NBA free agency begins Saturday at 12:01 a.m. ET, launching the annual frenzy that reshapes the league. This year's free-agent class is deep, and there's another wave of salary-cap space as $5 million more was added to each team's cap. Here's an FAQ on what to look for as free agency starts:
Q: Are the Golden State Warriors going to be able to keep their team together?
A: If Kevin Durant plays ball and the owners don't mind writing checks, they will. Durant's situation is a little complicated, but what you need to know is that if he's willing to accept a salary of $31.8 million for next season instead of his "max" of about $34.7 million, then the Warriors will be freed up to re-sign their key players. Durant has indicated he will do just that and the Warriors will be kept together, though Durant will probably take another one-year contract with a player option for next season for procedural reasons so he can recoup the money long-term.
Q: What about Steph Curry?
A: The big payday is about to come for the chef. He's been on one of the greatest bargain contracts in league history at about $11 million per season for the past four years. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, Curry is in line to get the brand-new "designated veteran" deal that will run to five years and about $201 million. If Curry wanted to go to another team, he'd be leaving around $70 million on the table. The new CBA was specifically designed to keep players like Curry on their teams.
Q: Isn't it a funny coincidence that the Warriors would benefit from this new rule after they got Durant last year before it was in place?
A: Indeed. No one in the NBA is laughing about it ... except the Warriors.
Q: But can the Warriors afford all these guys?
A: That's a question for owner Joe Lacob, but his comments recently have generally reflected a position of yes, at least in the short term. Next season the Warriors are scheduled to pay Klay Thompson $17.8 million and Draymond Green $16.4 million. Including the other players they have under contract, adding Durant and Curry at the deals above would kick the Warriors' payroll to about $106 million before dealing with free agents Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Zaza Pachulia, Ian Clark and David West.
They don't have Bird rights on Pachulia or West, but they do on the other players and therefore could pay them. The rest is a matter of negotiation and stomaching luxury taxes, which the Warriors will certainly be paying as the threshold is $119 million next season. Iguodala is probably the biggest question mark, specifically if he gets long-term contract offers elsewhere.
Just for the sake of comparison, this season the Warriors' payroll was $100 million and they didn't pay the luxury tax. With Curry's and Durant's new deals, even if the Warriors got all of their free agents to come back for the exact same salaries -- which isn't happening -- they'd be at $160 million this season with the taxes. When you start thinking of the possible raises and the added tax, you get the point.
Q: The new rules will probably keep Gordon Hayward in Utah then?
A: (Giant screeching sound) Maybe not. Hayward was an All-Star this season but didn't make the All-NBA team, so the Jazz can't offer the designated veteran deal of $200 million over the next five years. If they could and did, it would probably be game over like with Curry.
The Jazz are still the only team that can offer Hayward a five-year deal and up to $170 million. But he might not want five years from anyone. With seven years' experience, Hayward's best bet could be to seek out a three-year contract so he could become a free agent again when he's got 10 years in and he can get the largest contract possible. Or, more likely, he could look for a four-year deal with an opt-out after three years. Over the next three seasons, the difference between Hayward signing in Utah and, say, Boston is less than $3 million. Gulp. This is why the Jazz are a little skittish.
Q: Is it possible the Celtics could get both Hayward and Paul George?
A: It would take some work, but it sure is. The Celtics don't have enough salary-cap space to offer Hayward a full max right now -- they need to make some maneuvers, but it's doable. If they were able to land Hayward in free agency, they could then try to execute a trade with Indiana. George makes $19.5 million next season, but they could pull the deal off by trading out as little as $14.5 million in salaries. Of course, there's the issue of George being on the last year of his contract -- but that's a matter for another FAQ.
Q: I've seen some of the undrafted rookies signing something called a "two-way" contract. What is that?
A: New with the CBA, it's sort of like a minor league contract in baseball. Each team can sign two players to these two-way deals and not have them count against the 15-man roster. Then players would mostly be in the G League (the D-League got new branding!) but could be "called up" to the 15-man roster. These are for young players with three years or less of experience. The players get NBA pay for each day they are in the big leagues. If they are in the NBA for more than 45 days, then they have to be converted to a standard contract and be added to the official roster.
Q: Are there any other new rules worth knowing?
A: Yes. For years the NBA has had this weeklong "moratorium" in the first week of July when contracts could be agreed to but nothing could be signed. As a result there was all kinds of crazy stuff -- remember when DeAndre Jordan agreed to sign with the Mavericks and changed his mind? Well, now some business can happen during that first week. Most notably, restricted free agents can sign offer sheets, cutting down the time a team giving them out must wait to see if they're matched. Players can also be waived and claimed off waivers, and teams can sign players to minimum contracts and two-way contracts.