Which 2020 NBA Free Agents Will Get the Worst Contracts?
The course of free agency is always difficult to predict in the NBA, but the 2020 offseason could make previous years seem like a color-by-number worksheet.
Thanks to the months-long hiatus, seeding games and playoffs without fans and a general decline in television ratings, the 2020-21 salary cap—as well as which teams will have cap space—is a mystery.
If purse strings are tightened around the league, we may not see as many contracts signed that are immediately thought of as albatrosses, but there are sure to be a few.
Again, it's just difficult to forecast the players to which those might go.
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Restricted free agency often yields strange results.
Think back to Allen Crabbe's four-year, $75 million deal in 2016. He was coming off a decent season in which he averaged 10.3 points and shot 39.3 percent from three. But his box plus/minus was well below average, and living up to that deal would've required him hitting his absolute ceiling.
So, why did he get paid so much? The Brooklyn Nets, like many teams chasing restricted free agents, threw out an inflated offer sheet to push the incumbent organization. The Portland Trail Blazers matched and then traded Crabbe just over a year later. He's 314th in the league in wins over replacement player since that deal was signed.
The Sacramento Kings now face a similar situation with Bogdan Bogdanovic this offseason. To be clear, Bogdanovic is a better all-around player than Crabbe was in 2016, but he's also four years older than the former Blazers wing was at the time.
Though he's now 28 years old, some team with cap space will go after Bogdanovic and his averages of 15.1 points and 3.4 assists with an above-average three-point percentage. And with a disgruntled Buddy Hield on the roster, the Kings may have a little extra pressure to match whatever offer sheet Bogdanovic signs.
If that means something in the neighborhood of $20 million per year, Sacramento's upcoming cap situation could get tricky.
If Hield doesn't get traded, his $94 million extension will kick in for the Kings next season, and the second contracts for both De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III are around the corner.
Bogdanovic is good, though he's certainly not a superstar. The Kings will have to think long and hard about whether to match a massive offer.
A couple of caveats before we dive into this one:
- DeMar DeRozan has a $27.7 million player option for the 2020-21 season, so he may well pick that up and remain a San Antonio Spur.
- He, like everyone else on this list, is a good player.
If he chooses to opt out, though, there's a decent chance he signs a deal that will be difficult to justify.
In terms of name value, DeRozan would be one of the bigger free agents available, and he's coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his career. He averaged 22.1 points and 5.6 assists while posting a career-high 60.3 true shooting percentage in 2019-20. In the bubble, where he played a decent amount of small-ball 4, he also gave us a potential preview of the next phase of his career.
But DeRozan's numbers have always seemed to outpace his impact.
The Spurs were minus-2.0 points per 100 possessions with DeRozan on the floor and plus-2.4 with him off. It was his 10th negative net rating swing in 11 seasons.
He's capable as a playmaker and mid-range shooter, but his defense often leaves his team scrambling.
The right role for DeRozan going forward might be as the heat-check-off-the-bench guy. Think of a bigger Lou Williams, whose defense isn't as much of a liability against opposing second units.
That might be a tough visualization for DeRozan, though. A four-time All-Star who hasn't averaged fewer than 20 points per game since 2012-13, he likely still sees himself as a starter and presumably wants to be paid like one.
If he opts out and signs for starter-level money, he would have to reverse a decade-long trend to live up to the deal.
Serge Ibaka had a solid season for the Toronto Raptors in 2019-20, starting just under half his 55 games, averaging 15.4 points and shooting 38.5 percent from three.
In fact, he may have been good enough to convince some team to pay him eight figures per year over the next three or four seasons. But such a deal might not age well.
Ibaka is heading into his age-31 season. That certainly doesn't mean he's over the hill, but the post-prime part of his career is here—or at least very close.
Beyond his age, career lows in blocks per game (0.8) and block percentage (3.0) may signal a decline, too. And his impact on the defensive end of the floor seems to have gone wherever the blocks did.
This season, Toronto allowed 3.7 more points per 100 possessions when Ibaka was on the floor, giving him a defensive rating swing that ranked in the 23rd percentile.
If he's not moving the needle defensively, Ibaka's contributions could be sporadic at best. He was near the magic threshold of 40 percent from three this season, but he was at 29.0 percent in 2018-19.
If the blocks continue to fall, that wild-card shooting ability would become his calling card.
Marcus Morris Sr.
Following their collapse after leading the Denver Nuggets 3-1 in the Western Conference semifinals, it's hard to imagine the Los Angeles Clippers going through the 2020 offseason without some significant shakeups.
And unless Marcus Morris Sr. is ready to enter the "take small contracts for the rest of my career while chasing a title" phase of NBA life, he seems like a pretty obvious potential change.
Morris signed a one-year, $15 million deal with the New York Knicks last summer, presumably hoping to build enough value during the campaign to sign a better contract in 2020.
With the Knicks, he put up 19.6 points per game and shot 43.9 percent from deep. His role was significantly smaller in L.A., but he may have done enough to convince someone to offer him a multiyear deal in hopes that the New York version would show up.
That stint with the Knicks was the best he's performed for any one team over the last five seasons, though. According to box plus/minus, he's been a below-average player everywhere else, and 2019-20 was his first campaign in the last four in which his team was better with him on the floor.
In theory, Morris is still a multipositional defender who can stretch the floor and provide a little toughness. Numbers, and the fact he's entering his age-31 season, suggest more than a season or two on the next contract could be problematic.