NBA Free Agency: A Simple Formula

The NBA’s off-season shopping spree is set to begin, with all free agents eligible to officially negotiate with interested teams at 12:00AM on July 1. Over the years, there have been sporadic activity as the clock strikes midnight. There have been years when a flurry of signings take place in the opening days and others where the available players took a pause to see the first dominos fall before acting.

While many experts have tried to predict the destination of top available talent (as well as what each team’s appeal is), there is a simple approach that can be used as a guideline on why players decide where to play next season. While a free agent can possess more than one of the following motivations, there will always be one that supersedes the others.

Chances to win:

While this appears to be an obvious point, there will be players that do not see this as critical option one. For veteran players, as the hourglass sand drifts away, the ring is the thing. Such players have already amassed individual accolades, but have come short in playoff or championship success. This is the driver for these players who may compromise a few dollars to achieve the title and limits the list of potential destinations to a handful.

Opportunity to be alpha dog:

Some players entering free agency have been held back (in their own minds) with their current team and are seeking to take the next step to stardom. These players tend to be coming off their rookie contracts and see their current status as not providing the platform they seek to maximize their talents. In many cases, players in this mindset have already achieved team success and see this is their chance to shine. This is where the lottery and borderline playoff teams present such opportunity.

Show me the money:

Disputing the old adage “side doesn’t matter”, there are some free agents that are looking to get the largest paycheck possible and will talk to any suitor that presents this opportunity. This category can easily be included with “alpha dog” as the individual’s potential will garner a higher contract than past performance dictates. Teams that qualify for these player mindsets are the also-rans that have cashed in on a bevy of expiring contracts but do not have the allure of playoff experience to bring them in.

You had me at ‘hello’:

Free agents that have this as motivation are ones that have had a lengthy tenure with their incumbent team; with a winning team has even more appeal. Having a consistent contribution to great collective success with the existing team makes the allure of trying elsewhere or cashing in for one last paycheck seem unimportant.


While reviewing the list of free agents about to flood the market, it can become easier to predict which teams have a realistic chance in fulfilling one or multiple motivating factors. As is the case every season, there will  be a signing or two that seems a bit surprising; but that may be more the team’s ability to sell the player that they have the resources and opportunities available to said player that most do not see. The savvy general managers have the ability to market their team and city as more than initially perceived; and may ultimately go for a lesser motivator than they entered the market with.

By no means is this an exact science; heck if this process was so predictable, many people would give up their day jobs and enter the NBA fray. There is a measure of unpredictability that can arise; which makes this time of the year intriguing. Let the bidding war begin!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s