How the NBA Got to Where It Is: Summer of 2016

Over the past two years, the NBA has undergone a series of dramatic changes due to increased player mobility. The league has seen 13 of the 25 players selected to the 2016 All-Star Game change teams. In this series, we will examine how the league got to where it is today with each blockbuster transaction, starting with the wild summer of 2016.

July 2016 is a month that will live in infamy for most teams in the NBA, as many teams dished out bloated contracts following a surge in the league’s salary cap. Due to a $24 billion television deal, the salary cap went from $70 million in 2015 to $94 million in 2016. This development left almost every team with at least $20 million to spend.

While all 30 teams had money to spend, there weren’t enough players who were worthy of the dollars they would be receiving. Many teams were quick to re-sign their own players, as the Memphis Grizzlies, Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons, and Portland Trail Blazers were quick to retain franchise stars such as Mike Conley, Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond, and CJ McCollum to large extensions, respectively.

With budding stars like Beal, Drummond, and McCollum off the board, teams were looking for other free agents to take the money that was burning a hole in owners’ pockets.

There are countless inflated deals that teams regretted signing almost immediately, but there are a few that stand out as particularly atrocious.

After losing out on stars Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge in previous offseasons, the Los Angeles Lakers were determined to not come up empty-handed again. Unable to even get a meeting with prized free agent Kevin Durant, the Lakers signed Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng for a combined $136 million dollars. These deals looked absurd at the time they were signed, and have only gotten worse as the Lakers were up against the cap and endured four seasons in the lottery.

Other big men who were paid handsomely by big market teams were Joakim Noah and Ian Mahinmi, who both inked four-year deals with the New York Knicks and Washington Wizards respectively. Neither player has made any sort of positive impact for his team as the NBA has shifted to smaller lineups. Additionally, the Knicks and Wizards have both been limited in free agency with those two contracts weighing down the books.

The effects of the increased salary cap were not just limited to teams in large cities, as smaller market teams like the Memphis Grizzlies and Orlando Magic made crippling moves by signing Chandler Parsons and Bismack Biyombo to be franchise cornerstones. Parsons has battled injuries throughout his tenure in Memphis, and Biyombo has since been shipped out of Orlando in 2018 in a swap of albatross contracts, including the aforementioned Timofey Mozgov.

The deals of 2016 still have a lasting impact on the NBA today as the cap has since leveled out and teams cannot spend money on impact free agents. The salary cap jump not only hurt teams who were looking to spend disposable money, but it also hurt worthy free agents in subsequent years as few teams had any cap space to improve their rosters.

Most of all, 2016 provided a major lesson for teams across the league. Just because a team has money, it should still spend it wisely because the consequences could cripple an organization for years.

Photo: Rocky Widner/Getty Images


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