He wanted to go last year. Regardless of if you’ve spent 40 years in the business to end up in the booming Fort Wayne sports market, every quote Caleb gave indicated that he just needed that one team to guarantee him a spot on the roster for him to go pro. It was his lifetime dream to take himself from overweight homeless kid to a real life NBA player.
While his freshman campaign was impressive on paper, nearly averaging a double-double, it wasn’t without critique. He had one of the highest body fat percentages at the combine, and after combine drills, combine measurements, and one on one meetings with teams, Biggie was not told the things he wanted to hear.
Now, the NBA cap has skyrocketed from $70 million dollars last year to $94.1 million dollars this upcoming year. This unprecedented jump in cap created, overnight, a whole new world order for the National Basketball League. Players on the fringe of stardom were covered in millions and millions of dollars. Players who struggled to be seen as even good, were also covered in millions and millions of dollars. In fact, almost everyone - Sorry Lance Stephenson and Dion Waiters, you two are exceptions - were covered in millions and millions of dollars.
Mike Conley Jr. is now signed to the largest NBA deal in the history of the NBA. This is a real thing - the basketball world these players live in - and we still don’t really understand the full repercussions of it. The world has only just started shaking, we don’t know what’s going to crash down.
But what we have seen in this strange world is a new strategy from teams and their GMs. With this abundance of cap space among almost every team, players were over paid this summer. They were lavished with commas. Players like Tyler Johnson, who didn’t even start for the Miami Heat, are now making in excess of $60 million dollars simply because they were fortunate to be drafted four years ago. This is not unusual. Teams have always shown a willingness to pay more than they probably should for free agents, but the competition has never been this fierce because there’s never been this many teams with the capability to over spend this much. A result is that rosters are more uneven than ever. With the want to combine super stars, teams are spending most their cap equity on a small number of players, leaving them with multiple roster spots they can only field with league’s minimum players or veteran’s willing to take less for the mid-level exception.
However, we’re seeing one possible counter, a different alternative than choosing older players to fill the last few roster spots. It comes in the form of the new contracts being signed to second round players. We saw it this year with Purdue’s own second round draft pick, A. J. Hammons, who was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks with the 46th pick. On July 9th, A. J. Hammons signed a 3-year, guaranteed contract from Mark Cuban.
The old adage for potential draft picks was simple. Don’t leave early unless you know you’re going in the lottery, or at least guaranteed to go in the first round. Why? Because that’s where the guaranteed money was. In the first round, you were guaranteed a two year contract, or more importantly, two years of NBA pay which is pretty good. The second round draft picks could be signed to entirely unguaranteed contracts where their future was up in the air, and a little too out of the player’s hand to feel that comfortable with.
But with the need for cheap roster spots, the desire to stay young and find diamonds in the rough - think Draymond Green or Chandler Parsons - the idea of using young guys instead of relying on washed-up veterans is higher than ever. With so much being spent on free agents this summer, and more ready to be spent next year when the cap will take another mini-jump, teams are desperate for players with the youth and cheap price tag that will allow them the flexibility to fill out a roster that can contend for championships. So they’ve started experimenting with second round draft picks and their contracts.
The 76ers started giving guaranteed deals to second round picks in the form of extensions early in hopes they’d catch and become commodities for the cheap a few years ago as they punted on winning altogether. The Memphis Grizzles just gave the largest 2nd round contract ever to Deyonte Davis, guaranteeing him a 3 year, $4 million dollar contract. In fact, the first four picks of this year’s second round all have contracts guaranteed for the first two years. Diamond Stone, a Clippers draft pick, has $1.4 million guaranteed in his contract.
So could Caleb Swanigan leave after this year? Absolutely. So could Vincent. So could Haas. Not because they want to or they’re ready. Not because I have any inside information on their wish to jump to the big league. Not because they’ve made the strides NBA GMs wanted them to. But simply because the NBA landscape has changed in such a drastic way that they have a unique form of leverage and a chance to take advantage of it. Second round picks with potential are more valued than ever, and the gamble for the players is lower than ever.
If you can get on with a team now in the second round and have a significant amount of your contract guaranteed? It’s harder than ever to find an answer to ‘Why not?’ when considering your future options.
Yes, it’s too early to speculate on the specifics of one player leaving, but the truth is that the basketball world is different today than it was yesterday. All of a sudden, the second round looks like a much better business move than it did before, and if Purdue actually sustains a tournament run that gets them past their second round, then maybe all three of them will have a hard time saying no to the ultimate basketball dream.