Why Cap Space in 2014 Is Important
On Saturday, I wrote an article explaining why the Chicago Bulls might play things conservatively over the course of the next year as far as free agency and potential trades are concerned, and it had everything to do with maintaining cap space for the unbelievably stacked free agency class of 2014.
Then I realized, well, it probably won’t just be the Chicago Bulls.
If you want to know why teams like Chicago are so excited for next summer, all you need to do is take a look at the list of guys who could potentially play the field in July of ’14. Right now, that’s a list that includes John Wall (R), Dwyane Wade (ETO), Kobe Bryant (UR), Paul George (R), LeBron James (ETO), Carmelo Anthony (ETO), Paul Pierce (UR), Luol Deng (UR), Rudy Gay (PO), Danny Granger (UR), Dirk Nowitzki (UR), Chris Bosh (ETO), Pau Gasol, (UR), Derrick Favors (R), Amar’e Stoudemire (ETO), Zach Randolph (PO), Tim Duncan (PO), Greg Monroe (R), Larry Sanders (R), Marcin Gortat (UR), and DeMarcus Cousins (R).
A lot of those guys are going to be too old to warrant the kind of excitement they would’ve deserved in, say, 2010, but even subtracting aging stars like Bryant and Duncan and Nowitzki, this is an extremely impressive list. These are players worth waiting for.
By contrast, the top free agents this summer appear to be Chris Paul (UR), Brandon Jennings (R), Tyreke Evans (R), Manu Ginobili (UR), O.J. Mayo (PO), J.R. Smith (PO), Andre Iguodala (ETO), Shawn Marion, (ETO), David West (UR), Josh Smith (UR), Nikola Pekovic (R), Paul Millsap (UR), Al Jefferson (UR), Andrew Bynum (UR), and Dwight Howard (UR).
That’s not a bad crop, but the only guys on this second list that could be considered franchise-changers are Paul and Howard. The 2014 list, meanwhile, has enough players to populate an entire All-Star Weekend.
Despite that, there are just enough reasonably sexy names available this July that some teams will talk themselves out of saving their cash for 2014. It will seem like a good idea at the time, but stashing those acorns away for the more marquee names a year later could be the smarter course, and that’s why so many organizations are already eyeing that strategy.
It’s hard not to think about how the Detroit Pistons approached free agency in 2009 as we enter a 2013 free agency period in which several teams are going to have a ton of cap space to blow. In ’09, Joe Dumars let that cash burn a hole in his pocket, agreeing to two ill-fated deals with Ben Gordon (5 years, $55 million) and Charlie Villanueva (5 years, $40 million), rather than taking some lumps one year, banking the space, and making a run at that legendary free agent class of 2010 twelve months later.
In retrospect (and, honestly, at the time) that seemed like the safer play, but it didn’t stop Detroit and other teams from forgoing better long-term options for pricy short-term ones. With only a few exceptions, teams with cap space tend to spend it. Owners, team presidents, and GMs simply can’t help themselves.
Chicago is probably going to show some restraint, however, because they’re honestly not in a place to do anything else. They are not among the teams heading into this summer with big-time cap space and a wish-list of 2013’s marquee free agents. Their options looked better for 2014, anyway, so there’s no reason for them to try and add more long-term deals this summer when they’re in pretty good shape for next summer.
But what about the Atlanta Hawks or Charlotte Bobcats or Cleveland Cavaliers? What about the Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, or Utah Jazz? All of those teams have fewer than $30 million in salary commitments for next season, and there are several more teams that have less than $40 million guaranteed. Money is going to flow like water this offseason, but will any of those teams have the common sense to sit on their opportunity to give free agency a real go in 2014?
It’s clearly a class worth waiting for (not to mention a draft worth waiting for), but the kind of restraint required to save money, especially for NBA owners, isn’t often exhibited in this league.
If done the right way, however, 2014 presents an opportunity for a whole lot of franchises to totally redefine themselves. That’s why that particular class of free agents is worth waiting for.