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Why NBA Teams Should Already Be Planning For The 2025 Offseason

The 2022 edition of NBA free agency is mostly over, but front offices still have plenty of work ahead. Beyond filling out their remaining open roster spots and continuing scout work on the 2023 draft class, they must plan for the long-term future, too.

In particular, the 2025 offseason has the potential to upend the NBA landscape, much like the halcyon summer of 2016 did.

The NBA’s national television rights package expires after the 2024-25 season, and the league could be looking at a massive windfall in its new deal. Last March, CNBC’s Jabari Young reported that the NBA would “seek a $75 billion rights package, up from its current $24 billion deal, which pays $2.6 billion per year.”

If the league succeeds in that mission, the salary cap will soar in the ensuing years.

“I think there’s going to be a huge jump,” longtime NBA agent Mark Bartelstein told Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic. “The NBA is as hot as it can be and everybody wants a piece of it. People can’t get enough of it.”

Back in October 2014, the league agreed to its current nine-year, $24 billion deal with ESPN and Turner Sports, which represented nearly a three-fold increase over its previous national television contract. Since that money goes into the pool of basketball-related income that determines the league’s salary cap, the NBA had a dilemma on its hands.

Under the current collective bargaining agreement, the National Basketball Players Association is entitled to between 49 and 51 percent of the league’s annual BRI. The NBA tried to convince the union to agree to set salary-cap numbers—while still receiving the full 51 percent cut of BRI—and have the difference paid out even to all players.

The union rejected that proposal, which set the stage for a historic $24 million one-year jump in the salary cap (from $70 million to $94 million). That in turn gave the Golden State Warriors enough cap space to sign Kevin Durant in free agency, and they went on to win three of the next six NBA championships.

“The proposal that the league submitted … would artificially deflate the salary cap,” then-NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said at the time. “And that, of course, meant that players’ salaries would not increase as much as they would otherwise were it not for smoothing. That pretty much was what killed it. It killed it in the eyes of the economists that made the recommendations, and it killed it in the eyes of the players.”

The NBPA now has a new executive director in Tamika Tremaglio, and it’s unclear whether another cap-smoothing proposal is a non-starter for either her or the union. If that winds up being the case, the league could be in for another massive salary-cap jump ahead of the 2025-26 offseason.

Vorkunov said agents were “already expecting” the new TV deal to “impact the league dramatically, though no one is willing to attach a number to what the 2025 cap may be.” Last September, a league source told Forbes Sports colleague Morten Jensen that a $171 million salary cap “is possible” in the 2025-26 season, “assuming no cap-smoothing.”

For context, the salary cap in 2022-23 is $123.655 million, while early projections have the 2023-24 cap at $133 million. That means within the next three years, the cap could skyrocket by nearly $50 million, if not more.

Only a handful of teams entered this past offseason with any cap space, which meant most teams were limited to some version of the mid-level exception. Keith Smith of Spotrac is currently projecting 11 teams to have at least $19 million of cap space next summer, which should increase the bidding for free agents across the league.

Imagine what would happen if the salary cap jumped by roughly $40 million in the ensuing two years.

This looming windfall will likely affect every contract negotiation between now and 2025. Teams should want to lock players into long-term deals, since those contracts in 2025-26 and beyond would take up a far smaller percentage of the salary cap. Players should be angling for their contracts to end by then, or to have player options in 2025-26 that could enable them to test the potentially robust free-agent market if so desired.

The summer of 2016 could give teams pause when planning ahead. For every Durant-to-the-Warriors success story, there were some historically horrific contracts handed out, including Nicolas Batum (five years, $120 million), Hassan Whiteside (four years, $98.4 million), Chandler Parsons (four years, $94.4 million ), Ryan Anderson (four years, $80 million), Allen Crabbe (four years, $74.8 million), Joakim Noah (four years, $72.6 million), Luol Deng (four years, $72 million), Bismack Biyombo (four years, $72 million ) and Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million).

The NBPA might have learned its lesson from the 2016 cap spike as well. That summer, NBA teams signed 19 free agents to contracts worth at least $70 million. Only 13 free agents received contracts worth at least $70 million during the 2017 and 2018 offseasons combined, and even some of those turned out to be a mistake (Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward and Otto Porter Jr. in particular).

While the 2016 free-agent class cashed in thanks to the cap spike, the ensuing free-agent classes didn’t reap as many benefits. Teams splurged too much in 2016, limiting their flexibility in future years. That could influence how the NBPA approaches these coming negotiations, as players who aren’t set to become free agents in 2025 might prefer a cap-smoothing proposal.

Jayson Tatum, Brandon Ingram, Donovan Mitchell, Anthony Davis, OG Anunoby and Jamal Murray are among the players who could become free agents in 2025. They’ll be joined by the 2021 NBA draft class, which includes standouts such as Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes and Jalen Green. Teams should want to maintain as much financial flexibility as possible to take a run at any of those players, not to mention older stars such as Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard or Rudy Gobert.

The 2016 offseason helped shape the trajectory of the NBA for the ensuing half-decade. Depending on how the league and the players union handle the upcoming influx of revenue from the new national TV deals, the 2025 offseason has the potential to do the same.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.com, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac or RealGM. All odds via Fan Duel Sportsbook.

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