Key NBA Names Likely Playing Final Season with Current Team
It's never easy to predict when a player is going to hang the laces up. There are guys still kicking around the league that probably should have retired a few years ago, and then there are retired players who could step on the court right now and still hack it.
From the team perspective, it's just as hard to identify when loyalty will win out over business savvy. Money is a good indicator, but some teams are more willing to reward past performance than others are.
Whether it's a lucrative contract, a successful career or a lengthy tenure with one team, all good things eventually must come to an end. The following players should be ready to start a new era with a different team, or close the book on their careers completely after this season.
Contract data courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
Marcin Gortat, C, Phoenix Suns
Contract Status: Expiring deal worth $7.7 million
After being perennially underpaid, Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat should be looking for a sizable long-term contract this offseason when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Gortat's stock took a hit without Steve Nash hand-feeding him easy opportunities, but contending teams around the league will undoubtedly still be interested.
The Phoenix Suns, meanwhile, are clearly not one of those contending teams. The Suns are rebuilding and already drafted Gortat's replacement in Alex Len, and they'll want to give the rookie plenty of playing time in order to develop him. Paying an older center to stunt Len's growth going forward doesn't make any sense.
If Gortat doesn't get dealt at some point this year, he's a virtual lock to end up in another uniform starting next year. He's still a very good player, but neither side should be interested in staying together. This is the rare mutual breakup that's actually mutual. Hopefully Gortat will still want to be friends, though.
Luol Deng, F, Chicago Bulls
Contract Status: Expiring deal worth $14.25 million
There's very little disconnect between what the Chicago Bulls want to do on the court and what Luol Deng does.
Deng is a great defender and a workhorse who can shoulder obscene amounts of playing time, and he's a smart offensive player who understands when to cut and where to be. On the court, this is a perfect match.
On the books, though? Maybe not so much. The disconnect isn't between Deng and the Bulls, but rather the Bulls and the Bulls. Chicago's front office seems to have a slightly different vision than the coaching staff, and another big payday for Deng might not be in the cards.
Why is that? Well, Chicago is already over next year's projected cap of $62.1 million by about $4 million, even without Deng's salary. Signing Deng would likely put the Bulls well over the luxury tax line (projected at $75.7 million), unless Deng is willing to play for less than $9 million a season, which seems pretty unlikely.
Deng could almost certainly receive a bigger payday in unrestricted free agency than in Chicago, and perhaps the Bulls see Jimmy Butler as a Deng replacement and an opportunity to add a three-point shooter into the lineup.
It's hard to imagine Chicago's ownership not forking the money over if the Bulls win a title, but if that doesn't happen, there's a good chance this is Deng's last year in the windy city.
Danny Granger, F, Indiana Pacers
Contract Status: Expiring deal worth $14 million
The situation for the Indiana Pacers and Danny Granger isn't all that dissimilar to Chicago's with Luol Deng. Both players are on big expiring deals and both teams are already over the cap and weary of the luxury tax going forward.
The big difference, however, is that while Deng is still a very effective player, knee issues have hampered Granger and kept him out of games completely. Granger just can't get on the court anymore, and the Pacers have already shown that his production can be successfully replaced.
It's hard to imagine a scenario where Granger comes back fully healthy and performs at a high level, but even if that does happen, he'd be wise to seek out a long-term contract in free agency that would likely be too rich for Indiana.
Unless Granger was willing to cut his salary by at least $10 million next season, this is probably the last we'll see of him as a Pacer. The money just isn't there, and the long-term guarantees probably aren't either.
Andre Miller, G, Denver Nuggets
Contract Status: Two years with $9.6 million remaining total.
Andre Miller was a favorite of George Karl in Denver, but Karl's firing signaled the beginning of the end for Miller's career.
Even though Miller demonstrated that he's still a capable player (at least offensively) last year in the playoffs, the Nuggets barely resemble that team anymore after all the changes made this offseason.
The signings of Nate Robinson and Randy Foye would certainly seem to indicate that Miller's time as backup point guard and occasional starter next to Ty Lawson are all but over. How well Miller will take to a decreased role is yet to be seen, but a trade might be the best thing for both parties at this point.
Even if Miller does stick it out with the Nuggets, retirement has to be a realistic option next offseason.
Although his old-man, YMCA game can still be effective, Miller might not have a whole lot left in the tank. Training camp, preseason, practices and all the travel aren't as appealing when you aren't playing as much in the actual games, and Miller has probably defied father time for long enough.
Pau Gasol, F/C, Los Angeles Lakers
Contract Status: Expiring deal worth $19.2 million.
This is a tough one. Perhaps no player in the league meshes better with Kobe Bryant than Pau Gasol, but the 33-year-old big man probably isn't the star the Los Angeles Lakers hope to use cap space on next offseason.
While it's possible that Gasol would take a huge pay cut, Bryant would need to do the same. Both players have balked at the suggestion, and it sounds like Gasol wants an extension at some point this season, which is probably unlikely to happen with the big-name free agents awaiting courtship this offseason.
The writing is on the wall here. The Lakers probably need to start fresh with young stars instead of players on their last legs, and Gasol will be a hot commodity for a team ready to compete for a title. The Lakers should keep their options open as a potential landing spot for the next super-team, and that almost certainly means renouncing Gasol's huge cap number.
Once that happens, the Lakers will be potentially battling with teams like the San Antonio Spurs if they strike out elsewhere. Financially and ideologically, Gasol just doesn't seem like the best option for the Lakers, even though he's a fantastic teammate and player.
Jameer Nelson, G, Orlando Magic
Contract Status: Two years, $16.6 million total remaining. Last season is guaranteed for only $2 million.
Jameer Nelson has battled through plenty of injuries over his career, but he's still retained his status as a competent option at point guard. Problem is, Nelson is a horrible fit with a rebuilding Orlando Magic team.
Nelson's only value may be as an expiring contract next season, but even that's in question due to a contract that is only guaranteed for $2 million. Orlando will likely value the $6 million in cap room over Nelson's potential to be a trade asset.
With Victor Oladipo setup to get reps at point guard this season, Nelson may already be squeezed for playing time. He has value as a mentor, but point guard is the most over-saturated position in the league right now. If he's not going to play starter's minutes, you wouldn't blame Nelson for at least wanting to play on a winning team with a shot at a title.
Although it's hard to see Orlando landing one of the big fish in free agency, keeping Nelson and diminishing the chance to pull one in doesn't seem like the most logical decision. Nelson is the lone holdover from Orlando's NBA Finals team, but he should be bought out and with another team by this time next year.
Rudy Gay, F, Toronto Raptors
Contract Status: Two years, $37 million remaining total with a player option on the final season.
Rudy Gay may be taking a similar path to Carmelo Anthony next year by exercising the option on his contract and testing free agency.
However, Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri may be taking a page from Anthony's past with regards to Gay. Remember how Ujiri dealt Anthony before he could walk in free agency? The same thing could happen with Gay this season.
Gay won't fetch nearly the same price Anthony did in a trade, but Ujiri has a history of making these sorts of deals. Toronto has to prepare for Gay leaving and getting nothing in return, and trading him in advance might be the best option, particularly if the two parties are far apart in their extension talks.
Trade or no trade, it's hard to see Toronto retaining Gay. DeMar DeRozan, another post-up wing, is already locked in long-term. Jonas Valanciunas will need post touches as well. There just might not be enough space, both on the books and on the court, to justify keeping Gay around.
Emeka Okafor, C, Washington Wizards
Contract Status: Expiring deal worth $14.4 million.
Emeka Okafor is out indefinitely with a neck injury, and it couldn't have come at a worse time. The Washington Wizards finally have the pieces to compete for a playoff bid, and Okafor had a real chance to earn one more big contract. Now, with his season in jeopardy, Okafor's future is awfully cloudy.
With Okafor and Trevor Ariza's salaries expiring after this year, the Wizards could do some damage in free agency and attract another young piece to add to their core. That would mean renouncing Okafor and his enormous cap hold first, which would likely end his tenure in Washington, unless he were willing to sign a contract well below the market value for competent big men.
You certainly hope this isn't the case, but retirement isn't entirely out of the question, either. Neck injuries can be awfully scary, and Okafor has made enough money over his career not to risk his future well-being if his return to the court is threatening in any way to his future health.
Healthy or not, though, Okafor's time in Washington appears to be coming to an end.