Free Agency Necessary For Team Success

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Hired Guns

By John Ventola

As National Basketball Association owners and General Managers begin constructing their rosters for next season, their NFL brethren are ready to see what the league’s draft and free agent signings have done for their franchises heading into training camp. While the annual drafts for all sports are the lifeblood of teams, free agency can fill position needs and quickly turn a team previously considered a pretender into a contender.

Miami Heat General Manager Pat Riley used the free agent signings of LeBron James and Chris Bosh to play in four consecutive NBA finals and win two world championships. Two young, talented basketball talents can immediately alter a team’s productivity and won-loss record. Riley placed James and Bosh with Heat star Dwyane Wade and the trio dominated professional basketball for four seasons. Now James and Bosh have played out their contracts and there is conjecture on whether they will stay in South Beach or sign another lucrative contract with another franchise and move on. Hired guns? You bet. New York Knicks star free agent, Carmelo Anthony, is shopping his own talent set around, hoping to land with a talented supporting cast in order to seek his first championship. No doubt, James, Bosh, Anthony, and others are having conversations. Today players have control of their own destiny.

While the game of basketball lends itself to the immediate impact of free agency by the

Basketball

Free Agents Help

number of players on a team, the makeup and success of football and baseball squads can also be changed with two or three key free agents. That was not always the case. Years ago, professional sports were governed by the so called reserve clause. A player was simply a team’s property (explains why Mickey Mantle was always a Yankee and Ted Williams spent his entire career in Boston). Unless a team chose to trade or release a player, they would remain with that franchise. Their only recourse was retirement. Ownership ran things then and players had few rights.

Free agency changed sports for good when long time St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in a 1969 multi-player deal and refused to join the Phillies. Flood, a six-time Gold Glove winner who helped the Cardinals to three World Series and two World Championships in the ‘60s, filed suit against major league baseball. The successful litigation by Flood did not do much for him (he played only one more year), but it laid the groundwork for various forms of free agency that has since helped players in all sports. (Never quite figured out why this was not known as “The Great Flood of ’69).

Sports fans hear the terms all the time. Unrestricted free agent, restricted free agent, and undrafted free agent are tags tossed around each season as teams jockey for

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Upgrades Always Newsworthy

players on the open market. While salary cap space (top figure a team can spend on all salaries) has been implemented to prevent large market teams (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago) from having an unfair advantage over small market franchises, free agency still plays a major role in any team’s attempt to improve and reach the winner’s podium.

Unrestricted free agents are players without a team. They either had their contract expire without a renewal or were released by their club. These players are free to listen to offers from other teams and decide with what team they want to sign a new contract. Restricted free agents have certain rules that vary among major professional sports. Bottom-line, the restricted designation means a player is free to solicit and listen to offers from other teams for new contracts, but before he is able to sign with the new team, his current club has a chance to match the offer. If the current team does match the offer the player must sign and remain with them. Undrafted free agents are players who are not drafted in a league’s annual draft of amateur players. They are considered to be unrestricted free agents and free to sign contracts with any team.

Reasons for free agency vary. Aging (Steve Nash), change of scenery (Albert Pujols), new start (Mike Oher), better chance to win (LeBron James, Roger Clemons), money (Aurelio Rodriguez), closer to home (Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemons), extension of a career (Randy Moss),fulfillment of a dream (Lance Moore and numerous non-draftees), all figure in decisions by players in today’s sports market.

Free agency. Nothing free about it. Just ask the owners who have to pay the lucrative contract amounts to reel in the free agents deemed necessary to protect their team’s championship status or put them into contending position.

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