7 Excruciating NBA Contract Decisions This Offseason
For NBA teams looking to bring back their own players in free agency, there's a lot to consider.
Cost is obviously a consideration, and there's also the depth chart to keep in mind. Is there a younger, cheaper version of that player waiting in the wings?
The direction of the team could be changing as well, as veterans who were needed for playoff runs may not serve the same purpose if the franchise is taking a rebuilding route. Overall team payroll and luxury-tax implications can give general managers pause too.
These are seven of the toughest contract decisions NBA teams will have to make this offseason.
Tristan Thompson, C, Cleveland Cavaliers
When the Cavaliers traded for Andre Drummond in February, it seemed to signal the end of Tristan Thompson's nine-year run in Cleveland.
Playing on the final season of a five-year, $82 million contract that made sense on a Cavs team making annual Finals runs, the 29-year-old Thompson probably isn't looking to return to a rebuild as a backup behind Drummond.
While a separation seems inevitable, the Cavs could still have interest in re-signing their longest-tenured player.
Thompson was still productive in a reserve role (12.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 53.3 percent shooting in 26.2 minutes following the Drummond trade) and is viewed as one of the best locker room presences on the team.
With Drummond carrying a player option, there's no guarantee he'll pick it up or sign a long-term deal after it expires next year. If that's the case, the Cavs will still need a center.
"I got to see the evolution and in-game as a leader on and off the floor, just how fun he is to be around, it's another guy that it's like infectious to be around and you know has really grown to be like a brother of mine," Kevin Love said on a recent Zoom call. "He's just so valuable for this team and this organization, so I would really hope that he's back."
Cleveland can go over the salary cap to keep Thompson, and he may not find a deal to his liking elsewhere with so many other centers (Montrezl Harrell, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Hassan Whiteside, Derrick Favors, etc.) hitting free agency at the same time.
The Cavaliers have to consider what kind of contract they'd be willing to give a franchise staple like Thompson, especially if Drummond picks up his option.
Malik Beasley, SG, Minnesota Timberwolves
Talent met opportunity when Malik Beasley was traded as part of a four-team deal from the Denver Nuggets to the Minnesota Timberwolves in February.
After starting just 19 games in three-and-a-half seasons for the Nuggets, Beasley was immediately cemented as the Wolves' starting shooting guard and given more than twice the shot attempts he'd had in Denver.
In 14 games with the Wolves, he averaged 20.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists while shooting 42.6 percent from three. A good defender at 6'4", Beasley seemingly just needed a bigger role before hitting restricted free agency this offseason.
There's no doubt Minnesota will want to keep the 23-year-old guard as a backcourt partner for D'Angelo Russell, but will they be willing to match any offer sheet Beasley signs?
With late-season injuries suffered by Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell, Beasley still hasn't played a single game with both of the Wolves' star players. In 279 total minutes sharing the court with Russell, Minnesota posted a net rating of minus-2.3.
There's also the long-term future of 2019 No. 6 overall pick Jarrett Culver to consider, who spent 64 percent of his court time at guard this past season. How much will Beasley continue to impact the game if he's now sharing the ball with Russell, Towns, a developing Culver and another top pick coming in a guard-heavy draft?
Keeping Beasley should be a priority, but the Wolves can't afford to blindly match whatever offer he gets.
Derrick Favors, C, New Orleans Pelicans
Derrick Favors continues to be one of the NBA's most underrated big men, but his impact on the Pelicans this season was enormous.
New Orleans went just 6-13 overall without Favors in the lineup, compared to 22-23 with its starting center. The frontcourt combo of Favors and Zion Williamson registered a net rating of plus-17.0 in 311 minutes, an incredibly high mark that should only improve as the two see more time together.
Of course, the Pelicans would want Favors back, but the length of the contract and the dollar amount makes it tricky.
New Orleans took Jaxson Hayes with the No. 8 overall pick in 2019, and the 20-year-old center has impressive physical gifts for his 6'11" frame. While he doesn't appear ready to step into a full-time starting center role just yet, the Pelicans don't want to bury him on the depth chart, either.
This means a three- or four-year deal for Favors may be too long, but only offering him a single season may not be enticing enough to get him to stay.
New Orleans already has over $83 million committed next season before factoring in a new contract for Brandon Ingram. A max deal for the All-Star forward would start at close to $30 million in the first year, with Lonzo Ball due for a new deal the following offseason as well.
The Pelicans should try to keep Favors, but finding the right combination of years and money will be difficult.
Gordon Hayward, SF, Boston Celtics
It seemed like a certainty that Gordon Hayward would pick up his $34.2 million player option for next season, especially with an injury-plagued first two years with the Boston Celtics. But given his strong play in 2019-20, Boston may want to ink the 30-year-old to a new, long-term deal instead.
Hayward is averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists and splitting at .502/.392/.847. He's spent time at three different positions and looks like the player the Celtics signed him to be in 2017.
If Hayward picks up his option, Boston won't have to worry about his future until next year. However, there should be plenty of conversation between team, player and agent about what the best path is for all involved.
Getting him to agree to a four-year, $80 million deal would save the Celtics significant money in year one yet cost them long-term flexibility, especially with a massive new contract extension for Jayson Tatum also coming this offseason.
There's also a positional fit to consider in Boston.
Hayward operates best as a small forward, with the same being said for Tatum (and possibly Jaylen Brown as well). With a backcourt of Kemba Walker and Brown, one of either Hayward or Tatum will continue to have to play and defend power forwards or else move into a sixth man role. If it comes down to benching a player, it would certainly be Hayward.
If Hayward doesn't pick up his player option, the Celtics will need to figure out a plan to retain him without breaking the bank.
Paul Millsap, PF, Denver Nuggets
Paul Millsap is nearing the end of a three-year, $90 million deal with the Denver Nuggets.
Despite his age (35), he's still a good defender who has grown as an outside shooter on a young Nuggets team. Playing his lowest number of minutes in 12 years, Millsap is putting up 12.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.9 steals and shooting a career-high 44.0 percent from three.
The Nuggets have younger options. Jerami Grant has a player option to return worth $9.3 million if he wants it, and rookie Michael Porter Jr. has shown star potential this season.
Head coach Michael Malone doesn't appear ready to make Porter his full-time starter just yet, even if the three-man combo of he, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray has the makings of one of the league's best young cores. Millsap helps the Nuggets win now, but Jokic and Murray may not have even hit their primes yet.
Plenty of teams should be looking to grab Millsap as a proven and still playable veteran, and the Nuggets may have to offer him more than the $9.3 million mid-level exception to keep other franchises away. Role may still be a big part of Millsap's free-agent decision, and Denver has to decide if it can guarantee him a starting job with such a high-upside player in Porter behind him.
Dwight Howard, C, Los Angeles Lakers
Dwight Howard signed a one-year, non-guaranteed deal with the Lakers last summer.
His next contract in L.A. should be for far more.
Howard has surpassed expectations this season, becoming one of the best reserve big men in the NBA. In just 19.2 minutes, he's averaging 7.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while hitting 73.2 percent of his shots.
A new max contract for Anthony Davis will start in the $33 million to $38 million range, and JaVale McGee, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley carry over $20 million in player options. Kyle Kuzma will be extension-eligible heading into the final year of his rookie deal too.
This means $120 million in potential payroll for the Lakers even without a new deal for Howard. If the Lakers want to take another chance on DeMarcus Cousins, that affects Howard in both salary and role as well.
While Howard is not going to command the massive contracts of years past, he's proved more valuable than a minimum deal to L.A.
DeMar DeRozan, SF, San Antonio Spurs
DeMar DeRozan's future is anyone's guess.
He could take the money ($27.7 million player option) and try to cash in on another big deal in 2021 or become an unrestricted free agent with hopes of getting a long-term contract from the San Antonio Spurs instead.
DeRozan's value is one of the most complicated of any NBA star.
While his raw numbers are great (22.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.0 steals and 52.6 percent shooting), they haven't translated to much success in San Antonio.
The Spurs are just 27-36 this season and are 4.5 points per 100 possessions worse with DeRozan on the floor. He's never been a good three-point shooter (26.7 percent this season) and is probably best suited to be the No. 3 option on a championship-level team.
If San Antonio doesn't come to terms and he walks in free agency, that marks an awful end to what's become an embarrassing Kawhi Leonard trade. The Spurs would have to be rebuild-bound, something they haven't done in decades.
If DeRozan plans on becoming a free agent, San Antonio's decision on a new contract for the 30-year-old wing could affect the direction of the entire franchise.