NBA free agency: Early market trends
NBA free agency is a week old and 24 players have reportedly agreed to the parameters of new deals. That's enough development to take our first look at the market by examining what kind of players are being snatched up first and much money is being spent.
1. Good things come to those who sign early
While much of the free agent market waits on the decisions of the biggest stars, those players willing to commit early have been rewarded handsomely. Jodie Meeks will rake in $19 million over three years by jumping on with the Pistons instead of waiting for contenders to call. Ben Gordon pulled a partially guaranteed $9 million over two years – an unbelievable sum given his attitude and performance in Charlotte – by filling a need for the rebuilding Magic. Chris Kaman (two years, $9.8 million with Trail Blazers), Shaun Livingston (three years, $16 million with the Warriors) and C.J. Miles (four years, $18 million with Pacers) have all similarly struck lucrative deals with teams priced out of the running for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
That's the key to tapping the market early in the moratorium: There are generous offers to be found by working with those teams only looking to make mid-level plays. The teams in question get their first choice to fill a desired role. The players, meanwhile, get paid a premium in exchange for withdrawing from free agency early. Overpayment is very much a part of process at this stage, and those players angling for a bigger paycheck are wise to take advantage.
2. The market is at least testing the individual interests of Miami's stars
There is some uncertainty as to whether Miami will be able to bring back all three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, which is to say there is some uncertainty as to whether Miami will be able to persuade LeBron to return. At the very least, though, teams like the Rockets are examining the commitment of that superstar trio and their collective willingness to sacrifice. James could well get his max deal from the Heat, but it's unlikely that Bosh would be in line for the same type of compensation. As such, the Rockets have registered their interest with Bosh in a way that will undoubtedly resonate: with a proposed four-year deal worth upwards of $88 million. That's an offer (and a situation) that Bosh has no choice but to consider, even if it remains to be seen whether the Heat star most committed to staying would leave without James doing so first.
At the moment it seems unlikely, as Bosh reportedly expressed to the Rockets his preference to re-sign in Miami. Still, the fact that Houston has Bosh's attention and other teams will be vying for LeBron's leaves open the possibility – however vague – that one of the two might be enticed to sign elsewhere. Suitors are doing their diligence, if only in the event that there is some kind of fracture.
3. Stretch bigs are going fast
With offensive spacing a consistent and pressing concern around the league, teams are scooping up big men with shooting range as quickly as possible and at whatever price necessary. The going rate, then, for shooting power forwards and centers is fairly high. Consider those who already have agreements:
Channing Frye (ORL): Four years, $32 million
Boris Diaw (SAS): Three years, $23 million
Spencer Hawes (LAC): Four years, $23 million
Josh McRoberts (MIA): Four years, $23 million
Patrick Patterson (TOR): Three years, $18 million
Damjan Rudez (IND): Three years, ? million (unconfirmed)
All of those moves (save Rudez) are for mid-level money or more. Only Diaw's deal is reported as having any flexibility (via team options or non-guaranteed salary) on the team side. That combination sets a fascinating baseline for the lower tiers of shooting bigs – craftsmen of the same specific skill with more generally lacking all-around games. Might Al Harrington and Matt Bonner score more than the veteran minimum after all? Where does this leave Mike Scott and Anthony Tolliver? And what about bigger wings like Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson and Rashard Lewis? It's hard to say at the moment where teams will draw the line in terms of shooting appeal, though the quick thinning of the stretch-four free agents could set up some peculiar market dynamics.
4. Restricted free agency is the great variable of second-wave free agency
By this point in the moratorium, the best free agents have typically decided where to sign. This year, however, Anthony, James, Wade and Bosh all remain uncommitted, as do Eric Bledsoe, Pau Gasol, Greg Monroe, Luol Deng, Lance Stephenson, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons and Isaiah Thomas. Some of those players are idle as they wait to see which teams actually have cap space, and others are in a holding pattern as they hope to land with the same team as one of those top stars. Regardless, the fact that Anthony, James, et al., have played out the string to this point could have practical ramifications now that teams are just two days away from being able to officially sign free agents.
The most fascinating subset of these cases are the restricted free agents: Bledsoe, Monroe, Hayward, Parsons, Thomas, Greivis Vasquez, P.J. Tucker and a host of others. Those players can sign an offer sheet as soon as Thursday, and upon doing so will start the clock on their respective teams. Restricted free agency gives the incumbent team a right of first refusal on any offer sheet signed. That right, however, must be exercised within three days – a timeline that could prove cumbersome if Anthony and James don't make their decisions quickly. Parsons is a particularly interesting figure in this regard, as he could be a candidate for a quick offer sheet while Anthony and Bosh (Houston's reported preferred free agent targets) are entangled in other decisions.
On the other side of the offer sheet, how many teams are willing to commit a large chunk of cap space to a restricted free agent for three days of helter-skelter free agency? Things could develop quickly once Anthony or James finally makes the call, and posting an offer to the likes of Parsons or Bledsoe would come with a corresponding cap hit until the offer sheet is resolved. The teams bold enough to make that commitment could either poach a talented young player or miss out on the free agent dominoes that follow.