Uncertainty, unpredictability mark opening of free agency for Pelicans, entire NBA

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

As he spoke to New Orleans radio broadcaster Sean Kelley on draft night, new Pelicans Special Advisor Danny Ferry adeptly summed up an entire league’s trepidation about 2016 free agency, which begins Friday at 12:01 a.m. Eastern (actually Thursday at 11:01 p.m. here in the Central time zone).

“The whole NBA (free agency) scares me right now,” Ferry said. “Not just here, but everywhere. (Because of) the cap space, the bump up, and the free agents available. It will be a challenging situation for every team, to try to figure out what the right contracts are and who the right players are, and to actually get them.”

Indeed, with the salary cap for each team projected to spike from roughly $70 million last season to about $94 million in 2016-17, there is more money for the 30 franchises to spend on free agents than in any prior summer. As a result, the NBA may be on the verge of the wildest, most unpredictable month of free agency in league history. It’s difficult to anticipate exactly what that will mean in terms of player movement, though one thing seems certain: It’s going to be lucrative for many free agents. Even NBA general managers – the people with more experience than anyone navigating free agency – have little idea of what impact the massive salary-cap increase might be.

Asked whether NBA teams may have no choice but to overpay some free agents in this uncharted marketplace, Ferry responded, “It’s not an area you want to go to, but I don’t think anyone can define what overpaid is right now. With all this cap space – and the cap bumping up again next year significantly – this is outer space right now. This is the deep sea. No one knows really what’s going to happen and how it should happen, why it should unfold. Every GM I’ve talked to feels the same anxieties and the challenge for what’s ahead.

“Usually there are four or five teams that have significant cap space every year. (This time) there are 20 or 25 teams that can sign max players right now. There aren’t that many (legitimate) max players out there. So the inflation and what that does to contracts, with all of this money (available), it’s going to be interesting to see how this unfolds.”

By rule, NBA teams are not allowed to publicly mention free agents on other teams prior to July 1, but New Orleans has several players who will officially become free agents Thursday at 11:01 p.m. Central. Two of the Pelicans’ longest-tenured players, guard Eric Gordon and forward Ryan Anderson, are both unrestricted free agents, as is guard Norris Cole, forward Alonzo Gee and center Kendrick Perkins.

Gee had a player option that could’ve locked in his contract for next season, but elected to become test free agency. Numerous other players across the NBA have also decided to opt out of their contracts for 2016-17, in many cases due to the potential to cash in, with the conditions ideal for a big payday.

Ferry played a total of 13 seasons in the NBA, split between Cleveland and San Antonio. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the serviceable role-playing forward made $4.5 million in his final season, with the 2002-03 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. Given the rise in the league’s salary cap to $94 million this summer, a $4.5 million wage will be well below an average NBA salary, meaning even some middling players will make far more than that in 2016-17.

“Everyone just has room,” Ferry said of the 30 teams being able to afford big-money free agents. “All of the players who are opting out, they’re opting out for a reason, because there’s such big opportunity for a player right now. I’d like to turn back the clock 15 years and be a free agent right now. I was an OK player, but you can make a lot of money (now) as an OK player.”

Other notes on free agency

Due to NBA rules, teams will not be able to officially announce any signings until the moratorium concludes. The league has shortened the length of that moratorium period slightly, this year allowing teams to announce and introduce new players July 7. The decision to tighten the moratorium period is partly a result of the DeAndre Jordan debacle of last summer, when the center declared he would sign with Dallas, before changing his mind and returning to the Clippers. …

NBA TV and ESPN will have a variety of shows over the next few days that discuss free agency, including NBA TV’s live marathon coverage Friday from 1 to 6 p.m. Central. NBA TV gets things started Thursday with a live show from 10:30-11:30 p.m. Central, which will overlap the beginning of when teams can begin to agree to deals.

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