Hater's Free-Agency Guide: Why Your Team Ain't Getting Its Top Free-Agent Target

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJune 2, 2017

Hater's Free-Agency Guide: Why Your Team Ain't Getting Its Top Free-Agent Target

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    Who ordered the NBA free-agency reality check, with extra salt?

    Countless hours are spent trying to figure out how every team can win the offseason extravaganza. Even the most responsible fans talk themselves into their favorite squads keeping important flight risks, re-signing players they cannot afford to lose and poaching big names from rivals.

    Arguments to the contrary don't matter this time of year. Rational minds don't need to prevail. Everyone is an idealist and hopeless romantic.

    Screw that.

    This free-agency primer is drowning in cold, hard, dream-breaking truths. We want to know why the best-laid approaches are flawed and destined to fail. This isn't to say they will flop. But preparing for the worst—which is often the most likely scenario—is a crucial part of sports fandom.

    Top targets were not determined by how unlikely they are to sign with your team. They were selected via the rumor mill and current roster makeup, with salary-cap outlooks and previously forecasted options serving as a loose guide. If an outside name is listed over an incumbent one, it's because the team doesn't need to fret over a worst-case scenario for in-house players. Ditto when one tenured free agent is chosen over his teammate.

    Put on your teflon onesies. It's time to get real.

Atlanta Hawks: Paul Millsap Misses the Second Round

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    A front-office shakeup doesn't change the complexion of Paul Millsap's free agency. If he leaves, it's not because the Atlanta Hawks won't pay him. They have to pay him.

    Atlanta already lost one All-Star for nothing last summer in Al Horford. Letting another leave without receiving compensation would be catastrophic for a team that isn't a free-agency draw in the first place. Paying a 32-year-old max or near-max money—Millsap can earn up to $35.4 million in the first year of his next deal—is hardly an idiot-proof investment, but again: There is no justifiable alternative.

    Millsap, for his part, wrapped the season stating his allegiance to the Hawks. And if they sling four- or five-year pacts when other suitors are offering two or three years—R.I.P. Over-36 rule—he'll have no problem making good on his verbalized loyalty.

    Unless, of course, he feels like playing deep into the postseason.

    No team in the Eastern Conference is ideally set up to dethrone LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Hawks are uniquely entrenched in mediocrity. They have $55.9 million committed to Kent Bazemore, Dwight Howard and Dennis Schroder next season. They have to worry about funding Tim Hardaway Jr.'s next deal. Carry Millsap's cap hold, and their only means of improvement will be internal development and the $8.4 million mid-level exception.

    Taurean Prince could be due for a sophomore breakout. The Hawks could even get a nice backup playmaker with the mid-level exception. But is that enough to guarantee them more than 40-something wins and another first-round exit? Not even close. And no contract is lucrative enough to prevent Millsap from realizing that.

Boston Celtics: Gordon Hayward Watched the Eastern Conference Finals

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    Imagine, if you will, Gordon Hayward sitting at home, sprawled out on his oversized couch, barely two weeks removed from exiting the playoffs, watching Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

    The final buzzer sounds. The Boston Celtics have lost by 33 points in front of their home crowd. Their season is over.

    Is there any version of any universe of any reality in which Hayward thinks: "Man, Boston is only one me away from taking down these Cavs!"

    Cleveland was a plus-100 in that series. It doesn't matter that Isaiah Thomas missed three-and-a-half games. The Celtics aren't in the same stratosphere as the Cavaliers. They're the biggest threat to Cleveland's reign in the East, but that's more of a conference-wide death sentence than a selling point.

    Boston has the assets to get better—most notably the No. 1 pick in this year's draft. Sign Hayward, and there will be enough ammunition left in the asset arsenal to broker a trade for Jimmy Butler. But the gap between the Cavaliers and the Celtics is too large to be closed by the addition of two stars at the expense of certain supporting cast mates.

    Hayward knows this. The connection he shares with head honcho Brad Stevens, who coached him at Butler, is legit. But if he's going to leave a 51-win situation with the Utah Jazz, his new digs have to offer something aside from the chance to be Cleveland's whipping boy for the next four years.

Brooklyn Nets: Otto Porter Jr. Isn't Leaving Washington

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    Milos Teodosic of CSKA Moscow gets an honorable nod here. The Brooklyn Nets appear to really want him, per the New York Post's Brian Lewis. But general manager Sean Marks also made it clear they covet a small forward.

    “We know the 3 position for us is certainly one that needs to be addressed,’’ he said on the YES Network's Nets Magazine (h/t Lewis). “I look at it too that we have some free agents of our own who we need to know what’s going to happen with them there first."

    Incumbent free agents won't prevent the Nets from manufacturing more than $20 million in cap space. They can throw Otto Porter Jr. a max deal almost without touching their books—and they just might, per the Sporting News' Sean Deveney.

    Too bad that doesn't matter.

    Pairing Porter with Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson creates a defensive dream, but this isn't an Allen Crabbe or Tyler Johnson situation. The Nets cannot tender an offer sheet the Washington Wizards don't match. The Wizards are likely prepared to pay him the max, per CSN Mid-Atlantic's Chase Hughes.

    Brooklyn should still try. If Marks isn't investing cap space in young studs who can grow with the team, he'll be absorbing bad contracts attached to first-round picks. There's no harm in testing Washington's merit. It just so happens there's also no chance Porter ends up leaving the Wizards.

Charlotte Hornets: Darren Collison Money Is Hard to Come by These Days

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    There is nothing official linking Darren Collison to the Charlotte Hornets. This is merely deductive reasoning laced with vast amounts of "Well, duh."

    The Charlotte Hornets need a backup point guard. And after announcing Kemba Walker underwent his third left knee procedure in as many years, said second-string playmaker should preferably be among the best understudies in the league. 

    Finding that backcourt partner/insurance policy isn't hard. Affording him is next to impossible. 

    Charlotte won't have anything more than the mid-level exception to spend without shedding one or two long-term deals. Collison might cost more than that if a team—such as the Sacramento Kings, his current unit—decides to overpay him as a one- or two-year stopgap.

    Assuming he doesn't cost more, the Hornets have to reconcile burning most or all of their mid-level exception on one player. That would be fine if Collison represented the finishing touch of a contender, but he fills just one of many needs. The Hornets still have to get their hands on a switchy frontcourt body and some additional bench shooting.

    Signing Collison is their Everest, and they're not reaching the top of the mountain. Paying Shelvin Mack is a more realistic goal.

Chicago Bulls: Jeff Teague Isn't Taking a Pay Cut to Play with Rajon Rondo

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    In a perfect world, the Chicago Bulls would waive Rajon Rondo's non-guaranteed deal, Dwyane Wade would decline his player option, and the team would enter free agency with around $40 million in spending power.

    The Bulls, however, do not exist in a perfect world—or even a remotely logical one. So, none of this is going to happen. Instead, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, there is a "very good chance" Rondo returns, and it's unlikely Wade passes on the $23.8 million he's slated to take home next season.

    This flat-out stinks for the Bulls. They may not realize how much, or even that it blows at all. Stealing Games 1 and 2 from the Celtics in the first round might have convinced them "The Three Alphas" are worth saving. (They're not.)

    Max cap space would be far more valuable to Chicago. This year's free-agent ranks are stacked with headlining point guards, many of whom profile as flight risks—namely Jeff Teague.

    Paul George's brazen dalliance with the Los Angeles Lakers has thrust the Indiana Pacers into an awkward, possibly lose-lose situation. They cannot reasonably re-invest in a soon-to-be 29-year-old point guard if George hasn't pledged his unconditional love for The Hoosier State. 

    Teague should be fair game for anyone with significant cap space. And yet, he won't cost as much as Jrue Holiday. He may not even cost as much as George Hill. The Bulls could sign him, keep Nikola Mirotic's restricted free-agent hold and still have enough scratch to add quality floor-spacers.

    Alas, they'll never get the chance.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyle Korver's Stock Isn't Low Enough

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    Losing Deron Williams is something that has to worry the Cavaliers. They don't own his Bird rights, and he's thriving in a hybrid point guard role that sees him stroke threes off the catch and, at times, jump-start the offense.

    But the market for aging non-star floor generals isn't competitive. Williams turns 33 in June and wasn't exactly setting the world on fire before joining the LeBron James family. Some teams might offer him more money, but they're not giving him a starting role. A taste of the NBA Finals should keep him in Cleveland.

    The market for declining shooters, on the other hand, is bound to be aggressive.

    Kyle Korver is a defensive liability, and you don't want him running through the ringer, like an older version of Klay Thompson, to get his open looks. But he has shot less than 40 percent from three just once in the last eight years and remains deadly off the catch. He drilled 45.6 percent of his catch-and-launch treys during the regular season and finished first in points per spot-up possession among 269 players to jack at least 50 standalone shots.

    Teams desperate for shooting could pay him $10 million or more per year once CJ Miles and JJ Redick are off the market. And though the Cavaliers can match his market value, will they want to? They're already footing the bill for Iman Shumpert and JR Smith, and they'll blow past the projected $121 million luxury-tax threshold without re-signing Korver.

    Mike Miller's departure from the Miami Heat is a cautionary tale for any owner who doesn't want to pay a player James wants on the roster, and Cleveland forked over a first-round pick to gets its sniper. But money talks, and Korver's offers will say a whole lot—about both his annual salary and the Cavaliers' potential tax bill.

Dallas Mavericks: Jrue Holiday Isn't Going to Leave a 5th Year on the Table

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    The Dallas Mavericks are positioned to generate more than $20 million in cap space if they waive Devin Harris' non-guaranteed deal and decline Dirk Nowitzki's $25 million team option. Nowitzki, in this scenario, re-signs for a steep discount, and Dallas would use its newly forged riches to pursue a top-tier point guard.

    Jrue Holiday, not surprisingly, is on the Mavericks' radar, according to ESPN.com's Ian Begley. He's not only younger, going on 27, than Stephen Curry, Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul, but he's more likely to desert his current team.

    In a vacuum, Holiday also costs less. And in a typical market, with the infusion of TV money no longer a factor, he's not a max player. But the salary cap will spike once more, and the additional funds are still making their way around the league. Holiday's max is $30.3 million in his first year, which the Mavericks, along with every other possible suitor, must pay to pry him from the New Orleans Pelicans.

    And that's if a four-year max is enough. 

    Dallas could dredge up more than $30 million in room by offloading Dwight Powell—a risk in itself—and still be undercut by a five-year offer from New Orleans. The Pelicans won't be ripe with cash if Holiday leaves, and sources told Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler in February they would "do a max or near-max deal" to keep him in The Big Easy.

    Here's hoping the Mavericks have some rock-solid contingency options.

Denver Nuggets: Kyle Lowry Isn't That Afraid of LeBron

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    Nikola Jokic needs a superstar running mate. And luckily for him, the Denver Nuggets have the juice to get him.

    Renounce Danilo Gallinari, and they come oh-so-close to arming themselves with $35 million in cap space—one minor cost-cutting move away from maxing out Kyle Lowry, who may be itching to journey west, according to NBA insider Marc Stein.

    Lowry might even be fixing to play in Denver. Sources told DYST Now's Mike Ortiz Jr. the Nuggets would be a top option if the All-Star point guard flees the Eastern Conference.

    Shelling out $35 million-plus per year to a 6-footer on the wrong side of 30 isn't an investment many admirers can justify. The Nuggets are an exception. Maxing out Lowry exhausts their cap space, but they'll still have the assets to finish on the right side of a blockbuster trade. (Would Paul George change his tune about re-signing in Denver if it means playing with Lowry?) 

    The hangup: There's no way Lowry is this worried about going through LeBron James every year. It'd be one thing if the Western Conference was weaker, but it's not. The Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets all exist.

    Remove immediacy from the equation, and the Nuggets make sense. Lowry sets himself up with a budding superpower that'll be ready for title contention when the windows in Cleveland and Golden State begin to close. Superstars don't think this way, though. Lowry is playing his best basketball now, and he'll sign somewhere that capitalizes on that timeline.

Detroit Pistons: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's Max Deal Isn't a Prank

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    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is getting a max deal. He's not considered the formality Otto Porter Jr. is, but that's more of a reason for rival teams to pay him: The Detroit Pistons are more likely to pass on him than the Wizards are to cut bait with Porter.

    "We have a pretty good idea of what's coming," Pistons coach and president Stan Van Gundy said in March of Caldwell-Pope's free agency. "And it's going to be our decision to make. We only don't have him next year if we decide we don't want to have him. There's no team out there that can decide they're going to have KCP next year. They don't get that decision. It's on us." 

    There are so many ways to interpret Van Gundy's sentiments. Is he daring another suitor to waste its cap space on an offer sheet Detroit plans to match? Is this less than a lukewarm endorsement of Caldwell-Pope's future?

    Quality restricted free agents don't get away for nothing. It just doesn't happen. But maxing Caldwell-Pope, at about $25.3 million in the first year of the contract, makes him the Pistons' highest-paid player. They'll then have $81.1 million invested in him, Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris and Reggie Jackson.

    All hope of ducking the luxury tax would also be lost unless Detroit moves one of its core pieces in an uneven exchange—a ridiculous price to pay for a foundation that most recently yielded 37 victories and a 10th-place finish in the Eastern Conference. 

    If the Pistons get pocket shy, or if they believe Stanley Johnson's busted jumper is about to turn, a maxed-out Caldwell-Pope is liable to become someone else's expense. 

Golden State Warriors: Andre Iguodala's Free Agency Isn't About KD's Generosity

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    Kevin Durant isn't just going to re-sign with the Warriors once he opts out of his contract; he's open to returning at a discount.

    According to ESPN.com's Chris Haynes and Ramona Shelburne, Durant is willing to sign a non-Bird max this summer, which would allow Golden State to retain the rights of all its incumbent free agents—including key reserves Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.

    Iguodala is the biggie here. He tackles some of the toughest defensive assignments, and teams will pay up the wazoo for wings who can initiate the offense and swish jumpers off the catch. Durant's generosity—which would be worth around $4 million—doesn't protect the Warriors against matching other offers that culminate in severe luxury-tax penalties.

    Giving Iguodala $10 million per year after maxing out Durant and Stephen Curry leaves Golden State with more than $118 million committed to nine players. And that's without factoring in what it'll take to re-sign Livingston or any of the team's bit role players.

    What happens if a hyper-ambitious, cash-rich team throws Iguodala a bigger three-year deal? The Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns are among those expected to make a run at him, per Haynes and Shelburne. Both they could dangle something like three years and $42 million (or more) without hesitation. Are the Warriors willing to give a 33-year-old Iguodala a raise? 

    It's all "Yes" and "Obviously" and "Shut up, troll" until Golden State calculates the cost of continuity.

Houston Rockets: Joe Ingles Is About to Get Puh-Aid

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    The Houston Rockets are in a semi-enviable spot: under the cap, despite finishing with the league's third-best regular-season record—a rare occurrence around these parts and ample reason for general manager Daryl Morey to dream big.

    "While it would be hard to fit in a true max player—they should try to secure a meeting with Gordon Hayward—discussions with talents like Jrue Holiday, Serge Ibaka, George Hill and maybe even Paul Millsap could prove fruitful," Danny Leroux wrote for SI.com. "A youthful replacement for the 31-year-old Ariza would be perfect, but those players are rarely free agents, particularly early in their careers."

    Stretch their wallets, and the Rockets can conjure more than $12 million in room. That's not enough to lure household names. The conversation would have to shift toward dumping Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon or Lou Williams for that to happen.

    Joe Ingles is a nice middle ground—someone who can defend any wing and even some point guards while splashing in 40-plus percent of his threes and directing the offense when James Harden is on the bench or looking to play off the rock. 

    Restricted free agents worth a damn aren't usually gettable, but Hayward's departure would invite teams to swoop in with large offers. Even if Hayward returns, the tax hits alone could scare the Utah Jazz into letting Ingles peace out.

    This is great news...for teams other than the Rockets. A four-year, $48 million offer isn't landing Ingles. The Jazz match that in a heartbeat, if he even signs it. Another team could, and should, hand him more than $60 million—money Houston cannot peddle without visibly tweaking its ledger.

Indiana Pacers: J.J. Redick Doesn't Want to Plan Paul George's Going Away Party

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    Indiana needs shooting. J.J. Redick needs $18 to $20 million per year, according to the Los Angeles Times' Broderick Turner. This should be the perfect match.

    Pawning off their non-guaranteed deals puts the Pacers in Redick territory without having to renounce C.J. Miles or Jeff Teague. Finding a taker for Monta Ellis' or Al Jefferson's pacts gets them there without sacrificing as much depth.

    Tossing that much money at a soon-to-be 33-year-old sniper doesn't have "Great Contract!" written all over it, but adding Redick while re-signing Miles and Teague keeps the Pacers relevant. They go from fringe playoff squad to home-court advantage hopeful—provided Paul George begins and finishes next season in Indiana.

    That's one thing the Pacers cannot guarantee. George continues to have eyes for the Lakers, according to USA Today's Sam Amick, and no longer has the financial incentive to sign a long-term extension this summer after being left off the All-NBA ballot.

    Faced with the prospect of losing him for nothing in 2018 (player option), the Pacers have to move him or spend the next year trying to appease him. Both scenarios are steeped in uncertainty, and neither will appeal to Redick.

    Accepting a mega deal from the Nets or Philadelphia 76ers would make way more sense than latching on to a Pacers team that might not employ the soul of its franchise in one year's time.

Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul Has Mad #Respek for the Spurs

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    Most teams need cap space to pitch a superstar like Chris Paul. When you're the Spurs, you apparently just need to exist.

    League sources told NBA Insider Marc Stein that San Antonio is "exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run" at Paul. Two of LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker must be shipped out for the math to work, but the Spurs don't care.

    The Los Angeles Clippers do care, however. According to Stein, they "regard the threat of San Antonio signing away Paul as a legitimate concern."

    As they should. The Spurs can get in the ballpark of Paul's $35.4 million max salary if that's their goal. And the future Hall of Famer has previously exhibited mass amounts of respect for a team that traffics in future Hall of Famers.

    Jump through the necessary salary-cap hoops, and the Spurs turn Paul's free agency into a different kind of non-issue. He would (presumably) be leaving one year and tens of millions of dollars on the table, but hey, when you get the opportunity to play for Gregg Popovich and with Kawhi Leonard, you seize it—especially when you're 32 and have yet to make a conference finals cameo.

Los Angeles Lakers: Nikola Mirotic Is Too Expensive for 2018-19 Lakers

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    "I don't think we're going to be a major player this year," Lakers president Magic Johnson said of free agency, per the Los Angeles Times' Tania Ganguli. "I'm looking forward to next summer." 

    This clearly doesn't have anything to do with Paul George hitting the open market in 2018, or the Lakers' belief, per The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, that they can sign him regardless of where he finishes next season. 

    OK, fine. It has everything to do with George. It's maddeningly difficult to pin down the Lakers' free-agency approach when they're scheming around another team's player one year out from controlling his own destiny. They can blitz past $20 million in room if Nick Young declines his player option and they waive Tarik Black, but adding long-term salary threatens to kill PG13 pipe dreams with Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov on the books for $34 million in 2018-19.

    Still, the Lakers need someone like Mirotic. He averaged almost as many three-point makes (1.8) as all of their other power forward options combined (2.0)—Deng, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr. and Julius Randle. He's a tad redundant if the plan is use Ingram or George as a 4, but the former doesn't yet have the upper-body strength to pull that off, while the Pacers have always been more inclined to let C.J. Miles assume bigger frontcourt assignments.

    There is likewise value in locking up Mirotic now, when Nance is extension-eligible next summer and Randle is ticketed for restricted free agency in 2018.

    If only the Lakers could guarantee it won't take one helluva pot-sweetener to dump Deng or Mozgov before next July, then they could be more spendthrift now. But they can't, so they won't, and the dream of head coach Luke Walton getting to unleash a floor-spacing 4 will suffer as a result.

Memphis Grizzlies: JaMychal Green's Wallet Is About to Get Swoll

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    In-house free agents have to be the Memphis Grizzlies' primary focus, because there are so many of them. Also: They don't have the means to spend on anyone else.

    Re-signing JaMychal Green tops that to-do list by a mile. Chandler Parsons is the league's most expensive wild card, so Green and Marc Gasol are the lone players connecting Memphis' frontcourt to the contemporary era.

    This is where Green's rise comes back to haunt the Grizzlies. Every team in the NBA should want him, and he'll be paid relative to that demand.

    Power forwards who can switch everything on defense, stick with wings in space and don't command a specific share of touches are among the NBA's hottest commodities. And Green has barely grazed his offensive peak. A faster-paced, equal-opportunity system will let him trigger pick-and-rolls and lead fast breaks—not unlike James Johnson this past season in Miami.

    Going on 27, Green is young and versatile enough to elicit offers worth closer to $20 million per year than $12 million. He's a restricted free agent, so the Grizzlies own the right to match, but they have more than $90 million on the books before accounting for any of their free agents.

    Lay out $15 million annually for Green, and they'll explode past the luxury tax if Tony Allen, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph all stay put. That's a ton of money for a non-contender—enough to, perhaps, let Green go despite the absence of viable backup plans.

Miami Heat: Danilo Gallinari Is Likely Everyone's Plan B, Too

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    Poaching a superstar free agent is not on the Heat's list of priorities this summer. Team president Pat Riley would rather focus on his own players, like James Johnson, than get caught up lusting after "whales," per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson.

    Except, there's no way the call to offseason arms has subsided entirely. The Heat have a clear path to more than $35 million in cap space after washing Chris Bosh's deal from the bottom line. A chunk of that must go to some mix of Johnson, Willie Reed and Dion Waiters, but they have the flexibility to recruit a well-known performer—if not a whale, then maybe an Italian Stallion (so sorry).

    Gordon Hayward had the Heat's attention in late March, according to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola. Danilo Gallinari is the natural pivot option if Riley isn't interested in doling out max money.

    Then again, Miami isn't going to save much.

    Gallinari is a universal Plan B for everyone looking to spend money on a combo forward. Teams will immediately turn to him after Hayward and Kevin Durant agree to their new deals. Paul Millsap and Otto Porter can inch in on his territory, but they're smaller flight risks by virtue of their defined max-contract market.

    Landing Gallinari in all likelihood takes a near-max offer—green the Heat won't have if Johnson nets an eight-figure salary and they have any interest in keeping Wayne Ellington's non-guaranteed deal. And if they are willing to pony up what it costs to get Gallinari, buyer's remorse stands to kick in: Why pay $22 to $25 million per year for him if you don't want to come up with $30 million for Hayward?

Milwaukee Bucks: Tony Snell Might Be This Year's Allen Crabbe

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    A high-profile outside name would make the cut here if the Milwaukee Bucks were assured of real cap space. They're not typically expert free-agent cuddlers, but smart players will trade in beach-front locales for the opportunity to join Giannis Antetokounmpo's world takeover.

    Here's the thing: The Bucks aren't promised anything more than the mid-level exception unless Greg Monroe rejects his player option (unlikely). And even then, they need Spencer Hawes to follow suit for meaningful flexibility (beyond unlikely).

    Tony Snell is the target of all their affections by default. Well that, and they really love him.

    "He's an outstanding guy and a guy we want to have as part of our team moving forward," former general manager John Hammond told reporters before leaving for the Orlando Magic. "He’s about the right things. I think Tony wants to be here. We're hoping to bring him back. We're planning on him being with us next season."

    Milwaukee can match whatever offer sheet Snell signs, but to what cost? Of the 109 players to clear 2,000 total minutes in the regular season, he joined Trevor Ariza, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope,Jae Crowder and Ryan Anderson as the only four to average more than three made triples and less than two turnovers per 100 possessions.

    Plop a 26-year-old Crowder onto the open market, and he's at least getting Allen Crabbe money (four years, $75 million). Do the same with Ariza, and he'll come close, even at 31. Anderson received four years and $80 million from the Rockets at the age of 28. Snell is a tamped-down mix of all three, so it's possible the Bucks submit to an offer like the Nets gave Crabbe last summer.

    Said offer might even come from the Nets themselves.

Minnesota Timberwolves: C.J. Miles Is Too Obviously a Good Fit

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    Timberwolves coach and president Tom Thibodeau views Derrick Rose as an option in free agency, according to ESPN.com's Ian Begley. That interest shouldn't exist. Minnesota has Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn to run point, and Rose shouldn't be the one stealing minutes from Dunn should Rubio get dealt.

    Signing a three-and-D specialist is the more pressing matter. Andrew Wiggins remains light-years away on defense, Zach LaVine was bad before his ACL injury and Thibodeau should purchase restricted free-agent Shabazz Muhammad a one-way ticket out of town. The Timberwolves need a defensive go-getter who improves their league-worst three-point attempt ratio.

    C.J. Miles makes too much sense for a team that could have more than $20 million in cap space. He finished 2016-17 as one of the game's most efficient spot-up shooters, and the Pacers would use him before Paul George to match up with opposing power forwards. 

    Not one single player on the Timberwolves' docket offers that kind of adaptability. Wiggins should, but he doesn't. Miles is the perfect plug-and-play safety net.

    Yet, whenever something—a trade, a signing, whatever—seems to make this much sense from the outside, it has a habit of not coming true. And with the Timberwolves' logic leading them to Rose, a player they don't need, it's difficult to imagine them turning this infallible hypothetical into reality.

New Orleans Pelicans: Jrue Holiday Doesn't Want to Be a Third Wheel

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    If the Pelicans are willing to dish out near-max money over four or five years, as Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler posited, they have to be the prohibitive favorites for Jrue Holiday's services.


    DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis complicate this situation. Holiday should be able to play off both of them, even though he canned an uninspiring 32.1 percent of his catch-and-shoot treys last season. Whether he wants to is a different story.

    New Orleans is determined to build the offense around its two bigs. Freshly hired assistant coach Chris Finch was part-architect of Denver's system, which used center Nikola Jokic as the hub for most action.

    "I thought initially when I took the job this could be a team we could very much play uptempo with," head coach Alvin Gentry told Adrian Wojnarowski on The Vertical Podcast with Woj (h/t Bourbon Street Shots). "Now I think with the two big guys…we'll play a lot of high-low stuff...I think those two guys can coexist very easily."

    Holiday will only be 27 when next season rolls around and is working off his first fully healthy campaign since 2012-13. Max money, even when accompanied with a fifth year, won't ease him into life as a glorified cutter and spot-up specialist. Point guards are supposed to be focal points, and as a fringe-star in his prime, he'll want more for himself.

New York Knicks: P.J. Tucker Is Smarter Than This

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    In one of the latest installments for the New York Knicks' soap opera—which, for reference, airs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year—team president Phil Jackson has decided he wants more players like Courtney Lee, per ESPN.com's Ian Begley.

    Contrary to basically everything else the Knicks do, there's nothing wrong with this approach. Any franchise worth rooting for should want defensive enthusiasts who knock down 40.1 percent of their threebies. 

    Similarly, it's totally acceptable that the Knicks, according to Begley, will zoom in on P.J. Tucker. There is room on every rebuilding team/Big Apple-based shipwreck for a 32-year-old wing capable of defending All-NBA scorers and dropping in the occasional three.

    In the event Tucker is a glutton for crummy basketball teams, New York is in business. But we have to believe he's smarter than that.

    Playing with Kristaps Porzingis is appealing, until you remember the Knicks have done a bang-up job squandering his trust. Covering for Carmelo Anthony's defensive miscues might appeal to Tucker if the Knicks had any intention of keeping him. Retiring as a member of a world-famous organization carries cachet, but only if the owner isn't liable to embarrass franchise legends and fan favorites out of incurable pettiness. 

    Offer Tucker above market value and maybe the Knicks reach the Jeff Hornacek-lover in him. (He played for Hornacek in Phoenix.) But they cannot pay much more than $13 million per year without renouncing or unloading other players. Tucker will get comparable money from deeper teams that know what they're doing.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Andre Roberson Doesn't Care About Your Tax Bill

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    If loyalty were a currency, Andre Roberson and the Oklahoma City Thunder wouldn't have to worry about the cost of renewing their vows.

    "Definitely want to be back," Roberson proclaimed, per the CNHI Sports Oklahoma's Fred Katz. "Definitely want to do anything to work it out. I love the team, love the organization, and love what we're all about, and I definitely want to stick around. So I'm pretty sure we can work something out.”

    Mutual appreciation goes a long way, but dollars and cents will eventually come into play. Sources told Katz that Roberson turned down a four-year, $48 million extension before the season, and he's in line to command much more now.

    Roberson's jumper is broken, but there are some peaks to his canyons, and few wings have the physical faculties to match up with point guards. Rebuilding units can cough up deals worth $16, $18 or even $20 million per year with a straight face. Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Phoenix all have the cash and loose timelines to bankroll that gamble. Boston can even get involved if its worried about Avery Bradley grabbing more money when he reaches free agency in 2018.

    Expensive pursuits from risk-takers are the Thunder's nightmare. They'll operate as a luxury-tax team by just carrying holds for Roberson and Taj Gibson. Ditch Gibson, and Roberson's next deal still ferries them past the $121 million threshold—a spot they can't afford to be in unless an Enes Kanter salary dump is on the horizon.

Orlando Magic: Otto Porter Is Actually Unobtainable

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    Manuela Davies/Getty Images

    Orlando has left us scrambling to figure out a top target by inadvertently—or maybe deliberately—enabling the leak of its free-agency whiteboard. 

    What does the list even mean? Are the names at the top the foremost priorities? Is the order random? Are the included players actually smokescreens that direct our attention away from the real options? Did former general manager Rob Hennigan know he was getting the ax and strategically place the whiteboard in camera's view to sabotage his successors? Does this dissemination of uber-private information even matter now with president Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond running the show?

    In the absence of a concrete direction, we turn to the rumor mill, where the Sporting News' Sean Deveney identified the Magic as a suitor for Otto Porter.

    Ambition doesn't have to be the enemy of success, but in this case, it is.

    Squeeze every last ounce of flexibility from the roster, and the Magic will have around $20 million in spending money—about $5 million less than Porter's max. While they can make up the difference in a D.J. Augustin salary dump, they shouldn't tie their offseason hopes to a restricted free agent the Wizards aren't letting get away.

    Holes abound on the roster, from depth at point guard to bench shooting. Any cap space the new regime chisels out should be dedicated to addressing as many shortcomings as possible. Let other teams fund the fruitless pursuit of a player who isn't going anywhere.

Philadelphia 76ers: Kyle Lowry Wants Ringzzz

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Kyle Lowry and the Sixers have eyes for each other, according to Philly.com's Keith Pompey. Young teams prioritizing paydays for 31-year-old stars is always awkward, but there is a tinge of rationality to this scenario.

    Lowry is a native of Philadelphia, and everyone loves a good coming-home story. The Sixers, meanwhile, can dig up more than $50 million in spending power if they show Sergio Rodriguez the door. That money won't necessarily reel in another star.

    Joining forces with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons sounds good in theory, but the two have 31 NBA appearances between them. If Lowry decides to be the rare 30-something stud who signs with a team assembled to compete after his prime, the Sixers have the breathing room to finance his max without handcuffing themselves too tightly down the line.

    Counterpoint: Lowry, per his own words, isn't doing this.

    "I want a ring," he told reporters of his foray into free agency. "That's all that drives me. I want to just get better, I want to have fun, I want to win a ring. I want to make sure my family is happy. That's all I've thought about right now."

    Ah well, Philly. Maybe he'll at least grant y'all a courtesy meeting over an expensive steak dinner (that Bryan Colangelo pays for).

Phoenix Suns: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Is Stuck in Motor City

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    Chris Schwegler/Getty Images

    Keeping Alex Len's cap hold ($12.1 million) precludes the Suns from giving Kentavious Caldwell-Pope max money, but we know better than to write them off.

    They essentially signed Tyson Chandler in 2015 to enter the LaMarcus Aldridge sweepstakes. Are they really above renouncing Len to produce near-max money, particularly when Alan Williams, also a restricted free agent, is better? 

    Let's go with no. And then let's assume the Suns are interested in Caldwell-Pope at all. They need a wing who covers for Devin Booker on defense without crinkling their already shaky spacing. Caldwell-Pope has experience bailing out Reggie Jackson in Detroit and can function as a secondary facilitator when Eric Bledsoe is getting breathers. 

    Of course, this only works if the Pistons pass on paying Caldwell-Pope. Things don't look so good on that front. Detroit will take longer to decide on Caldwell-Pope than Washington does for Otto Porter, but all signs point toward Van Gundy matching whatever offers his most important defender receives, per the Detroit Free Press' Vince Ellis.

    The Suns have the time to try forcing the Pistons' hand. They shouldn't mind tying up cap space unless they know other free agents are dying to sign with them. But they should also be sure not to get their hopes up, because the "will they, won't they" aura being attached to Caldwell-Pope's contract situation is more obligatory than authentic.

Portland Trail Blazers: [Insert Player Here] Is Too Pricey/Can't Fit on Roster

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    This isn't a cop-out. Or maybe it is. Whatever it is, there's no point wasting our time singling out a specific free agent the Portland Trail Blazers will whiff on. 

    Anyone they target is liable to respond with a hard pass. They may not chase anyone at all. They don't have the roster slot. Waive all three of their non-guaranteed deals, and their three first-round picks still stretch the depth chart 15 players deep.

    Opening up a slot doesn't do the Blazers any good, either. They'll cruise past the luxury-tax line without shedding substantive amounts of salary.

    Someone noteworthy could bite on the taxpayer's mid-level exception ($5.2 million), but this presumes the Blazers use it. They're looking to use first-rounders as pot-sweeteners for contract dumps, according to RealGM's Keith Smith. Chances are general manager Neil Olshey won't snip the tax bill just to elevate it. 

    If he does, the Blazers must sift through the offseason's leftovers or suss out veterans willing to accept discounts to play for a non-contender. Either way, the Blazers needn't concern themselves with a specific snag—because they're going to face plenty of them.

Sacramento Kings: Milos Teodosic Cares About Winning

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    Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images

    As the Sacramento Kings dive deeper into their ground-floor rebuild, they're thinking outside the box—and, when it comes to filling their point guard vacancy, looking outside the United States.

    International basketball reporter David Pick was told in May the Kings are a "legit contender" for Milos Teodosic's services. This certainly tracks. Sacramento has minutes to go around at the 1, and a Teodosic-Buddy Hield union is obviously every team's dream.

    But the 6'5" point guard is also 30. He doesn't have the time to endure a thorough reset. He said as much in a March blog for Eurohoops.net:

    "It’s true that I’m seriously thinking about the possibility of the NBA, but nothing has transpired yet, and nothing will until the summer. I’ve said before that, in order for me to go to the USA, a team has to meet both my competitive ambitions—which is the most important thing—and everything that has to do with the financial aspect as well as the aspect of the length of my contract.

    Sacramento has the financial aspect part down pat. The competitive ambitions? Not so much.

    Have fun in Utah, Milos.

San Antonio Spurs: Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard Can't Play 2-on-5

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    And now, here's The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski to give the Spurs and Chris Paul a reality check (h/t CBS Sports' Kyle Boone):

    "I don't know where that came from," he told CBS Sports Radio's Gary Parrish. "I've spent a lot of time around the Spurs this spring. They would have to just tear up that entire payroll. It's almost unlike anything the Spurs would've done or would do to even have a chance at him. I mean, they'd have to really gut the roster."

    Put on your brave faces, Spurs fans. Woj isn't wrong.

    San Antonio can summon a little over $6 million in cap space by renouncing all its own free agents except Jonathon Simmons—less than the mid-level exception, and around $29 million short of Paul's max. Two from the group of LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker have to go.

    No one is trading for Parker's $15.5 million expiring contract without a first-round goodie the Spurs won't attach. This is just as well, because they don't have the stomach to move or waive a member of the original Big Three. Green's $10 million salary can be dumped in a heartbeat, but he's too valuable on defense and, as Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding noted, in the locker room.

    Aldridge and Gasol are hardly immovable, but are they both expendable? The Spurs need someone other than a minimum-contract mercenary to play center after Dewayne Dedmon opted out, per Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports. The pair is also making combined $37.7 million. Offloading both while taking back no more than $7 or, at most, $9 million in money won't be child's play.

    Dream scenarios are fun. Sometimes, they're realistic. But logic gets in the way of Paul-to-San Antonio aspirations being more than unattainable fantasies.

Toronto Raptors: As It Turns Out, Maybe Kyle Lowry Is That Afraid of LeBron

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    The Boogeyman takes many shapes and forms. Appearance varies by the person, and the contents of their inner-most fears.

    For Kyle Lowry, the Boogeyman takes the form of a 6'8", 250-pound slab of muscle, explosion and higher intelligence.

    "They've got LeBron James," Lowry told The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski after the Toronto Raptors were swept in the second round at the hands of the Cavaliers. "Nobody's closing the gap on him. I mean, that's it right there: They've got LeBron James and nobody's closing the gap on him."

    Well, that explains Lowry's interest in heading westward. He's so sick of trying to unseat James, he would, on some level, prefer going through the star-stuffed Warriors and, assuming he doesn't sign with them, immortal Spurs.

    Toronto probably isn't sweating these comments. Lowry can get more money and a fifth year by staying put, and he's never before been paid like a superstar. But James' reign cannot be stricken from consideration. He has shown no signs of slowing down. Free agents might start weighing the pros of leaving the conference and/or signing with a team better positioned to contend once James ebbs into his twilight.

    The Raptors don't come close to meeting this criteria. Their payroll is massive and still mushrooming, and the core has peaked. The trendsetter in Lowry won't have trouble upgrading his future, even if it keeps him from being a main steppingstone in James' NBA.

Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward Hearts Brad Stevens

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    So maybe Gordon Hayward didn't watch the Eastern Conference Finals.

    More likely, perhaps he identifies with Al Horford, who joined the Celtics in large part because of their future assets, per Mass Live's Tom Westerholm. Acquiring Hayward and, let's say, Jimmy Butler won't make them favorites over the Cavaliers, but they'll be close enough to trick themselves into believing otherwise.

    And if they don't hammer out a blockbuster trade after signing Hayward, the Celtics still have Jaylen Brown, this year's No. 1 pick and next season's Nets selection—developing assets positioning them to be next in line for the Eastern Conference throne.

    Pitches from other teams outside Utah won't get much stronger than Boston's open-ended window. Brad Stevens only strengthens Beantown's appeal. He coached and mentored Hayward at Butler, and the two share an "undeniable bond" that revealed itself over All-Star Weekend, per CSNNE.com's A. Sherrod Blakely.

    The Celtics appear ready to play up this relationship. CSNNE.com's Chris Mannix said he believes Hayward is their "No. 1 target" in free agency. The Jazz wouldn't have much to worry about if the Celtics were a bona fide lottery team, but they're not. Hayward can leave his comfy gig in Utah and spin Boston's immediate and future outlooks as explicit upgrades.

    Every one of Hayward's other suitors will be noise. The Celtics, though? They're for real, in a way that should terrify the Jazz.

Washington Wizards: Bojan Bogdanovic Isn't Tryna Be Kelly Oubre Jr. Insurance

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    With Otto Porter going nowhere, the Wizards' attentions shift to Bojan Bogdanovic, who isn't quite dispensable.

    "We need to help our bench," John Wall told CSN's Chris Miller (via CSN Mid-Atlantic's Chase Hughes). “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got outplayed.” 

    Bogdanovic isn't nonessential until Kelly Oubre Jr. proves he can hit threes on a consistent basis. The Wizards don't have the financial reach to bring in another wing. Most, if not all, of their mid-level exception will be allocated for Wall's next backup. Jettisoning a quality second-string shooter who, next to the right defenders, can unlock potent small-ball lineups is bad business when you don't have the funds or personnel to replace him.

    At the same time, cost is a major issue. Re-signing Bogdanovic while maxing out Porter cannonballs the Wizards into the luxury tax. They'll be looking at a payroll just north of $125 million—and that's if Bogdanovic doesn't command more than his $7.1 million cap hold.

    Unsolvable defensive limitations will put Bogdanovic outside the Tony Snell spectrum, but teams short on shooters might drum up eight-figures-per-year offers that convince the Wizards to leave behind a player they actually need.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.

    Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com and are accurate leading into games on March 6. Team salary information via Basketball-Insiders. Draft-pick commitments and additional salary information from RealGM.


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