As NBA teams go through the annual season of courting overpaid athletes to come play a game for them instead of another city's team, it occurred to me that none of us really know what these players are thinking. Maybe some are in it solely for the money, maybe others want to be on a team where they have the best shot at winning championships, but choosing where to spend a significant portion of a career is a huge decision.
So how would I handle it in their place?
The Elephant in the Room: Making that Money Yo
Alright, let's go ahead and get the obvious factor out of the way. By most reports, Carmelo Anthony is getting offers ranging from somewhere around $16 million a year, the supposed Dallas offer, to the max of close to $26 million a year from his current team, the New York Knicks. If that's my range, then money is the absolute last thing that is going to factor into my decision, even taking into account that a decent chunk of that money is taxed out.
First, who can't live comfortably on several million dollars a year? Second, If I'm already making a minimum of $16 million a year, I can't fathom what a few extra million a year is going to buy me that is more important than these other upcoming factors.
(All the get-your-money, max contract, Kobe-defenders feel free to shout at me in the comments)
Now that I've tipped my hand that money isn't really a consideration for Bailey Rogers, NBA Superstar, let's talk about how I would narrow down my choices to a handful of suitors. First rule of free agency in 2014: don't talk to the Lakers. Seriously, if you don't have a coach and you're taking up like half your cap space on an aging ball-hog of a superstar who is coming off two major injuries, I'm not interested. And I really couldn't care less than you won a million championships before I was even born.
If I'm a LeBron/Melo level NBA player, here are my priorities: winning, play style, comfort with the organization, and then a couple of secondary considerations that I'll get to in a minute.
Priority 1: Winning
Sought after NBA free agents talk all the time about how they want to go to a team with a winning culture. Yet they take interviews with teams that have a clear record of not doing that, like the New York teams. The Knicks have consistently had one of the worst front offices in the league for the past couple of decades, so if Melo goes back there, let's not pretend it's because he believes in Phil Jackson's magic powers or Derek Fisher's coaching prowess to suddenly make that a winning organization. We all know what it's really about:
When I say that I want to join an organization with a winning culture, I mean it. This means, at minimum, the organization must have a proven quality coach and a front office with a clear vision.
Honestly, if you could combine Dallas and Houston, that would be the perfect front office to court Bailey Rogers, NBA Superstar. Dallas has one of the best coaches in the NBA and a clear (albeit at times somewhat misguided) commitment to winning, while Houston has an intelligent, analytics-driven front office that knows how to work both the basketball court and the CBA. These things are very appealing to me if I'm an NBA free agent.
Priority 2: Play Style
It isn't enough to just have a winning culture. There has to be a fit. For example, if I'm Carmelo Anthony, I don't want to play next to another shot-chucker like Kobe. I want a co-star who is more of a facilitator, plus some quality defensive role players around me.
Organizations that want to meet with me have to be able to articulate how their team meshes with my playing style, maximizing my strengths and covering up my weaknesses. If I'm joining a team, they have to be able to explain exactly how they see us making yearly playoff runs. And it better be a more intelligent strategy than "hur dur you can pick your own coach and co-stars."
(Sorry but I'm not sorry that I really like mocking the Lakers)
Finally, there are some secondary considerations that might help me choose between two or three quality organizations. First, do I like the city? Does my family?* The Bucks can have all the cap space in the world and a great coach, but I really don't want to live in Milwaukee half the year.
* Family is an important and under-discussed aspect of a free agent's decision. I don't mean to trivialize family by placing it in my "secondary considerations" discussion. But a professional athlete's family knows the drill, right?
Speaking of the Bucks, no one looks good in red and green. If I'm going to be on billboards and TV ads in uniform, it'd be nice if that uniform didn't look like a complete disaster. And if a team wants to undertake a refreshing modernization of their look to usher in their new era, that's a major plus (assuming it looks more like the Hornets or the Nets and less like the Pelicans).
Returning to the money issue, I really don't get how making a few extra million dollars on top of my already multi-million dollar salary would sway a free agent away from all these things. Personally, if I'm making millions wherever I play, I want a work environment I enjoy, teammates I get along with, a front office I believe in, and a city I appreciate living in. Money cannot buy peace of mind or happiness.
I hear people throw around the word "respect" a lot when defending players who chase max contracts. I don't get that. NBA team pursuing me, you want to show me respect? Don't throw a lot of money at me; prove you can build a championship roster around me. You tell me that you respect Carmelo Anthony more than Tim Duncan, and I will tell you that you have some odd priorities. If you ask me, respect is earned on the court. You want my attention? Promise me championship rings and all-NBA selections, not some extra spending money.
But maybe that's just me.