No, it's not over, and to a degree it's just starting, with Wednesday the first day for offer sheets to be extended and contracts to be approved by the league.
But just over a week into the process, it has already become clear that players are drawn to opportunities on the coasts:
- Steve Nash is now a Laker.
- Jason Kidd a Knick.
- Ray Allen joins the Heat.
- And Dwight Howard potentially soon a Net.
In each case, larger contracts were available elsewhere, be it Toronto's offer to Nash, the Mavericks' bid to retain Kidd, or even potential enticements from Minnesota or Memphis for Allen.
So, no, this is not about money, perhaps not even purely about winning. It's about location, location, location. And that's where no collective-bargaining agreement can even the playing field.
That doesn't mean the landlocked are doomed.
Oklahoma City has shown as much. But that requires patience and enough failure to produce prime draft real estate, similar to the Bulls' rebirth behind Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and then Derrick Rose. And teams such as the Mavericks and Nuggets have been able to trade their way to respectability.
But when it comes to players being allowed to choose their playing fields in free agency, Los Angeles and Los Angeles, New York and Brooklyn and Miami (but not Orlando, which is plenty landlocked for anyone stuck there for more than a layover can attest), increasingly are seizing control of free agency.
Even impending free agents (Chris Paul last season, Howard this time around) are making it clear that's where they want to land.
There certainly is plenty of money in the NBA beyond what the Busses offer in Los Angeles, the Dolans in New York, Micky Arison in Miami, Mikhail Prokhorov in Brooklyn. And it's not as if Donald T. Sterling has exactly been free with the cash over the years. But the NBA is as much a lifestyle as a championship chase, no matter how much players point to the latter.
Don't for a second believe South Florida in the dead of winter didn't play in the decisions of LeBron James and Ray Allen, who couldn't find quite the same use for that three-wood in Boston.
And after Deron Williams weighed Dallas and Dwight Howard another season in Orlando, don't think having a Big Apple borough to themselves in Brooklyn didn't tip that scale much in the same way that Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony previously pushed for relocation to Broadway from Phoenix and Denver, respectively.
For all that was made of revenue sharing amid the lockout, and for as much as David Stern made his best effort to level the fiscal playing field by slicing 16 games off the 2011-12 schedule, we've now moved from rosters loaded with Big Threes to a Heat Big Three-plus-One with Allen and Nets and Knicks rosters that could boast Big Fours, depending on where you stand with Gerald Wallace and the player formerly known as Jason Kidd.
So what to do now? How to get the NBA back into a competitive state?
Failing that, how about something closer to where the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball have gone with their free-agency migrations, to a compensatory system for teams losing free agents, either extra draft choices or additional salary-cap exceptions?
The compensatory draft picks would have to be high in the selection process, high enough so that when Oklahoma City starts losing players to free agency (and it will), it will be able to regroup.
The additional salary-cap exceptions should be such that instead of players being force-fed to less-than-enthusiastic takers to complete complex deals such as the Howard mega-deal, the likes of Kris Humphries or MarShon Brooks could be obtained by teams that have lost free agents to the mega-markets.
Of course, the reality is that the NBA, as an overall entity, needs exactly what is happening this summer, mega-star franchises to thrive.
There is a reason television ratings rebounded this season and that reason is the march of the Heat's Big Three to their inevitable prize. Next season, figure on Brooklyn being added to the list of teams receiving maximum television exposure.
For the rest, there will be the spoils of the revenue sharing that was pushed through in the wake of the lockout. Because of these very mega-rosters, ledgers will move from the red to black in markets essentially doomed from truly competing for championships of their own.
The NBA is the BCS, the greater whole of professional basketball being reduced to a subset of teams legitimately being afforded championship hopes. Everyone else is Boise State, attractive uniforms with only minimal, longshot opportunities for the ultimate prize.
The ultimate message of NBA free agency for the heartland and the rest of the landlocked: Unless you can add water, there can be no championship recipe.