2019 NBA Free Agents Most Likely to Finish 2020 on a Different Team
Imagine trying to figure out which freshly signed NBA free agents may not finish the 2019-20 season with their current teams. Can't we let the ink dry for a second or two?
Free agency isn't what it used to be. Contracts are shorter in general, and one-plus-one deals are more common than ever.
These placeholder agreements don't just open the door for this discussion. They demand having it in the first place.
Exceptions exist, like always. Some teams sign players to short-term contracts with every intention of keeping them. Similarly, next season's trade candidates aren't only on one- and two-year pacts. Teams sometimes give out longer deals with future market value in mind.
To be clear: This is not a predictive exercise. Most of these players will stay put through next season. But more so than other recently signed free agents, they have a better chance of hitting the trade market come Dec. 15.
Not-So-Obvious Players to Monitor
Trevor Ariza, Sacramento Kings
Trevor Ariza will undoubtedly enter the rumor mill if the Kings fall outside the Western Conference playoff picture. He isn't a bargain at two years and $25 million, but only $1.8 million of his 2020-21 salary is guaranteed, per Spotrac. Sacramento could flip him as part of a cap-relief package to teams trying to get off long-term money.
Whether the Kings are open to that avenue is a separate matter. They didn't spend this summer like a team with temporary postseason aspirations.
The money they gave to Harrison Barnes (four years, $85 million), Dewayne Dedmon (three years, $40 million; nonguaranteed in 2021-22) and Cory Joseph (three years, $37 million; partially guaranteed in 2021-22) suggests they're done functioning as a squad on the rise. They may not have the stomach to downgrade the roster in exchange for draft and prospect equity.
Frank Kaminsky, Phoenix Suns
Frank Kaminsky is a gut-feeling pick. The Suns exist in a constant state of unrest, and his two-year, $9.7 million pact can lend a salary-matching hand.
Aron Baynes and Tyler Johnson are more likely to go. They're both on expiring contracts and are earning a combined $24.7 million. They may be all the salary-matching fodder the Suns need.
Still, Kaminsky looms as an intriguing trade tool should Phoenix need to cobble together money for an ultra-expensive get—say, if Russell Westbrook's uncertain future leaks into mid-December and the Oklahoma City Thunder aren't open to swallowing Ricky Rubio's new three-year, $51 million deal.
Garrett Temple, Brooklyn Nets
Garrett Temple at the room exception feels like an overpay. He's a good locker room guy and can be moved around three positions, but he's also 33 and didn't shoot the ball well last season after getting traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.
A two-year deal worth close to $10 million doesn't scream "salary-matching tool." But the Nets have the requisite other pieces to get creative on the trade market.
They are a net-positive in the first-round-pick department after grabbing protected 2020 selections from the Philadelphia 76ers (via Clippers) and Golden State Warriors. Meanwhile, Jarrett Allen, Nicolas Claxton, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Rodions Kurucs, Caris LeVert, Dzanan Musa and Taurean Prince make for a blockbuster-worthy war chest.
If the Nets attach Temple to Dinwiddie, some combination of younger players and first-rounders, they'd be cooking with gas. However, that doesn't mean they'll actually kick the tires. Their timeline is warped by Kevin Durant's recovery from his Achilles injury.
Asset consolidation doesn't make much sense when he's their line to championship contention. They need to know what he looks like upon his return before going nuclear.
Then again, the Nets have Kyrie Irving. As delayed as it may be, their window remains now.
Los Angeles Lakers Signees
Potential trade chips for the Lakers include:
- Avery Bradley (two years, $9.8 million)
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (two years, $16.6 million; player option in 2020-21)
- Quinn Cook (two years, $6 million; nonguaranteed in 2020-21)
- JaVale McGee (two years, $8.2 million; player option in 2020-21)
- Rajon Rondo (two years, $5.2 million; player option in 2020-21)
DeMarcus Cousins (one year, $3.5 million) and Danny Green (two years, $30 million) can be thrown in here as well, but they aren't as readily expendable. Boogie isn't making salary-anchor money and Anthony Davis recruited him to Los Angeles, while Green is too important to the team's wing defense and floor spacing.
Full-blown nods cannot be given to the rest of the pack at large.
Default aggression is the Lakers' obligation with both Davis and LeBron James in tow, but they don't have the supplementary assets to flesh out trade proposals. Their draft commitments to the New Orleans Pelicans extend to 2024 and could leak into 2025 if the Pelicans exercise their right of deferral.
Kyle Kuzma is Los Angeles' best sweetener, but he alone won't tip the scales of a blockbuster package. Strictly consolidating free-agent salaries will help the Lakers take on a more expensive player, although they'll have to weigh the opportunity cost of compromising depth and future cap flexibility by going that route.
Everything figures to be on the table unless the Lakers are the toast of the NBA next season. That comes with the territory of operating inside James' window.
But after acquiring Davis, the Lakers are somewhat limited in what they can do next.
New York Knicks Signees
The length and structure of the contracts that the New York Knicks handed out this summer says it all:
- Wayne Ellington (two years, $16 million; team option in 2020-21)
- Taj Gibson (two years, $20 million; team option in 2020-21)
- Elfrid Payton (two years, $16 million; team option in 2020-21)
- Bobby Portis (two years, $31 million; team option in 2020-21)
- Julius Randle (three years, $63 million; team option in 2021-22)
Reggie Bullock can be looped into this group as well, and Marcus Morris might not be far behind. New York is "reevaluating Bullock's fitness to play a full season in 2019-20" and trying to rework his two year, $21 million deal (team option in 2020-21) while also attempting to land Morris, who initially agreed to terms with the San Antonio Spurs, on an outsized one-year deal, according to ESPN's Marc Spears and Adrian Wojnarowski.
Whatever ends up happening, the Knicks' roster won't be built for the long term. They've stockpiled placeholders who can be cashed in for draft compensation if they pan out and set themselves up for boatloads of cap space in each of the next two summers depending on how they handle their various team options.
New York will have a finite number of scenarios at its disposal if preserving that offseason spending power is a priority. One-and-one deals are more valuable when teams are willing to swallow longer-term salary in exchange for picks and prospects. The Knicks have yet to show an interest in that practice.
Offering so many contracts this summer is proof. While they were busy obsessing over power forwards, the Clippers snagged a first-rounder (since traded to the Thunder) for taking on Moe Harkless' expiring deal. The Memphis Grizzlies received the same from the Warriors for Andre Iguodala.
Similar opportunities might be in play at the trade deadline. The Knicks can tack on 2020-21 salary without much fuss. Next summer's free-agent class isn't worth the cap space they're positioned to carve out, and every one of their signings except Randle can be treated as expiring money.
This assumes the salary-dumping market is in full bloom. It might not be. Teams should be less likely to pay cost-cutting premiums in advance of a weak free-agency pool.
The Knicks' best shot at capitalizing on their short-term investments may come down to players outperforming expectations or the front office's appetite for eating contracts that spill into 2021-22 and beyond.
Good luck selling them on the latter. After Kawhi Leonard signed a two-plus-one deal with the Clippers, the 2021 free-agency class is on track to include him, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Paul George (player option) and LeBron James (player option).
Darius Miller, New Orleans Pelicans
Darius Miller's contract is begging to be baked into a midseason trade.
Sure, the Pelicans need to surround Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson with as much shooting as possible. And only 12 other players have matched Miller's three-point clip (38.8 percent) and total makes (280) over the past two seasons.
But the Pelicans didn't need to give him a two-year, $14.2 million deal. Even Darius Miller optimists like myself understand that's an overpay.
Functionally, though, he's on a one-year, $6.9 million agreement. His second season is completely nonguaranteed, which positions the Pelicans to ship him out as an expiring contract. And their open-ended timeline affords them with plenty of options.
If Zion and friends wind up hovering around the playoff race, they can pair Miller's salary with Derrick Favors or E'Twaun Moore's expiring contracts, picks and prospects to broker a win-now return. (Hello, Bradley Beal.) If they devote themselves to a more gradual timeline, those same deals can be used to sponge up lengthier pacts attached to inbound picks and prospect.
In the worst-case scenario, the Pelicans will hang on to Miller. That's hardly a nightmare outcome.
He no longer has to be their sixth- or seventh-best player, and reliable floor spacing is forever playable. New Orleans might even consider guaranteeing Miller's 2020-21 salary if it doesn't move him this year just to keep his trade utility in place next season.
D'Angelo Russell, Golden State Warriors
D'Angelo Russell was billed as a trade asset in waiting immediately after word broke that Brooklyn would be sign-and-trading him to Golden State.
He recently told reporters that he's already bracing himself for what feels inevitable.
"That's the business of it. It is what it is. You put yourself in a position to go somewhere for a long period of time, and it may not be what it is a year later. And that's the business. I've come to a realization of that, and I understand that, so whatever situation I'm in, I know the business side of it, so we'll just see. I can't predict it."
Maybe the Warriors will wind up falling in love with an offense built around Russell, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Or perhaps they will parlay Russell's four-year, $117.2 million pact into much-needed depth before ever getting the chance to see what that four-pronged attack looks like.
Thompson won't be returning from his torn ACL before December and could sit out until February or later. Russell will likely become trade-eligible before Thompson ever takes the floor.
The Warriors might want to play out the season or at least see how Thompson fares upon his return before rerouting Russell. But they also have to factor in Russell's stock. He is fresh off an All-Star season. That momentum won't last forever—not in the Western Conference, especially if he doesn't build off that career performance in his new digs.
Shopping Russell sooner minimizes the Warriors' risk while maximizing their return. Even if he lays an egg through the first two months of next season, they'll still be able to flip him as something much more than a distressed asset.
Russell doesn't turn 24 until the end of February, and his All-Star appearance will still be fresh. Certain teams will invariably pony up for his services, even at a max price point.