NBA Free Agents Who Could Price Themselves out of Current Teams
Saying goodbye to quality NBA free agents is hard. Sometimes, though, incumbent teams have no choice.
Or, rather, they don't have the financial gall.
Pending free agents outperform expectations and projected earning potential all the time. The contract-year trope isn't a misnomer; it's the standard when tens of millions of dollars are on the line.
This summer will be particularly problematic for some squads. The effects of last summer's salary-cap eruption are still being felt, but the windfall is beginning to level out. Teams are now left planning around pricey pacts already on the docket or preparing for the cost of max deals in the new collective bargaining agreement. That makes it difficult for some to pay valuable contributors with undefined values.
Superstars aren't the problem here. Max-contract formalities are more expensive, but they're easier to anticipate. It's those due unanticipated massive raises who are the issue—players about to be paid more than their team is willing or able to handle.
Every free agent who opts for relocation doesn't fall under this umbrella. The circumstances are different if your value has been clear all along and your current employer decides against paying you.
Players whose teams don't own their full Bird rights will be excluded as well. Dewayne Dedmon (player option), Luc Mbah a Moute (player option) and Jonathon Simmons (restricted), among others, aren't just flight risks because they trumped projections, but also because their squads are inherently limited in what they can offer before dipping into cap space they probably won't have.
Bojan Bogdanovic, Washington Wizards (Restricted)
Bojan Bogdanovic is almost assuredly going to price himself off the Washington Wizards. Though they have the right to match whatever offer he receives, they have to worry about shelling out max money to re-sign fellow restricted free agent Otto Porter.
Shouldering Bogdanovic's cap hold won't prevent the Wizards from operating as a non-taxpayer over the offseason. But re-signing him in addition to Porter would vault them past the luxury tax line.
This is not a commitment the Wizards seem prepared to make. They used a first-round pick to pawn off Andrew Nicholson's salary on the Brooklyn Nets, a move clearly aimed at trimming some financial fat in advance of Porter's deal.
Bogdanovic helps address Washington's shallow bench, but he always felt like a rental—a convenient return in the Nicholson deal. His presence is redundant if the Wizards believe Kelly Oubre Jr. will pair his switchy defense with a dependable three-point stroke. Anything other than a surprising discount probably results in Bogdanovic signing with a new team.
Patrick Patterson, Toronto Raptors
Patrick Patterson almost made the final cut. The Toronto Raptors are at their most versatile and oftentimes most effective when he's chasing around opposing 4s or absorbing time at the 5. He complements any frontcourt partner you give him, and he's shot 36 percent from beyond the arc since 2012-13.
Finding a lucrative landing spot for Patterson shouldn't be hard. And yet, it's maddeningly difficult.
It's still unclear whether Patterson can take on a more prominent offensive role. He has been pigeonholed in a specific job description, never emerging as an exceptional finisher around the rim or consistent attacker off the bounce.
Some team will still pay him. But there's a difference between the Raptors passing on $12-15 million per year offers and Patterson not being worth his next contract. They have about $30.3 million committed to DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas next season, with a new deal for Serge Ibaka perhaps in the cards as well. Patterson is more likely to be a cap-sheet casualty than overpaid goner.
PJ Tucker, Toronto Raptors
PJ Tucker is in the same(ish) boat as Bogdanovic. The Raptors acquired him knowing full well he could be a partial-season lease. But his uncertain status is less about price and more about the team's ballooning salary obligations.
Plenty of aggressive buyers need a feisty 6'6" wing who can defend LeBron James and live to wear the commemorative "I unsuccessfully tried guarding the G.O.A.T. and all I got was this shirt" bro tank you're supposed to receive afterward. But Tucker is 32 years old and has shaky three-point accuracy. Teams won't be inclined to overpay him on a long-term deal.
Toronto may let him go anyway. Paying Tucker even sticker price drives up what stands to be one of the league's most terrifying tax bills.
Ibaka and Kyle Lowry will cost a fortune if they return. Sources told Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler that Ibaka and the Raptors have "basically" agreed upon a deal that pays him around $20 million per year. Lowry will cost more than that. Unless the Raptors unload Carroll or Valanciunas, Tucker will continue to own a prime piece of real estate with Patterson on Collateral Damage Island.
JaMychal Green, Memphis Grizzlies (Restricted)
Every NBA team should want their own JaMychal Green if they don't already have one—a strong defensive rebounder at the 4 who switches almost everything and puts down 37.9 percent of his three-pointers without commanding a bunch of touches.
Green's new deal will reflect the demand for this low-volume, high-impact style, so it won't be cheap. But he'll also be paid for what he has yet to do. He's still just 26, and Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale fully admits he's capable of more.
"JaMychal's growth and development as a player has been huge for us," Fizdale told The Vertical's Shams Charania. "I've actually held JaMychal back a little bit, because I feel he has some ability to score more. Finding him some touches can be tough because of all the options we have, but he's been invaluable."
Another team might lavish Green with a massive deal in hopes of making him a featured option. He shot 48.1 percent on a limited number of drives during the regular season and has the handle of someone who can lead fast breaks and trigger pick-and-rolls. He can be foul-happy, even on offense, but he's improved his control in just about every area of the game.
That puts the Grizzlies in a tough spot. They have more than $92 million in guaranteed salaries on the books before factoring in free-agent holds for Tony Allen ($10.5 million), Vince Carter ($8.1 million) and Zach Randolph ($15.5 million). New salaries for all three may end up being cheaper, but the Grizzlies will cruise past the $121 million luxury tax line by re-signing them and Green.
Are they willing to bust up the band to pay Green? Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post loosely pegged his value at $10-12 million a year. Memphis would pounce on that price in a heartbeat if given the chance. But Green will net more.
Teams like the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat all have needs at his position and money to burn. If he comes in cheaper than $15 million per year, the Grizzlies must count themselves as lucky—and yet, potentially still unable to foot the bill.
Memphis, Brace Yourself For: Four years, $76 million
George Hill, Utah Jazz
George Hill needed only 49 regular-season appearances to establish himself as one of the Utah Jazz's offensive lifelines, and general manager Dennis Lindsey knows what's coming next.
"I told him if he gets a crazy offer somewhere else and we helped him get that offer, 'You're not going to get one poor thought, much less a word [from us]' if he were to go," he said of Hill, per the Deseret News' Mike Sorensen. "He helped us."
In the 1,544 minutes Hill spent on the court, the Jazz pumped in 109.7 points per 100 possessions. That number dropped to 106.0 when he was on the sidelines—manageable, but not anywhere near the top-seven attack they ran with him.
Gordon Hayward makes it easier for Utah to draw a line in the sand on Hill's next contract if he re-signs. Hayward can orchestrate the offense on his own, with Dante Exum, Rodney Hood and Joe Ingles (restricted) all serving as playmaking support. And if he leaves, there's no sense paying the 31-year-old Hill at all.
But the Hayward-Hill partnership is part of the Jazz's long-term appeal. They dropped in 111.4 points per 100 possessions with the duo on the court—right around the Houston Rockets' top-two mark (111.8). Hayward and Hill are interchangeable on offense; one can direct while the other hovers behind the three-point line ready to fire off the catch.
Still, Utah has to be sensible.
Bankrolling Hayward's max ($30.3 million in Year 1) and paying Hill $20 million per season brings the bottom line close to $130 million if the Jazz hold on to their non-guaranteed contracts and two first-round picks. And that's without paying Ingles.
Other star point guards are hitting the open market, which could depress Hill's price stag. But Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul are all largely expected to stay put. Hill immediately becomes the top available floor general if they do—one Utah may not have the stomach to pay.
Utah, Brace Yourself For: Four years, $88 million
Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz (Restricted)
On some level, the Jazz should be happy Joe Ingles will turn 30 before next season. It minimizes the likelihood a cap-rich team extends an obscenely priced four-year offer sheet. Paying, say, $15 million per year for a wing in his mid-30s isn't often an appetizing option.
Then again, Ingles isn't most wings.
He only has three full NBA seasons under his belt, and his contributions aren't predicated on remarkable explosion or quickness. He is calculated and incisive, with the capacity to swap roles on a rim. He defends 2s and 3s while switching on to point guards and power forwards without issue.
He'll rain triples off the catch all night, with the mere threat of his 44.1 percent conversion rate from deep acting as a gravitational pull, but he's also comfortable generating offense as the quarterback.
"Ingles is at his best as the primary ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations," SI.com's Zach Pereles wrote. "He comes off screens tightly; no pick is wasted. He is endlessly patient, navigating his way in and out of the lane, creating angles for pocket passes to a plethora of athletic post finishers, mainly Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors."
That patience and precision also allows Ingles to be effective on defense, even when he's forfeiting size, strength or speed. He doesn't anticipate so much as he knows. He's like his own app, housing the scouting reports on every person he matches up against.
Just three other players wrapped 2016-17 averaging at least 6.0 assists, 2.5 steals and 3.0 three-point makes per 100 possessions: Stephen Curry, Manu Ginobili and Chris Paul. So would it really be surprising to see Ingles solicit a four-year offer sheet worth $60 million—DeMarre Carroll money—or more? And what does Utah do then?
The decision is cut and dry if Gordon Hayward bolts. Ingles' age simplifies that much for a would-be rebuilding team. Keep Hayward and Ingles becomes both necessary to maximizing the Jazz's title window and too expensive to retain without cutting the cord elsewhere.
Utah, Brace Yourself For: Four years, $68 million
CJ Miles, Indiana Pacers (Player Option)
JJ Redick might field offers worth $18-20 million per season when he enters free agency, according to the Los Angeles Times' Broderick Turner. This should scare the ever-lovin' bajeebus out of the Indiana Pacers.
Because if he's is in line for an $18-plus million annual salary, what will it cost to re-sign CJ Miles?
Redick is the more recognizable name and has a better track record from behind the rainbow. If he's the more lethal off-the-bounce scorer, it's only because the Los Angeles Clippers' high-powered offense is built for him to scamper through the lane relatively unscathed off catches and pump fakes.
Miles has the edge everywhere else—particularly on defense.
They're both pretty good one-on-one pests. Opponents shot no better than 35.1 percent against either of them in isolation. But the 6'6" Miles routinely assumes more responsibilities, taking on shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards—the latter of which has allowed Paul George to function like a 4, his best position, without actually having to be one.
Miles might even have the edge over Redick on offense after 2016-17. The latter registered a higher clip from deep (42.9 percent), but Miles deserves an achievement award for churning out a 41.3 percent accuracy rate within Indy's vanilla offense. (Though to be fair, a larger share of Miles' three-balls went uncontested.)
Sweet shooting is above Father Time, so the age difference between Miles (who turned 30 in April) and Redick (who'll be 33 in June) isn't a huge deal. Defense is a different animal. Who's going to hold up better on the less glamorous side a few years down the line: someone coming off his 30th birthday who can at times be stashed on lumbering 4s, or the soon-to-be 33-year-old who can't? Exactly.
None of this is meant to discredit Redick. He absolutely deserves to get paid after playing the last four seasons on an above-market deal. But his take-home pay will shape the market for other snipers—which bodes well for Miles' wallet and poorly for a Pacers team that shouldn't be funneling $15-plus million per year into anyone until they know what's happening with George beyond 2018.
Indiana, Brace Yourself For: Four years, $64 million
Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs
Patty Mills' next contract hinges in part on a question the San Antonio Spurs have never needed or seriously tried to answer: Can he be the primary pilot for a productive offense?
It's one thing to torch second-stringers, or to split time between ball-handler and spot-up fire-spitter next to other playmakers. It's another to be a full-time hub. That Mills has made just 18 career starts and spent most of his time in San Antonio as a glorified off-guard could work against him—or maybe not.
Almost 40 percent (697) of Mills' minutes this season came independent of other point guards and Manu Ginobili, a pseudo-floor general himself. San Antonio scored 114.7 points per 100 possessions during that time—a mark that would have comfortably toppled the Golden State Warriors' league-leading offense.
Kawhi Leonard, of course, is a safety net on his own, and Mills barely played without him or another lead ball-handler. In the 217 minutes he did log as the offense's undisputed architect, the Spurs piled on 113.1 points per 100 possessions—once again putting them in the Warriors' vicinity (113.2).
Stints with the second unit and during garbage time inflate this output, but the argument against Mills is shrinking by the word. Only four other players closed 2016-17 clearing 20 points and eight assists per 100 possessions while matching Mills' effective field-goal percentage (55.7): Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Nikola Jokic and Kyle Lowry.
Knock Mills for a searing inability to reach the foul line. (Driving wasn't his role anyway.) Criticize the size he gives up at 6'0". Question his ceiling as a defender against starters. Will his gnat-like approach work nightly versus All-Stars? Will his new team, or the Spurs, have to start hiding him more often than not?
Some team will pay to find out. It's tough to know if that squad will be San Antonio. Tony Parker has one year and $15.5 million left on his deal, and Dejounte Murray is waiting. The Spurs are nearing a natural reinvention point, with crystal-clear books in 2018. Re-signing Mills eats into that flexibility. And if they carve out cap space this year, they could decide to chase a proven star floor general.
Right now, there's no telling whether Spurs will pay Mills. But his play is worth a contract that's expensive enough for them not to.
San Antonio, Brace Yourself For: Four years, $70 million
JJ Redick, Los Angeles Clippers
Remember those $18-million-per-year-or-more offers Redick is primed to receive? Well, league officials told Broderick Turner that'll be too rich for the Clippers.
Few can blame them, even if they're prepared to max out Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. The financial implications of paying Redick that much are almost unfathomable.
As USA Today's Sam Amick wrote: "Working projections peg the total at approximately $196 million in all, with $140 million in salaries and $56 million in luxury tax (and Redick, in that scenario, having a starting salary of approximately $18 million)." That's a lot to pay for the same old product—the one that still wouldn't be built to rival the Golden State Warriors or Cleveland Cavaliers.
If the Clippers have one thing working in their favor, it is Redick's prospective suitors. The Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers are all believed to be in play, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Of these three, the Sixers, who have won 75 games over the past four seasons combined, are best positioned to earn a playoff bid in the next two years. Think about that.
Going from a perennial 50-win contender to, at best, a fringe-playoff hopeful is an adjustment. The Clippers can try selling Redick on a cheaper salary, all the while hoping another bona fide postseason outfit doesn't come out of the woodwork.
But Redick isn't likely to be enamored with artificial championship contention. He just finished a four-year, $27.7 million deal, one of the NBA's best bargains. This is his chance to capitalize on the recent salary-cap boom—to double the value of his previous contract in three seasons, or maybe even triple it in four.
LAC, Brace Yourself For: Three years, $60 million
Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder (Restricted)
How much will an All-Galactic defender who can't shoot earn on the open market? Andre Roberson is about to find out.
More importantly, so are the Oklahoma City Thunder, who want him back but aren't sure that's possible.
"We need them to be fair with us," general Sam Presti said of impending negotiations with Roberson and his agent, per the Oklahoman's Brett Dawson. "We have to be fair with them and try to find a common ground."
That happy medium might not exist. Carrying holds for Roberson ($5.5 million) and Taj Gibson ($13.4 million) hauls Oklahoma City's cap commitments past $133 million. This includes Semaj Christon (non-guaranteed), Jerami Grant (team option) and this year's first-round pick, but it's still a conservative estimate given how much more Roberson, and perhaps also Gibson, will earn than his pre-contract cap hit.
Re-sign both, and the Thunder will flirt with a $150 million payroll. Ditching Gibson won't even allow them to skirt the luxury tax after paying Roberson. They'll need to find a taker for the two years and $36.5 million left on Enes Kanter's deal (player option in 2018) for meaningful savings.
Dealing Kyle Singler's $4.7 million salary helps if Roberson is accepting around $13 million per season, but that's not happening. He turned down a four-year, $48 million extension last fall, according to the Norman Transcript's Fred Katz, a ploy that's earned him far more than an extra $4 million.
Not every team will be scared off by Roberson's jumper. Some will believe his 35.2 percent hit rate on threes through Oklahoma City's past two postseasons (23 games) can translate to the regular season. Others will consider sticking his 6'7" frame at power forward for protracted stretches, theoretically rendering him more of a mismatch off the dribble.
Lockdown wings who suffocate even point guards are primo assets. "Pay him whatever, and figure out the rest later" will be at least one team's unofficial motto. The Thunder must brace themselves for deliberately overpriced offer sheets.
OKC, Brace Yourself For: Four years, $85 million