Latest News, NBA / Feb 23, 2010 / 8:30 am

Believe It: Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Bosh & Amar’e Will Become Free Agents This Summer

I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’m not out of my mind. While everyone has been talking about the Summer of 2010 with as much voracity as Y2K, people often forget that there are reasons and rules behind people’s actions. Sure Torontans consider it blasphemous that Chris Bosh would opt out and/or not re-sign, just as Clevelanders are convinced that (title or no title) LeBron James will remain atop the throne in his home state, but there are economics backing up the future decisions of the NBA’s superstars this summer. And that is something you cannot argue with.

With that in mind, I consulted Larry Coon, a computer scientist by both education and trade. While Coon works as an IT Director at the University of California, Irvine, in his spare time, the lifelong NBA fan has assimilated a working knowledge of the League’s salary cap and trade rules into what he calls, the NBA Salary Cap FAQ. A regular contributor to the New York Times NBA blog, Off the Dribble, Coon is to the basketball journalist what William Wesley is to the basketball player.

So looking at the NBA landscape this summer, the free agent pool has the potential to have never been deeper. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, Carlos Boozer, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, Michael Redd and oh yeah, Kobe Bryant, can all become free agents this summer, making for what should be the craziest offseason the League has ever seen.

Sure only Johnson, Allen, Boozer and Ginobili are currently unrestricted free agents, but with the NBA’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) set to expire on July 1, 2011, it’s in every player’s best interest to lock in a new deal now opposed to waiting.

“It makes way more sense for them to terminate this summer, rather than wait until next summer,” says Coon. “A deal signed next summer will be by the terms of the next CBA. We don’t know what the final terms of the next CBA will be, but in all likelihood they’re going to be much more in favor of the owners – shorter contracts, lower salaries, fewer guarantees, etc. This summer is their last chance to lock in a deal under the terms of the current CBA.”

So here lies the dilemma. If you’re a player with either an Early Termination Option or a Player Option on the table, what do you do? Do you become a free agent this summer, or play one more year under your current contract and become a free agent next summer? If the NBA is going to get their way in the new CBA (which in all likelihood points to just that), then you’re most likely going to see your team’s franchise player hit the open market in five months – even if they plan on returning.

“Even players who are extending are in danger,” says Coon. “The salary in the first year of an extension can’t exceed the maximum salary in that year. If the rules for maximum salaries change significantly in 2011, then the players whose extensions kick in that year will be subject to the new rules. I wrote an article about this a couple months ago, predicting that Kobe Bryant (among others) would become a free agent this summer and sign a new deal rather than sign an extension.”

The point that Coon raised in his article is this: If Kobe signing a contract extension with the Lakers is a foregone conclusion, then why is it not already done? It has been rumored since last summer that he’s been close, but the deal has still not been made. As Coon points out, Bryant can guarantee himself more money by first becoming a free agent, and then re-signing with the Lakers.

“There is a small tradeoff,” says Coon. “It works to his benefit that he gets to play the free agent market – be wooed by other teams, etc. It gives him the opportunity to leave if he chooses, although all indications are that there’s about a zero percent chance of that happening. The downside for him is that he has no long-term security. If he blows out a knee tomorrow, then this year’s salary might be it for him. If he extends now, he locks in big, long-term dollars.”

So if I’m 32-year-old Paul Pierce, and I’m set to make $21.5 million next season, what is in my best interest? Coon says that if Pierce can get a deal that locks him in for a lot of years, then he takes it this summer. With his salary already at a max level, like Kobe, he’ll probably opt out rather than extend and risk having the rules for max salaries change significantly.

But if I’m Kenyon Martin, and I’m going to be making almost $17 million next season – a figure that I would never fetch on today’s open market – there’s no way in hell that I’m opting-out.

It breaks down three ways:

1. The max contract guys (Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Amar’e) will opt out this summer.

2. The non-max guys (Pierce, Dirk, Yao, Jefferson, Redd) can either opt out or extend.

3. The guys like K-Mart, Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic, Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries will need to hang onto their current deals, protecting the income they’ve already secured.

In a shaky economy, these decisions are scary. Sure, by opting out this summer, Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Amar’e will be making a little less in 2010-11 than they are already signed for, but they will more than make up for that monetary loss in a long-term deal. As Coon puts it, these guys are “max years, max salary players, no ifs, ands or buts.” But for everyone else, that’s up to them to decide.

What do you think? Of this summer’s bumper crop of potential free agents, who terminates their contract early/declines their player option to test the waters?

Follow Aron on Twitter at @the_real_aron.

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  • KnicksFan84

    Very Interesting!

  • http://bt.davka.info/ SparkyJ23

    So what are the overall numbers incomewise for the NBA?
    How much lower is it likely to be?

    Partly the economy but mostly a result i think of franchises putting shitty product on the floor to save revenue…

  • ToAn

    i read somewhere that Lebron, Wade, Johnson, Stoudemire AND Kobe are going to sign with the Knicks with McGrady as the Sixth man..they will take pay cuts ’cause they really want to play in NY. “It’s a no brainer for them ’cause NY is a big city. And everybody wants to play in a big city.”, a source close to the NBA said.

  • star_bury

    FYI – We’re “Torontonians” and most of us aren’t under the illusion that CB4 will be back. Here’s to hoping that Bargnani works hard in the off-season to realize some more potential…

  • The Journeyman

    @ ToAn

    Funny A Breaking News Update said they were going to test the waters in Washington and with Arenas back in his starting role.

    Huh? Imagine that :)

  • Johno

    Good argument here.

    What about T-Mac?

  • karizmatic

    I think it really depends on the player, the max guys will opt out and become free agents, but I can’t see a guy like Pierce opting out, he may find out that he really isn’t going to be able to get 21.5 million on the market and personally if I were him I’d rather take the 21.5 for next year and worry about it later, or just do an extension if I’m really worried about long term, the other guys will all generally stay in their contracts, no one is going to pay a Kenyon 17 mil anywhere. But it is interesting, some of these really will depend on the star and how much the team he’s with wants him. Like obviously Kobe and Lebron can opt out and still get paid, Bosh and Amare would opt out because they want to leave anyway. But a guy like Pierce may be the one who ends up getting the bad end of an opt out situation where the Celtics don’t really want to pay him a really huge salary so they just see what he gets offered on the market and match it, which could take a while and has a lot of uncertainty, since teams probably would calculate that he’s not really leaving Boston and therefore may not even send him too many offers, that would weaken his bargaining position.

    In any case, I believe there is a good chance a combination of Wade and either Boozer, Bosh, or maybe Stoudamire end up in New York. Notice Riley is still playing the game with Wade and the Heat made no major moves as far as trades.

  • http://www.dimemag.com Aron Phillips


    That’s funny, because I checked with someone from T-Dot last night and they said it can be either. As for Bosh staying put, the majority of the Raptors fans on the site would beg to differ.

  • Name (required)

    No way Jefferson or Redd opt out this year. After his play in SA this season, Jefferson falls into group 3, if he opts out this summer he wont pick up more than a mid level contract. Same for Redd, he needs to prove he is over his knee troubles.
    As for Dirk and Peirce, i can see them opting out and signing one last long term deal while they can. No way either leaves their respective franchise, but they are both on the downward slope of their careers and are probably after one last big payday.
    Yao is the most interesting potential free agent tho. He hasn’t played this year, and his huge size makes him extra injury prone, but when healthy he is a better big than Bosh or Amare, and the China factor is an instant money maker for whichever team he signs for. He could be worth max money even if he cant play, so who knows what he’ll do.

  • barons beard

    Larry Coon? The guy needs directons to the deed-poll office, STAT!!

    Not sure with Wade, Miami itself is a terrific selling point to free agents. I can see Wade staying in South Beach and being joined by (unlikely) Lebron or Amare or Bosh (more likely), or at worst Boozer

  • http://www.dimemag.com Aron Phillips


    Stern said during All-Star that the NBA is losing around $400 million this season. In terms of how much lower it would be, while we won’t know what the next CBA will say until it’s agreed upon, it’ll definitely be more in the owners’ favor. For example, the next CBA could say that the best contract you can sign is for only three years, with only 5% raises, and no guaranteed salary after the first year. So for guys who can sign a max right deal now, they would lose a significant amount of money.


    T-Mac is an unrestricted free agent, so whatever deal he plays himself into, he’ll be under the current CBA.

  • Spliff 2 My Lou

    From what I’ve read, one of the possible requests by the owner’s is that even players who sign big contracts this summer would have to restructure their contracts next summer when the CBA expires. So therefore signing a big max contract this year doesn’t necessarily mean that a player will be locked into that salary figure when the League eventually adopts a new CBA. I don’t know how likely that scenario is but even KG knows anything is possible.

  • Abe504

    I think they should lower the money they make, follow the way the nfl does contracts, very incentive contracts, non guaranteed contracts. Im all for it, No more bad contracts wit Jared Jeffries, Agent Zero. They mess up or don’t work out, just cut them instantly. Its a recession, ticket prices aint goin down no time soon, so make the players adjust accordingly. Get back to the basics of the 70s and 80s, u play good, u get paid good.

  • Mike Honcho

    This is interesting stuff….I don’t see any of the big names leaving, maybe LBJ and Wade, but it does make since for these guys to opt as free agents and then get a better deal from their respective teams…I don’t think we’ll see the ultimate dream team of LBJ and Wade though

  • http://www.sportsbuzz.com jack@sportsbuzz.com

    Looks like a lot of talent will be on the loose
    and a lot of money chasing it. Hope this stirs
    the pot and changes the configuration of power.
    The NBA could use it.

  • S-SiN

    I’d prolly gie that brely taxed 50M per offer from Olympiacos a closer look.

  • jzsmoove

    @ Aron Philips, you sure you didnt ask the guy from the loonie bin bout that? Torontonians PLEASE. Torontans? Really? sounds retarded just like the retard you ask this about. Who the f*ck comes up with Torontans? seriously.

  • jzsmoove

    I had much more respect for AP before this botchery. ( A whole lot more than AB will ever get from me.)

  • http://dimemag.com Austin Burton

    What did I do?

  • http://www.slamdunkzone.com/money-or-the-team-what-will-nba-players-choose/ slam dunk jason

    It will be interesting to see what the next season holds. Some teams are going to change for the better, and some will miss their All Stars

  • Pais

    Torontans, hillarious. You Americanians crack me up.