NBA free-agent floodgates wait on big fish

LeBron James and Rudy Gay. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

The NBA free agency period started with a sputter on July 1 and continues to rest quietly in first gear.  It appears that franchise-altering decisions from LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony are slowing an otherwise busy portion of the NBA offseason.

Instead of a flurry of early action, it has been a trickle.  More than that, a trend has developed that doesn’t bode well for the NBA’s lottery-bound teams.  Sacramento is among a group of clubs that were never in the hunt for players like James, Anthony or Bosh.  And now it appears that teams in the lower echelon of the league are having to overpay for talent, while playoff contenders are sweeping up bargains left and right.

You knew something was going on when Jodie Meeks inked a three-year deal with the Detroit Pistons for a reported $19 million.  Meeks isn’t a bad NBA player, but he came into the 2013-14 season with a career scoring average of 8.0 points per game through 278 career contests.  Meeks had a solid season for the 27-win Los Angeles Lakers last season, averaging 15.7 points on 40 percent shooting from 3-point range, but $19 million good?

Players like Channing Frye (four years-$32 million with Orlando), Avery Bradley (four years-$32 million with Celtics) and Darren Collison (three years-$16 million with Sacramento) land deals well above value.  While players like Spencer Hawes (four years/$23 million with Clippers), Josh McRoberts (four years/$23 million with Heat) and Danny Granger (two years/$4 million with Heat) join quality playoff teams on bargain deals.

It’s an unfair world.  There has always been a large market allure for free agents, but the disparity looks larger this season.  The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  And we haven’t reached the crescendo yet.

Once James, Anthony and Bosh make their decisions, quality players will swarm to their teams, taking pennies on the dollar to play for a winner.  Plenty of those players are past their prime and looking for a ring, but Kings restricted free agent Isaiah Thomas is part of a young group that looks primed to jump on one of the many opportunities that will open up.  He will ride the wave to a team with a need and a handful of cash.

With Sacramento already paying Collison mid-level exception money, it is unlikely that the Kings will match an offer for Thomas.  It’s not written in Comic Sans, but trust me, the writing is on the wall.  Regardless of the offer, Isaiah Thomas has likely played his last game in a Sacramento Kings uniform.

He will look for an opportunity with contenders in Miami or Chicago.  He will consider a glamour spot like the the Lakers, his favorite team growing up.  Those heavy hitters won’t be the only ones looking at the Kings point guard.  The Dallas Mavericks will kick the tires on Thomas, and so will others.  The waiting game has been excruciating, but the payoff will be well worth the ride and it’s just around the corner.

This is the new NBA.  Superstars chase big paydays, because they know someone else will take less money to fill out the roster.  Losing teams perpetuate the cycle by overpaying for any talent that will look their way.

At least the wait is almost over.  We will all know where LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh will play soon enough.  And that’s all that really matters.  Everyone else will end up where they end up, including Isaiah Thomas.


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