Part of Milwaukee’s big push to convince Giannis Antetokounmpo to stick around for his next long-term contract involved acquiring the very talented Bogdan Bogdanović from the Sacramento Kings, via sign-and-trade. The deal was announced November 16, 72 hours or so before the start of free agency, and therefore well in advance of the time when it could be made official. No matter—even with the NBA cracking down on early contact between teams and impending free agents, it is not especially uncommon for this kind of business to be unofficially wrapped up ahead of time. But this time the deal was nuked, and not by the league office. So what the hell happened?
It would appear that the complication, in this case, is the rules of free agency as they apply to players wrapping up their rookie contracts. Players in Bogdanović’s position enter restricted free agency, which imposes a bunch of bullcrap limitations on their ability to test the market and pick their next job. But while restricted free agents are hampered with respect to, well, free agency, they retain the ability to nuke sign-and-trade deals, by refusing to limit their negotiations to just one team. And that appears to be what Bogdanović has done:
At issue is the right-of-first-refusal wielded by the team holding a player’s restricted free agency rights. The only negotiating leverage a player has in dealing with their rights-holder is gained by agreeing to an offer sheet with some other team. The only way for other teams to have any realistic chance at prying a player loose from his rights-holder is by offering more than the player’s rights-holder will think he is worth, or more than they are willing to spend. The NBA gives the rights-holder 48 hours to decide whether to match any offer sheet, which puts the player in limbo and ties up the books of the team making the offer. In most cases, these restrictions will altogether wipe out any real chance at exploring the market. For all but the very best restricted free agents, restricted free agency means having no actual agency whatsoever.
So when a bozo team—like, say, the Sacramento Kings—goes to a restricted free agent and says we intend to trade you to this other team despite the fact that you are not under contract, they are almost literally adding insult to injury. And when a good young player—like, say, Bogdan Bogdanović—receives such news, the absolute best and most heroic thing he can do is tell all parties to go screw.
Bogdanović is really good. There’s a very good chance that even with the league’s bullcrap restrictions he will be able to land a good long-term offer sheet with a team willing to endure 48 hours of uncertainty in order to secure his services. Why he should limit himself to negotiating with only one team—and especially one with as insecure a future as the Milwaukee Bucks—in order to facilitate the ambitions of the pile-of-crap Kings is a complete mystery, on top of being a mockery of the very concept of free agency.
Restricted free agency blows. By refusing to facilitate this sign-and-trade, Bogdanović has gained incredible leverage over the Bucks, who will badly wish to salvage the deal in order to avoid looking like incompetent anti-labor assholes while trying to convince the best player in the Eastern Conference to not dump them into a trashcan forever. And he has asserted his right to access at least the tiny sliver of the market made available to players in his position. Good for him. The Kings can suck an egg.