When the clock strikes midnight on the East Coast this evening, NBA free agency will officially begin.
As always on this important NBA calendar date: Rumors are going to fly, verbal agreements will be made, "Woj bombs" will be detonated. Some coaches might even kidnap their own players. Who’s going to be the first player to tweet the snake emoji hiding in the grass? Your guess is as good as mine.
We might not know how this unpredictable process will play out, but here are three sure things about the upcoming free agency period:
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When you and your buddies get together and start budgeting out your team, what’s the first thing you do? You find the best player on the board and write down a number on how high you’re willing to bid.
What happens next? That player is nominated for sale, and before you know it you find yourself twenty dollars over budget compensating in your mind why he’s worth crossing all the other players off your list.
Listen, you don’t have to keep bidding — you can let everyone else cripple their budgets while you wait for the next best and likely better-priced option — but, nope, you have to have him, no matter what it takes, no matter the financial repercussions.
Welcome to the NBA Summer of 2016.
Other than Kevin Durant (assuming LeBron stays in Cleveland), there is arguably not a player on the board worthy of a "HERE PLEASE TAKE 28 PERCENT OF OUR ENTIRE SALARY CAP FOR THE FOUR YEARS" max deal contract. Even you: Al Horford, Hassan Whiteside, Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and Harrison Barnes.
But that’s not the way this whole NBA thing works.
Franchises like the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks, and Sacramento Kings do not care about your cute little budgets. They are the degenerate friend in the auction draft room who will press the bid button until it doesn’t let him press bid anymore. Things have gotten so desperate that if these teams have the opportunity to acquire any player of significance, they’re going to do it regardless of the price.
Eventually, these drunken participants will score their signing, gloat about it for a little bit and then realize what they’ve done after they sober up. As the auction progresses, rosters completely fill up, salary caps reach their limits, and all of the sudden supply dominates demand. Those teams that traversed the free agency period with patience and frugally spent their available cap room will now find themselves in a place where they can steal a mid-tier player off the board for a fraction of his true worth (i.e. Kent Bazemore, Evan Turner, Derrick Williams, Terrence Jones, Nene, Kevin Martin, Gerald Green, Josh Smith, Allen Crabbe).
Remember: This isn’t Major League Baseball, where teams like the Yankees and Dodgers can go out there and spend a billion dollars on a roster without consequence – no matter how many times an NBA franchise owner appears on Forbes‘ ‘Richest Humans Alive’ list, there are rules in place to prohibit any type of profligate behavior.
‘Value’ can be defined 100 different ways. Here, it has nothing to do with "smallball is taking over the league" and "the traditional big man is becoming extinct in today’s NBA." As a matter of fact, big men were one of the main reasons the Oklahoma City Thunder were on the verge of knocking off the kings of ‘Smallball’ in the Western Conference finals. Instead, value is in reference to the monetary value of their worth.
After the headline free-agent centers (Horford, Whiteside, Howard, Gasol, Noah) are signed, look for the remaining 17 big guys to sit stale on the market like an overpriced house adjacent to a major highway.
Supply through the roof, low demand – free market economics already tells us what happens next – many of the remaining free agents will accept deals at or below their perceived value.
Simply put: The big man isn’t dying, the big man is simply a salary cap casualty of the smallball market.
Though the current NBA collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the NBA Players Association is in place through the 2020-21 season, there is a clause in place that permits either party to opt out of the agreement any time on or before December 15, 2016.
Despite optimism from the commissioner that this will be avoided, there’s still plenty to work out to prevent it from happening, such as: The unwavering disagreement regarding the "one and done, must be older than 19 years old to enter the draft" rule potentially changing to the NBA’s preferred "two years out of college minimum and must be older than 20" stance.
How about the nine-year, $24 billion Turner Sports/ESPN TV deal that just went into effect this year? Because of the league’s Basketball Related Income (BRI) split (approximately 50/50 between the NBA and NBAPA), this TV deal was the driving force behind the salary cap increasing to a staggering $94 million this season, up from $70 million in 2015-2016. Under the current CBA, NBA franchises are required to spend a minimum of 90 percet of the total salary cap otherwise the difference between what’s on the books and the floor is dispersed amongs the players on the roster.
In one season, this minimum spend number went up $21.6 million, and it is expected to go up another $11.7 million after this year. How do you think this makes owners of the Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans and other teams that have no chance at signing an elite free agent feel? There is no spreading this infusion of BRI out over the course of several years — the league’s income graph just spiked, and the owners, despite the surge of profits, will now feel the wrath of the original deal they signed.
With all of this said, remember that every player in the league does not make the money that LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant or (insert NBA All-Star here) does. The direct deposits would cease until a lockout is resolved, which could ultimately create a serious predicament for all the players who live paycheck to paycheck.
Therefore, don’t be surprised if you see lower-profile free agents take the money and run this summer if presented with the opportunity to do so.
Whether this philosophy is in the form of a shorter-term/higher-annual-salary deal or players making quick decisions that put financial goals first, you better believe a potential work stoppage before the 2017-2018 season is a real thing that will affect the current landscape of the NBA.