On Saturday night, NBA teams and players can start negotiating contracts and agreeing to terms. Deals can’t be signed and officially finalized until after the moratorium on July 6, but the first few days of free agency are always a lot of fun since meetings are taking place and a ton of deals are agreed upon.
While the star players atop this free-agent class will have no trouble getting max offers, this could be a difficult summer for some of the mid-tier and lower-tier players on the market. Because only a handful of franchises have significant cap space, this is a very weak market.
The Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz, Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and Chicago Bulls can create the most cap room this summer. Some teams (like the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Clippers) can also free up additional space if they renounce their own free agents, but that seems unlikely.
Because so few teams have money to spend, there won’t be big bidding wars for players like we’ve seen in past years. And of the teams with space, only three made the playoffs last year (Philadelphia, Indiana and Utah). If a veteran wants to play for a contender and get a payday, his options are limited.
“I think many agents will be fired this summer,” one NBA agent told HoopsHype. “It’s going to be the worst free-agent market in terms of money that I’ve seen since I started working as an agent. It’s going to be a very, very difficult summer for anyone who isn’t getting a max contract.”
“This is a really dry market, so we could see more players than usual sign for the mid-level exception,” said Roger Montgomery, who’s represented players such as Jeremy Lin, Rudy Gay and Mo Evans. “I think the market is definitely going to be different than it was in the past. After that summer-of-2016 windfall, some people thought that every year after that would be somewhat similar. But last summer, we saw that the market was nowhere near as vibrant as it was in 2016. I think this year will be the same way. However, next summer I think it’ll start to loosen up a bit because teams will have some of that 2016 money coming off their books and they’ll be ready to reset a bit and spend money, especially with the cap set to go up.”
We could see quite a few players signing for the mid-level exception, the bi-annual exception or even the minimum. For next season, the full MLE is worth $8,641,000, the taxpayer MLE is worth $5,337,000 and the BAE is worth around $3,400,000.
Also, don’t be surprised if some free agents opt to sign a one-year deal and then enter free agency once again next summer, when more teams are projected to have money to spend and the salary cap is expected to increase.
There were many huge deals handed out in 2016, which has made it difficult for agents to manage expectations with their players in the aftermath.
“The summer of 2016 was so unique because a lot of guys were agreeing to these huge deals shortly after midnight,” one NBA agent explained. “Because of that, there were guys who had a really good offer from a team – a great value – but they were hesitant to sign thinking they could hold out and get one of those crazy deals they saw. We were trying to explain to guys, ‘There’s a limit to the amount of available money!’
“We had one player in particular who was hesitant to sign a contract that would pay him over $10 million per year, which was by far the biggest contract he’d ever been offered, just because he was looking at Luol Deng and what he got and saying, ‘But I’m better than him!’ We had to persuade him to sign this amazing deal. Because so many monster deals were handed out, there were quite a few guys who were hesitant to sign 72 hours later – even if it was a great contract. That summer made it harder to set expectations, mainly with the players who don’t understand the market.”
“This summer is very different because not many teams have significant cap space,” another agent added. “As a result, I think you’ll see a lot of teams adding talented players with an exception. Circumstances change, so just because a few guys got that much money doesn’t mean that’s the going rate for guys at that position. If you get caught up thinking you deserve more based on what someone else is making, you could miss out on a really good opportunity – not just financially but also in terms of fit. It’s really important for guys to understand the business behind it and to not get caught up looking at other players’ money.”
One other side effect of a dry market is that it may take longer for some free-agent deals to get completed.
“When the market is tight like it is this summer, free agency is going to go much slower for a lot of guys than it typically would,” an NBA agent said. “In 2016, right after midnight, Timofey Mozgov signed a monster deal within minutes of free agency beginning. I’m not trying to call him out, but that’s not happening this summer for anyone like Mozgov because there isn’t a lot of space out there to make things move quickly for anyone outside of the top guys. It’s definitely more of a buyer’s market this summer because there aren’t 10 different teams chasing some guys – it might only be two or three teams. That means most things will move slowly.”
There wasn’t a single veteran player traded on draft night, which one NBA agent pointed to as a sign that the market is dry.
“I think this is going to be a rough summer for a lot of guys,” an NBA agent said. “The inactivity on draft night is indicative of that. We didn’t see a single roster player traded on draft night. I need to go back and look, but I can’t remember the last draft where that happened. It doesn’t help that a lot of teams are poised to have cap space in the summer of 2019 since teams will start to get off those summer-of-2016 contracts and there are a lot of talented free agents set to hit the market. I think you’ll see some teams that aren’t really competitive in free agency try to absorb a contract or two if they can get back some assets. There are only a handful of teams that have space and a few can’t get competitive by simply adding one or two pieces, so it’ll be tough.”
For more behind-the-scenes information from NBA agents – including how they set expectations with their clients, what happens in pitch meetings, how they come up with an asking price, and what gets done before July 1 – read this article where agents gave an inside look at free agency.
Free Agency, 2018 NBA Free Agency, Top, Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz