NBA Free-Agent Ranking: Top RFAs Most Likely to Stay Put in Free Agency

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 10, 2017

NBA Free-Agent Ranking: Top RFAs Most Likely to Stay Put in Free Agency

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    Restricted free agency may not have the same wide-open appeal of its unrestricted cousin, but in several ways, it's more intriguing.

    Are teams ready to commit to their young talent? Are they prepared to match huge offers coming in from the outside? Or do they admit defeat, write off a high draftee and move on?

    The best restricted free agents almost always stick around—think Bradley Beal and Andre Drummond last summer—which makes sense because players with restricted status are generally just coming off their rookie contracts. Teams are reluctant to part ways with talents A) they thought enough of to draft and B) are usually still at an age where improvement is a realistic expectation.

    The guys who wind up changing teams generally fall into two categories: Either their original teams have given up on them, or they sign offer sheets elsewhere that are too rich to match.

    Roster construction makes a difference, too. If the Golden State Warriors hadn't signed Kevin Durant last summer, Harrison Barnes would probably still be in Oakland.

    Among the top restricted free agents, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nikola Mirotic seem the safest bets to wind up elsewhere. The former is vying for minutes with Kent Bazemore, who signed a $70 million deal last summer, and the latter has been too inconsistent to warrant major investment. Both could thrive with a change of scenery.

    Other than those two, most of the top RFAs don't figure to move.

    We'll explain why these high-end options aren't going anywhere.

10. Jonathon Simmons, San Antonio Spurs

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    2016-17 Salary: $874,636

    There'll be some warring ideological factions determining Jonathon Simmons' fate this offseason.

    The first will see him dunk on people, hit timely threes and, most tantalizingly, slide up to play some undersized power forward in spaced-out lineups. Those will be the ones potentially forking over a bigger offer sheet than you'd expect for a guy who averaged 6.2 points in 17.8 minutes per game.

    The other side will be shrewder. They'll see a 27-year-old scrapheap signee thriving in a limited role with the San Antonio Spurs, and they'll think for a second about how players like that tend to fare when removed from Gregg Popovich's basketball utopia.

    "Wait, how's Marco Belinelli doing these days?" they'll ask rhetorically.

    Count on the latter sentiment being more popular, which should keep Simmons' price low. He's more valuable to the Spurs than he is to anyone else, and as San Antonio continues to struggle against athletic small-ball units, retaining Simmons will only become a higher priority.

    Plus, as Danny Green and Patty Mills keep proving, the longer a reclamation project stays with the Spurs, the better he gets.

9. Tony Snell, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    2016-17 Salary: $2,368,327

    Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond is in on Tony Snell, saying, per the Associated Press (h/t Fox Sports): "He's an outstanding guy and a guy we want to have as part of our team moving forward. He's about the right things. I think Tony wants to be here. We're hoping to bring him back. We're planning on him being with us next season."

    Stances change when $60 million offer sheets show up that need matching, and with Snell knocking in over 40 percent of his three-point attempts while profiling as a perfect defender in modern switching schemes, we may see Hammond's affinity for Snell tested.

    It may help Milwaukee that outside of isolated flashes, including one in Game 3 of the first round against DeMar DeRozan, Snell's defensive contributions are mostly theoretical. The Bucks performed better on D when he sat this season.

    Snell is a promising third wing with room to get better. With Jabari Parker working back from another torn ACL, the Bucks may need him more than other teams do. That, along with Hammond's comments, signal Snell will be back.

8. Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    2016-17 Salary: $2,328,530

    Know what's worse than giving up a potential franchise center and a first-round pick for Mason Plumlee?

    Giving up a potential franchise center and a first-round pick for nothing—which is what the Denver Nuggets' midseason deal with the Portland Trail Blazers will amount to if Plumlee walks in free agency.

    It's not quite as simple as that. Denver had a glut of first-round picks, and Jusuf Nurkic was mailing it in behind an ascendant Nikola Jokic—two factors that justify the trade. But it'd be unrealistic to think Denver would welcome giving up those assets for no return at all.

    That's why GM Tim Connelly's comments to BSN Denver's Harrison Wind sound rather pro-Plumlee: "He’s a restricted free agent. We hold all the cards. And we’re looking forward to getting something done with him this summer."

    A calculating club could fire off a bloated offer sheet, prompting the Nuggets to overpay in matching. That's what the Blazers did to force the Oklahoma City Thunder's hand with Enes Kanter two years ago, and it was gloriously coldhearted.

    Plumlee is a fine backup who can finish lobs and pass. He averaged four assists as a starter with Portland before the trade last season.

    Barring a completely absurd offer sheet, it seems Denver is committed to keeping Plums as an understudy and occasional partner for Jokic up front.

7. Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    2016-17 Salary: $3,094,014

    This is the case with every restricted free agent, but the danger of a big offer sheet forcing Boston to overpay for Kelly Olynyk is particularly scary.

    Olynyk doesn't have a future as a starter with the Celtics. Al Horford is entrenched at center, and he's not mobile enough to defend power forwards, especially as that position gets increasingly populated by big wings who can shoot.

    Another team could easily view Olynyk as a starter worth upward of $15 million per season. A floor-stretcher on offense whose willingness to sacrifice his body (he ranked in the top 15 in charges drawn) means he's not a total one-way threat, Olynyk has real value.

    Fortunately, if the Celtics want to trim fat from their frontcourt, they can let Amir Johnson go for free and decline the non-guaranteed portion of Tyler Zeller's $8 million salary next year. So even a premium price shouldn't prevent Boston from retaining Olynyk, whose role figures to expand as he hones his shot and steps into minutes vacated by the Celtics' other departing bigs.

6. Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    2016-17 Salary: $2,183,072

    With free-throw woes getting him hacked off the floor in the playoffs and a well-known inability to shoot from anywhere but point-blank range, Andre Roberson is going to turn off a lot of potential suitors.

    But the guy defends at an elite level, and his ability to contain four positions without help makes him valuable—particularly to a Thunder team that had surprising success this year building around a one-man offense and a stellar defensive approach.

    Russell Westbrook's decision on an extension offer will determine everything. If he doesn't ink a new deal on July 1, expect the Thunder to trade him and start fresh. Maybe that means looking elsewhere for more well-rounded wings and deciding not to match an offer for Roberson.

    But if Russ signs on for a supermax extension, expect Roberson to stick around for $10-12 million per season.

    If you're a Thunder fan, including Roberson on the list of guys likely to stay in restricted free agency is good news. It means this doubles as a bet Westbrook sticks around, too.

5. Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz

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    Age: 29

    2016-17 Salary: $2,150,000

    It's possible there are at least 10 general managers who've never watched the Utah Jazz play, right?

    And we know for sure the Los Angeles Clippers, who had Joe Ingles in camp a couple of years ago and cut him, weren't impressed with what they did see.

    Perhaps, then, the rest of the league won't flood Ingles with the rich offer sheets his game deserves.

    Then again, a wing with the passing eye to run an offense, a 44.1 percent stroke from deep and the ability to defend everyone from point guards to undersized power forwards may be hard to ignore. Ingles isn't the best free agent on this list, but he's the one about whose "stay" prediction I'm least confident.

    Because even if he plays for a team that mostly gets ignored, and even if he plies his trade at a pace best described as a leisurely trot, the guy can play.

    Utah has a good thing going, and if it can keep Gordon Hayward and George Hill around, Ingles should be its next priority. He was better (and healthier) than both Rodney Hood and Alec Burks this season, and Dante Exum isn't quite ready for big minutes.

    If the Jazz want to build on an excellent season, they should be willing to retain Ingles at a premium price.

    At worst, maybe they can convince Hayward to slip Ingles a couple million under the table. It's the least he could do for lobs like this three times a week.

4. JaMychal Green, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    2016-17 Salary: $980,431

    Just throwing this out there: Solomon Hill got four years and $48 million from the New Orleans Pelicans last year.

    This is relevant to JaMychal Green's market value for two reasons. First, it reaffirms a critical free-agency truism, which is that it only takes one GM with a wild streak to warp the market. Second, even though Hill wasn't unrestricted last summer, his skill set (or at least the idea of it at the time) was similar to Green's right now.

    Except Green is a bit better at everything than Hill was.

    A 37.9 percent stroke from deep makes Green instantly valuable on offense at power forward. And even if he's not equipped at 6'9" to handle the beefiest opposing 4s, the league isn't exactly rife with those types anymore.

    The rest of the league is going to see Green's value, and he'll command an offer larger than Hill's, even though the market isn't quite as set up for rampant overpays as it was in last year's cap spike. But as a sidekick for Marc Gasol up front, Memphis can hardly hope to find someone better suited than Green, so we should expect a match.

    Tony Allen and Zach Randolph are both unrestricted, and they're basically the embodiments of everything the Grizzlies have come to stand for. But Green is the bigger priority, and Memphis is going to treat him as such.

3. Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks

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    Age: 23

    2016-17 Salary: $4,384,490

    The injury history is a huge deal, as Nerlens Noel played just 51 games last year and 67 the year before. But as promising center packages in today's NBA go, it's tough to do much better than him.

    Still just 23, Noel is a truly disruptive defender. Only one player logged as may minutes as he did last season while also posting a steal rate above 2 percent and a block rate above 4 percent. His name is Giannis Antetokounmpo.

    And while Noel's offensive game is nowhere near as valuable as Antetokounmpo's, he still provides most of what modern teams need from a center by finishing lobs and drawing defensive attention in transition. Quickness on defense and the ability to blow up pick-and-rolls with his length will always be Noel's greatest strengths, but the Dallas Mavericks can weaponize him on offense in a spaced system, too.

    "Noel is going to be a guy that we've got to get signed," head coach Rick Carlisle told reporters after the season. "He’s an exciting young talent and I do think he can expand his game, but we’ve got to be careful about doing too much too soon."

    Dallas may not ask major minutes of Noel just yet, but it'll match any offer he receives—up to and including a four-year max.

2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    2016-17 Salary: $3,678,319

    "He is a hard worker, he is reliable and he is improving every day," Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores told reporters of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope back in January. "He should be a Piston. That's just bottom line: he has what it takes to be a Piston."

    A three-and-D wing who has greatly improved his shot creation and ball-handling, KCP also has what it takes to gin up several offers worth over $20 million per season.

    He's nasty on the ball at either guard position, allowing the Pistons to hide Reggie Jackson (or whoever winds up playing that spot long term) on the weaker option. And though Caldwell-Pope only shot 39.9 percent from the field overall last year, his effective field-goal percentage climbed to a career-high 48.1 percent—and that was after a shoulder injury in January wrecked his three-point shot.

    Before getting hurt on Jan. 13, he was at 40.4 percent from long distance.

    No wonder teams with money to burn, like the Brooklyn Nets, might be eyeing him.

    A max contract seems likely, but the Pistons might be best served to just wait and match whatever offer KCP signs. It could save them a few bucks.

    Letting him walk isn't an option, though, as Detroit has no wing talent to speak of—and certainly none with Caldwell-Pope's two-way skill and potential for improvement.

1. Otto Porter, Washington Wizards

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    Age: 23

    2016-17 Salary: $5,893,981

    Otto Porter morphing into a deadeye three-point shooter was as critical to the Washington Wizards' development as it was unexpected.

    Funky mechanics made his 36.7 percent mark from distance in 2015-16 seem unsustainable, but Porter went out and buried 43.4 percent of his treys this past season while attempting more than ever. That right elbow is still cockeyed at a 45-degree angle from the target, and that left hand still smothers the ball while getting way too involved in the release.

    But we've seen enough go in now to move past aesthetic concerns.

    Though unconventional, Porter is an established long-range stud now. And it's helping the Washington Wizards offense by spacing the floor for Bradley Beal and John Wall.

    B/R's Josh Martin noted how Washington's guards have upped their drives per game in each of the last four seasons, a trend that correlates perfectly with Porter's development into the kind of feared shooter defenders won't leave.

    Porter lacks strength, and his frame may not fill out. But he has good hands, uncommon length and is already a massive offensive plus because of his shooting. He doesn't really need to get any better to be worth a max deal.

    The Wizards will keep him, and if they do it for anything less than $100 million, it'll be a steal.

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    Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference or NBA.com. Accurate through May 9.