As the free-agency season opened Friday, there have already been reports of deals for Timofey Mozgov (four years, $65 million), Joakim Noah (four years, $72 million), Hassan Whiteside ( four years, $98 million), Nicolas Batum (five years, $120 million) and Bradley Beal (four years, $128 million). Just check out The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski's Twitter feed for all the chaos.
The losers, relatively speaking, in this spending spree? Players who signed long-term deals in recent years. They will have to wait for their contracts to expire before benefitting from the new cap. This is why LeBron James has consistently signed two-year contracts with the second year being a player option. Not every player has the luxury and leverage than LeBron has, but here are seven who could have bet on themselves with shorter deals or earlier opt-outs (with all salaries listed in millions):
2019-20: $21.3 (player option)
The No. 15 overall pick in 2011, Leonard arrived in the NBA with question marks all over his offensive game. He averaged 7.9 points as a rookie and his scoring numbers have increased in every one of his five seasons. He is an NBA Finals MVP, the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year and he finished second in MVP voting this past season. Last July, the Spurs gave Leonard a five-year, $90 million contract to be the star for one of the NBA's premier franchises.
But this also means Leonard will probably make the same amount of money as defensive wing Kent Bazemore during the next few season. There is no shame in Leonard taking a max contract, but if he could have foreseen his 2015-16, even better than his 2014-15, he may have considered signing a shorter contract or given himself an earlier opt-out clause.
Thompson had been laughing to the bank, making more than fellow Splash Brother and two-time MVP Stephen Curry since Thompson signed a four-year, $69 million contract extension in 2014. The laughter is over. Thompson is about to get jumped, financially, by inferior shooters during the next few seasons. Meanwhile, Curry will be a free agent next summer, and assuming he stays healthy over the next 365 days, Curry could set NBA free-agent records. Thompson will wait for the summer of 2019.
Everything happened so fast for Green, a second-round pick by the Warriors in 2012 at age 22. Green's first major accomplishment was cracking the starting lineup in 2014-15. A championship campaign earned Green a five-year, $82 million contract in the summer of 2015, a figure most NBA critics never expected an undersized power forward to get. But now Green is watching a 31-year-old Joakim Noah come off an injury-plagued season to likely earn a four-year, $72 million contract. One can hypothesize where Green wants to kick NBA general managers.
2019-20: $13.0 (player option)
The Bucks should give Middleton a hug at least the next three years. The Bucks' leading scorer the past two seasons, Middleton signed a five-year $70 million contract (fifth-year player option) in July 2015. It seemed like a gift for a former second-round pick who had been in the D-League just two seasons earlier. But of the projected top 31 players in the NBA by salary for 2016-17 (before free agency), Middleton is one of only two players, Tobias Harris being the other, with a front-loaded contract. While the cap goes up the next few years, Middleton's salary is going the other way. For the Bucks, this means more money to spend. For Middleton, he should get a statue at Milwaukee's next arena for opening up cap space.
In Oct. 29, 2014, on opening night for the renamed Charlotte Hornets, Walker put up 26 points, six rebounds and five assists, and he hit a game-winner in overtime. The next day, the Hornets announced they agreed to a four-year $48 million contract extension with Walker. Walker, who to that point had never averaged more than 17.7 points and 6.1 assists in a season, gladly accepted the money.
In 2015-16, Walker turned himself into a fringe superstar, averaging 20.9 points, 5.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds, starting 81 games for the playoff-bound Hornets. His backup this past season, Jeremy Lin, who averaged 11.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists, is cashing in on a three-year, $36 million deal with the Nets. In other words, Lin is making Kemba Walker-money for the next three years, although, Walker is clearly a much better player. The 26-year-old will need to keep his production high to reap the benefits of the 2019 offseason.
Wall, the No. 1 pick in 2010, was supposed to be Washington basketball's greatest possession since the Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes era. Wall's first three seasons were good, not great. He averaged just above 16 points and eight assists his first two seasons. In season three, he averaged 18.5 points after missing almost the whole first half of it with a knee injury. The Wizards failed to make the playoffs in those three seasons.
In summer 2013, the Wizards roped Wall into a five-year, $80 million extension. Wall responded with three straight All-Star Games, two postseason appearances and a spot on the 2015 NBA All-Defensive Second Team. Unfortunately for Wall, he still has three more years on his contract, peaking at $17.8 million in 2018-19. Until then, expect Wall to milk his sneaker money. He left Adidas this past year and is currently a footwear free agent.
2019-20: $19.8 (player option)
Butler's contract story used to be a fairy tale. In fall 2014, Butler turned down a four-year, $44 million extension from the Bulls. He responded to the bet on himself by averaging 20.0 points and 5.8 rebounds, emerging as the Bulls' first option, earning his first All-Star nod and winning the NBA Most Improved Player Award. The reward was a five-year, $95 million contract in summer 2015.
This summer, Butler is probably looking at the number, wondering what would happen if he doubled-down and took a shorter contract or gave himself an earlier opt-out. Butler made another All-Star Game in 2015-16 and actually improved his offensive production. He will have to wait until 2019 to opt out, assuming his value is still high for a season he will start at age 30.
Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.