The news regarding an NBA Collective Bargaining agreement has pretty closely mirrored Seattle weather lately. Lots of clouds, dreary and hard to predict, but in the end everything clears up and its going to be pretty damn nice.
After months of positive talk turned into several weeks of posturing, threats, and general negativity about the ability to reach an agreement without a lockout it appears that things have taken a turn for the better. Both sides reported yesterday that the general terms of a new 6 year deal have been reached.
This is great news for Sonics fans because our team has so much up in the air. With 9 free agents coming off a 52 win season it would have been gut wrenching for the die hard fans to live with 6-12 weeks of no-news and no idea who would return for next season. Now that it looks like we will have an agreement here are my quick thoughts as to what general terms we are hoping for:
1) A higher salary cap: This is a double edged sword. The Sonics have positioned themselves such that they will be under the salary cap significantly this offseason. How far under they are will have a very direct impact on their ability to re-sign both their own free agents and make key additions to the team. We all remember Seattle's last brush with cap space in which the best they could do was offer Calvin Booth $1 more than the mid-level to pry him away from Dallas. The downside of a higher cap is that a couple of other key teams, notably Cleveland may have more space to pursue Seattle Free agent Ray Allen.
2) A split mid-level exception: Seattle is crossing their fingers that the league will split the "mid-level exception" into two exceptions as reported. The Sonics have several free agents likely to garner mid-level type deals and a split from $5.5 to $3.7 and $1.7 would make it much harder for teams to bid on Jerome James, Antonio Daniels, Reggie Evans, and Vladi Radmanovic. If the exceptions are split it becomes much more likely that Daniels returns and a Sign and Trade for Jerome James to return some value may result. Cleveland is again the team that could throw a monkey wrench into Sonic plans. They will have the cap room to offer Daniels the contract he wants using cap space regardless of how this exception is structured.
3) Shorter deals: Its been reported as almost a certainty that contract lengths will be shortened from 7 years with your own team and 6 years with a new team to 6 & 5 respectively. While not as substantial as the 5 & 4 limits the league was hoping for they will make an impact on teams abilities to lure away free agents. The difference in contracts that a home team can offer is now 20%. For example Antonio Daniels may get a 5 year $25 million dollar offer from the Cavs, but Seattle could offer 6 years $30 million deal with the same per year salary if they chose. If you combine this with the possibility of a lower annual increase in salary, and potentially a 3 or 4 year limit on mid-level deals then again Seattle's chances of retaining thier own players increases substantially.
The last time Seattle had cap room of note they were blindsided by the salary cap for that year. The team had projected a $3 million increase when no increase occured. As a result instead of having $8 million to lure a prime free agent they had $5 million and wound up with Calvin Booth. Since then other teams willingness to throw the $5 million mid-level at free agents has in general prevented more frugal teams like Seattle from adding or retaining players. This year they're hoping for a pleasant suprise. In general any terms of the CBA which increase options for teams with cap space, and those which decrease the power of the mid-level will help the Sonics this year and likely in years to come.