I ended my last article with the sentence “money does grow on trees.” In fact, money also seems to be growing on bushes, in the grass and seemingly dropping down from the sky when it comes to professional sports. Starting July 1, both NBA and NHL Free Agency periods officially began and owners whipped out their wallets while General Managers worked the phone lines to make trades, either freeing up cap space or bringing in a desired player. This summer has been especially active in the NBA due to the jump of the salary cap. Many landscape shifting trades and free agent signings have occurred. In the NHL there wasn’t a large rise of the salary cap so not as many large contracts were dished out, but there were plenty of noteworthy moves made.
This is a memorable year for the NBA in terms of roster contracts and the green handed out to players because of the volume and value of signed contracts. Obviously, the biggest prize this summer was landed by the Golden State Warriors in the form of Kevin Durant, but KD isn’t even the highest paid player this summer. The highest paid player this year is Memphis Grizzlies’ Point Guard Mike Conley, who signed a 5 year max contract worth $153 million. Pocket change, right? Conley has been a very valuable asset to the Grizzlies over the past few years and he was deserving of a nice contract, but is Mike Conley, maybe a top-25 player, really worth over $30 million a year? He and newly-signed forward Chandler Parsons will account for 51.7 percent of all the Grizzlies’ cap this season. There have been a ridiculous amount of contracts passed out that have ballers who not many people are familiar with making between 10 and 20 million dollars per year. The seismic rise of the salary cap has further contributed to the inflated market of the NBA in the way that now teams have much more flexibility and are willing to give a player more money than they are worth just to make sure they get their guy. This has built up a substantial bubble of inflation so players like Timofey Mozgov are earning deals of 4 years/$64 million. The guy averaged less than six minutes per game in the playoffs! Let me work on my jumper for a few days and then my retirement plan will be set. Now once again, I’m not the most avid NBA fan or follower, but I watch enough ESPN (literally all they cover is the NBA) and I know enough names to judge a player’s skill level and value. These contracts certainly do not represent the player receiving the deal. It’s kind of mind baffling when you consider some of these contracts. I’ll list a few here just so my point can be understood. Ryan Anderson- 4 yrs/$80 mil, Nicolas Batum- 5 yrs/$120 mil, Kent Bazemore and Bismack Biyombo- 4 yrs/$70 mil, Bradley Beal- 5 yrs/$130 mil (ESPN). The list of notable salaries certainly doesn’t stop there. Luol Deng is making $18 mil/yr for 4 years, Evan Fournier (who is Evan Fournier?!) 5 yrs/$85 mil, Eric Gordon- 4 yrs/$53 mil, Solomon Hill- 4 yrs/$48 mil, Al Horford- 4 yrs/$113 mil, Dwight Howard- 3 yrs/$70.5 mil, Tyler Johnson- 4 yrs/$50 mil, Jeremy Lin- 3 yrs/$36 mil, Ian Mahinmi- 4 yrs/$64 mil, and more. There are plenty I haven’t listed but this is just a sample size showing that both well-known and little-known players alike are making lots of cash. The type of money being thrown around in the NBA makes the NFL, the most popular league in the country, look like child’s play. Plenty of NFL and NBA players have voiced their emotions as well, astonished by the mountains of money being handed out like tips. You could say that aside from the salary cap rising a lot the reason that NBA salaries have way outpaced those of the NFL and NHL is that football (53 players) and hockey (20) are considerably larger squads when compared to 12 players so they have to spread the wealth more. The NBA is also more popular and profitable than the NHL, but it is very interesting to see Mike Conley’s contract outweigh Andrew Luck’s new 5 year, $139 million extension, the largest in NFL history. But I guess we can still put this all in perspective and call the NFL winners because Roger Goodell made $32 million last year, right?
The NHL has made its own headlines so far this summer; small ripples here in the US and giant waves to our friends up north in Canada. There have been a few exciting trades and at the forefront is the blockbuster trade between the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators that swapped P.K. Subban (to NSH) and Shea Weber (to MTL), franchise cornerstone defensemen who many hockey experts and fans alike repeatedly thought were untouchable. This move is seen as confusing to some because Subban was the face of the franchise in Montreal behind Carey Price, someone the Habs organization gave a large extension to just a couple short years ago. Weber was the face of the young franchise in Nashville as well. Both are good skaters, hold great offensive prowess and are natural leaders, but can occasionally lapse on the defensive end from taking too many chances. The difference between Weber and Subban is that the latter probably has more talent and flash to his game and more importantly he is a few years younger and has his prime in front of him. The Canadiens are getting a very good player back in Weber, who also takes up less cap space even though his contract is longer, but they traded away a pretty new car with plenty of horsepower and kick for a car of equal class but one which has more mileage and isn’t as fresh and attractive. Other moves included the Rangers trading Keith Yandle’s rights to the Florida Panthers who signed Yandle to a seven year, $44 million deal. The Canadiens have been especially busy, also trading for Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw and trading Lars Eller to Washington. Columbus also extended young and bright defenseman Seth Jones to a six year contract just over $32 million. In a shocker and seemingly one-sided trade the Edmonton Oilers sent 2010 No. 1 pick Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for average defenseman Adam Larsson. The prized possession of this year’s free agency was also taken off the market as Lightning forward Steven Stamkos re-upped with the Bolts for eight years and $68 million. Forward Andrew Ladd is moving to Brooklyn after signing a seven year deal worth over $38 million with the Isles, Milan Lucic is moving again, this time to Edmonton after agreeing to a seven year, $42 million offer. Islanders forward Frans Nielsen is heading for Hockeytown after signing a six year, $31.5 million deal with the Red Wings and the Islanders kept letting their stars walk as Kyle Okposo signed with Buffalo for seven years and $42 million. There are many more deals including David Backes going to Boston, Loui Eriksson taking off for Vancouver and many significant resigning deals such as Vincent Trocheck, Reilly Smith and Aaron Ekblad with the Panthers and Victor Hedman with the Lightning. Plenty of big contracts have been saucered out by NHL standards but the largest yearly salary signed was under nine million dollars. This doesn’t compare to the NBA or NFL, where salaries get up into the mid and upper 20 million dollar range for reasons such as the salary cap, team size and popularity.
Even though the majority of the free agent contracts have been dealt there are plenty of trades GMs will make. Take my beloved New York Rangers for example; they are cap strapped from a bunch of win-now moves by prior GM Glen Sather and cannot go after many big free agents. The only way they will make real improvements to their roster this offseason is by trading one of their key pieces or getting rid of their old, tired defensemen (cough cough, Rick Nash). Jeff Gorton, if by chance you aren’t doing your job and are reading this, please trade Rick Nash. And Dan Girardi. And Marc Staal. If your team is cap-strapped and needs to make moves this summer, don’t lose hope. In the free agency period you just don’t know what’s going to happen and that’s what’s great about it. Unless your team is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Then it sucks.