Once LeBron James, Paul George, and premium players settled into their new homes, NBA Free Agency 2018 is likely to become a buyer’s market. Multiple mid-level free agents will be searching for contracts when the new fiscal year opens July 1. In the aftermath of the near-unconscionable spending spree of 2016, few teams have available salary cap space to pay them. Quality players will sign for mid-level exception money as talent sells at bargain prices.
Kevin Pelton of ESPN detailed the impending situation in an article for ESPN today. He illustrated the smaller relative salary pool compared to prior seasons:
...teams have somewhere between about $500 million on the low end and about $645 million on the high end to spend on free agents. That’s bad news given that collectively the players hitting free agency made $650 million in 2017-18. At best, free agents will as a group achieve parity with their former level of pay. At worst, they’re collectively in for a pay cut of more than 20 percent.
This is bad news for Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic, to whom the Blazers extended a Qualifying Offer on Wednesday, and who will become a restricted free agent next week. Pelton writes:
...restricted free agents Clint Capela and Jusuf Nurkic will be left utilizing the threat of signing their one-year qualifying offer and becoming unrestricted free agents in 2019. (In Nurkic’s case, that might not be much of a threat because the Blazers would benefit from his $4.8 million qualifying offer adding relatively little to their luxury-tax bill.)
Nurkic is also in a tough spot as a free agent who expects more than the midlevel but won’t likely be a target of the teams with cap space to offer more than that. Non-centers could face the same issue. If they don’t re-sign with their current teams after one-year balloon payments, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of the Los Angeles Lakers and J.J. Redick of the Philadelphia 76ers will have a tough time getting offers for more than the midlevel.
Pelton’s article goes into greater detail, of course. For Blazers fans, it’s going to be slightly...ironic if Portland ended up with gobs of money in the exact summer that it didn’t matter, only to stand with empty pockets and tax restrictions during the year when talent comes dirt cheap.