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Setting the Market for Unsigned NBA Free Agents

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 8, 2013

Setting the Market for Unsigned NBA Free Agents

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    Each time an NBA free agent agrees to a new contract, it shifts and changes the outlook for the rest of the market. A marquee center like Dwight Howard can make major splashes in the free-agent pool, but even an under-the-radar signing like DeMarre Carroll can have ripples that shake it up. 

    As a result, let's take a look at how the market has been set for the best of the best left on the open market. These are the top 10 remaining free agents according to D.J. Foster's original Top 100 big board of the available players. 

    The point here isn't to gripe about the order, but rather to focus on the contracts that these players will get. Based on the buzz and comparisons to players who have already signed, what kind of deals are we looking at? 

    Frank Isola of the New York Daily News had the right idea when he tweeted out the following prior to J.R. Smith actually agreeing to a deal: "The contracts signed by J.J. Redick and Kevin Martin are similar to what J.R. Smith can get from the Knicks."

    With that in mind, it's time to set the market. 

10. Nate Robinson

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    Last Team: Chicago Bulls

    Age: 29

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.1 blocks, 17.4 PER

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

     

    Free-Agent Buzz

    Nate Robinson enjoyed a fantastic run through the playoffs with the Chicago Bulls, putting his scoring talents on display over and over. The Brooklyn Nets may still have nightmares about him elevating into the air for a jumper or floater. 

    The diminutive point guard is a great spark plug off the bench, but it may not be Chicago's bench that he keeps warm at the start of games during the 2013-14 season. 

    According to Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy, the Bulls have offered Robinson a contract, but it's not what he's looking for: "Chicago contacted Nate Robinson and offered the minimum, per a source. He's searching for a more lucrative multi-year deal after big season."

    No favorite has emerged, but Chicago seems to be falling out of contention. 

     

    Market Comparison

    Setting the market for a sixth man and offensive powerhouse off the bench is always an interesting task. 

    To do so, let's turn to last year's Sixth Man of the Year: J.R. Smith.The mercurial 2 guard re-signed with the New York Knicks for $25 million over four years. That's too much to expect for Robinson, but it sets a ceiling. 

    Robinson is worth about $4 million per year, not six. He needs to play defense in order to reach the level occupied by J.R.

    Prediction: Three years, $12 million

9. Mo Williams

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    Last Team: Utah Jazz

    Age: 30

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.4 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Free-Agent Buzz

    Mo Williams has been a serviceable starting point guard over the last few seasons, but he's convinced he deserves to remain in that role. In fact, the 30-year-old floor general went so far as to tell the Utah Jazz that he'll only return as a starter (via Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears). 

    With Trey Burke in place, that's unlikely to happen, and it remains doubtful that he'll land a starting gig elsewhere in the Association. The Chicago Bulls are the only other team to show serious interest in him, as reported by RealGM's Shams Charania.

    Williams may not return to the Jazz, but he's still going to be forced to settle in as a backup point guard if he hopes to remain in the NBA. 

     

    Market Comparison

    Jarrett Jack is another point guard in a similar situation to Williams. 

    The former Golden State Warrior is a bit more talented than the point guard in question, and he's a bit younger. However, he couldn't land a starting gig, either, even after earning crunch-time minutes for Mark Jackson, and signed on with the Cleveland Cavaliers for four years and $25 million. 

    Williams should be thrilled if he makes over $6 million a year, but that's where the bar has been set for a top-tier bench point guard. Can he reach it?

    Prediction: Three years, $13 million

8. Corey Brewer

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    Last Team: Denver Nuggets

    Age: 27

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 14.7 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Free-Agent Buzz

    Corey Brewer hasn't popped up much in the news lately, but he's still a coveted target of a number of teams. 

    Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee first reported that the Sacramento Kings could have some interest in the 27-year-old small forward. His connections to new general manager Pete D'Allesandro could do the trick, especially since the Kings could desperately use a quality 3. 

    Brewer made a name for himself with his athleticism, energy and improved defensive efforts this past season with the Denver Nuggets, and now he's set to reap the rewards. 

    In addition to the Nuggets, ESPN's Marc Stein also revealed three more suitors: the Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans Pelicans and Houston Rockets. 

    No leading suitor has emerged yet, but Brewer will find a new home once all the big pieces have fallen in place.

     

    Market Comparison

    The best comparison for Corey Brewer's free-agency pursuits comes courtesy of Matt Barnes. Although the veteran small forward is older than most players entering their primes, Barnes has been aging like any fine wine would.

    Barnes is a tremendous defensive player and energy guy who thrives in transition, much like Brewer. They have similar value to their teams, which should bode well for Brewer's checkbook. 

    Barnes re-signed with the Clippers for three years and $12 million. Expect a similar payday for Brewer, although his youth may give him a fourth year. 

    Prediction: Four years, $16 million

7. Elton Brand

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    Last Team: Dallas Mavericks

    Age: 34

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 7.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.3 blocks, 15.2 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Free-Agent Buzz

    Marc Berman of the New York Post has the latest on Elton Brand: 

    The Knicks have scant money left for free agency—only $1.7 million on their mini mid-level exception. And they have all those veteran minimum deals of $1.4 million to fill out their roster. The Knicks have 10 players solidified for their training-camp roster and can add five more, and are trying to net a third point guard and a small forward.

    “We’re just trying to get Elton a contract that is fair for his value in this marketplace,’’ said Brand’s agent, David Falk, who repped Patrick Ewing.

    Sources said the Bulls and Cavaliers also inquired about Brand early in free agency.

    There's no word about whether the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers remain competitive for Brand's services, but the Knicks are certainly in the picture. 

    Brand is still a valuable player, even if he can't remain on the court for extended lengths of time anymore. The big man is a great rebounder and suffocating defender; his offense is what is slowly deserting him. 

    Fortunately, the 34-year-old vet recognizes this and doesn't try to make too much happen.

     

    Market Comparison

    It's hard to imagine Brand getting anything more than a two- or three-year deal with the Knicks, and that would limit him to $1.7 million per year. He's worth more than that, but signing with N.Y. would be an admission that monetary factors are no longer of high importance to him. 

    There really isn't a similar player to Brand on the open market, largely because the players surrounding him in terms of skill are all much younger and filled with potential. 

    Take Carl Landry, who agreed to sign a four-year deal for $26 million with the Sacramento Kings. Brand stands by himself here. 

    Prediction: Two years, $3.4 million

6. Monta Ellis

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    Last Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Age: 27

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 0.4 blocks, 2.1 steals, 16.30 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Free-Agent Buzz

    According to Marc J. Spears, the Kings and Monta Ellis are engaged in what can only be described as "aggressive" talks. Whether that means that yelling is involved or the two sides are quickly moving toward a deal...well, that's something we may never know. 

    The Atlanta Hawks have also gotten in on the action, but they appear to be trailing in the pursuit of the talented 2 guard.

    Ellis can be a rewarding player and a frustrating one. He's an incredible offensive talent, but his jump-shooting leaves a lot to be desired and he often fails to play to his strengths. In the right system, he could be an All-Star. But in the wrong one, he'll help teams out in their tanking efforts. 

     

    Market Comparison

    Ellis opted out of a deal that would have paid him $12 million next season, although he presumably wasn't set on making more than that. He couldn't have that little awareness, could he?

    Instead of spending one more year with Milwaukee and then hitting the market with the stacked 2014 class, Ellis was giving himself a chance to stand out more.

    The two shooting guards surrounding Ellis in D.J. Foster's free-agent rankings are J.J. Redick and Kevin Martin. They're set to make $27 million over four years and $28 million over the same time period, respectively. 

    However, both Martin and Redick don't have the long-term upside possessed by Ellis. Martin is already on decline, while Redick simply doesn't have as much talent. Ellis might not be more effective than both players right now, but he's going to get paid a bit more annually.

    Prediction: Four years, $36 million

5. Brandon Jennings

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    Last Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Age: 23

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.1 blocks, 1.6 steals, 16.20 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

     

    Free-Agent Buzz

    Brandon Jennings has been getting curiously little buzz thus far, but one rumor has emerged above the rest. The following comes from Marc Stein

    Sources briefed on the situation told ESPN.com that the Hawks and Bucks have in recent days discussed a sign-and-trade deal to land Brandon Jennings in Atlanta and send fellow restricted free agent Jeff Teague to Milwaukee to reunite with former Hawks coach Larry Drew. ESPN.com reported early in free agency that the Bucks, at Drew's behest, had interest. 

    If those sign-and-trade talks progress to the serious stage, sources said, Atlanta would inevitably have to rescind its long-standing interest in Ellis, knowing he and Jennings realistically couldn't play together again given how poorly they functioned as a backcourt duo in Milwaukee last season. 

    The southpaw guard hasn't been able to live up to the enormous expectations set by his scoring outbursts as a rookie, but he's still developed into a quality floor general. During the 2012-13 season, he took major strides forward as a distributor. Still, he continued to struggle with his shot selection, as evidenced by that close-your-eyes-ugly 39.9 percent shooting from the field. 

     

    Market Comparison

    Jennings is a part of the elite class of free agents, and the easiest comparison to find is another young guard with tremendous upside. Tyreke Evans might not line up strictly at point guard, but he's a youthful guard who hasn't made good on his potential quite yet. 

    Evans was a coveted free agent during the early portion of free agency, and he ended up on the New Orleans Pelicans after a sign-and-trade deal shipped him away from the Sacramento Kings. When the moratorium lifts, Evans will receive a four-year contract worth $44 million. 

    We can expect a deal quite similar to that one for Jennings, wherever he ends up. There have been six eight-figure-per-year deals agreed to thus far, and Jennings will make it seven (unless one of the players ahead of him signs first). 

    Prediction: Four years, $40 million

4. Andrei Kirilenko

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    Last Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Age: 32

    Position: SF/PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.5 steals, 17.67 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Free-Agent Buzz

    Andrei Kirilenko used his early termination clause to become an unrestricted free agent rather than accept $11 million for staying with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    The San Antonio Spurs have emerged as suitors for the Russian forward, according to, once again, Marc Stein: "One of the teams that troubles Minnesota in Wolves' bid to retain Andrei Kirilenko: San Antonio. I'm told Spurs have AK47 in their sights."

    With Nikola Pekovic still unsigned and money running thin, the Timberwolves probably won't be bringing back this talented forward. Although he's 32, AK47 has a lot left in the chamber. He's a versatile player who thrives on defense and can help an offense in a variety of ways. 

     

    Market Comparison

    The best comparison to Kirilenko's future deal comes courtesy of Paul Millsap, who agreed to a two-year deal with the Hawks worth $19 million. 

    Millsap and AK47 play nothing alike, and the former is younger than the latter. However, they both occupy the same tier of my player rankings, and should be worth about the same amount of money. 

    Kirilenko will likely sign a deal that guarantees his NBA life for three or four more years, seeing as how he opted out of his contract for a longer-term deal. However, the $9.5 million per year is a great baseline salary. 

    Prediction: Three years, $30 million

3. Jeff Teague

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    Last Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Age: 25

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.5 steals, 16.82 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

     

    Free-Agent Buzz

    Marc Stein reports that the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks are discussing a possible sign-and-trade that would allow Brandon Jennings and Jeff Teague to swap jerseys, reuniting the latter with his old coach. 

    However, regardless of where he ends up, it's becoming increasingly clear that Teague isn't guaranteed to wear an Atlanta uniform soon. The following nugget comes from Grantland's Zach Lowe, buried in a section of his article about draft picks: 

    That is a high price, especially since Utah could have fielded a playoff contender by using its cap space to chase Jeff Teague (almost unwanted in Atlanta, sources say), re-signing Paul Millsap, and filling out the rest of the roster with bit players.

    Later on in the column, Lowe writes this about Teague and Jennings: 

    Noel is a big man, and Holiday a point guard, and as Teague and Brandon Jennings are finding out right now, the league is filled with B-plus level starting point guards. But not all those B-plus point guards are 23, on a fair contract, and sporting useful 3-point shots and the ability to defend shooting guards in a pinch.

    Teague may not be 23 anymore, like Jrue Holiday, who Lowe doesn't mention in that snippet, but he's a B-level point guard who can start for contenders. He's improving as a distributor, and he remains a quality shooter and defender. 

    The Wake Forest product isn't a franchise-changing talent, but he's a quality starter. 

     

    Market Comparison

    To me, one of the more interesting storylines of this free-agency period has always been who will emerge with the higher contract: Teague or Jennings. It's a little ironic that the two are now linked together. 

    I used Tyreke Evans as a comparison for Jennings, and that still stands here. Four years and $44 million would be reasonable for Teague, just as it would be for Jennings. The battle between the two still rages on (in my mind, at least). 

    Prediction: Four years, $42 million

2. Nikola Pekovic

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    Last Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Age: 27

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.7 steals, 20.26 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

     

    Free-Agent Buzz

    It's almost seemed like a tacit assumption among most fans that Nikola Pekovic will be returning to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He just seems to be synonymous with that team's identity, and his two-way contributions are invaluable to the efforts. 

    According to the Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda, the Wolves have made a formal contract offer to the Montenegrin center, and they expect to hear back about it soon: 

    The Timberwolves have made a formal contract offer to restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic and waived two players in preparation for Wednesday’s end to the NBA moratorium period.

    According to league sources, the Wolves made an offer to Pekovic on Friday and expect to receive a response early this week.

    On Sunday, they waived center Greg Stiemsma and swingman Mickael Gelabale in two salary-cap moves designed to clear space to allow them to sign free agents Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger as well as bring back Pekovic on a four-year deal that likely will be worth $12 million a year or more.

    They also continue to try to trade guards J.J. Barea and/or Luke Ridnour in an attempt to create more cap space to add another two players through signing or trades.

    The Wolves have the right to match any offer Pekovic receives from another team. As of Sunday, he is not believed to have been offered such a deal and the number of teams who have the cap space and desire to sign him had dwindled to one or two.

    Pekovic repeatedly last season said he wanted to return to Minnesota, and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders has said all along that he believes the two sides will reach a deal.

    It's looking like a question of how much for Pekovic, not where he'll end up at this point.

     

    Market Comparison

    There were arguably four elite centers on the market this year: Pekovic, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Al Jefferson. 

    Two have signed thus far, while Pek and Bynum remain free agents. Howard agreed to a four-year max deal with the Houston Rockets, while Jefferson will join the Charlotte Bobcats with a three-year, $41 million contract. 

    The order that you rank these four centers will vary from person to person. B/R's Foster, who provided the order for this slideshow with his big board, has them as follows (from best to worst): Howard, Jefferson, Bynum, Pekovic. Personally, I'd switch Bynum and Jefferson just because of the upside. 

    However, they're all up in the top tier of the position. Pekovic's deal should be comparable to Jefferson's as a result. 

    Prediction: Three years, $39 million

1. Andrew Bynum

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    Last Team: Philadelphia 76ers

    Age: 25

    Position: C

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.9 blocks, 0.5 steals, 23.00 PER (with Los Angeles Lakers)

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Free-Agent Buzz

    Three primary suitors have emerged for Andrew Bynum's services: the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks. According to reporter Brett Poirier, the seven-footer has meetings scheduled with all three. 

    Bynum is the prototypical high-risk, high-reward free agent. At the end of the 2011-12 season, the last time he played, Bynum was viewed as a challenger to Dwight Howard's supremacy at the center position. He was that dominant on both ends of the court, and he'd finally stayed healthy for a prolonged period of time. 

    Fast forward one year. Now, signing Bynum is fraught with risk because he missed an entire season with multiple knee problems and showed extreme signs of immaturity. Which version of him are you going to get?

    Especially because the seven-footer is choosing not to work out for teams, your guess is as good as mine. And that's the key part: Everything is a guess with Bynum. 

     

    Market Comparison

    Much like Nikola Pekovic, Bynum is in the mix with the elite centers. 

    Comparing him to new Bobcats big man Al Jefferson and his $41 million deal is most logical. Jefferson is a safer option than Bynum, but he doesn't have the same level of elite upside, nor can he affect both ends of the court in positive fashion. 

    Size and upside tend to earn mega contracts in the NBA, but Bynum has too many red flags associated with him. Signing a deal that gives him the same amount of per-year money as Jefferson, but only for one or two seasons, is the most realistic outcome here. 

    You can find my full take on Bynum's market value here

    Prediction: Two years, $28 million

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