The NBA sacrificed two months and 16 games of last season with the supposed goals of allowing owners to stay profitable and giving small-market teams hopes of being competitive.
Then the season began and the small-market thing didn’t go so well outside of Oklahoma City and San Antonio, two teams built mostly through the draft.
Chris Paul was traded from New Orleans to Los Angeles, while Dwight Howard demanded out of Orlando, changed his mind, then wavered again this summer.
Fast forward to free agency, and in the first week since July 1, owners went back to spending money like there’s no tomorrow. They also seem to be at war with each other.
This is tough to confirm, but the summer’s purge of restricted free agents seems unprecedented.
In the past, signing restricted players to offer sheets was something of a rarity, performed only when there seemed to be a very good chance the current team wouldn’t match.
There have been six agreements reached on offer sheets in the past week, and most of them appear to be “Robin Hood” transactions, designed to force large-market teams deeper into luxury-tax territory.
Houston has delivered two of those. One is obviously the offer to Bulls center Omer Asik, which includes a third-year salary of $14.9 million.
The Rockets didn’t stop there, adding a four-year, $28 million offer to New York’s Jeremy Lin. No free-agent signings can be official until Wednesday.
Toronto made a play for Knicks guard Landry Fields, and Minnesota went after Portland forward Nicholas Batum for four years and $45 million. The Blazers owner is Paul Allen, one of the world’s richest individuals.
Two more offer sheets didn’t involve raiding a large- market roster. Portland made a maximum offer to Indiana center Roy Hibbert, which is simply a bad basketball move. Phoenix gave New Orleans guard Eric Gordon a max offer.
Why so many offer sheets this summer? More teams than usual have cap space, but luxury-tax creation is a fair explanation. Starting next season, the penalties for exceeding the luxury tax go way, way up.
Let’s say Asik’s $14.9 million salary in 2014-15 puts the Bulls $15 million over the tax threshold.
By this year’s rules, the penalty would be dollar for dollar, or $15 million. Starting next season the penalty jumps to $2.50 per dollar, so the Bulls would owe a whopping $37.5 million in luxury tax.
What happens to the tax money? It’s shared by the nontax teams, of course. So the Rockets could profit later, even if the Bulls and the Knicks match those offer sheets.
The pending sign-and-trade of Steve Nash from Phoenix to the Lakers is another money generator, because all of Nash’s new salary likely will be taxed.
The tax threshold is expected to be around $70 million this season, and the Lakers’ payroll will be around $89 million when Nash is added.
A successful team such as the Thunder also is in a bad spot, because it already signed Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to big contracts and must find a way to work out new deals for James Harden and Serge Ibaka soon.
One way the new CBA has cut back on salaries is by shortening the maximum length of contracts to four years for free agents signing with new teams.
Max offers to Hibbert and Gordon are $58 million over four years. If only the Bulls could apply that guideline to the five-year, $75 million deal they gave Carlos Boozer in 2010.
The Bulls will almost certainly be taxpayers this season.
With the tax rules changing, it’s easy to see why they’re acting conservatively when it comes to adding salaries. It’s why veteran shooting guard Michael Redd is on the wish list, because he’s not in high demand.
It won’t be easy replacing Kyle Korver if his $5 million contract option for next season is not picked up. The best free-agent, 3-point shooters probably would be the cringe-inducing trio of Jodie Meeks, Willie Green and Marco Belinelli.
As we’ve mentioned before, the Bulls will have to be creative this summer, when they can offer only the $3 million taxpayer midlevel exception or minimum salaries.
The good news is the list of available players keeps growing.
Toronto’s Jerryd Bayless and Phoenix’s Aaron Brooks are point guards whose qualifying offers were rescinded in the last two days, making them unrestricted free agents.
Maybe some good players will get left out of the cash grab and decide to join the Bulls for less.
An intriguing name in the mix is Nets forward Gerald Green, who reportedly visited with the Bulls on Friday. He was in the last group of players to jump straight from high school to the pros.
But he wasn’t ready for the NBA and found himself out of the league in 2009 after toiling for four teams in four seasons.
After playing in Russia, China and the D-league, the 6-foot-7 Green was signed by the Nets last season and averaged 12.9 points in 31 games. A minimum-salary offer likely rests on the table.
Some other teams have played “name your price” this summer, but the Bulls don’t have that luxury — pun intended.
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