Around this time of year, I say the same thing. One of the most overrated things in free agency is cap space. Why? If you’re a bad team, cap space usually ends up being filled with bad long term contracts.
With the New York Knicks leading the Tanking Train, they sold “cap space” to anyone who would listen. Kevin Durant was signing with the Knicks. Kyrie Irving was signing with the Knicks. The Pope was signing with the Knicks. Well… not the last one but you get the point. But a funny thing happened to the Knicks yesterday, they didn’t get any of them. In fact, teams like the Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Charlotte Hornets, and Phoenix Suns largely were silent yesterday.
It seems sucking for the NBA Lottery doesn’t work. Sucking and creating cap space doesn’t work either. All in all it means that the NBA is winning free agency and it’s winning big.
Even thought “tanking” is present in all sports, the NBA takes the most criticism for it. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has tried to discourage the practice. The lottery percentages have been massaged so the bottom three spots have the same chance. To be fair, if you look at the NBA Lottery, seldom does the team with the worst record wins it anyway. But, I digress. Silver’s move ended up paying off as the teams with the bottom three records (Knicks, Cavs and Suns) all lost out on Zion Williamson. Now, none of them are getting any free agents of note.
The beauty of the NBA is their superstars don’t take every penny that they can get especially if it means they can go to a place that they can win. Technically, Irving and Durant left room on the table to the Nets to sign DeAndre Jordan. The Nets established a culture that was attractive to two of the biggest free agents.
It doesn’t stop there. The Utah Jazz were also winners. The Jazz got one of the best shooters in Bojan Bogdanovic and rim protector Ed Davis in free agency. Add that to the likes of Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, and Rudy Gobert and you see why the Jazz will be major players in the West next season.
No one expected the Los Angeles Clippers to make the playoffs last season. But head coach Doc Rivers led the team to the eighth spot with a team that showed a scrappy, fighting nature about them. Now they are in play for the biggest remaining free agent, Kawhi Leonard. If the Clippers went of tank-a-rific do you think Leonard would want to be there? Sure, that’s home but he could easily sign a 1+1 with the Raptors and reset his free agency to a different season.
Even a teams who didn’t use free agency to add, improved their teams. The Dallas Mavericks improved yesterday by trading for Goran Dragic. The Heat got Jimmy Butler in a deal with the Sixers. The Indiana Pacers swung deals for Jeremy Lamb and Malcolm Brogdon.
This has all happened in less than 24 hours into the free agency period. NBA players, more than any professional sports, value winning. They know there’s no benefit to being ‘big numbers on bad team’ guy. Not in the sports. That’s reserved for leagues like the NFL.
It’s what makes the NBA great. Above all else, culture wins.