Midnight, 12:00 a.m., on July 1st. That’s when NBA Free Agency officially begins.
We’ve still got less than 48 hours to go, but the rumors will grow even louder until that golden hour begins and teams can officially talk to free agents.
Only one thing is certain: this free agency period is going to be the craziest in league history. The again raised its salary cap projections in its most recent estimate, to an unprecedented $94.4 million. There will be even more than the already wild $1 billion in projected league-wide cap space.
That means everyone- from stars, to mid-tier guys, to fringe-rotation players- is going to get paid handsomely. Most teams will probably have more cap space than they know what to do with and that will send repercussions throughout the league. The midlevel exception, long a tool to get that last veteran who can make a difference, may not be as attractive anymore. Teams could offer exorbitant one-year deals to players they wouldn’t normally pursue, in the hopes of getting contract-year production while also maintaining flexibility. Last season we saw a number of players, LaMarcus Aldridge most notably among them, choose the security of longer contracts over getting back into the market sooner. Will players take less money to do the same this summer?
The timing of everything is also going to be fascinating to watch. Will all 30 teams await Durant’s decision with bated breath before moving on to their other plans? Who will strike first on their targets while no one else is looking? Are restricted free agents going to wait and see or sign offer sheets right away?
There are plenty of fabulous sets of free agency rankings out there from really smart people (I recommend Tom Ziller and Matt Moore) and I won’t try to outdo them. But let’s take a look at a few tiers of guys over the next 48 hours and try to project the market. Starting with:
The Big Names
1. Kevin Durant
2. LeBron James
James, we know, isn’t going anywhere. It was fun to think about for a little, but he’s not leaving. He’s roughly a million times more likely to make a 7th straight trip to the Finals than he is to leave Cleveland.
Durant is a more complicated story. He’s spent his whole career in Oklahoma City, already has a sidekick who’s a top-5 player and was just four minutes from the Finals last season. And yet, he’s reportedly taking meetings with the Clippers, Heat, Celtics, Warriors and Spurs. That seems like a lot of wining-and-dining.
Of those teams, the Warriors easily offer the best chance to win a championship. A potential Curry-Durant-Thompson-Green core would be nigh-unbeatable. If that’s all Durant wants, Golden State is his best option.
But, as much as teams and fans may think it is, winning a championship isn’t the be-all end-all. Nor should it be. There are 29 teams that don’t win a championship every year.
I still think Durant goes back to OKC, at least for one more year. It’s the scenario that makes the most fiscal sense for him and I think he wants to really find out if he can beat the Warriors before joining them.