Tha Sports Junkies 101

NBA Free Agency Primer

Free Agency keith Allison via Flickr


With the draft over and done with, the real fun begins. Starting July 1st, the NBA moratorium commences. This is the time where free agents are allowed to negotiate offers without being able to sign anything. Every year around this time, baseless rumors and ideas begin to float around social media. It’s nothing more than a wasteland of fake accounts and impossible scenarios. In order to combat that, here is everything you need to know about free agency.

Salary Cap:

As of right now, teams are operating under the premise that the salary cap will bump to $94 million. While the official numbers will be released sometime next week, it’s safe to assume that the figure the league announces will be somewhere around that mark. This has a huge implications on the league. While many assume that more money for the team equals more money to land free agents, that isn’t the whole story.

Every team in the League will be receiving the same bump in salary. The growth for every team, including those over the cap, is all relative. Meaning that even if a team has the money to go out sign a free agent because of the cap, a handful of other organizations do as well. In addition, the price for that free agent was just bumped up because of the availability of cap space. Not all of the newly generated money is wasted. There are certain situations it can be used to effectively improve a roster. However, expect less roster stacking and more overpaying from teams with blank checks.

Kevin Durant:

Nothing is going to get accomplished until there is a solid idea on what Kevin Durant will be doing in free agency. Until that money is tied up by some team, all other big names are put on the back burner. This is due in part by both the players, and the organizations. Teams can’t offer money they don’t know they’ll have, and players can’t sign until they’ve received offers from every potential suitor. With other big names on hold, all the role players will also have to wait out that process for the same reason. This puts much of the basketball world on hold until KD makes his decision. Moves will be made without consideration but remember, Kevin Durant is the top of the food chain. Everyone eats after him.

Restricted Free Agents:

Something that gets overlooked when evaluating a team’s offseason options are restricted free agents. If an RFA gets an offer sheet, the team who owns the player’s rights has only three days to match the offer– or let the RFA walk. If a team is scrambling for answers at the start of free agency, having to deal with an offer sheet could put a bump in their plans.

Soft Cap:

In order to help teams keep their players and round out their rosters, the League has implemented ways to let a team go over the salary cap. The most important way being the Larry Bird exception. If a team owns a players “Bird Rights”, they are allowed to offer much more money to that player with very little repercussions. Other ways a team can sign a player with no money to work with would be to use their exceptions. These exceptions include the Mid-level exception, the Bi-annual exception, the Early Bird exception, the Non-Bird exception, and the Minimum Salary Exception. Most of these exceptions don’t allow for big money to be spent so chances are if a team is trying to use one, it is on a bottom tier free agent.

Top Free Agents:

Now for the fun part of the free agency period. Time to put all the logistics aside and take a look at the top free agents this year. This is where most of the money is going to be spent and where all the story lines are coming from. This list isn’t based off talent but it is based off of price, and availability.

Kevin Durant – Chances are Kevin Durant isn’t going anywhere. Oklahoma provides the best opportunity to win and can offer the most money. Taking meetings with other teams could very well be simply to get a taste of what the entire experience is like. However, there is genuine belief that in some weird twist, he could leave the Thunder and start a new chapter in his NBA Career. That twist is worth watching for.

Hassan Whiteside – Unlike LeBron James, who has zero intention of leaving his team, Whiteside has already expressed his willingness to move away from Miami. If Pat Riley decides the extra effort isn’t worth retaining Whiteside, expect the highest bidder to pry him away.

Mike Conley – The lack of change in Memphis has driven Mike Conley away from the Grizzlies. He is looking for a change of scenery and has been linked to a handful of teams leading into free agency. This could be the missing piece for a middle-of-the-pack team, or the piece to push a contender over the hump. There are very few teams that are in desperate need of his services but wherever he lands, he will make an impact.

Al Horford – If you need a center, here is your center. That is all that has to be said about Al Horford. He is well versed in the post, good on defense, and plays very efficiently. Expect Horford to receive just as many compelling offers as Kevin Durant due to word being spread about Atlanta’s unwillingness to commit to Horford for 5 years.

Andre Drummond – It remains unclear on which teams are willing to take a shot at Andre Drummond. He is a restricted free agent with a high bargaining price. The big man has started to show that he is more than just rebounding and the league has taken notice. The Pistons have also taken notice and fully intend on keeping Drummond. Expect a max contract to be inked with relative ease to keep him in Detroit.

High Risk Free Agents

With all the money going around, it’s easy to double down on a free agent who doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a max contract. Even so, expect a lot of them to be thrown around like candy. Here are some of the free agents whose contracts may end up being wishful thinking

Dwight Howard – In this NBA, Dwight Howard should be an effective player. He has great size, speed, and athleticism for a 7 footer. In addition to that, he is fun loving and marketable. No one can take that away from him. However, he has a flaws that are hard to overlook. He becomes disengaged quickly, he acts childish at times, he can’t hit free throws, he can’t stretch the floor, and apparently his hands are too small for his body. This is no longer the Dwight Howard of old. Teams should proceed with caution when offering Howard a contract.

Harrison Barnes – After the 2016 NBA Finals, one thing was clear. Harrison Barnes is not ready to lead a team. This isn’t a bad thing. The League always has a place for very skilled role players such as himself. However, the max contract he is going to be offered comes with the unspoken understanding that he will have to carry 14 other players into the playoffs. This challenge may be too much for Barnes to handle.

Dwyane Wade – Right on cue, the Miami heat have created some controversy for themselves just in time for free agency. Reports have come out that Wade is willing to leave Miami and has expressed his feelings to a couple of teams in an income tax free state. The Heat have a lot to worry about with Whiteside and their Durant pitch. Wade may not be in their long term picture simply because of the money he is asking for. If he ends up with another team, performing in front of a fanbase for which he is expected to play like his legacy suggests, the end result will not be pretty.