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Has Increased NBA Salary Cap Led to Overpaid Free Agents?

Friday July 1st signified the beginning of NBA Free Agency and probably the most anticipated start of the league’s free agency period in recent years. Names like Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard and Mike Conley topped the list as prized free agents as general managers around the NBA were looking to improve their rosters. This free agent period also featured a very interesting wrinkle. The NBA told teams back in June that the salary cap for the 2016-2017 season would be $94 million with the tax threshold at $113 million. This comes after the NBA signed a 9-year, $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and Turner Sports. You know what that meant…

NBA Owners were about to embarrassingly overpay players.

On Friday the overpaying began a few hours after the clock struck midnight as Nicolas Batum, a career 11 point a game scorer, signed 5-year/$120 million deal with the Charlotte Hornets. Hasan Whiteside, a breakout star for the Miami Heat this past season, signed a 4-year/$98million max deal from Miami. This for a player who has all of 75 starts in the NBA in his four-year career. You see a pattern developing? Here are some other contracts that were given out over the weekend.

Kent Bazemore- 4-yrs./$70 million deal with the Atlanta Hawks

Evan Turner- 4-yrs./$75 million deal with the Portland Trailblazers

Ryan Anderson- 4 yrs./$80 million with the Houston Rockets

Timofey Mozgov- 4 yrs./$64 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers

Those are just four of the more nonsensical deals that occurred over the weekend. The Mozgov deal was one of the more laughable signings as his six points, five rebound career numbers warranted a $16 million a year contract. The Lakers are not a destination team anymore with the franchise in turmoil on and off the court, so the signing should not have surprised anyone. Needless to say, that offer to Mozgov screams of, “Well no one really wants to come here, so let’s get something, right?”.

On the eve of free agency, the basketball pundits said that money would be thrown around and the numbers would be big. No one could have imagined that Conley would get the biggest contract in NBA history (5 years, $153 million) with the Memphis Grizzlies to go along with their new acquisition, Chandler Parsons, who received a 4-year, $94 million max deal from Memphis.

There were some reasonable contracts doled out this weekend as well. Jeremy Lin (3 yrs./$36 million with Nets), Jerryd Bayless (3 yrs./$27 million with 76ers) and Al Jefferson (3 yrs./$30 million with Pacers) are reasonable deals that reflect a slight inflated price for these and other players in the league. While Dwight Howard (Hawks), Andre Drummond (Pistons), and Evan Fournier (Magic) received big deals, their numbers and/or potential made them deserving of their contracts. Joakim Noah’s deal with the Knicks, while initially viewed as overvalued, is the going rate for a starting center in the NBA today.

The biggest issue with this free agent period is next year’s free agency. The NBA’s salary cap is expected to rise to $108 million for the 2017-2018 season. So if you look at this past season and the next two season, the salary cap will have gone up $38 million. That means that many of the big fish in the free agent pond this year may only take 1+1 deals (1 year deals with a player option) and go for even bigger money next summer. LeBron James, who may be the master of the 1+1 right now, opted out of his deal with Cleveland right after the NBA Finals and will sign another deal with the Cavs for one year. That sets the stage for James to possibly become the NBA’s first $40 million a year player next summer.

While players like James, Durant and Stephen Curry deserve big salaries, players like Timofey Mozgov and Evan Turner do not. Mozgov is making more money ($14 million/year) than Stephon Curry ($12 million/year). Think about that for a second. The two-time MVP is making less than an immobile center whose biggest claim to fame was being traded for Carmelo Anthony. This is the new NBA. Players who have no business making big money will be making excess of the $15-$20 million a year because owners have the money to spend and will spend it on anything available.

The trend of role players getting big money deals will not stop for the foreseeable future. Even with the salary cap dropping to $100 million in the 2018-2019 season, that is still $30 million more than where the cap was for the 2015-2016 season. After the NBA Players Association rejected a “smoothing” of the salary cap, NBA owners will be forced to overpay for everyone and there is nothing they will be able to do about it.

This is sports and sports fans are used to overpaid athletes who never live up to their contracts (see Albert Haynesworth, Gilbert Arenas and anyone the Knicks has signed in the last 15 years). This epidemic will continue as will the cash grabs and these players, not all but most, will not come close to playing up to the level of their contracts. I’m sure that Bismack Biyombo will not play near the $70 million he received from the Orlando Magic and that will be the reality for most teams. Many of these players will be traded and used as trade chips for an expiring contract in coming years. This is the new world of the NBA, where everyone gets paid no matter your caliber. It’s a shame though…

I wonder when the NFL owners will be quick to offer big money to their players like the NBA.



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Kahlil Thomas

Kahlil is the College Sports Editor for as well as a columnist, hosting the Bump 'N Run column once per week. He also co-hosts a weekly basketball podcast, The Box Out, every Thursday evening with fellow writer Jason Cordner.
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