Sunday night was an absolute frenzy of free agent activity in the NBA. No matter if it was social media or ESPN or NBA TV, the contracts and the money were a blur. This, as teams attempted to either keep important players or watched them leave for another better offer somewhere else, and then, set out to sign someone to replace those leaving.
Most prominently, former League MVP and two-time champ with the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant, signed a massive four year $164 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets. This despite the fact that Durant ruptured his Achilles tendon in game five of the NBA Finals and likely will not be able to play most of next season. Yet, that money is fully guaranteed through 2023. More on that in a moment.
Then, other names kept scrolling on screens and Tweets, Etc. like: Kyrie Irving joining Durant in Brooklyn, Jimmy Butler headed to the Heat in South Florida, Kemba Walker headed to Boston to replace Irving, and Al Horford ending up in Philadelphia. And the names and deals went on, and on, and on.
The most prominent unsigned player, as of Monday afternoon, is Toronto free agent and new World Champ Kawhi Leonard. And it still remains to be seen, whether he will remain in Canada or head to Hollywood to play for the Lakers?
Now, couple of things are strikingly different about NBA free agency from what we see every March with the NFL.
First, and this is the most common complaint of NFL players, everyone of these NBA deals are fully guaranteed. That means if a team tires of a player and wants to get rid of them, they are still on the hook to pay them the full salaries that you’re seeing and reading about the last 24 hours. And, it’s staggering to contemplate players being given 30+ million a year and a team doesn’t want them. However, it regularly happens with NBA players/deals.
But, no NFL team, none of them, will do those type of guaranteed deals and then just outright release the player, like the NBA will do.
No instead, most NFL deals are only partially guaranteed with rare exceptions. NFL players try to get as much money as possible in the form of a signing bonus or guarantees in the first couple of years of the contract. This is because it’s well-known that pro football teams will grow tired of players, change to coaching staff who don’t want them, Etc. Then, a player will be released when his money is no longer guaranteed to him and it can save the club under the salary cap, too.
A massive recent example of this that applies to one of our state NFL teams is the Jaguars humongous deal to grab QB Nick Foles away from the Eagles. It’s for 4 years and $88 million with a huge signing bonus and $50 million guaranteed. However, most of Foles’ money is tied to the first two years of the contract and the team can lessen its financial burden, if it wants in year three and certainly by year four. They would do this, if Foles not living up to what they believe he can be in North Florida..
And, two recent examples of this with the other two Florida NFL teams have shown the dark side of what NFL teams can do two players that still have quality years left, but the team believes have too big of a price tag.
The Buccaneers did it most recently with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who had signed a lucrative six-year contract three seasons ago, but all of the signing bonus and guaranteed money was taken care of in the first three years the deal. This made McCoy expendable, when Bruce Arians and his new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles showed up in January and his $13 million dollars was believed to be too much money. The team released McCoy in May and he signed with the division rival Panthers a week later.
The Dolphins did the same after a lucrative deal with Ndamukong Suh in the 2018 free agency. Not wanting to pay him the non-guaranteed $17 million dollars that he was owed for last year he was released. Suh eventually landed a one-year deal with the L.A. Rams for $3 million less, and helped them go to the Super Bowl year ago.
And now, ironically, Suh has signed another one-year deal with the Buccaneers to replace McCoy, and even take their shared number 93, with his new team in Tampa Bay.
Another obvious difference is: there are many fewer free agents in the NBA, because there are so many fewer players on rosters. So whenever the free agency gets rolling, the best players are in the most demand quickly in “bidding wars” with their old team and possible new ones.
Now, NFL and the NBA are similar in that only a few players take up much of the salary cap. In the NBA’s case it’s usually the top two or three on a 12-man roster. However, for the NFL, it’s usually about the top six or seven in a 53-man roster that are taking up the bulk of salary-cap space.
Most of the other players on NBA and NFL rosters make drastically less and close to the league minimum on deals.
One, other huge difference with they NBA is the prominent players themselves, have much more leverage on recruiting other free agents to join them and almost become “defacto GMs.” This is because of the massive guaranteed deals they have with a team, and because of there being fewer prize free agents year after year after year.
That enables someone like LeBron James to decide he’s going to pair up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and go win titles in Miami like he did last decade. However, he’s then free to decide who is going to roll back to the Cleveland Cavaliers with and assemble and win a championship there like they did three years ago.
And then for good measure, LeBron decided a year ago at this time that he would leave Cleveland (for a second time) and head West to the Lakers. And now, he has already orchestrated L.A. to trade for New Orleans star big man Anthony Davis and a symbol other players around him at his discretion.
It’s further believed that the reason Brooklyn was able to land both Durant and Irving is because the two of them had decided together that they wanted to play with each other in the New York Market, but, clearly not for the more prominent Knicks.
Again, players on teams in the NFL can recruit their buddies, and sometimes are successful to them to come on board. But, it is not as prevalent and impactful, as what has gone on for more than 10 years in the NBA with its free agency.
And, it was certainly in full motion on Sunday night for the NBA.