If you want a sense of what college football recruiting was like in the old days — that means the really old days before recruiting was an industry — you could get a good idea from NBA free agency.

Minus the $40 million a year, of course.

There was a time when the crucial date on the recruiting calendar, at least in this part of the USA, came in mid-December when high school players signed a Southeastern Conference Letter of Intent. Technically, it didn’t bind a prospect from going to a school in another conference, but that was fairly rare. For the most part, Southern players signed with SEC schools and that was that. Also, it was different from the new version, December Signing Day 2.0. Coaches did not spend their entire summers hosting recruits and calling recruits, trying to have a class in hand before the season’s first game.

That’s where the similarity to NBA free agency happens. The season wraps up, there are a couple of weeks off (and plenty of back-channel communication, even if everyone denies it) and then, like a flash, the new guys join your team (or, in a bad year, they choose your rival.) Sure, there is speculation about where the biggest names will go — Jeff Rutledge, Tony Nathan or Pat Sullivan in the old days, or Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard (who is playing hard to get) or Klay Thompson today. The comparison doesn’t hold up on every point, but the immediacy, the sense that all the excitement is over almost as soon as it begins, is still there.

So which team came out the best in the NBA’s billion-dollar version of the transfer portal (plus the draft, which came and went even more quickly than free agency)? The winners, according to all the ringside judges, were the Brooklyn Nets in the East and — if they end up signing Leonard — the Los Angeles Lakers in the West. The losers on the same scorecards were the Charlotte Hornets, who lost their primary scorer, Kemba Walker, for three magic beans or something, and the New York Knicks, who suddenly don’t even have the most buzz in their own city. Golden State, which had the most to lose, lost the most (Durant and Andre Igoudala.) Some good teams, like Milwaukee and Portland, look to stay good. Two of the more interesting stories will be less than a day’s drive from Tuscaloosa, draft-night winners New Orleans (what will they do with Zion?) and Memphis (adding Igoudala and a good supporting cast around Ja Morant in what may be America’s most basketball crazy pro/college city in the coming year.)

For reasons having largely to do with age-based demographics, the NBA gets a huge amount of exposure and discussion on ESPN and the other sports network. For many college football fans, this is the last week that they will even notice the NBA until Christmas at the earliest. So it was good to get one last jolt of adrenaline from the signings and, when pro basketball comes back on the radar next March (for fans whose first priority is their college team), things should be far more interesting than just looking at Golden State’s win total and waiting for the playoffs to start.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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