Raptors Playoff Hero to Free Agent Frenzy Patient Zero

Frank Gunn/AP

NBA free agency is getting out of control, and Raptors fans don’t have to look far to realize it.

Frank Gunn/AP

NBA free agency is getting out of control, and Raptors fans don’t have to look far to realize it.

It didn’t take much reading of the tea leaves to predict, but Bismack Biyombo will not be returning to the Toronto Raptors.

And neither would I if I was offered the absurd $72 million contract that the big man signed with the Orlando Magic this past weekend.

Biyombo is one of many free agents this offseason who cashed in on the increased salary cap, but he is the only casualty the Raptors suffered during this tectonic shift in how NBA players are compensated.

The 6’9 fan favorite stole the hearts of Raptors fans with monster performances in the 2016 playoffs which included a combined 40 rebounds in back-to-back wins against the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Despite coming up with big games in relief for an injured Jonas Valanciunas, Biyombo only averaged 6.2 points per game in the postseason, which was a slight bump from his career high 5.5 points he averaged in the season (ranked 43rd among the 48 qualifying centers). The 9.4 rebounds he averaged in the playoffs would rank him tied for tenth alongside Paul Millsap, but his season average of 8.0 did not crack the top 15.

Making less than $3 million with Toronto last year, the five-year-vet will now rake in over $16 million this year, and an average of $18 million over the next four years.

This makes the 23-year-old the 16th highest paid player among active centers and power forwards.

To put this in perspective, he is making more cash this season than Draymond Green, Serge Ibaka, Nikola Vucevic, and Valanciunas. All four of these players outscored Biyombo significantly, and with the exception of Ibaka, all out-rebounded him as well.

Ibaka, who also joined the Magic this offseason, is a three-time All-Defensive First Team star. Vucevic averaged 18.2 points last season, good for fourth among centers, while racking up a respectable 8.9 rebounds for the Magic. Essentially, if the Raptors signed Biyombo to this same deal, he would be higher paid than the more productive talent in front of him; now he is the highest paid, yet least proven, in a crowded Orlando front court.

Biyombo's new teammates, Nikola Vucevic and Serge Ibaka

Biyombo’s new teammates, Nikola Vucevic and Serge Ibaka. – Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports

I am not saying the Magic made some horrific mistake; I am not saying that Biyombo will fall off the map and be an absolute bust. I am saying that it is impossible for him to be a value player when he is getting paid more than Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph, and the aforementioned Green.

But a player’s worth is not determined by their skill, only by what someone is willing to pay. And as a result of the massive TV deals the NBA has accrued, teams are willing to pay a lot.

There is no middle ground it appears. You are either a max-player making close to $27 million, which Mike Conley has proven is not too difficult, or you are a middling starter making $18 million.

But what happens when Karl-Anthony Towns, the 2015-16 NBA Rookie of the Year, hits the open market and points to Biyombo’s contract and demands a max? He may be deserving, but what about when Greg Monroe or Jared Sullinger reach free agency? Both have proven to be far more productive than Biyombo, but I am not sure if teams will find an appropriate way to compensate these talents.

To no one’s discredit, Biyombo has set the market at what appears to be an unsustainable precedent. NBA teams cannot afford to fill their rosters if a small sample size from a bench player can demand such absurd money.

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Follow author: @MarkStaniusz



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