Kevin Durant (279072)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

When ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Kevin Durant had agreed to join Kyrie Irving in signing long-term contracts with the Brooklyn Nets, the news shook up the basketball world. It also illuminated what has been known around the NBA for years: the official start of NBA free-agency is in practice a superficial date.

This year, June 30 at 6 p.m. was designated as the date and time teams could begin to negotiate with free-agents. For anyone that believes players, agents and others closely associated with the top free-agents adhered to that mandate, this reporter has a (Brooklyn) bridge to sell you at market rate.

For weeks prior to then, it was strongly rumored that Irving had committed to signing with the Nets. When the Nets traded the bloated contract of Allan Crabbe and two first round picks to the Atlanta Hawks for Taurean Prince, ridding themselves of Crabbe’s $18.5 million salary for next season and effectively clearing cap space for two max contracts—they made a few more subsequent moves ensuring cap space for two max contracts—it was evident they were all but certain Irving, with who they (wink, wink) were not communicating as it would have violated league policy, had secured another player to accompany him to Brooklyn.

The players have rightfully leveraged their influence to become de facto team executives. They are dictating the terms of their futures as well as franchises present and future, and forcing owners, team presidents and general managers to make crucial decisions.

In the run-up to free-agency, before the official start and immediately afterwards, in addition to the Irving and Durant collaboration, Anthony Davis and LeBron James willed Davis’ trade from the New Orleans Pelicans to the Los Angeles Lakers, and Kawhi Leonard changed the trajectory of three organizations—the Toronto Raptors, Oklahoma City Thunder and L.A. Clippers—by signing with the Clippers and facilitating the trade of Paul George from OKC to the Clips.

The aforementioned power brokers have compelled the NBA to open an investigation into whether tampering took place prior to the start of the official June 30 negotiating period. It will probably result in no proven occurrences by team executives. It will be nearly impossible for them under the current rules to substantiate that a player definitively tampered. The nature of players’ strong friendships and personal connections make such a claim ambiguous with far too much gray area.

Changes in how and when free-agency is carried out are imminent. But for the moment, the players have adroitly and successfully manipulated and circumvented the system to their advantage.