NBA teams don’t announce contract terms. How can the league be more transparent?

Sometime late this week, the New York Knicks will announce that they have signed Jalen Brunson. The news will shock no one; his signing had been telegraphed more than a few days out from even the legal start of NBA free agency. His contract will be well-known by then, too; numbers started trickling out last Tuesday. When The Athletic’s Shams Charania tweeted that he’d receive a four-year deal worth more than $100 million, there were still 58 minutes to go until free agency began.

But when the Knicks send out the press release they will include a familiar phrase: terms of the deal were not disclosed

The Knicks aren’t the only ones, though. In a league governed by a salary cap, where the money is a driving force in nearly every contract and word of the salaries leaks almost immediately after any deal is struck, every NBA team is still governed by that one line. It is familiar to almost every NBA fan and reporter. It is a blanket phrase used by teams to avoid revealing what was once sensitive financial information. Now, it’s not just antiquated, it’s also confounding as agents give out contract terms on the record to reporters or themselves

No one quite knows why. One longtime public relations person in the league said it was done because it had always been done that way. 

There might be a reason, though it’s unclear if anyone actually knows it. Teams, players, agents, the NBPA, and even the NBA itself are prohibited from disclosing contract terms, a league source said. Announcing contract terms publicly is, surprisingly, a violation of the CBA. Whether anyone cares or would even get punished is unclear.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Teams in Major League Baseball and the NHL regularly divulge contract terms when they announce a signing. 

When the Braves signed Matt Olsen in March, they put out a statement, and said how big the deal was — eight year, $168 million — and that it came with a $20 million club option for 2030. Atlanta spelled out his salary for every year of the deal, and even added how much Olsen would donate to their foundation. The Tampa Bay Rays laid out the full sum of their contract with Wander Franco, incentives and all, when he signed it last fall.

“Ever since I came into the NHL, I was with San Jose before Dallas, and It was always terms of the deal were not disclosed,’” Tom Holy, the Dallas Stars VP of communications, said.” That was always the end line of every opening paragraph I ever wrote up until that Jamie Benn one.”

On July 15, 2016, Holy and the Stars did something audacious. They were transparent about their contract with Benn, an eight-year, $76 million extension with their franchise star. Now, they do it on every deal it, except two-way contracts.

Jim Nill, the Stars general manager, was good with it. The only debate was to put out the total size of the contract or just the average annual value. So they just did it. Now, most of the NHL does too.

“We just did it,” Holy said. “There wasn’t really a huge talk about it or a big push from somewhere. It was just like, we’re kind of doing this. Then just because it’s always been done that way. But people know what it is pretty quickly. So why don’t we just control it and give people the information? He was like ‘Yeah, makes sense.’”

There is an upside for teams to announce contract terms on, well, their own terms. The initial contract values can be inflated. Incentives or option years push up the full value of a contract, making team-friendly deals look worse than they are. If teams announced the contracts themselves, they too could control the narrative. Every offseason grade hinges on value, and teams are often in an asymmetric information ecosystem during free agency with their fans.


— As the Rudy Gobert and Dejounte Murray trades last week (was it only last week?!) proved, NBA teams are paying more and more for stars, and even players who might not be characterized as stars. Multiple unprotected first-round picks may now be table stakes for any star trade.

It’s a high-risk deal, no matter what. By trading away multiple future firsts, a team is leveraging its future for its present. The team that acquires all those picks is surely hoping that the bottom drops out at some point. One way a team that trades for a star can ensure avoiding that is by having that star in place, but historically, that window hasn’t lasted long. In the history of star player movement since 2016 —when Kevin Durant kicked off the modern player empowerment movement by signing with the Warriors — only two players have stayed with their new team for four seasons or more. Those are LeBron James, who is about to enter his fifth season with the Los Angeles Lakers, and LaMarcus Aldridge, who stayed five-plus seasons in San Antonio after he signed there in 2016.

The median tenure for a star with his new team is two seasons. Seven star players lasted just one season with their new teams; Jimmy Butler spent 17 months in Minnesota and 67 games in Philadelphia. Kevin Durant spent three seasons in Golden State before he left for Brooklyn; now he’s requested a trade away from the Nets after his third season with that franchise.

(Top photo: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)


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