Staying At Home, Tugging At The Apron

NBA free agency kicked off this weekend, and while there have been some notable signings already that have involved players moving to new teams, led by the inexplicable belief that a playmaker four years removed from a supporting role on an upstart champion that hasn’t seen the second round of the playoffs since is worth the largest average value per year of anyone in the league (can you spare a loon or two, Fred Van Vleet?) , there’s been far more resignings of free agents by their incumbent teams.  All because of a new wrinkle this year that adds a second apron to the equation.

As THE SPORTING NEWS’ Stephen Noh explained:

This second apron was designed to make penalties more punitive for teams that spend well above the luxury tax, thus theoretically shrinking the gap between the big spenders and the small market teams when it comes to roster building.

The first apron hits when a team’s payroll exceeds $172 million. At this point, the following restrictions are triggered:

  • Teams cannot acquire a player in a sign-and-trade if that player keeps them above the apron
  • Teams cannot sign a player waived during the regular season whose salary was over the $12.2 million midlevel exception
  • Salary matching in trades must be within 110 percent, rather than 125 percent for teams not above the apron.
  • No access to the $5 million taxpayer midlevel exceptionAll of the penalties for the first apron apply to the second apron as well, which is triggered when a team’s salary exceeds $182.5 million. For the 2023-24 season, one additional penalty is added when crossing the second apron.
  • Starting at the end of the 2023-24 season, even more restrictions will be added to the second apron. These include:
    • Teams cannot use a trade exception generated by aggregating the salaries of multiple players
    • Teams cannot include cash in a trade
    • Teams cannot use a trade exception generated in a prior year
    • First-round picks seven years out are frozen (unable to be traded)
    • A team’s first-round pick is moved to the end of the first round if they remain in the second apron for three out of five seasons.

So except in cases where truly odd ducks with money to burn like the braintrust of a Houston franchise coming off a 60-loss season, it’s more sensible for teams and players to effectively punt this negotation window by resigning, because in this climate, more than ever, even with long-term deals, if a player truly is disgruntled, he can become a free agent any time they want.

We’ve already seen this play out last month when Bradley Beal all but defied the Wizards to move him out of DC, and with a Golden State Warriors team determined to rid themselves of a talented but divisive young talent in Jordan Peele, they found a willing interim patsy, much like the Florida Marlins were for the Mets and Dodgers when Rupert Murdoch decided he wasn’t going to pay a baseball catcher more than a media executive.  James Harden’s resigning in Philadelphia was accompanied by a demand to be traded, the third time in five years that Harden has pulled that stunt.  Damian Lillard has just done that the Portland Trail Blazers.  Even Ben Simmons finally pushed his way out of Philly despite having zero leverage and less ability to score a basket.

Of the top 10  contracts signed by free agents so far, nine of them were players who chose to reunite with their previous team; Van Vleet was the lone outlier.

And as the spectre of the end-of-season adjustment looms for teams who underachieve, there’s an even stronger likelihood of a zanier trade deadline next winter than there has been in past years.

So this summer may not be quite as red hot or as active as past ones for NBA free agents, but it’s in effect just going to realign the coordinates for what ultimately may be way more moves in total across an entire twelve-month period than we’ve even seen in the league’s history.

And mommy wouldn’t want her apron to be played with any other way.



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