Predicting Contracts, Landing Spots for Top 2019 Restricted Free Agents
Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, Justise Winslow, Myles Turner and Larry Nance Jr. got their business taken care of early this past offseason, signing rookie extensions before the Oct. 15 deadline.
The vast majority of the 2015 draft class remains ticketed for restricted free agency in 2019, and several players in that group figure to command significant cash on a market that'll be more robust than the one we endured this past summer. We're not quite talking the funny money that flew around in 2016, but with the cap going up and most of the league in line for significant space, the deals will be substantial.
Some prospective RFAs could be dealt before we even get to the summer of 2019; teams that know they aren't going to retain their free agents might prefer to get an asset now than deal with the cap holds and match scenarios of restricted free agency.
Summertime is a long way off, and some of the players we've highlighted could see their outlooks change depending on how well (or poorly) they perform in their fourth NBA seasons.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
The New York Knicks' decision not to extend Kristaps Porzingis ahead of the Oct. 15 deadline was a practical move; it preserved as much as $10 million in cap space for the summer of 2019. When you're rumored to have a shot at Kevin Durant, every extra penny counts. Reports from ESPN.com's Ian Begley indicate Porzingis and his camp are on board with the preservation of financial flexibility, which should ultimately result in more talent on the roster.
At the same time, the non-agreement also reflects KP's uncertain standing in the organization's long-term plans.
Under normal circumstances, a floor-stretching scorer who also defends the rim at an elite level would get his fat extension with no questions asked. Porzingis' torn ACL, likely to keep him out for most or all of the 2018-19 season, changes things. It injects doubt, however small, that Porzingis is a surefire cornerstone.
Assuming his rehab progresses normally, Porzingis will still be in line to collect.
Expect the Knicks to extend a qualifying offer next summer, keeping KP and his $17.1 million cap hold on the books while they throw around some cash in free agency. After making their play on the market, the Knicks will circle back to Porzingis with a five-year maximum deal. Chances are no other team will even make an offer; you can't tie up that much cap space when the player's incumbent team seems certain to match.
Prediction: Porzingis re-signs with New York on a five-year, $158 million contract.
Terry Rozier, Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics committed four years and $52 million to Marcus Smart this past offseason, and with Kyrie Irving looking likelier to return on his own new deal this summer, it'll be too hard to justify paying Terry Rozier what he's worth.
Extension talks ended amicably this time around, with Rozier turning down a contract that would have paid him around $12 million per season, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports. Everybody involved seems to understand the situation: Rozier probably can't expect to earn his market value in Boston, but performing well for a team that could make an NBA Finals appearance will benefit all parties.
Whenever Boston's season concludes, the Celtics can extend Rozier a qualifying offer to preserve their match rights. But if Rozier plays like he did last postseason (16.5 points. 5.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game in 19 starts), there will be teams convinced he's the answer they need at the point.
Rozier competes on defense and generally conducts himself like someone convinced he's the best player on the floor. He's never met a big shot he didn't like. That confidence is valuable...and infectious. Maybe there's a young team looking for the kind of edge Rozier offers. You know, one that has a glaring hole at the 1 and already showed interest in trading for the 24-year-old.
Prediction: Rozier signs a four-year, $72 million contract (with incentives that could raise the value to $78 million) with the Suns. Boston doesn't match.
Kelly Oubre Jr., Washington Wizards
John Wall's colossal supermax extension will limit the Washington Wizards' financial options until 2023, and that's before considering significant commitments already made to Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. That much locked-in money means the Wizards have to approach team-building carefully for the next several seasons.
That's not great news for their odds of retaining Kelly Oubre Jr., who'll hit restricted free agency in 2019 after failing to agree on an extension this past offseason.
Oubre is a valuable modern wing who's capable of playing power forward, hitting threes, running the floor and defending several positions. By showing improvement in every year of his career, Oubre, who'll be 23 when he agrees to his next contract, profiles as a trustworthy starter with upside over the next handful of seasons.
Washington, though, is in a position where its cap constraints dictate a search for cheaper alternatives. It'll be better to find someone for the minimum who can do 80 percent of what Oubre can than to dole out yet another hefty long-term deal to a player currently slated for reserve duty.
If Oubre builds on last year's career highs of 11.8 points per game and 34.1 percent from deep, maybe that brings a Porter or Beal trade into clearer focus. More likely, the Wizards will be priced out when another team extends Oubre an offer sheet.
Everyone needs wings like Oubre, so the market should be robust.
Prediction: Oubre signs a four-year, $80 million deal with the Sacramento Kings. Washington opts not to match.
Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks
Malcolm Brogdon is already eligible for an extension worth up to $47.5 million over four years, but ESPN's Zach Lowe thinks he'll turn down that deal if the Milwaukee Bucks offer it: "Brogdon is represented by the legendary agent David Falk. Check Falk's track record on extensions, and there is no conclusion other than he would happily take Brogdon into restricted free agency."
Milwaukee will still be in a good position with its combo guard, as it'll be able to match any offer sheet Brogdon signs with another team. The downside: Someone might blow away the cap-strapped Bucks with an offer far too large to match.
With every starter other than Giannis Antetokounmpo slated for free agency in 2019 (Khris Middleton will surely decline the final year and $13 million of his deal to hit the unrestricted market), the Bucks probably won't prioritize Brogdon (who will be 26) too highly. He's a quality starter, but Middleton, Bledsoe and even Brook Lopez figure to get more attention.
Brogdon's cap hold this summer will only be $1.9 million, so the Bucks can comfortably address their other concerns first. Still, it's difficult to see a big offer coming Brogdon's way in free agency from a Milwaukee team that has long been loath to pay the tax. Then again, if Antetokounmpo intimates he'd consider leaving if the Bucks don't spend to stay competitive, that calculus could change.
Prediction: Brogdon signs a four-year, $64 million deal with the Indiana Pacers. Milwaukee doesn't match, and the Donte DiVincenzo era commences in earnest.
Delon Wright, Toronto Raptors
As is the case for just about everything pertaining to the Toronto Raptors' future, Kawhi Leonard will have a lot to do with Delon Wright's fate.
If Leonard leaves Toronto after one season, the Raps will have more cap flexibility—not to mention perhaps more of an incentive to retain younger assets like Wright. Leonard's potential exit could shift the Raptors toward more of a rebuild as Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka all enter the final years of their contracts in 2019-20.
Wright is a valuable rotation piece who can play either backcourt spot and defend up to three positions. He's already 26, which means it's probably a mistake to expect significant growth. But if Wright adds nothing to a game that last year featured solid defense, veteran decision-making, a 36.6 percent stroke from deep and a tricky array of in-between finishes, he'll still be worth eight figures per season.
Any improvement from that baseline and Toronto might consider retaining Wright if Leonard stays, which could trigger some onerous tax penalties. Assuming the Raptors don't go way overboard, Wright's contract figures to be tradable regardless.
Prediction: Wright re-signs with the Raptors for three years (player option on the third year) and $27 million.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings
Quietly, Willie Cauley-Stein averaged 12.8 and 7.0 rebounds per game in 2017-18, flashing above-the-rim value as a lob threat and hinting that there might still be quality-starter potential for the No. 6 pick in the 2015 draft.
Cauley-Stein is off to a torrid start in 2018-19, posting career highs across most of the board and vindicating head coach Dave Joerger's contention that he's best deployed at center with four spacers around him (what big man isn't?).
Though nothing Cauley-Stein has shown as the so-called anchor of a rotten Kings defense suggests he'll be a winning two-way player, there are still bound to be teams intrigued by the draft pedigree and his obvious athletic gifts.
The Kings took Marvin Bagley III second overall this year, which means he's immediately ahead of Cauley-Stein in the franchise hierarchy. Harry Giles III is also exciting as a potential offensive hub whose passing and feel already surpass Cauley-Stein's. With those two aboard and under team control for much longer, expect the Kings to move Cauley-Stein down their list of priorities.
If he's not traded during the season to unclog a big-heavy rotation in Sacramento, he could sign an offer sheet with another team—possibly one that views him as a starter. You never know what to expect with the Kings, but it'd be risky resource management to match a big offer on Cauley-Stein with cheaper, younger bigs already on the roster.
2019 free agency will be loaded with bigs. Al Horford, DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside, Valanciunas, Dwight Howard and Nikola Vucevic could all be on the market, and we should expect the ongoing devaluation of centers to continue. That may mean Cauley-Stein's quest to "get paid" goes unfulfilled.
Prediction: Cauley-Stein signs a three-year, $23 million offer sheet with the Dallas Mavericks. Sacramento agonizes over the decision but decides it can't let a potential quality starter go for so little. The Kings match.
D'Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets
There's a case to be made that D'Angelo Russell, currently the third-best guard on his own team, shouldn't even get a mention ahead of forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. RHJ has had the better career to date, besting Russell in several catch-all metrics, including PER and VORP. Defensively, Hollis-Jefferson has been better than Russell too, though that's mostly because it's almost impossible to be worse than the fourth-year point guard.
Russell has the draft pedigree, having gone second overall in 2015. And there's still the possibility he'll develop into the kind of lead guard teams build around. The chance he could reach that level, however slim, is the reason Russell remains the more intriguing commodity.
A cap hold of $20.1 million means Brooklyn's 2019 flexibility depends on acting decisively with Russell. Spencer Dinwiddie will be unrestricted this summer if he doesn't reach an extension when eligible in December, and you could forgive Brooklyn for prioritizing Dinwiddie. That could mean renouncing Russell's rights in order to create space—but that'll only happen if it's clear the Nets have better, cheaper options.
Right now, it kind of looks like they do, particularly with Caris LeVert playing so well in the early going.
Prediction: Brooklyn renounces Russell's rights, allowing him to hit unrestricted free agency. Russell signs a three-year (team option on the third year), $42 million contract with the Orlando Magic.
Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls
It might say more about Jabari Parker's plummeting stock than anything else, but it's telling that Bobby Portis beat out the Chicago Bulls' splashy offseason signing for a starting gig.
Portis can score against mismatches underneath with an array of moves that all tend to result in shots over his left shoulder. Though somewhat predictable, the 6'11", 250-pound Portis is strong and skilled enough to do damage at close range. He's comfortable from the mid-range area but has gradually adjusted his shot profile to keep pace with the modern game. Last year, he took 57.1 percent of his shots at the rim or from long range.
Defensively, Portis is nearly as bad as Parker. Often unwilling to put up resistance at the basket and not quick enough to survive on most switches, Portis profiles as a one-way player going forward.
Lauri Markkanen could be back by late November, which would relegate Portis to his former bench role. So far, the University of Arkansas product is making the most of his opportunity, highlighted by his 20 points and 11 boards in a season-opening loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Portis and the Bulls couldn't reach an extension this past summer, but Chicago has made a habit of letting its players hit restricted free agency. Zach LaVine is the most recent example. If Portis continues to score effectively and upgrades his defense to "passable," he'll be worth keeping around as a highly compensated reserve.
Prediction: Portis signs a four-year, $50 million deal with the Bulls.