x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Afford it or not free agency excites all

With vague reports that half of the NBA teams are losing money, free agency has shown which teams have money and which teams do not.

With vague reports that half of the NBA teams are losing money, free agency has shown which teams have money and which teams do not. The Milwaukee Bucks do not have money. After trading away All-Star forward Richard Jefferson, the Bucks then did not even attempt to re-sign their high-scoring free agent forward Charlie Villanueva. The Detroit Pistons and the Toronto Raptors definitely have money as both teams signed free agents right off the bat, giving huge contracts to Ben Gordon and Hedo Turkoglu respectively.

The Houston Rockets threw money all over the place, buying several picks during the draft and then signing recent play-off hero Trevor Ariza for US$33 million (Dh121.3m). This past week, the team made a move to sign Australian centre David Andersen. Drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in 2002, Andersen is widely-considered the best centre in all of the European leagues. He delayed coming to the NBA because he was making so much money in Russia and Spain.

The DeVos family, owners of Amway and the Orlando Magic, have shown how the direct marketing business has been good to them. The Magic re-signed reserve centre Marcin Gortat to a massive five-year, $34m deal and then gave a four-year, $16m deal to former Dallas Mavericks back-up Brandon Bass. Right before Game Four of the 2009 NBA finals in Orlando, I happened to speak with the Magic's general manager Otis Smith when Bass walked by. Smith blurted out: "I am prepared to match whatever is out there, Brandon," or words to that effect. I had wondered since if Bass would end up in Orlando. This anecdote is an example of how free agency works in the NBA. While teams are not supposed to deal with players till free agency begins on July 1, unofficially the ball gets rolling earlier.

I can remember from my own experience in working with one NBA player that some six months before free agency was set to have begun, the ball was well and truly in motion for him to leave his team during free agency to sign with the Chicago Bulls. Our talks with the Bulls were unofficial yet completely serious. In short, the notion of the NBA's free agency signing period beginning in July is a bit of a sham. That being said, the money is real and more often than not, the players are overpaid. Hello Gortat!

One time when this may not end up being the case is with free agent Lamar Odom. Arguably one of the most talented players in the NBA today, Odom is at an impasse with his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Odom wants a long-term contract as he approaches age 30. The Lakers do not appear interested. Most teams would kill to have Odom. In New York City basketball lore, he is known as "the Goods" because of his tremendous array of basketball skills. He is unselfish and considered one of the nicest people in the league. Yet in the upside-down world of NBA free agency, Odom may end up getting less than Gortat.

Odom has said that he only wants to play in a city with beaches, limiting his options to LA and Miami. The latter could very well be an option as Odom already played there. Furthermore, Florida has no state income tax, saving Lamar about 10 per cent in salary were he to leave California. Or could the Dallas Mavericks swoop in and sign Odom, offering a long-term deal that would offset his desire to live on the beach? Like Florida, Texas has no state income tax.

Free agency makes for great drama, even when teams supposedly cannot afford to offer big contracts. As time passes, I have come to like this part of the NBA calendar more than the season itself. gdole@thenational.ae