If I had a million dollars, I might not be rich enough to offer this year's crop of free agents a contract, but I might be able to pay for a season's ticket to watch one of them play. In today's depressed economy it will be interesting to see if this year's group of free agents are going to command the type of income they have been receiving over their last three-five year deal. Currently there are only eight players who make more than $20 million a year, and that number looks to be slashed nearly in half this year.
The 20 Million Dollar Club
The only player out of Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson, and Kobe Bryant who will be receiving anything upwards of twenty will be Kobe Bryant, who will be granted the richest contract in NBA history. He will eventually top Garnett's $24 million and approach the $30 million mark with the Lakers, who will be wise to lock him up for the rest of his career. Kidd will never see this coin again, but will probably finish as a Maverick. Iverson will be better off to sign for whatever a championship caliber team can afford. Perhaps we'll see A.I. take a mid-level somewhere to bolster an offensively challenged team because he's decided he's made enough money and wants to win? Nah. He'll get his first. He always has.
The 15-20 Million Dollar Club
This category will be reserved for teams who have cleared enough cap room prior to the free agent moratorium of 2009, and are officially under the cap, or can quickly usher out a minor part of the team to slide under the cap prior to making a big signing. The other criteria is that the team's owners must not mind going over the luxury tax in order to sign a marquee player, so the team must have a large market. In essence we're talking about Detroit, Toronto, Oklahoma City, Memphis and Atlanta that are far enough below the cap to afford such a contract. And, since we know Memphis and Atlanta won't be spending, that leaves the Pistons, Raptors and Thunder in the advantageous position of being the only three teams in the league who can offer this kind of money without batting an eyelash.
Just to put things in perspective, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh all make less than this amount. Currently, Mike Bibby and Shawn Marion are in this neck of the woods, but will likely also see reductions in their salaries. I can't see how a team can justify paying Marion anywhere near his $17 Million even if they can afford him.
He is an athletic player who runs up and down the floor all day, and will give you solid minutes on the defensive end, but Marion needs to park his ego and accept that his stock is low. Perhaps he should consider a mid-level for a year and lose $12 million this year in the hopes that he can sign a four-year deal in 2010 worth in the neighborhood of what he's making now once his stock rises again. If I were him I'd sign with the Lakers, win a championship, then get paid in 2010.
As for Bibby, it's pretty doubtful that he'll garner the kind of interest he did when Sacramento upped his contract to the whopping 15.2 he currently earns. With Kidd, Iverson and Andre Miller on the F.A. list this year, Bibby will be team's third or even fourth choice in the free agent equation. Still, he could receive a stable contract from a team like Detroit, for instance, who seem in need of a stable backcourt player who can distribute the ball, run pick and rolls, and stick the jumper. That's Bibby's game.
The only player who has an outside chance of getting a raise and cracking this barrier this year is Carlos Boozer. That's only if anyone is crazy enough to do it. Booze is rumored to be interested in Miami, but the Heat have to pay Jermaine O'Neal a staggering $22 million next year.
Players who were formerly in the $20 million bracket like J-Kidd, and Allen Iverson will likely fall into this category this year. I would also like to take this moment to remind New York Knicks fans that this would have been the last year Marbury would have robbed you guys of $18.4 million dollars a year, had management not bought him out last season. Rest in peace.
The 10-15 Million Dollar Club
This is where most teams are shopping for solid P.I.P.'s (players in prime) who can be the finishing touches on rosters for the next three-four seasons. Still, not many teams are able to afford these players in 2009, particularly the ones who will approach the $15 million mark. This is likely where, again, the Pistons, Raptors and Thunder will kick a few tires, but so too will the teams who are just shy of, or a little over the cap like the 76ers, Bulls, Clippers, Warriors, and Nets.
The players currently under contract in this category are just Rasheed Wallace, Carlos Boozer, and Lamar Odom. Of these three, I would expect Boozer to gain the most interest, with Wallace on the way down and Odom remaining more or less stable. Other players who will be seeking to crack, or at least remain in the $10 million club are Ron Artest, Andre Miller, Mike Bibby, Shawn Marion and Hedo Turkoglu.
Most of these players will be able to receive the best deal from his current team, but in the case of Boozer, he's probably going to want more money than Utah will be willing to pay. It seems that the Jazz are more interested in keeping the versatile Okur, and the developing Millsap rather than risking a huge contract on a player who missed the better part of an entire season.
Rasheed Wallace, Mike Bibby and Shawn Marion will probably shop themselves around until they find the right buyer.
The 5-10 Million Dollar Club
With the mid-level exception set around $5.6 million, this category is usually dominated by buyers who have teams that are close to winning it all, who have star players, or huge markets. Thus, San-Antonio, Boston, and Cleveland will all be seeking that final piece of the championship puzzle while L.A., Orlando, and Denver will all field a few offers as well.
The mid-level also depends on sacrifice. A player who is in his prime, or even a future hall-of-famer who takes this contract will do so with the final prize in mind. A player like Iverson could suddenly decide to sign with the Magic, Kidd with the Lakers, Bibby with the Cavs, and Boozer with the Nuggets. But I doubt it.
More likely, players like Andre Miller, Trevor Ariza and Ben Gordon will find teams who offer them long term deals approaching the $10 million marker, while the rest of the crop who fit here will look to land either their first big contracts, or their last.