ORLANDO, Fla. — Pat Riley saw this coming.
Surveying the landscape going into free agency, the Miami Heat president had a clear sense that smarter spending was going to be the rule in the NBA this summer as opposed to the enormous-contract spree that occurred a year ago.
And so far, he’s been proven right.
There have still been some massive contracts — Stephen Curry’s $201 million agreement with Golden State will set an NBA total-value record, while the Clippers’ Blake Griffin, New Orleans’ Jrue Holiday and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry combined to assure themselves another $400 million in soon-to-be-official deals. Otto Porter may be in line for $105 million, either from Sacramento or Washington.
But unlike 2016, there’s been very few puzzling moves.
“Some of the contracts were sort of out of whack,” Riley said.
That was then, with deals like ones given to Joakim Noah ($72 million for four years by the Knicks), Timofey Mozgov ($64 million for four years by the Lakers) and Luol Deng ($72 million for four years, also by the Lakers) not exactly paying massive dividends last season. Perhaps not coincidentally, it should be noted that the Knicks and Lakers are both under different management this summer.
Deals are getting done — going into Monday, $1.255 billion in new contracts have been agreed upon this summer already, a figure that goes past $1.5 billion when Porter signs and assuming John Wall takes his $168 million extension offer from Washington.
They’re just getting done more judiciously, or so it would seem.
“That’s part of the reasons we signed guys in advance last summer, was in anticipation of where the cap was going, knowing the value of cap room wasn’t going to be as much because of the preponderance of cap room in the marketplace,” Portland president of basketball operations Neil Olshey said, noting there was $450 million available in cap room this summer across the league.
To Dwyane Wade, who will make nearly $24 million this season, what’s happening now is eye-popping.
“If I’m 25 with the same numbers,” the Chicago guard tweeted on June 21 with a reference to his stats from last season, “I’m getting 150 million.”
And later, Cleveland star LeBron James suggested that Curry should be getting $400 million instead of half that much.
Money matters, clearly. But this summer, teams and players are both showing savvy when handling these deep NBA coffers.
Gordon Hayward may sign a three-year deal wherever he goes, in large part because when that contract ends he’d be a 10-year veteran and in line for an even-bigger payday than the one that awaits. J.J. Redick cashed in with Philadelphia for $23 million, and gets the chance to be free again next summer. Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Jeff Teague were among those who took three-year deals, even though longer ones were possible.
Lowry announced his decision on The Players’ Tribune, saying his son’s reaction to the news that they were staying in Toronto was that they now need to get a bigger house.
“We’ll see about that one,” Lowry said.
In the first two days of free agency — really, Monday was only Day 3, even though it seems like it’s been going on forever — at least 19 of the 30 NBA clubs struck known agreements on deals that will be eligible to be executed starting Thursday. Half the league hasn’t done anything that could be described as anywhere near splashy, either because funds are tight or they’re waiting for other dominoes to fall.
“Really happy and looking forward to this opportunity,” point guard Jose Calderon said after getting a $2.3 million deal from Cleveland, which didn’t have the room to be a major player in free agency — though can still make trades if it chooses, of course.
Golden State, meanwhile, has beaten the Cavaliers for two of the last three NBA titles and has handed out more than $300 million in new contracts so far this summer, the latest of those being the one Kevin Durant agreed to on Monday. Durant agreed to a two-year, $53 million deal, one that will pay him about $25 million this season. He’ll have the option to return to free agency again next summer.
Other teams without cap space or mechanisms by which to land players have to wait and see for what’s left.
“I don’t know how much money our team has — $16 million, and those guys are making $30 million now,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said, when asked if he thought his team could be a major player in free agency this year. “If you look at it that way, it doesn’t look likely. But there are good players out there.”