For those who haven’t memorized the markets for RPGs long ago, here’s an update:
The Los Angeles Lakers kicked off the 2016 off-season by handing Mozgov, a light-scoring great man, a $ 64 million four-year deal. The contract immediately became the talk of the basketball world. Thanks to a lucrative new television deal, the salary cap had increased by more than 30 percent that summer, the largest single-season increase in NBA history. Everyone who was anyone had the space for the hood. But 16 million dollars a year for a second future? It seemed an outlier.
Salaries are rising but no one foresaw … this. Even Mozgov didn’t think he would earn that much. He was so excited about more than triple his income that he drove from Miami to Orlando that day just to take his he agent to a celebratory dinner.
But outliers are outliers only if all parties recognize them as outliers. Otherwise, they can quickly become the norm. And that’s what happened in the summer of 2016.
Agents use similar player contracts to their clients as points of comparison when negotiating with teams, and because Mozgov signed so quickly – right after free agency started at 12:01 – his newly minted contract became a basic agreement for many around the world the NBA. Sure, teams may be shouting about how a reserve center shouldn’t make that much money, but the whole league had an influx of cap space and felt the pressure to use it.
Meanwhile. agents may point to the Lakers’ new center as justification for why their backup big man should also be paid.
It didn’t take long for the Mozgov Agreement to become fundamental.
That off-season, Bismack Biyombo received $ 72 million over four years from the Orlando Magic. Dwight Howard, who was viewed a little more favorably at the time, signed for $ 71 million over three years with the Atlanta Hawks. Ian Mahinmi got a Mozgovo contract from the Washington Wizards: four years, $ 64 million. Later in the fall, Gorgui Dieng signed an extension with the Minnesota Timberwolves for – you guessed it – $ 64 million over four years.
Each team ended up regretting every purchase. But this is not the point. Mozgov’s contract was an outlier until it was.
So what does Timofey Mozgov, who hasn’t played an NBA game in four years, have to do with the New York Knicks or the NBA today?
The same dynamic that passed the league after his signing is happening right now, but in the commercial market. A mammoth comeback for Rudy Gobert has restored the bottom line for someone like Knicks fixation Donovan Mitchell, and now the NBA is at a standstill.
For years, teams have been reluctant to trade unprotected first-round players with players who weren’t transformative on their own, but times have changed.
The Atlanta Hawks gave the San Antonio Spurs Two unprotected first-round picks for All-Star Dejounte Murray, which meant the Minnesota Timberwolves had to give the Utah Jazz three unprotected firsts for Gobert, which means the Jazz want even more for a three-time All-Star and offensive hub, Mitchell, which means the Brooklyn Nets want all your draft picks, all your good players, your Hulu login information and your first … child born to Kevin Durant.
The biggest sign of a lopsided transaction in any trade – from the NBA to finance to anything else – is that it triggers inflation so massive that it locks up the entire market. This appears to be what is happening in this post-Gobert era.
Ultimately, there is a point of diminishing returns, a time when the package that this climb imposes on a star is objectively meaningless. It is then that the market collapses on itself. The championship could be at that point now. If not, it’s on the verge. Durant is probably the greatest player in the world, but it’s not worth giving up everything you have for him because you end up with Durant and nothing, and what brings you?
Meanwhile, the Knicks are at the heart of it all. The Jazz want to strip them in a Mitchell swap. So far, New York has no plans to dismantle its future.
In a normal offseason, perhaps an unlimited free agent lingers until this late summer. This was anything but normal. And he’s hitting more than just the Knicks, Mitchell and the rest of his suitors.
Various teams are waiting for what might happen with Durant. They won’t make a move until they know they can’t acquire it anymore. Kyrie Irving’s future remains in limbo because of this.
An organization like the Indiana Pacers may be waiting for a move from Russell Westbrook as they have reportedly discussed the possibility of acquiring him. But they may want the market to open up again before they do as a deal may come with Myles Turner and they may not want to send Turner to Los Angeles because, as far as they know, a Durant suitor could offer more than they could get today for. Turner if that suitor knew he no longer had a chance to become a former MVP.
Front office leaders are people too. Using Gobert’s yield as leverage doesn’t have to be just a trading tactic. Sometimes, such strategies are also PR. Teams aren’t exactly waiting for the audience to scream about how a better player came in less in a trade than a lesser one.
Even Mozgov did not enter free will six years ago thinking he would earn so much. And as far as we know, the Jazz did not expect to receive three unprotected first rounds, another protected in the top five, a 21-year-old who had just gone to the first round less than a month ago and a first-round swap along with various useful spin players for Gobert. But it happened. And now, Utah has set its Mitchell price as if the Gobert package wasn’t an outlier. The Nets did the same with Durant.
It doesn’t have to stay that way forever. Mitchell’s situation could become unsustainable in Utah, which could mean the Jazz will lower the asking price. They may worry that Mitchell will win them a few too many autumn games, which could cost them lottery night, and decide to distribute it before the season starts, whatever happens. The Knicks could feel the pressure of a three-time All-Star staring them in the face and giving in too.
Eventually, somehow, somehow, the thread of the transaction will go on again. But for now there has been a mozgovification of the commercial market, and it is surprising how long it will last.
(Top photo by Donovan Mitchell: Wendell Cruz / USA Today)