Free agency has undergone some changes in the NBA. Over the past few seasons, players have found ways to gain more control over their careers. It all started when LeBron left Miami and went back to Cleveland in 2014.
Instead of signing a long-term contract with the Cavaliers, LeBron signed a one-year deal. This wasn’t typically done back then. Players usually negotiate for more money when they sign longer contracts. If a player is willing to give a team five years of his career, that team better be willing to pay him well. But with a one-year contract, a player has less to negotiate with. So why did LeBron choose such a short contract?
There were several reasons why LeBron opted for a short contract. The first reason was at the time, there were projected increases for the salary cap coming in 2015 or 2016. So LeBron didn’t want to lock himself into a long-term contract right before the rules changed that could allow him to make more money.
The second reason was a bit more complex. James played for the Cavs from 2014 to 2018. In that time, he renewed his contract three times. But his short-term deals did more than just earn him more money; they put pressure on Cleveland’s front office.
When your team revolves around a superstar player like Cleveland’s did, you have to make sure that player is happy. And superstars are not happy is they are not winning. With a short-term contract, LeBron could easily leave the team if he thought he could do better somewhere else. So Cleveland was constantly trying to make LeBron stay. This means not only that he received preferential treatment, but that Cleveland did it’s best to surround LeBron with the players he wanted, that could help him win.
So signing a shorter contract ended up giving LeBron quite a lot of leverage. Other players have taken notice, and now it’s becoming a bit of a trend.
Short or Long-Term Moves this Summer
There are three guys that everyone is looking at right now to make moves this summer: Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant. Each of them has talked about wanting a change but none has said for sure what he is thinking.
All three are good candidates for one-year contracts. They’ve all had trouble with staying happy on their respective teams. So getting into a long-term contract seems risky. And each has the star power to avoid getting locked into a longer deal.
But there’s a downside to the short-term game. Teams get frustrated when players do not commit. Signing a one-year deal is hardly much of a commitment to an organization. So players can end up creating tension on their teams. Leonard, Irving, and Durant are all familiar with this too.
The other negative aspect of signing a short deal is that it leaves a player wondering what happens at the end of the season. It can be hard to focus on the present moment when you’re thinking about an upcoming move.
Stay or Go
Leonard, Irving, and Durant have big decisions to make this offseason and it won’t be easy. Even talking to the media about their prospects has proven stressful. None of them seem to like being questioned about the matter.
It seems that Durant’s time in Oakland is over, and Irving isn’t happy in Boston. But perhaps Leonard can work something out with Toronto. Whatever happens, the offseason is shaping up to be an interesting one.
LeBron is now in a longer-term deal with the Lakers. Maybe the other three stars follow suit.