Throughout this season, there has been plenty of talk about the upcoming free agent class (as there always is in the NBA since player movement is so prevalent). The star players such as Kevin Durant, LeBron James (once he opts out), Al Horford, Dwyane Wade and Mike Conley have understandably received a lot of attention. But the top-tier players aren’t the only ones who will cash in come July.
With the salary cap projected to increase from $70 million to an unprecedented $92 million thanks to the NBA’s new national television deal, just about every free agent will likely receive a contract that would’ve seemed ludicrous just two or three years ago.
Put simply, it’s time to re-evaluate how NBA players are valued since there will be so much money thrown around moving forward. Some seemingly ridiculous contracts will be handed out this offseason, and not just to the big-name players.
Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside seems like a lock to get a maximum-level contract (which could start at about $21.6 million for the 2016-17 season). Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal has said on the record that he feels he’s deserving of a max contract too (also starting at about $21.6 million) and the Wizards are reportedly preparing to offer him one on July 1. Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo is due for a huge payday after a very productive postseason. Golden State Warriors center Festus Ezeli and New Orleans Pelicans power forward Ryan Anderson have also been mentioned (by executives, agents and reporters) as near-max players throughout this season.
If Twitter is any indication, many of you are shaking your head right now and getting ready to prepare an angry comment. A very common tweet these days is some iteration of, “[Fill-in-the-blank free agent] isn’t worth that much!”
People who think this way often hear the contract terms and compare it to what a star player makes. It’s understandable; even NBA players have had a hard time wrapping their head around some of the recent deals, such as when Washington Wizards point guard John Wall couldn’t believe he and Detroit Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson inked the same five-year, $80 million contract.
But comparing these newer contracts to one signed several years ago simply doesn’t make sense due to the cap increase. Many of the contracts that were heavily criticized just two or three summers ago look like relative bargains now.
Next season’s salary cap is going up so much that 24 teams will have the ability to offer at least one max contract this summer. As many as five teams (the L.A. Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics) could have enough cap space to offer two mid-tier max contracts, depending on what happens with their own free agents.
Since the salary cap is going up, the salary floor increases as well. The salary floor is the minimum amount of money individual teams will be obligated to spend, and it is 90 percent of the cap. This season’s salary floor was set at $63 million. Next season, it will be $82.8 million. This year, only 10 of the 30 NBA teams spent $82.8 million, and many NBA teams didn’t even spend $72.8 million.
So not only will teams have the ability to throw around money, many essentially have to go on a spending spree (otherwise, at the end of the season, the players already on the roster will split a bonus equal to the amount their team is under the salary floor).
And the salary cap spike isn’t stopping at $92 million. In a league memo obtained by my colleague Eric Pincus, the NBA projects that the salary cap for the 2017-18 season will be set at $107 million (with a $96.3 million salary floor and a $127 million luxury tax threshold).
Put simply, it’s a great time to be an NBA free agent. And rather than freak out when these lucrative contracts are signed, just understand that this is the new normal in the NBA.
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