A lot of teams will have money to spend this summer with the salary cap jumping from $70 million to somewhere around $93 million, and players negotiated deals in the last few years that give them options to become unrestricted. That’s going to mean a glut of max-sized contracts being handed out when 20-plus teams strike out in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes.
There also will be some name free agents, such as Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks who said he will opt out of his deal, will be unrestricted though have little intention of leaving their current destination. The same could hold true for Jeremy Lin, who only made $2.1 million for the Charlotte Hornets but should earn a hefty raise should he exercise his player option.
It’s simply a business decision that gives Dallas the flexibility to rebuild its 42-win team around Nowitzki or give him a raise over the $8.7 million he earned this past season. Or he could end up taking less if more pieces can be put around him to contend. Nowitzki doesn’t have an agent. He’s never been interested in the wine-and-dine courtship of the free-agent process, preferring to deal straight forward with owner Mark Cuban which is what happened after he led them to a championship in 2011.
During exit interviews after the L.A. Clippers season came to a close, coach/GM Doc Rivers spoke about that kind of loyalty that a player has towards an organization that’s a product of winning. The San Antonio Spurs have contended for titles for most of two decades because they can get the likes of future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to make financial sacrifices to preserve the foundation and culture. Dwyane Wade, 34, took short money to stay with the Miami Heat after three titles and they’re back in the mix to make it out of the East.
Nowitzki just completed his 18th season, all with Dallas, and made short money though the 7-footer remains the team No. 1 option on offense. Wade is being compensated nicely at $20 million, but he opted out of a previous deal to give Miami a chance to chase LaMarcus Aldridge last summer. He made back some the money he sacrificed in his current one-year deal, and though he wanted more security it allows the Heat to be players in the free-agent market for Durant this summer. It's a give-and-take that occurs when a franchise has a history of winning, stability and trust between the front office and the locker room.
“They’ve gotten some of their key guys to take less and fit in because they’re a lot older,” Rivers said of the Spurs before pivoting to the bigger picture about his Clippers “That’s my goal. Us win one or two and Chris (Paul) and them are 35 and decide take less, which you think they would at that point to keep winning, but you’ve got to win it first. You don’t get that loyalty and then win it. You usually win it and then you get that type of sacrifice -- the Dirk Nowitzki sacrifice. He won it. Dwayne did it the one year. He had won it already it doesn’t usually happen before you win it.”
These situations are the exception in the NBA, not the rule. The Wizards, like the Clippers, are quite a few steps away from getting near that level. For that matter, so are the Oklahoma City Thunder, Charlotte Hornets, Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers.