Kevin Durant is one of the NBA's best players and a recent league MVP. So while his decision to leave Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors may have come as a surprise, the fact that he signed a contract in which he will make him the maximum permissible next year under league rules was par for the course.
But when Mike Conley, a good player but no all-star, also received a maximum contract with the Memphis Grizzlies for an average of more than $30 million over the next five years, it raised many eyebrows.
This off-season has seen a flood spending hit the NBA's free agency market, the result of a 2014 television deal the league negotiated worth roughly $24 billion over nine years, which kicks in this upcoming season. The new deal means each NBA team will have a salary cap of $94 million this upcoming season, compared with last season's record-setting $70 million.
NBA free agents have already negotiated deals worth approximately $3 billion, nearly equal to the GDP of the Maldives. But while the Maldives has a population of about 400,000, fewer than 75 NBA players have completed deals, according to ESPN's free-agent tracker.
The booming amount of spending points to the economic health of the NBA, sports business experts say, but some of the surprising deals point to a few quirks in the market that are the result of the league's current Collective Bargaining Agreement. Both the league and players' association can opt out of the CBA this December, but either way experts largely expect the heavy spending to continue.
"This is the new norm in the NBA," said David Berri, a sports economist and professor at Southern Utah University. "You're seeing more and more players get these max contracts."
Conley is not the only player to get a surprisingly large deal this off-season. Hassan Whiteside, who was playing in the NBA development league less than two years ago, also received a head-scratching maximum contract this past week. Initial reports of Evan Turner's $70 million contract also perplexed some onlookers given that Turner spent the past season largely in a reserve role.
Experts said the increasing size of the deals is a byproduct of the league's CBA, which mandates teams spend a minimum on players every year. As revenue increases, so does the minimum.
"It's less an aberration and more it's what the contract requires," said Rick Burton, a professor of sports management at Syracuse University. "When the pie grows, everybody benefits."