2012 NBA Free-Agent Signings with Enormous Hidden Implications
While nearly all of the column inches will be devoted to assessing the impact of this year's free-agent signings on the court, some free-agent moves have implications for the game that extend far beyond the final standings.
I'll let the serious NBA fans dissect the impact of player movement on the 2012 playoffs or the 2013 draft. That's what they do—statistical minutiae and roster analysis. I'm more of a "big picture" guy.
And three 2012 free-agent signings will make a much bigger impact than you think.
Jeremy Lin to the Houston Rockets
You remember Jeremy, right? The Chinese-American kid from Harvard who owned New York City for 26 games last year?
You probably heard something about him. I think he got a little coverage on SportsCenter. A mention or two, at least.
Anyhow, he was a restricted free agent after last season, and a source famously told ESPN that the Knicks would "match any offer up to $1 billion."
Turns out that mild overstatement didn't scare off the most dogged suitor.
The Rockets knocked themselves out to sign him. Houston offered a three-year, $25 million deal that when New York matched it, Houston restructured the deal to add a "poison pill," a provision that meant the contract would be much more expensive for New York because it would trigger the luxury tax.
Okay. Let's put aside Lin's skill set. Forgot about his level of talent. $25 million over three years is a lot for an unproven point guard.
So either Houston panicked and stampeded after losing out on Dwight Howard, or there is a larger reason for the usually disciplined Rockets to have overpaid for Lin.
And that brings us to the global implications: The Rockets have the largest potential fanbase in the world.
Two words. Yao Ming.
I assure you this statement about the Rockets is true. Remember how Ming got 2.5 million All-Star votes, breaking a record held by Michael Jordan? Or how a game Ming played against another Chinese player, Yi Jianlian, became maybe the most-watched NBA game in history?
The Rockets understand the inroads they made into a market with more than a billion potential fans.
The Lin contract should be viewed not as a desperate team overpaying for an unproven point guard, but as an investment by a globally savvy team that knows how to make an investment pay off handsomely.
Antawn Jamison to the Lakers' Bench
The 36-year-old power forward, who remains a gifted scorer, took a one-year deal worth $1.4 million—the veteran minimum.
That's an enormous pay cut considering that Jamison made $15 million last year—a pay cut of $13.6 million dollars in pursuit of a ring.
Admirable under the gentlemanly laws of sportsmanship, yes, but the NBA is a business, and there is an entity that may be less than delighted by the growing tendency of veterans to take large pay cuts to help stack certain teams.
Dating back at least to when Al Kaline refused to let the Detroit Tigers pay him $100,000 a year, and as recently as the free agencies of Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, there have been rumors that the MLB Players Association pressures superstars to get as much money as they can possibly negotiate because it raises the salary bar for all other players.
It does not take a great leap to imagine the National Basketball Player's Association having a similar objection to what we will call the "contender discount."
The NBA is no stranger to labor trouble and rumors of salary manipulation, and the CBA that was ratified last year after the lockout can be voided by either side after six years.
If the NBPA decides as a whole that the "contender discount" is a problem, then look out.
Ray Allen to the Miami Heat
Before the champagne had dried out of his shirt last June, Pat Riley told Dan Le Batard, "Now comes the fun."
This was all part of Riley's plan, long before LeBron jumped to Miami officially, long before LeBron predicted titles numbering "not one, not two, not three..." and long before the Heat knocked off the Thunder in June to win their second NBA title.
Now it gets interesting.
Now the pressure is off, and no one who takes less money to come play with the best player in the NBA—which LeBron is—risks being tarnished.
The veterans nearing the end of their careers, the ones who have made enough money, will be the first to take less to come play with LeBron.
But if James wins another title, well then, how much are rings actually worth?
Dwight Howard will be a free agent after this season. So will Chris Paul. John Wall and Carmelo Anthony will be on the market in 2014. In 2015, Kevin Love can opt out of his deal and sign anywhere he wants.
What if one or two of these guys decides that he can (with a handful of rings) make up in endorsements what he gives up in salary to play in Miami?
For years we have thought we wanted our athletes to be more motivated by winning than by money.