Setting the Market for Key Remaining 2014 NBA Free Agents
The 2014 free-agency period hasn't had the fireworks or instant gratification of past years, as it seems like every major player and team is waiting to see what LeBron James will do and the domino effect that will have on the market.
In some ways, James will set the market for everyone else because his choice can change the landscape of the league. While we know that James is absolutely worth the max and that his price won't change unless he decides to take less, the future of multiple teams and marquee players can be impacted by his decision.
Even with that being the case, we can reasonably predict the price range and set the market for the remaining 2014 free agents based on what we've seen so far. Jodie Meeks signing with the Detroit Pistons for more than the mid-level exception certainly set a market for shooters, and Kyle Lowry's deal worth $12 million a season established the price range for near-max unrestricted free agents.
Using the salaries of players already signed and existing contracts throughout the league, let's set the market for the best remaining 2014 free agents according to category of player.
All contract information is accurate as of July 8.
It's important to remember that all max contracts are not created equal, as players who have been in the league longer and are coming off old deals under the last collective bargaining agreement can make substantially more than players coming off their rookie deals.
Basically, someone like Greg Monroe can get the "max" and Carmelo Anthony can get the "max," and their annual salaries can still be around $6 million apart.
For this offseason, there are only three unrestricted veteran free agents who should receive a max offer: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh.
Realistically, Dirk Nowitzki could have joined that group, but he instead decided to take much less money to help Dallas retain cap space to bring talent around him. Nowitzki's three-year deal worth $30 million is one of the best bargains we've seen in a while.
According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, James wants a max salary this offseason:
LeBron James will have a completely different process and a different priority when he opens his free agency at 12:01 a.m. ET Tuesday than he did in 2010, sources told ESPN.com.
Teams that contact James will be informed that he wants no less than the maximum salary number for next season, sources said. The max number for James is projected to be about $20.7 million.
Both Bosh and Anthony should land max deals either with their current teams or elsewhere. If James returns to Miami, Bosh will likely have to take less than his full max, unless Dwyane Wade takes a massive pay cut to to compensate for both deals.
Anthony could potentially take a little less, but if no one is joining him immediately in New York or he's not leaving money on the table for another free-agent acquisition elsewhere, there's probably little incentive for him to do so. It is important to note his stated priorities, however.
"My concern is to be able to compete on a high level, a championship level, coming in this last stretch of my career," Anthony said on SportsCenter in February, via ESPN New York. "I want to compete at that level."
LeBron and Melo are the best bets to receive the most money possible, while Bosh's deal will almost certainly depend on what LeBron does.
Here's where the big surprises in free agency will likely come from.
Pegging how much restricted free agents can land is often difficult, as sometimes they don't get offer sheets from other teams and instead negotiate with the team that holds their rights exclusively.
That's what happened with Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley, who, according to Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe, signed a four-year deal worth $32 million.
Bradley came with an expensive price tag, but that's nothing compared to what some of the big restricted free agents should make.
Greg Monroe is still a candidate for a max offer, as David Aldridge at NBA.com explained earlier this year: "The problem, as the Pistons knew last fall, is that Monroe's agent is David Falk. He has gotten the price he said he'd get for his clients for two decades—and he says the price for Monroe will be a max contract."
With no other viable franchise big man on the market other than Bosh, Monroe should get the max once a few other pieces fall in place.
He won't be the only restricted free agent to get that, though.
Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe should receive a max offer sheet somewhere, as Phoenix isn't likely to negotiate with him unnecessarily while there are still players like James and Anthony out there who could potentially sign with cap space.
Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward didn't seem quite as likely to receive the full max, but Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reported on July 8 that he got just such an offer from the Charlotte Hornets. Now, it'll be up to the Jazz to make a decision on whether to match.
Bledsoe and Monroe should both get max deals, and there's a chance Hayward does as well. No other restricted free agent has a good shot, though I wouldn't be shocked if Parsons received one.
Over $10 Million Per Year
This is probably the biggest group, but it also represents the most danger. Miss on a player making over $10 million a year annually, and it can set your franchise back.
Let's start in Houston with Chandler Parsons, who could receive a big offer sheet from a team trying to keep the Rockets from maintaining cap space and bringing in a big star. Parsons would have to agree to it first, but if he's just looking to get paid regardless, perhaps he won't be so patient. It's easy to see Parsons at a deal starting right at $11 million a year or so.
Luol Deng is an unrestricted free agent who should be in that range as well. Deng is a solid two-way player who should appeal to multiple teams, even if his mileage and lack of perimeter shooting might hurt his value a bit.
Still, if Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports is correct, it's hard to see Deng taking any less than $10 million: "Within days of the Chicago Bulls unloading Luol Deng for salary-cap relief and a first-round draft pick, the All-Star forward rejected a three-year, $30 million contact extension, a league source told Yahoo Sports."
Penciling Deng in for a deal starting around $12 million a year makes sense.
Dwyane Wade should definitely fall into this category as well, especially after turning down a player option worth two years and $42 million. Wade may covet long-term financial security more than anything else, but it's highly unlikely he takes less than $10 million a season at this point. Even if things fall apart in Miami, plenty of teams will give him that.
Sacramento Kings guard and restricted free agent Isaiah Thomas is a threat to touch $10 million annually, but it seems unlikely given the depth of the position around the league and the lack of suitors. That might be what it takes to ensure Sacramento doesn't match, though, so there's a chance he gets it.
Lance Stephenson and Pau Gasol are the last two candidates who could realistically pull down more than $10 million a year. Stephenson probably won't get that with the Indiana Pacers, however, so a deal around $8-9 million might be more realistic.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph extended for two years and $20 million, so Gasol can likely hunt for a similar amount. He could end up on either side of that line, depending on whether he's adamant about playing for a contender. That definitely seems like his range, though.
Trevor Ariza could surprise some, especially if the Washington Wizards need to pay extra to keep him around, but $10 million annually is probably too high for him. Something closer to $7-8 million sounds about right.
No other player should approach this amount. Deng, Parsons and Wade seem very likely to be in this group, with Gasol, Thomas and Stephenson all having a decent chance to join.
Versatile players like Josh McRoberts, Shaun Livingston and Spencer Hawes have been good finds for contenders like the Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers, but which other players will join them this offseason?
Teams will hope for Trevor Ariza and Pau Gasol, but they'll almost certainly be out of price range. Ditto for Paul Pierce, who could probably make double that amount by agreeing to stay with the Brooklyn Nets.
Shawn Marion seems like a strong candidate for the MLE, as that's a good way to latch on with a competitive team. He's still a very strong defender and rebounder, so he should have quite a few suitors.
P.J. Tucker is another defensive-minded forward who could draw that kind of deal, although the Phoenix Suns would likely match as long as other pieces were already in place.
Jordan Hill seems like a good bet, as he's instant energy and rebounding off the bench. He might be worth a little more than this even though he put up good stats on a bad team. Kris Humphries is in the same boat as Hill and provides similar production, so whoever signs first will likely set the market for the other.
Andray Blatche was a big part of Brooklyn's turnaround last year, and signing skilled big men to the MLE seems to be the popular theme this season. Ed Davis could slot in here as well if a team believes in his potential.
Nick Young is a dark-horse candidate for a team that desperately needs bench scoring, although it's hard to see any team trusting him beyond two years or so.
Ramon Sessions, Mario Chalmers and Greivis Vasquez are threats to receive the MLE given that Darren Collison received it, but the odds are against them. Same goes for Marvin Williams.
Marion, Tucker, Hill and Humphries should be the favorites to receive the mid-level exception, or perhaps a little more.
The remaining key free agents all fall into this category, led by veterans Ray Allen and Vince Carter. Although both could probably make the mid-level exception fairly easily, they'll almost certainly take less to have a better shot at a ring.
Mike Miller is another veteran shooter who should join this list, as his durability last year impressed a lot of people.
Former Miami Heat teammate Chris Andersen has produced well above a minimum deal over the last few years, but he'll likely keep taking less money to be in a good situation.
Anthony Morrow is a journeyman who has never found playing time for a good team, so maybe he'll seek that out this year in free agency and sign a minimum deal with a team that could utilize his excellent spot-up shooting. Jimmer Fredette is a similar player who might do the same.
Mo Williams, Caron Butler, Elton Brand and Jermaine O'Neal are all former All-Stars who should latch on somewhere for the veteran's minimum.
Jason Smith and Glen Davis could get more than the minimum, but injury histories will probably limit their appeal.
If Emeka Okafor is healthy, he warrants much more than a veteran's minimum deal. Some team may be willing to hand him a minimum contract (a la Greg Oden) in hopes that his health situation improves.
Xavier Henry (draws fouls), Jordan Crawford (creates his own shot) and Al-Farouq Aminu (rebounds) can all do one thing reasonably well and should find homes because of it.