NBA Free Agency: Definitely Not Book Learning

In the society of 2018, the best word I can think of to describe expectations is instantaneous. In a matter of moments, the most impactful news can travel around the world. In a mere snap of the fingers, we can be transported to an exotic locale or the finest dining establishment — all through our friends' photos. In less than 60 seconds, you can ingest all of these items and much more. As I write this, the annual NBA free agency market hasn't even been open for 24 hours. In some ways, though, is it already closing up shop?

I know that it's just the beginning of the resettlement of players in new homes. I know that many big-name pros are in the process of figuring out the next destination to continue their careers. However, a sense to an end of a business year crept into my mind after Sunday night's news regarding the most coveted chip in this year's high-stakes game.

Now, I may be wrong in my assessment. Deals could easily have moved this fast in prior years. But it feels like I'm learning how quickly this cycle can churn up, whip everything into a frenzy, then fizzle out, leaving behind new hope, hurt feelings, and a storm of coin.

I'm starting to learn that the money is stupid ... and that's a compliment. This day was coming. We've already seen two takers of contracts worth, in total, over $200 million (Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry). None of the contracts agreed to on Sunday approach the staggering numbers in total. They do, though, stack up quite nicely on average.

According to the website Spotrac, in base salary, both Westbrook and Curry average north of $40 million a season. They're the only two athletes in American major professional team sports to currently do that. With the new contracts offered up, however, the number of player making at or above the following numbers (for 2018) stands at:

$35,000,000: 5 $30,000,000: 12 $25,000,000: 27

In MLB, 13 players make $25 million or more (Zack Grienke leads the way with just shy of $34.5 mil). Yes, there is a hard salary cap in the NFL, but only 6 players hit that mark (Matt Ryan's new deal gets him up to $30 mil, if the length of the contract holds up as is). The NHL's top annual salary belongs to Connor McDavid at $12.5 million each season. Many items factor into the varying numbers. At the same time, the recent explosion of the Association's overall coffers, and the residual trickle down to the superstar players, is simply fascinating to watch.

I'm starting to learn that we, the fans and media, are, en masse, foolish. Every year, we make speculations on which player will end up where and playing in what city for whom. More often than not, the egg on our faces doesn't even get to drip off before we stick our collective necks out for more punishment.

Last summer, one of the biggest questions revolved around the ability for James Harden and Chris Paul to co-exist in the same Rockets backcourt. Heck, it only took half the season (with help from a pretty dope State Farm Insurance campaign) to prove the naysayers (including myself) wrong.

During those same summer months, Paul George made his intentions known that he wanted out of Indianapolis. That led to his being dealt to Oklahoma City for what many believed was a one-season stay. With the new summer coming 'round, most of us still held on to the fact that George would continue his trek out West.

Little did we know that PG13 would learn to love his time in the Sooner State. Little did we figure that he would enjoy playing alongside the triple-double machine Westbrook has forged himself into. And little did we think that a star-studded party and a max contract would provide the backdrop for the star wing to hunker down on the Southern Plains.

In all honesty, George's four-year deal to stay in OKC was the most surprising thing he could have done. Should have seen it coming from a mile away.

I'm starting to learn that you can't blink your eyes to even the most obvious of perceptions. The signs seemed to focus the journey of LeBron James on one specific destination. Maybe thoughts of James heading to Philadelphia, Boston, Houston, or returning to Cleveland were just illusions. But over the last few weeks, the Lakers appeared to emerge as the front runner in the sweepstakes to land the King. So, the fact that James agreed to head to L.A. isn't stunning. It's the expedited nature of this announcement that caught folks off-guard.

You figured that LeBron and his team would hunker down in their "Decision Cave" for a few days, take a few meetings, and see how the early returns shook out. At least we'd better know the maneuvers different teams may take to try and entice him. However, with no shot at getting Paul George and no idea whether they can trade for Kawhi Leonard, the Lakers were able to convince James (at least somewhat) that any path under their organization would ultimately lead to title contention.

We've learned how LeBron molded himself into a champion. We've learned how LeBron turned a struggling franchise into a champion. Now, we may learn how LeBron can restore the luster to one of the league's biggest champions. It's just the latest chance to continue our path of learning. We're constantly doing it in life. The NBA free agency period always seems to offer a few annual lessons that provide opportunities to learn about the tendencies of these pro athletes. Or, better yet, maybe we should learn to stop speculating and just let the process work itself out.

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