarowski started revealing moves early because he refuses to abide by what we normal humans quaintly refer to as “time.”

But is all this player movement good for the league? It’s one thing when 29 teams frantically shuffle their rosters to keep up with a dynasty like the Golden State Warriors, but, without a steadying anchor franchise in 2019, this summer has descended into chaos. It’s like an earthquake at Sizzler. Enjoy the all-you-can-eat buffet, but know that you’re going to find meatloaf resting atop the light fixtures.

There is a way to cure this motion sickness without restricting players’ freedom or altering the way contracts work. It’s simple: Keep all offseason moves secret until the first games of the regular season. This would require playing the preseason schedule behind closed doors, which, honestly, is something they should be doing anyway.

Imagine tuning in to that opening tipoff and seeing Anthony Davis in a Lakers jersey. What a reveal! And the league needn’t worry about people losing interest during the offseason, as the only thing more compelling than a player changing teams is the rumor that it might happen. The entire summer would be one giant “sources say”–off, with NBA insiders going steadily insane as they are forced to up the ante to stay in the game. I want to see Chris Broussard and Skip Bayless, sleep-deprived, covered in mud, and speaking in tongues about why Kevin Durant will be joining the Dallas Cowboys.

Keeping so many secrets is difficult proposition, but the league can easily take care of this by giving Wojnarowski a fake phone. He’ll believe he’s tweeting scoops through the night, but in reality he’ll be playing with an Etch a Sketch.

One thing we won’t have to worry about is the players spoiling their offseason moves. NBA stars hate being asked about free agency (see: Durant, Kevin—“I’m trying to play basketball … grow up”), and they will gleefully welcome this prohibition. They’ll also be forced to sign airtight NDAs, just to be safe.

Think about what the offseason would be like if the NBA’s constantly churning gears stayed obstructed. Fans would be invited to scrutinize State Farm ads for signs of discord between Chris Paul and James Harden. Plane-tracking apps would achieve record download numbers. Every player’s Instagram likes would be examined and interpreted like secret scrolls from Opus Dei. Well, that last one has been happening for a while, but people would be even more unhinged about it. Trades and free agency are fun, but ignorance would be bliss.