Day 1 of Free Agency Follows Nontraditional Buying Patterns
Well, that was fun.
There have been years where Day 1 of free agency was a wasteland of activity, as teams waited for the biggest dominoes to fall before tendering offers to the second-tier and third-tier free agents. This summer, however, has been a complete reversal of that philosophy, as teams jumped at those second-tier and third-tier free agents before any of the biggest fish were off the board.
Timofey Mozgov, for example, was the first major deal officially reported at 12:01 a.m. EST on Friday, just to put into perspective how day one of free agency has gone.
Evan Turner (Portland), Evan Fournier (Orlando), Chandler Parsons (Memphis), Al Jefferson (Indiana), Jeremy Lin (Brooklyn), Hassan Whiteside (Miami), Jordan Clarkson (LAL), Nicolas Batum (Charlotte), Andre Drummond (Detroit), Matthew Dellavedova (Milwaukee), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto), Joakim Noah (New York), D.J. Augustin (Orlando), Bradley Beal (Washington), Mirza Teletovic (Milwaukee), Ish Smith (Detroit), Jeff Green (Orlando), Solomon Hill (New Orleans), Jerryd Bayless (Philadelphia), Justin Hamilton (Brooklyn) and of course Mozgov (LAL) all either agreed to terms on Friday or were reportedly very close to agreeing to terms on deals.
And nearly all of those terms were agreed to before Dwight Howard and Mike Conley, two of the more elite free agents available this summer, also agreed to mammoth deals with Atlanta and Memphis, respectively.
Why the reversal in approach this year? The easy answer is that there’s just so much money floating around that teams can spend it in whatever order they want. There’s no need to wait for the big guns to make their deals to sign those role guys who usually seem to find deals a little later on in July.
The other answer is that it seems many teams have taken an approach to free agency this year that has them pursuing their top handful of reasonable options rather than holding out and waiting for a shot at a superstar who never will come. New York, for example, will dump $72 million into Joakim Noah as a concession to the fact that they’re not getting the audience with Kevin Durant they desire. Detroit went after Ish Smith. Orlando hauled in D.J. Augustin and Jeff Green. Brooklyn agreed to terms with Jeremy Lin and Justin Hamilton.
None of those players are earth-shakers in this free agency landscape, but by using space to chase the premier reserves first while other teams fight over the big guns is a solid approach to this whole thing, and it certainly helped fuel one of the more eventual first days of free agency in recent memory.
Whose Big Deal is Next?
All that said, that does leave a handful of very big name guys atop the board of unsigned free agents. Here’s a look at where things stand for the best remaining players as of Friday night:
While most teams aren’t waiting around for the biggest names, Durant absolutely is holding quite a few teams’ cap space hostage while all of these other players come off the board, but the good news is that he still is expected to make a decision relatively quickly once he’s finished his sit-downs with prospective teams. His first meeting was with the Oklahoma City Thunder, which makes sense considering they’re still the Vegas favorites to retain his services, but he followed that up on Friday morning by meeting with a Golden State Warriors contingent that did include Stephen Curry, among other important people in the organization. That one, not surprisingly, also went very well.
He’s expected to meet with the L.A. Clippers on Friday night, where he’ll be sold a “Big 4” scenario that is somehow supposed to include all of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Apparently there’s a way to make that money work, but if it involves asking to Durant to take any less money than the absolute maximum he can earn, it still feels like a bit of a longshot.
Meanwhile San Antonio gets their shot on Saturday, Boston thinks they can use a potential Al Horford signing to lure Durant to Beantown, and Miami is so serious about adding Durant that they’ve risked ticking off the best player in their franchise’s history in Dwyane Wade, who isn’t waiting around to see how that all pans out. Either way, Pat Riley gets the last word, which is a horrifying notion for Thunder fans anywhere in the world.
In summary, Durant is nowhere near approaching a decision and his team is reportedly keeping their cards close to the vest. He’s going to meet with everybody before choosing, and his last meeting happens on Sunday. That means you’ll all be refreshing your Twitter feeds for at least a couple more days.
Wade, as mentioned above, is seeking some kind of multi-year deal in the $20+ million-per-year range, but Miami doesn’t want to lock him in for that kind of bread until they know they’ve got no chance with Durant. Getting Hassan Whiteside to agree to terms before Wade showed where the organization’s priorities lie, and that’s not something Wade is apparently all that happy about.
To that end, teams are starting to lob multi-year deals in Wade’s direction, most notably the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst:
Dwyane Wade is in contract talks with the Knicks & Bucks and could schedule meetings next week, sources told ESPN.
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 1, 2016
The Dallas Mavericks have also been mentioned as a suitor. New York doesn’t have anywhere near $20 million a year to spend on Wade if the Noah deal gets done, but it’s an intriguing idea. Frankly, the idea of Wade playing for anybody other than Miami is intriguing, but the more disrespected he feels in this process the more likely it is he’ll end up in a different uniform next year. Miami still has so much money to offer Wade, but Durant has to fall through first. It will be interesting to see if he and his representation want to wait that long.
The Dwight Howard contract more or less signals the fact that Atlanta either believed it was time to move on from Horford, or they believed he was ready for greener pastures. Either way, it looks increasingly unlikely that he’ll be back in Atlanta next season, especially with Atlanta’s reported reluctance to offer the fifth year that would give the Hawks an upper hand in the negotiation process. Plus, Paul Millsap ain’t playing the three, folks. It’s time for Horford to move on.
And what pastures are greener than those in Boston? The Celtics will meet with Horford on Friday evening with a max offer to place on the table, and the organization reportedly is pretty optimistic that they’re going to get this thing done.
It’s hard to fault Danny Ainge’s optimism, since so far it’s not entirely certain who else he may even consider playing for, as there hasn’t been much released in terms of where he plans to meet. Houston reportedly hosted him on Friday morning, and Oklahoma City would love to find a way to get him onto their roster, but with so few obtainable marquee free agents left, plenty of teams are going to run at him with big bucks. Orlando, Washington, Detroit, Brooklyn and the L.A. Lakers all have shown interest in Horford, and he may wait for the Durant dust to settle before making a final decision.
Boston, though, has to be the most intriguing of his most realistic remaining options, whether Durant ends up there or not.
There is no possible way that Day 2 of NBA free agency shows as strongly as Day 1 did, but that won’t stop fans from hoping. Stay tuned to Basketball Insiders and bookmark the Free Agency diary for the latest updates on all fronts. They’re coming, folks, and there are plenty of bombshells worth waiting for.
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