Top NBA Free Agents Hold “Court”
Much is being made about the ESPN.com report that top NBA free agents LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh met over the weekend to discuss their free agent futures. The reactions are mixed from happy, with the fact that the players are deciding their future, to talk of how it is unfair that the players are allowed to collude, but teams can not. While there is an argument to be made for both sides, the reality is that there is nothing wrong with players collectivity deciding their futures. And the way the NBA is set up, it actually increases the likelihood of players doing something like this.
We have to remember that the NBA not only has a hard salary cap, but they have hard salary figures, which is why there is even a possibility for three guys to get a ‘max’ contract. By doing this instead of leveling the playing field for teams, you have actually made it easier for the big market teams to lure the top free agents. In baseball non-big market teams are at a disadvantage because they don’t have the same revenue streams as a team from New York, L.A., Chicago or Boston, so it is progressively harder for them to consistently sign big market free agents.
Now a salary cap is supposed to level the playing field and prevent a handful of teams from dominating the sport (oops the NBA hasn’t gotten that memo yet) and buying all the top free agents. The problem with the NBA is it level’s the playing field too much. In the NFL the salary cap is set but contracts can be structured in a variety of ways, that can make certain deals more valuable than others. This allows smaller market teams, compete with the natural advantages the big market teams have and lure in free agents. In the NBA, their contract structure and cap system actually hinders small market teams from being competitive. Rich teams might not be able to spend more than poor teams, but since all contracts have pre-set maxes there is no way for small market teams to ‘outbid’ for free agents. The Timberwolves have an impressive collection of young talent and some money to spend, but even if they could afford to bring in two ‘max guys’, James, Wade and Bosh wouldn’t consider signing there.
Why play in Minnesota or Milwaukee, when you have your choice of Miami, New York/New Jersey, or Chicago? It is a no brainer decision for all these guys and that is why it actually makes sense for them to discuss their free agent futures together. All three of these players are incredibly talented, and they have a strong desire to win, so why not find the best situation possible for them. That is what “Free” agency is all about, the ability to make that decision. And in this case not only is their decision based on who is already on the roster, but it is based on who else they could possibly bring in.
Now I can understand how some fans will feel it is unfair, but there was only going to be a select number of cities that these top guys would entertain to begin with. And so it is up to those teams to put their best deals forward. While I do think the Heat and the Bulls are the front runners, a team like the Nets could free up enough cap space to get two max guys to pair with Brook Lopez (though I’m not sure how Derrick Favors is going to help sell these top FA’s), and the Knicks are always in play. And if James, Wade, and Bosh do form the unholy trio in Miami, then other teams will deal with it, by either saving their money for next year, or signing multiple 2nd tier free agents. Regardless this is the way the NBA is set up and no one can get upset with the players for doing this.