Mar 04, 2014 6:47 PM EST
While justifiable and collectively bargained, the last two CBAs possess a few particularly interesting processes that have huge effects on decision-making. Some of these, like the Chandler Parsons situation (where the Rockets can pick up his super cheap team option and allow him to be Unrestricted in 2015 or decline it to have him Restricted this summer] and the repeater luxury tax get plenty of ink. However, one of the more interesting impacts comes from a more abstract place and deserves more attention.
In today’s NBA, most players have very little control over their destination for their first two contracts. The first typically comes by being drafted so the athlete has almost zero say in where he ends up. For high level players in particular, the gigantic disincentives in terms of financial security have meant that only Ben Gordon (not risking as much because a max deal was not on the table) has declined extending and spent two seasons in peril in exchange for unrestricted free agency.
These factors combine to create a fascinating set of circumstances when the second contract ends, as the best players have spent 7-9 years in the NBA (likely in the same city) and are just entering their primes in most cases. After having all that time with zero say, a vast majority of them enter the free agent market because the current extension rules are not favorable for young players due to limitations on contract length.
As such, the league sees high-level players able to be truly wooed for the first time in their professional careers with dramatically weaker disincentives to leave and a new CBA that makes sign-and-trades a less useful proposition. The combination of complete freedom and years of team control means that the third contract typically marks the first time we really get to know what a player wants in the short and long-term.
LeBron James and Chris Bosh used their third contract to join forces with Dwyane Wade and have reached the NBA Finals in every season since The Decision.
Dwight Howard spurned the Lakers to make the Rockets a new Western Conference contender.
Ten years ago, Kobe Bryant publicly flirted with the Clippers before returning to the Lakers.
The third contract carries so much intrigue because as much as we think we know about NBA players, they never have the choices available to them earlier in their careers. There are plenty of valid reasons for someone to select their next location: team quality, connections with their current team, a good front office and/or coach, and a nice city to live in often carry weight in these circumstances. That said, each and every individual values those factors in different ways and can see the same landscape meaningfully differently. Thanks to a confluence of events from David Kahn not putting a five-year deal on the table for Kevin Love to opposing teams being restricted to offering four-year offer sheets, the next few summers will be full of tantalizing young talent finally gaining the freedom to go where they want.
Summer of 2014
All-Star snub Kyle Lowry looks to capitalize on a big season by being an unrestricted free agent for the first time.
Luol Deng and Emeka Okafor will also experience free agency for the first time since their second contracts were six-year deals grandfathered into the new CBA.
Rudy Gay has the choice of entering this class or the next one thanks to his big player option.
Astonishingly, Andrew Bogut would have joined this UFA first-timers group had he not signed an extension with the Warriors over the summer. Bogut has never been a free agent of any type in the NBA and will not be until 2017 with 12 years of service at that point.
While some people are already saying he may be close to done, Danny Granger gets an asterisk since he was a free agent this week but will have his first summer on the open market.
Summer of 2015
While Kevin Love generates the most headlines, the third contract group for 2015 runs incredibly deep. Likely Defensive Player of the Year Roy Hibbert joins 13-14 DPOY Marc Gasol on the unrestricted market assuming Hibbert declines his player option.
If those three All-Star bigs were not enough, Brook Lopez has a player option as well and could leave Brooklyn if the team disappoints between now and then. His twin brother, Robin, will be in this class too, which could be something to watch considering their close relationship. In case this group needed another big, Robin’s current teammate LaMarcus Aldridge can select his team as well and should generate major interest around the league. You can add in DeAndre Jordan as the cherry on top.
Thanks to a five-year extension under the old CBA, Rajon Rondo will hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in 2015. Rudy Gay, another member of the 2006 draft class, joins the group if he picks up his player option this summer. Philadelphia forward Thaddeus Young can add himself to the mix if he declines his option year while Arron Afflalo could be here as well if he declines his fifth year player option.
Finally, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin will have a more normal free agency after back-loaded contracts as RFAs landed both of them in Houston while Wesley Matthews gets his chance after a “poison pill” deal put him in Portland two years before Daryl Morey got his two.
Summer of 2016
Kevin Durant gets the top of the marquee (as he should) but this strong group also includes Joakim Noah, Noah's Florida teammate Al Horford, and Mike Conley. Incredibly, Dwight Howard could be gunning for his fourth contract the same summer since he signed a deal with Houston that made his fourth season a player option.
Interesting starters like Ryan Anderson, Nicolas Batum, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Brandon Jennings and Eric Gordon (if he picks up his option) could join the party too.
Summer of 2017
Likely the first group of players to become UFAs under the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, Thunder teammates Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka and former teammate James Harden headline a group that includes Derrick Rose (get healthy!), DeMar DeRozan, Tiago Splitter, Taj Gibson, Jrue Holiday, George Hill, and Tyreke Evans.
We should see a vast majority of these players hit true unrestricted free agency since the current CBA limits the length of non-rookie extensions to three years after the end of their existing contract. Since these individuals should be good enough to get four or more, I fully expect them to maximize their potential security and enjoy getting wooed for the first time as professionals. This shifted reality could lead to the power dynamics in the league changing more frequently than under previous agreements and make July 1 a much more interesting time each year.
Jan 14, 2014 2:45 PM EST
The Sacramento Kings had a chaotic 2013, as the franchise was on the brink of relocating to Seattle. A new ownership group, led by Indian businessman Vivek Ranadivé, successfully battled to keep the team in Sacramento. The new owners represented a much needed change from the previous owners (the Maloof family) who oversaw a Kings franchise that won less than 35 percent of their games from 2008 to 2013. The regime change included the installment of a new general manager, Pete D’Alessandro, who to this point has pursued an inconsistent strategy that may hamper the team’s development.
D’Alessandro’s first big decision after drafting Ben McLemore was not matching the four-year, $44 million contract that the New Orleans Pelicans offered to Tyreke Evans. The decision was sensible, given how such a contract would hamper the Kings’ financial flexibility over the next few years. It seemed as if the Kings’ front office acknowledged that a team led by Evans and DeMarcus Cousins is not one that can contend for a title. Evans’ uneven development in his four seasons with the Kings led to the possibility that the Kings would be stuck with a player whose production fell far short of his long and expensive deal. The Kings were compensated for losing Evans in the sign-and-trade by acquiring Greivis Vasquez, a pass-first point guard coming off a highly successful 2012-13 season. Vasquez’s superior court vision and playmaking ability was viewed as a potential remedy to the Kings isolation-heavy offense. Perhaps more importantly, they acquired Vasquez on a one-year $2 million deal, which would have little effect on the team’s long-term plans.
While letting Evans leave seemed to indicate an emphasis on the future rather than the present, the Kings executed two free agent signings in July that were counterintuitive to building for the future. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Carl Landry are veteran players who can be valuable bench players for teams on the brink of contention, but not for teams that should be looking to develop young players. Not only were the Mbah a Moute and Landry signings pointless, but they damaged the flexibility that the Kings were seemingly trying to preserve. Landry’s four-year, $26 million deal is dumbfounding in particular, because the Kings’ roster already included solid young big men in Jason Thompson and Patrick Patterson and a veteran backup in Chuck Hayes.
The Kings' next big decision was with regards to Cousins and whether to extend him or let him enter restricted free agency. In his first three seasons with Sacramento, Cousins has exhibited an impressive scoring and rebounding ability that qualifies him amongst the league’s premier young big men. However, his talent is coupled with a maddening immaturity that has led to inappropriate clashes with coaches, media members, and opponents. Ultimately, his ability was enough to persuade the Kings to grant him with a four-year, $62 million extension. It was never really in doubt whether the Kings would keep Cousins. Even if he does not improve, the skill-set that he possesses for a player his size means that he represents a valuable asset who is sure to attract constant interest from teams around the league.
D’Alessandro may have reconsidered his offseason transactions or perhaps he simply saw an opportunity that was too good to pass up when he traded Mbah a Moute to Minnesota for the former No. 2 overall pick in Derrick Williams. Taking a flier on the talented Williams represented a low-risk, high-reward transaction, which made a great deal of sense for a team building for the future. Sacrificing Mbah a Moute was not a large cost to see if Williams’ could erase the disappointing start to his career and live up to his lofty expectations coming out of college.
Sacramento should have two main goals for the next few seasons. The first is to develop its young players, particularly Cousins, Williams, and McLemore, and emphasize ball movement and defense, both of which have been lacking during the Cousins era in Sacramento. The second is to acquire two high lottery picks with the intent of drafting a superstar caliber young player who can help provide Sacramento with a brighter future. Trading for Rudy Gay was counterproductive to both of these goals.
By trading for Rudy Gay, the Kings’ front office lost perspective and valued short-term gains over more significant long-term improvement. The Kings' two most significant problems in the 2012-13 season were selfish play on offense and porous defense. Their assist ratio (the percentage of a team’s possessions that end in an assist) was tied for third worst in the league and they allowed the second most points per 100 possessions in 12-13. What are the two biggest criticisms of Rudy Gay? You guessed it, selfish offense and disinterested defense. Gay’s isolation-heavy offense and his need for his 20 shots per game means less shots (and perhaps less playing time) for McLemore and Williams. Further, Gay plays consistently poor defense, as evidenced by how the Kings were dramatically better defensively with Mbah a Moute than Gay.
DEF RTG (Pts per 100 Poss)
Vasquez-McLemore-Mbah a Moute-Thompson-Cousins
Stats via 82games.com
Vasquez and Thomas are both subpar defenders, so that difference can largely be attributed to substituting Gay for Mbah a Moute.
While Gay is definitely not good enough to vault the Kings into playoff contention, he may just be good enough to worsen the Kings chances at receiving a top-5 pick in the upcoming draft. The “tanking” contest is very competitive this year, as seven supposedly rebuilding teams have 13 wins or fewer. Before acquiring Gay the Kings were 6-14 and since the trade, they are 7-8, still subpar but not bad enough to warrant a top-5 pick in next year’s draft.
Sacramento’s transactions in the summer of 2013 and during the 2013-14 season are representative of a front office that does not have a clear focus. Their lack of commitment to a long-term rebuilding process could lead to continued distress for a Sacramento franchise that has not sniffed any type of success for many years.
Dec 09, 2013 3:15 PM EST
For the second time in 2013, Rudy Gay will be joining a new team because of a trade. After being moved to the Toronto Raptors for Ed Davis, Hamed Haddadi and Jose Calderon (traded for Tayshaun Prince) at the end of January, this time new general manager Masai Ujiri traded Gay along with Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings for Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and John Salmons.
For the Kings
In terms of the Kings, there are a few different angles which merit discussion. First, they effectively get an expensive trial period for Rudy Gay. The frustration so many of us have with Gay stems from the fact that he has athletic talent but it does not affect the game as positively as it should on both ends of the floor. I wrote when he was traded from Memphis that many had fallen in love with the idea of Rudy Gay rather than what he had become as a player and the only things that have changed since are his perception around some parts of the league and the fact that less time remains on his contract. Players with physical talent can always have the lightbulb turn on, so that can be considered a positive even though he is paid like it has been on for years.
Interestingly, I think there is a better chance than some are accounting for that Gay opts out of his $19.3 million for next season for the security of a longer deal at a lower annual value. Given the weakness at the top of the market once LeBron James chooses a destination, he and his agent could feel someone will roll the dice with him in a panic after missing out on the most marketable free agents.
Unfortunately, if the silver lining of a trade without picks or salary benefits is that the primary player you are getting back might leave sooner, you did not do well. Usage Rate attempts to measure how many possessions a player “uses” per 100, using shots, assists, and turnovers. The Kings already had two players in the top 10 for usage this season in Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins, both of whom have done pretty well so far.
Gay is actually tied with Thomas right now for seventh in that stat but turns the ball over more, assists less, and scores less effectively than Isaiah. This cannot be construed as an aberration since Gay had similar figures last season while playing 75 games. The usage rates of the top three Kings combine to an eye-popping 89.1 right now, an insanely high number that will obviously go down once they play together because it functionally cannot go any higher. Regardless, having a volume scorer who is not good at it takes away shots and possessions from better building blocks in Cousins and Thomas for no cogent reason. Some see the benefit of the deal as giving more minutes to Isaiah Thomas but that could have been done without trading Vasquez.
Fortunately for Sacramento, none of the pieces they gave up were tremendously valuable. While Grevis Vasquez was the returning piece in the Tyreke Evans sign-and-trade and Patrick Patterson the best thing that came to the team in the Thomas Robinson trade, both will be restricted free agents this summer. Typically that first round of free agency marks the transition from underpaid to properly paid when dealing with non-max players, even for RFA’s. The narrower time frame to match deals has taken some of the sting out of putting out an offer sheet though the Nikola Pekovic ordeal last summer showed that teams are still reticent.
That said, both Vasquez and Patterson have potential to be rotation players at minimum and Sacramento did not exactly have a ton of them in total on the roster before this trade besides at power forward assuming that is how one classifies Derrick Williams. The RFA process still scares off enough teams that one or both could get undervalued and then retained either to keep or move in a future deal. Losing Salmons and Hayes should not affect the team in any meaningful way, though Hayes having another year on his deal would mean savings if Gay opts out.
The other players Sacramento received may not provide a ton in value but could have some uses this season. Aaron Gray should eat some minutes at center behind Cousins, and Quincy Acy has the potential to help out in a pinch.
The biggest question for Sacramento is whether the trade will provide any long-term value to the team. The worst possible scenario I can think of is that somehow this time leads to another contract with Gay that pays him more than he is worth. If it does not work out and he leaves, they lost a few non-premium assets and some cap flexibility next year. If they think they solved their small forward problems and pass on a quality player in the draft or a trade, it looks even worse.
Grade for Kings: D+
For the Raptors
Similar to the Andrea Bargnani trade this summer, the biggest asset Toronto received in the trade was getting out from under an undesirable contract. While Gay could opt out and leave after this season, the rational fear had to be that the market would not bear out enough for him to decide before the moratorium that the risk was worth taking. Even with Chuck Hayes’ salary for 14-15, Toronto now has tons more financial flexibility in the near term. Having more space in 2014 means the Raptors can either pick up better fits via trade this summer or sign one reasonably priced piece to add another once more contracts come off the books in 2015. Jonas Valanciunas having two more seasons on his rookie deal gives management some time to get pieces together before he gets properly paid.
On top of that, moving Gay now allows them to evaluate DeMar DeRozan in a more normal system and potentially showcase his talents should Ujiri want to move him as well. It also should open up minutes for Terrence Ross while taking away a safety blanket that may have been costing minutes for Valanciunas. Losing Acy was not ideal but not crushing in any way either.
Getting lottery tickets in the form of Vasquez and Patterson only makes the trade better. While some worry about restricted free agency, their cases lend themselves to riskless transactions since Toronto can make them fair offers or just put a price in their own heads and then just see where it turns out. If some other team wants to overpay them, so be it. If the market collapses and the Raptors can keep them or use them in trades, all the better. Plus, the timing allows Toronto to use them as trade assets at the deadline should there be interest.
While it would have been nice to condense the shakier assets into fewer better ones (like they lost by trading Ed Davis in the original Rudy Gay deal), I doubt any offers including them were possible with the 2014 NBA Draft being so highly regarded by people around the league. Furthermore, the smaller return indicates a reduction in interest around the league which may also make Gay more likely to pick up his option which was the impetus for the trade in the first place.
Toronto gets a better look at the young talent that actually matters to their future while gaining more flexibility at a time they can actually use it with the possibility of two more interesting players. Well done.
Grade for Raptors: A-
Oct 29, 2013
The goal here is look at overall long-term value of players by considering age, contract, positional scarcity and of course overall quality, without factors like a player’s connection with a franchise or fit within a specific system.
Oct 21, 2013
While the Western Conference has six teams (Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies, Warriors) in its first tier, the Eastern Conference is a tier of one (Heat) with the Bulls, Pacers and Nets vying for the second tier.
Sep 08, 2013
Despite all of DeMarcus Cousins' flaws, it still feels better to make a bet on a high-ceiling talent turning it around with a change of scenery (even strangely available for the Kings with new people) because elite players play such a big role in playoff success and championships.
Aug 01, 2013
The treadmill is somehow both more and less common than some might think. While teams tend to fall within the 30-49 win range, as would be expected in such a competitive league, the dreaded never-ending stream of late lottery picks is uncommon.
Jun 27, 2013
Draft day has finally arrived and while everyone pines for the 2014 class already, this one has the chance to be sneaky good in the 'many quality starters' variety.
Jun 26, 2013
In this mock, we include the PER of each player based on the quality of opponent. Even statistics in this context can only go so far, but helps move beyond the possibility of inflation against competition that isn't even close to being NBA caliber.
Jun 24, 2013
The 2013 free agency class won't stop everything the way 2010 did and 2014 will, but it is strong and deep with many different possible outcomes. Here is what the top-30 players 'should' do.
Jun 23, 2013
Entering draft week in a draft universally labeled as weak preceding the best draft of the decade, few people are talking themselves into falling in love with any specific player as fervently as usual.
Jun 03, 2013
Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Rudy Gobert, Otto Porter and Alex Len join Nerlens Noel at the top of our draft board.
Apr 19, 2013
Two playoff teams from a season ago (Mavericks, Jazz) joined repeat lottery clubs such as the Suns, Hornets/Pelicans, Blazers, Wolves and Kings.
Mar 07, 2013
The Kings thought Andre Drummond was too big of a gamble, but passing on him for Thomas Robinson was always the riskier move.
Feb 20, 2013
The Rockets were expecting a quiet deadline, but then got the festivities started by acquiring Thomas Robinson in a six-player deal and clearing Marcus Morris for a second round pick.
Jan 11, 2013
Franchise relocation is a race to the bottom that pits city against city, which owners of all four major professional sports leagues in North America have used to their benefit.
Jan 07, 2013
One of the weirder aspects of NBA draft coverage is the groupthink mentality that quickly emerges and downplaying the quality of a draft class seems to be a pastime for many “NBA insiders.” Far too often, teams deal away first round picks thinking the guaranteed contract that comes with it is a burden rather than an asset.
Jan 03, 2013
DeMarcus Cousins has only begun to scratch the surface of his potential, but his uneven development is as much his organization’s fault as his own, The Kings lack talent and the talent on hand doesn’t maximize the strengths or minimize the weaknesses of their franchise player.
Dec 31, 2012
NBA teams hold coaches to a stricter standard than they do general managers, yet a coach can only be as good as the players his front office gives him.
Dec 12, 2012
As we move forward with “Amnesty 2.0,” we will see the fascinating possibilities that the provision brings even as the number of teams and players left dwindles with time.
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