5 NBA Players Who Will Regret Their 2018 Free-Agency Decisions
NBA careers are short, and free agents lucky enough to control their destinies should organize their priorities however they want. Money, minutes or prestige are all fine goals, and we generally shouldn't get too critical of players' decisions. They deserve to work wherever they want.
Then again, there are always a few head-scratching free-agent decisions—ones that feel a little off and/or ill-considered.
It's especially tough to highlight those against the backdrop of 2018 free agency, which was just...weird. There wasn't much money out there, and a wide swath of available talent responded by signing short, stopgap deals. Even as guys were inking contracts in 2018, they were positioning themselves to revisit the market in a year.
With such unusual parameters, many players only had bad options available. We have to appreciate that when suggesting some free agents made decisions they'll regret.
Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves
Jimmy Butler has bet on himself (and won) before.
He scoffed at the Chicago Bulls' four-year, $44 million offer way back in 2014 and then won Most Improved Player that season, which led to a $92 million extension. It's hard to get past the thought that Butler's past success as a gambler has something to do with the nonsense we're seeing in Minnesota these days.
Butler didn't accept the Wolves' four-year, $110 million extension this past offseason, and just about everyone agreed it was the right call. That was all Minnesota could offer, but by waiting until the summer of 2019, Butler could have set himself up for a four-year offer from another team worth up to $141 million. Re-signing with the Wolves next summer could have yielded a five-year, $188 million payoff.
The math made sense, health permitting.
Now, though, the rest of the league has seen a less appealing side of Butler. He's lambasting teammates in practice, cursing at general manager Scott Layden, timing outbursts to coincide with national interviews. He's sabotaging his team and trying to warp the narrative into his favor at the same time.
He's not the only party at fault, but this is a bad look for Butler.
Player empowerment is a good thing. Guys should do what they can to collect checks and play in situations they like because an NBA career is short, and teams have demonstrated over and over that loyalty is mostly a myth. At the same time, you have to wonder if Butler's current shenanigans are cutting into his earning power.
Is another team really going to fork over nearly $141 million for a guy who griped about teammates and "led" by demeaning key pieces of his supporting cast? Tough love is one thing, but Butler's approach feels more self-serving than anything else. Veteran stars don't have to fawn over their younger teammates, but it's hard to see how Butler's in-your-face approach registers as anything but destructive.
This guy is a top-15 talent, but is he a leader? Can he be the best player on a team that wins big? And should anyone be willing to pay someone who's created his own heap of baggage upward of $35 million a year?
Butler also turns 30 next summer, and he's missed an average of 15 games over the last five seasons.
It only takes one team with enough belief in its culture to fork over a max offer for Butler, but the pool of willing spenders has to be shallower after the events of this offseason. There's a good chance that four-year, $110 million extension was the best offer Butler will see.
Tony Parker, Charlotte Hornets
Maybe it's naive (and it's definitely sentimental), but it just feels like Tony Parker is going to look back and wish he hadn't left the San Antonio Spurs for the Charlotte Hornets.
Parker, 36, could have just retired, joining Manu Ginobili as he Eurostepped into the sunset. That would have helped produce a cleaner end of an era. Failing that, Parker could have accepted the Spurs' contract offer, which he acknowledged was equal to the one he got from Charlotte—with one small difference, according to comments Parker made to French publication L'Expresso (as transcribed by News4SA.com):
"The Spurs offered me the same thing (contractually) as Charlotte, but it was more about the role. It was not a question of money. And it’s important that people know this, because there are a lot of people who were 'angry' at the Spurs, thinking the franchise had not offered me anything. Yes, they offered me something similar, but I did not want to finish (as an) assistant-coach. And that was the role they offered me, when I wanted to play."
Ironically, if Parker had stayed in San Antonio, he definitely would have played. He couldn't have known it then, but injuries to Dejounte Murray and Derrick White opened up tons of minutes at the point.
Instead, Parker's Hornets jersey will be of the obscure "did that really happen?" variety worn exclusively by smelly Coachella attendees.
This is a win for hipsters, at least.
Nemanja Bjelica, Sacramento Kings
You can respect Nemanja Bjelica for prioritizing security. His decision to back out of a one-year agreement with the Philadelphia 76ers resulted in a flirtation with the Euroleague (where he won MVP in 2015) and, ultimately, a three-year contract with the Sacramento Kings.
Then again, suppose Bjelica had taken that one-year deal from Philly. He would have collected $4.4 million and played a significant role for a team assured of a playoff berth and capable, potentially, of much more. Then, as the cap spikes in 2019 and everyone suddenly has cash to burn, he hits the market again—only with a higher profile and more earning power.
Bjelica will get at least two years and $13.3 million from the Kings (the third year is nonguaranteed), so the finances justify his decision to some extent. But couldn't he have counted on making more overall by taking the Sixers route? At present, he's locked into a two-year deal for what amounts to less than the full mid-level exception's average annual value—one that'll keep him off the market when the cash starts flying in 2019.
And then there's the whole Kings thing.
Sacramento has been a paragon of dysfunction, losing and mismanagement for years. In addition to that general drawback, Bjelica faces a specific problem: He's stuck on a team with roughly 37 forwards who'll be in his way for minutes at the 4. If Bjelica has to play the 3, his outside shooting will still be valuable, but one of the other top features of his game, a slick drive-and-dish skill set, won't be viable.
It's tough to attack the lane when your team insists on playing two non-spacing bigs all the time. Instead of shooters dotting the perimeter, this scenario means Bjelica's drives will terminate in a lane clogged by a pair of teammates, their defenders and additional helpers who aren't worried about staying home on their perimeter assignments. Because the Kings, who ranked 28th in three-point attempts per game last year, don't exactly fire off the triples.
Early signs are positive. Bjelica started Sacramento's opener at the 4 and played well. It's just that the organization has too much invested in its young bigs to prioritize Bjelica's success. Before long, the rotation is bound to change.
Locking in two years of pay is hard to knock when you're a fringe rotation talent. But Bjelica wouldn't have starved on $4.4 million, and he could have set himself up for much more by signing with the Sixers.
Patrick McCaw, Golden State Warriors
Patrick McCaw could still end up back with the Golden State Warriors for a third season, but his refusal to accept the two-year, $5.2 million contract (team option on the second year) that's been on the table for months registers as, at the very least, confusing.
"You can't do this after two years," one Warriors player told Marcus Thompson of The Athletic. "You've got to get the clout first. He doesn't have the leverage."
McCaw's holdout feels like an empty show of defiance. Golden State can still match any offer he receives from another team, which has so far prevented any third parties from getting involved. At this point, with the season underway and rosters solidified, it's unclear what McCaw hopes to gain by leaving his contract with the Warriors unsigned. Other options have dwindled.
What he risks losing—a rotation spot on a team in need of wing depth, the trust of the organization and perhaps another championship—makes this gambit hard to fathom.
It can be difficult to carve out a meaningful niche on a team as good as the Warriors—and doubly tough for a young wing who must live with the reality that any shot he misses hurts a little extra. Because it could have gone to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant.
In that sense, a relatively small role can come with overwhelming pressure.
Still, for a second-rounder who hasn't proved much in two years, a few million bucks and a great shot at a title seems like it ought to be an acceptable outcome. And yet, apparently, that's not how McCaw sees it.
David Nwaba, Cleveland Cavaliers
Maybe this is just a case of overvaluing David Nwaba's defensive contributions, but it sure feels like the 6'4" wing could have found a better situation than the one he's in with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Barring the unforeseen, Cleveland isn't going to compete for a playoff spot in the East. And while Nwaba's high effort and defensive value might theoretically matter more to a club that lacks stopping power, it'll be difficult for him to showcase what he can do for the Cavs in a low-stakes season.
There were other offers out there.
"Indiana wanted me for two years, but Cleveland seemed like a better fit," Nwaba told Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. "Young guys as well as veterans on this team, so I thought it was a perfect fit and knew I was going to get my opportunity here."
In a season that'll basically function as an audition for next summer's free agency, Nwaba isn't in the best position to market his talents. So while many free agents wisely signed one-year deals with an eye toward getting back into the mix next summer, Nwaba's decision to ink a one-year, $1.5 million contract may not pay off the same way. Playing in Cleveland (rather than, say, Indiana) could erode his value.
That possibility makes Nwaba's decision to eschew a longer agreement doubly dangerous. At least if he'd locked in multiple seasons of security, he could have protected himself from the fallout of an underwhelming season.