2020 NBA Free Agents Who Would Be Foolish to Change TeamsMay 4, 2020
2020 NBA Free Agents Who Would Be Foolish to Change Teams
Needless to say, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown everything about the NBA into chaos, not the least of which is this upcoming period of free agency.
With the salary cap constricting and the rhythms of a traditional season upended (not to mention an understandable potential reluctance to make major life changes for the foreseeable future), continuity could prove as important as ever in the 2020-21 NBA season.
As a result, it may behoove many in the impending 2020 free-agent class to stay put.
Here, we've compiled a list of eight players who would do quite well to remain with their current teams, if those clubs will have them back. These selections aren't based on rumors, but rather team fit, production and intangibles—and sometimes salary as well.
Malik Beasley, Minnesota Timberwolves
This is a slight cheat.
As Beasley is a restricted free agent, he technically doesn't have a choice as to where he signs. That being said, as long as Minnesota gives him an at-market offer, he should want to stay in town.
The Timberwolves were brimming with potential not long ago, but their current outlook isn't as rosy. We're now at the point where, outside of Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell, the team's roster is nearly barren.
This is where Beasley comes in.
A solid backup 2-guard in Denver, he spread his wings following a trade to Minnesota. Where the 23-year-old was having a poor shooting season in Denver, he quickly established himself as a potential core piece for the Wolves, averaging 20.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 47.2 percent overall and 42.6 percent from three in 14 games. He has the worst defensive rating on the roster (no small feat on this Timberwolves club), but he at least possesses the physical tools and effort to become a quality defender.
The next step is wondering if Beasley's rapid statistical improvement is for real. Considering that several of his best games with Minnesota came against contenders like the Clippers, Celtics and Heat, it's possible that this is sustainable.
If that's the case, the Wolves have found their first major complementary player in the Towns-Russell era.
Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz
In 29 games with Cleveland this season, Jordan Clarkson had a minus-6.5 net rating. Halfway through his sixth season, his reputation as a score-first combo guard who didn't defend felt solidified.
Then he was traded to Utah.
Despite recording similar shooting splits in both locations (44.2/37.1/88.4 with the Cavaliers, 48.2/36.6/78.0 with the Jazz), Clarkson has become a far more analytically friendly player in Utah. While his assist numbers have atrophied and he remains a bad defender, the Missouri alum easily boasts the Jazz's best offensive rating, and the team has been better with him on the court.
The playoffs will be the ultimate test of Clarkson's future value to the Jazz, but as of right now, he's proved his worth to them. If Mike Conley can perform at a starting-caliber level at point guard for several more seasons while Donovan Mitchell remains the team's centerpiece, the 27-year-old can be an excellent second-unit offensive hub. If Conley's general malaise this season is a sign of things to come, Clarkson has shined when given a bigger role, averaging 25.0 points and 4.0 assists per game on 52.1 percent overall shooting in four games of 30-plus minutes with the Jazz.
After years of making minimal contributions to winning, Clarkson may have found his future home this season. Let's hope he sticks around and tries to make something serious of it.
Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas Mavericks
If you needed any more proof that Luka Doncic is already a superstar, look no further than Tim Hardaway Jr.'s development this season.
Before being traded to the Mavericks alongside Kristaps Porzingis last season, Hardaway was largely considered a low-efficiency gunner for bad teams. But playing alongside two stars in Doncic and Porzingis has given Hardaway the clearest offensive parameters he's ever had, and he's thriving as a result.
The Michigan alum is shooting 40.7 percent from three, easily a career high, while recording the fourth-best net rating on the Mavericks.
For all the holes that still remain in Hardaway's game (and there are plenty), he's one of the clearest recent examples of a situation being as important to NBA success as talent.
In this vein, why wouldn't Hardaway re-sign with the Mavericks (assuming he turns down his $19.0 million player option)? It's probably tempting for a player of his particular ilk to sign with a lottery team for which he can attempt 20 shots per game with no consequence, but Dallas could provide the perfect happy medium. With Doncic and Porzingis each under 25 years of age and Rick Carlisle not going anywhere, the team is only going to become a more legit contender in the West as the years go by.
Hardaway could get in early as an entrenched role player and become a folk hero in North Texas.
Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers
It's possible that Montrezl Harrell will get juicy offers from the several teams with available cap space this offseason. The Athletic's Jovan Buha reported in December that the big man could earn up to nine figures on his next contract, a number the Clippers could balk at if they want to pursue Giannis Antetokounmpo or other big stars in 2021 free agency.
All this being said, however, the team and player need each other and should figure out a mutually beneficial contract.
Harrell has improved in each successive season since entering the NBA, becoming a full-fledged star bench player after being acquired by the Clippers in 2017. Despite being just 6'7" and a subpar defender, Harrell's machine-like scoring efficiency, explosive athleticism and intense demeanor make him essential to both Los Angeles' title chances and the team's overall underdog ethos. His pick-and-roll with Lou Williams remains one of the league's most threatening plays, and yet it's still a tertiary offensive option for the Clippers, given that they also boast Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Salary aside, a pretext already exists for letting Harrell skip town. Clippers coach Doc Rivers has shown frustration with Harrell this season, as the center openly criticized his team's sometimes-lackadaisical attitude a few months back. But as a former player on competitive NBA teams, Rivers should understand better than most that Harrell's comments came from a burning desire to win.
For that reason alone, he should be back in red and blue next season.
Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets
As the Nets seemingly want to chase a third star and Joe Harris stands to double his salary in free agency, they may let the sharpshooter walk. But he says he would like to stick around, and that makes perfect sense.
Next season, Harris could be essential to Brooklyn's championship hopes.
The 28-year-old can succeed anywhere. Despite the Nets' overall struggles this season, Harris has been his usual self, shooting over 41 percent from three and boasting the best net rating among Brooklyn regulars. Now, imagine what he'll do with a fully healthy roster with designs on deep playoff contention.
Next season, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will presumably dominate the ball. The amount of defensive attention opponents will have to pay that duo, arguably the two most talented scorers in the NBA, will undoubtedly free up Harris for even more open jumpers. At that rate, he could lead the league in three-point percentage and possibly increase his scoring, despite likely seeing a decrease in touches.
Even if Brooklyn decides to add another star-caliber player, it should move heaven and earth to retain Harris. The Raptors had Danny Green last year, the Warriors had Andre Iguodala, and the Heat had Ray Allen and Shane Battier. While there's no reasonable argument that the Virginia alum is as good as any of those players, the point stands that title contenders need elite role players to buttress their stars.
Harris could be that for the Nets.
Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics
Let's get this out of the way.
Gordon Hayward has 34.2 million reasons to stay in Boston for one more year, because that's how much his player option will pay. However, despite Hayward's shortcomings, he remains valuable to the Celtics, and the low-stakes nature of his current role could end up unlocking the high ceiling that once seemed eminently possible for him.
After struggling to find his footing in 2018-19, Hayward has been much more consistent for Boston this year. Despite missing 19 games, he has remained a solid secondary playmaker, recorded the best effective field-goal percentage of his career and posted a sterling 8.0 net rating.
Despite all the 30-year-old has been through over the past two-plus years, the Celtics' faith in him is quietly paying off. As the fourth scoring option and third ball-handler, teams routinely marginalize Hayward in defensive alignments, preferring to focus on Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown. Last season, a less confident version of the wing may not have been able to make opponents pay for forgetting him, but this year, he's doing so regularly.
Doctors at the renowned Mayo Clinic have stated that it takes two years for ACL tears to fully heal. Perhaps it takes three years to completely recover from an injury as devastating as Hayward's broken leg.
Though by no means a certainty, it wouldn't be shocking to see the version of Hayward that made an All-Star team in 2017 make another one next season.
Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers
Though neither side will admit it, both the Lakers and Dwight Howard were likely each other's final option last summer. It took a season-ending injury to DeMarcus Cousins for Los Angeles to even look at Howard, while D-12's acrimonious history with the franchise probably made him hesitant to return as well.
Fast forward 10 months, and it's worked out surprisingly well. While obviously nowhere close to his Hall of Fame-level peak, Howard is shooting 73.2 percent from the field this season while remaining an elite rebounder and solid team defender.
Why not run it back?
Lakers fans will argue this point, saying that Anthony Davis should be the team's center. Given the state of the modern NBA, that does make a lot of sense. But Davis has been averse to playing the 5, so the team should bring back either Howard or fellow impending free agent JaVale McGee to serve as an efficient minutes-eater in the Brow's stead. And with respect to McGee, Howard's ceiling is much higher.
The big man has recorded eight double-doubles this season, reaching his apex with a 21-point, 15-rebound performance while shooting 9-of-11 from the field in a rout against the Cavaliers.
Cleveland is a bottom-feeder, but the fact that performances like that one are still in Howard makes him a perfect X-factor as long as LeBron James wears purple and gold.
De'Anthony Melton, Memphis Grizzlies
Melton is a restricted free agent this offseason, and the Grizzlies should go out of their way to match any offer within reason for the 21-year-old.
Memphis has done a masterful job of rebuilding on the fly and has already established a potential hierarchy. Ja Morant is the team's future superstar, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke will be stars in their roles, and Dillon Brooks makes invaluable contributions to winning as an essential complement to that trio (Justise Winslow is included here too, but he hasn't played a game yet for Memphis). Now, the Grizzlies' retooling effort must turn to the discovery or selection of the correct type of bench player.
For instance, Melton.
It's easy to discount the former USC Trojan's upside, as he's generally not an NBA-caliber scorer. But frankly, that's just fine on this team, given Morant's three-level offensive dynamism, Jackson's and Brooks' spacing capabilities and Clarke's elite verticality.
Melton does most other things at a high enough level to provide a positive return on investment. He boasts the best net rating on the Grizzlies by a wide margin, is a stellar individual defender and can competently spell Morant for minutes at a time when the rookie sits.
With Marc Gasol in Toronto and Mike Conley in Utah, Grit n' Grind is officially over in Memphis. But a hard-nosed defender like Melton can keep the ethos of the Grizzlies' finest era alive while the team transitions into its next competitive iteration.