Basketball is just a game, but the National Basketball League is a business. Thanks to capitalistic liberalism, every business operates in order to make as much money as possible. In the NBA's particular case that means billion dollar owners attempting to pay million dollar players as little as possible while charging the fans as much as possible for tickets, parking and hotdogs. Then a cap on employee salaries is thrown into the mix to make things even easier for the billion dollar owners. Owners sit back and make money while players are criticized.
If they ask for a large contract, they do not care about winning, if they sign somewhere else for less, they only care about winning. Players are expected to give 'hometown discounts' in order to ensure the billion dollar owner does not have to pay a luxury tax. Such is not the case in any other business that professional sports, that is why when players get the opportunity to exercise their right to explore the open market, they weigh their options on money and winning.
Their decisions will finally hinge on what they personally value most, and the fans who cheer them on have to recognize that fact.
16 Chasing A Ring: LeBron James
LeBron James may not be a free agent at the moment, but he will be as soon as the Cleveland Cavaliers lose game 5 of the NBA Finals. At the conclusion of the NBA Finals, King James will use his player option to forgo the 35 million guaranteed dollars that the Cavaliers would owe him. Having already accumulated over two-hundred million dollars, not including endorsements, the fourteen-time all-star does not have to make decisions so he can secure his financial future. Having been to nine straight NBA finals, while winning three, ‘The Chosen One’ does not need to chase rings, the opportunity seems to follow him wherever he may go.
The great thing about being somebody who has scored over 6,700 playoff points, is that any team will be willing to give you a lot of money to just do what you do and make it to the NBA Finals. Getting a huge payday will not play a factor in LBJ’s decision. During his whole career, James has never chased money or rings, he has been chasing the title of G.O.A.T, which is why he will choose the team that gives him the best opportunity to win a championship.
15 Chasing Money: Marcus Smart
At age 24, the former #6 overall pick will become a free agent for the first time in his career this summer. The timing definitely could not be better for the 6 foot 4 versatile point guard. During the 2017-18 regular season, the right-hand shooting guard averaged 10.5 points and almost 5 assists in 30 minutes per game, in the postseason the stats were very comparable.
However, the 2013 Big 12 Player of the Year would argue that statistics are not the reason he deserves a big contract this summer.
As reported by Jackie MacMullen of ESPN after a game 6 loss, Smart stated; “To be honest, I'm worth more than 12-14 million. Just for the things, I do on the court that don't show up on the stat sheet… I always leave everything on the court, every game. Tell me how many other players can say that." The Celtics have made it known that they are not likely to offer him that much money, regardless of his 1-10 shooting in the deciding game of the Eastern Conference Finals, Marcus Smart will be chasing the largest contract possible this summer while he is still in a position to do so.
14 Chasing A Ring: J.J. Redick
The Philadelphia 76ers had more than a few players on a rookie contract for the 2017-18 season, for this reason, they had money to spend, technically they had money that had to spend in order to meet the salary cap floor. The beneficiary of that was Jonathan Clay Redick, to the tune of twenty-three million dollars. It should not be argued that the 76ers needed his 17 points per game while shooting forty-two percent from beyond the arc. The fact that the former Duke Blue Devil was willing to accept a one-year contract, made it all the more attractive for the young 76er team, that is in the midst of their process of becoming a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference.
With that very large contract under his belt, Redick would be naive to believe that he would be able to ink a similar deal at 33 years of age and already being a defensive liability. The two-time ACC Player of the Year will probably not have more than a handful of suitors, but those looking for a veteran sharpshooter at around $7 million a year, will all be looking to extend the defense on their run through the playoffs.
13 Chasing Money: Trevor Ariza
Since the 2010-11 season, Trevor Ariza has made between 5 million and 9-million per year, while averaging between 10 and 14 points per game and hitting 40 percent of his field goals from downtown. Such as basketball is a game of runs and teams with big leads usually see it dwindle, before they build it back up again, average players who perform decently for a great team, end up profiting from this perceived burgeoning stardom. With just 7 players under contract for the 2018-19, the Houston Rockets are already at an $80 million payroll and Chris Paul is not even one of those signed players.
At thirty-two years of age, the 13-year veteran will be coming off a productive postseason never being as valuable. With his team of preference is not going to be in a position to offer him as much as other teams, a past comment made by Ariza after initially being traded to the Rockets sheds light on his mentality; “but I look at myself as a player that can adjust to everything -- a chameleon. Every system isn't for every player, so it's about how you adjust. I think that's the hard, and the fun, part."
12 Chasing A Ring: Rajon Rondo
Since being drafted in 2006, it has been no secret that Rajon Rondo likes to win. His desire to win was only exacerbated during his time with the Boston Celtics where he won a championship in 2008. A championship that he contributed to while learning from veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, now the point guard from Kentucky University views himself as an on-court contributor and leader. His statistics support those claims. By averaging 10 points and 12 assists per game during the two playoff series Rondo earned the one year 3.3 million dollar contract.
It should be noted, while it will not be as high as the double-digit earnings he has enjoyed in the past, Rondo will be getting a raise from his 2017-18 contract.
The fact that he will not base his decision strictly on a dollar amount can be assumed through comments made after the Pelicans sweep of the Portland Trailblazers in the first round of the 2018 playoffs: “I came here to win a championship… I didn’t come here to beat a team in the first round (or) the second round.” While the destination may be unknown, his motivation is not.
11 Chasing Money: Clint Capela
There is a reason why the Houston Rockets were able to pay James Harden over twenty-eight million dollars, Chris Paul over twenty-four million dollars and Ryan Anderson almost twenty million in the 2017-18 season and come within 1 game of the NBA finals. They had a lot of talented players on very affordable contracts. One such player is the 23-year-old Clint Capela who earned just 2.3 million dollars on the last year of his rookie scale contract. It is highly unlikely that his pay grade will stay in that low range heading into next season.
The Geneva-born center averaged just under 13 points and 12 rebounds per game in the playoffs, statistics that, if teams were not thinking of targeting Capela already, would start to know. Due to Capela being a restricted free agent the Houston Rockets have the opportunity to match any amount that a team may offer Capela. As reported by Kelly Iko of US Today on May 9th; “The Phoenix Suns… have plans to offer Capela a max or near-max contract once free agency begins.” Regardless how much the Rockets value Capela's contribution and despite the Rockets being the team to believe in him, Capela will be going to who pays him the most.
10 Chasing A Ring: Vince Carter
At 41 years of age and having played 1,405 regular season games, the former 5th overall selection has done it all. Literally, ‘Air Canada’ as he was nicknamed while playing for the Raptors has done it all; Florida Mr.Basketball, NBA Rookie of the Year, Slam Dunk Champion, 8-time All-Star, Olympic Gold Medalist. The one glaring omission, an NBA championship, this will be the deciding factor that will tip the scales in where Vinsanity goes this summer. There will not be a large number of teams vying for his services and they will offer nowhere near the $8 million that the Sacramento Kings paid him during the 2017-18 season, but he will get some offers.
In his diary for ESPN’s Undefeated, he seems to be very aware of his situation. “I’m sure there will be a lot of teams that’ll make moves and have spots available and are going to need something from a guy [like me]. Hopefully I can bring that to the table. Yeah, I’ll be ready.” The opportunity to win should not be discounted. Carter often discusses how he puts in the work to be prepared. At age 41 and with almost $200 million in contract money, you want wins, not dollars.
9 Chasing Money: DeMarcus Cousins
Boogie may have only played 48 games during the 2017-18 season, but it did not prevent him from making over $18 million on the last year of his contract. The fifth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Entry will be 28 years old when the 2018-19 season begins, and he will be coming off a season where he accumulated better stats then when he got his 4-year max deal in 2013.
The skill set that the 4-time All-Star provides will be sought after by teams that will have the cap space to offer the 3-time league leader in fouls another max contract. In his interview with The Undefeated on May 17, Cousins is quoted "I'm going to make the absolute best decision for DeMarcus Cousins. Would I like to go back to New Orleans? I'm very open to that … I love what was created after I went down. I would love to be part of it. But I'm going to do what's best for me, and I feel they'll do the same." The upside for the 6’11” center, multiple contending teams will offer him a lot of money, so he will be able to justify his decision however he wants.
8 Chasing A Ring: Joe Johnson
ISO Joe has made over $215 million while scoring 20,405 regular season points in his career since being drafted 10th overall in 2001. All of these are very good reasons to not base any decisions he makes on money. The 37% lifetime shooter from beyond the arc is in no position to be making demands about money anyway. At age 37 (by the time the season begins) he has already become a veteran voice, and players in that role seldom command large contracts like the $9.5 million the Sacramento Kings had to eventually buy him out of.
Johnson’s contribution will be limited to the regular season, as was the indication in playing only 54 total minutes during the Rockets playoff run.
The reality of this stage of his career is not lost on the 1999 Arkansas Mr. Basketball, in an interview via ESPN he stated; “I would love to have a chance to win a ring, I want to go to a contender, I don’t want to just be out here playing just to be playing.” Truer words have never been spoken by a 37-year-old who averaged 6 points in the season prior to becoming a free agent.
7 Chasing Money: Greg Monroe
There once was a time where there was room in the NBA for more than just a handful of centers. Centers were important and they got paid accordingly. Today, the term ‘true center’ is used to describe 7 foot, 260-pound men who are unable to shoot and play defense on the perimeter. The emergence of the 3 point shot has placed less importance on establishing dominance in the post, despite a solid post game being able to create open shots (as Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott how many open looks Shaquille O’Neal got them).
Greg Monroe falls into this category, there were 4 years in Detroit when the lefty averaged 25 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game while playing with Andre Drummond. The Milwaukee Bucks rewarded their center with a 4-year 50 million dollar contract. Then his numbers began to decline, through no fault of his own. As teams looked for more shooting from their front court, his minutes dropped and touches lessened until the Phoenix Suns finally waived him. As it stands, Moose will not have the luxury of contending teams wanting him, so getting the best contract before the end of his career will be his priority.
6 Chasing A Ring: Jamal Crawford
It did not take much time at all for the 38-year-old to use his right to decline the final year of his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves. After scoring 10 points per game during the regular season and then improving upon that in the playoffs, the one thing the 3-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year can do is score, and at his age he is still able to be a contributing member to his team. His scoring touch is not what it was while he was winning those Sixth Man awards, but he is still a more than adequate addition off the bench.
Do not let the fact that because the contract for the 2018-19 season was just $3 million, that Crawford is opting out for more money, especially since the salary cap is not increasing any significant amount. The decision is more of a comment of his perspective of the Timberwolves future. Nobody knows his thoughts exactly due to the fact that he has been declining to comment, but as the saying goes ‘actions speak louder than words’ and Crawford’s next action will be coming off the bench for a contending team for not much more than he would have gotten in Minnesota.
5 Chasing Money: Jabari Parker
Jabari Ali Parker has a number of things going his way. At the age of 23, he has already been a number 2 selection overall, has a career average of 15 points per game and coming off his rookie contract. These positive attributes could have been what the 6’8” power forward was holding onto when he could not come into agreement with the Bucks on a new contract during the season. Parker appeared on the ‘Milwaukee Basketball Hour’ and had the following to say about the failed negotiations. “When it comes to a player like myself, I wasn’t desiring the max (contract). I just wanted security… but then I get an offer that was not what I wanted, it was not fair.”
Once negotiations come to a stall, it is very difficult for the two parties to begin to re-negotiate. At 23, Parker’s main concern is the security, with money comes that security and while he may be telling the truth about not wanting a ‘max deal’ clearly money is going to be in the forefront of his mind this summer when he chooses his destination. When that becomes the case, it will be difficult to blame him for choosing wealth and prosperity.
4 Chasing A Ring: Amir Johnson
Having completed 12 seasons in the NBA and averaging double digits in only two of those seasons with 7.5 rebounds per game being his best, the 31-year-old old 6’9” front court player will be looking to find a spot at the end of the bench on a contending team. The 76ers needed his veteran voice in the locker room, and unlike JJ Redick, that is the only place he was heard as his minutes per game fell from just 16 in the regular season to an even lower 11 in the playoffs.
The 2005 California Mr.Basketball signed an $11 million contract for one season with the 76ers, something that will not be repeated now that the 76ers have a little bit of playoff experience and now know what to expect if they want to go all the way, the value of a veteran voice has diminished. While his on-court role is unable to diminish much, his annual income will as he becomes the traditional backup center to Deandre Jordan or Marcus Aldridge, hopefully, he will have more to choose from, but with the amount of money that he will be offered by any team, a chance to win will probably be the only difference.
3 Chasing Money: Isaiah Thomas
Thomas has things going for him, he will be under thirty when the 2018-19 season begins, he has time to continue making money in the NBA. He has the skill, skill that he showed during the playoffs with the Celtics by averaging 23 points and almost 7 assists per game, talented players get money and his nickname 'Pizza Guy' is pretty good too. The one thing that is not in his favour is his history of injuries.
That one striking blemish on his record negates all the positives when it comes to general managers forking over the big bucks for an extended period of time.
All this is not lost on the left-handed point guard, as reported by ESPN's Chris Haynes in September of 201; Isaiah Thomas in the process of parting with representation, Excel Sports Management. To seek a new agent to handle 2018 free-agency.” After making 6.2 million dollars last season, and coming off an injury, Thomas’ new representation is going to have to chase the biggest contract possible in case it is the last. These signs point to Thomas not playing for the Lakers next year, for his sake he better find a team where he can get some minutes.
2 Chasing A Ring: Chris Paul
Chris Paul deserves to go for the largest contract he can get, but there is a reason why they are called ‘max contracts’ it is the most he can get. Any number of teams would be happy to offer Chris Paul a max contract. That means the 6-foot point guard does not have to chase money, ever, it will come to him. That leaves CP3 to base his decision on where he can win the most games. The most entertaining thing to muse about is the fact that Dwyane Wade is a free agent, LeBron James will opt out of his contract and Carmelo Anthony has an early termination clause, theoretically, the four buddies could all put money on the back burner and join forces together to chase a ring.
As fun as that sounds to speculate about, it is a long shot, but after missing the last two games of the Western Conference Finals due to having to sit on the bench with an injury while the Rockets got eliminated by the Warriors, the 9 time All-Star who has already accumulated over a 165 million dollars, will be basing his decision on where he can compete for a ring.
1 Chasing Money: Aaron Gordon
The common theme is, if you are young and good enough, you better make as much money as possible due to the simple fact that tomorrow is never promised, Aaron Gordon fits nicely into this category. At just 22 years of age, the 6’9” power forward averaged 17 points and 8 rebounds in his fourth season as a pro. Numbers that one should assume to continue to rise as he hones his NBA game even further.
In March of this year the former 4th overall pick was asked by the Orlando Sentinel about his ideal situation concerning his free agency, Gordon responded; “Ideal is max. [Man], that would be ideal … definitely here.” While it is clear that Gordon wants to stay in Orlando if he is presented with his ‘ideal situation’ expect him to capitalize on it by accepting the offer despite which city it would land him in. Since February there have been reports from Sporting News that the Suns, Mavericks, and Pacers are going to target Gordon when free agency opens up. With several teams interested for that period of time, Magic fans have to hope that the Orlando Magic organization presents Gordon with his ideal contract.