Let me take you back to the summer of 2014.
The Dallas Mavericks had just come off of a 49 win season and took the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games and the brink of elimination. The front office had to figure it was only just a few pieces away from having a contender on their hands, right?
And that meant Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson would be aggressive spenders in the offseason. But what else would be new? And with that came the inevitable targeting and failure to lure a big fish. That summer it just so happened to be Carmelo Anthony.
So after whiffing on Melo, the franchise decided to set it’s sights on a certain medium sized fish in Houston. A handsome 6’10’ fellow with youthful production that would excite many a team. Except there was a problem.
He was a restricted free agent. Being that the Rockets would have the right to match any offer he got, It would be awfully difficult to pry him away from the incumbent.
But Cuban could find a way. He always does.
The Houston Rockets also had big aspirations that summer. With the king departing Miami for his throne back in Cleveland, the Heat’s big three was on the verge of being extinct. And Houston jumped at that. Making a hard push for all star forward Chris Bosh.
Their plan had been set in motion. Lure Chris Bosh away from Miami, and then use Chandler Parsons restricted tag and bird rights to go over the cap and resign him. Creating a core four of Harden, Howard, Bosh, and Parsons that would dominate the west for years to come.
Until it didn’t.
Knowing that Houston Had to sign Bosh first, the Mavericks struck. While Bosh was still stuck between the Heat and Rockets, the Mavericks infamously inked Parsons to a max offer sheet while partying away in an Orlando night club. Effectively putting Houston on the clock. Either wait on Bosh and lose Parsons. Or match on Parsons and lose out on Bosh. Darryl Morey had a choice to make.
Obviously we know how that ends. Bosh shockingly chose to sit tight in Miami. Which was the nail in the proverbial coffin for Parsons in Houston. So the Rockets decided without Bosh in the fold, there was no need for Parson’s bloated contract. And the Mavericks got their man.
Now back to present day.
And those same Dallas Mavericks who, like a thief in the night, stole Chandler Parsons from the Rockets, find themselves on the other side of the restricted free agency process. However, the Mavericks were prepared for this. Back when they dealt for Kentucky product Nerlens Noel in February, They knew of his looming restricted free agency. That is why they made the trade to begin with. So they would have the inside track to retain the bouncy big man.
As the season began to wind down, reports surfaced of Noel potentially getting max offers. While that surely had to make Cuban’s pockets whimper, ultimately that is the cost of doing business in today’s NBA. Players are commanding comically large salaries. But it is far more devastating to have a talent like Noel walk for nothing, than it is to award him one of those huge contracts.
These mega deals have become commonplace. Because of the influx of TV money last summer, teams were tossing around money in ways that would make a middle class American’s head hurt. And people thought that would carry over to this summer. But it didn’t. Because all the teams spent their green last offseason, the cupboard is bare for most organizations. Leaving a lot of mouths to feed, but not enough food to feed them all.
And this is why Noel is still on the market. Not because he isn’t coveted, because guys with his skill set are in high demand. But teams just don’t have the wiggle room to absorb the type of salary that he will command. Sure, there are some teams that could do some cap gymnastics to create the necessary space, but the Mavericks are almost surely going to exercise the benefits of restricted free agency. Matching any offer sheet he signs. Therefore, giving the Mavs all the leverage, and effectively thwarting any ideas teams might have about signing him to an offer sheet.
And this was the intended purpose of Restricted Free agency. To keep talented young players in their original NBA homes. Allowing them to grow, and spread the wealth of talent across the league and prevent the formation of super teams (Hows that working out for you NBA?).
As with most every decision, there are always unintended consequences. While recently the Mavericks have been the beneficiary’s of this policy, others haven’t been so lucky. For example, those same Rockets were forced to let a promising young forward (At the time he was, okay?) walk for nothing because his contract was so inflated. Mavericks fans will probably have a hard time feeling sorry for Darryl Morey, but this is just one of many instances where restricted free agency backfired.
So that begs the question…
Is restricted free agency really a blessing or a curse?
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