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Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo, DeMar DeRozan and Cleveland Cavaliers J.R. Smith

NBA Free Agent Salaries Won’t Rise As Much As Expected

There is a rising fear that NBA salaries are about to explode this summer as the first wave of new National TV money drives the Salary Cap from $70 million to an estimated $92 million this July. However, not everyone in-the-know believes that players once considered just above average or below star-level are going to cash in as some are forecasting.

ESPN’s Tim MacMahon quotes Mavericks owner Mark Cuban as saying,

“Every player thinks it’s just going to be a money train this summer. There’s a lot of money; there’s not THAT much money. … And I think there’s going to be teams that save their money for next year, because it’s a better free agent class. People just presume now that everybody’s going to get paid a lot of money, and it’ll be interesting to see if that happens.”

The salary cap is set to rise about 31 percent in July and that is a lot of money – around $22 million, but it’s going to rise an estimated $16 million more the following year and if teams commit big money to this year’s suspect free agent crop, it’s unlikely they’ll be in a position to do it again the next year when things could get really interesting.

Fans and players are dreaming about the availability of Kevin Durant this summer, but if Durant wants to maximize his own value, he’ll re-sign with the Thunder, follow LeBron James’ path and become a free agent again next year when he can ask for a salary starting at $35 million per season. Nabbing either of this year’s top two free agents is purely a pipe dream. Any action here is down the road.

Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki don’t even register on other teams want lists as all three have shown no interest in leaving their current teams.

Matt Moore of CBS believes the third best free agent this summer is the Pistons Andre Drummond and as a player coming off his rookie deal, he could command a salary starting at about $22 million. He might just get it too as even half decent young centers are hard to find, but that’s a lot of money when one looks at what the Raptors extended Jonas Valanciunas for last summer. The Raptors and Valanciunas haven’t exactly been overwhelmed by the Pistons young center, if anything at the center spot Valanciunas has had the edge in head-to-head games and he’s set to earn $14.4 million next season.

Al Horford is next up on Moore’s list and the big man would be a nice add to a lot of teams’ rosters, but a max player? Is 15 points, 7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks suddenly worth over $25 million a season for a 30-year-old who might have shoulder issues as he gets older. He could take a strong team in need of a power forward to the next level, but no one should be looking at Horford as a foundation piece.

Grizzlies Mike Conley will get a lot of looks simply because there just aren’t any other proven starting point guards to go after, but no one as looked at Conley (15.3 points and 6.1 assists) as one the best point guards in the league before this and tying up max money this year means you’d have no shot at the point guard riches about to hit free agency next season. Rose, Westbrook, Curry, Lowry or even Hill, Teague, Mills or Livingston in 2017.

The Raptors free agent DeMar DeRozan is still just 26-years-old and was second in Eastern Conference scoring behind LeBron James last season. Now that’s a guy who can command max money this summer, but don’t be surprised if he accepts less from Toronto.

Bradley Beal is publicly demanding a max deal and the Wizards probably feel compelled to give their restricted free agent what he wants, but they’ll cringe doing it and they should. Beal has never come close to playing a full season and missed 46 games over the last two years. He can shoot, he can score, but guys with his injury history don’t usually get max deals and the teams that have done this in the past usually regret it.

The Warriors restricted free agent Harrison Barnes is the foil to Beal’s hope for a max contract. If you could have either player, it’s Barnes hands down.

Nicolas Batum’s name has been bandied about as a future max player all of last season, but it’s really hard to believe an NBA GM would see a 15 point, 6 rebound, 5 assist glue-guy in that light. A good player who usually misses 10 or more games each season, Batum is closer to the Raptors DeMarre Carroll than a franchise centerpiece. Carroll signed for $15 million per season last summer, so give the 27-year-old small forward a rise, the cap went up, but let’s not think every GM has suddenly lost their minds.

Hassan Whiteside seems to be rubbing his hands with glee and hoping the desperate Lakers will let him cash-in. He’s still young, hopefully developing and has every reason to believe he should earn at least as much as Drummond. However, the Heat didn’t always seem all that enamored with his defense and he is coming back from an MCL strain incurred during the playoffs. Can the hype convince a GM into handing him a max deal?

The concept of center Dwight Howard as a max player has died a natural death. He won’t be “underpaid”, but don’t expect teams to fight over landing him either.

A lot has been made of the Raptors Bismack Biyombo based on his 22 starts in the regular season and 10 playoff starts. He put up some monster rebounding games. He also completely disappeared in other games and is limited offensively. Still, there are projections of him earning $17 to 20 million next season – really? Biyombo deserves a big raise from his $2.8 million salary and he’ll get it, but he’s publicly offered a hometown discount to Toronto and common sense he’ll be back for between $10-12 million a season.

Other free agents getting a lot of notice are:

Paul Gasol, he’s 35-years-old

Dion Waiters, nice young role player with potential

Chandler Parsons and his knee injuries

J.R. Smith, he’ll shoot you into and out of games

Ryan Anderson, a stretch four that can’t play defense and has injury issues

Kent Bazemore might be another DeMarre Carroll

Festus Ezeli is a big center and really nice backup

and the list goes on and on.

There are lots of players in free agency that would be nice to have, but massively overpaying them? The role players, old players, bounce-backers and guys coming off of injury that seem to dominate much of the 2016 free agent class, go with Cuban’s assessment, prices will be held down by GMs saving at least some of their salary cap space for next summer. Of course, there will always be someone that gets caught up by “money burning a hole in their pocket,” just don’t expect the extravagance to be widespread.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
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