At $9K a second, free agency has been fast and furious |

At $9K a second, free agency has been fast and furious

Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti pauses as he answers a question when addresses the media regarding Kevin Durant's announcement that he will sign with the Golden State Warriors, Monday, July 4, 2016, in Oklahoma City. (Kurt Steiss/The Oklahoman via AP)
AP | The Oklahoman

MIAMI — The math is staggering, as everyone knew it would be. In the first 96 hours of free agency, NBA teams committed about $3 billion toward contracts that can start becoming finalized later this week.

That’s almost $9,000 a second. Every second. For four days.

And for all the dominoes that fell between July 1 and July 4 — Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City for Golden State, Al Horford leaving Atlanta for Boston, Mike Conley staying in Memphis with what would be the richest contract in NBA history — there are still plenty of fireworks remaining, most notably what will LeBron James do with his next deal and if Dwyane Wade will stay in Miami or wear another team’s uniform for the first time in his pro career.

As expected, the unexpected has reigned so far.

“The NBA and other businesses, they’re not created equally,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said Monday, a few hours after Durant announced that he was taking a two-year deal with Golden State that would be worth $54 million if he plays it out. There is a player option for the second season, the AP was told by a person familiar with the terms.

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Presti could have said those words last summer and they still would have been accurate, though not as accurate as right now.

The league’s about-to-kick-in $24 billion television contract sparked a jump in the salary cap from $70 million last season to just over $94.1 million for the coming year, and that enormous increase created a market that was unpredictable to say the least.

Conley’s deal will be worth $153 million over five years. Joakim Noah is a two-time All-Star, a former All-NBA first-team player and a former defensive player of the year; he got four years and $72 million from the New York Knicks. That’s basically the same deal that Kent Bazemore — a career 6.4-point-per-game scorer — got to stay with the Atlanta Hawks.

If looking for rhyme and reason to these deals, good luck.

“Given the spike in the cap and given the amount of money that’s in the system, free agency is going to move faster this year,” Presti said.

It sure has.

Hassan Whiteside made about $980,000 last year in Miami; he’ll sign a contract this week that will call for him to make $98 million over the next four seasons. And that might not even be the league’s biggest right-place, right-time success story right now — with that distinction likely going to Whiteside’s probably-soon-to-be-former teammate in Miami, guard Tyler Johnson.

A year ago at this time, Johnson went home from the Orlando summer league with a broken jaw and a partially guaranteed contract that left him with a most uncertain future. On Thursday, he’ll sign an offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets that will assure him of making $50 million over the next four years and finally allow his mother to retire.

Master Sgt. Jennifer Johnson of the California Air National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing has shed a few tears in the last couple days. So has her son, undrafted two years ago out of Fresno State and who went from the D-League to the Heat to $50 million (and Miami is almost certainly going to be unable to match the deal). When he got the numbers, Tyler Johnson was actually overcome by nausea.

“It’s so surreal to me,” Johnson said in a telephone interview Monday night. “It hasn’t registered. It definitely hasn’t registered. … I definitely thought he had the potential to increase his salary, but I never thought he would have multiple teams looking at him like they did. We love the Heat, we love the coaches, we love Pat Riley, we love everyone. It’s tough but it’s very exciting.”

Durant’s departure for Golden State has been the major development so far, and it’s tough to see anything topping that one — no matter what James or Wade decide to do. For all the billions spent elsewhere, the $26 million or so that Durant will make next year figures to make a Warriors team that won a record 73 games this past regular season even more daunting.

Going forward, Wade will probably be the biggest name whose destination for next season remains unclear.

He has a $40 million, two-year offer from Miami, though he hasn’t accepted it — which indicates that he won’t. There’s dozens of other deals leaguewide to be made, and there’s plenty of eyes on San Antonio to see if five-time champion Tim Duncan will retire. Many expect he will.

“This has been by far the most challenging few weeks in my professional life,” Durant wrote on Players’ Tribune, in announcing his move to Golden State. “I understood cognitively that I was facing a crossroads in my evolution as a player and as a man, and that it came with exceptionally difficult choices.”

At $9,000 a second, teams have been making some difficult choices as well.

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