Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Life Increasingly Difficult for NBA Free Agents

In previous offseasons, free agency was a season players relished. It was time to get paid; rewarded for years of arduous service under a rookie contract or a deal that was eventually undervalued. Fast forward to Summer 2009, and many veterans around the league are relieved to still be under contract.

For example, Oklahoma City's Damien Wilkins exercised an option on his contract for a final season at $3.3 million, although he was miserable playing (or not playing) for the Thunder. Traded to Minnesota last month, Wilkins is hoping a productive season can earn him a new contract in the $3 million range.

At this point, NBA free agents aren't greedy enough to demand raises; they just don't want pay cuts. Former Boston forward Leon Powe (a Cal grad) just signed a two-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers at the league minimum. NBA Players Association President Billy Hunter likely won't call to chide Powe for accepting such a deal because he's still in the league under a guaranteed contract. It's gotten that bad these days.

Look at the remaining free agents -- restricted and unrestricted -- still waiting for offers: David Lee, Raymond Felton, Nate Robinson, Ramon Sessions, Allen Iverson, Flip Murray and Wally Szczerbiak. Teams realize they can be patient because offers aren't rolling in for these players. Teams are very protective of their money and offering frivolous contracts. In the olden days -- maybe five years ago -- teams handed out bad contracts like party fliers and eventually paid a hefty free when those players didn't pan out.

So guys with putrid reputations such as Rashad McCants, Stromile Swift and Damon Jones aren't getting much interest, except maybe a non-guaranteed deal and a training camp invite. McCants (pictured above), whose 30-point, one-rebound, one-assist effort in 39 minutes on Mar. 18 remains the most astounding line since Kobe Bryant's 81-point effort against Toronto in 2006, didn't leave North Carolina a year early to be a washout four years later. But a bad attitude and terribly economy is weeding him out of the league.

Eventually, many of these players will find work, but it could be in the NBDL, as a training camp invite, in Europe or maybe at the post office (they are always hiring). But the days where average players cash in on mega deals is over. And free agency is not the beautiful summer locale it used to be. Just the residents now.

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