NBA Rumors: Latest Outlook on Mid-Tier Veterans Still on the Market

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NBA Rumors: Latest Outlook on Mid-Tier Veterans Still on the Market
Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Another day, another 24 hours of LeBron James indecision. So let's pause the LeBronmania and talk about everyone else.

Or, rather, specifically everyone not intrinsically tied to him. No Chris Bosh, no Dwyane Wade, no Carmelo Anthony. Until LeBron lets his destination be known, none of those guys are likely to tell anyone anything. The whole market is frozen, with a house of cards set to collapse the second the King gives his kingdom marching orders.

As for everyone else, they're just playing out the market.

Mid-tier veterans continue their attempt to extract the highest possible return from the market, being linked to multiple teams at a time while trying to figure out which fits them best. It's arguable that the rumor mill for these guys is more interesting than the whereabouts of whatever aircraft we're tracking at the moment.

It's certainly filled with more actual news. With that in mind, let's quickly check in around the league on some of these veterans and speculate about where they're heading.

 

Isaiah Thomas, Suns a Match?

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Isaiah Thomas is one of the most curious free-agency cases on the market. He was one of six players last season to average 20 points and six assists, is a solid career three-point shooter and a beast around the basket despite his diminutive size. Having just turned 25 in February, the always rational Twitterati went about comparing Thomas' numbers to those of Kyrie Irving, he of the maximum contract extension.

From a pure statistical standpoint, Thomas stands out as a very good offensive weapon. He's been a good scorer since the moment he entered the league, and his assist rate took a massive leap in 2013-14. A blind comparison test would make most executives think Thomas is a $12 million a year player on this market.

But not all basketball decisions—like not all people—are created equal. Thomas is a 5'9" point guard. Considering the depth of the position leaguewide and increase in bigger guys playing the point, it's probably always going to be difficult to build an elite defense around him. Trying, which Thomas does, sometimes isn't enough.

Size concerns and questions about whether Thomas is a super sixth man or a starter have depressed his market. So has his restricted free-agent status. Sacramento lowballed him with an offer in the $5-6 million range, per Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee, and his market has largely been dormant as the LeBron situation plays itself out.

Thursday saw the biggest piece of tangible news with Thomas. It just wasn't from a team many expected to get involved. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported the Phoenix Suns were hosting Thomas the next two days, and they seem serious about putting an offer sheet on the table.

Here is the part of the program where you ask about Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Afterward, I follow up by telling you I have no idea what this means. Bledsoe is a restricted free agent. Perhaps Ryan McDonough has set an internal price for Bledsoe and is setting up contingencies in case he leaves. Dragic can opt out of his contract next summer, and he'll do just that if he repeats his 2013-14 campaign. 

Here is the part where you ask about Tyler Ennis, the guy they drafted in June, ostensibly to cover their behinds against such a departure. Thomas would join a theoretical guard rotation that has Ennis, DragicBledsoe and Ish Smith—each point guards by trade. I'm betting for now that this is a Bledsoe insurance policy.

 

Pau Gasol Market Still Being Sorted Out?

Noah Graham/Getty Images

For someone who was as oft-derided as Pau Gasol was late in his Los Angeles Lakers run, he's sure getting a lot of attention.

Of the last-contract players—veterans on the precipice of what will likely be their last significant deal—Gasol has easily been the most sought after. The Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks and Lakers have been linked to him at one point, with his destination seeming contingent on where the elite players land.

The decision for Gasol comes down to deciding what he wants. No matter where he goes, it'll be to a playoff contender. Non-contenders haven't even so much as kicked his tires. 

The Bulls, assuming they lose out on the Carmelo Anthony chase, offer the best combination of money and contention. Amnestying Carlos Boozer would give Chicago a starting point in the $9 million range, better than any other possible offer on the table. But the Bulls also have a bit of a logjam at the 4 already, and Gasol isn't at the point in his career where he can push a fringe team into legit contention.

The Knicks have little to offer other than Phil Jackson. Once Melo signs, they'll be well into luxury tax range and can only offer the taxpayer mid-level exception. Going back to the triangle offense would put Gasol's passing ability back on display, and the Knicks desperately need help in the middle after trading Tyson Chandler. Is Jackson plus a possible statistical renaissance worth more than $5 million? I'm not so sure.

The Lakers have money, but their interest was tied to landing Anthony. The divorce that's seemed inevitable for years now will finally happen.

The Spurs and Thunder, on the other hand, offer largely similar packages. Both have their full mid-level exception. They're the two best teams in the Western Conference. They would each benefit Gasol and vice versa in a bunch of ways.

Gasol would give the Thunder a coherence they've lacked since the untimely demise of Kendrick Perkins' basketball career (#neverforget). Gasol would be a brilliant fit within the Spurs' passing-oriented system, someone who could spell either Tim Duncan or Tiago Splitter with ease.

San Antonio has been particularly persistent of late, per Wojnarowski. While the Bulls are still considered the favorite—because wins and money equals duh—Gregg Popovich and Co. have been pitching a potential repeat run with Gasol as their major offseason acquisition. Again, it's in the same vein as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant's pitch to Gasol, per ESPN's Marc Stein.

Come to our city. Be the final piece. Take the pressure off yourself. All it will cost is a cool few million bucks out of your bank account. I remain skeptical that he can turn down what Chicago could potentially offer, but man, Gasol would be great in either spot.  

 

Quick Hits

Anthony Morrow Next Shooter to Get Paid?

Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

When the Detroit Pistons gave Jodie Meeks $19 million on the first day of free agency, I tweeted that a smart team would get roughly the same production from Anthony Morrow for a third of that price. It turns out I may have misjudged the market.

Morrow, a sharpshooting guard who spent last season in New Orleans, has become a hotter and hotter commodity as the days have passed. David Aldridge of NBA.com reported the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors and Suns had all reached out in recent days. Aldridge said each team was offering some portion of their mid-level exception.

Some of those teams don't have their mid-level at this point, and a "portion" can mean anything. Teams are allowed to split their exceptions between multiple players. Giving Morrow $3 million and another player the remaining share isn't the same as actually making Morrow a mid-level player. But as free agency continues and the bidding for players becomes more intense, Morrow might wind up in Meeksian overpayment territory.

 

Matrix Market Dormant?

Ben Margot/Associated Press

Shawn Marion was once one of the more unique and exciting players in basketball. Shawn Marion, while still unique, is now a 36-year-old man who is playing on his last legs. Rick Carlisle found effective ways to use him last season and he continues to stay remarkably healthy. The Marion who was once one of the league's best perimeter defenders is gone.

He now banks on guile and intelligence, of which he has an abundance. That the Mavericks had to play him more than 30 minutes per game last season was more of an indictment on their perimeter defense than anything. Marion can knock down the occasional corner three and is a highly intelligent cutter, but the Mavs were considerably better on both ends with him on the bench.

All of this is to say it's not a surprise that teams are barely kicking Marion's tires at this point. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated reported that there has been no "substantial movement" on a potential destination. A return to the Mavericks remains possible if their Chandler Parsons pursuit fails. More likely, though, is Marion latching onto a contender on a minimum salary or somewhere around the mini mid-level. 

 

Mike Miller Price Rising?

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Mike Miller played all 82 games last season. Yes, that Mike Miller. The same one who nearly retired after the 2012 Finals because of his debilitating back problems. The same one the Heat used their amnesty provision on last summer in part because his cost and inability to stay healthy outweighed the benefit of keeping him around.

The same guy who, when he signed in Memphis last summer, saw everyone expect 41 games and a couple brilliant May moments. Miller gave much more than anyone expected. He became an integral piece in the Memphis offense, providing much-needed spacing while shooting 45.9 percent from three-point range. He even had his patented playoff moment, a 21-point outburst in Game 5 of Memphis' first-round series with Oklahoma City.

When Miller hit free agency this summer, he had to have expected a strong market. Few saw it getting to his level.

Wojnarowski reported Wednesday that the Denver Nuggets, Grizzlies, Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers were all chasing Miller, with the price landing somewhere in the $4-5 million range per season. Oklahoma City is using him as a contingency plan in case the Gasol chase burns out. Cleveland is using Miller as LeBron bait.

Denver and Memphis are the two strongest suitors. I have no idea what the Nuggets are doing at the moment, but they seem intent on adding pieces to an already filled roster. The Grizzlies merely need Miller to avoid a spacing wreck next season. Someone is going to offer him the full mid-level. 

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