5 NBA Players Who Will Be Overhyped, Overpaid in Free Agency
Too much offseason spending in free agency doesn't just ruin an offseason. It can set a franchise back years.
In that sense, cap space can be a blessing or a curse. It all depends on how judicious the spender is.
As we scan the 2019 free-agent class for players likely to ink regrettable contracts, understand we're taking the team's perspective. For every one of these players, the objective should be to get as much cash as possible. There's no shame in securing the bag.
You'll also note the players highlighted are generally quality starters. Some are even better than that. It's just that they're all in line to be overvalued by a market that gets a few things wrong every summer.
D'Angelo Russell, Restricted
With ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reporting the Brooklyn Nets will trade Allen Crabbe, their 2019 first-rounder and a protected 2020 first-rounder to the Atlanta Hawks for Taurean Prince and a 2021 second-rounder, the chances of D'Angelo Russell getting overpaid diminish slightly.
The Nets' move will clear two max salary slots, which suggests their focus is on adding talent from the outside. Maybe Russell will still be a priority, but now it seems more likely the Nets will renounce his rights and lose the benefits of restricted free agency. If suitors sense they don't need to blow Brooklyn away with a contract too rich to match, low-ball offers could roll in.
Still, Russell's reputation exceeds his level of contribution. He's an All-Star, sure, but his is an all-offense game that doesn't demonstrably elevate a team. He's a floor-raiser and a decent shot-generator whose late-game confidence is ideal for a team in exactly the position Brooklyn occupied this past season. He helps a mediocre team get a little better.
It's unclear whether he can add enough scoring efficiency (Russell is a poor finisher inside and rarely gets to the foul line), and his prospects as a defender are grim. If he's a key piece, it caps a team's ceiling.
But those 21.1 points per game, though!
There's significant interest in Russell, who's still just 23 and could silence the foregoing criticism with another step forward. The Athletic's Shams Charania reports the Utah Jazz, Indiana Pacers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic have their eyes on him.
Russell is a mid-tier starter with a chance to improve, but if he nets a deal worth over $100 million, it'll likely be a mistake.
Kelly Oubre Jr., Restricted
Kelly Oubre Jr. averaged 16.9 points and 4.9 rebounds in 29.5 minutes per game with the Phoenix Suns last season, but it's impossible to be confident those numbers are anything more than empty stats on a bad team.
Considering there's still a large and vocal (and probably incorrect) contingent questioning the worth of Devin Booker's superior numbers because of the "hey, somebody's got to score" environment in Phoenix, how can anyone be sure Oubre Jr.'s production will translate on a winning team?
That uncertainty won't be enough to overshadow potential suitors' interest in Oubre Jr.'s profile. On paper, a 23-year-old, 6'7" combo forward with the physical tools to defend and a stroke that portends improvement on a career 32.1 percent conversion rate from deep is worth a ton. But Oubre Jr. is four years into his career and has yet to establish himself as a consistent force on either end.
His supporters will point to the 20.2 points per game he averaged as a starter in Phoenix, but that's a tiny sample and, again, somebody had to get numbers for the Suns. According to Jacob Goldstein's Player Impact Plus-Minus, Oubre Jr. graded out as a negative on both ends. ESPN's RPM had him deep in negative territory, too, ranking right between Derrick Jones Jr. and JaKarr Sampson among small forwards. Neither of those guys are in line for huge paydays, but Oubre Jr. might be.
Like D'Angelo Russell, Oubre Jr. could take a step forward and justify a quality starter's salary. But if someone hands him a four-year, $80 million offer sheet, the Suns should let him walk.
Nikola Vucevic, Unrestricted
Nikola Vucevic is easily the best player covered so far. A deserving All-Star center who led an offensively challenged Orlando Magic squad to the playoffs, Vooch proved he could be a scoring hub down low and from the perimeter.
But it feels like he's going to get max money from some overzealous team, and that's too much for a center who, while solid defensively overall, can't hang in switching schemes. The market for centers continues to change, and replacement-level talent is easier to come by at that position than anywhere else.
If you've got stars on the wing or in the backcourt, you can win a lot of games with a big man who defends the rim, hits threes or can handle switches. You don't need all the extra goods Vucevic provides—especially at a premium price.
Add to that the potential for regression that should follow an age-28 breakout. If Vucevic had posted such a phenomenal season four years ago, he would warrant a max salary over four years. But teams buying in at that price now have to be wary.
Vucevic averaged 20.8 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game last year. He's good.
But he's not someone around whom you'd build a high-level team. Let's cap his "sensible value" at $20 million per season and expect a suitor to go significantly above that.
Kemba Walker, Unrestricted
The Charlotte Hornets did this to themselves.
Years on the mediocrity treadmill and consistent overspending in free agency have them in a position where paying $221 million to an undersized 29-year-old point guard somehow feels like a reasonable decision. That's mainly because the alternative—a rebuild without any decent foundational pieces—is even bleaker than committing the supermax to five seasons of post-prime Walker.
Maybe that's harsh. Maybe Walker, an All-Star in 2019, will be worth the $38.2 million he would make in the first season of a potential supermax five-year deal. But age comes for everyone, and smaller guards who lose a step seem to suffer most severely.
Bet on Walker staying in Charlotte, bet on him getting the supermax from a team that doesn't have any better options, and bet on that team struggling to compete in the coming seasons with so much cash devoted to a player whose best years may already be in the past.
Walker has been underpaid for his entire career, so at least what's ahead will rectify that.
DeAndre Jordan, Unrestricted
Heading into his age-31 season, DeAndre Jordan is a prime candidate to be overpaid.
We already touched on the folly of paying too much for centers in the section on Nikola Vucevic, but few players better illustrate the fungibility of the conventional center than Jordan. Yes, he has six straight years averaging a double-double on his resume. And yes, because he only dunks, DJ is a career 67 percent shooter from the field.
Those seem like the contributions of a quality starter.
Reputation and box-score stats will sucker somebody into paying Jordan significantly more than the minimum. But his play over the past two seasons screams "empty numbers."