Stay Away: 1 Free Agent Every NBA Team Should Avoid This Offseason
When so much time is spent poring over salary-cap situations and grasping at potential roster upgrades, it's easy to forget not all possible additions are palatable ones. Big names are not always good fits. Players who seemingly address a need sometimes aren't what a squad actually needs.
Our salary-cap projections reign supreme when determining which player every team should give a hard pass to. Taxpaying units with starting point guards already in place shouldn't make Chris Paul the primary object of their affections, because duh.
We're also assuming the most fundamental level of common sense. Teams won't target free agents who aren't legitimate flight risks—for example, the Oklahoma City Thunder shouldn't bind their offseason hopes to getting a do-over with Kevin Durant.
Rumored options are tackled where applicable, but this is situation-specific more than anything—a comprehensive list of realistic possibilities that shouldn't be.
Atlanta Hawks: Michael Carter-Williams (Restricted)
Assuming the Atlanta Hawks want Tim Hardaway Jr. and Paul Millsap to stick around, they'll be operating as a capped-out team. That doesn't give them much to use on a backup point guard.
Atlanta will have the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which, at a projected $8.4 million, per Real GM, is nothing special—particularly when it needs to reel in more than one player. Kris Humphries, Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Muscala and Thabo Sefolosha are free agents as well, and there's no chance they'll all come back.
Finding a cheap floor general is a must. The Hawks have tried getting by with Hardaway and Kent Bazemore acting as faux point guards in Dennis Schroder's absence, but neither is a long-term solution. And though restricted free agents aren't typically options for squads with no cap space, Michael Carter-Williams is a special case.
Four years into his career, he still doesn't boast a jumper, and his finishing around the rim is uninspired on good nights. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Chicago Bulls pass on his qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent who can sign anywhere he pleases.
Teams will always rescue length. Good wingspans imply an ability to defend multiple positions. Carter-Williams will land somewhere, likely on a beggar's dime. It just shouldn't be Atlanta. The Hawks don't have the offensive spacing or overall depth to offset his interminable learning curve.
Boston Celtics: Blake Griffin (Early Termination Option)
Gordon Hayward is the presumptive target of the Boston Celtics' offseason affections. But they'll need a plan B if he re-signs with the Utah Jazz—the most likely outcome to his free agency.
Gifted with a clear path to max space, the Celtics' contingency options will no doubt include other superstars. And, well, the Blake Griffin-to-Boston drum has been banged on before; it could happen again.
Griffin is considered more of a flight risk than Los Angeles Clippers teammate and fellow expected free agent Chris Paul, according to ESPN.com's Kevin Arnovitz. Boston has Al Horford, but he works alongside almost any big. He spent ample time beside Amir Johnson this year and has jacked nearly 500 three-pointers over the past two seasons.
Horford's outside-in game, though, isn't enough for the Celtics to max out Griffin. He doesn't drastically improve their defensive rebounding and isn't a staunch rim protector. He hoisted 113 triples during the regular season, but that's the first time he's cleared 50 deep balls.
Suitors should be chasing Griffin with the intention of sticking him at center for protracted stretches. His offensive repertoire is no longer unique enough at the 4 to mask his struggles when defending in space.
As long as Horford is in tow, the Celtics won't have too many extra minutes at the 5 to throw around. If they plan on pivoting into power-forward pursuits, they need to target more complementary full-timers like JaMychal Green or Paul Millsap.
Brooklyn Nets: Andre Roberson (Restricted)
Andre Roberson previously checked in as one of the Brooklyn Nets' better free-agency options. They have gobs of cash to burn through, and he, unlike Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Otto Porter Jr., is actually gettable.
Chalk this up to Roberson's undefined market value. Caldwell-Pope and Porter will field max offer sheets that their incumbent squads will match; Roberson won't.
Sources told the Norman Transcript's Fred Katz that Roberson turned down a four-year, $48 million extension from the Oklahoma Thunder last fall. His defense alone will fetch DeMarre Carroll money (four years, $58 million) on the open market, and offers will explode from there if certain admirers believe he can develop into a reliable—or even half-competent—three-point marksman.
Brooklyn seems like the perfect team to make that gambit on the surface. General manager Sean Marks is playing the long game, and head coach Kenny Atkinson has a soft spot for switchy wings.
But the Nets have one lockdown defender with a broken jumper in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. They don't need another—let alone one who would become their second-highest-paid player. More offense-friendly options like Tony Snell or even Tim Hardaway Jr. pose better fits.
Charlotte Hornets: Brandon Jennings
Shedding two of their eight-figure salaries is the only way for the Charlotte Hornets to carve out meaningful cap space. Failing that, they'll need to hope the non-taxpayer mid-level can be parlayed into backup playmaking and shooting.
Signing a second-string point guard takes precedence. Charlotte's offensive output plunged by 8.3 points per 100 possessions whenever Kemba Walker stepped off the floor—the difference between a top-seven attack and 30th-place sad-sack.
Ramon Sessions (team option) isn't the answer. Ditto for Brian Roberts. Briante Weber had his moments, but he's no second-unit lifeline. Charlotte needs someone different.
Darren Collison would be the ideal understudy if he were willing to take the mid-level, but anything under $10 million per year might prove too low for him. He's certainly out of the running if the Hornets are looking to split their spending power across multiple holes, in which case they'll need to rummage through the bottom of the discount barrel.
Brandon Jennings falls to that price point. He coaxed $5 million out of the New York Knicks this past season, before being waived, and would be lucky to match that in his next deal. He isn't moving the same since his Achilles injury, and his offensive efficiency, which was low to begin with, has plummeted.
Bringing him off the bench doesn't elevate Charlotte's scoring machine. He can't play off Walker as part of dual-point guard lineups, and it's too much work to hide him on defense. If he's the best the Hornets can afford, they're better off picking up Sessions' team option and/or scouring the trade market.
Chicago Bulls: Nick Young (Player Option)
Ergo, they won't have that much cap space.
Executive vice president John Paxson said there's a "really good chance" Chicago brings back Rondo, per ESPN.com's Nick Friedell. That's suit-speak for "He isn't going anywhere." Wade's future is his own to decide, but he doesn't sound like he's in any rush to find new digs.
"I don't need to ring chase, but I can. It's a great luxury to have," he said, per the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson. "Or I can be a part of passing down my knowledge to younger players. It's either way. Whatever I decide, I'm going to embrace whatever role I have on a team."
Wade would be good as gone if the Bulls made it clear they're dealing Jimmy Butler and starting over. But keeping Rondo suggests they're not. That, plus 23.8 million other reasons, should keep Wade in town another year.
Run back this core while carrying Nikola Mirotic's cap hold, and the mid-level exception will be Chicago's main avenue of improvement. That should be enough scratch for a three-point specialist, and wouldn't you know it, Nick Young wants to play for a postseason contender, per Shahan Ahmed of NBC LA.
Except, no. The Bulls' dynamic is fragile enough with the Three Amigos. Adding a character like Young to the equation is too much. Besides, he turns 32 in June. Chicago is nearing a rebuild, even if it's not next season, and Young isn't opting out of his contract without the promise of a multiyear deal.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Dwyane Wade (Player Option)
Contrary to what we just discussed, let's say Dwyane Wade does explore free agency. Where will he sign?
There's not much of a demand for a 35-year-old guard who takes plays off on defense and doesn't stroke threes at high clips (outside the postseason). Choose his next destination based solely on money, and it could still take Wade three seasons to recoup the $23.8 million he's owed from the Bulls in 2017-18.
Testing the open market is, for him, akin to letting the world know he'll take a pay cut—at which point the Cleveland Cavaliers become a natural suitor. They tried signing him last summer, in no small part because LeBron James is one of his best bros.
Perhaps the time for a reunion will be right this summer. But the fit won't be.
Cleveland needs bodies behind Tristan Thompson, two-way wings and, depending on what happens with Deron Williams, a reserve point guard. Wade doesn't fit any of those descriptions. The Cavaliers can use him to pilot the second unit, a la Manu Ginobili, but he doesn't have the spot-up acumen to tag along in lineups with James and Kyrie Irving.
Pretty much any other option the Cavaliers have will be the better tactical one. Things change if Wade is willing to accept a minimum deal, but they have no business shelling out part or all of the taxpayer mid-level exception to a player they don't need.
Dallas Mavericks: George Hill
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has made no secret of his team's foremost offseason goal.
"We'll have depth, but we have to get that one pass-first point guard," he said, per the Dallas Morning News' Eddie Sefko. "That's what we don't have."
Free agency will be the Mavericks' best chance at netting an impact 1 unless they're blessed by the draft-lottery gods. They can get more than $20 million in cap space by waiving Devin Harris and declining Dirk Nowitzki's $25 million team option. (Fear not, Dallas peeps. The Mavs would re-sign Nowitzki at a massive discount. That's been the plan since he signed this contract last summer.)
This isn't enough money to convince Stephen Curry that playing for the Golden State Warriors is a bad career decision. It does, however, get the Mavericks in a room with George Hill, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague. And Hill is the biggest flight risk on them all.
Utah will have no reason re-sign him if Gordon Hayward bolts, and it has to worry about cannonballing into the luxury tax if he stays. A contract that pays Hill $20 million or more per year might prove too much—or too unnecessary—to match.
Hill's on-ball playmaking and off-action shooting fit almost seamlessly into Dallas' rotation, but he's 31. The tail end of his next deal isn't going to look good, and the Mavericks shouldn't invest in someone whose prime won't extend deep into the post-Dirk era. Hill's price tag should get a hard pass from them.
Denver Nuggets: Patrick Patterson
The Denver Nuggets have every free-agent option imaginable at their disposal.
Renounce the rights to Danilo Gallinari once he opts out of his contract, and they can afford max deals for any player with under 10 years of service. Ditch both him and Mike Miller, and they become one of the few suitors who can peddle full maxes to Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap and Chris Paul—veterans with a decade or more of experience. Float Gallinari's hold while waiving Miller, and they'll still be able to target $15 million-a-year talents.
Every team outside Philadelphia would kill for this flexibility. But the Nuggets have no use for the middle-ground options. They need a star. It doesn't matter if his timeline isn't perfectly aligned with the rest of the roster. They have the head room and incumbent prospects to simultaneously compete and rebuild.
Retaining Gallinari, a non-star who will command star money, would be a no-no if they didn't own his Bird rights. Patrick Patterson falls into the same boat—only, unlike Gallinari, they can't go over the cap to sign him.
Nikola Jokic needs a more versatile frontcourt running mate. Gallinari doesn't provide the necessary defensive punch as a small-ball 4, Kenneth Faried doesn't have enough offensive range for the position and Mason Plumlee, like Jokic, shouldn't be guarding power forwards.
Patterson barely shot 40 percent from the field during the regular season, and his efficiency cratered in the playoffs. But he plays both ends of the floor, has canned at least 36 percent of his threes in each of the last five years and is a plus-minus superhero. Fred VanVleet was the only member of the Toronto Raptors with a better regular-season net rating, and he didn't even clear 300 minutes of court time.
Giving Patterson $12 to $15 million (or more) per year is fine for contenders seeking a finishing touch. The Nuggets aren't that team. Their free-agency investments should be limited to big-time names or big-time bargains, and no one in between.
Detroit Pistons: Aron Baynes (Player Option)
Detroit Pistons head coach and president Stan Van Gundy knew this was coming. He bemoaned how much it would cost to re-sign Aron Baynes back in November, per Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.
Bigs who don't chuck threes aren't in high demand these days. It's hard to find teams who need a big at all. Sift through depth charts for every NBA squad, and there are few, if any, fixing to pay a skyscraper.
Cost will still be an issue even if Baynes comes cheaper than expected. Detroit must abandon his $9.8 million cap hold to operate as a non-tax team prior to re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (restricted).
Van Gundy can technically keep Baynes if he doesn't have big plans for the full mid-level exception, but the Pistons have $41.3 million committed to Andre Drummond, Jon Leuer and Boban Marjanovic next year—all of whom, like Baynes, are best suited at center. Leuer is the only one of the four who can soak up time at power forward.
Adding Baynes' next contract to this ledger is fiscally irresponsible. Detroit should use whatever resources it has to acquire shooting.
Golden State Warriors: Tiago Splitter
There are times when you watch the Warriors and can't help but wonder how terrifying they'd be if someone better than Zaza Pachulia was jumping center next to their four All-Stars. Finding an upgrade is completely, totally, wholly unnecessary for a team this good, but still, what if it did?
Swapping out Pachulia for Tiago Splitter would have sounded great three or four years ago. Now? Not so much.
Splitter has missed 173 of a possible 328 regular-season games since 2013-14. The Warriors have done the injury-prone big-man dance before, with both Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli. They needn't take a flyer on another one.
The Warriors have bigger concerns than shoring up the center spot anyway—like figuring out how to re-sign Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (player option) without losing Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston. Plus, targeting another center would suggest they aren't able to afford JaVale McGee.
And we, the basketball community, aren't ready to entertain such an incurably painful departure.
Houston Rockets: Omri Casspi
The Houston Rockets won't have the cap space to go superstar-hunting without dumping a few of their sizable deals. Do nothing, and they'll have the full mid-level to dangle. Pass on their own free agents and non-guaranteed contracts, and they'll approach $12 million in buying power.
Either way, this offseason will be about maintenance. And there's always a temptation to add sweet-shooting frontcourt contributors when Mike D'Antoni is the head coach.
Omri Casspi wouldn't be a bad fit. He's shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc since 2014-15 and excelled as a small-ball 4 with the Sacramento Kings in 2015-16. Signing him as relief for Ryan Anderson jibes with Houston's three-point-drunk offense.
But the Rockets have a more immediate need for combo wings who bolster the defense during those times when Anderson or Montrezl Harrell play center. Casspi isn't that, even though he can absorb spot minutes at the 3. Houston can try caging a higher-end backup 5, but spending money on another big when Clint Capela is eligible for an extension is iffy territory.
Justin Holiday, Joe Ingles, Luc Mbah a Moute, Patrick Patterson, Thabo Sefolosha—they're all better fits. Houston can worry about Anderson insurance later, if at all.
Indiana Pacers: JJ Redick
JJ Redick is the perfect fit for the Indiana Pacers. They need to launch more long balls to unclog their offense after finishing 26th in three-point rate, and Redick clears 40 percent shooting on 400-plus attempts in his sleep.
If only he wasn't about to sign one of the summer's worst contracts.
League officials told the Los Angeles Times' Broderick Turner that Redick will elicit offers starting at $18 million per year. Shooting ages well, but damn. That's too much to pay for someone who turns 33 in June and couldn't be a true difference-maker in the Clippers' first-round loss to the Jazz.
"Redick's turnover percentage was higher than his usage rate, a shocking development for a player who's rarely in position to cough up the ball at all," Vice Sports' Michael Pina wrote. "He attempted less than half as many shots per 36 minutes compared to last year's playoffs, and shot 38 percent from the floor. One series doesn't make or break any player, but Redick turns 33 in June and he isn't getting any quicker. He's undersized and was, for the first time in recent memory, an outright defensive liability against the Jazz."
Indiana can come close to hitting Redick's predicted salary by replacing all its non-guaranteed deals with minimum holds. Renounce C.J. Miles' Bird rights (player option), and there will be room to spare. But Miles, 30, is younger, and the Pacers shouldn't tie any part of their payroll to costly add-ons until Paul George's future is settled.
Strike a deal to dump Monta Ellis' and/or Al Jefferson's contracts, and that changes. For now, the Pacers must err on the side of caution—or at least not total recklessness.
Los Angeles Clippers: Jeff Green
Cap space is a foreign luxury to the Clippers. Keep the band together, blow it up, toe the line in between the two—it doesn't matter.
Let Blake Griffin, Luc Mbah a Moute and JJ Redick all walk, and the Clippers still don't have cap space. They're stuck. Staying a on treadmill is the only option that doesn't end with them bottoming out while barren of building blocks.
That severely limits what head coach and president Doc Rivers can do to improve his team. And that's if he's given the chance. He'll need to enact damage control if Mbah a Moute and Redick, the two biggest flight risks, price themselves out of Los Angeles.
Mbah a Moute's situation is particularly troublesome. The Clippers own his Early Bird rights and can only offer him 104.5 percent of this past season's average salary before dipping into cap space they won't have. If he leaves, they lose their best perimeter defender and a viable three-point threat.
And that brings us to Jeff Green. Rivers coached him in Boston and gave up a first-round pick to rent him in 2015-16. His name will pop up as an Mbah a Moute replacement or backup. He won't come close to matching the $15 million he made with the Orlando Magic and might be willing to accept a chunk of the taxpayer mid-level to reunite with Doc.
It's on Rivers to make sure that doesn't happen. Green is, at best, a lateral move from Wesley Johnson, who the Clippers have under contract and don't play. They shouldn't pay someone else who invariably won't live up to his deal—regardless of how much it's worth.
Los Angeles Lakers: Nikola Mirotic (Restricted)
Between Luol Deng, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr. and Julius Randle, the Los Angeles Lakers' best options at power forward combined for two made three-pointers per game.
Nikola Mirotic averaged 1.8 long-range makes on his own. And that was for a Bulls team that couldn't stretch the floor if Jimmy Butler's loyalty depended on it.
If Lakers head honcho Luke Walton can get Nick Young into All-Star Weekend's Three-Point Contest, imagine what he could do with Mirotic, who shot 43.5 percent from downtown through his last 16 regular-season outings.
Actually, don't. You'll start to yearn. And Mirotic won't come cheap. The Lakers have to offer enough for the Bulls to bail on matching, and while they have the scratch to force a tough decision, lavishing Mirotic with a long-term deal this summer compromises their flexibility in 2018, when Paul George (player option) is a free agent.
Any expensive additions this year must be made with that in mind. So unless the Lakers are resigned to mortgaging the farm for George via trade or confident they can pawn off Deng or Timofey Mozgov on another team, they shouldn't cut into next summer's cash flow to sign a non-superstar.
Memphis Grizzlies: Tyreke Evans
Forget actual cap space. The Memphis Grizzlies will be lucky to evade the luxury tax if they're planning to run it back with the current nucleus.
Inking Vince Carter and Zach Randolph to salaries significantly less than their holds ($8.1 million and $15.5 million, respectively) would allow the Grizzlies to ferry pre-contract hits for Tony Allen ($10.5 million) and JaMychal Green ($2.8 million) while functioning as a non-taxpayer. And that, in turn, gives them the full mid-level exception to address what Chandler Parsons did not: a dearth of zing on the wings.
Noticeably impactful players aren't signing for $8.4 million per year. Memphis would count itself as beyond fortunate to obtain Luc Mbah a Moute at that rate, so a bargain-bin exploration is inevitable.
Tyreke Evans flashed a 43.8 percent three-point clip and quality ball-handling after being traded from the New Orleans Pelicans to the Kings on Feb. 20. He should fall right into the Grizzlies' price range. But his outside shooting isn't a given, and Memphis isn't flush with other long-range assassins who open up passageways for drives.
On top of that, and perhaps most importantly, the Grizzlies are financially bound to one wing with a history of knee problems. Two is overkill. Their search for a system-friendly Rudy Gay should lead them elsewhere.
Miami Heat: Serge Ibaka
Barring any unforeseen hiccups, per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson, the Miami Heat expect the final two years and $52.1 million left on Chris Bosh's pact to be purged from their ledger in time for an offseason spending spree.
Waiving Wayne Ellington's non-guaranteed salary gives team president/free-agent whisperer Pat Riley more than $37 million to play with while toting all must-keep contract holds and exercising any necessary options. Though he indicated at his end-of-season presser the focus will be on re-signing incumbents, such as James Johnson, we know better.
Give Riley cap space, and he'll eye stars, even if his overtures fly under the radar. And Serge Ibaka has already piqued the Heat's attention. They were among those who tried to trade for him before the Magic shipped him north.
The Raptors wouldn't have forked over Terrence Ross and a pick for Ibaka if they didn't intend to re-sign him. But after getting swept by the Cavaliers, they also aren't in a position to write blank checks. If the Heat come in at or around Ibaka's max ($30.3 million in year one), he'll in all likelihood be theirs—which would be a mistake.
Ibaka is a respectable spot-up shooter and not much more. His shot-blocking doesn't always translate to rim protection, he can't switch pick-and-rolls and an offense that leans on him to put the ball on the floor is begging for disaster.
Pairing him with Hassan Whiteside is appealing for shot-swatting theater, but the two instantly form the league's worst passing frontcourt. If Riley is looking to deviate from his "Take care of our own" missive, combo wings or switchy power forwards should top his wish list. Investing in a 27-year-old who, by all reasonable metrics, has peaked and needs to exclusively play center doesn't do the Heat any favors.
Milwaukee Bucks: Ersan Ilyasova
The Milwaukee Bucks won't enter the offseason with cap space if Greg Monroe returns for the last year of his deal. And if he opts out, they need Spencer Hawes to follow suit for it to matter.
Monroe just wrapped a fantastic 2016-17 campaign, during which he provided a survival blueprint for other bigs who don't shoot like Dirk Nowitzki or protect the house like Rudy Gobert. He became a floor-spacer thanks to his screens; blossomed into a capable rim-runner; dropped pretty passes; crowded opposing ball-handlers before they could beat him off the dribble; and continued to dabble in post-up artistry.
Still, no team is giving him the $17.9 million he's owed next season. There's a surplus of 5s around the league, and he's not the ideal frontcourt addition. It'll take him two years to make up the dough he'll be leaving behind, and new three- or four-season contracts probably won't average enough annual money to make free agency a worthwhile venture.
So the Bucks will be left with the mid-level exception and the need for a spacier 4. Jabari Parker's ACL injury leaves Mirza Teletovic almost on his own, with Thon Maker to fill in the gaps. Hawes will pitch in as well if he stays, but the defensive trade-off isn't worth his shallow offensive arsenal.
It's easy to see how Ersan Ilyasova could fit. He buries enough triples to pull defenders out of Giannis Antetokounmpo's path, and his off-the-dribble game is further along than that of Hawes or Teletovic. And in the age where stretch 4s are the standard rather than a luxury, Ilyasova shouldn't cost too much.
But Parker will eventually re-enter the fold, if not next season then in 2018-19. Going on 30, Ilyasova will be after a long-term agreement. At no point—not even for a year—should the Bucks pay for him, Teletovic and the new deal Parker will be owed next summer in restricted free agency.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Tim Hardaway Jr. (Restricted)
Standing pat gives the Minnesota Timberwolves more than $10.5 million to toss at free agents. That number climbs above $22 million if they renounce Shabazz Muhammad (restricted) and Brandon Rush.
Muhammad should absolutely be gone. He catches fire from three-point range for weeks a time, but his bouts with cruddy defense, ill-advised shot attempts and aversions to passing don't jell with what Minnesota wants to do (win).
Tim Hardaway Jr. is essentially the souped-up version of Muhammad—a so-so shooter progressing as both a playmaker and defender. Atlanta has the right to match any deal he receives, but he's not Otto Porter Jr.-level unobtainable.
Signing him to a four-year, $58 million offer sheet gives the Hawks something to think about—and probably balk at. But the Timberwolves should feel the same way. Hardaway isn't a defensive upgrade who equips them with the ability to harass three-point shooters, and they must take into account other upcoming expenses.
Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins are extension-eligible. Karl-Anthony Towns is only a year behind them. They'll all be on new, likely max deals by 2019-20.
Take on eight-figure salaries past that point, and the Timberwolves better be sure they're getting a star or someone who renders LaVine or Wiggins dispensable. Hardaway does neither. Minnesota has to be more selective about adding wing depth.
New Orleans Pelicans: Rudy Gay
Rudy Gay will opt out of his contract, according to ESPN.com's Marc J. Spears, a decision that should catch the attention of teams trying to flesh out rosters on the cheap.
Hey, New Orleans Pelicans.
Or rather: Nothing to see here, Pellies.
Gay won't come close to bagging the $14.3 million salary he's leaving behind. He's on the wrong side of 30 and working his way back from a torn Achilles tendon. But he splashed in 38.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes this season, which accounted for almost one-fifth of his looks, and he shouldn't give up too much on defense post-recovery as a small-ball 4—a combination sure to attract teams in the market for top-level complements who don't break the bank.
The Pelicans will be that exact kind of suitor if they plan to retain Jrue Holiday. With Solomon Hill being an offensive wild card, they need someone to swish triples while playing off DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. But they also don't have the time to mess around.
Cousins is a free agent after next season, and the Pelicans have to make a good second impression. Gay may not be ready to start the year after going down in January, and even if he follows the Wesley Matthews timeline, New Orleans won't have enough minutes at power forward to rationalize this dice roll.
New York Knicks: Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose shouldn't be in New York. The Knicks should know better after enduring yet another lost season.
Alas, these are the Knicks. The assumption is they know nothing until they prove to know anything. And Phil Jackson had more kind words for Rose than Carmelo Anthony or Kristaps Porzingis during his year-end press conference, because of course he did.
Let's make one thing clear: Rose alone is not responsible for New York's latest tire fire. But he isn't someone it should rebuild or retool around. He doesn't have the three-point range or off-ball faculties to work within the triangle offense, and his defense is bad enough to get the executive who signs him fired.
Jackson is inoculated against the wrath of owner James Dolan for another two years—the length remaining on his contract. But Rose has shown he doesn't move the needle. He never developed a good rapport with Porzingis, the should-be cornerstone—who, per ESPN.com's Ian Begley, wants to stay in New York—and the Knicks would be consigning themselves to more of the same if they're unable to move Anthony over the offseason.
Turning their projected top-seven pick into a point guard is more conducive to the long game. If Jackson decides he wants a veteran running the show, there's free agency. He won't get within sniffing distance of Kyle Lowry or Chris Paul, but the Knicks can muster $20 million in space by deep-sixing most of their contract holds—enough money to buy them a better alternative to Rose.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Taj Gibson
This has nothing to do with Taj Gibson. He proved to be a valuable addition at the trade deadline—rebounding, screen-setting grit that furthered the Oklahoma City Thunder's bullish play style.
Gibson eventually played his way into the starting five over rookie Domantas Sabonis. The resulting lineup posted a league-best defensive rating, grabbed 34.5 percent of its own misses and pummeled opponents by 11.8 points per 100 possessions.
“There's gonna be teams out there, but you never know what's gonna happen,” Gibson said after the Thunder were bounced from the playoffs, per the Oklahoman's Ryan Aber and Brett Dawson. “Anything can happen. But I wanted to let [general manager] Sam [Presti] know I wanted to be here.”
Money is the sole reason Gibson wouldn't—and shouldn't—be back in Oklahoma City.
Renouncing Gibson's $13.5 million cap hold allows the Thunder to work outside the luxury tax. They'll somersault past the $121 million threshold if they re-sign Andre Roberson, but in the meantime, before he agrees to terms, they'll have the $8.4 million mid-level exception rather than the $5.2 million taxpayer's version.
That $3 million difference matters for a team in the market for additional shooting and a secondary playmaker. The Thunder placed dead last in wide-open three-point efficiency during the regular season, and it's unclear if Victor Oladipo is the right person to conduct the offense when Russell Westbrook is recharging via outlets and USB ports. (To Oladipo's credit, he was never given enough time to play independent of Westbrook.)
Re-signing Gibson perpetuates an excess of size. Oklahoma City is paying almost $40.4 million next season to Steve Adams and Enes Kanter; the latter must be sent elsewhere to justify keeping Gibson. Otherwise, Sabonis is younger, cheaper and needs more reps to develop.
Orlando Magic: Paul Millsap (Player Option)
Paul Millsap's name was one of many "Hybrid Free Agency" options listed on the Magic's now-infamous whiteboard. And, similarly, he is one of many targets they should avoid. He stands out not because of his play style or age, but because of how much he'll cost.
With 11 years of experience under his belt, Millsap is eligible for a max deal that starts at 35 percent of next season's salary cap—close to $35.4 million against a $101 million ceiling. Manufacturing that much coin will be a pain.
Left alone, the Magic's offseason purse stretches almost $16 million deep. Get a taker for D.J. Augustin's $7.3 million salary, and they're at $23 million—more than $10 million shy of Millsap's max.
Other suitors can try selling Millsap on a cheaper deal. Orlando isn't one of them. He won't leave Atlanta to play for a rebuilding squad at a discount. And since Bismack Biyombo remains immovable, one of Terrence Ross or Nikola Vucevic also has to go for Orlando to enter Millsap territory.
Auctioning off genuine assets for cap space is never safe. For the Magic, it's stupid. They'll still be left with Aaron Gordon and Biyombo if Vucevic is dealt. Maxing out a power forward would be basketball malpractice—especially when Gordon is extension-eligible.
Philadelphia 76ers: Kyle Lowry (Player Option)
Kyle Lowry is from Philadelphia. The Philadelphia 76ers should have more cap space than any other team. So, naturally, it took all of three seconds after Lowry's season ended for people to connect the dots.
Sources told Philly.com's Keith Pompey the point guard "has been interested in playing for the Sixers for some time," and that the team has long "planned to offer" him a "lucrative" contract when he reaches free agency.
This makes no sense. Zero. Zilch. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.
Lowry is 31. He told reporters winning a ring is "all that drives me." Why would he sign with the rebuilding Sixers? For the nostalgia? There's an app for that (probably).
And why would the Sixers want to sign him? They plan to try Ben Simmons at the 1, and Lowry's max will run them over $35 million per year. Sure, they'll have more than $55 million in space if they show Sergio Rodriguez the door. But that's not a license to overspend on someone who doesn't remotely fit the team's timeline.
Philly's primary objective should be poaching young wings who can play off Simmons and Joel Embiid. If Jrue Holiday is down for a reunion, he's young enough, going on 27, to join the cause. Under no circumstances, though, should maxing out a floor general on the back end of his prime be an option—not even if it's in the name of a homecoming.
Phoenix Suns: Shabazz Muhammad (Restricted)
The Phoenix Suns need a wing, and fortunately for them, they'll have money to get one. They'll get more than $11 million to spend without doing anything and can push that wiggle room past $20 million by waving goodbye to Alex Len (restricted).
Granted, it's unlikely the Suns need that much money. They don't have the postseason ceiling to overpay tenured veterans, and younger options like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Otto Porter aren't going anywhere. They can enter the Andre Roberson sweepstakes, but the prospect of manipulating the books only to end up with him is hard to reconcile.
Restricted free agents like Tim Hardaway Jr., Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Snell are happy mediums—minus Muhammad.
Inbound wings have to possess a defensive conscience. Hardaway and Snell aren't Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard, but they're both growing on the less glamorous end. Muhammad is at a standstill, and his status quo is, to be kind, underwhelming.
Phoenix's offense could use another three-point threat, and Muhammad is sometimes that. But that's the extent of his value to this team. He won't make defenses pay with kick-outs on drives, and his post-ups are maddening to watch. The Suns don't need an offensive weapon to bilk touches from Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker; they need a wing who works around their games. Muhammad isn't it.
If the choice is between a dormant free agency and signing him, they should opt for dormancy.
Portland Trail Blazers: Roy Hibbert
It says a lot about the Portland Trail Blazers' cap and roster situation that we're here, in the year 2017, writing words that become sentences about why they shouldn't sign Roy Hibbert.
Really, the Blazers should stay away from everyone who isn't already on the team. They have 12 players under contract for next season, not including non-guaranteed deals for Pat Connaughton, Festus Ezeli and Tim Quarterman.
Sprinkle in three first-round picks and a payroll set to hurtle past $140 million, and they have neither roster spots nor money to spare.
Trades are inevitable. Yes, plural. And if consolidation is a byproduct of those deals, the Blazers might decide to rummage through the free-agency dregs for a backup big. Ezeli is a goner, and they could use a fourth option to help out the trio of Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard and Jusuf Nurkic.
Roy Hibbert has a special place in Blazers history, as the max-contract signing that wasn't. They offered him a deal in 2012, when he was a restricted free agent, only to have the Pacers match. That's not why they'd take a look at him again, though perhaps it'd play a small part.
Portland's interest would be more about finding veteran's minimum additions who provide a trace of rim protection. And if that's the aim, general manager Neil Olshey can do better. Hibbert isn't for teams looking to play with any semblance of pace. The Blazers aren't speed racers, but they're not going to win games with a lead-footed bench.
Sacramento Kings: Jeff Teague
The Kings' salary-cap situation remains fluid, but Rudy Gay's decision to opt out comes laced with clarity.
Removing his $14.3 million salary from the books hammers out close to $30 million in total spending power. Sacramento can push that to around $50 million by renouncing the rights to Darren Collison and Ben McLemore (restricted). That number can jump even higher, to roughly $60 million, based on what happens with Langston Galloway's player option and Anthony Tolliver's non-guaranteed salary.
Moral of the story: The Kings can go full Kings in free agency if they want. But they won't. The DeMarcus Cousins trade triggered a clear-cut rebuild not even they will senselessly accelerate.
At the same time, this is a lot of cap space. And the Kings need a point guard. Jeff Teague, 28, is young enough for them to talk themselves into making a bid. Jrue Holiday, who turns 27 in June, is younger, but Sacramento cannot compete with the fifth year New Orleans can, and probably will, offer him.
Teague strikes a balance between youth—insofar as being under the age of 30 is considered youthful—and attainability. The Pacers won't want to lose him for nothing when he cost them George Hill, but paying him is comparably hard to stomach if they're planning to steer into the rebuild Paul George's 2018 free agency is guiding them toward.
Sacramento should let another team foot the bill for Teague if he leaves Indiana. He adds wins to a squad that needs to bottom out next season, and his prime will have passed him by when the franchise is ready to compete again. This early into the rebuild, the Kings' cap space should be earmarked for players under 25, as well as unwanted contracts from market buyers willing to sweeten the pot with first-round goodies.
San Antonio Spurs: Thabo Sefolosha
Do the San Antonio Spurs need to avoid anyone? They turned a 34-year-old David Lee into a competent defender and integral contributor to the league's second-best team. They've earned the right, through their in-house voodoo, to sign whoever they choose.
At one point, this included Thabo Sefolosha. He previously rated as a primary target. But that was before he fell out of the Hawks' rotation, ceding minutes and status to Tim Hardaway Jr., rookie Taurean Prince and, yes, even Mike Dunleavy.
Maybe San Antonio can unleash Sefolosha in ways Atlanta could not. He is among the best defensive wings in the game when healthy, and the 32.9 percent success rate he's notched on threes since 2013-14 should spike within an offense that seeks to engineer wide-open looks from the corner.
But the Spurs have two elite perimeter defenders in Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. If they want to incorporate another one, they have Jonathon Simmons, their own restricted free agent, who is more than five years Sefolsha's junior.
Lose Simmons to a more aggressive bidder, and the Spurs will still have bigger concerns.
Patty Mills is about to get two-syllable paid in free agency, and Tony Parker is recovering from a ruptured left quadriceps tendon. Fortifying the point guard position—not to mention addressing Dewayne Dedmon's free agency (player option)—takes precedence over paying yet another player over the age of 33.
Toronto Raptors: Marreese Speights (Player Option)
Paying the wrong player is the least of the Raptors' worries this summer—mostly because all of their money is already spent for them.
Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker are each slated for free agency. Toronto can't go wrong paying any of them, and yet it cannot afford to keep all of them.
"It will be hard for Toronto to duck the tax if it retains Lowry and Serge Ibaka, even if its other two core free agents—P.J. Tucker and plus-minus god Patrick Patterson—walk away," ESPN.com's Zach Lowe wrote. "Salary-dumping DeMarre Carroll was always the Raptors' get-out-of-the-tax card, but Carroll's decline has been so severe they would likely have to attach a first-round pick as a sweetener. Trading Jonas Valanciunas loomed as the alternate cost-cutting measure, but no one needs a center. The most likely Valanciunas deals would return someone else's unwanted big fella."
Patterson is more likely collateral damage than anyone. General manager Masai Ujiri can't spin losing Ibaka or Lowry for squat, and Tucker will be the least expensive of the four. As a proven three-point shooter who can make plays off the bounce and switch everything on defense, Patterson should fall closer to Ibaka than Tucker on the salary scale.
Replacing him with names plucked straight from the clearance rack is impossible. Marreese Speights is cut from a similar cloth...sort of. He has outside range and can create his own shots. But he's not the passer, pick-and-roll defender or emergency rim protector Patterson is on his best nights.
Again: It's hard for the Raptors to whiff when combing through leftovers. But they should commit to slotting Carroll and Norman Powell at power forward more often, or just bite the bullet and re-sign Patterson, if they find themselves on Speights' bandwagon.
Utah Jazz: Shelvin Mack
Depth became a deterrent for Jazz head coach Quin Snyder. He was able to grind out a relatively consistent frontcourt pecking order but never established a hierarchy at backup point guard.
Some nights he turned to Shelvin Mack. Others saw him lean on Dante Exum. There were times when Exum, Mack and Raul Neto all received spin. That can't happen next season. It doesn't matter whether George Hill returns. Utah needs to give Exum, a top-five prospect, a chance to play.
"You can tell he's not happy with how the season went," the Desert News' Jody Genessy wrote of Exum's exit presser. "It felt like he was giving partial answers and holding back what he really felt."
Balancing quasi-contention with prospect evaluation is hard. The Jazz are trying to win now. That'll be their selling point to Gordon Hayward and the reasoning behind dipping into the luxury tax for Hill and Joe Ingles. But Exum will be a restricted free agent next summer. The Jazz need to figure out what they have before giving him a raise or, more uncomfortably, pulling the plug on this experiment altogether.
That's not possible so long as Mack is around.
Washington Wizards: Bojan Bogdanovic (Restricted)
Look back at all the standalone three-pointers Bojan Bogdanovic drained after joining the Washington Wizards, and you'll hate this selection. But there is no alternative.
Carrying the cap holds for Bogdanovic and Otto Porter Jr. won't immediately drag the Wizards into the luxury tax. They can function like a non-taxpayer, with full use of the mid-level exception, before meeting the $121 million barrier.
And once they hit it, they'll roll through it.
Porter's max should run about $25.3 million. Tack that on to the mid-level and, conservatively, $10 million per year for Bogdanovic, and Washington nears $140 million in salary obligations—and that's if the Wizards are done with the Trey Burke experiment.
Diving that far into the luxury tax for a nucleus incapable of getting past the Cavaliers is a tough pill to swallow. It'd be easier to digest if Bogdanovic were a plus stopper at the 4, but the Wizards' defensive rating has tumbled to league-worst levels, through both the regular season and playoffs, whenever he subs in for Markieff Morris.
Spot-up shooting is replaceable when John Wall runs your offense, and Kelly Oubre Jr. has shown signs of being ready for a larger role, particularly on defense. Throw in Washington's would-be tax bill, and Bogdanovic, out of necessity, becomes expendable at his market value.