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Indiana Pacers Bring Unique Perspective to Restricted Free Agency

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 22:  Eric Gordon #10 of the New Orleans Hornets scores on a layup against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on April 22, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Rob MahoneyNBA Lead WriterOctober 8, 2016

Unrestricted free agency is an easily accessible and manipulable concept in the NBA. A player is no longer under the employ of any particular team, and thus all potential suitors can compete for his services in something resembling an even, cap-encumbered playing field.

But restricted free agency is another matter entirely. Not only does the qualifying offer/salary-matching structure ring strange to the uninitiated, but restricted free agency itself has burned and helped many teams who failed to navigate its specifics to perfection.

The privilege for an incumbent team to match any offer sheet signed by a potentially valuable free agent seems to throw everything for a loop. Not only does the nature of that market prevent teams around the league from vying for their preferred free agents in the most straightforward way possible, but the teams themselves are occasionally left at the mercy of a market that has a right to set specific value for a particular player.

Something about that process rubs Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon the wrong way, apparently, per team president Larry Bird (via the Indy Star's Mike Wells):

U can cross Eric Gordon off the Pacers' wish list. Bird said they don't go after restricted free agents because that's not Simon's style.

— Mike Wells (@MikeWellsNBA) May 30, 2012

If Bird's impressions of Simon's preferences are indeed true, I'd be curious to know how many other owners and general managers feel the same way. The very nature of restricted free agency requires teams to show their hands and then lay vulnerable for the specified three-day waiting period. In the fast-moving nature of free agency, such a delay could be paralyzing. 

A mere three-day length may be a kindness compared to the extended waiting period of the previous collective bargaining agreement, but it's apparently not kind enough to persuade Simon to dip into the restricted free-agent market, and likely not kind enough to convince other hesitant decision-makers to do the same.

There are a finite number of players available in free agency every summer, and the specific timing of many teams' cap openings often requires that they spend at certain times. On that level alone it would seem strange to forgo any possible avenue to acquire talent, particularly if that talent manifests itself in a player of Eric Gordon's caliber for a team in the Pacers' particular position.

But even in not knowing Simon's precise (and alleged, before we get too far down this rabbit hole) motivations for avoiding restricted free agency, we could easily deduct where the problems might lie.

Free agents aren't just free agents. Signing an RFA to an offer sheet is a submission to stagnation with no certain payoff, and a willing entry into a system that benefits an opposite, competing party.

As strange as it might seem, maybe Simon—or Simon's "style," anyway—has this team-building thing figured out. Considering the opportunity costs of entering the market for a restricted free agent in the first place, are teams like the Pacers right to avoid this particular process in blanket terms?

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