Ever since the popularity of the NBA exploded during the 1980s, along with the exceptional growth of the soft salary cap, unrestrained free agency and guaranteed contracts, the only thing we knew for sure was when a player said it wasn't about the money ... it was about the money.
There are indications that this offseason may be the exception.
On Thursday, Gilbert Arenas told the world that he was accepting a six-year, $111 million contract from his Washington Wizards, reportedly giving back $16 million over the length of the deal. Under any circumstances, he is enormously overpaid anyway, especially when you consider he's coming off surgery on his left knee twice in sixth months and he played in only 13 games during the regular season and four of the six playoff games.
OK, so it isn't unmitigated generosity spewing from Gil, but it is out of the ordinary, just maybe not this year.
There are better examples though.
The primary guys are Baron Davis and Elton Brand. Consider that Davis opted out of the $17.8 million the Golden State Warriors were going to pay him next season, and stunningly accepted a five-year deal from the Los Angeles Clippers for an average of $13 million. Nobody knows what the Warriors had in mind, but it didn't seem to matter.
He apparently had decided to head home to Los Angeles, where he went to high school and then UCLA, to not only be around friends and family, but in the right spot for him to carry on with his movie production career. He got off to a great start last year with a documentary on the streets of L.A., and obviously that's just the start ... the opportunity to get the Clippers back into the playoff hunt another strong consideration.
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That brings us to Brand, who opted out of $16.4 million.
Add in the $8.4 million that Brand's teammate Corey Maggette elected to walk away from, and that gave the Clippers about $25 million for Brand, who also has a movie production company, and Davis to divvy up. Not surprisingly, the Warriors came back after Brand with a maximum offer making it a deal he nearly can't refuse. But he may very well stay in L.A. for less now that his buddy Davis is in the fold. Not only would the Clippers have a nice starting lineup with Brand, Al Thornton and Chris Kaman in the front court, and Davis and Cuttino Mobley at guards (with top draft choice Eric Gordon also figuring to contribute), but Davis and Brand figure to collaborate in movie production as well.
As for Maggette, the story going around on Thursday had him also leaning toward taking the mid-level exception of approximately $5.8 million per season in a multi-year pact from the San Antonio Spurs. The 6-6, 225-pound swingman is firmly established as one of the more explosive athletic players in the West who has worked hard to become a good long-range shooter. But it sounds like he'll accept the multi-year, mid-level pact for the second consecutive contract just for the opportunity to win with the Spurs. Put him on the floor with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, and nobody will doubt the Spurs have got a shot at winning their fourth title in seven years.
Then again, the Warriors have all that money now available with Davis' departure, so Maggette would get big money with a team that plays at break-neck speed a nice combination, if not as formidable as the Spurs.
Still, there is this different tone out there, perhaps a carryover from watching what the Boston Celtics accomplished when Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce joined forces to win the title this season. Granted, Garnett and Allen were traded to Boston and money was never an issue, but the theme of individuals subjugating their egos for the good of the team lingers.
The money factor comes into play more when it comes to free agency. Hall-of-Famers-to-be Karl Malone and Gary Payton collaborated for less in the 2003-04 season to play with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant with hopes of winning a title. In that instance, the team imploded in the Finals over petty jealousies and it was egos, not money, that cost the Lakers Malone and Payton in particular.
On the flip side, we've now got mercurial Ron Artest moaning and groaning because he decided not to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Sacramento Kings, instead agreeing to stick around for the $7.4 million in 2008-09. But after seeing all the activity leading up to the official July 9 unveiling of the new salary cap and the ability to actually sign a new deal, Artest is telling everybody he should have been on the open market himself. Oh, he'll have the opportunity next summer seems like he's merely jealous of the attention. Well, that's OK Ron-Ron, you'll get your excitement when Kings president Geoff Petrie finds somebody to take you, your contract and your whining off his hands.
There are still great megadeals rolling, too, like the one young point guard Chris Paul accepted from the Hornets on the heels of his spectacular All-NBA season while leading them to within a game of the conference finals. Paul agreed to a four-year deal, the fourth year his option, and the total package reportedly worth $68 million. Not bad for a guy who celebrated his 23rd birthday two months ago.
There are other youngsters without the credentials of Paul thus far, but certainly with the potential like Warriors guard Monta Ellis and Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, both 22 and seeking money in the $10-$11 million range per season. Will they get it? And if the Sixers go big after Smith, do they let their yearning-to-be-rich youngster Andre Iguodala become fair game for the Warriors too?
At this point, it's tough to say. What we do know is they're not about to give anything back. They haven't been around long enough to understand that sometimes it isn't about size of the contract.
It's more about the team that does the talking.