2018 NBA Free Agency is here and expected to be active as ever, but most teams are strapped for cash, unable to make many meaningful signings because their payroll is flirting with or already exceeding the projected $101 million salary cap.
That’s because they’re still handicapped from foolishly overspending when the salary cap spiked two summers ago.
Just look at some of these contracts that were shelled out
If the summer of 2016 could be summed up in one transaction, it’s what took place between the New York Knicks and Joakim Noah. Noah, a once-fierce defender, post playmaker, and a bundle of hustle energy, had only played 27 games in 2015 while recovering from a shoulder injury. The Knicks didn’t care; they offered him four years and $72 million before free agency even began.
Noah gladly accepted, and he’s played in just 53 games ever since.
That’s only one of many wild free agent signings from that summer. The NBA had renegotiated its TV deals with ABC and Turner, and since that money is considered basketball-related income, the salary cap exploded from $69 million to $91 million. Teams that expected to have no cap space suddenly had room to sign marquee free agents. More players were opting out of contracts to land deals worth life-changing amounts of money. The value of a max contract all of the sudden was worth $153 million, making Mike Conley the owner of the biggest contract in NBA history at the time.
If you were a free agent that summer, you won. Look at these contracts, in reverse alphabetical order:
Hassan Whiteside: 4 yrs, $98 million with Miami
Marvin Williams: 4 yrs, $54.5 million with Charlotte
Chandler Parsons: 4 yrs, $94.8 million max with Memphis
Miles Plumlee: 4yrs, $52 million with Milwaukee
Joakim Noah: 4 yrs, $75 million with New York
Andrew Nicholson: 4 yrs, $26 million with Washington
Timofey Mozgov: 4 yrs, $64 million with LAL
Ian Mahinmi: 4 yrs, $64 million with Washington
Courtney Lee: 4 yrs, $48 million with New York
Jon Leuer: 4 yrs, $42 million with Detroit
Meyers Leonard: 4 yrs, $41 million with Portland
Tyler Johnson: 4 yrs, $50 million with Miami
Dwight Howard: 3 yrs, $70.5 million with Atlanta, traded twice since
Solomon Hill: 4 yrs, $48 million with New orleans
Eric Gordon: 4 yrs, $53 million with Houston
Luol Deng: 4 yrs, $72 million w/Lakers
Matthew Dellavedova: 4 yrs, $38.5 million w/Bucks + 1 god-awful commercial
Jamal Crawford: 3 yrs, $42 million extension with Clippers
Allen Crabbe: 4 yrs, $75 million by Brooklyn matched by Portland, eventually traded to Brooklyn
Mike Conley: 5 yrs, $153 million
Jordan Clarkson: 4 yrs, $50 million extension with Lakers
Harrison Barnes: 4 yrs, $94 million max with Dallas
D.J. Augustin: 4 yrs, $29 million with Orlando
Ryan Anderson: 4 yrs, $80 million with Houston
Cole Aldrich: 3 yrs, $22 million from Sacramento
Arron Afflalo: 2 yrs, $25 million from Sacramento
This was an incredible day for the players. Those who could cash out did so quickly and quietly. Those who could opt out and re-sign long-term extensions early did just that. And those who had signed a multi-year extension in the seasons leading up to the cap spike silently seethed with fury that their counterparts had cashed in without them.
There was a drawback, though
This was a one-time cap spike. After it ballooned to $91 million, the cap only increased to $99 million last summer. This summer, it’s expected to crawl to $101 million. And all the teams that went all-or-nothing two years ago are nearly handcuffed by the moves they made in the past.
The only team that truly took advantage of the cap spike was the Golden State Warriors, who used the boon from the available funds to sign Kevin Durant. That team has gone on to win back-to-back championships, and if they keep things together, there’s no telling how many the Dubs can rattle off.
This lack of cap space around the market was the reason a guy like Lou Williams — a vaunted perimeter scorer off the bench who just claimed the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award, again — settled for a three-year, $21 million extension in February. It’s why someone like Thaddeus Young opted into his $13.7 million player option this summer instead of searching for a lucrative contract elsewhere.
And it’s why the NBA has raised the debt ceiling for team owners to an incredible $325 million — to “soften the impact of anticipated higher team payrolls and luxury taxes next season,” according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Teams won’t have money to sign players outright in free agency, so they’ll have to exceed the cap and likely enter the luxury tax to re-sign their own players.
The salary cap is expected to jump another $7 million to $108 million next summer, and several teams are in line to have max free agent space. The pain of 2016 will eventually go away.
But many teams will still be paying for the exorbitant contracts they handed out in that summer of 2016.