NBA free agency: Financial reality check

The best part of NBA free agency is the existence of hope. Even if it lasts only until the moratorium is over, July 1st provides NBA fans with the hope that this could be the year their team signs a marquee free agent and begins the march to a championship. That hope isn’t always realize and often it evaporates just as quickly as it appeared. For those who don’t get caught up in the hype, however, there is always the second-best part of NBA free agency: delusion.

We covered yesterday that free agency is like Christmas in July for some players. But not everyone is in for a big pay day. Some players’ expectations for their next contract are so off base, they are laughable. Whether it’s their agents, their entourage, or just their own overflowing self-esteem, some players have so inflated their own value in their minds, it’s almost sad to watch their bubble get burst. Almost.

Reveling in this delusion is the best way for disappointed fans to cheer themselves up when all the impact players have signed elsewhere. Here are some of the players the NBA Skills Market model predicts are in for a pay cut.

Jose Calderon

2012-13 Salary: $11,046,591

Predicted FA Annual Salary: $5,400,000

Calderon is a good point guard in a league full of great ones. He derives more than half of his value from the 7+ assists he dishes out per game, but that’s where his contributions end. Calderon simply doesn’t score enough to be valued as highly as his previous contract would indicate. Since he signed that deal, players like Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, and Ty Lawson have all asserted themselves in the point guard hierarchy, leaving Calderon behind. Jose no doubt has value, but he’s more of a mid-level exception player now than an eight-figure guy.

Monta Ellis

2012-13 Salary: $11,000,000

Predicted FA Annual Salary: $11,600,000

Monta is worth more than he was paid last season. The Bucks were not ignorant to this fact, which is why they tried to extend him to the tune of $12 million per year. Monta summarily shot down their offer. There are only two explanations for him turning down $36 million. First, he really wants out of Milwaukee. This is definitely a possibility, but it seems less likely considering the Bucks’ willingness to pay him. Second, and more likely, is that Monta believes he’s worth more money than their offer. Perhaps Ellis really does see himself as on par with Dwyane Wade and thus worthy of similar money. I personally don’t think Monta is that crazy. He’s probably seeking something similar to what James Harden got in restricted free agency ($13.6 million.) I seriously doubt he’ll get it, but you can’t blame him for trying. If the Bucks sign Jennings, Monta could very well have to take less money from another team.

Kevin Martin

2012-13 Salary: $12,439,675

Predicted FA Annual Salary: $9,750,000

Martin is a 2nd tier scorer who is paid like a primary option. He played his role acceptably for the Thunder this season, but no team in the NBA can afford to pay a shooting guard $12 million to be their third scoring option. Martin seems destined to lead a lottery bound team in scoring for the foreseeable future.

Andrew Bynum

2012-13 Salary: $16,889,000

Predicted FA Annual Salary: $15,000,000

Judging by his hair, Bynum might be the most delusional player on this list. Clearly he is surrounded by a group of supremely talented yes-men, considering they let him out of the house with a legitimate half-fro. Bynum might believe he is still worth of the max extension he was in line for this offseason. I believe the NBA community is collectively smart enough not to give that to him though. Based on his 2011-12 production, he’s worth $15 million, but it’s unclear if he’s still that capable of a player. I see him taking a short-term David West-style deal for around $12.5 million to prove that he’s back, so he can still get one more big contract a year or two from now.

Al Jefferson

2012-13 Salary: $15,000,000

Predicted FA Annual Salary: $13,000,000

Big Al is the best offensive center in the game right now, but he’s a liability on defense. Teams value centers who can serve as defensive anchors more highly than talented post scorers like Jefferson. The demand for his services this July isn’t easy to predict, but he will have to take a pay cut if he wants a long-term deal.

Andrei Kirilenko

2012-13 Salary: $9,779,349

Predicted FA Annual Salary: $7,825,000

AK47 is an incredible Jack-of-All Trades, but with the financial restrictions put in place by the new CBA, teams are more likely to sign  2 or 3 specialists on the cheap than commit nearly $10 million to Kirilenko. The only way he’s garnering more than his predicted value is if he signs for a non-contender with lots of holes to fill.

J.J. Redick

2012-13 Salary: $6,190,000

Predicted FA Annual Salary: $4,700,000

Redick is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league. He’s also a decent ball handler and defender. But outside shooting is the least valued commodity in the Skills Market because teams can find it cheaply through the draft or veterans on minimum contracts. Redick might get more money than this from some team, but they will definitely be overpaying. Remember that Steph Curry, the best shooter in the league, makes less than $10 million this coming season.

Josh Smith

2012-13 Salary: $13,200,000

Predicted FA Annual Salary: $13,500,000

Smith is the most properly paid player in the league according to my model. His positives – scoring, rebounding, shot blocking – are well-known. But so are his negatives: propensity to fall in love with his jumper and occasional attitude problems. Smith’s production over the last few seasons makes him a good value at his current salary. But I doubt that J. Smoove will be happy with the same salary. I wouldn’t be surprised if he and his agent are seeking $15 million per year. A few years ago, Smith would have gotten that money for sure, but NBA teams are too smart and too constrained to pay Smith that kind of salary this year.

Be sure to check back with Valley of the Suns over the next two weeks as we weigh in on all the free agent news and signings.

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