“Timofey Mozgov’s agent must be the greatest negotiator of all-time.” That was my first impression of the Russian center’s new four-year, $64 million dollar contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, the first reported deal of the NBA’s 2016 Free Agency. Mozgov will be 30 years old by the beginning of next season, and is coming off a season where he averaged just six points and four rebounds per game off the bench before not even getting playing time in nine postseason games and scoring just seven points in the entire NBA Finals. A backup getting paid like a superstar- that agent must be one of a kind.
But then it happened again, this time a 4yr/$72 mil deal sending Joakim Noah to the Knicks. And again- a 4yr/$48 mil deal from the Pelicans for Solomon Hill, a guy most casual NBA fans won’t even know. And again- 4yrs/$42 mil from the Pistons for Jon Leuer. And again- 4yrs/64 mil sending Ian Mahinmi to the Wizards. These are just a few of the insane deals produced in just the first two days of free agency.
I haven’t even started on the max-deals being handed out. Sure, DeMar DeRozan Bradley Beal, and Andre Drummond are max-contract players (at least in the modern-day NBA), and likely worth the staggering figures being handed out to them ranging from $130-$140 million over five years. On the other hand, though, $4 years and near $95 million for Chandler Parsons and Harrison Barnes, otherwise known as average starting small forwards? How about Dwight Howard, once the greatest center in the league, now past his 3rd birthday and with the worst offensive production of his career? Would you pay him nearly $24 million a season? I love Al Horford’s game, but at the end of the day, it’s still 4yrs/$113 million. Are the Celtics really title contenders now?
The NBA was already the league with the largest average salary in the world, but this is just getting out of hand. The salary cap for the 2016-17 season increased over 34% to over $94 million dollars from just $70 million last season, with plans to increase to $107 million in the 2017-18 season. That would be a nearly $50 million salary cap increase in just five years. At this rate, it won’t be long until we reach the point where even bench warmers will be making eight figures.
NBA teams aren’t to blame for the contract madness ensuing. Teams are required to spend at least 90% of the salary cap each season (an anti-tanking measure), meaning the salary floor for the upcoming season sits at $84.73 million. Even a team spending the bare minimum would have to add nearly $15 million to their payroll, meaning basically everyone has the money to try and make a splash. With so money teams having so much to spend, teams are being forced to overpay for the guys they want or see them sign with one of a number of other different teams.
Obviously, NBA players are paid more comparatively to the NFL, MLB, and NHL simply due to roster size. The NBA’s 13-man active roster is much smaller than the MLB and NHL’s 23-man squads and the NFL’s overwhelming 53-man teams. Additionally, a starter in the NBA will play on average roughly two-thirds of the game, whereas NFL and MLB players are on the field about half the time, and the NHL’s best players see the ice only about 1/3 of the game. This means star players provide much more value, especially considering the fast-paced nature of the game.
But still, many of the players I listed above shouldn’t even be starting, much less considered star players. So why the huge contracts? Well, despite all the talk of the NBA’s “small ball” revolution, the NBA’s big men are still getting paid. The age of the dominant center in the NBA is long-gone, and we’ve known this for years. However, this year’s playoffs, and particularly the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers, showed the importance and huge potential benefits of big, strong bodies down low. There will always dozens upon dozens of guards looking for their shot in the NBA. Big men, however, are very rare, and every team will try to get a true big man if given the opportunity. These players have an inherent value and a unique potential that causes teams to make what might seem like ridiculous moves just to have the possibility of crafting one into a dominant force.
The NBA is better than any other league in the world in crafting its players into stars and globally recognizable figures. In doing so, the NBA has increased revenue by 50% in the last 10 years to over $5 billion annually. However, there is a clear issue when a player like Mike Conley can be the second-highest paid player in North American professional team sports, only below MLB’s Clayton Kershaw. Conley’s 5yr/$155 million deal is absolutely insane. He’s undoubtedly a great player, but this is a guy who has never even made the All-Star game. Players in other leagues have the right to be annoyed at these deals, as the comparisons of the skill required to earn a certain salary are extremely lopsided. Solomon Hill, with career averages of six points and three rebounds per game, should not be making as much as Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s highest-paid running back. It’s just common sense.
In actuality, there really isn’t a way to stop the contract explosion, as the players deserve to be paid more as the NBA and its franchises become more population and increase in value. But just in case any NBA scouts are reading, if you want to add a three-point shooter and a great locker-room guy to your team, I’m available for just 1 million.