Flight-Risk Meter for NBA's Top Restricted Free Agents

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2019

Flight-Risk Meter for NBA's Top Restricted Free Agents

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    With Anthony Davis' trade request highlighting the issue of player autonomy, it's important to remember that the NBA's labor-management power dynamic often tilts the other way.

    Restricted free agency is a perfect example.

    This summer, qualified players—mostly first-round picks from the 2015 draft—will field offer sheets from other teams with no control over whether their current club decides to match and retain them. In this scenario, free agency doesn't feel particularly free.

    Taking into account player value, team needs and any other considerations that affect the chances of a restricted free agent staying or going, we've split this summer's RFAs into five tiers.

    A lot can change between now and July, but here's how the flight risks for top restricted free agents look today.

Tier 1: No Chance of Departure

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    Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas Mavericks

    Rest easy, Mavs fans. Your team didn't give up two future first-rounders and the No. 9 overall pick from 2017 while taking on additional long-term salary just to let the centerpiece of the deal walk in free agency.

    Shortly after the Mavericks landed Porzingis, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported the floor-stretching big man was "planning to inform" the Mavericks of "his intent" to sign his qualifying offer this summer. If he does so, he would become an unrestricted free agent in 2020.

    But in light of Porzingis' injury concerns—he's still working his way back from a torn ACL he suffered last Februarythere's almost no chance that happens. No player in his position has ever taken such a bold gamble.

    Even if KP does sign the qualifying offer, he'll still be in Dallas for the 2019-20 season. In other words, there's no way Porzingis leaves the Mavericks this summer—not with owner Mark Cuban talking about 20-year partnerships.

    He's our lone lock to stay.

Tier 2: Probably Staying Put

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    Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks

    Brogdon's cap hold is only $1.9 million this summer, so the Bucks can attend to their other free-agent business—which will include Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton (assuming he declines his player option) and Eric Bledsoe—before circling back to figure out what it'll cost to keep their starting combo guard.

    Brogdon was eligible for a four-year, $46 million extension this past summer, but he didn't sign such a deal. That suggests he won't come cheap.

    Brogdon is no star, but his 50/40/90 efficiency and demonstrated excellence as a role player on a wildly successful team should result in offer sheets larger than the extension he could have signed. Some team may view him as a $20-million-per-year player.

    If that's the number Milwaukee needs to match, Brogdon could be a goner. This is a bet that the Bucks are comfortable paying somewhere in the neighborhood of a four-year, $64 million deal to keep their contending core together around Giannis Antetokounmpo.

                     

    Delon Wright, Memphis Grizzlies

    Turning 27 in April, Wright isn't your typical restricted free agent. Potential suitors won't view him as a long-term investment with significant upside. That'll benefit the Grizzlies, who were likely to match reasonable offers anyway.

    Wright was a key part of the deal that ended Marc Gasol's Memphis tenure, which should make his return a priority.

    A high-end backup in his prime, Wright could command offers of $8-12 million per season. The higher end of that range should give Memphis pause, but his statistical regression from last year could also suppress his value. The Grizzlies seem likely to keep him around as a steady, serviceable two-way combo guard.

                     

    Tomas Satoransky, Washington Wizards

    The Wizards started talking about an extension with Satoransky in January, according to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. Though the parties couldn't agree on a new deal, those conversations suggest the Wizards view the 27-year-old as a valuable piece of their future—and that was before John Wall had Achilles surgery that may keep him out for most or all of next season.

    Satoransky's age and history as a reserve should keep outside offers in the backup or low-end-starter range. In 30 starts this season, he is averaging 10.4 points, 6.0 assists and 4.4 rebounds on a shooting split of 49.2/46.6/72.9.

    Given their injury and luxury-tax concerns, the Wizards should be motivated to retain their likely starting point guard for 2019-20 and beyond.   

Tier 3: Flip a Coin

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    D'Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets

    That face up there? That's the face of a man who knows he's going to get paid.

    It's just unclear whether the Nets will be the ones cutting the checks.

    Russell's restricted free agency will be far more complicated than it seemed before the season. Given his $21.1 million cap hold and uninspiring production over his first three years, Brooklyn at one point could have considered renouncing his rights in July. But with an All-Star nod, a reel of clutch highlights and career-high averages of 20.3 points and 6.6 assists under his belt, his breakout is undeniable.

    Still, even in what's been his best season, Russell is tied for only 16th among point guards in Player Impact Plus-Minus. He doesn't get to the rim, draw fouls or contribute much defensively. There are clear holes in his game.

    Some team is bound to view him as a cornerstone, and he'll have big offers. However, the Nets could believe they'll get more long-term dollar-for-dollar value in Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert.

    It'll be fascinating to see how big of an offer sheet Russell commands and whether Brooklyn will be inclined to match. This is a total toss-up.

              

    Kelly Oubre Jr., Phoenix Suns

    The fact Oubre Jr. came over via in-season trade should improve his chances of sticking with the Suns. Teams don't target young players and then let them leave...or at least they can't do it without looking directionless in their planning.

    Oubre, 23, is young enough to tantalize teams with his potential. He's had a negative box plus-minus in every year of his career, but since joining the Suns, he's posting career highs in true shooting percentage, usage rate and assist rate. With a 6'7" frame and the mobility to one day become a plus defender across multiple positions, he could turn into a quality starter on the wing or as an undersized 4.

    Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges are both younger and under team control for longer. While Oubre makes sense as a long-term play, the Suns may not be able to justify spending big on his potential when they have some that'll be cheaper for the next few seasons.

              

    Ivica Zubac, L.A. Clippers

    Three players age 21 or younger are averaging at least 19 points and 11 rebounds per 36 minutes this year: Deandre Ayton, John Collins...and Zubac. Notably, Zubac's block and free-throw rates are higher than either of his peers, both of whom have enjoyed more fanfare to this point in their careers.

    At the same time, Zubac is an old-school, conventional center with zero stretch to his game and little ability to switch onto smaller opponents defensively. The league has largely stopped paying top dollar for guys like him.

    Since joining the Clippers via trade, he's continued to be productive. In his last game before the All-Star break, Zubac scored 16 points and grabbed seven boards in 22 minutes against Phoenix, holding up just fine against top overall pick Ayton, who posted 20 and eight in 29 minutes.

    With a $1.9 million cap hold, Zubac won't get in the way of L.A.'s big plans in free agency, but it's worth wondering if another team might view him as a key piece in a rebuild.

Tier 4: Don't Get Attached

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    Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings

    Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles III have done enough to make clear they're the Kings' frontcourt of the future. Bagley's touch, incredibly quick second jump and potential to become a reliable three-point shooter pair perfectly with Giles' passing instincts and competitiveness. These two work well together, and they won't hit restricted free agency until 2021 (Giles) and 2022 (Bagley).

    On the floor and in the Kings' cap sheets, they're the obvious frontcourt pillars.

    That leaves Cauley-Stein low on the priority list, and if another team wants to pay him low-end-starter money, don't expect Sacramento to match. Cauley-Stein is having a career season at age 25, averaging 12.7 points and 8.5 rebounds, but he's the worst rim protector among bigs who've faced 250 shots inside six feet and isn't a better investment than his younger, cheaper teammates.

                 

    Terry Rozier, Boston Celtics

    Kyrie Irving could leave after opting out this summer, which would put the Celtics in a much better position to match an offer sheet for Rozier. But even then, it'd be easy to imagine Boston either riding with Marcus Smart as its starter or pursuing another option—one likely to be less expensive than Rozier.

    Though his 2018-19 production hasn't matched last year's playoff level, Rozier still profiles as a starting-caliber point guard.

    The Celtics will either add Anthony Davis this summer or face the inevitability of paying big extensions to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown over the next few seasons. Either way, it seems highly unlikely they'll commit major resources—say, $10-15 million per year—to match an offer sheet for Rozier.

                      

    Bobby Portis, Washington Wizards

    If the Wizards match an offer sheet for Bobby Portis, who wants at least $16 million per season, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, much of the flexibility they earned by dealing Otto Porter Jr. for Portis and Jabari Parker will be gone. And that's to say nothing of their other restricted free agents, Tomas Satoransky and Thomas Bryant.

    While losing players just acquired in a trade can be a bad look, it seemed like the Wizards' main concern in the Porter deal was escaping from his contract. If Portis gets an offer sheet in his desired range, Washington could comfortably walk away without losing much face.

    That isn't to say Portis won't be worth upward of $16 million per year. He's averaging a career-high 14.8 points and 7.3 rebounds while hitting an eye-opening 41.5 percent of his threes. But the Wizards, saddled with John Wall's supermax extension, can't pay market rates for their non-stars over the next few years. They need bargains to be competitive, and Portis likely won't be retainable at a discount.

Tier 5: Say Your Goodbyes

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    Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte Hornets

    Cody Zeller's frequent unavailability and Charlotte's revolving door of unreliable centers gave Frank Kaminsky every opportunity to establish himself as a quality backup big with some stretch. Instead, the No. 9 pick in the 2015 draft is now averaging 10.8 minutes per game in his fourth season.

    The Hornets made him available at the trade deadline, per Sean Deveney of Sporting News, but they couldn't find a taker. 

    Kaminsky is a career 34.7 percent shooter from deep, and he topped out at 38 percent on 3.5 attempts per game in 2017-18. Some other team will take a shot on him, and the Hornets will pass on matching. They've seen enough.

             

    Trey Lyles, Denver Nuggets

    Lyles, an offense-first shooting specialist, is hitting 25.4 percent of his threes this season. With Juancho Hernangomez under contract for $3.3 million next year and the potential-laden Michael Porter Jr. possibly ascending into a rotation role, it'll be hard for Denver to justify matching any offer sheet of substance that comes Lyles' way.

    Considering his $10.1 million cap hold, Lyles' most likely offseason scenario may involve being renounced and thrust into unrestricted free agency.

    Denver is going to be a playoff mainstay for a long time, so its decision to trade the pick that became Donovan Mitchell for Lyles and Tyler Lydon isn't as disastrous as it might otherwise be. But that's still a tantalizing "what if?"

              

    Emmanuel Mudiay, New York Knicks

    Anybody know if the Knicks have big free-agent plans this summer? Like, maybe some that involve a pair of max-salary slots?

    Even if New York doesn't land Kyrie Irving, Mudiay is still behind Dennis Smith Jr. in the team's point-guard-of-the-future hierarchy. Don't forget about Frank Ntilikina, either. He may be one of the worst offensive players in the league, but he's two years younger than Mudiay and already has one high-end NBA skill: perimeter defense.

    Mudiay may have salvaged his career by averaging 14.7 points per game with the Knicks this season, but his NBA future is elsewhere.

                 

    Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Cleaning the Glass and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Accurate through games played Thursday, Feb. 14. Cap holds courtesy of Basketball Insiders.