Stay Away! 1 NBA Team Every Top-10 Free Agent Should Avoid This Offseason

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2017

Stay Away! 1 NBA Team Every Top-10 Free Agent Should Avoid This Offseason

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    Plenty of time is spent cautioning NBA teams against signing certain free agents. But what about the other way around? Who will be the voice of warning for players?

    You. Me. Us.

    Selected free agents must be a flight risk in the most minimal sense. If the prospect of their testing the open market is too outlandish to discuss, they will be stricken from consideration. 

    Fortunately, for our purposes, there aren't a lot of no-fly options among this year's top-10 free agents—all of whom have been plucked from Bleacher Report's look at the summer's 50 best names and repackaged alphabetically.

    Taboo landing spots are based on cap situations (as determined by B/R's look at every squad's books), team needs and subsequent fits. Suitors must have the cash and impulse to pursue them, while the players must have the incentive and alternative market to resist them. It's pretty simple.

    Making this list is not a prediction the free agent will actually flee. Again: This is just a look at the most popular names, and potential admirers, including incumbent franchises, they should avoid for their own good.

Notable Exclusions: Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (Player Option)

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    Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are the two best free agents on the market.

    Except, are they really free agents?

    Technically, yes. Both have the ability to leave without the Golden State Warriors' permission. But why would they want to? The chemistry between them has progressed with time, and they're probably going to waltz through the Western Conference, completely unscathed, en route to the NBA Finals.

    If the Warriors win fewer than two titles with Curry and Durant in place over the next four years, it'll be a legitimate shock.

    So, again, why bother pretending either will seek out better situations that don't exist?

    No team can offer Curry more money, and he declared his intention to stay put in September, per Marc Stein, then of ESPN. Durant may need to accept a $3.5 million pay cut, via a non-Bird rights max deal, if he wants the Warriors to keep Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, but he, too, told the Warriors Plus/Minus podcast in April he isn't going anywhere.

    If you're a stickler for literality, then let's put it this way: Curry and Durant should avoid any team that isn't the Warriors in free agency.

Danilo Gallinari (Player Option): Orlando Magic

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    Danilo Gallinari hadn't decided whether to opt out of his contract for next year when the Denver Nuggets' season ended, per the Denver Post's Nick Kosmider, but the market will make the decision for him. 

    He's slated to earn $16.1 million in 2017-18. He should be able to average a higher annual salary in his next deal. If he doesn't, he should at least match it over a much longer term. 

    Ergo, he's going to opt out. And the Orlando Magic might come calling once he does.

    Gallinari's name was listed under the "Hybrid Free Agency" category on the Magic's now-infamous whiteboard. They need another playmaking wing who can spread the floor from a frontcourt slot and are one D.J. Augustin salary dump away from having more than $20 million in weight to throw around. They could rather easily find themselves in a position to scare off other suitors, including the Nuggets, with an overbid.

    Maybe their plans have changed since firing general manager Rob Hennigan in April. The new regime—which the Magic are still searching for, according to the Orlando Sentinel's Josh Robbins—might opt for a full-scale teardown. Gallinari, going on 29, isn't the ideal face for a rebuilding project.

    In the event they still want to sniff around the sweet-shooting Italian, the interest shouldn't be reciprocated. The Magic have failed to establish a foundation or direction following Dwight Howard's departure in 2012, and Gallinari wouldn't enjoy enough offensive freedom as a member of the current roster.

    Elfrid Payton isn't a point guard who can play off the ball, and Evan Fournier, while a serviceable spot-up shooter, commands his own touches. And Gallinari's minutes as a small-ball 4 would be virtually nonexistent. Bismack Biyombo, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic make for a crowded frontcourt rotation on their own, all but chaining Gallinari to the 3.

    So many other teams offer superior fits. Those that have cap space should be willing to pay market value for Gallinari's tool box (sup, Miami Heat?). He's better off exhausting all other options than entertaining an Orlando relocation.

Blake Griffin (Early Termination Option): Boston Celtics

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    Blake Griffin's first free-agent exploration could end with a quick return to the Los Angeles Clippers.

    Or, as ESPN.com's Kevin Arnovitz wrote, it could turn into a patented sweepstakes: "Griffin's return is less certain, sources say. This summer is his first foray into unrestricted free agency. Given his snakebitten tenure with the team and the possibility of another early exit, the prospect of exploring what's out there will be alluring. One premise volunteered in good humor suggests that Paul is more likely to take a slew of meetings in a public process but ultimately re-sign with the Clippers, while Griffin is more likely to mull the decision privately under the guise of night, but announce he'll be playing elsewhere in 2017-18."

    The Boston Celtics are a natural admirer, because they're the Boston Celtics. They have cap space, need another superstar to compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers, have cap space, might not be able to poach Gordon Hayward from the Utah Jazz and have cap space. (Did I mention they have cap space?) 

    There are far worse contingency plans to a failed Hayward pursuit than Griffin. He jacked enough threes this past season (113) to qualify as a floor-spacing big and is one of the best passing forwards in the league. His days of contending for MVP awards are over, but he's a top-15 talent when healthy, and the Celtics can justify placing him beside Al Horford after starting Amir Johnson for most of the year.

    But Griffin needs to go somewhere that won't pigeonhole him at the 4 if he's leaving Los Angeles. His offensive range isn't as unique when unicorns are cropping up around the Association like daisies, and he's not someone who should be chasing around wings masquerading as 4s.

    Staggering Griffin's playing time with Horford's enough for it to matter is impossible. They both need to be playing 30-plus minutes every night. The Celtics can roll with them as a 4-5 combination, but neither is an exceptional defensive rebounder or rim protector.

    Though these same shortcomings will hurt Griffin when he's playing as the lone big, he won't be as much of an overall defensive wild card. Most centers won't have an edge in athleticism or strength, and his offensive value increases tenfold against bigs who aren't used to defending jump-shooters and passing hubs.

    Boston just doesn't have the makeup to put him in that spot on a consistent basis.

Gordon Hayward (Player Option): Indiana Pacers

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    Sources told ESPN.com's Zach Lowe in March that Paul George would "love to play" with Hayward, and the Indiana Pacers have the cap flexibility to try making that happen.

    Left alone, they'll fall well short of offering Hayward the $30.3 million salary for which he's eligible. But renouncing Jeff Teague's free-agency hold and waiving most of their non-guaranteed contracts carries them to $30 million territory. And that's without having to ditch the pre-contract hit for CJ Miles (player option).

    Indiana isn't the type of team to pursue marquee names. Then-president Larry Bird bemoaned to Lowe about working within the constraints of a budget. But he's gone, the Pacers need to impress George ahead of his free agency in 2018 (player option) and new team president Kevin Pritchard has no plans to hit reset.

    "With or without George, Pritchard has no interest in rebuilding," the Indianapolis Star's Clifton Brown wrote. "He envisions a roster centered around George that is tougher, better defensively and less dependent on George to carry the load. If the Pacers become a more effective team once the ball leaves George's hands, perhaps George will be convinced he should not leave Indiana."

    Hayward would address a lot of those issues. He shimmies between ball-dominant and off-action roles for the Utah Jazz as well as any wing in the league. If a second-round beatdown at the hands of Golden State drives him to suss out an alternative landing spot, it might not matter that Indiana isn't Boston or Miami.

    Then again, it should.

    There is no clear path toward improvement for the Pacers after getting Hayward. Myles Turner will be up for an extension by the time George's new deal is signed or kicks in, and the Pacers' bottom line will explode if the latter qualifies for a designated player extension—a five-year pact, tacked on to his current one, worth in excess of $200 million.

    That's the unintended downside of these new deals. Teams have the inside track on keeping incumbent stars, but it eats into spending power elsewhere. And since no player has signed one yet—the Sacramento Kings bailed on DeMarcus Cousins before giving him one—there isn't a blueprint for how to proceed after the fact. Hayward has no business joining what could be one of the first test subjects when there will be comfier gigs at his disposal.

George Hill: Dallas Mavericks

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    George Hill's free agency felt like a non-issue earlier in the year. He emerged as one of the Jazz's most valuable players. No way in h-e-double hockey sticks would they let him walk.

    Gordon Hayward's foray onto the open market will have a say in whether Hill sticks around. If the former re-signs, Utah has every incentive to pay however much Hill costs. If Hayward leaves, the team has to start over. Cutting ties with the pricey Hill and Joe Ingles (restricted) and committing to a rebuild around Rudy Gobert is the easiest way to reconcile Hayward's exit.

    Hill might test the market anyway. He's never been a hotter commodity, and the Jazz could balk at paying $20 million or more per year for a 31-year-old who missed almost half the regular season. 

    The Dallas Mavericks are a no-brainer option if Hill tests the waters. They can summon more than $20 million in cap space by waiving Devin Harris and declining Dirk Nowitzki's team option (with the intention to re-sign him for less), and owner Mark Cuban is hankering for an upgrade at point guard.

    "We got to get better at point, there's no question," he said, per the Dallas Morning NewsEddie Sefko. "If we can't do it in the draft, we'll look at free agency and see what we can do."

    Point guards with plenty of other options should not partake in the Mavericks' expedited turnaround. Head coach Rick Carlisle is a genius, Wesley Matthews is a teammate for which you'd sprint through a wall and Nowitzki is pure class. But the role of primary playmaker gets blurred on this team.

    Harrison Barnes' play style is the problem. Only Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook used more isolation possessions per game during the regular season. Barnes shot 45.7 percent in those situations, which is great, but he's not an active enough passer to chew through that many touches. He generated four points off assists every night, the absolute lowest mark of anyone who saw 35 minutes per game.

    It says a lot that the Mavericks scored slightly more points per 100 possessions with Barnes on the bench. His brand of basketball can work, and Hill has the off-ball resume to help out, but he's better off latching onto a contender rather than a rebuilding squad disguised as something else.   

Jrue Holiday: New York Knicks

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    Certain people within the New York Knicks organization view Jrue Holiday as a "potential" target in free agency, according to ESPN.com's Ian Begley. Incumbent Knick Justin Holiday, Jrue's brother, has also indicated the two want to play together, per the New York Post's Marc Berman.

    Some advice for Jrue: Sell Justin on the perks of living in New Orleans on a below-market contract. Or find another rally point.

    Playing for the Knicks is not a good idea. Ask Carmelo Anthony, who has spent the last few months having his name dragged through the mud by team president Phil Jackson. Ask Charles Oakley, a franchise icon, who was yanked forcibly from Madison Square Garden, on national television, because Knicks owner James Dolan is as petty as he is incompetent.

    Ask Kristaps Porzingis, the team's most important player, who might want to succeed in New York but skipped his exit interview because he knows the organization isn't headed in the right direction. Ask any of the Knicks' other players, who, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, are equally fed up.

    Heck, ask any other notable free agent, whether they've played in New York or not. There's no way anyone with options will consider going to a team this dysfunctional in the public eye.

    Jackson's plan is to keep the supporting cast intact, per Begley, so this might be a moot topic. The Knicks need to renounce all their own free agents not named Justin and waive all non-guaranteed deals to reach $20 million in cap space. And even then, they may need to offload Kyle O'Quinn or Lance Thomas to pay Holiday market value.

    Still, the Knicks need a point guard, and Holiday is generally a good fit for the triangle. His off-ball shooting wasn't great this past season, but the New Orleans Pelicans weren't exactly expert floor-spacers. If Jackson is committed to improving, he has to call Holiday and all the other quality floor generals.

    But that doesn't mean Holiday, or anyone else, is obligated to pick up the phone.

Serge Ibaka: Miami Heat

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    Serge Ibaka is a flight risk. The Toronto Raptors wouldn't have traded for him if they didn't intend to pay him, but their ongoing second-round annihilation at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers will be followed by some offseason self-reflection.

    Plus, Ibaka isn't Kyle Lowry. He's not a surefire max-contract recipient. His market is defined. Outside admirers can apply pressure to the Raptors by paying him like a max player—provided they have both the cap space and audacity.

    And if ever there was a team with the stones to cannonball into a high-priced gamble, it's the Heat, who showed interest in acquiring Ibaka before the Magic shipped him to Toronto.

    Miami's president, Pat Riley, has said he will focus on his own free agents rather than household names, per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson. But the jump from paying James Johnson and Willie Reed to maxing out Ibaka isn't a big one—it's more baby step than leap.

    Pairing Hassan Whiteside with a shot-blocking 4 who has shown he can knock down triples at above-average clips on three different teams has its advantages. The Heat pride themselves on defensive hustle, and a starting five of Ibaka, Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Rodney McGruder and a healthy Justise Winslow would give rival offenses nightmares.

    Here's the problem: Ibaka is really a center. He can transition between the 4 and 5, but there won't be much time for dabbling when Whiteside is playing 32-plus minutes per game. Neither big can switch pick-and-rolls, and the two instantly become the worst passing frontcourt in the NBA.

    Johnson is the better fit for what the Heat need. If he leaves or they don't feel like investing in someone on the wrong end of 30, Riley has the cap space to pivot toward a bigger name. Ibaka would be wise to ensure it isn't him. Another team with more minutes to go around at the 5 makes more sense, even if it's not the Raptors.   

Kyle Lowry (Player Option): Philadelphia 76ers

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    Like every other star free agent with 10 or more years of service on his resume, Kyle Lowry's pool of suitors is limited by his experience. He's eligible for a starting salary worth 35 percent of the cap, which comes out to $35.4 million in Year 1 against next season's $101 million projections.

    Few teams can chisel out that much coin without gutting their rosters. The Philadelphia 76ers are one of them. 

    Sit tight, and the Sixers should have more than $45 million in room. Renounce Sergio Rodriguez's hold, and they'll be armed with more than $55 million in play money—enough to sign Lowry and add another top-tier free agent or a couple more impactful bodies. And during a December episode of the Lowe Post podcast (via Hoops Rumors), Zach Lowe said he thinks they'll use this flexibility to court Lowry.

    Going from Toronto, a dark-horse contender, to Philadelphia, a rebuilding team, is quite the transition. But Lowry is from Philly. Returning home to play with Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and another top-five pick from this year's draft might pull him in.

    For his sake, it shouldn't.

    Simmons is supposed to be a generation-defining star. He's also yet to make his NBA debut. Embiid has appeared in 31 games through his first three years in the league. The Sixers haven't totally resolved their frontcourt logjam; Embiid, Simmons, Richaun Holmes, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric all factor into the 4-5 rotation.

    Uncertainty is part and parcel of every rebuild, and the Sixers' future appears brighter than most others. But there are too many things to wait on. Lowry could join them, everyone could stay healthy, and they still might not be ready to make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference for another year or two.

    And this says nothing of the dynamic between Lowry and his new teammates. Embiid, Simmons and, most likely, the Sixers' next draft pick will all need a ton of touches. Lowry would have to play off the ball more than ever to help them develop, all while waiting to see if the core is good, or healthy, enough to be anything special.

    There are more-proven young teams—like Denver—with cap space if Lowry gets the itch to join a budding superpower.

Paul Millsap (Player Option): Atlanta Hawks

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    Paul Millsap made it clear at his end-of-season presser he'll opt out of his contract, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivalmore, while adding he doesn't want to leave the Atlanta Hawks.

    Really, though, he should run—bolt, and never look back.

    Atlanta is expected to part ways with general manager Wes Wilcox, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman and Marc J. Spears. Head coach Mike Budenholzer is forfeiting his team-president duties as well, per Adrian Wojnarowski. Dwight Howard is—surprise, surprise—unhappy with his role yet doesn't hold any real trade value, according to a front-office poll conducted by Kevin Arnovitz.

    All of this is enough for Millsap to enter the summer thinking like a mercenary. But it gets worse. 

    The Hawks aren't just a billboard for closed-door bedlam. They're not in a good position, like, at all. There is no distinct way out of the middle. They won't have cap space unless Millsap leaves, and Tim Hardaway Jr. (restricted) will cost eight figures annually to keep.

    Give Millsap the max ($35.4 million) and Hardaway around $13 million per year, and the Hawks will begin next season with $90.8 million tied up in a core of those two, Howard, Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder. Millsap can accept less than a max, but why offer discounts for a team incapable of spending that money elsewhere?

    The Hawks are stuck—kind of like the Clippers, only slightly less so. Millsap should want no part of their persisting, if inescapable, stay in the middle. Signing with a cash-rich playoff contender (Boston) or even a high-ceiling lottery squad (Denver!) makes far more sense for a 32-year-old who, presumably, aspires to do more than endure first- and second-round exits the rest of his career.

Chris Paul (Early Termination Option): San Antonio Spurs

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    No, I don't hate fun. This is actually for all of our benefit. We need to give up on the dream of Chris Paul in a San Antonio Spurs uniform. It's not happening. The salary-cap gymnastics involved are too extensive.

    San Antonio needs to manufacture more than $35 million in space to offer Paul his max. That's a brutal undertaking for any team, but especially one that's not guaranteed to be under the cap when the clock strikes midnight on July 1.

    Pau Gasol can make life easier by declining his $16.2 million player option. News flash: He isn't doing that. He turns 37 in July, won't get that money on the open market and doesn't have the built-in loyalty to opt out and re-sign for peanuts.

    Ditching holds on other free agents (including Patty Mills) and non-guaranteed deals doesn't get the Spurs to $8 million in wiggle room with Gasol in the fold. That's less than the projected mid-level exception. They could trade Gasol and Danny Green without taking back salary in return and would still fall a couple million dollars shy of Paul's max.

    To even enter the discussion for the point gawd, the Spurs have to offload two of Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker while waiving holds and non-guaranteed commitments across the board. (They could get really close by selling off one of those three, plus Green, Kyle Anderson, Davis Bertans, Dejounte Murray and their first-round pick, but, you know, wow.)

    Paul shouldn't want to play for a disemboweled version of the Spurs. Kawhi Leonard, Aldridge, Green, himself and filler aren't coming out of the West—and that's if San Antonio can even execute enough workarounds to create max cap space.

    So, please, Chris: Don't toy with our emotions. The CP3-to-the-Spurs scenario we deserve isn't a plausible one. Make Doc Rivers sweat by flirting with a different exit strategy.

Otto Porter Jr. (Restricted): Phoenix Suns

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    Otto Porter Jr. almost doesn't have to worry about where he signs. He is getting a max offer sheet, and the Washington Wizards, as is their right, will match it. They may even cut out the middle person and re-sign him to a max deal before he explores restricted free agency, as they did with Bradley Beal.

    Pocket shyness is real, though. Perhaps the Wizards don't want to belly flop into the luxury tax for a core that probably isn't reaching the Eastern Conference Finals this year and most definitely isn't ready to rival the Cavaliers. 

    Unlikely? Beyond so. But on the off chance the team that tenders Porter his offer sheet becomes his new one, he'll want to be in the ideal situation. The Phoenix Suns aren't that.

    Washing Alex Len's cap hold from the record and waiving Leandro Barbosa's non-guaranteed salary leaves the Suns with more than enough green to bankroll Porter's max. And while they haven't proved to be a free-agent whisperer, the Suns are always aggressive when given cap flexibility and could use a high-end combo forward. 

    But Porter is already playing beside two domineering guards in Beal and John Wall. Swapping out them for Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker doesn't do anything to further his development. His new digs should offer the opportunity to bring the ball up the floor, run more pick-and-rolls and just generally be an offensive focal point. 

    Things would be different if the money wasn't equal everywhere, but it will be. Any one of the Heat, Nuggets, Sixers and Brooklyn Nets, among other potential suitors, can promise him a significantly larger share of their offense. He should start looking at them first—if he's window shopping outside Washington at all.

           

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.

    Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference or NBA.com. Team salary and player contract information via Basketball Insiders.