The players and their agents knew the salary would rise significantly in two years. So why sign four and five-year deals this summer? Former power agent and current Phoenix Suns president Lon Babby has the answer.

While negotiations between the NBA and its TV partners ESPN/ABC and TNT were proprietary this summer, rumors leaked that the TV deals would at least double in value beginning in 2016.

Players knew it. Agents knew it. Since revenues and the salary cap are a function of each other, they knew the money available in two years would dwarf the money they could get this summer. Many projected at least a 30% jump in the salary cap beginning in 2016. A 30% jump in the salary cap means a 30% jump in player salaries on new free agent deals.

Hence, the prevailing expectation was that the better free agents would fight hard for shorter deals with opt-outs in 2 or 3 summers, rather than taking the full 4 or 5 year deals being offered by teams.

NBA front offices knew it as well. In fact, NBA front offices knew the new deal would more than double (it ended up tripling) and the agents most likely had a strong suspicion of the same, if not the facts themselves.

With front offices knowing this, it's no surprise they tried hard to lock up the game's best free agents to 4 and 5 year deals at today's prices because today's good deal is tomorrow's steal.

"It was a factor," Suns president Lon Babby of the looming TV deal. "Everybody saw this was a development coming on the horizon."

So who won this tug of war on contract lengths?

Don't hold your breath. The war never materialized. Of the NBA's very best free agents in their prime, only LeBron James insisted on a deal that expires within two years. LeBron signed a "maximum" deal that expires in two seasons , but also allows him to become a free agent next summer via a player option. It's possible the NBA and the union will agree artificially increase the cap by half the expected required jump in 2016 to "ease in" the increase. If that happens, LeBron can re-sign to a higher salary as early as next summer.

The plan was a sound one: get into the free agent market as often as possible during your prime. Sounds genius, right? If not genius, it at least sounds logical.

But none of the other free agents took the same route. Every one of the free agents in their primes took the most years possible.

Sure, Lance Stephenson took three years from Charlotte. But that was a function of being squeezed out this summer. He accepted $9 million/year (25% less than he wanted on day one) in exchange for hitting the market again in three years. His initial request of the Pacers or any team was a longer-term deal at his asking price.

Chandler Parsons took three years from Dallas, but that was Mark Cuban's doing more than anything. He constructed a contract offer for Parsons in such a way that Houston would refuse to match. That included the one less year, a major trade kicker (15%) and a maximum salary offer that was at least 20% more than Parsons' real worth. Cuban won.

Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Eric Bledsoe and Marcin Gortat all took the full five years to stay with their current team. Each is very likely to still be playing at a high level in two seasons and could have requested even higher salaries, but chose the security.

The other big names took four years, either from free agent offer sheets or deals constructed by "home" teams to slightly out pay what another team could offer without going the full five.

The Suns

The Phoenix Suns had a good summer. Knowing free agent salaries could rise at least 30% in 2016, they locked in four of their six free agents to at least four years at today's rates. Only Anthony Tolliver and Zoran Dragic got shorter deals, but that was due to the Suns offer more than their desires.

  • Isaiah Thomas, 4 years, $27 million, $6.75 million average annual value (AAV), through 2018
  • Markieff Morris, 4 years, $32 million, $8 million AAV, through 2019 (extension)
  • Marcus Morris, 4 years, $20 million, $5 million AAV, through 2019 (extension)
  • Eric Bledsoe, 5 years, $70 million, $14 million AAV, through 2019

All are 24 or 25 years old, just barely entering their primes. Beginning in 2016, with an increased salary cap likely raising the mid-level exception into the $9 million AAV range, those deals will look like steals.

Why would the players commit to such long terms deals?

Suns president Lon Babby was a player agent for nearly two decades, representing the likes of Tim Duncan and Grant Hill for most of their careers.

"As a player," Babby said. "It's a balance between when do you want to end up back in the marketplace and how much of your future do you want to secure? The challenge is finding that balance."

In the Suns players cases, each wanted long term security over the potential of more money in two seasons.

"For the Morris twins, we were prepared to give them the longest deal we could offer," Babby said. "For them, part of it was their desire to secure their future."

But Babby also said there was a special catch with the twins: "For the twins it was also that were the only place that was likely to provide them the opportunity to play together. They wanted it badly, and we wanted it badly too because we know they play better together. We wanted to put that out there for as long as possible. There's no guarantee they will stay here or stay together, but we pointed out the most likely possibility was in Phoenix."

Bledsoe and Thomas wanted long-term security as well. Bledsoe's injury history likely played at least a small part. From the outset of free agency, Bledsoe's camp demanded 5 years at $84 million ($16.8 million AAV). The Suns initially countered with 4 years and $48 million ($12 million AAV) based on what other teams could offer, but eventually relented in a compromise that saw the two sides come closer to the Suns' AAV in exchange for year five.

"For us, the way to resolve the Eric Bledsoe situation was to take advantage of the fifth year which only we could offer," Babby said. "That's what drove that compromise. In Eric's case that fifth year helped."

The NBA is a fickle business. There's only 450 jobs out there each season and only so much money for each player.

"The significance of what events might occur in the future played a role but not a significant role in the negotiations," Babby concluded, regarding the Suns' summer of signings.

Suns owner Robert Sarver indirectly criticized the San Antonio Spurs for keeping five rotation players and their coach at home during a Thursday preseason game in Phoenix. Sarver’s mic-grabbing...

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Welp. Today at the San Antonio Spurs shootaround, head coach Gregg Popovich fired shots back at Suns owner Robert Sarver.

Later, McDonald provided the exact quote: "The only thing that surprises me is that he didn't say it in a chicken suit. I'll just leave it at that."

Popovich is referring to Sarver's antics in 2005 when the Spurs held out their best players during a regular season game when the Suns and Spurs were both on top of the Western Conference heap.

Remember that the Spurs sat out many of their stars during Thursday night's preseason game. Robert Sarver got on the microphone and offered the fans a gift to supplicate their potential disappointment in missing out on the league champions best players. The Suns won the game by 31.

I sincerely doubt that Sarver begrudged the Spurs injured players, like Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter. It's that Popovich, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were healthy but stayed in San Antonio to "rest".

Here's the Sarver apology to fans.

After the game, he told Paul Coro it wasn't really about why the Spurs didn't bring three starters and two of their best bench players. It's that, in totality, it wasn't the Spurs who played the Suns on Thursday.

"I just felt that the fans paid good money for the game and they didn't see the players that they anticipated seeing," Sarver said to Coro. "It was just a gesture to let them know that we appreciate their support and want to do something to compensate for that."

"It's their decision and it's my decision to decide what to do for our fans," Sarver continued. "I'm fine with it."

Will the Suns make room on the roster to keep Earl Barron?

Earl Barron was a free agent training camp invitee who was projected to be a camp body, and help the Suns scrimmage and get ready for the season.  He signed a non-guaranteed contract, along with three other signings; Joe Jackson, Jamil Wilson, and Casey Prather.

Of course, the Suns already have the maximum number of players, 15, signed to the roster under guaranteed deals.  So, there really wasn't much of an opportunity for Phoenix to add another player to the roster

This should have been where this story ended.  However, with Alex Len being injured to start the preseason, Barron has seen extended time playing at the center position.

When asked about his prospect of making the roster and how he felt about his chances overall, Earl responded, "Things have been going good so far.  I've got three more games to continue to prove that I deserve to be in the league and to be on this team."

But he also understands that he still has more to do, and that he must continue to play at the highest level possible in order to make the cut.  So what is his plan going forward?  "Just try to be consistent...Continue to rebound and play solid defense."  He continued,  "Tonight I picked up some pretty stupid fouls, but I'll try to change that these next couple of games, and go out and be efficient shooting the ball while making good decisions on offense and try not to turn it over."

Barron also commented on the unique speed of the Suns' system, and what the team is looking for in that regard, even from their big men.  "It's a fast pace that (Hornacek) tries to make us play at.  I'm slowly adjusting to it.  Every practice and every game I'm continuing to get in better shape.  Sooner or later I'll be able to fly up and down (the court) with the guards."

Of course, this isn't Earl's first time playing in Phoenix either. He was signed to a contract mid-season, but spent only five weeks on the Suns' roster in 2011 before being released.  So what does he think is going to be the difference this time around?  "Last time I came it was the middle of the year.  I was still working out and I was in pretty good shape, but it wasn't like working every day, two or three times a day and getting ready for a training camp."

Barron continued, "Sometimes when you're in the middle of the season, you're kind of caught of guard by 10-day contracts or workouts.  But this time I was already prepared, and I've been preparing myself for months to go somewhere.  Once I found out I was coming here for training camp, I upped my amount of working out, because I knew the exact date, and how much time I had to turn some heads."

It wasn't only Earl's conditioning though that caused him to struggle.  In his first stint with the Suns, Barron shot only 23.5% from the field;  a ridiculously low number, especially for a post player who takes most of their shots at or around the basket.

So what happened?  "Last time I came I was a little hesitant...guys were telling me 'shoot, shoot, you're open, you're open!'.  I was just hesitant a lot of the times."  He continued, "Steve (Nash) was here at the time and making some amazing passes, and I was just kind of caught off guard, and I wasn't ready to shoot a lot."

That hasn't been the case so far this preseason.  Barron has shot the ball much better from the field, including a newly featured jump shot.  In all, he's shot 61.5% over the first four preseason games, hitting eight of his 13 shots thus far.

When Earl was asked about what's made the difference, he attributed it to being better prepared this time, and more confident in his shooting. "I've been shooting the ball so well all summer, and it's just a matter of confidence.  I think every time I shoot it's going to go in."

Of course, the scoring is secondary.  It's really rebounding and defense that the Suns are looking for out of the center position more than anything.

In his first four preseason games, Earl has averaged 5.75 rebounds in 17 minutes of play per game.  In doing so, he has averaged the highest amount of rebounds on the entire team.  While that may be more of an indictment against the Suns' lack of rebounding as a whole, it certainly helps Earl's case that he has been the most productive rebounder in a team who is desperate for help in that area.

Because of this, Earl Barron may very well be playing his way onto the roster.  Suns' Head Coach commented on the matter saying that Earl had stood out the most among all of the new players, and that they would "eat a contract" if necessary to keep the right player on the roster.  That player who's contract they would "eat", most likely, would be Shavlik Randolph--who is already under contract for this year for $1.22 million.

However, Barron still understands that it is still anything but a guarantee.  "I know it's a business and that anything can happen."  He continued, "So it's just a matter of keeping a positive attitude and working hard everyday at practice, and hope that good things happen."

Regardless of what happens, the Suns will likely be making a decision sooner than later, as they will need to have their roster finalized by October 27th.

Randolph or Barron...Who will they choose?

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Will Earl Barron Make the Suns' Final Roster This Season?

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PHOENIX — The talk of preseason has been about the depth of the Phoenix Suns. Between the sixth man and the 11th man, there is not much difference talent-wise on this team. Saturday’s...

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