If this past summer’s NBA free agency seemed wild, with teams spending $1.4 billion in contracts on the first day players could sign, it’s about to get even crazier in the coming years.
Golden State Warriors fourth-year forward Harrison Barnes is perhaps the best example of this.
According to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Warriors offered Barnes a four-year, $64 million extension, which Barnes turned down. Though the two sides have until October 31 to come to an agreement, it looks like Barnes is trying to hit restricted free agency in the summer of 2016.
This a bold move by Barnes, turning down a generous offer from the Warriors. Though Barnes is young and talented, he’s arguably not one of the Warriors’ top five players, yet would have made more than Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, and Andrew Bogut. At 23 years old, with career averages of 9.6 points, 4.6 rebounds on 44% shooting and 37% from the three-point line, he’s turning down his first real shot at a huge contract – and it might pay off.
In 2016, the NBA’s salary cap will rise from $70 million to a projected $89 million. Suddenly, a majority of teams will have a ton of cap space, and with a relatively weak free agent class, those available free agents are going to get paid.
This is why someone like Barnes is suddenly confident enough to turn down $16 million per season. This is the same reason why Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson is comfortable demanding a max. salary. If he doesn’t get it this year, he can play out the season on the $6.8 million qualifying offer, and then hit unrestricted free agency next year for another shot at it when teams have money to spend.
However, this route presents a huge gamble for players. Barnes and Thompson could have locked up $64 million and $80 million, respectively, and be set for years. Instead, they’re betting on their health and performance over the course of one season, hoping to cash in on good contract years.
Chicago Bulls wing Jimmy Butler turned down $44 million last season – a shocking move at the time – and got $90 million as a result of an All-Star season.
One injury could undo all of it. Players always risk this in contract years, but it becomes even more magnified when they’ve turned down huge extensions beforehand.
This is the new landscape of the NBA. The max. players and All-Stars will still get their money, but when they’re off the market, players like Barnes and Thompson will look like geniuses when they land contracts that pay $20 million per season.