Money equals power. Money equals laziness.
It’s human nature to relax a tad once you finally get security at your job or land a new, fat contract. And statistics in pro sports almost always back up the idea that an athlete will perform better when he’s hunting for that new deal than he will after he “gets paid.”
The NBA free agent Class of 2015 is a star-studded one. LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan are about to cash in. The teams that sign these big-name players should beware of a slight drop-off in performance, however. Going back into NBA history, championship teams are almost always centered around a player that that particular franchise drafted as opposed to a player that a particular franchise inked to a bloated deal.
The 2015 Warriors’ big three of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were all drafted by Golden State. The 2014 Spurs’ big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard were all drafted by San Antonio (Leonard was traded by Indiana on draft night). Dirk Nowitzki, the centerpiece of the Mavericks’ run to a title in 2011, was drafted by Dallas in 1998. Kobe Bryant, the centerpiece of the Lakers’ run to titles in 2009 and 2010, was drafted by L.A. in 1996. Paul Pierce, the centerpiece to the Celtics’ run to the title in 2008, was drafted by Boston in 1998. Dwyane Wade, the centerpiece to Miami’s run to the title in 2006 was drafted by the Heat in 2003.
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LeBron James has obviously changed the landscape of free agency. In fact he’s a free agent right now – though it’s highly unlikely he bolts Cleveland for a second time. When James has reached the Finals recently, however, his sidekicks have been homegrown talents (Wade in Miami, Kyrie Irving this past season).
Digging deeper into what makes a champion in today’s NBA, most of the complementary pieces on these teams came to their franchises via trades and not free agency. Shaq joined Wade in Miami thanks to a trade. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were traded to Boston. Pau Gasol was traded to the Lakers. Jason Kidd and Jason Terry were traded to the Mavericks.
Again, the big exception centers around James as he and Chris Bosh inked free agent deals to join Wade in Miami. But as everyone found out during last month’s NBA Finals, James is simply on a different level than any other player in the league. He is part of a separate market.
Teams across the league will back up the Brinks trucks for Aldridge, Gasol and Jordan these next few days in hopes of soon contending for a title. But if history is any indication, making it rain on the free agent market is highly overrated.