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NBA Free Agency Builds Excitement, Not Champions

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So THIS is the National Basketball Association’s new normal.  

After an increase in the league’s salary cap from about $70 million in the 2015-16 season to upwards of $94.1 million in 2016-17, every team in the league has money to spend.  

And spend it they are.  

It’s a veritable wasteland of loot out there. Where quasi-stars get paid like legends, and average players collect more zeroes than the hero of Schoolhouse Rock. Where becoming a free agent this summer is akin to winning a lottery, regardless of his age.  Photo: slamonline.com

But how much does all this movement really matter? Are the Atlanta Hawks with Dwight Howard and the Boston Celtics with Al Horford ready to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference?  

The short answers are very little and no.  

Despite all the analysis from gasbags like myself, the truth is, there are exactly two free agents who immediately alter the fate of a franchise: LeBron James, who is likely entrenched in Cleveland … for now. And Kevin Durant, who, by leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder, exercised his well-earned right to join the Golden State Warriors, and not continue to try to beat them.    

Every other player, beyond the potential for a few more wins, and the fact their new teams are a little more interesting, is irrelevant.  

Still, the NBA is a business whose primary aim is to make itself as watchable as possible. To fool a group of fans desperate to believe in a false narrative. THAT is the true value of free agency.    

Like pro football, NBA free agency is about filling out your roster. A way to build depth so that the gap in talent between a team’s two best players and its 3rd – 8th best, is smaller.

And it has always been that way.

But based on the early stages of this free agency period, the Philadelphia 76ers have a lot of work to do because they are neither more interesting nor much more talented.  It seems the team can’t give their money away.  Either that, or general manager Bryan Colangelo is being extremely selective.  

It’s one thing to stretch your budget for free agents like the Los Angeles Lakers did in acquiring center Timofey Mozgov (4yrs/$64 million), and the Memphis Grizzlies did in retaining guard Mike Conley for $153 million over five years.  It’s quite another to secure only the league’s fringe players like former lottery pick, guard Jerryd Bayless.    

That is not meant to denigrate Bayless, who’s found a niche as a gritty, reserve combo-guard and is (in my view) a bit better than Ish Smith. But he isn’t very interesting and does not make the team more relevant.    

Bayless merely illustrates the fact that of the top-100 NBA free agents available this summer, 98% percent of them aren’t good enough to make a team a serious championship contender.    

That’s why Sixers fans ought to ignore free agency altogether, and instead focus on all their perceived assets, because they’ll decide the direction of the franchise.  

If Ben Simmons can play, Joel Embiid survives the grind, the Lakers improve, the 2017 lottery balls behave themselves, and Colangelo makes a couple of deft trades, the future is bright.  At least until the summer of 2021.  

That’s when Simmons can become a free agent at the ripe old age of 24.


Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area. He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention. His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.

 

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Photo: slamonline.com