There is nothing free about NBA free agency
By now the NBA’s free agency frenzy has mostly quelled. Journalists, fans, and team front offices can finally get some rest.
Some have called this off season’s NBA free agency one of the most eventful ever.
Scores of players were either re-signed with their current franchise — like Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and DeAndre Jordan — or were signed with a new team, like Wes Matthews, Roy Hibbert and LaMarcus Aldridge.
While both the Lakers and Knicks did nothing to boost fans’ optimism for next season, other teams’ fans do have reason to be merry.
The Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs all added some interesting pieces and will put more skilled teams on the floor next season.
But what made this free agency so eventful was not so much the relocation of any one superstar as it was the manufacturing of new ones — through the granting of additional superstar-like salaries.
More players these days are being compensated like NBA superstars than ever before. Here are three examples of non-superstars who signed mega-contracts during free agency.
Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks signed a five-year, $70 million deal.
Reggie Jackson of the Detroit Pistons signed a five-year, $80 million deal.
And finally what I consider to be the most overpaid contract of them all: Former Trailblazer Wes Matthews signed on with Mavericks in a four-year, $70 million contract agreement.
Middleton, Jackson and Matthews are all respectable players and each certainly has the potential to make a future all-star team. However, the impact they can have on any particular game is nowhere near the likes of a Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook, who I deem both superstars.
But before looking at the implications of this trend in the NBA, it might help to back up a little bit.
Last October, the NBA renewed its media rights agreement with its three current television partners: ABC, ESPN and TNT. The deal is worth $24 billion and is good for nine seasons, beginning the season after next (2016-17) and ending the 2024-25 season. It is about triple the amount these networks will pay this year for broadcasting professional basketball all across the globe.
Now zoom ahead nine months to the start of this month, the league announced the new salary cap for the 2015-16 season would be $70 million. This is the limit on the amount of money individual teams can spend on players’ contracts for the upcoming season. It’s an 11 percent growth from last season’s cap of $63.1 million but will likely be outgrown once again next season, when the television monies begin to flood in.
It is clear there is a high demand to keep this game on television. Basketball has reached most of the corners of the earth, thanks to the popularization of the NBA over the last couple decades.
We must be careful when we scrutinize players who make seven-figure salaries. After all, is it not you and I that determine what kind of demand is placed on sports entertainment by the choices we make? Would TV pay $24 billion to keep a show on the air that wasn’t well received? In the world of professional basketball, as is the case in most professional sports, the demand profusely outweighs the supply.
Each year there are only 300-odd men with the aptitude to play at the highest level of basketball. As long as we celebrate the successes and failures of them to the level we do, it is foolish to think a pay cut will come anytime soon.