If the first 48 hours of free agency have demonstrated anything, it's that there's little connection between the markets for different players. Each free agent's contract is the product of a unique confluence of market forces, with value to the team a relatively small factor. So retire the concept that if one player is worth X, another must be worth Y.
The latest evidence against the theory of market value came with Kyle Lowry reportedly agreeing Wednesday night to stay with the Toronto Raptors on a four-year, $48 million contract. Amid the sea of financial excess that has been the first two days of free agency, the Lowry contract stands out as an island of sanity.
Consider this: Had the Raptors been proposed a multiteam trade that netted them Ben Gordon and Avery Bradley for Lowry at the trade deadline, their front office would have muted the phone to cover their laughter. Yet Bradley ($7.2 million) and Gordon ($4.5 million) will make nearly a million dollars more than Lowry next season, presuming standard 7.5 percent raises on the contracts for both Bradley and Lowry.
Given his age (he won't turn 24 until November) and experience as a starter, the four-year, $32 million contract the Boston Celtics reportedly gave Bradley is justifiable, even if he's probably best cast as a third guard backing up both positions. Bradley's versatility and defense will make him a useful player in the worst-case scenario, which assumes he doesn't develop at all.
Some of the other contracts handed out to guards are tougher to explain. New Detroit Pistons guard Jodie Meeks cashed in a career season with the Los Angeles Lakers, getting a raise to nearly four times the $1.55 million he made last season on a reported three-year, $19 million deal. And even with a non-guaranteed second season, the reported two-year, $9 million deal the Orlando Magic gave Gordon is preposterous given that Gordon has rated better than replacement level just once in the past four seasons. Paying Gordon anything more than the minimum is basically lighting money on fire.
There have been a few bargains here and there. The San Antonio Spurs took advantage of Patty Mills' rotator cuff injury, which will require surgery that our Marc Stein reports will sideline him through January, to lock Mills up to a reasonable three-year, $12 million deal.
And then there's Lowry, who projects to be as valuable over the next three seasons as any free agent outside of LeBron James. At 28, Lowry is in his prime and coming off a season in which he had a case as one of the NBA's top 10 players statistically. Yet the market Lowry hoped for apparently never materialized.
Each team in the Lowry pursuit could justify not matching the Raptors' offer. Every dollar counts for the Houston Rockets, whose cap is largely consumed by max contracts for stars James Harden and Dwight Howard, and the Los Angeles Lakers must preserve their precious cap space for the summer of 2016, when Kobe Bryant's extension comes off their books. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat are busy figuring out exactly how much money they'll have to spend before recruiting players they might not be able to afford.
Nonetheless, it seems probable one of those teams -- or another with cap space -- will regret not making a harder push for Lowry given his reasonable price tag. Perhaps Lowry's egregious omission from the All-Star team worked against him in free agency, since his new team couldn't sell to fans or even management adding an All-Star to the roster. My research on Lance Stephenson's All-Star bid found that free agents coming off an All-Star appearance consistently make more than players with otherwise identical statistics.
For now, Lowry's suitors will find a dwindling guard market in free agency. Besides Dwyane Wade, who will surely return to the Miami Heat, just four other guards remain from my top 25 free agents by the numbers: Eric Bledsoe of the Phoenix Suns and Isaiah Thomas of the Sacramento Kings, who are restricted, and Stephenson and Miami Heat point guard Mario Chalmers. That could stimulate the market for Stephenson as he seeks to improve on the five-year, $44 million offer he's reportedly received from the Indiana Pacers.