“Unfinished business” was the term Kevin Love used, more or less kicking off the first day of NBA free agency Wednesday with his announcement, via The Players’ Tribune, that he would be sticking with Cleveland Cavaliers in pursuit of LeBron James-led championships.
“Irrational exuberance,” though, was the label that came to mind as the shopping and the bidding and the spending (pledges of it, anyway, when deals actually can be consummated July 9) spiraled ever higher. That phrase was former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan‘s, used to characterize the overheated stock market during the dot.com bubble of the 1990s.
From Love and Cleveland teammates Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert to San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, from young franchise cornerstones such as Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard to DeMarre Carroll becoming Toronto’s highest paid player, the frenzy to find, pitch and lock up players at heretofore staggering amounts of money was more than even some players could grasp:
By 7 p.m. Eastern time, with several agreed-upon deals to go, NBA teams had committed approximately $1.1 billion dollars to players who hit the open market at 12:01 a.m. Among the biggest contracts: Love’s five-year, $110 million to stay with Cleveland, Davis’ five-year, $145 million extension to play for the Pelicans for the next six seasons and Lillard’s $120 million over five years to serve, perhaps, as Portland’s last tent-pole player as the Blazers face a potential rebuild.
And just because that sort of spending wasn’t unprecedented …
… doesn’t mean it wasn’t breathtaking.
With so much of the NBA’s business focused on the summer of 2016 – when the revenue from broadcast rights increases geometrically, taking the salary cap from about $69 million to an estimated $90 million – owners and general managers dug deep to cut deals at 2015 prices. Or, more accurately, at 2015’s percentage of payroll.
Look at it this way: an $11 million player by 2016-17, for example, will eat up the same amount of cap space as a $7.7 player this past season ($63 million cap). That could turn a number of Wednesday’s personal lottery payoffs into something if not reasonable by an average Joe’s or Jill’s standards, at least into something manageable.
One of the surprises of the day, then, was that so many players were willing to lock in rather than hold off or “gimmick-contract” their way to another bite at the platinum apple in a year or two. Love, perhaps thinking of his own troubling history of injuries, went “all in” with the Cavaliers, grabbing a deal that will still be in effect when James turns 35. Davis dried up the premature drooling in Chicago and probably 28 other markets by teams and fans hoping to pry him loose from New Orleans sooner than 2021.
Here was another surprise: Of the top 15 or so players who agreed to terms Wednesday, 10 or more (depending on your rankings) chose to stay put, re-signing with their current teams. Of those who will be playing elsewhere come autumn, Tyson Chandler‘s four-year, $52 million deal with Phoenix and Carroll’s four-year, $60 million package with the Raptors probably rate as the biggest moves.
(It will be interesting to see Carroll playing north of the border, technically making him an international player. He’s the guy who, when asked during the Eastern Conference finals what he might say to Cleveland’s feisty Matthew Dellavedova about his reckless play, wondered if the “foreigner” even spoke English. Like Australians, Carroll will learn, Canadians mostly speak English too.)
There was, of course, plenty of unfinished business. LaMarcus Aldridge was the straw stirring Wednesday’s drink, even as his interviewing of teams continued. San Antonio emerged as a likely destination for the All-Star power forward, if he does leave Portland, with the Spurs pitching a baton hand-off from Tim Duncan to Aldridge and a makeover on the fly with Leonard and the team’s aging core still formidable enough to contend.
Things didn’t go well, apparently, for the Los Angeles Lakers in their wooing of Aldridge. Word leaked almost immediately that the Blazers’ big man was unimpressed by a lack of vision for the on-the-court product. Glitz alone didn’t look as if it would cut it, with the Lakers said to be dropped from Aldridge’s list.
Other names remain in play: Marc Gasol, Greg Monroe, DeAndre Jordan, Monta Ellis, Wesley Matthews, Rajon Rondo, Reggie Jackson, Dwyane Wade and James himself. Draymond Green reportedly got a deal done later in the day with Golden State, suffering a hiccup or two more than Leonard or Jimmy Butler as a restricted player who wasn’t required to secure an offer sheet elsewhere.
The Lakers had their Aldridge embarrassment while their East Coast counterparts as marquee franchise mired in current muck, the New York Knicks, registered barely a blip on Day 1. In the NBA of 2015, the Cleveland Cavaliers committed in excess of $230 million to three players (Love, Thompson, Shumpert) while the Knicks looked to have trouble getting people even to take their calls.
That all could change Thursday, naturally. And we’re pretty certain to see fireworks Friday and Saturday, on both the Old Glory and new money fronts.