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3 predictions for this summer's NBA free agency bonanza

With television money about to pour into the league, we need to once again reset expectations for free agency.

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Now we know the NBA's salary cap will explode in 2016-17 when the league's massive new TV contract kicks in, providing a raw $1.17 billion boost to the bottom line. Given that the league's labor rules require roughly 51 percent of revenue to be given to players, that means we're in for a cap explosion.

The league had hoped the players would agree to a proposal to make the increase more gradual, avoiding any one-time shocks that inordinately benefit a select group of players. The players' union rejected that proposal publicly over the weekend.

So now we -- along with everyone working in and around the league -- are left to figure out the aftermath. Here are three preliminary predictions as to how the salary cap explosion of 2016 will affect the league between now and then.

1. There will be few early extensions. Perhaps just one

Players drafted in the first round in 2012 are eligible for early extensions as of July 2015 that would preempt their restricted free agency year and go into effect for the 2016-17 season. Some top candidates based on recent history would be Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal and Andre Drummond.

A player like Davis should get a max deal. The language will almost certainly lay out that Davis will earn the maximum allowable amount under the collective bargaining agreement. The Pelicans are wise enough not to try to get cute with Ant Man's deal. When you have a player like that, you give him basically everything you can.

The issue is going to be trickier with those other three quality young players. In a normal year, Lillard would almost certainly receive a max early extension offer and Drummond would come close. Beal would at least be negotiating a massive deal, though you could understand patience from a team given his position and the team's financial state. (Klay Thompson is more accomplished and still had to sweat out a deal.)

Just consider what a potential max deal would look like for Lillard, though. Under labor rules, the maximum salary for a player with fewer than six years of service is 25 percent of the cap. Lillard's deal would go into effect until 2016-17. If the cap reaches a stunning $90 million -- as smart folks have suggested it might -- that would mean a starting salary of $22.5 million, and a four-year deal worth roughly $100 million. That's a massive investment. Lillard's wonderful, and worth it in the long run. But it has to make Portland pause.

That goes doubly so for the Pistons and Wizards with respect to Drummond and Beal. A max early extension seems out of the question for the latter, and Detroit would be rolling the dice to invest so heavily in Drummond, who is still relatively raw.

There is opportunity. The Pistons and Wizards can promise higher salaries than players of Beal and Drummond's status would otherwise draw -- 20 percent of a sure-to-be boosted cap? -- and know that it might end up a discount. If you're Beal, can you refuse a deal that could potentially pay you $18 million a year?

Given the situation, there's little reason for players to accept smaller deals knowing they'll hit free agency with a massive salary cap very soon. If teams won't swallow huge risks early, deals just aren't going to get done.

2. Teams could get crazy in 2015 free agency

Consider this analogy. You bake apple pies for a living. You need rights to apple orchards. You know that any apple orchards you license in 2016 are going to be much more expensive than orchards you license in 2015 due to market forces. You can use apple orchards licensed in 2015 up through 2019, and the price you agree on in 2015 won't change. So it makes lots of sense to buy those orchard contract in 2015 instead of waiting until 2016!

But the orchard sellers know all about the coming price inflation, too. They have to sell their orchards' rights in 2015; they can't very well sit out an apple pie season. They have options. They can sell the rights to the orchards for just one year and cash in on the 2016 price boom, or they can convince you to overpay on a four-year deal for the orchard, knowing that you'll still save money over buying orchard rights in 2016. It's a seller's market, and the anxiety over the rising market could cause the buyers to get aggressive.

That's how I think the 2015 free agent market will shake out for players like Rajon Rondo, Greg Monroe and DeAndre Jordan. Signing them to even max deals in 2015 might look like a bargain come 2016. At the very least, some teams will feel that way. And as all free agents know, you only need one team to fall in love.

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3. Free agents with options will consider delaying their paydays

Kevin Love has been fully expected to exercise his player option and become a free agent in 2015. If he signs a max deal, it would amount to roughly $94 million over five years. But if he opts into his $16.7 million for next season, in 2016 he could potentially sign a five-year max worth $155 million with the Cavaliers (or whichever team holds his Bird rights). If he wanted to sign with a different team, the deal would be worth potentially $115 million over four years. That's a huge reason for Love to delay free agency a year and could be the motivation behind his comments earlier this season.

The same applies to a guy like Jimmy Butler, who can sign a max deal as a restricted free agent in 2015 or bet on himself, sign the qualifying offer and rake in a truly huge deal as an unrestricted free agent in the greatest cash boom in NBA history. Can Butler delay his payday one year to set up the next four generations of his family? It's a bargain worth considering.

Players including Draymond Green, Goran Dragic, Monta Ellis, Jeff Green, Tristan Thompson, Arron Afflalo, Patrick Beverley, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Knight, Thaddeus Young, Jared Dudley and Reggie Jackson are in position to delay pending 2015 free agency one year by picking up a player option, declining an early termination option or signing a qualifying offer. That's going to be an awfully tempting option for a lot of these players, especially those who have already reaping NBA millions. It's a tougher sell to the younger guys still waiting on their first massive NBA payday, like Draymond, Beverley and Jackson. But a little patience could go a long way.


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