NBA Player is a dream job, but it's still a job -- one that comes with all the stuff everyone deals with at work: paychecks, bosses, relocation, co-workers, perks, org charts, workplace culture. And even if you're not getting wined and dined by Gregg Popovich and Pat Riley, the NBA's labor market affords most of the league's rotation players options.
There are choices to be made.
Based on extensive conversations with agents, front-office personnel and players, here are the factors that drive those decisions:
Money: For max players, this a fixed variable, with a marginal advantage for the incumbent team, which can offer additional dollars and a fifth year. But for most NBA free agents, there isn't enough sunshine, perks and touches in the world to induce them to take the lower offer.
Role: How does the team envision a player fitting into the existing structure? This is often the first item on the agenda when free agents sit down with general managers and coaches -- the composition of the lineup, shot distribution among the key contributors, what kind of defensive assignments the player can expect. Not everyone can tolerate being Andre Iguodala or a third banana, and some need to hear in no uncertain terms that they are The Guy.
Market: No matter how dysfunctional a franchise might be in New York or Los Angeles, the appeal of playing in a commercial and entertainment capital still holds allure. We say "still" because with the rise of social media and the global expansion of the NBA, it's easier than ever for stars to thrive in smaller markets (see Durant, Kevin and Lillard, Damian). But the fringe benefits that come with working in a major metropolis, be it the celebrities sitting courtside or the opportunity to build relationships for a career after retirement, are enticing. For others, the opposite is true; some want to lead a quiet life in a small radius between the practice facility, arena and home.
Win now: A shot at a ring can be everything. Playing deep into May is a major part of the pitch for a lot of teams. (Those LED billboards above Times Square and the Sunset Strip appear not so bright if they're turned off.)
Franchise health: Free agents are increasingly interested in what kind of office they'll be clocking in at each morning. The serious player wants an organization that demands accountability under the kind of leadership that presides in places like Miami and San Antonio.
Amenities: Smart organizations understand that it's all about the players and go to great lengths to service them. Whether it's a world-class training and health program on site or just sending meals to a significant other who's under the weather while the team is on a lengthy road trip, word gets around the league quickly about which teams are first-class.
Lifestyle & climate: For the likes of Miami, Orlando, Phoenix and Los Angeles, one of the best pitches comes in January and February when a pending free agents walks out of the airport into balmy 62 degree sunshine. The seasonally affected free agent can daydream about a house in Manhattan Beach or on the shores of Biscayne Bay, or maybe a nice spread on a golf course in Winter Park or Scottsdale for a lot less than he'd pay on the Acela Corridor.
X's & O's: More than ever in the NBA, on-court style matters. That's why many players want a firm grasp on what kind of manager they'll be working for when they commit. A methodical half-court coach with a thick playbook might not suit a speedy point guard who wants to zip up the floor. Likewise, a hulking big man who likes to roost on the block might want to know whether he's going to be running wind sprints every night in a 100-possession game.
Miscellaneous factors: Every player has additional considerations that are specifically important to him. Some want to be close to family, while others want to be as far away as possible. A high-character locker room will attract some guys, just as a collection of knuckleheads might repel. The presence of an assistant coach a player thrived under earlier in his career might tip the scales, or an outside interest that can be pursued in that city.
Which free-agent destination suits you best? Take our quiz to find out.