NBA free agency can be a complicated event. There are different terms and rules that most regular fans don’t know about or understand. Cap Space plays a major factor in free agent decisions and sometimes a player doesn’t have a choice on where they play.
A team option grants the original team the right to keep a player for another year.
A player option grants the player the power to decide whether to stay for another year or become a completely unrestricted free agent.
Rookies have the team option on their contract when they are drafted. Most rookies are retained by the team that drafts them. A player is still growing and the team is happy with their growth and performance so a team option makes a lot of sense for such a young player. Things get more interesting after the initial team option.
Other important terms during free agency are:
Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) – Free to sign with any team, though some unrestricted free agents have options on their existing contracts that, if exercised, may impact their choice.
Restricted Free Agent (RFA) – Can sign offer sheet with any team, but the player’s original team can retain him by matching the terms of that offer. The original team is said to have the “right of first refusal”
Player Option – A player option grants the player the power to decide whether to stay for another year or become a completely unrestricted free agent.
After most rookie deals the player usually signs a longer extension because it guarantees more money. During free agency you will often hear this question, “Would he turn down money”? It comes a time when you have to decide what is more important to you as a player. The money is good but power might be more important.
The first player to actually wield that power was LeBron James. While listening to the Vertical Podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski, he had Dwyane Wade on the show and he talked about the 2010 free agency when the Heat got LeBron James.
Wade had this to say about his friend, “I’m going to give LeBron credit, this is someone who really understands his power in the game…[H]e’s really helped bring players along to understand this, he really helped pave the way from that.”
Wade goes on to talk about “the thing to do” as a free agent. You would sign the 5-year deal worth about $80 million and that’s what you did. Woj chimed in, “everybody took the security”. They were right, players always took the money even if they were on a bad team.
Wade went on to say, “I remember getting on the phone with LeBron…[W]e talked about it and we talked about what it would look like having the power.”
So as we remember LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all signed 3-year extensions while Carmelo Anthony signed a 5-year deal. The 3-year deal allowed them to become unrestricted free agents and they chose to play together. Carmelo eventually forced his way out of Denver and now he has all these issues in New York.
Wade had just won a title with the Heat but he knew Shaq was getting old. After winning the title the Heat would go on to lose in the first round of the playoffs three times and missed the playoffs once. LeBron would eventually win some MVP awards and win 60 games in the regular season but failed to reach the NBA Finals. It was time for him to make a change.
Not all players become unrestricted free agents so early in their careers. Guys like Marcin Gortat, Gordon Hayward, Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson were restricted free agents who signed with other teams but had their offer sheets matched. In Gortat’s case he was traded the next season by the Orlando Magic after they matched his offer sheet. Gordon Hayward signed an offer sheet with the Charlotte Hornets, Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson signed offer sheets with the Brooklyn Nets this past off-season.
Restricted free agency is good because it allows teams to keep their players and keeps some balance in the league. It also allows players to increase their value by getting big offers from other teams. Allen Crabbe signed a deal worth $75 million while Tyler Johnson signed for $50 million.
There are some big names that can become free agents in July. Some of these players have player options which allow them to opt out of their contract so they can earn more money. Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry and Paul Millsap are some of the names that can be unrestricted free agents.
All of these guys are already on playoff teams. To me Paul Millsap is the only guy who really needs a change of scenery. The Hawks are not really that good and he has been in trade talks for the past two seasons.
Now owners don’t really want players to join each other like LeBron, Wade and Bosh or even Kevin Durant joining the Warriors. The new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) will allow teams to give out giant contracts to their current stars. Basically DeMarcus Cousins could be offered a $200 million contract from the Sacramento Kings. Russell Westbrook could sign an extension with the Thunder for $219 million in the summer of 2018. If Westbrook wanted to leave other teams could only offer him $162.5 million.
The money is very enticing. How can you really turn down $200 million? However, do we really need to see DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento making $200 million? It seems like that would end badly. He signs the contract and then he is traded in two years.
Players need to follow that LeBron blueprint. Don’t just take the security, take the power. Make the GM’s put together a better team. Play with other star players or with your friends. Do not stay in a bad situation just because they can offer you more money. What is more important, power or money?