Every NBA Team's Biggest Flight Risk in 2017 Free Agency
As rule No. 896, subsection 17, bullet point Q, paragraph 24 of the NBA's fandom handbook stipulates: Always mentally prepare for all your favorite team's free agents to skedaddle.
Many of these precautionary measures will prove unnecessary. Every single one of your team's forthcoming mercenaries isn't going to hit the bricks. But some will.
Offseason departures are driven by any number of factors. Certain players are about to become too pricey. Others have to leave because their squad needs to pay someone else. Clogged depth charts persuade players to find larger roles. For those laboring through awful, weird and awfully weird partnerships, free agency is an opportunity to move on.
This summer's biggest flight risks will be limited to talent whom incumbents actually want to keep and who hold value outside their current locales. If there's a team without any outlook-altering free agents, the issue will not be forced.
So let's do this.
Rules are rules, after all.
Atlanta Hawks: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Restricted free agents are usually the opposite of flight risks. Incumbent teams have the right to match any offer they receive. If you're worth a darn, you're not going anywhere. Those who are dispensable don't generate buzz.
Every so often, a fringe case comes along—a valuable talent operating without a defined cost. Most of these players won't sniff max-contract territory, but they'll be enticing enough for suitors to shell out lucrative offer sheets aimed at coaxing their reigning employers into an impossible decision.
Hardaway is notching personal bests across the board. He's regained league-average touch from long range (35.9 percent) and, in an unforeseen development, absorbed secondary playmaking duties. His defense is below board at best, but he's held opponents to 10-of-41 shooting in isolations (24.4 percent).
This career season is going to come at great cost to the Atlanta Hawks—if they elect to keep him. They have money tied up in Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha will be cheaper and Paul Millsap is a free agent as well. The right offer could price Hardaway out of their budget.
Boston Celtics: Amir Johnson
Kelly Olynyk is a close second here. He could become collateral damage if the Boston Celtics carve out max space. But his pre-contract hold is low enough ($7.7 million) for them to get above the $20 million line without renouncing him, and they can go over the cap to re-sign him if they don't ditch his placeholder hit.
Amir Johnson is more likely to get the ax. His contract expires at season's end, and he's losing minutes to a combination of a healthy Olynyk and lineups that feature Al Horford at the 5, surrounded by four shooters.
The 29-year-old won't want for other suitors. He's a decent rim protector and solid pick-and-roll defender. His rebounding rates have dropped, but he's expanded his offensive horizons. He's shooting better than 38 percent on 50-plus three-point attempts and finishing pick-and-roll gimmes at a 55.2 percent clip.
Boston can always pay Johnson if it strikes out elsewhere. He might be amenable to another short-term deal that pays more in the interim and allows team president Danny Ainge to dangle him in blockbuster trade offers as salary-matching fodder.
In a market thin on talented and gettable bigs, though, Johnson will be able to find a more prominent role. There's a chance he makes his own decision before the Celtics hear back from bigger names.
Brooklyn Nets: Randy Foye
The Brooklyn Nets don't have any flight risks of immense note. They'll be more concerned with adding talent, via the draft and free agency, than losing a pivotal contributor.
Randy Foye qualifies for different reasons. He has been starting since the end of January, during which time he's nailing almost 39 percent of his triples. But the Nets give everyone the neon-green light, and at 33, Foye is just a temporary bridge to someone younger.
Any interest in re-signing him is, strategically speaking, more about his character.
General manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson spent last offseason trying to add guys who help instill a winning culture amid rampant losing. Foye remains an important part of that approach after diving in, head first, from the get-go.
"Some places where you're rebuilding, it's turmoil from top to bottom," he said at the beginning of the season. "Management doesn't know if they're going to have their jobs. Coaches don't know if they're going to have their jobs. Here, we're rebuilding, but at the same time we're trying to be competitive. The young guys are learning, the older guys are teaching. There's no turmoil."
Teams are always in the market for veteran shooters who give a damn, so Foye will have his suitors. If the Nets sign a youngster or decide it's time to turn a larger share of backcourt responsibilities over to K.J. McDaniels and Isaiah Whitehead, it'll be tougher to sell Foye on a leadership role that doesn't include much playing time.
Charlotte Hornets: No One
With no notable players entering free agency (sorry, Brian Roberts), the Charlotte Hornets will instead be left to lament a cluttered salary sheet on the heels of a season that ends without a playoff berth.
Guaranteed commitments alone drag the Hornets past next year's projected $102 million cap. That number can easily jump past $110 million after factoring in this June's first-rounder and depending on whether Charlotte views Johnny O'Bryant (non-guaranteed), Ramon Sessions (team option) and Briante Weber (non-guaranteed) as keepers.
Though the Hornets will have an elevated non-taxpayer mid-level exception to work with—$8.4 million, per RealGM—it won't be enough to land a marquee upgrade. Their best shot at making substantial tweaks is on the trade market.
Kemba Walker is no doubt off limits, and the four years remaining on Nicolas Batum's deal don't look so hot with his recording a career-low effective field-goal percentage. But Charlotte doesn't have a truly bad deal on its ledger.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ($13 million), Jeremy Lamb ($7 million) and Marvin Williams ($13.2 million) are reasonably priced enough to pique outside interest. Cody Zeller will be on that level as well once his four-year, $56 million extension kicks in next season and he becomes trade-eligible.
Chicago Bulls: Nikola Mirotic (Restricted)
The 35-year-old future Hall of Famer is a big-time flight risk in the sense he has a player option, but he doesn't add enough value for the Bulls to be broken up by a potential departure. He cramps the spacing of an offense already strained on breathing room, and their net rating is better when he's not on the court.
There will be more outside interest in Mirotic. He's never lived up to his stretch 4 billing, but he's relatively young at 26, and his sub-31 three-point percentage will balloon on the right team.
OK, it'll spike on pretty much any other team.
Chicago is second to last in three-point attempts per game and knockdown rate. Mirotic isn't getting the highest-quality looks in an offense ill-equipped to manufacture them. He's shooting 36.2 percent on wide-open threebies, but those barely account for one-third of his outside opportunities.
Couple this with playing time that has varied by the game since January, and any sizable offer thrown at Mirotic could end up being enough for the Bulls to send him on his way.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Deron Williams
Filling out the reserve point guard slot figures to be a yearly rite of passage for the defending champs. Next year's salary obligations, like usual, will leave the luxury-tax line in the dust, making it difficult to sign difference-makers who aren't willing to take massive pay cuts. And the Cavaliers know they'll be major buyout-market draws at the end of every February.
Williams turns 33 in June. He's entering the stage of his career when it's acceptable, sometimes expected, for you to latch onto a contender at a reduced rate. He can sign for part (or all) of Cleveland's taxpaying mid-level, get his 15 to 20 minutes a night, shoot 36.8 percent from three and spend the next couple of years chasing rings.
But there will be point guard vacancies in other places, some of which are able to offer more money. And then there's the Dwyane Wade bugaboo to consider. If he opts out of his deal with Chicago, he'll inevitably be linked to James, a pursuit that would eat into Cleveland's funds and ability to give Williams more than the bare minimum.
Maybe the Utah Jazz even beckon. Williams is interested in finishing his career where it began, as ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon told ESPN 700's OC & Hackett show, and Utah will be in the market for another floor general if one of or both George Hill and Shelvin Mack bolt.
Dallas Mavericks: Nerlens Noel (Restricted)
As far as flight-risks-who-keep-general-managers-up-at-night go, Nerlens Noel isn't one. He's a restricted free agent, and it'll be a cold day at the center of the Earth's core (shout-out hollow-Earth truthers/probably Kyrie Irving) before Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban gets outbid for a player he wants to retain.
"The only reason he was so cheap was that he is an impending restricted free agent who the [Philadelphia] Sixers did not intend to keep, not with a projected cost of around $90 million, according to league executives," Sporting News' Sean Deveney wrote shortly after the trade deadline. "That won’t be the case in Dallas, which has made clear to Noel that it will match any offer he gets this summer."
Another team can inject some drama into the situation by testing the Mavericks' resolve with a max offer sheet—an admittedly overaggressive play.
Noel doesn't space the floor, and his rim-protection numbers have steadily worsened since 2014-15. But he helped anchor some above-average defenses in Philly and is averaging 1.2 points per possession as the roll man in Dallas—84th percentile efficiency.
Squads with embarrassing amounts of cap space can spin a four-year max for a then-23-year-old rim-runner. Is that admirer out there? Will it matter if it is?
Dallas has been looking for its center of the future since what feels like the dawn of time and finally has a prospect in possession—one, mind you, who's a plus-36 through 85 minutes of work next to Dirk Nowitzki.
Denver Nuggets: Danilo Gallinari (Player Option)
Danilo Gallinari sauntered his way into the NBA's trade rumor mill ahead of the Feb. 23 deadline, because, well, that's what happens when you're a wing for the Denver Nuggets. If he opts out of his contract (likely), there's a better-than-good chance he's forced to find new digs.
It's not a money thing. The Nuggets have plenty of cap space. But they have a bunch of wings on the books for next season in Will Barton, Malik Beasley, Wilson Chandler and Juan Hernangomez. They have even more on-ball playmakers in Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic.
Forking over near-max money for a No. 2 doesn't track when he's not the difference between playoff contention and irrelevance. And that's going to be Gallinari's market. He's clearing 17 points per game with a top-five free-throw rate among non-bigs in an offense that doesn't have him dominating the rock at every turn. His offensive adaptability will put him in the conversation for a short-term max deal.
The Nuggets have the flexibility, and timeline, necessary to overpay for talent. But they need an All-NBAer talent to pair with Jokic. And Gallinari, in his best season, is a fringe All-Star.
Detroit Pistons: Aron Baynes (Player Option)
Who are we to contradict Detroit Pistons head coach, president and chief of candor Stan Van Gundy?
"We won't be able to re-sign him, but the critics, who always know, killed us for overpaying him," he told Basketball Insiders' Michael Scotto of Aron Baynes in November. "Right now, we could trade him to 29 teams in about five seconds right now at what he's making. So I don't think we made too bad a deal."
What a nice, and totally odd, thing to say about a big man who has barely cracked 15 minutes per game since signing with Detroit in 2014. But Van Gundy has a point.
Baynes is a small-burst superhero. He is averaging a double-double per 36 minutes for his career and has shot under 50 percent from the field once. He doesn't shoot threes, but he dabbles in long twos at reasonable clips.
Opponents shoot 46.2 percent at the rim when being guarded by Baynes, and he's averaging 1.17 points per possession out of pick-and-rolls. Both marks outpace teammate Andre Drummond, albeit in about half the volume.
At least a few teams will be ready to pay Baynes more than the $6.5 million he's slated to earn in 2017-18. Because the Pistons own his Early Bird rights, they can go over the cap to re-sign him at a starting salary of $11.4 million (or less) per year. But they have $41.3 million wrapped up in Drummond, Jon Leuer and Boban Marjanovic.
Van Gundy, as he alluded to, won't be able to pay market value for Baynes unless he shakes up the rest of the frontcourt cast.
Golden State Warriors: Shaun Livingston
If Durant opts out as expected and demands the max, the Warriors have to re-sign him using cap space. At that point, they wouldn't have the capacity to carry both Iguodala's ($16.7 million) and Livingston's ($11 million) cap holds.
Convincing both to return on steeply discounted pacts is out of the question. They'll meet scores of courters on the open market and have little reason to channel their inner David West.
In the event either one is willing to play the veteran's minimum card, it'll probably be Iguodala. Not only is he slightly older, but he'll have made almost $80 million more ($121.3 million) than Livingston ($41.8 million) for his career.
Durant can mitigate the issue by re-signing for a non-Bird max, which comes in at $4 million less than an actual max, per the Bay Area News Group's Anthony Slater. The Warriors would maintain full Bird rights on Iguodala and Livingston, letting them go over the cap to retain both at due cost.
Even then, Livingston is a flight risk. Where Golden State will always have minutes for a combo wing who shoots threes, like Iguodala, the 31-year-old point guard, who can defend forwards, is stuck behind Stephen Curry. His preference is to stay put, but it'd be foolish to dismiss the possibility of him being swayed by an increased role.
Houston Rockets: Nene
Nene's trek into free agency would be uneventful if the Houston Rockets weren't so unpredictable.
General manager Daryl Morey won't have trouble grinding out more than $10 million in cap space. Recanting the rights to Bobby Brown (qualifying offer), Nene and the K.J. McDaniels trade exception will get the Rockets north of $10 million in wiggle room—more if they waive the non-guaranteed deals of Kyle Wiltjer and Isaiah Taylor.
That's not terribly more than the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. Houston won't be in play for another star without a series of epic salary dumps. But cap space, however little, is the only feasible reason why Nene would become a non-priority.
The Brazilian behemoth has been a measured-dose revelation for the Rockets. Opponents are shooting 54.5 percent against at the rim—which, yuck—but he's a blockade against second-unit plodders. More than 110 players have defended at least 75 post-ups; Nene is second in points allowed per possession, just behind Paul Millsap.
And take this with a snowball's worth of salt, but: Giannis Antetokounmpo is the only player matching Nene's point (17.8), rebound (8.4), steal (1.7) and block (1.3) totals per 36 minutes in as much playing time.
Too long (it's not), didn't read (you should) summation: The 34-year-old will have options, and the Rockets are bound to explore theirs—a combination conducive to Nene's flying the coop.
Indiana Pacers: C.J. Miles (Player Option)
In the NBA, whenever you have an opportunity to land a wing who can hang tough defensively across multiple assignments, you pounce and figure out the rest later.
When that wing happens to shoot 41.7 percent from beyond the arc, you, to borrow a phrase from Isaiah Thomas, "better bring out the Brinks truck."
C.J. Miles is going to get paid (read: pah-aid). Kyle Lowry, C.J. McCollum, J.J. Redick and Klay Thompson are the only other players hitting more than 41 percent of their triples on at least 350 attempts, and he's established himself as one of the Association's foremost catch-and-shoot snipers.
Almost 225 players have churned through 75 or more spot-up possessions. Miles is averaging more points per touch (1.36) than anyone in those situations. This is insanely hard to do while playing for an Indiana Pacers faction that's 29th in total standstill sets and 23rd in wide-open shot attempts.
There are times when Miles is overmatched switching defensive assignments. He's not strong enough to battle all power forwards and slow to react on closeouts. That he's able to bounce between 2s, 3s and 4s at all, though, makes him a huge asset. It helps, too, that he places in the 70th percentile of isolation defense.
Some team is going to show the soon-to-be 30-year-old the money. And with the Pacers dangerously toeing the line between mediocrity and rebuild mode, his return, at its projected cost (a whole lot), is anything but guaranteed.
Los Angeles Clippers: J.J. Redick
Sources told Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler the Los Angeles Clippers are locks to re-sign all three of Blake Griffin (early termination option), Chris Paul (early termination option) and J.J. Redick. But that doesn't render this issue moot.
All-out maxes for Griffin and Paul will cost the Clippers more than $65 million next season. That more than doubles their guaranteed commitments while pulling them past the $122 million luxury-tax threshold—all before factoring in other cap holds and contracts.
Keeping Griffin and Paul regardless of the aggregate price is the only play. Losing two top-20 players for nothing can't be an option. Los Angeles can trade them later if angling for a teardown.
Redick's future is more complicated. Statistically, he's been the best high-volume three-point flamethrower not named Kyle Korver since joining the Clippers in 2013-14, connecting on more than 43 percent of his nearly 1,500 attempts. Shooters tend to age well—look no further than Korver himself. Redick should, at minimum, double his $7.4 million salary.
Are the Clippers willing to go that deep into the luxury tax to keep their fourth-best player? Especially if their season ends in another first- or second-round exit?
Things will get super weird if they are trounced in the first round. They might finally decide to move on from Griffin and surround DeAndre Jordan and Paul with a bunch of shooters. For now, and possibly even then, Redick's impending raise is the one about which they'll need to think most.
Los Angeles Lakers: Nick Young (Player Option)
Let's all take a moment to pause and reflect on the fact Nick Young is turning 32 in June. He seems so much younger, in large part because someone with the moniker "Swaggy P" should never be older than 16.
Young was a long shot to decline this summer's player option last season. His three-point percentage fell off a cliff, and he didn't carry himself with enough of the bravado that almost made his defensive disinterest easy to overlook.
But the Luke Walton era has been good to Young. He is shooting better than 40 percent from downtown and, with Lou Williams gone, has added more value to the Los Angeles Lakers' offensive cause than anyone else, according to NBA Math.
It's not entirely clear whether Young can command more than the $5.7 million he's currently owed in 2017-18. He's putting up pretty good numbers on a very bad team.
Still, the prospect of signing a multiyear contract that guarantees himself more money over the long haul should compel him to test the open market. And any free agent over the age of 30 is on the good-as-gone block for a rebuilding Lakers squad—particularly when, in this case, he's not exactly a reliable leader.
Memphis Grizzlies: JaMychal Green (Restricted)
During a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast, ESPN.com's Zach Lowe indicated the Grizzlies are legitimately worried about losing restricted free agent JaMychal Green.
And it's no wonder why.
Green has transformed into one of the NBA's most versatile players. He's a defensive chameleon, taking many different forms against all player types, sometimes in one possession. There's more room for him to grow on offense, but he's shooting 38.3 percent from three while scoring enough off the dribble to throw defenders for a reality check.
No player this season is matching Green's defensive rebounding (21.4), steal (1.2), block (1.6) and three-point percentages. Just six players in NBA history, in fact, have matched these benchmarks while jacking 125 or more treys: Larry Bird, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Donyell Marshall, Dirk Nowitzki and Mehmet Okur. (Aside: Holy crap.)
Hyper-aggressive teams could contemplate overpaying Green in the short term. The Grizzlies own his full Bird rights—thanks to locking him up for part of 2014-15—and can match any offer. Yet, with more than $92 million committed to next year's payroll before accounting for free agents Tony Allen and Zach Randolph, they may not want to.
Miami Heat: James Johnson
Dion Waiters (player option) could just as easily get the flight-risk nod, but the Miami Heat don't know when he's returning from his latest ankle injury. Although his market won't disappear if he doesn't play again this season, it would make him easier to keep. It's not like he has totally shed the chucker label attached to him for the past half-decade, either.
Besides, James Johnson has been better. And he's going to be more expensive. A scout told the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson the do-everything, defend-everyone forward could get $10 million per year, and that feels low.
Short-term maxes won't be a threat, and the Heat will have truckloads of space if and when they purge the remaining $52 million on Chris Bosh's deal from the ledger. Johnson is itching to stay as well, telling Jackson, "I hope I spend the rest of my life here." But the threat of big-money offers is very real.
Johnson is one of three players averaging at least 16.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes. He joins...Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant. He's also one of four Eastern Conference players who rank as one of their team's two most valuable contributors on both offense and defense, according to NBA Math. His company: Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler and LeBron James.
Miami must decide if its recent turnaround is sustainable enough, for long enough, to invest heavily in a Swiss army knife playing career basketball on the wrong side of 30.
Milwaukee Bucks: Tony Snell (Restricted)
Michael Beasley comes oh-so-close to getting primary placement for the Milwaukee Bucks. But even as he played more within the offense before suffering a hyperextended knee, he was still liable to abandon half-court sets and settle into low-percentage one-on-one battles.
Tony Snell is the better plug-and-play option, and thus the more attractive target.
Nearly two-thirds of his looks come as spot-up threes, on which he's shooting 41.9 percent. His defense remains uninspiring, but he's assuming the toughest assignment on most nights. He has defended more pick-and-roll ball-handlers than any of Milwaukee's other non-point guards and shows fight when trying to work around and through screens.
“What he is doing is unbelievable, so why would we not want him back?” head coach Jason Kidd said, per the Journal Sentinel's Charles F. Gardner. “He’s about the culture; he’s about team. That’s what makes him such a special human being.”
The Bucks can match whatever offer Snell, a restricted free agent, accepts from outside suitors. But his return isn't that simple. Teams often go boocoo bonkers for wings who drain three-balls and show glimpses of defensive competence. Snell, 25, has enough untapped potential to glean eight-figure-a-year bids—at which point the Bucks would have to think twice about bringing him back.
(Full disclosure: Beasley has a puncher's chance of being the more lucrative free agent—and by extension the greater flight risk—if teams swoon over what has been surprisingly meticulous one-on-one defense.)
Minnesota Timberwolves: Shabazz Muhammad (Restricted)
The Minnesota Timberwolves were "determined" to move Shabazz Muhammad leading into February's trade deadline, according to NBA.com's David Aldridge. That impulse, while unsuccessful, does not bode well for the relationship beyond this season.
Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins both become extension-eligible over the summer. Even if the Timberwolves wait until July 2018, in restricted free agency, to hash out their futures, they cannot afford to float the contracts for all three of these wings.
Letting Muhammad walk for nothing isn't ideal, but it's not indefensible. He's shooting under 20 percent from three-point land since LaVine suffered a season-ending ACL injury, during which time Minnesota, as it's worked back into the Western Conference playoff conversation, hasn't lost much on either side of the court with him riding pine.
Cutting bait becomes much easier when that money won't be wasted by holding serve. The Timberwolves have canyons of cap space, and shoot-first role players who remain defensive obstacles aren't that hard to replace.
Another team better equipped to cover Muhammad's struggles on the glamorous end will bite. And yet, it won't take more than a noticeable nibble to pry him out of Minnesota.
New Orleans Pelicans: Jrue Holiday
Several teams were hoping to pry Holiday out of New Orleans, however, with Sunday’s DeMarcus Cousins deal, the Pelicans have gone all in on this roster and are comfortable with where they stand with Holiday, mainly because they can give him the largest deal in free agency. The Pelicans are prepared to do a max or near max deal for Holiday (according to sources) and that salary value may be too rich for other suitors, especially given Holiday’s injury history.
And then the remade New Orleans Pelicans actually took the court. Holiday didn't look good. He's perked up a bit during their three-game winning streak, but he's averaging 14 points on 41 percent shooting, including a sub-30 percent three-point clip, since Cousins' arrival.
Playing with Anthony Davis and Cousins at the same time isn't easy. Driving lanes aren't as open, even with their shooting threes and trading spaces in the paint.
New Orleans' offense needs a facelift to make the Twin Terrors work...and more shooters. Money alone could convince Holiday to ride it out; the Pelicans can offer him more than any other team. But pretty much every other star point guard seems destined to sit tight. Holiday will be the go-to guy for deep-pocketed suitors. He won't necessarily have to stay put to get a max contract.
New York Knicks: Justin Holiday
Despite shopping Derrick Rose at the trade deadline, the New York Knicks haven't ruled out re-signing him, according to ESPN New York's Ian Begley. That doesn't make him a desirable commodity. His exit would still be addition by subtraction because of all he doesn't do on defense.
Justin Holiday is the more valuable asset. He isn't a lockdown defender, but he's rangy. He can guard 2s and 3s, disrupt pick-and-rolls and shoot fairly wide gaps on closeouts.
Not many wings blend his length with dependable sleight of hand. Michael Carter-Williams, Robert Covington, Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha are the only players who've matched his steal (2.3) and block (1.6) rates since 2014-15 while logging as many minutes.
Defenses finally have to respect Holiday's three-point stroke. He's shooting a career-high 36.6 percent from long range and drilling more than 40 percent of his wide-open outside opportunities.
Holiday's three-and-D ceiling is high enough that he could be essential to the Knicks' future, but the financial logistics leave his importance to chance. Courtney Lee and Lance Thomas, not to mention Carmelo Anthony, are already on the docket, and Holiday, at 27-going-on-28, is an iffy rebuilding cog.
If New York is going to funnel more money into another wing, it needs to be a more proven standout or a high-reward youngster. Holiday falls somewhere in between and won't become a surefire keeper unless team president Phil Jackson moves one of his other perimeter bodies.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Taj Gibson
Cap-rich teams with no immediate expectations will turn Andre Roberson's restricted free agency into a dramatic affair (where you at, Brooklyn?). If he gets an offer that triples his pre-contract hold ($5.5 million), Oklahoma City's financial obligations for next season will explode past the luxury tax.
Spending over $125 million, before tax penalties, for a core that doesn't crack the top four in its conference is dicey business. The Thunder could decide to pass on Roberson to save money, the thought process being it's not impossible to replace a tenacious perimeter defender who can't shoot on the cheap.
Would Roberson be in Oklahoma City right now if that was an option, though? General manager Sam Presti typically unloads soon-to-be restricted free agents he doesn't plan to or cannot pay. That Roberson remains implies the organization will pay what it takes to re-sign him.
Taj Gibson becomes the most pressing wild card using this logic—and, arguably, beyond that. He has replaced rookie Domantas Sabonis in the starting five, but the Thunder have Enes Kanter and Steven Adams, whom they will pay a combined $40.4 million in 2017-18.
Jerami Grant (team option) and Sabonis can soak up time at power forward for a fraction of what it costs to keep Gibson. His cap hold will sit at $13.4 million, and he could net even more. The dollar signs don't favor a return unless Oklahoma City finds a new home for Kanter.
Orlando Magic: No One
Should the Orlando Magic fret over losing Jeff Green and his $15 million salary? Or Jodie Meeks, who has appeared in all of 25 games this season?
The Magic are in an unenviable position. They don't employ a superstar and are on track for their fourth top-five pick in five years, yet they won't have max cap space. General manager Rob Hennigan can almost effortlessly get above $15 million in spending power, but that's assuming he's in charge. His job is "under threat," according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
A new regime would enter at a time when the Magic have to reinvest in their underwhelming core. Both Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton are extension-eligible this summer, and taking their cases to restricted free agency in 2018 opens the door to egregious offer sheets from outside teams.
Not that it matters who's making these decisions. They won't be no-brainers even if Hennigan is steering the ship. This is the spot in which the Magic find themselves: desperately in need of change, without a clear-cut cornerstone to provide direction.
Philadelphia 76ers: Sergio Rodriguez
Sergio Rodriguez's stay with the Sixers probably won't last beyond this season.
Sure, he's fun. Crafty. Scrappy. He is second on the team in assist rate, just behind T.J. McConnell, and has the second-highest catch-and-shoot effective field-goal percentage among rotation staples. Philly has the head room to re-sign him, and it's not like the point guard position is suddenly set.
But the Sixers have grander ambitions. Adding a tenured superstar remains an obsession. They tried to trade for Paul George, according to Liberty Ballers' Kyle Neubeck, and ESPN.com's Zach Lowe said on a December episode of The Lowe Post podcast, via Hoops Rumors, that they plan to have a go at Philadelphia native Kyle Lowry (player option) in free agency.
On top of everything, the Sixers will run low on roster spots. They have eight players under guaranteed contract for 2017-18. That number will climb to 11 once they exercise Robert Covington's team option and guarantee the salaries of Richaun Holmes and T.J. McConnell. This year's first-round pick brings that total to 12, and it could then shoot higher depending on the Lakers' (top-three protected) and Mavericks' (top-18 protected) draft position.
Spritz in non-guaranteed deals for Gerald Henderson and Shawn Long, plus the usual gaggle of second-round fliers, and the Sixers roster could exceed 15 names before the start of free agency. Rodriguez is all but certain to become a casualty of this depth-chart pileup.
Phoenix Suns: Alex Len
Rarely does a top-five prospect get away in restricted free agency. Alex Len is shaping up to be an exception.
Underwhelming development is at the root of this dilemma. The 23-year-old is coming along as a rim protector; he's holding opponents to 48.7 percent shooting at the hoop, the best mark of his career. But he doesn't fit the mold for today's bigs.
Len has the freedom to take jumpers, but he's not a real threat to score outside eight feet of the bucket. He doesn't excel as a pick-and-roll finisher, and his back-to-the-basket game is nonexistent.
“For Alex Len it’s just keep doing what you’re doing,” Phoenix Suns teammate Jared Dudley said, per Cronkite News' Gavin Schall, via ArizonaSports.com. “He’s a 7-foot guy who can score on the block nice sometimes. He’s young, he’s going to get paid regardless of what happens. He could play no minutes. He’s still a big that can contribute in the NBA.”
Those contributions will probably be coming on another team next season. Dragan Bender, Tyson Chandler and Marquese Chriss make for a crammed frontcourt, and Alan Williams, also a restricted free agent, is averaging more burn than Len since the end of January.
Squeezing the 7'1" skyscraper into the mix is next to impossible when the Suns like to use T.J. Warren and Dudley as small-ball 4s. Trading Chandler doesn't help much, either. So barring complete disinterest from the rest of the league, Len's time in Phoenix looks like it's drawing to a close.
Portland Trail Blazers: None
The Portland Trail Blazers have zero free agents. That's impressively tough to do—which isn't to be confused with commendably convenient.
Stand pat, and the Blazers blow past next year's luxury tax. They have nearly $133 million in guaranteed commitments, and that's before they make decisions on the non-guaranteed deals of Pat Connaughton, Festus Ezeli and Tim Quarterman.
And we haven't yet gotten to their three first-round draft picks. Ezeli is a goner, but they'll need to open up two more slots to fit all three selections on the roster if they want to keep Connaughton and Quarterman.
Pencil the Blazers in for a few trades prior to 2017-18. They have no choice. Consolidation is their only option.
Failing a folkloric compaction, even that won't adequately address their primary problem: They're about to cannonball into the luxury tax for a nucleus of players that probably won't make the playoffs.
Sacramento Kings: Darren Collison
Process of elimination leads us to Darren Collison.
Arron Afflalo and Anthony Tolliver have non-guaranteed salaries for next season; the Sacramento Kings can keep them if they wish. Langston Galloway has a $5.4 million option, but he won't break the bank if he opts out and doesn't solve the team's point guard quandary.
Ben McLemore will garner interest after shooting a career-best 39.4 percent from long range—lethal enough, perhaps, to have played himself into the Kings' future. But they have Buddy Hield and Malachi Richardson. They won't flinch if McLemore becomes too expensive.
Rudy Gay would be a viable candidate even with his season-ending Achilles injury if Sacramento didn't pivot off its previous course. He hasn't decided whether he'll exercise his $14.3 million player option, per the Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones, but the team will be indifferent to his return now that it's embracing a rebuild.
That leaves Collison. He's shooting a career-best 41.7 percent from three, and Sacramento still scores like a top-12ish offense in the post-Boogie era when he's running the show.
Collison will be among the first players buyers turn to after Stephen Curry, George Hill, Jrue Holiday, Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul and Jeff Teague agree to new deals. And any rival interest could spell the end for his time with the Kings. They no longer have incentive to reinvest in a 29-year-old who isn't a top-20 player at his position.
San Antonio Spurs: Dewayne Dedmon, Player Option
Manu Ginobili would win the San Antonio Spurs' "Biggest Possible Abandoner" award if retirement counted toward these selections. It doesn't, mostly because thinking about Ginobili calling it quits will reduce even soulless beings to tears.
Dewyane Dedmon's free agency is a verifiable pickle for the Spurs. They can go over the cap to re-sign Patty Mills, and Jonathon Simmons is a restricted free agent. Dedmon's market exploration, should he opt out of his contract, offers no such luxuries.
San Antonio must dip into cap space to re-sign him unless he accepts a non-Bird rights starting salary of about $3.5 million with incremental 4.5 percent raises. That's not happening. This is the 27-year-old's chance to cash in on his expert defensive display.
As Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal wrote after Dedmon graded out as the second-best defensive center for 2016-17:
His ability to keep opponents away from the basket has remained present irrespective to the lineups he's used in. As such, he's strengthening the second unit—with which he's played even when opening games in the starting five—by disproportionate amounts, since it doesn't have a Leonard replacement to prevent dribble penetration.
He's become a legitimate stopper—one who's going to get Paid (yes, with a capital "p") this summer in free agency.
The Spurs can dredge up some green through contract-rights roulette. It just might not be enough. And if it is, they'll have to decide whether it's worth footing the bill for Dedmon when they owe $37.7 million to LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol (player option) next season.
Toronto Raptors: P.J. Tucker
P.J. Tucker joined the Toronto Raptors as a presumed partial-season rental. That hasn't changed. Really, his status feels irreversible. Life is about to get that expensive.
Keeping the contracts of Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet while taking on their first-round pick will give the Raptors $81 million in fully guaranteed deals. Add in cap holds for Serge Ibaka ($18.4 million), Kyle Lowry ($18 million), Patrick Patterson ($9.1 million) and P.J. Tucker ($10.1 million), and they're sniffing $140 million—miles above the luxury-tax line.
This projection will only balloon. Either Patterson or Tucker could broker more than their salary-cap bookmark. Ibaka and Lowry will leave their holds in the dust if they get max money. Retaining those two alone will vault Toronto into the $160 million ballpark.
Putting next year's Blazers roster to net-worth shame isn't a sustainable financial model. The Raptors will make moves before next year and cut ties with tenured mainstays. It won't be long before we hear DeMarre Carroll's and Jonas Valanciunas' names bandied about the rumor mill.
Severing commitments to free agents is cleaner. And since Ibaka and Lowry aren't going anywhere, Toronto is left with Patterson and Tucker. The latter will be more expensive, because, going on 32, he remains a defensive pest not even the most vaunted perimeter weapons want to face.
And in this instance, given the Raptors' cap situation, more expensive means more likely to flee.
Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward (Player Option)
Every single aspect of the Jazz's offseason rests on Gordon Hayward's free agency—including the fates of other potential flight risks. If he stays, they can pay all their free agents without hesitation (except Shelvin Mack and Jeff Withey, who are rendered expendable by Dante Exum and Joel Bolomboy).
It doesn't matter if George Hill needs near-max money or if a nettlesome buyer bids $12 million-plus per year on Joe Ingles. The Jazz, at full strength, are one of the league's most dangerous teams. They have a top-six record and top-four net rating—and that's despite losing more value to injuries than any other squad, per Man Games Lost NBA. They will pay to keep that upside alive.
Utah will have the inside track on re-signing Hayward—unalterably so if he makes an All-NBA team and qualifies for the Designated Player Exception, which would entitle him to a five-year deal worth more than $200 million. But the Celtics loom, like always, because his head coach from Butler, Brad Stevens, is calling the shots.
One executive told Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler, jokingly, that "it was a two-horse race as it pertains to Hayward’s future, suggesting he’d only meet with the Celtics and Jazz in free agency." This threat is genuine. Boston has a clearer path to the NBA Finals and will maintain the ability to cobble together blockbuster trade packages for Jimmy Butler.
Anything less than a surprisingly deep postseason push and/or qualifying for the DPE should persuade Hayward to enter free agency with his (apparently small window of) options open.
Washington Wizards: Bojan Bogdanovic (Restricted)
Bojan Bogdanovic didn't join the Washington Wizards at the trade deadline as a surefire keeper. They needed to dump Andrew Nicholson's contract to soften the sting of Otto Porter's inevitable max deal. Bogdanovic was a temporary bonus—a tested scorer who strengthened Washington's postseason appeal and would leave at season's end.
That outlook hasn't changed. Porter still needs a max deal, and the Wizards will have a hard time paying what quite possibly amounts to eight figures per year for their sixth or seventh man.
To his credit, Bogdanovic is ensuring this decision won't be simple. He's shooting 42.9 percent from deep since arriving in Washington. That accuracy soars to 46.2 percent as a spot-up marksman, and he's brought some of his self-sufficient flair from Brooklyn.
Washington still doesn't have cause to pay Bogdanovic what the market might. The defense gets killed with him on the floor. Slotting him with starters doesn't help; the Wizards allow 129.1 points per 100 possessions when they sub him in for Markieff Morris.
Expecting Bogdanovic to be anything more than an impactful rental remains a stretch.