Having the NBA Draft before free agency makes little sense for both the league and their franchises. When teams are going into the offseason with needs to address, would it not make sense for them to sign free agents and then plan their draft strategy around the roster they have after free agency?
The Boston Celtics this off-season are in an interesting spot. Coming off a 53-win season and a conference finals appearance, they have been gifted the #1 pick by the Brooklyn Nets. They could go in multiple directions with this pick, but the decision could be much easier if they were able to address their needs in Free Agency first.
At this point in the team’s “rebuild,” they seem to be putting themselves in position to win both now and the for years to come. They are starting to put that future core together one top draft pick at a time, but what they do with this year’s pick could directly correlate with their free agency motives. What would benefit these Celtics this off-season, and many teams each year, would be if they could go about free agency before the draft.
The Celtics have been rumored to be interested in both Blake Griffin and Gordon Hayward this off-season, with Hayward being considered the top option for Danny Ainge and his staff. If they could land Hayward, their now position of need at the wing would suddenly become a strength. In the draft, they could then take the best player available, Markelle Fultz, or trade the pick to bolster their current roster’s talent even further.
However, if they cannot land Hayward and settle for Blake Griffin instead, they are then in a position where they should strongly consider Josh Jackson with the top pick in the draft. If they land neither Griffin or Hayward, then maybe they take Fultz and start the youth movement this off-season.
Instead, they go into the draft on June 22nd guessing. They cannot see how free agency pans out, so they have to make a pick with all of those scenarios in the back of their mind. This is a problem for all teams, not just the Celtics.
In the current era of the NBA, where parity is hard to come by, it would make the most sense if the league put their franchises in the best spot to try and compete with the leagues heavy-weights. This starts with building teams, and the NBA is informally telling their teams that the only way to catch up is through the draft. Building through the draft is so difficult in today’s NBA, due to the fact that winning a championship is only attainable by having more than one star.
The draft is more or less a guessing game, taking unproven teenagers who will not really contribute to their team until year two or three of their careers. Building through the draft is a five-year plan, and the NBA simply cannot wait that long for teams to become competitive. This five year plan can be pushed back years further if a franchise picks someone who does not live up to their potential; just look at the Sacramento Kings.
By moving free agency ahead of the draft, the league could offer lower-tier teams a few different options. These teams often have a ton of cap space to offer free agents, and by having these top picks they could either try and sell the rookies to prospect free agents or make a move for an established player with the pick in an attempt to lure a free agent to join on as well.
Example: This year the Lakers have the #2 pick in the Draft. If free agency was before the draft, they could explore their chances at free agents such as Chris Paul, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward, and Blake Griffin. Let’s say Chris Paul verbally showed interest to join the Lakers, but only if they had a star, then the Lakers could use that #2 pick in a package to land a Paul George or Jimmy Butler while teaming him up with Chris Paul.
Yes, this could be plausible even with free agency after the draft, but it is much more unlikely. They would have no time to gauge free agents interest and would have to decide on trading the pick before they could get any confirmation about who they could land in addition.
Having the draft before free agency just does not make much sense, especially with the direction the NBA is headed. The NBA must consider pushing the draft till late July if they want to increase their competitive balance. Rebuilding through the draft is doable, but not ideal, and the system needs to be changed to give struggling teams a chance at quickly building a contender,