Two "small market" teams topped free agency's biggest spenders by a healthy margin.
Financially speaking, this summer has been extremely generous to NBA free agents. With the salary cap rising 11% to $70 million for the 2015-16 season—and set to jump even higher moving forward—organizations had few qualms shelling out big money to available talent. Even mid-tier role players like Al-Farouq Aminu and Cory Joseph netted $30 million apiece.
With so many huge contracts doled out the last few weeks, it’s tough to keep track of how much each team committed in salary this off-season. The graphic below, courtesy of PointAfter, quantifies the exact numbers on a team-by-team basis.
(Note: You can hover over a bar in the graph for more information; salary figures are courtesy of Spotrac).
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San Antonio Spurs
Biggest commitment: Kawhi Leonard, five years, $94 million
Spurs fans entered the off-season knowing that Leonard would be brought back on a max deal via restricted free agency, but wondering if the aging tandem of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili would return. As it turned out, simply keeping the core in place wasn’t the only strategy San Antonio had in mind.
After trading Tiago Splitter to Atlanta as a means of freeing up cap space, the Spurs succeeded at courting prized free agent LaMarcus Aldridge to totally replenish the team’s title chances. Duncan and Ginobili agreed to take big pay cuts, but max deals for Leonard and Aldridge, as well as a modest $45 million for Danny Green vaults the Spurs to the top of this off-season's spenders.
Biggest commitment: Kevin Love, five years, $113 million
Even though the Cavs were fresh off an NBA Finals appearance, the franchise still entered the off-season with plenty of questions to answer. Pretty much everyone on the roster became a free agent, but owner Dan Gilbert showed from the outset that he was prepared to spend big bucks to keep a championship contender on the court.
Timofey Mozgov’s team option was picked up, Love and LeBron James each got max money, Mo Williams was brought in at a bargain price and Iman Shumpert got taken care of with a generous four-year, $40 million deal.
Cleveland is committing to title contention, but Tristan Thompson remains a sticking point. The contract talks that fell through with him earlier this summer have still not been resolved. His interior presence was a huge plus for the Cavs, particularly when injuries depleted the frontcourt.
His role may have dwindled with Love in tow, but Thompson remains one of basketball’s best offensive rebounders. His nose for the ball on that end translated into a plethora of second-chance opportunities for Cleveland’s offense. Losing his prowess on the offensive glass would be a big blow to the Cavs, but it still seems the two sides will get a deal done at some point.
If Thompson does sign a deal near the $80 million figure that was originally reported, the Cavs will leapfrog the Spurs as free agency’s biggest spender by a healthy margin.
Biggest commitment: Jeremy Lin, two years, $4.3 million
The Hornets are an interesting case to note this off-season. In terms of free-agent contracts, they only added Lin, on a basement-level bargain, and Tyler Hansbrough. The terms of the latter’s contract have not been reported, but a fair estimate for it would be around the league minimum of $1 million per season.
So while it would appear that Charlotte was content to simply pick up a few sneaky-cheap assets, it did most of its roster tweaking via trades. Nicolas Batum, Spencer Hawes and Jeremy Lamb are three other fresh faces set to join Charlotte next season following their departures from other teams.
The Hornets didn’t spend much, but there are a lot of moving parts here. At the very least, the team added plenty of outside shooters to mitigate that huge area of weakness from a season ago.
Biggest commitment: Joe Ingles, two years, $4.3 million
Much like the Bucks in the Eastern Conference, the Jazz represent a young team on the rise out West.
The core of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Rudy Gobert is under contract through the 2016-17 season (and, in some cases, beyond). Dante Exum, Trey Burke and Rodney Hood are all on their rookie contracts, so they aren't going anywhere, either. Essentially, Utah didn’t have many roster spots to fill this summer. With so many talented young pieces in the fold already, the Jazz also didn’t need to make a big splash via free agency (assuming they couldn't lure big-name FAs).
The front office could have targeted a sage veteran like Caron Butler or Gary Neal to round out the roster. It also could have opted to keep fan favorite Jeremy Evans around (especially since he got a league minimum deal in Dallas). However, the only move Utah made was re-signing Ingles—which is not worth criticizing.
The Jazz clearly like the product they have in house. At this point, their best plan of action is to let the young guys develop chemistry and settle into their roles. I’m sure the front office isn’t complaining about a stress-free summer.
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