Three months from today, July 10, is the end of the moratorium period. It is that "dead zone" after the NBA draft that lets teams get their ducks in a row and start looking toward which free agents will help them rebuild or reload. On July 11, after what will be about nine solid days of rumors and source-driven "[player] intends to sign with [enter team name here]," players will actually begin to sign.
This summer, "[player]" was supposed to be "[game-changing superstar]," but two of those guys, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, each picked up their player options rather than opt out. That leaves Deron Williams as the only player at that superstar level left, which means other guys will undoubtedly slide in.
Enter Eric Gordon and Roy Hibbert.
Gordon is a very good player who has been a bit underrated because he played on the Clippers before anyone really cared to watch them. This year, he has been dealing with injuries, which, coupled with playing for the small-market and underachieving Hornets, leaves him pretty far off of fans' radar.
Hibbert is establishing himself as part of the next group of very good big men. In four years, he has shown a steady improvement and has shown that when he is playing his best, it has a ripple effect on the entire Indiana Pacers team.
Both are in the exact same situation: They are both in the fourth year of their rookie contracts, making them restricted free agents going into the summer. That means each of their teams will have the ability to match any offers the player accepts, keeping them in their respective cities.
And with the Hornets and Pacers in different situations, each will have a different set of circumstances governing the same difficult decision: What do we do when some team throws a LOT of money at these guys?
Let's be clear about this: Teams have been gearing up for 2012 for a few years now. They have seen this summer as the potential free agent gold mine, and they have set themselves up to try to take advantage of that. And just because two of the main targets are gone doesn't mean the cash spigots will dry up. If there is one thing NBA GM's cannot handle, it is having a lot of money at their disposal.
They WILL spend it.
The Boston Celtics, for example, have structured most of their contracts to expire this summer. They will be approximately $20 million under the cap AND they still have not used their amnesty provision (and I am not saying they would, I am just saying they could). They are a recent champion, they have been a contending team for a few years, and they are currently threatening to overtake the third seed in the East. For them, this summer was a chance to reload.
Then take the Cavs, who will also be flush with cash. They have hit rock bottom and will be a lottery team once again. They have Kyrie Irving, the likely rookie of the year, and Anderson Varejao. But beyond that, they are a rebuilding team that will have another potentially great young player and wad of cash. A guy like Gordon or Hibbert could be a nice young-yet-still-veteran piece to go along with the rest of the youth.
Which is why things like this get bandied about:
The Cavs will be more than $20 million under the cap this summer. Don't expect them to go crazy in free agency. General Manager Chris Grant thinks the team should be built via the draft. With that being said, don't be shocked if they consider shooting guard Eric Gordon and possibly center Roy Hibbert if the two become free agents.
There are a couple of variables when it comes to Gordon and Hibbert and where they call home in the fall.
First is a matter of worth. What are they really worth on the open market in relation to the rest of the NBA? Gordon has shown the ability to be, at the very least, a great second scoring option and more likely a multiple-All Star primary scoring option. Hibbert has been solid, which is enough to get you paid more than you are worth at his height.
The second variable is the aggressiveness of general managers around the league. Will, say, the Celtics' Danny Ainge overpay either of those guys in an effort to create a contract too rich for the Hornets' or Pacers' blood? Will Chris Grant do something similar to try to make one of these guys a cornerstone along with Kyrie Irving?
And then there is always the question of whether the Pacers or Hornets will match an offer sheet for either of them? They both have a lot of cap space as well, and both can exceed that cap to sign their players thanks to the Bird Rights clause.
The Pacers are set up nicely right now with Paul George and Darren Collison locked up cheaply for a couple of years. But is there a price for Hibbert that will be too much for Larry Bird to consider? Or does he have enough faith in Hibbert to match a big deal knowing the deal would be worth it?
The Hornets ... well ... they have a lot more to work out. Primarily, they need actual owners to make these kinds of decisions. Otherwise, the league is making the "should we match this offer for Gordon" decision and that is just a mess waiting to happen because the league will be deciding the fates of other teams (again) by deciding where yet another high-quality player may or may not play.
Gordon and Hibbert won't get much say in the matter. That's the downside to restricted free agency. But they'll get a taste of the good life. They will know what it is like to be wined and dined. Because they WILL be wined and dined.
They might not have been the prettiest girls at the dance, but they are the prettiest ones left. And we all know what happens when it gets late and the options start dwindling.
The options that are left look a lot better. Maybe Gordon and Hibbert should send Dwight and CP3 a gift basket or something for making this all possible.
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