The Free Agent Your NBA Team Most Needs to Re-Sign This SummerJune 4, 2019
The Free Agent Your NBA Team Most Needs to Re-Sign This Summer
So much of the fervor surrounding the NBA offseason has to do with acquisition.
The draft, trades and free agency are about adding outside talent to a familiar roster and, hopefully, improving it. But while it's true that fresh additions are most exciting, it'd be a mistake to overlook the concept of retention. After all, if you lose as much as you gain, you haven't really gotten any better.
This is a relative exercise, meaning we'll have a few teams that don't necessarily need to re-sign any of their free agents, but we'll still have to make a selection anyway. In other cases, our picks for the highest re-signing priority will be obvious.
In a few extreme scenarios, the entire future of a franchise can hang in the balance.
Finally, value always matters. Sure, it'd be ideal if a team could keep its very best players without concern for cost. But in some situations, the financial toll of retaining a free agent won't be worth it. Some clubs will have to let major contributors go.
Atlanta Hawks: Dewayne Dedmon, Unrestricted
Regardless of whether the Hawks use one of their first-rounders on a center, they should make retaining Dewayne Dedmon a priority.
The six-year vet only played 64 games last year but led Atlanta in total blocks while finishing second in rebounds and fourth in steals. His 38.2 percent shooting from deep also provided valuable spacing on offense.
The Hawks are an up-and-coming franchise that should focus on adding more developing players to their young core, but it'll still be important to have a stable veteran presence in the middle. Dedmon is no star, and Atlanta should be wary of paying any center significant money in the era of fungible bigs. But as long as the price is right, Dedmon will provide value.
Vince Carter is a fringe consideration here, too, as his mentorship still matters for the young Hawks. It also doesn't hurt that he can hit threes (38.9 percent) and defend intelligently within a scheme.
Boston Celtics: Kyrie Irving, Player Option
If you factor in all the chemistry and leadership concerns that arose during Kyrie Irving's fraught 2018-19 season, it's not hard to argue Al Horford, and not Irving, is the Boston Celtics' most important free agent—assuming both stars opt out of the final year of their deals.
Horford is a reliable, steadying force who contributes on both ends. He lifted Boston down the stretch of the regular season whenever he was on the floor and, yet again, proved even more valuable in the playoffs. If the Celtics intend to keep chasing titles, Horford's status as their best option against everyone from Joel Embiid to Giannis Antetokounmpo matters a ton.
Then again, Irving's continued presence, though seemingly less likely by the day, might be the key to landing Anthony Davis in a trade.
If Irving re-signs, you'd have to assume it improves Boston's odds of getting and keeping AD. Stars love to form constellations these days, and though Horford's value may be similar to Irving's, it's hard to imagine Davis viewing a 33-year-old as an equally enticing long-term running mate.
Even if letting Irving walk and redistributing his touches to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (while still relying on veterans Horford, Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward) sounds palatable, we can't overlook the idea that retaining Irving could be the key to adding another superstar.
Brooklyn Nets: D'Angelo Russell, Restricted
Let's not overthink this.
Yes, D'Angelo Russell is on everyone's short list of restricted free agents most likely to be overpaid this summer. And yes, his defensive deficiencies and high-volume, low-efficiency scoring mark him as something of a counting-stats generator.
But is anyone seriously going to make the case that Ed Davis, DeMarre Carroll or Jared Dudley is harder to replace than Russell? Those guys are useful veteran role players, and every one of them contributed during a successful playoff season. Even if you think Russell's All-Star nod was suspect, none of those three were anywhere near that level in 2018-19.
From a team-building perspective, it would be a mistake for the Nets to pay Russell like a superstar. Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert are ready for bigger playmaking roles if a massive offer sheet comes in for Russell, which lends Brooklyn leverage.
While it's true the Nets don't need to re-sign Russell, he's clearly more valuable than any of their other free agents. Assuming the price is right, he's the guy they should be most concerned with keeping.
Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker, Unrestricted
The Charlotte Hornets aren't in a position to get off the mediocrity treadmill; that chance evaporated when they decided not to trade Kemba Walker ahead of free agency. Had they moved the All-Star guard at some point over the last two seasons, perhaps they'd have more young assets and cap flexibility.
But they didn't, so they don't.
Now, with no clear path to an immediate rebuild, Charlotte has to keep Walker around. It feels like a foregone conclusion that his next contract will get ugly toward the end, particularly if the Hornets sign him to a five-year supermax deal.
At 29, Walker could continue to play at an All-Star level for the next two or three years, though. That might be long enough for the Hornets to build a bridge between this era and the next.
Realistically, it'll be hard for Charlotte to construct anything close to a contender with or without Walker. But if the Hornets want to be remotely relevant or competitive going forward, they can't let their All-NBA cornerstone get away.
After a couple of backhanded endorsements for Irving and Russell, it's nice to have a clear-cut case.
Chicago Bulls: Robin Lopez, Unrestricted
Robin Lopez is the Chicago Bulls' only free agent of consequence, and he might have been on the market last season via buyout if the Bulls hadn't been so averse to losing him for nothing. That could happen this summer, but there's a surprisingly good chance the veteran center re-signs after a strong post-All-Star run.
With averages of 14.4 points and 5.6 rebounds on 61.5 percent true shooting after the break, Lopez proved he could produce in a larger role. While the rebuilding Bulls would almost certainly prefer to slot him into a backup spot behind Wendell Carter Jr., it never hurts to have a proven vet with first-unit experience.
Lopez could be forgiven for wanting a role on a winning team at this stage of his career, but it's telling that he refused to ask for a buyout this past season. And his comments about his team's future suggest he might have interest in being part of the Bulls' hypothetical rise in the coming years.
"It's really cool what we're trying to build here right now," he told the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson in February. "I think we have some great pieces on all levels—coaching level, player level. We’re coming together."
Unless you consider Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Wayne Selden or Ryan Arcidiacono indispensable, there aren't any other candidates here.
Cleveland Cavaliers: David Nwaba, Restricted
The best perimeter defender on a roster with precious few stoppers, David Nwaba is the easy pick here.
Though on-off stats can be noisy, and though we should be especially careful with a sample as small as Nwaba's 2018-19 efforts (in which he played 984 minutes over 51 games), it's still difficult to ignore his status as the team's most positively impactful defender.
Cleveland's defensive rating was 5.5 points per 100 possessions better with Nwaba on the floor last year, and none of the Cavs' other free agents—JR Smith (partial guarantee), Marquese Chriss (unrestricted) and Nik Stauskas (unrestricted)—came close to matching the third-year guard's energy on D. For a Cavs team that figures to lean on youth, Nwaba's defensive tone-setting will be valuable.
If effort is contagious, Nwaba can be the Cavs' patient zero.
Though limited offensively, the 6'4" Nwaba gives the Cavaliers reliable wing defense at a low cost. Expect Cleveland to extend him his $1.9 million qualifying offer and keep him around in restricted free agency.
Dallas Mavericks: Kristaps Porzingis, Restricted
Dwight Powell is valuable enough as a pick-and-roll dive man to warrant a multiyear deal, which is why he's set to opt out of the final year and $10.2 million of his current contract with the Dallas Mavericks, according to Yahoo's Chris Haynes.
Maxi Kleber's facility as a rim-protecting big who can also survive in switching schemes and offer some offensive stretch makes him another high retention priority.
But let's not forget Kristaps Porzingis—a restricted free agent the Mavericks deemed valuable enough to justify surrendering a couple of first-rounders, taking on bad salary and giving up former lottery pick Dennis Smith Jr. Kleber and Powell are helpful role-fillers, but Porzingis is a player Dallas envisions as a foundational partner for Luka Doncic.
Suffice it to say, it'd be a bad look to lose him.
Denver Nuggets: Paul Millsap, Team Option
The Denver Nuggets are in a good spot.
Paul Millsap can't even control whether he hits free agency because Denver has a team option on his $30.5 million salary for next season. If the Nuggets want to retain him, they can pick up that option or decline it and extend the veteran power forward on a new contract.
They hold all the cards on the only piece of their rotation with contractual uncertainty.
Millsap's defense and leadership are critical for a young Nuggets team, and Denver should do whatever it can to bring him back—preferably at a lower annual salary. Millsap's age, 34, is a concern. But his defensive smarts and versatility were key to helping Denver advance past the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
"When you can look to a four-time All-Star with 90 playoff games under his belt, that's reassuring," head coach Mike Malone said of Millsap after Denver downed the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals. "He's the calm for our team and I think that has a tremendous impact on all our young players."
The Nuggets should feel confident Millsap has got another couple of good years in him, particularly if they manage his workload during the regular season.
Detroit Pistons: Ish Smith, Unrestricted
Wayne Ellington provided some badly needed off-ball stretch to the Detroit Pistons offense in his 28-game stint with the team, and there's no such thing as too much shooting. But it's impossible to overlook Ish Smith's contributions.
Detroit struggled to create offense whenever Blake Griffin wasn't running the show, and Smith was one of the few consistent playmakers on the roster.
As The Athletic's Danny Leroux observed in his offseason preview: "One of the most interesting storylines of the Pistons season was the team going 33-23 in games Smith played in and 8-18 when he was unavailable. There were plenty of other factors of course, but having a capable backup point guard made a massive difference on a team that needed the stability he provided."
In lineups missing Griffin and Reggie Jackson, Smith's presence still coincided with an excellent 114.5 offensive rating, good enough for the 83rd percentile in scoring efficiency, according to Cleaning the Glass. When Jackson played without Griffin or Smith, the Pistons offense ranked in the 22nd percentile.
This is a team-specific scarcity issue. It's true everyone needs shooting, but the Pistons, in particular, require Smith's offensive facilitation.
Golden State Warriors: Kevin Durant, Player Option
The debate about whether the Golden State Warriors are better without Kevin Durant isn't as simple as some make it seem.
KD lifts the Warriors' ceiling, making them nearly unbeatable due to sheer overwhelming talent. He also seems to increase their variance, as that same talent tends to give Golden State an excuse to relax. The Dubs' margin for error is massive with Durant on the floor, and they know it.
If "better" means more entertaining or more generally likable, it's easy to make the case Golden State actually does benefit from Durant's absence. The style it plays without KD, which puts the ball in Stephen Curry's hands more often and features a more consistent level of maximum effort, is inarguably better to watch. And if the Warriors want to shake their status as bullies and villains around the league, losing Durant would certainly help. Remember, pre-KD, the Dubs were league-wide darlings.
But if the goal is to win as many titles as possible, if it's to extend this dynastic run into a new San Francisco arena, Durant remains Golden State's most important free agent. There's no replacing a player of his caliber, even if the Warriors can survive and thrive without him.
Houston Rockets: Austin Rivers, Unrestricted
If turnover is coming for the Houston Rockets this summer, it sure sounds like it'll be in the form of trades.
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is putting every asset—players and picks—on the table in talks with other teams. Considering the quality of the players Houston has under contract for 2019-20 (and could therefore trade), that feels like a particularly bold strategy. The list includes Chris Paul, Clint Capela, PJ Tucker and Eric Gordon.
Big shakeup plans aside, Houston should also attend to a long list of free agents. Among a group that includes Kenneth Faried, Gerald Green and Nene, Austin Rivers stands out as the most worthy of retention. Added via buyout, Rivers provided stellar backcourt defense and shot creation in his abbreviated stint with the Rockets. More importantly, he drilled 45.7 percent of his postseason threes and played hyper-competitive D against the Warriors.
With so much potential change tied to Houston's aggressiveness in the trade market, it's hard to know what the roster might look like a few weeks from now. There'll always be a spot for a backup combo guard who can hit a shot and defend, though, and that makes Rivers the most worthwhile re-signing target.
Indiana Pacers: Bojan Bogdanovic, Unrestricted
Few teams have a greater breadth of offseason options than the Indiana Pacers, who can renounce cap holds on several free agents to clear as much as $43 million in room, re-sign some or all of said free agents or seek sign-and-trade opportunities afforded by their unusual flexibility.
The list of free agents who played significant roles last year and are worth retaining is long: Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Bojan Bogdanovic and Wesley Matthews are all unrestricted. Everyone on that list was a full-time starter except Joseph, and he logged more minutes than any Indiana reserve. If the Pacers intend to run it back in 2019-20, they could do worse than just keeping them all.
At the same time, Indy should seek an upgrade at the point so Victor Oladipo, presumably healthy next year, won't have to shoulder such a heavy scoring and playmaking load. That should rule out Collison and Joseph, two quality players better suited as backups. Young was a critically important defensive piece, and Bogdanovic's scoring spike helped offset Oladipo's absence.
Perhaps the best way to choose a top priority from among so many worthwhile keepers is to consider market value. If it comes down to Young and Bogdanovic, the latter's positional value as a scoring wing probably puts him on top. For the Pacers, who should be looking to lean harder on frontcourt lineups that include both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis next year, Young might also be the more expendable of the two.
Let's give it to Bogdanovic, who averaged 20.9 points on 50.1 percent shooting from the field after the All-Star break, by a narrow margin.
LA Clippers: Tie — Ivica Zubac, Restricted and Patrick Beverley, Unrestricted
Garrett Temple, Rodney McGruder, Wilson Chandler and JaMychal Green are all useful role players who'd fit well around whichever star (or stars) the Los Angeles Clippers attract with their two max salary slots. But this one comes down to Patrick Beverley and Ivica Zubac, two very different players who could occupy similarly vital positions on next year's roster.
Beverley, the unrestricted veteran point guard, would be a valuable defensive tone-setter. The Clips' guard rotation currently under contract includes Lou Williams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet, none of whom are shutdown types. SGA could get there sooner than later, but Beverley is a notoriously effective and competitive irritant on D...who also happens to be a 38 percent career three-point shooter.
Zubac is the restricted young center swiped from the Los Angeles Lakers for Mike Muscala this past season. Though conventional bigs are out of favor, Zubac's size, rim protection and potential to improve suggest he'll be, at worst, an excellent backup for several years. It says plenty that L.A. started him in 25 of the 26 games he played after coming aboard. Just 22, he rewarded the Clippers with per-36-minute averages of 16.8 points, 13.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on 53.8 percent shooting.
If the Clippers add stars and pivot to contention quickly, Beverley's experience and tenacity would be important. Zubac's potential is immense, though, and his restricted status should make him relatively easy to retain.
This is too tough to call. We're splitting this one. L.A. should do what it can to keep both.
Los Angeles Lakers: Reggie Bullock, Unrestricted
The Lakers have the No. 4 pick in the draft, a pile of young talent they've been trying to trade for the better part of a year and, as always, delusions of star-attracting grandeur. Who knows what this roster might look like by the time L.A. gets around to considering its own free agents?
Other than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who leads the charmed existence of being a Klutch Sports client on a team that employs LeBron James, it's hard to be confident any of the Lakers' seven unrestricted free agents will be retention priorities.
If we assume the Lakers add marquee players through trades and free agency, their goal should be surrounding that top-end talent with shooting and defense. That's basically the second step in the superteam construction handbook—right after "get superstars."
Reggie Bullock profiles as the type of low-usage, sharpshooting wing you'd want on a team driven by big names who need the ball. The 6'7" veteran only shot 34.3 percent from deep after joining the Lakers down the stretch last year, but he's a career 39.2 percent marksman from long range, and he drilled an impressive 44.5 percent of his long balls in 2017-18.
Memphis Grizzlies: Delon Wright, Restricted
In big-picture terms, it makes sense for the Memphis Grizzlies to draft Ja Morant and trade Mike Conley. Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. can form a one-two punch much of the league would envy, ideally developing together over the next several years as Memphis retools around them.
Young guards, no matter how obviously gifted, still face a steep learning curve. So it'll be important for Memphis to have a steady veteran around to run second units and, at times, share the floor with Morant.
Delon Wright should be that player.
Jonas Valanciunas was the biggest name coming to Memphis in the Marc Gasol trade last year, but Wright should have more value (and cost less) than the veteran center. Valanciunas might take himself out of this conversation entirely by picking up his $17.6 million player option, too.
Wright, 27, may have a hard time finding hefty offer sheets as a restricted free agent, so the Grizz can wait for the market to set itself with confidence. If Memphis can re-sign him for less than $10 million per season, it'll be money well spent.
Miami Heat: N/A
It says a lot about the Miami Heat's oppressively inflexible roster that they should hope their two highest-profile potential free agents walk away.
Goran Dragic ($19.2 million) and Hassan Whiteside ($27.1 million) both have player options for 2019-20, and the Heat wouldn't be sorry to see either go in exchange for some breathing room under the tax. Bam Adebayo took Whiteside's starting gig last year, and as the younger, cheaper, more versatile option, he should continue to make the veteran an overpaid reserve.
Dragic has been a quality starter when healthy, but he's 33, played just 36 games last year and is coming off his worst effective field-goal percentage in a decade.
Derrick Jones Jr. is worth keeping, and the Heat can control his fate for next season via a partially guaranteed contract. In that sense, he's not really a free agent at all.
Other than that, most of Miami's money is locked into overpays (James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk) and reasonable deals (Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow) that stretch through at least 2019-20. The Heat are the rare team without anything close to an indispensable free agent.
Milwaukee Bucks: Khris Middleton, Player Option
We've got a real doozy here, as Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon all occupied integral positions in the Milwaukee Bucks' 60-win season.
Middleton was the Bucks' No. 2 scoring option and an All-Star for the first time with averages of 18.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Brogdon joined the 50/40/90 club and was the guy to whom Milwaukee turned when nobody else could handle Kawhi Leonard late in the Eastern Conference Finals. The last-ditch defensive switch didn't save the series, but Brogdon performed well, and it's telling the Bucks trusted him with such a critical assignment.
Lopez may have been more important to Milwaukee's system on both ends than either of those two. His ability to crank threes from well beyond the arc and defend the rim in a dropping scheme set him apart from every other big in the league.
Ultimately, the Bucks can't afford to lose any of their top three free agents—both because they don't have the cap room to replace them with outside hires, and because each one played a specific and vital role.
Middleton will command the most money on the market, which is a good indication of his value. And if there's a future in which Antetokounmpo plays center more regularly, perhaps Lopez's rare gifts won't be as important.
Let's get it over with and go with Middleton.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Derrick Rose, Unrestricted
Tyus Jones is the younger of the Minnesota Timberwolves' two free-agent points guards, and it wasn't so long ago (2017-18, actually) that the reserve was an on-off darling with a sky-high steal rate that seemed to portend a leap. Though Jones regressed and battled injury in parts of last season (headlined by a gruesome ankle sprain in January), he still projects as a fine backup.
It's just that Derrick Rose was so much better than "fine" last season.
With averages of 18.0 points and 4.3 assists, Rose was one of the league's best reserves. He shot 37 percent from deep, which led to the highest true shooting percentage of his career. That scoring efficiency, coupled with the lowest turnover rate he's ever posted, made Rose hugely valuable.
Tom Thibodeau isn't running things in Minnesota anymore, so Rose won't have a job because of sentiment. Fortunately, he was good enough to earn one on merit.
New Orleans Pelicans: Jahlil Okafor, Team Option
With an Anthony Davis to trade and a Zion Williamson to draft, the New Orleans Pelicans have bigger concerns than free agency.
Julius Randle has a $9.1 million player option he'd probably be wise to decline, making him New Orleans' highest-profile potential free agent. Were Randle to opt in, he'd lose control of his fate by opening himself up to being traded. If the Pelicans kept him around, he'd almost certainly lose playing time to Williamson, who profiles, basically, as a much better version of Randle. Perhaps most importantly, Randle should expect to do better than $9.1 million per season on the open market.
Considering team need and expected price, Jahlil Okafor is the player on whom New Orleans should be most focused.
Okafor, still just 23 years old, played better last year in a reserve role than he had since his rookie season with the Philadelphia 76ers. Thanks to improved mental and physical health, his performance made it easier to remember his status as the third overall pick in 2015. He may never be a great defender, but per-36-minute averages of 18.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks on 58.6 percent shooting will do just fine for a backup big.
The Pels have a team option on Okafor for just $1.7 million. That's a bargain at twice the price, especially for a player whose pedigree suggests the best is yet to come.
New York Knicks: Allonzo Trier, Team Option
The New York Knicks didn't clear all that cap space so they could re-sign/guarantee/pick up options for players already on the roster. They did it so they could add megastar talent from the outside.
With the Knicks' ambitions in mind, let's break a multi-way tie between Allonzo Trier (team option), Damyean Dotson (non-guaranteed), Noah Vonleh (unrestricted) and Luke Kornet (restricted) by choosing the guy who might have an impact on the aforementioned goal of megastar talent acquisition.
That's Trier, a microwave scorer who also happens to have ties to Kevin Durant.
Trier can get a bucket, as he averaged 10.9 points on 56.4 percent true shooting in 22.8 minutes per game last year. More importantly, he might be able to get the Knicks an MVP in free agency.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Nerlens Noel, Player Option
Unfortunately for the Oklahoma City Thunder, the free agent they should most want to retain is the one they're least likely to keep.
Nerlens Noel was the only player in the league last year to post a block percentage above 7 percent and a steal rate above 2 percent—even if you don't filter out anomalies by restricting the list with a minutes-played requirement. His defensive activity and impact in 13.7 minutes per game mean Noel can expect to make more than the $2 million he's owed on a player option for 2019-20.
He'll almost certainly decline that option and hit the market, which will likely preclude Oklahoma City from keeping him.
OKC is a taxpayer. Worse than that, actually: It's a repeater taxpayer, which means (obviously) it's well over the cap and can't use more than minimums and the mid-level exception to add outside talent. Even with those constraints, every dollar spent will be doubly painful. Noel, who'll be unrestricted following his seemingly inevitable decision to opt out, can only get $5.7 million (via the taxpayer's MLE) for next season on a new deal with the Thunder.
That won't be good enough, and considering the financial hit, OKC might not even offer it. Noel is easily the Thunder's most important free agent, but he's almost certainly gone.
Orlando Magic: Terrence Ross, Unrestricted
This will feel like a direct contradiction of the thinking that pegged D'Angelo Russell as the Nets' top re-signing priority. But here goes anyway: Nikola Vucevic, despite being the Orlando Magic's best player, isn't the free agent they should most want to keep.
Russell's breakthrough came in his age-22 season, while Vucevic's came at age 28. Russell is restricted, which lets the Nets sit back and allow the market to determine his price. Vucevic is unrestricted, so the likelihood of Orlando overpaying to keep him is higher. Let's also note positional differences. Playmaking guards matter more than ever, while non-switching centers continue to lose value.
Vooch was a deserving All-Star in 2018-19, but the Magic can't justify spending upward of $20 million per season to keep him. They've got Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac to develop, and both could maximize their potential by sliding up a position. If Vucevic isn't around, it could spur the growth of more important long-term pieces—including Mo Bamba, who can't be considered a total lost cause yet, even after a terrible rookie season.
Terrence Ross is the winner. Everyone needs wings, and he's coming off career highs with 15.1 points and 2.7 made threes per game.
Philadelphia 76ers: Jimmy Butler, Player Option
We could get cute and try to say JJ Redick's constant off-ball movement, which opens up scoring chances for his teammates, makes him the Philadelphia 76ers' least expendable free agent. Or that Tobias Harris' durability and reliable shooting make him the pick.
But this just has to be Jimmy Butler.
Maybe a ball-dominant wing who isn't a knockdown catch-and-shoot threat creates fit issues with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but Butler proved his worth as a fourth-quarter bucket-getter all year. Still an excellent defender against larger wings, he also provides much more two-way value than Harris.
It'll take a max deal to keep him, but maybe the Sixers can get Butler to accept a three-year pact with a player option on the third season. That should mitigate whatever health and age-related concerns Philly might have while also allowing Butler to hit the market one more time before he's completely past his prime.
Phoenix Suns: Kelly Oubre Jr., Restricted
The Suns would do backflips if Tyler Johnson declined his $19.2 million player option, so he's out. Jamal Crawford and Dragan Bender are hardly vital long-term pieces, so neither qualifies as a high priority.
That leaves us with Kelly Oubre Jr. and Richaun Holmes as the only candidates who played at least 800 minutes for the Phoenix Suns last year.
Holmes can impact a game with his energy at the 5, but he's strangely abandoned any pretense of a perimeter game (152 three-point attempts in three seasons with the Sixers; zero last year in Phoenix) and will never play a major role with Deandre Ayton slated for long-term starting duties.
Oubre Jr. averaged 16.9 points and 4.9 rebounds after coming over in a midseason trade, besting his previous full-season career highs in both categories. Though an often unreliable defender and a career 32.1 percent three-point shooter, Oubre Jr. is still only 23 years old. Starting-caliber combo forwards with upside aren't that easy to find.
The problem: Oubre Jr.'s half-season production and potential might generate a hefty offer sheet in restricted free agency. Throw an asterisk on his status, then. He's the free agent Phoenix should most want to re-sign if doing so requires less than $12 million per season.
Portland Trail Blazers: Al-Farouq Aminu, Unrestricted
Rodney Hood (unrestricted), Al-Farouq Aminu (unrestricted), Seth Curry (unrestricted), Enes Kanter (unrestricted) and Jake Layman (restricted) are all rotation players worth keeping, but the Portland Trail Blazers' limited resources mean most of them will likely play elsewhere next season.
The Blazers already have $126 million in guaranteed 2019-20 salaries.
Aminu has been a regular starter in three of the past four seasons, and we know the Blazers are big on continuity. That makes him the logical choice here. At the same time, Curry and Hood offer more scoring, and both were more effective than Aminu against playoff defenses. If the Blazers put their focus on postseason performance, retaining Aminu may not be as critical. Every spring, he's the guy opponents leave open for a reason.
Still, Aminu's defense, rebounding and versatility are part of the reason Portland keeps making the playoffs in the first place. And just as his shooting woes hinder the Blazers, his ability to defend in the post and capably switch onto guards helps them.
If the Blazers can keep him for under $10 million per season, they should.
Sacramento Kings: Harrison Barnes, Player Option
It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if both Willie Cauley-Stein and Harrison Barnes decide to play elsewhere next season.
Cauley-Stein's inconsistency maddened Sacramento Kings fans all year, even as he played a key role in a successful uptempo offense. As a non-spacing, non-switching center, he's eminently replaceable. So don't expect a rush to match if he commands a decent offer in restricted free agency.
Barnes has a $25.1 million player option he should probably pick up, but there's also a chance he opts out and signs a longer deal either with the Kings or another team. Sacramento traded for him just last February, so it seems unlikely it'd let him get away without at least putting a lucrative new deal on the table. Barnes, though, is best used as a third or fourth option—preferably as a slightly undersized 4. He needs the ball to be effective, is a middling defender and doesn't contribute as a playmaker, which means he shouldn't be paid like a high-end starter.
Between the two, Barnes has more overall value. So he's the pick.
Let's just hope the Kings don't blow too much cash keeping him.
San Antonio Spurs: Rudy Gay, Unrestricted
Rudy Gay's two seasons with the San Antonio Spurs could hardly have gone better. He rejuvenated his career after a devastating Achilles tear, willingly accepted a bench role when asked and became a 40.2 percent shooter from long range in 2018-19 (42.1 percent in the playoffs).
The Spurs could re-sign Gay using Early Bird rights, which would allow them to pay him about $17 million per season on a four-year deal. He'd probably prefer that to San Antonio renouncing his rights and offering a one-year contract.
That breadth of options could make negotiations tricky, as Gay, 33 in August, will probably want to lock in as much long-term money as possible. San Antonio, meanwhile, would be better served by a shorter contract.
They can figure out the particulars later. For now, it's clear Gay (and not Quincy Pondexter, Dante Cunningham or Donatas Motiejnuas) matters most among Spurs free agents.
Toronto Raptors: Kawhi Leonard, Player Option
Remind me, are any other upcoming Toronto Raptors free agents drawing Michael Jordan comparisons?
Or hitting series-deciding Game 7 buzzer-beaters to advance to the conference finals?
Or dunking all over Giannis Antetokounmpo and leading the Raps to their first Finals appearance?
Or vaulting right back into the conversation about the league's top five players after nearly a full year off?
No? OK, cool. Then Kawhi Leonard feels like the safe choice here.
Utah Jazz: Derrick Favors, Non-Guaranteed
Derrick Favors sometimes seems superfluous on a Utah Jazz team that also has Rudy Gobert, but a closer look shows Favors isn't some grand misallocation of resources.
A full-time starter at the 4, Favors capably slid to center when Gobert rested last year. During those minutes when he played the 5 without Gobert last season, the Jazz posted a plus-5.5 net rating. Much of that run came against second units, but it's no small thing when your starting power forward can help build leads at center.
Favors could start at the 5 for several teams. When designated as the primary defender, he held opponents to a lower field-goal percentage inside six feet than Gobert, who's widely regarded as the league's top interior deterrent.
Royce O'Neale is another consideration here, but his non-guaranteed 2019-20 salary ($1.6 million) is low enough to minimize any chance of the Jazz letting him go. Favors' non-guaranteed deal ($16.9 million) could be a closer call.
It shouldn't be. Favors is a keeper who'll also have trade value at that price if Utah wants to change course.
Washington Wizards: Tomas Satoransky, Restricted
The Washington Wizards face restricted free-agency decisions on Tomas Satoransky, Thomas Bryant, Bobby Portis, Chasson Randle and Sam Dekker. Of those, Satoransky should be the No. 1 focus.
With John Wall likely to miss a significant portion of the 2019-20 season while recovering from a ruptured Achilles, Satoransky's proven capability as a low-end starting point guard is more valuable to the Wizards than the contributions they'd get up front from Portis or Bryant. The floor general isn't a high-volume scorer, but he's got good size at 6'7", can run the offense and shot 40.4 percent from three-point range as a starter last year.
He's good enough to man the position for a full season if need be. If Wall ever gets close to his pre-injury form, Satoransky could return to being one of the top backup guards in the league.
The Wizards will also have to consider Trevor Ariza (unrestricted), Jeff Green (unrestricted) and Jabari Parker (team option), but none figure to fill a role as vital as Satoransky's.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference, NBA.com and Cleaning the Glass unless otherwise indicated. Salary information courtesy of Basketball Reference and Spotrac.com. Pick obligations via Real GM.