Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
Vegan Fish Tacos -- the blog, not the culinary oxymoron -- features two of my favorite geek pastimes: NBA salary cap sudoku, and subway maps from around the world [side note: If you still haven't found the appropriate holiday gift for the transit dork in your life, I heartily recommend this].
For readers of TrueHoop, the salary cap stuff is probably more interesting, which is why you should check out VFT's "2010 Off-Season Primer." VFT walks you through the three most important issues facing each of the 30 teams:
1. Possibility of getting under the cap- It doesn't matter how nice a city is if the team just does not have the right combination of contracts to make 2010 viable.
2. Desirability as a free agent location- Not all cap space is created equal. While there are Carlos Boozers in the NBA who will sign to play in Salt Lake City, most of the big names will have more preference and more desirable options.
3. Moveable pieces- Some of these are guys like Mike Miller that are a solid combination of contract and skill for a 2010-interested team, and some are more in the vein of immovables (Jerome James). Elements like player quality, contract size, contract length, and age are the major variables, though system and other things can come into play too.
Number Two -- desirability of location -- has always struck me as the most interesting variable. For years, we've heard that NBA players prefer big stages, warmer climates, and buzzy nightlife. When faced with a decision about whether to stay in Sacramento as a free agent in 2001, Chris Webber had issues with the city because there was nowhere to eat after the game. He ultimately stayed in Sacramento because the money was there, and the Kings were a model franchise at the time. [A year after Webber left the Kings for Philadelphia, he returned to open his own joint in Sacramento].
As VFT points out, Utah is frequently characterized as the NBA's Siberia -- never mind that it's one of the league's consistently successful franchises with a waiting list for season tickets. As recently as 18 months ago, Boston was mentioned as a less-than-desirable destination for Kevin Garnett, or any African-American athlete. There's a subtext here, to be sure.
When considering 'desirability of location,' we might also want to look at the organization itself. When the Clippers traded Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas (both of whose contracts expire in 2010) for Zach Randolph (whose contract expires in 2011), a debate ensued in Clipper Našiˇn. Some felt that the Clippers, as a traditionally dysfunctional franchise, would never attract a top-tier free agent in 2010. That being the case, wasn't it smarter for the Clips to give up the fantasy, and instead acquire one of the league's only 20-10 guys for a couple of spare parts?
Others felt that the Clippers forfeited a golden opportunity to get themselves in prime position for 2010. The Clips might not attract LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, or even Amare Stoudemire, but there's only so much cash to go around. Los Angeles is still Los Angeles, and that might just be enough to entice a Joe Johnson when the music stops and everyone in the robust free agent class is trying to find a chair.
When July 2010 finally comes around, I suspect the free agency circus will play out like the current MLB carousel: The top players will choose their destinations first. When it's time for the solid second tier to act -- and you can draw that line of demarcation wherever you wish -- they'll go where the money is, whether it's in Salt Lake, Sacramento, Clipperland, or Nome, Alaska.