With free agency for the year all but completed, we can now look back at the free agency as a whole and illustrate how the market played out.
Early in this year’s free agency period, Nylon Calculus’s own Andrew Johnson noted in a tweet that the first deals of free agency were coming out closer to where his model had placed them than he expected given the general lack of league-wide money.
He followed that up with saying that he expected that his model would come out too high as the free agency period continued and the money dried up even further.
While I didn’t have access to where the majority of the deals fell relative to Andrew’s model, I did have access to another free agency model, from another Nylon writer, Jacob Goldstein. I also pulled salary data — most notably the time that the tweet announcing the deal occurred — from Sagar Trika’s screenshots of his own personal spreadsheet.
I specifically elected to use the data for when the tweet announcing the deal occurred rather than when the deal was formally signed and announced by the team because the former is closer to the set of information that teams would have operated under. For example, teams knew, generally, that they couldn’t usefully pursue Ed Davis at the time the moratorium began, because he had already agreed to a deal with the Nets. That deal wasn’t actually signed until July 23. But in the 22 days between, every other team in the league operated as though he had been signed there.
So then comparing the time that the deal was signed to how “good” or “bad” the deal was (i.e. the difference in the expected value of the deal according to the model and the actual signed value of the deal) gives the following graph:
And if you’re seeing no visible trend in that graph, it’s not just you. In fact, using a standard linear regression to determine the coefficient of the trend line, the estimated coefficient is not statistically distinguishable from zero, which would imply that changing the time variable didn’t change the average deal quality at all.
That trend, or lack thereof, actually comes as something of a surprise as someone who watched the cap crunch materialize. The last three noteworthy “bad” deals, given to Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart, and Nemanja Bjelica, all were given at a point where no more than one other team could’ve given the same amount of money. No one could’ve matched Jabari’s deal with the Bulls. Only Sacramento, overloaded with point guards, could’ve matched Marcus Smart’s. Only Cleveland, overloaded with forwards, could’ve matched Bjelica’s deal. But also, in defense of those deals, all three were given out as a team’s final use of money, meaning that that their strategic position relative to the cap wasn’t really changed, just their owner’s checkbooks.
But still, in a year where the conditions were unlike anything we’re ever likely to see again, it’s surprising that the teams that were patient with the market gained so little, and the players should make a little more money because of it.