NBA free agency is all about the market--with limited products (free agents), limited consumers (teams), and limited resources (cap room), it's largely about supply and demand, just like high school economics. But, just like in other businesses, once the market is set on a specific product, it can be very hard for a player and his agent to settle for less than "market value". The Lakers and the Knicks set the market for centers with two early reported agreements, and it's going to define the value of every center that we see signed for the rest of the summer.
Joakim Noah will reportedly sign with the Knicks for 4 years and $72 million--an average annual value of about $18 million. Timofey Mozgov will reportedly sign with the Lakers for 4 years and $64 million--an average annual value of $16 million. Now these players are not All-Stars or even the most reliable of starters, and they've earned massive amounts of money. What does that mean for other players, specifically the Clippers' Cole Aldrich?
Well, it's not a good sign for the Clippers' chances of retaining their backup center, but it is a good sign for Cole's bank account. While Noah and Mozgov both have significantly higher name value and better long-term track records than Cole, they both come with significant warts as well. Mozgov was essentially nonexistent during Cleveland's playoff run this year, despite being their starter for much of the season, and Noah's recent past has been riddled with injuries and decline.
Cole, on the other hand, has now had two solid seasons as a backup, but hasn't yet tasted the minutes and responsibilities of a full-time starting center. That definitely drives his value down, but he's the youngest of the bunch and has been able to stay healthy. Will he reach the mid to upper teens like Mozgov and Noah? I doubt it. But with how the market is looking right now, I wouldn't be surprised to see Cole make eight figures next season, and the most the Clippers can offer him is $5.628 million.
Let's look how his per-minute stats compare to Noah and Mozgov
|Player||Games Played||Minutes Per Game||Points per36||Rebounds per36||Assists per36||Steals per36||Blocks per36|
Now, Aldrich's numbers are better than Mozgov across the board. Sure, he posted better per-minute numbers in less minutes, but at the very least they're comparable, both in build and production. The only reason for Mozgov to be paid significantly more is his consistent production--he's given his teams those stats for the past six seasons, whereas Aldrich hasn't proven himself over an extended period of time. Noah's stats are a different story, as his rebounds and assists are stellar and make up for the scoring differential--but they're tainted by the small sample size of only 29 games played due to injury.
It's clear, even if all of the counterarguments held against Aldrich's claim to a similar contract are exaggerated by front offices, that the Clippers will be well priced out of the 27-year-old's services. Their only hope at this point is that other front offices undervalue Cole and allow him to fall through the cracks, continuing to blow their cap space on other big men, and leaving Cole as an eight-figure center without an eight-figure offer--the last item in stock, with no consumers that have resources left to spend on him.