Stay Away! One Free Agent Each NBA Team Should Avoid This Offseason
Who are we to tell NBA teams who they should not target in free agency?
Um, we're the same responsible, concerned, well-intentioned hoops heads who've already done their darnedest to advise the top available names which squads it would be in their best interests to avoid. That's who.
It will be the same story, different side of the table here. The provided names are not, in all cases, confirmed targets. They're merely players—or types of players—who could realistically appeal to a specific team.
Cap situations, depth charts and franchise timelines will rule this field of no-fly targets. Since two-thirds of the league won't have meaningful space, we'll be keeping things tight for everyone except those with—or a self-controlled path to—noticeably more room than the mid-level exception.
And, hey, let's be real: The most inflexible teams can't nitpick over players who fall in their price range. But even the luxury-tax squads need to make sure they're targeting the right fits, however inexpensive they may be.
Limited Flexibility, Part 1: Eastern Conference Lottery Teams
Charlotte Hornets: Seth Curry
Some idiot (me) thought Seth Curry would make a nice addition for the Hornets way back in April. He technically still could. He can knock down threes and run some pick-and-roll, and second-unit playmaking was their Achilles' heel for most of 2017-18.
But hiring San Antonio Spurs assistant James Borrego to replace head coach Steve Clifford needs to represent a shift in mindset. The Hornets should be figuring out how to capitalize on Kemba Walker's trade value, unload bad contracts and get younger. Chasing an almost-28-year-old backup would suggest they're hoping the same product yields a different return.
Detroit Pistons: Nick Young
Detroit needs cheap shooters unless it plans to tear down everything left behind by former coach-president Stan Van Gundy, and Nick Young should be entering veteran's minimum territory after his stint with the Golden State Warriors.
And yet, no. Just, no. Can't you see it now? The Pistons' next coach giving minutes to Young that should go to Luke Kennard? No thanks.
New York Knicks: Avery Bradley
Knicks president Steve Mills is all about acquiring wings these days, and Avery Bradley should be a relatively cost-effective option after laying a contract-year goose egg. But New York isn't going anywhere next season with Kristaps Porzingis recovering from a torn left ACL.
Wasting resources on a 27-year-old ahead of a lost campaign is franchise malpractice. Even if Bradley only needs the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception ($8.6 million), that's money the Knicks could be saving for next summer, when they'll have more flexibility and a reason to use it.
Orlando Magic: Isaiah Thomas
Has Isaiah Thomas' stock fallen far enough for him to accept a one- or two-year stay-over deal from a team operating above the salary cap? Maybe.
The Magic shouldn't be keen on finding out. They need a point guard and don't have anything more than the non-taxpayer's mid-level to dangle, but allowing Thomas to play for his next contract is a recipe for disaster. It would be smarter to let D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier and Jonathon Simmons run the show or see whether the full mid-level is enough to pry a 24-year-old Fred VanVleet (restricted) from the tax-bound Toronto Raptors.
Limited Flexibility, Part 2: Eastern Conference Playoff Teams
Boston Celtics: Jahlil Okafor
Boston has long been the dream destination for Jahlil Okafor. If anyone can salvage his career arc, it would be head coach Brad Stevens.
At the same time, that ship has sailed. The Celtics could be facing the luxury tax if they re-sign Marcus Smart (restricted) and need to focus on retaining Aron Baynes (shooting threes now!). And anyone who threatens to cannibalize Daniel Theis' playing time should be an automatic no-go.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Jamal Crawford
Jamal Crawford and the Cavaliers danced around one another last summer. Their dalliance should end there.
Cleveland cannot be choosy on the free-agent market. It has zero cap flexibility. Subsisting on LeBron James (player option) coattailers is its sole source of appreciable improvement, and secondary shot creation has remained an issue following Kyrie Irving's departure.
That doesn't make Crawford a good fit should James return. He's not an ideal off-ball option, and the Cavaliers must at least pretend they have some iota of faith in Jordan Clarkson, George Hill and Rodney Hood (restricted).
Miami Heat: James Ennis
Re-signing Wayne Ellington will take the Heat into the luxury tax without subsequent salary dumps. And while they need wings, they cannot afford to burn their entire mid-level exception on one player. A reunion with James Ennis would be aces, but it could take the entire taxpayer MLE to get him.
To that end, we don't even know if the Heat will tap into their exception. Owner Micky Arison has been reticent to pay the tax for better teams in the past. Going above and beyond for a group that flamed out in the first round wouldn't be his style.
Milwaukee Bucks: Nerlens Noel
Cheap size with a presence on the defensive glass is something the could-be-taxpaying Bucks will fawn over. But they've filled their lanky big-man quota with John Henson, Thon Maker, D.J. Wilson and even Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Whatever version of the mid-level exception they're slinging should be devoted to girth. Nerlens Noel might come super-cheap after his bad-news tenure in Dallas, but someone like Brook Lopez or Lucas Nogueira should be the slinkiest option the Bucks consider.
Toronto Raptors: Lucas Nogueira (Restricted)
Speaking of Nogueira, he's better than his upside-down 2017-18 campaign implies. Early-season injuries displaced him from the NBA's deepest frontcourt rotation, and he never recovered. His length and finishing out of the pick-and-roll will help somewhere—just not Toronto.
The Raptors blow past the luxury tax without any bottom-line adjustments before factoring in contract holds for Nogueira and Fred VanVleet (restricted). They'll be lucky to keep one of them, let alone both. And with Serge Ibaka, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Jonas Valanciunas all on the ledger, the choice between Nogueira and VanVleet won't be hard.
It has to be VanVleet, the younger point man who spearheaded the league's top bench mob, closed games with starters and would be paramount to offsetting any value lost in a theoretical DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry trade.
Washington Wizards: Jerami Grant
Switchy defenders aren't often found on the clearance the rack, so Jerami Grant may end up being one of those name-brand-among-knockoffs finds. And the Wizards' full-court defense could use him. But they don't have the lineup flexibility to trot out a wild-card shooter.
Bringing back Mike Scott is the more sensible option if push comes to shove.
Limited Flexibility, Part 3: Western Conference Lottery Teams
Denver Nuggets: Jeff Green
Adding playable depth on the wings will be tough for the Nuggets if Darrell Arthur and Wilson Chandler opt in and management plans to max out Nikola Jokic (team option). It gets even harder if they want to re-sign Will Barton.
Just like that, the luxury tax would be in play, leaving the Nuggets with no meaningful spending power—infinitely so, if they're unwilling to use a portion of the mid-level exception as the result of a ballooning payroll.
Minimum-contract buyers cannot be too particular, but history tells us Jeff Green is never the answer if your team doesn't have LeBron James. The Nuggets should keep their distance. Really, they should promise to give both Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez a more extensive shake before turning to a veteran wing with a roller-coaster outside touch.
Los Angeles Clippers: Mario Hezonja
Mario Hezonja would be a nice hedge against the Clippers' murky future. Every team could use more combo wings, and he flashed the go-getter scoring over the latter half of the season that helps from the jump. At 23, he could help a playoff hopeful and a rebuilding unit.
But the Clippers have enough offense. They need a lockdown defender—or someone close to that. Setting aside a chunk of their mid-level exception for the straight-to-DVD Tobias Harris is unnecessary no matter how you view it.
If they cannot find the player they need for a price they can afford, they should let the roster ride in preservation of next summer's clean slate.
Memphis Grizzlies: Joe Harris
Joe Harris would actually be a great find for the Grizzlies. He's a lights-out shooter and serviceable driver, and the defensive trade-off incurred when having him pester bigger guards is minimal.
Too bad the Grizzlies cannot afford him. They'll have the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception to work with, but they earmarked most of it for Tyreke Evans the minute they failed to deal him.
Consider this a "Don't shop outside your means" advice blurb.
Limited Flexibility, Part 4: Western Conference Playoff Teams
Golden State Warriors: Channing Frye
Look, Channing Frye would be great for the Warriors. And they're bound to have a need up front.
David West is probably going to retire. Zaza Pachulia is barely allowed access to Golden State's locker room anymore. One or both of Kevon Looney and JaVale McGree could leave.
So why not Frye? Because next year needs to be Jordan Bell's chance to commandeer the center minutes. Unless the Warriors luck into a ring-chasing Ersan Ilyasova, they shouldn't enter the offseason aiming to curtail the opportunity that awaits Cash Considerations.
Houston Rockets: Tony Parker
As a member of #TeamStagger, the Rockets shouldn't tempt themselves into playing James Harden and Chris Paul together for longer stretches. They've done a great job balancing their partnership with separate me-time stints. Adding a seasoned playmaker might drive them ever so slightly away from that while dialing down Eric Gordon's role just a smidge.
Granted, this will be a different story if the Rockets deal Gordon as part of an opt-in-and-trade for LeBron James and if Tony Parker is serious about shopping around. Circle back then.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Luc Mbah a Moute
Luc Mbah a Moute does everything the Timberwolves need on defense—mostly because, well, he genuinely does almost everything.
Baiting him with a lion's share of the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception could pry him out of Houston. But the offensive fit in Minnesota would be weird. The Timberwolves don't have the other deadly outside threats to ensure he gets a ton of wide-open threes and unimpeded paths to the basket on drives. And if they churn through most or all of their mid-level to sign him, they won't have the coin to expand their sniper ranks.
New Orleans Pelicans: Michael Beasley
Keeping DeMarcus Cousins will almost assuredly vault the Pelicans into or right around the luxury tax. And that doesn't include new deals for non-Bird free agents Ian Clark and Rajon Rondo.
Extra wings are a must in New Orleans, and the pickings will be slim when all the team can offer is minimum contracts or partial mid-level deals. The Pelicans have to be smart, though, and zoom in on players who don't need the ball. That should rule out a cheap scorer like Michael Beasley, who also wouldn't fill their need for wing defense.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Wayne Ellington
Check it: Assuming the Thunder re-sign Paul George (player option) and are forced to keep Carmelo Anthony (early termination option), they'll be staring at a payroll of almost $150 million. And that's if they don't re-sign Raymond Felton, Jerami Grant or Josh Huestis.
Wayne Ellington's outside flame-throwing would be a huge boon alongside Russell Westbrook, but the Thunder will need to spread their taxpayer mid-level exception across multiple players—if they're even open to using it. Ellington will quickly become too expensive.
Portland Trail Blazers: Jusuf Nurkic (Restricted)
Voluntarily moving on from Jusuf Nurkic toes the line of bold for the Blazers, but they're on the verge of paying a massive luxury-tax bill. They shouldn't be giving a significant sum of money to a big who can be played off the floor by more mobile 5s.
Retaining Ed Davis should come much cheaper, and the Blazers also have Zach Collins, who should be playing more minutes at center. That duo will get them by without nuking the bank.
San Antonio Spurs: Trevor Ariza
Offering Trevor Ariza, 32, a large portion of the mid-level exception could convince him to leave Houston. Emphasis on could. But the Spurs shouldn't be investing multiyear deals in senior-citizen wings with the Kawhi Leonard situation in borderline shambles and another aging perimeter pest—in Danny Green (player option)—potentially on his way back.
Atlanta Hawks: Anyone Expensive
Rolling with the vague "anyone expensive" for the Atlanta Hawks could come across as reductive. It shouldn't.
Atlanta has plans for its cap space that do not entail investing significant money in free agents. General manager Travis Schlenk said as much during an appearance on 92.9 The Game in Atlanta (via Hawks.com's KL Chouinard):
"As you guys are probably aware, this summer is going to be really tight summer financially in the NBA. We're projecting as many as 16 teams could be looking at the luxury tax. We're going to be one of those seven teams that has any real significant cap space. We're going to look to use that cap space to relieve some of the financial troubles that other teams might be having to continue to gather assets."
Sitting on the sidelines could prove difficult for Schlenk and company. Half the league will struggle to gain access to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, and the Hawks have a relatively effortless path to more than $20 million in cap space, with an outside chance of sniffing $30 million depending on what Dewayne Dedmon and Mike Muscala do with their player options.
Taking expensive fliers on young free agents—Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle and, as yours truly once suggested, Jabari Parker—is almost a rite of passage for rebuilding squads looking to get on the map. Now may be the time for the Hawks to land a player they otherwise wouldn't in a more competitive, cash-flush market.
But Schlenk is playing toward a different endgame. Leasing out cap space will be a fairly lucrative business this summer. The Hawks can command picks and prospects in exchange for bad contracts that help rivals evade the tax or squeeze some extra wiggle room out of their offseason. And most pot-sweeteners not only fit snugly within Atlanta's timeline, but they're cheaper than overpaying a restricted free agent who may not stick.
Shelling out any money whatsoever, even in the short term, compromises the Hawks' flexibility. They have enough young players to monitor next season; they own three first-rounders in this year's draft alone. And if no one's biting on the premium they set for sponging up salary now, it behooves them to remain lean and see whether that changes around February's trade deadline.
Brooklyn Nets: Zach LaVine (Restricted)
Removing Zach LaVine from the Brooklyn Nets' free-agency scope is, at first blush, one of those "Ya think?" moments.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Jeremy Lin and D'Angelo Russell already populate the primary ball-handler spots, while Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert will soak up run at the 2 even if they're no strangers to small-forward duty. Brooklyn might even still have a thing for Isaiah Whitehead (non-guaranteed).
Sniffing around another guard is overkill—particularly one who overlaps with Russell's volume shooting and train-wreck defensive awareness. The Nets would be better off paying a more complementary weapon if they're interested in shaking up the backcourt at all.
Then again, general manager Sean Marks knows how restricted free agency works. He's thrown over-the-top offer sheets at Crabbe, Tyler Johnson and Otto Porter Jr. only to have them matched by incumbent teams. And though the Nets actually wanted those players—they inevitably traded for Crabbe—they might recognize the opportunity to spend some of the Chicago Bulls' money.
LaVine is no longer as integral to their development following his post-injury performance, the emergence of Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn's on-again, off-again relationship with competent floor generalship. But the Bulls won't see it that way.
More specifically, general manager Gar Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson won't see it that way. They viewed LaVine as the defining return in the Jimmy Butler trade. They may have a default—read: stubborn—commitment to keeping him in tow, regardless of his price tag.
With a reasonable proximity to $15 million or more in spending power, the Nets could exploit that misplaced loyalty and hand LaVine a handsome offer sheet they intend the Bulls to match.
Except, what if they don't? What if we're not giving the Bulls enough credit?
Well, then, the Nets would be left to foot the bill. And while they could talk themselves into LaVine being an insurance policy against irrationally expensive raises for Dinwiddie and Russell next summer, they're better off staying away. Spinning the wheel on a combo wing or combo big makes more sense.
Chicago Bulls: Rodney Hood (Restricted)
We meet again, Chicago.
Carrying Zach LaVine's pre-contract hold ($9.6 million) will not prohibit the Bulls from making a dent in free agency. Ditto for the uber-cheap—and must-keep—David Nwaba. They have an open-ended ticket to more than $20 million in space if they renounce Noah Vonleh.
That money will go a long way in this year's skimpy market. Actually, it will go farther than that. Any non-max formality is within the Bulls' grasp.
Most around the league expect them to holster their cap space for at least one summer, according to NBC Sports Chicago's Mark Schanowski. But they need wings. Plural. Next year's like-sized-player bill will be deeper, but the same can be said for the buyer market. More teams will have greater supplies of cap space at their disposal.
Spending money now affords the Bulls a better shot at impactful names. They're one of the only sitting-pretty high-rollers around. They'll find a wing above replacement level to take their hundy sticks.
Rodney Hood isn't that wing. He's not a worthwhile investment for a team in the infancy of its reset. He has an air of desirability because he's coming off his rookie-scale contract and his 6'8" frame implies the capacity to defend multiple positions. But his value relative to the Bulls' situation is a facade.
Getting out of Cleveland could reignite Hood's scoring clinics. He doesn't get to run pick-and-rolls when playing next to LeBron James and has always seemed more comfortable working off the dribble rather than as a catch-and-fire bystander.
Chicago has some touches to go around. Re-signing LaVine doesn't change that. But the fit between him, Hood and Lauri Markkanen is far from perfect. Nor does it inspire enviable defensive expectations. Hood's physical profile has never translated to effective switchability. He defends like he's 6'3", not 6'8", and the prospect of him chasing around opposing wings for an entire season without Rudy "The Gobstopper" Gobert behind him induces night terrors.
Whether the Bulls should burn through their flexibility at all is another matter unto itself. If they elect to go for it this summer, though, Hood should not catch their attention.
Dallas Mavericks: DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins at one time seemed like the quintessential Dallas Mavericks free-agent target. He's a superstar big man, and they've turned whiffing on superstar big men into an art form.
Equally important, he appeared gettable. The onus fell on the Pelicans to dazzle him. He holds no allegiance to them after coming over from the Sacramento Kings, and teams would be lining up to court him on the open market.
Melt in owner Mark Cuban's rebuilding-team allergy, along with a semi-feasible route to max space, and the Mavericks smelled like a Boogie suitor, if not like his most smitten admirer.
Dallas technically could still be Cousins' perfect landing spot. His Achilles injury has removed him from the max-contract discussion. New Orleans, once seemingly desperate to keep him, has talked about offering him a two- or three-year deal worth less than max, according ESPN.com's Zach Lowe.
The degree to which Cousins' stock has cratered remains unclear. But the Mavericks may not need to summon additional cap space to join his sweepstakes. They're in line for a $19 million-plus slush fund without renouncing or waiving anyone other than Seth Curry, Doug McDermott (restricted) and Nerlens Noel. And that number will spike if they part ways with any of their other free agents (Yogi Ferrell, Salah Mejri) or non-guaranteed deals.
This presumes the Mavericks have no issue with funneling money into someone navigating his way back from an unprecedented Achilles injury. Other players have suffered similar setbacks. Dallas even signed one of them in Wesley Matthews. But a star like Cousins—a nimble-footed bulldozer—has never encountered this injury at the height of his powers. (Elton Brand comes closest, and he was never as good as Cousins.)
On top of everything, Cuban no longer sounds enamored with the idea of superstar-hunting in free agency.
"We'll probably have three or four new people on the team," he told The Athletic's Saad Yousuf. "Two draft picks and maybe two free agents. I see us bringing in four or five guys, max. I don't see us re-doing the entire roster at all."
Paying whatever-money over whatever-years for a soon-to-be 28-year-old doesn't jibe with this measured approach. Dirk Nowitzki is a center now, Dwight Powell just wrapped a coming-out party, and, most importantly, Cousins' age and health bill make him ill-suited to headline a team finally embracing a reset (we think). The temptation to woo him will persist if his market goes belly up, but the Mavericks have never needed to lust after an A-list big less.
Indiana Pacers: Aaron Gordon (Restricted)
Sean Deveney of Sporting News reported in February that the Indiana Pacers "intend to investigate restricted free agents" this summer. That makes sense.
Non-guaranteed deals for Bojan Bogdanovic ($1.5 million guaranteed), Darren Collison ($2 million guaranteed), Al Jefferson ($4 million guaranteed), Lance Stephenson (team option) and Joseph Young (team option) dress the Pacers in all sorts of flexibility. Cory Joseph chiseled into some of their room by picking up his player option, but Thaddeus Young could push the bill if he explores free agency.
Even if he pounces on the final leg of his deal, worth $13.8 million, Indiana has the power to manufacture max deals for fifth-year players. Combine this with a generally bare-bones market and a wildly underwhelming 2014 draft class, and it amounts to a prospective free-for-all.
The Pacers have no business taking part in this summertime anarchy—not to this extent. Doubling down on a surprise 48-win team is dangerous. Especially when their seven-game feel-good fest against the Cavaliers was more about LeBron needing to play one-on-five for most of the series.
Don't get this twisted: The Pacers can and should try beefing up their cast. They need wings, particularly if Young presses the "escape" button. But this year's crop of restricted free agents isn't worth the trouble.
They're considered obtainable for a reason. The massive contracts associated with signing and, ultimately, poaching them are even less likely to pan out. Otto Porter's doppelganger isn't among them—that under-25 talent teams can live with overpaying.
Plus, this year's restricted free-agent pool is short on wings. Overbidding for Rodney Hood is a good way to ruin your franchise. Kyle Anderson gives off the vibe of someone who'll thrive only when coached by Gregg Popovich or one of his employed proteges. Jabari Parker is—say it with me, fam—not a wing.
Aaron Gordon looms as the best option. And that's not saying much. He'll have an easier time sopping up spot minutes at the 3 amid better spacing, but the Pacers will lose at least two of their best shot creators from the Bogdanovic-Collison-Young troika just to get him.
Landing Gordon doesn't address any combination of those departures. He dropped in 29.5 percent of his pull-up jumpers this past season and isn't a viable post-up hub. He drained 39.2 percent of his spot-up treys, but that'd mark a downgrade from Collison's clip (47.3 percent), and one strong standstill showing doesn't make Gordon a reliable alternative to Bogdanovic.
Los Angeles Lakers: DeAndre Jordan (Player Option)
Kobe Bryant summarized it best: The Los Angeles Lakers shouldn't consume themselves with adding a big name this summer.
“It depends what they want to do. It depends on what options are available to them, but I’ve got to tell you, man, they have a couple of great lanes to go down, whether it’s free agency or developing the young talent that they currently have, they’re in a really great position.
“I love everything I’ve been seeing from these young guys. Their ability to to fight, getting in the gym early, staying late. All those things are things that pay off. In this market, it's like, 'listen, you gotta win, like, yesterday,' but that’s not always the case, you know? If you want to be a dynasty or a team that has longevity, those things take time and generally are grown from within."
So, um, Kobe Bryant as a soundboard for patience and process? Is this real life?
Bryant no doubt wasn't referring to LeBron James or perhaps even Paul George. We're not, either. If the Lakers can sign one or both of them, they should do it. Getting just one won't cost a core youngster. They could possibly nab both without compromising the budding foundation. It takes just one Eastern Conference team willing to swallow most or all of Luol Deng's contract to help facilitate James' westward relocation.
Beyond Plan A and maybe Plan B, the Lakers need to chill. They may want a consolation prize if they strike out on George and James. They don't need one—not even in the short term.
Hence the inclusion of DeAndre Jordan. He has a player option worth $24.1 million for next season. He'll be looking for more money over the longer haul or a lucrative placeholder pact if he declines it, and the Lakers could use a center.
But keeping him in the Staples Center family won't be a one-year venture. They'll need to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope him for a minimum of two seasons. That doesn't just eat into their 2019 purse, which could be spent on Kawhi Leonard (player option) or Klay Thompson. It puts them in bed with an over-30 non-shooter on the decline who monopolizes minutes at Julius Randle's best position.
And, yes, Randle (restricted) is a concern. Re-signing and developing him becomes a top priority if the stars don't flock to Hollywood.
Philadelphia 76ers: LeBron James (Player Option)
LeBron James was cautioned against signing with the Philadelphia 76ers in the sister edition of this exercise. And now, here they are, being encouraged to steer clear of him.
Isn't it great when things work out both ways?
Suggesting the Sixers pass on a LeBron pursuit after being throttled in the second round by a short-handed, albeit unfathomably deep, Celtics squad feels like a trollerific sentiment. They finished three wins shy of the Eastern Conference Finals without him (or, largely, Markelle Fultz). They should be able to grind out his $35.4 million max salary without sacrificing anyone from the gaggle of Fultz, Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Ben Simmons.
To deem this a bad fit is to cost the Sixers an annual invite to the NBA Finals. It also might strip James of his preference to fade into sidekick duty during his twilight. Fox Sports' Chris Broussard said the four-time MVP would like the opportunity to log more time off the ball in the next phase of his career.
Great. Grand. Wonderful. The Sixers should pass anyway.
Signing James is not a smooth-sailing addition for them. It will take time for him to transition into a complementary role—assuming he even wants to be a 1C option. The Sixers' most prominent youngsters, the very players who make them appealing to the outside world, don't have the requisite off-ball experience to float a seamless transition.
Embiid has three-point range, but he shot 31.2 percent on catch-and-shoot triples this year and is used to toiling away in the post. Simmons only attempts last-second heaves and doesn't even have a consistent floater in his repertoire. Fultz will need to walk before he can crawl—ample on-ball reps prior to ancillary-device status.
Targeting Paul George or a Kawhi Leonard trade is the far more natural play for the Sixers. They're the rare team that needs inbound superstars to work around them, not the other way around. LeBron James does not fit that description, and the Sixers shouldn't have to make concessions for anyone—including him.
Phoenix Suns: Clint Capela (Restricted)
Another name initially appeared here for the Phoenix Suns. The world will never know who it was—not after the Rockets Wire's Kelly Iko outed them as Clint Capela obsessives:
"According to a league source, one such team is the Phoenix Suns. They have kept tabs on him throughout the season, and have reportedly become "enamored" with him. They have plans to offer Capela a max or near-max contract once free agency begins. The source requested anonymity because he isn’t authorized to comment on the Suns' plans."
Maxing out Capela is the smart move if the Suns want the Rockets to think about cutting the cord. General manager Daryl Morey and head coach Mike D'Antoni are both are both on record touting his importance and, essentially, bear-hugging the financial windfall it will earn him.
Money-is-no-object avowals can be a negotiating ploy. The Rockets could be trying to pre-emptively ward off rival overtures by superficially inflating Capela's price tag. The message: Why tie up your cap space for 48 hours in a player we won't let you steal?
Few teams have the leeway to try calling their bluff. The Suns are one of them. They have an invitation to the max-money club if they bid farewell to Alex Len, Elfrid Payton (restricted) and Alan Williams (non-guaranteed), and general manager Ryan McDonough has stressed the need to be active this summer.
Using their projected top-three pick on Deandre Ayton would neutralize the Suns' affinity for Capela, but he could be off the board if they don't win the lottery. Even if they do, they could opt to select—or trade down and choose—Luka Doncic. Their new head coach, Igor Kokoskov, worked with him on the Slovenia national team. And, you know, connecting the dots is fun.
At any rate, the Suns should avoid maxing out Capela. Maybe the Rockets match. They cannot spend Capela's money on anyone else. But maybe they pass. And in the event they do, the Suns will have close to a combined $55 million allocated to Capela and Devin Booker (extension-eligible) in 2019-20. That partnership doesn't scream "Eventual title contender!"
Only a scant few big men are worth max money these days. For all he does defensively, on the glass and as a screen-setting rim-runner, Capela isn't among the exceptions. He's too dependent on surrounding ball-handlers to create his looks; almost 82 percent of his buckets came off assists during the regular season. And whereas the Rockets have two of the league's five best passers in James Harden and Chris Paul, the Suns have Booker and a gaping void at point guard.
Sacramento Kings: Jusuf Nurkic (Restricted)
Player options and bad contracts are raining all over the Sacramento Kings' cap-space parade.
Kosta Koufos already opted into the final year of his deal. Iman Shumpert and Garrett Temple will probably follow suit. Add in Zach Randolph's salary, and Sacramento has $39.4 million committed to four players who don't fit their timeline and won't net much on the trade market.
That's...not ideal. But the Kings remain on track for more than $20 million in space after counting them and their first-round draft pick. And they may be inclined to spend it.
Sure, the Kings have derailed their trajectory before with overeager free-agent pursuits. But this summer is (sort of) different. They don't control next year's first-round pick and have to start thinking about raises for Willie Cauley-Stein (restricted free agent in 2019), Buddy Hield (extension eligible in 2019) and Skal Labissiere (extension eligible in 2019).
Tossing this money at another big is out of the question if the Kings are over the moon for Cauley-Stein, Labissiere or Harry Giles. But not one of them has proved to be an offensive focal point or shown they're a genuine defensive anchor. (Giles has yet to make his NBA debut.)
Upgrading to a more polished center will hold a certain appeal. Jusuf Nurkic isn't the most efficient back-to-the-basket scorer (he placed in the 27th percentile of post-up efficiency), but he's comfortable in a higher usage role. And he just helped helm one of the NBA's top rim defenses for an entire season.
Nurkic won't turn 24 until August, so his window doesn't run counter to the Kings' timeline. The Blazers' cap situation only makes him easier to steal. They're up against the luxury tax, and he's not a sure thing like Clint Capela or Nikola Jokic (team option).
Still, the Kings should distance themselves from Nurkic or any other big who figures to cost more than the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. Their young fliers aren't throwaways, and Nurkic's rim protection won't seem as heavenly outside Portland's conservative, behemoth friendly scheme.
Making a splash just for the sake of making a splash won't advance the Kings' rebuild. Sussing out cheaper gambles is safer if they're driven to tinker with their frontcourt depth. Think: Montrezl Harrell (restricted), Lucas Nogueira (restricted), Nerlens Noel, etc. Failing that, they should mimic the Hawks and aim to extract cost-controlled assets from teams looking to pawn off unflattering salary.
Utah Jazz: Jabari Parker (Restricted)
The Utah Jazz come close to joining the inflexible ranks and will need to jump through many hoops to clear significant room.
Going through these motions might call to them. They just put the finishing touches on a 48-win crusade and second-round playoff appearance. Tapping into the full extent of their flexibility for another shot creator to help alleviate the burden upon Donovan Mitchell's shoulders sounds like it should be a no-brainer.
And if that player is Jabari Parker? Well, heck yeah. He's solidified himself as a nice off-action option while playing beside Milwaukee's other ball-handlers, but he boasts off-the-bounce pizzazz Utah's primary supporting castmates do not.
Jae Crowder, Joe Ingles and Ricky Rubio at times look uncomfortable when increasing their workload, be it with extra dribbling and driving, pull-up jumpers or step-back threes. Most of that stuff comes more naturally to Parker.
At what cost would the Jazz be prepared to chase him, though? Renouncing Dante Exum (restricted), Derrick Favors and Raul Neto (restricted) while waiving Jonas Jerebko, Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh creates more than $20 million in space. The Bucks probably match that annual rate. Finding a taker for Alec Burks' expiring deal—or stretching him—drags Utah to Parker's max, but even that may not scare off Milwaukee.
It sure as hell should terrify the Jazz. Parker has two ACL injuries in his past. The Jazz have the personnel to cover up for his defensive issues—and Parker worked his tail off at the less glamorous end in the first round—but they'll need to turn over so much of their roster just to dole out a competitive offer.
Waiting until next year to try reeling in a big fish is easier. Utah has a bunch of contracts coming off the books, including Burks and Rubio, and could secure meetings with two-way wings Jimmy Butler (player option), Kawhi Leonard (player option), Khris Middleton (player option) and Klay Thompson.
In the meantime, the Jazz should focus on re-signing Exum and Favors to team-friendly deals or short-term overpays. This way, they safeguard next summer's flexibility while taking this disarmingly effective core for another test drive.