Why NBA Teams Should Be Cautious of the Free Agency Spend-a-thon

June 30, 2015 Updated: June 30, 2015

With rumors of the Knicks willing to shell out an absurd $38 million to sign guard Arron Afflalo—who averaged just 10.6 points per game in his partial season with Portland last year—it could only mean one thing: The NBA free agency spending extravaganza is upon us.

Outside of the draft, the free agency period is the one time of year when struggling teams can be instantly turned into contenders with a few good signings—and average players can land superstar contracts that cripple the franchises they play for.

More often than not, once the players are available to sign with anyone, multiple owners jump into the bidding (thinking they can quickly upgrade their teams), the bidding reaches an absurd level, and the initial excitement over signing players soon turns to regret when they hit the court and reality sets in.

This is how a 32-year-old Ben Wallace got a four-year, $60 million deal in 2006 with Chicago or how Rashard Lewis landed a six-year, $118 million contract in 2007 with Orlando. Or how a couple of botched Knicks free agent signings like Jerome James (five years, $30 million in 2005) and Jared Jeffries (five years, $30 million in 2006) happened.

While a past-his-prime Wallace was traded by the Bulls a year and a half later, Lewis hung around for three and a half seasons before Orlando convinced Washington to take on his contract—in exchange for Gilbert Arenas’s equally bad $111 million deal.

Meanwhile, the trio of Knicks players all underachieved for various reasons as the once-proud franchise missed the playoffs every year from 2005 through 2010.

Of course, there’s always the flip side when you land LeBron James.

When the Heat struck gold in the 2010 free agency period—signing James, Chris Bosh, and re-signing Dwyane Wade to less-than-max deals—it set the standard against which all free agency classes are judged.

The Lakers were also major winners back in 1996 when they convinced Shaquille O’Neal to ink a seven-year, $121 million deal.

Yet the winners, as highly publicized as they are, are few and far between.

In that 2010 class where LeBron was the main prize, the Knicks ended up with what was thought as a nice consolation prize in inking Amar’e Stoudemire to a five-year, $100 million deal.

While the Heat won a pair of championships and captured the Eastern Conference title all four years with their Big Three, Amar’e was good for one season before injuries and an inability to mesh with Carmelo Anthony on offense drained his effectiveness. The Knicks waived him in February.

Hopefully they won’t be waiving an overpaid Afflalo one day too.