As Chandler Parsons sat in street clothes on the Dallas Mavericks’ bench during the Western Conference playoffs, his near future uncertain due to a lingering knee injury, a common sentiment brewed within the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA): At least he already got his money.
Parsons famously fled GM Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets during the 2014 offseason, signing an offer sheet with the Mavericks for three years, $46 million guaranteed, including a player option in the final year of his contract. Parsons’ payday was much deserved: He averaged 15.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game for Houston in 2013-14, far out-performing the second-round selection Houston used to acquire Parsons in 2011 and his four-year, non-guaranteed, rookie-minimum contract worth less than $1 million annually.
Of late, Philadelphia 76ers GM Sam Hinkie, a former Executive Vice President under Morey in Houston, has offered the same contract to many young players. The deal, however, has rubbed many around the league the wrong way.
“Some executives at other teams are fired up about Philly’s extreme tanking,” Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote about the topic last October. “Some of that anger comes from a heartfelt concern over competitive spirit and the league’s image. Some of it is envy. Hinkie’s bosses have green-lit an unprecedented multiyear exercise in losing that guarantees him long-term job security few GMs ever see.”
On Monday, in agent meetings in New York City, the NBPA informed agents it will look into the Sixers’ salary cap activity and handling of the CBA, league sources confirmed to SI.com. The players union will search for any possible Sixers activity that would have violated the terms of the current CBA. However, player agents know that effort won’t be fruitful, as SI.com learned while speaking with five agents on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity.
“It’s definitely not illegal, but I think it should be illegal,” one agent said. All the NBPA can do is urge agents against accepting four-year, mostly non-guaranteed contracts. “At the agent seminars it’s something that’s discussed, a contract to avoid,” another agent told SI.com. “That’s not something that’s conducive to growing in the league as a player because you have to look over your shoulder every day and there’s no security in it.”
The important factor to consider in this dilemma, is the contract type in question is only offered during negotiations between teams and players that were second-round picks, undrafted free agents and D-League or international players at the conclusion of their second 10-day contract with an NBA club. In those circumstances, agents truly have minimal leverage in negotiating much more than what the Sixers are offering.
“That’s sort of the the crime of it,” said one agent who’s recently negotiated with the Sixers. “Certain guys, they don’t have a market to get a solid deal in the NBA elsewhere and they say, ‘We have to do this.’ I’d be prepared to sign this deal if we have to, it’s just a tough spot. It’s not really that fair to the kid.”
Following Parsons, Robert Covington has become agents’ latest case study. On November 15, Covington signed a four-year, minimum contract with the Sixers—the first year being entirely guaranteed for the remainder of the 2014-15 season, but the final three seasons being completely non-guaranteed. “That deal sucks,” one agent said. “He’s now worth way more than a million dollars for four years. It’s an amazing trade piece, it’s an amazing value for [Philadelphia].” At the same time, agents are quick to point out, if Covington were to suffer a season-ending injury during the 2015-16 campaign, Philadelphia could waive him with zero percussions.
Fairness is what the discussion comes down to. Agents are irked by the fact NBA teams, most notably Philadelphia, are quibbling over “chump change,” one agent dubbed it, in guaranteed money in a multi-billion-dollar industry.
“You think about how big these deals are for head coaches and how often they fire guys, how quick they’ll throw millions and millions of dollars at veteran players, but then they’re going to cheap out on hundreds of thousands of dollars on a second-round pick?” said one agent. “The only reason they do it is because they can. It’s just a bunch of crap to me.”
Ultimately the NBPA will not find the Sixers committed any violations in accordance to the current CBA. “It’s a gray area,” another agent said via text message. “There isn’t anything they can do. There’s no illegal activity going on, it’s just unfair to the players.”
The last important caveat to the topic: Sam Hinkie has yet to attempt to sign an established veteran player as a free agent during his tenure in Philadelphia. The most experienced free agent Hinkie has signed to the Sixers was 26-year-old Malcolm Thomas, who, prior to joining Philadelphia, had played just 23 games for four different teams during his first three professional seasons.
While this apparent rift has caused issues for the Sixers of late—multiple agents told SI.com they prevented players from working out for the Sixers during this year’s pre-draft process—Hinkie’s recent activity is certainly not indicative of the negotiation tactics he’ll employ when trying to sway impact free agents to Philadelphia. The Sixers are simply taking advantage of a loophole within the confines of the CBA.