The NBA free agency frenzy is over, and a lot of money has been spent.
The tally from the first day of free agency alone had teams committing to more than $3 billion in contracts.
While it’s great for players who are seeing their financial dreams come to fruition and a sign of the overall health and wealth of the NBA, committing that kind of money can come with trepidation.
Bleacher Report’s Rick Bucher gave anonymous executives a forum to talk about who qualifies as a max player in terms of talent and leadership.
Not surprisingly, there was a considerable amount of consternation from the six executives about individual players receiving such big chunks of team’s salary caps.
Kawhi Leonard ‘doesn’t elevate anyone’
One general manager even found room to nitpick about Kawhi Leonard, fresh off a historic NBA playoff run that culminated with his second career NBA Finals MVP.
His issue? Leonard’s ability to make his teammates better.
“Kawhi is great getting his, but he doesn’t elevate anyone,” the anonymous general manager told Bucher. “He doesn’t rally his team.”
Leonard reportedly signed a three-year, $103 million deal with the Clippers with a player option on the third year in a move that immediately made the historically moribund franchise championship contenders.
If any fault could be found in the deal, it would be that they’re not committing enough money to Leonard. Given a preference, the Clippers would surely rather have Leonard locked up to a longer deal.
Leonard is notoriously stoic, but his and his team’s performances on the court speak for themselves.
Klay Thompson ‘not a leader’
A Western Conference general manager found fault with the Golden State Warriors committing five years and $190 million to Klay Thompson, one of the league’s historically great shooters, an elite defender and a three-time NBA champion.
“He’s a good player, but he’s not a leader,” the anonymous general manager told Bucher. “He just shows up and hoops.”
Apparently critical executives would like to see Thompson be more vocal in the locker room and with the media.
Big pressure on small markets
Another general manager gave voice to the pressure that smaller market teams feel to spend max money on second- or third-tier players. It’s a decision the Charlotte Hornets ultimately declined with Kemba Walker this summer but the Milwaukee Bucks opted into by giving Khris Middleton a max deal.
“Smaller-market teams have been apt to give max contracts to good people,” a Western Conference GM told Bucher. “There are two kinds of players. One, you give them the money and you sleep well. The other, you give them the money and you never sleep. Guys like Khris Middleton and CJ McCollum and Kemba — at least they’re still going to do everything they can to earn that contract.”
It’s important to note here that the people Bucher spoke to are in charge of negotiating deals, not signing checks. Their jobs are to navigate a salary capped sport in the most effective way possible. The ability to find value without overspending is a requisite skill of the job.
Player movement a problem for teams
So is signing players to deals that will actually keep them in town. With players increasingly wielding their power as was seen with Leonard and Paul George orchestrating George’s trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Clippers a year after he signed a max deal, it’s a legitimate concern for executives.
Trade demands like George’s and Anthony Davis’ out of New Orleans prompted NBA commissioner Adam Silver to call for change and label demands as “disheartening” when speaking at the Board of Governors meeting earlier this month.
One general manager who spoke with Bucher was a little more candid about the topic, calling for the league to “step up” on player movement.
“I know players have more juice today and we’re a player-friendly league, but it has gotten out of hand,” the Western Conference general manager said. “We have players deciding their not even contracts, their guidelines and payment structures. Now we have them saying, ‘I’m done hoopin’ with you guys; I’m going to hoop with my boys.’
“If the league would step up about player movement once a smaller market signs a guy, then teams wouldn’t have to overpay just to show they’re not afraid to spend money. What happens is the star leaves anyway and you’re left with these bloated contracts, making the problem even worse.”
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