It turned out the Sixers came up a mere 63 wins short of landing Kevin Durant when the NBA's free agency period began over the weekend. That was the regular-season difference between the Sixers and the Golden State Warriors, the NBA Finals runner-up which has reportedly lured Durant with a two-year, $54.3 million contract.
The free agency windows are open, and there is money flying through, but contracts can't become official until the league year begins Thursday. That is also the date when the terms of the NBA's most recent TV deals take effect, and teams will be so awash in cash that many crazy things will take place.
The salary cap for each team goes from approximately $70 million to $94 million, with another jump to an estimated $110 million in store for the 2017-18 season. The league would have preferred these sharp increases were spread out over a number of seasons, to prevent sudden upheaval, but the players said, "No, we'd like our money now, thank you."
Plus, it's awfully likely the players will opt out of the collective bargaining agreement at this time next year, looking for a bigger bite of the apple, particularly that shiny $24 billion apple delivered by ESPN and Turner. The NBA's take from TV was $930 million last season. Not bad. It goes to $2.6 billion next season. Very not bad.
The players, who somehow feel they are responsible for people wanting to watch the games, have said a strike is a possibility. They thought they took it on the chin in the last set of negotiations and probably have better leverage this time around. That's part of the reason Durant's new deal with the Warriors includes an option to get out of it next summer. If the players prevail and the trough gets deeper, Durant doesn't want to miss anything.
He is a convenient target for critics at the moment, and not all that popular in Oklahoma City, where fried pies are a highlight of the local cuisine (just what it sounds like) and the fans are somewhat fried themselves. The Thunder won 55 games and had a lead of three games to one over the Warriors in the Western Conference finals before failing to close the door. If Thunder fans took any solace when Cleveland did the same thing to the Warriors in the Finals, that satisfaction disappeared Monday as Durant declared his independence from Oklahoma City.
"The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player - as that has always steered me in the right direction," Durant wrote in the Players' Tribune to announce his decision. "But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth."
That would play well in Philadelphia. "Yo, Vinny. I was kinda pissed he's leaving until I realized this gave him the best chance for personal growth."
It's Durant's life and his career, however, and if he wants to go someplace with decent sushi and a ready-made team, that's his business. He got a firsthand lesson in NBA loyalty when his entire franchise up and moved after his rookie year. Durant is one of only three Seattle SuperSonics still active in the league. (Nick Collison and Jeff Green.) When the city balked at improving the basketball arena, the cash-strapped CEO of Starbucks sold the team to a group of Oklahoma City investors, and it was see you latte, Seattle. The league shrugged as the Sonics, despite decent, long-standing fan support, went from the 14th-largest market to the 45th, because business is business. Well, this is Durant's business.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Mavericks have reportedly added Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut as the Warriors make room for Durant. The Sixers liked Barnes, too, but aren't quite at the juncture where a $95 million max contract makes sense. Plus, the Mavericks were sort of average last season but were still 32 wins ahead of the Sixers.
More quietly, the Sixers added guards Sergio Rodriguez, who was almost exclusively a backup when he was in the league from 2007 to 2010, and Jerryd Bayless, who will be playing for his seventh NBA team and has started just 81 of 510 games. Modest additions, perhaps, but they will help, which tells you all you need to know about the Sixers backcourt.
Someday, perhaps elite free agents will gladly skip away from 55-win teams to join the rocketship that is the Philadelphia 76ers, but that day hasn't arrived quite yet. Elsewhere on the NBA landscape, there is the chaos of a gold rush across the land. Teams have wads of newfound money, and it is burning holes in their pockets. The Sixers have as much or more than any of them but haven't been able to give it away. The lesson is that it took a few years to get this ugly, and, for free agents, it might take just as long to get pretty.
It's OK. We can wait, but a little of the craziness would be appreciated. Maybe we weren't expecting Kevin Durant, but the Golden State Warriors shouldn't have been, either.