As day three of NBA Free Agency period is upon us. The conventional wisdom that the big fish would set the market has been proven wrong. Not only have the middle (and lower) tier free agents signed deals earlier than expected, but also for more than expected. It would only makes sense that in a salary cap and max contract environment, the superstars would set the market for each position. Due to the competitive nature of NBA players and agents, they’ll use every opportunity to obtain a bigger deal, which in returns
So far, Avery Bradley has signed for 4 years, $32 million, Shaun Livingston for 3 years, $16 million, and Marcin Gortat for 5 years, $62 million. These guys were each in the top 25 of Tom Ziller’s Top Free Agents list, and while not seen as a bargain for the teams, people seem to generally be on board with the idea that this is what these guys cost. More intriguingly, the number 51 free agent on Ziller’s list, Jodie Meeks, got 3 years, $19 million, and Ben Gordon, who was not even on Ziller’s Unranked Free Agent list got 2 years, $9 million. Chances are, the trend of players signing for more than their projections speaks to the profitability and parity of teams within each conference (but not across conferences, obviously). But what if this were the start of a CBA counter punch by the teams who don’t have a superstar and have no shot at getting one in Free Agency?
Much has been made of the differing paradigms employed by Miami and San Antonio with respect to team building, but in successive finals series the quality of each team’s role players have made an enormous impact on which team prevailed. In fact, the same could be said of the 2011 and 2012 series against the Mavs and Thunder as well. Teams which are able to get the best value at the positions around their superstars simply have a much better chance at success. The psychology involved in role guys taking less to chase a ring with a team with star power is interesting, but how powerful is that if their peers signing with Detroit and Orlando are inking contracts for double their own team friendly deals?
It is very unlikely that the less competitive teams are intentionally driving up the market for role players, but what if that is their best counter to the super team concept? If so, that would also the best challenge to the Spurs method. If the Magic decided to offer Boris Diaw the terms his agent threw out, 2 years, $18 million and is Pau Gasol really going to go to OKC for 2 years, $8 million? If the money difference between what less competitive teams offered to the tier of free agents that title contenders feast on, that would necessarily make them more scarce, both between good and bad teams, and between the teams competing for the championship. If Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem demand 25% more, then Miami can’t sign Ray Allen or Shane Battier.
So what if the best and only way for teams like Detroit, Orlando, Milwaukee, and Sacramento to catch up with the rest of the league is to intentionally overpay middle tier free agents at the very start of the Summer? If Miami, OKC, the Clippers, and Spurs can’t steal them after the stars choose their destinations then who do they fill their rosters with? It would actually be satisfying if the new market inefficiency is actually to find and blow up the old market inefficiency.