You can't swing a cat around the NBA these days without hitting somebody passionately discussing the jockeying for position in the Free Agent Wars of 2010. The list of players possibly coming due that summer is impressive, including:
No wonder fans and media alike are amped up about the possibilities. No wonder some General Managers are apparently trying to clear space to be competitive that summer. There’s just one problem with the whole thing.
It may be too late.
First of all, you have to admit that talent of the kind that’s on that list seldom goes anywhere. There’s a reason for that. Their teams are going to open the pocketbook wider than wide. The Golden Rule of roster management, borne out by some of this summer’s shenanigans, is that you never, ever, EVER let your most valuable stars get anywhere near free agency if you can help it. Chances are you won’t lose them, but how many GM’s are willing to risk their jobs, reputations, and teams on any kind of chance that can be avoided? That means you’re going to see a volley of extensions offered and signed well before the hot months of 2010 roll around. If you don’t see a star signed, then there has to be some doubt in the mind of the team whether they can successfully retain him. If that doubt slips into outright worry and/or certainty (as indicated by a player or his agent) then the team is not going to let the guy walk for nothing. They’ll do everything they can to convince him to commit, but if he won’t they’ll be looking to trade him before the free agency period rolls around.
That’s exactly where the cap space in 2009 comes in. If there’s any doubt as to the future of one of these players sometime during that summer or as the trading deadline approaches, somebody is going to need a trading partner. The more flexible your cap situation is, the more solid of a trading partner you become. People who will come up with cap space in 2010 don’t count for these purposes. You need it in 2009 to do a deal with a team in peril of losing its star.
Am I saying the Blazers are going to get a major superstar in 2009? It’s highly, highly doubtful...a far-fetched scenario. But then any of these players moving is pretty far-fetched. Nevertheless, when you read all of these stories about people clearing space for LeBron in 2010 keep in mind that if that threat is at all real, it’s certainly possible that LeBron’s move won’t be in 2010 at all. If he or any of these players were discontented with their current teams, were willing to stay with a Western contender, and Kevin Pritchard valued them, that move would be more likely to happen a year earlier.