The NBA commissioner might soon see players lock into longer deals more often and switch teams less often.
For 2018-19, the NBA estimates a cap of $103 million with the tax line at $125 million.
This would stifle player movement for a few overlapping reasons.
Fewer teams would have cap space. Not only would that mean players having fewer options of where to sign, capped-out teams would prioritize re-signing their own free agents through Bird Rights.
Those with player or early termination options would be more likely to opt in for similar reasons.
Knowing these conditions are coming will have players ahead of time prioritizing security in long-term contracts rather than flexibility.
In the last three years, the salary cap has risen 7.5%, 11.0% and 34.5%. It projects to rise 8.3% next season.
In a league where contracts can call for max raises of 7.5% for fully or early qualifying veteran free agents or 4.5% otherwise,* it made more sense for players who could command the max whenever they wanted it — like LeBron and Durant — to take short deals. Signing a new max deal (which starts at 25%-35% of the salary cap, depending on experience) would pay more than a max raise on a previous season’s max.
Unlike LeBron, who already had 10 years experience when he returned to the Cavaliers, Durant has the added bonus of qualifying for a higher max tier next season. But that potential benefit had long exist, and players didn’t take the short-term contracts until the rapidly escalating salary cap offered the boost coming from both directions (bigger pie and larger slice of it).
*Max raises will increase to 8%/5% in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement
So, with the league projecting just 1.0% salary-cap growth between 2017-18 and 2018-19, it’s far better to sign long-term in 2018 and receive raises on a 2017-18 starting salary rather than signing new contracts each year.
From the other side, teams ought to be more careful about whom they sign to those long-term deals. The salary cap will no longer rise fast enough to turn bad contracts into good contracts.