Every NBA Team's Biggest Flight Risk This Offseason
Brace yourself: Your favorite NBA team could lose a pivotal player to a foe over the offseason.
If it's any consolation, not every squad will see one of its most important names wearing a different jersey next year. But free agency does open the door for departures, and nearly every team has at least one impact player set to explore the open market.
Narrowing the biggest flight risk is often a default decision. Some squads have a few options. In those instances, we will choose the most valuable flight risk
This issue will not be forced. A player must be coveted enough to establish a market over the summer. The degree to which they're lusted after will vary, but only those who would register as a net loss to their incumbent digs can make the cut.
Players with team options and non-guaranteed salaries for 2021-22 are not included. Their immediate futures are controlled by organizations, so they're only flight risks if their franchises allow them to be.
Priority will be given to unrestricted free agents, but restricted free agents will get the nod wherever necessary. Sign-and-trade scenarios will count toward the flight-risk tally in those instances.
And finally: Remember, this is not a predictive exercise. A player's inclusion does not equate to "he's gone." This is just a look at which soon-to-be free agent every team should be most concerned about losing.
Atlanta Hawks: John Collins (Restricted)
Let's kick things off with a non-traditional flight risk.
John Collins is the kind of restricted free agent the Atlanta Hawks will not show the door without getting compensation for. General manager Travis Schlenk said they never came close to moving him at the March 25 trade deadline. Whether you believe him is irrelevant.
The decision to keep Collins was also a decision to pay him this summer. ESPN's Brian Windhorst previously noted the Hawks are prepared to match any contract offers for their prized power forward. But does that include max-salary overtures?
Collins is eligible for a starting salary up to $28.1 million if the cap projections hold. Select teams may be prepared to go that high. This year's free-agency class is barren of gettable star power, and Collins is a 23-year-old offensive stud. He is clearing 18 points per game while knocking down 38 percent of his threes and more than 60 percent of his twos and has flashed a certain comfort level with putting the ball on the floor.
Atlanta might be reluctant to shell out that type of money. Trae Young is extension-eligible this summer, and the team spent big on Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari last offseason. Between those three, plus Collins and Clint Capela, the Hawks could have more than $115 million locked into their five best players by 2022-23, with new deals for De'Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Capela on the horizon. Kevin Huerter is extension-eligible this offseason too.
Worrying about the long-term cost of the core is not an excuse to let Collins walk for nothing. That leaves two scenarios on the table: Either the Hawks work with Collins on sign-and-trade possibilities, presumably to teams without cap space, or they flat-out pay him.
Boston Celtics: Evan Fournier
Evan Fournier didn't cost the Boston Celtics much at the deadline. They gave up only two second-round picks and Jeff Teague, along with a majority of their Gordon Hayward trade exception.
Fournier's tenure in Beantown isn't off to the smoothest start, but that's a minimal price to pay for someone who averaged nearly 19.7 points and 3.7 assists while downing 38.8 percent of his threes through his first 26 appearances this season.
Boston should count itself lucky it didn't surrender much more for his services. He might only be a rental.
Re-signing him is a non-issue in a vacuum. The Celtics have his Bird rights and a need for his player archetype—someone with the size of a wing who can space the floor away from primary ball-handlers but also generate his looks and bake in a dollop of secondary table-setting.
Bringing back the 6'7", 205-pounder is a no-brainer if money is no object. It might be. The Celtics are right up against next year's luxury-tax line with all of their guaranteed contracts and the projected salary of their first-round pick.
General manager Danny Ainge might have the green light to spend whatever, but he has to reconcile urgency with big-picture expenses. Boston isn't getting any cheaper down the line, with both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum removed from rookie-scale deals.
Matters will be further complicated by Fournier's market. He might be due for a pay cut from his $17 million salary, but his offensive utility is aggressively plug-and-play. Someone who packs his scoring and playmaking punch and isn't yet 30 should be able to land a multiseason pact that pays him well into eight figures annually.
Brooklyn Nets: Spencer Dinwiddie (Player Option)
Though the Brooklyn Nets retained Spencer Dinwiddie beyond the trade deadline, it was not for a lack of trying to move him. He was very much available; they offered him to the Golden State Warriors for Kelly Oubre Jr., according to the New York Times' Marc Stein.
Viewed through that lens, Dinwiddie isn't so much an impending flight risk as outright goner. He isn't slated to play again this season after undergoing a reconstruction of his right ACL, but nobody expects him to pick up his $12.3 million player option, either. He is a fringe All-Star who can power an entire offense at full strength. Some suitor will throw him a multiyear deal that, at minimum, pays him just as much.
That suitor probably won't be the Nets. Team governor Joseph Tsai has deep pockets, and pinching pennies is a terrible way to operate when Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving are on your roster. But Dinwiddie is redundant next to Brooklyn's three superstars.
Keeping him only makes sense if the Nets expect Durant and Irving to miss a lion's share of the season with injuries and body maintenance—and even then, his price point and skill-set overlap will render him inessential.
Sign-and-trade scenarios should be in play. Dinwiddie could also just leave for nothing. He will be an unrestricted free agent if he declines his player option. There needs to be an over-the-cap team he's interested in and that's prepared to pony up for the Nets to capitalize on his departure.
Much less likely is Brooklyn's bringing back Dinwiddie on a new deal only to try flipping him later. Players with options aren't too keen on penning contracts designed to be blatant trade fodder, and the Nets run the risk of any agreement devolving into a net-negative asset that doesn't help acquire another impact player.
Charlotte Hornets: Devonte' Graham (Restricted)
This comes down to a choice between Devonte' Graham and Malik Monk, another restricted free agent. Cody Zeller is also set to hit the open market, but his injury history and a likely tepid demand for bigs should give the Charlotte Hornets all the leverage.
Graham earns the nod by way of a higher expected price tag. The 6'3", 200-pound Monk is having a breakout year and offers more size and resistance on defense, but it has taken him three-plus seasons to get here. Graham's 2019-20 campaign, in which he averaged 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game while draining 37.3 percent of his threes, is still somewhat fresh.
Primary playmakers also tend to command more. Graham is laboring through an uneven performance this year, exacerbated by a left knee injury and shifting roster dynamics, but he retains that floor-general sheen. He is hitting 35.9 percent of his off-the-dribble triples since the All-Star break, and Charlotte's offense improved by 11.2 points per 100 possessions last season with him on the floor.
Still, LaMelo Ball's emergence and Hayward's arrival has capped Graham's worth to the Hornets' machine. Ditto for the play of Terry Rozier. Charlotte will be hard-pressed to back up the Brinks truck for Graham when it has $47.2 million invested in Hayward and Rozier next year, not to mention its point guard of the future in LaMelo Ball.
Maybe Graham's market isn't particularly frothy. He is still a wild-card finisher around the basket and, at 6'1", doesn't provide much defensive oomph. Teams might consider last year's detonation an anomaly. But it's just as likely one admirer buys into his shot-making and is prepared to guarantee him a more prominent role than the Hornets can promise.
Chicago Bulls: Lauri Markkanen (Restricted)
Sources told The Athletic and Stadium's Shams Charania the Chicago Bulls listened to offers for Lauri Markkanen at the trade deadline. That no deal materialized says more about his market than the team's valuation of his services.
Markkanen isn't much more than a scoring accessory. He has never honed an off-the-bounce game and is no more than an occasional post-up option.
His role in Chicago only became fuzzier after the Nikola Vucevic trade. The Bulls no longer have the bandwidth to give him experimental reps—and they didn't seem inclined to do so in the first place. A career-high 81.9 percent of his made baskets are coming off assists.
Entering restricted free agency to a lukewarm market will increase the chances that Markkanen will stay put. But a lower price point doesn't make his fit on the win-now Bulls any cleaner. Patrick Williams and Thaddeus Young are better options to play alongside (or independent of) Vucevic.
It is hard to envision the Atlanta Hawks would allow Collins to leave for nothing. The same goes for the New Orleans Pelicans with Lonzo Ball (restricted). It is much easier to imagine Chicago letting Markkanen walk even if sign-and-trade options don't materialize.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Jarrett Allen (Restricted)
Public service announcement: Jarrett Allen isn't going anywhere. The Cleveland Cavaliers didn't give up a first-round pick (the Milwaukee Bucks' 2022 selection) and take on Taurean Prince's $13 million 2021-22 salary just to rent the soon-to-be 23-year-old center. They're in this for the long haul and the should-be pricey contract that comes with it.
Allen lands here because the Cavs don't have any other candidates. He and Matthew Dellavedova are their only outright free agents. There is no decision between the two.
And at any rate, Allen is tantalizing enough to solicit offer sheets in restricted free agency that make Cleveland uncomfortable. He is a serviceable rim-runner and lob-catcher; creates second-chance opportunities on the offensive glass; has hinted at quicker decision-making and passing in the half court; and remains a suffocating presence around the rim.
Opponents are shooting 51.4 percent at the basket when being challenged by Allen—one of the seven stingiest marks allowed by those who have contested at least 150 point-blank looks. He's rapidly become the genre of paint protector you can funnel ball-handlers toward, and his defensive mobility extends well beyond the restricted area.
What exactly a too-rich-for-the Cavs'-blood offer looks like is debatable. They didn't trade for him without a willingness to pay Capela money—somewhere around $16 million to $18 million per year. Things will get interesting if a cap-rich squad comes out of the woodwork with a contract that inflates his sticker price to $22 million or more annually.
Dallas Mavericks: Josh Richardson (Player Option)
Tim Hardaway Jr. is also a worthy selection here—and the only viable choice if you believe Josh Richardson will pick up his $11.6 million player option. (Related: He won't.)
Deciding between the two is difficult. Hardaway is banging in 39-plus percent of his threes for a second straight season, and his efficiency has largely improved since he moved to the Dallas Mavericks' second unit to begin February.
Still, his best skills—shooting and scoring—are fairly dependent on those around him. He is downing under 32 percent of his pull-up triples and sees his overall clip from downtown drop by over five points in the time he logs without Luka Doncic.
Richardson's skill set is more variable. He isn't the pure shooter Hardaway has developed into, but his effectiveness also isn't as predicated on finding the basket. He can feasibly guard 1 through 4 and is rather easily the Mavericks' best point-of-attack defender.
Peak Richardson has yet to make an appearance for the Mavs on offense, but he is trending in the right direction. He's converting over 40 percent of his threes and averaging 3.3 assists per game since the All-Star break. Coaxing more shot volume out of him can be like pulling teeth, but he's more equipped for facilitating out of the pick-and-roll than Hardaway and always hints at just enough off-the-bounce miscellany to float the prospect of a higher ceiling.
This is all to say: Both the theory and actuality of Richardson should be in more demand. And while the Mavs may not be as married to cap space this side of the free-agent market's star drain, his cost is far more likely to prove prohibitive than Hardaway's next price point.
Denver Nuggets: Will Barton (Player Option)
Paul Millsap is technically the Denver Nuggets' biggest flight risk. He's on an expiring contract, and this team can still use his weak-side defense.
And yet, he's a little more dispensable this side of the Aaron Gordon deal. JaMychal Green (player option) also gives the Nuggets another 4-5 option. Beyond that, the market for a 36-year-old Millsap shouldn't be too bubbly. He will have his suitors, but the odds are overwhelmingly against his bagging a contract at which Denver flinches.
Will Barton will be in more demand if he hits the open market. He is not matching last season's offensive output, but he doesn't need to, given the staying power of Michael Porter Jr.
This drop-off might be the impetus for him to test the free-agent waters. Other teams can put his shot creation and secondary playmaking to higher-volume use.
Of course, any foray into free agency isn't likely to be about Barton's role. He is starting and seems happy in Denver. He might not even decline his player option. There is no guarantee he matches a $14.7 million salary somewhere else.
On the flip side: Barton can, without question, broker a deal that promises him noticeably more money in the aggregate. A three-year deal worth $38 million to $40 million or more is eminently plausible for a 30-year-old with his offensive skill set.
For their part, the Nuggets may be hesitant to match any multiyear offer. Their books are set up so that Gordon and Porter will likely be on new deals to start 2022-23. Barton will join them if he picks up his player option.
That's quality timeline symmetry for a Nuggets team that is both a title contender and must contemplate the realities of operating in a smaller market with two max stars already on their books. Barton would mess with that decision-making process by entering free-agency now. He also forecasts as the most likely 2022 cap casualty of Denver's starting five. Hitting the open market earlier merely stands to accelerate what might already be predetermined.
Detroit Pistons: Hamidou Diallo (Restricted)
Flight risks do not abound for the Detroit Pistons. Hamidou Diallo is their most notable free agent—unless you're enamored with Dennis Smith Jr. (restricted)—and he's not someone who should garner too much leaguewide attention.
That's different from saying there will be no interest. On the contrary, the 22-year-old Diallo intrigues for his defensive range. At 6'5", with a 6'11" wingspan, he can capably guard 1 through 3 and has shown he can party-crash sets as the helper.
Providing consistent offensive value has always been his greatest challenge. This year is the closest he's come to that. Few players attack the rim so relentlessly. His volume around the hoop is down since arriving in Detroit, but a mammoth 54 percent of his looks were coming at the basket with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Diallo has also shown a capacity to set up others when given license. He is much more proficient at parlaying defensive attention when going downhill into opportunities for open teammates and has developed a knack for finding trailing shooters and cutting wings.
Detroit is somewhat invested in Diallo after sending Oklahoma City Svi Mykhailiuk and a 2027 second-round pick for him. The smart money is on the Pistons matching any reasonable offer. But funky stuff can happen with restricted free agents in their early 20s, and the Pistons aren't far enough along in their rebuild to enter a minor bidding war for what is most likely a career role player.
Golden State Warriors: Kelly Oubre Jr.
Kelly Oubre Jr. would be high up on the flight-risk radar even if he wasn't roller-coastering all over the place. His maddening inconsistencies and rock-bottom downs simply add to the uncertainty.
Left untouched, the Golden State Warriors will blow past next year's $136.6 million luxury-tax threshold by more than $30 million. That includes Kevon Looney's player option and a couple of non-guaranteed contracts but doesn't factor in the Minnesota Timberwolves' first-rounder (top-three protection) or Oubre's next salary. Slot both of those hits on the Warriors' cap sheet, and they're looking at a payroll that flirts with $200 million, if not more.
Oubre might come cheaper than expected. After a freezing-cold start, he found his offense only to lose some of it again. He's shooting 25.8 percent from long range over his past 15 games and 55.3 percent from the charity stripe through his last 12 appearances. Twenty-five-year-old play-finishing wings always have a market, but Oubre's shouldn't be too effervescent.
It might not matter. The Warriors are already paying way too much for a non-contender. Will they do the same again?
Getting Klay Thompson back from a torn Achilles doesn't change too much. Golden State should be all-in so long as Stephen Curry exists, but Oubre is not the difference between also-ran playoff hopes and title contention. The Warriors need another ball-handler who can generate scoring opportunities for both himself and others more than anything else.
One glimpse at their offense without Curry is all you need to get it. They're averaging under 98 points per 100 possessions when he's on the sidelines (1st percentile). That issue might be addressed in the draft or on the trade market. It definitely won't be resolved by bringing back Oubre. And though his return can't be ruled out, it won't rank as top priority unless the price is right.
Houston Rockets: Sterling Brown
Almost everyone on the Houston Rockets feels like a temporary member of the squad following the team's monthslong fire sale. Jae'Sean Tate, Christian Wood and maaaybe Kevin Porter Jr. are their exceptions, and none of them are slated to hit the open market.
Kelly Olynyk is the Rockets' most notable free agent but seems miles from necessary. He won't play as much when Wood works through his latest right ankle injury, and Houston isn't about to prioritize paying a 30-year-old reserve big so early into its rebuild.
Perhaps you're higher on Olynyk's fit with the Rockets. That's fine. Sterling Brown is the bigger flight risk anyway.
Houston doesn't own his Bird rights and will need cap space or an exception to re-sign him. His market shouldn't outstrip the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, but the Rockets will still have to decide how much they'll pay for a non-building block.
It would be one thing if Brown weren't a potential hidden gem. He is swishing more than 40 percent of his threes and has seen reps against both guards and bigger wings. Houston has even entrusted him with some ball-handling responsibilities.
Any outside interest at all stands to derail Brown's return, and he'll have plenty of it.
Indiana Pacers: Doug McDermott
T.J. McConnell and Doug McDermott loom as the Indiana Pacers' most important free agents, and they're both legitimate flight risks. Selecting one over the other is an exercise in prospective cost, since money will likely be the driving force behind any potential exits.
Carrying cap holds for McConnell ($4.6 million) and McDermott ($13.9 million) will leave the Pacers right around the luxury-tax line, and they'll pass it if the two combine for more than $19 million in salary. Indiana might pay the tax to field a contender, but it won't have the full-strength sample size to make that call before next season.
This feels like an either-or dilemma, in which case the default choice is whoever's more expensive. That should be McDermott.
Combo forwards are hotter commodities than backup point guards, and he's sealing the deal with a career year anchored by his most complementary offense yet. McDermott is nailing 39.2 percent of his threes and averaging 1.59 points per possession off cuts—the league's leading mark among everyone to finish at least 50 such plays. He's also third on the Pacers in shots made with five feet of the basket.
Figuring out a prospective pay rate for McDermott is tough. He seems due for a raise from his $7.3 million salary—and any increase at all might prove large enough to pry him away from Indy.
Los Angeles Clippers: Serge Ibaka (Player Option)
Someone, somewhere, will claim Kawhi Leonard belongs in this spot. The Los Angeles Clippers could flame out in the playoffs, after all, and he has a player option. Who's to say he won't look at the roster, Paul George's four-year extension and a relative lack of trade assets and decide to go elsewhere?
Mapping out that scenario is fair game. It is also far-fetched. Leonard chose to join the Clippers, and playing in Los Angeles puts him closer to his San Diego home. L.A.'s most nuclear reaction to another uninspiring postseason figures to include gauging George's trade value rather than driving Leonard into the arms of another contender.
Pickings are slim after him. The Clippers don't have Bird rights on Nicolas Batum—who is, for the record, second on the team in total minutes played—but his exit would not be a defining departure. Terance Mann has a non-guaranteed salary that Los Angeles should've guaranteed yesterday. Nobody in the Clippers front office is worrying about potentially losing Reggie Jackson (playing well!) or Patrick Patterson.
Process of elimination leaves Serge Ibaka. He has a player option, and Los Angeles can only give him a starting salary of around $11.2 million if he hits the open market. Maybe that's enough. Maybe Ibaka has no intention of leaving after just choosing to land in L.A. himself.
Alternatively, maybe the Clippers keep Ivica Zubac in the starting lineup after Ibaka returns from his back injury. And maybe that leads Ibaka to test the waters. Or maybe he's just able to get more money, and perhaps even more years, from a team desperate for floor-spacing at center.
Los Angeles Lakers: Dennis Schroder
The Los Angeles Lakers did not acquire Dennis Schroder as a one-year detour. His arrival was instead seen as the rarest of opportunities for a LeBron James-captained squad: the chance to snare a youngish ball-handler who could more-than-occasionally clamp down on defense and safeguard the offense against major drop-offs without the four-time MVP.
Based on what the Lakers gave up for the 27-year-old—Danny Green and the No. 28 pick in the 2020 draft (Jaden McDaniels)—Schroder never profiled as a rental. This space should be dedicated to Alex Caruso or Talen Horton-Tucker (Early Bird restricted).
Failed extension talks between the Lakers and Schroder leave much to chance. They were willing to flip him as part of a package for Kyle Lowry in part because of his asking price, according to The Athletic's Jovan Buha and Bill Oram. Schroder is believed to have turned down an offer "in the range of $80 million over four years," per the New York Times' Marc Stein.
This could be nothing. Schroder and the Lakers could have been haggling over incentives and latter-year guarantees rather than an official price point.
The money is steep either way. Schroder has tangible value to the Lakers—at both ends. But his jump-shooting clips have fallen off last year's high-water marks, and the offense rates in the 29th percentile of efficiency when he plays without LeBron.
Schroder will have leverage no matter what. The Lakers won't be a cap-rich team if they let him walk and don't have alternatives on the roster to replace his creation. For now, though, they appear to have a breaking point. And if Schroder doesn't budge off his $20-plus-million-per-year ask, the likelihood of his joining another team goes way up.
Memphis Grizzlies: No Flight Risks
Congratulations, Memphis Grizzlies! You have the final say on all your prospective free agents.
You win, er, absolutely nothing.
Jontay Porter and Justise Winslow (team option) are the Grizzlies' only players without guaranteed salaries for next season. The latter will turn some heads if he reaches the open market, but Memphis leased out tens of millions of dollars in cap space to land him last season. It's not going to wince at his $13 million sticker price for 2022-23.
The Grizzlies could always surprise us. Winslow is no doubt testing the limits of their optimism. He has only appeared in 16 games this season, during which time he's posted an effective field-goal percentage of 27.1 on jumpers and put little to no pressure on the rim. His fit beside Ja Morant is infinitely awkward if his three-point clip isn't hovering around league average. He's at 12.2 percent.
Winslow's limited availability works in his favor. Sub-20 games is a nanoscopic sample, and he just turned 25. The Grizzlies can, and almost assuredly will, talk themselves into picking up his team option.
Miami Heat: Duncan Robinson (Restricted)
Kendrick Nunn (restricted) and Victor Oladipo are larger flight risks for the Miami Heat, but neither comes close to matching Duncan Robinson's value. He is more of a proven fit than the recently acquired Oladipo and a bigger difference-maker than Nunn. The former might have a chance of catching up to Robinson, but even the hottest partial-season stretch won't offset his checkered health bill (that pesky right quad).
Miami can still carve out plenty of cap space while floating Robinson's free-agency hold. He'll take up under $4.8 million in room prior to signing his new deal even after meeting the starter criteria. The Heat have the flexibility to maximize their spending power and then unload whatever it takes to keep him.
Except, that final number figures to be a lot. Robinson is more mortal from beyond the arc this season, but he's still raining difficult triples. His 67.3 effective field-goal percentage coming off screens is tops among anyone who has attempted at least 50 shots, and he continues to rate as an above-average finisher on hand-offs.
Robinson will strike gold if his performance holds. Only one other player (minimum five total appearances) who is converting four made three-pointers at a clip of 40 percent or better over the past two seasons: Davis Bertans.
That's the same Davis Bertans who inked a five-year, $80 million deal to stay with the Washington Wizards. Robinson could feasibly go for more per season. Neither player is responsible for creating his own shots, but Robinson can be utilized in more ways off the ball and is the better passer and defender.
The Heat can match any offer he receives, arming them with a boatload of leverage. Worthwhile restricted free agents are incredibly difficult to poach for a reason. But all bets are off anytime a non-star gets fringe-star to actual-star money. Robinson's offense is so scalable he could command the latter.
Milwaukee Bucks: P.J. Tucker
Jrue Holiday initially snagged this slot...and then he agreed to a four-year extension. PJ Tucker feels like the right call now.
Tucker didn't choose to land with the Milwaukee Bucks, so there's that to consider. More than anything, though, he turns 36 in May and could be resigned to sussing out the biggest payday.
Players his age are normally looped into the ring-chasing discussion. He might go that route himself, which would be great news for the Bucks. But he's also never made more than $8.3 million in a single season since entering the NBA. Cashing in might be his top priority.
This presumes Tucker has a hyper-competitive market. That's up in the air. He still needs to show the end to his tenure in Houston was more about the team and less about his age, and he's only appeared in three games since joining Milwaukee because of a calf injury.
The Bucks can put all speculation to bed just by paying Tucker. He should amplify their more switchable lineups and their Giannis Antetokounmpo-at-the-air-quotes-5 lineups.
But that's all hypothetical for now. Plus, acquiring him was also about offloading DJ Augustin's contract. They may be more reticent to bankroll a significant salary for another player so clearly on the back end of his career. It's too early to tell.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Jarred Vanderbilt (Restricted)
The Minnesota Timberwolves do not have many compelling flight risks on their plate. All their most important players are under contract next season, and they have total control over Jaylen Nowell and Naz Reid, both of whom have cheap non-guaranteed salaries for 2020-21.
Ed Davis is an unrestricted free agent, but he's out of the rotation, and Minnesota isn't sweating his departure with Reid and Karl-Anthony Towns in the fold. That leaves Jordan McLaughlin (Early Bird restricted) or Jarred Vanderbilt (restricted).
Feel free to roll with McLaughlin. He has the more prominent role. But that has more to do with the Timberwolves' injury issues in the backcourt. D'Angelo Russell is still out after undergoing left knee surgery, and Ricky Rubio suffered some back stuff. Even if McLaughlin keeps racking up 20-plus minutes per game, the market for a reserve point guard shooting under 40 percent inside the arc won't be especially competitive.
Vanderbilt is the higher-upside mystery box. The emergence of Reid and Jaden McDaniels and Minnesota's equity in Juancho Hernangomez has, for now, basically bounced him from the rotation. But he remains an energy drink in bodily form.
Playing with pure adrenaline leads to a lot of chaotic, high-variance minutes. The flashes are still there. Vanderbilt is a fighter on the glass, covers a lot of defensive ground (albeit haphazardly) and looks like a blur when he's running the floor. At 22, with under 1,000 minutes of court time to his resume, he is going to draw flier interest, and Minnesota isn't yet sound enough on the frontline to guarantee it won't miss him.
New Orleans Pelicans: Lonzo Ball (Restricted)
Lonzo Ball is the reflexive answer. He might even be the right one. Josh Hart will have no shortage of leaguewide interest, but his starting salary is destined to be cheaper as someone who doesn't consistently generate his own offense or scoring opportunities for others.
At the same time, if the New Orleans Pelicans weren't open to shelling out the money necessary to retain Ball, his name would have been more of a rumor-mill staple leading into the deadline. He instead went kaboom after being bandied about in early-season trade talks, and neither he nor New Orleans seems especially eager to dissolve their marriage.
Posturing is rampant in the NBA, so take the following with an iota of salt, but Ball said he's "happy" to still be with the Pelicans. Executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin took it one step further.
"He's made it very clear personally, one to one, that he wants to be here," he said, per NOLA.com's Christian Clark. "Yet what you will read is: 'This is a player who doesn't want to be here. He's not in our plans. So you should trade him for a ham sandwich.' That doesn't make any sense when we know the actual, real story behind Lonzo Ball."
JJ Redick is somewhere rolling his eyes. The logic still tracks. The Pelicans have at least a semi-firm grasp of Ball's market. They wouldn't have kept him past the deadline if they were going to get sticker shock from offers to pay him upward of $20 million per year.
New Orleans has the flexibility to meet that price point without rocketing its cap sheet to the moon. The most expensive scenario—matching a max offer for Ball—would leave it with around $103.5 million committed to Ball, Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. Ideal? No. Workable? Sure.
That brings us to Hart, a gritty defender with four-position switchability who hits just enough of his triples to upkeep the three-and-D label. He could become collateral damage of the windfall Ball is about to receive—if that deal comes from the Pelicans.
Once more: This isn't predictive. New Orleans might keep both. But it seems much less likely to break its piggy bank for Hart if he gets an offer north of $12 million annually. All of which makes this a bet that the Pelicans will let him walk before they do the same or seek sign-and-trade scenarios for Ball.
New York Knicks: Reggie Bullock
Flight risks abound for the New York Knicks. They have just four players under guaranteed contract for next season.
Arriving at Reggie Bullock was quite the journey. Julius Randle's partially guaranteed salary is a non-starter—and the Knicks aren't letting him leave anyway. Mitchell Robinson has a team option; he'll be back super cheap, or New York will send him into restricted free agency by its own hand.
My heart wants to pick Frank Ntilikina. And the Knicks should follow my heart. But he's back to getting DNPs. Derrick Rose's unrestricted free agency will probably be a non-event. The Knicks have his Bird rights, and head coach Tom Thibodeau loves him.
Bullock wins out over Alec Burks, Taj Gibson, Nerlens Noel and Elfrid Payton—the latter of whom, just so you know, should not be getting run over Ntilikina. Burks and Noel would be the hardest to keep, since New York will be working with non-Bird rights, but that matters only so much when the team has league-high cap space.
Outside suitors will be more intrigued by Bullock. Three-and-D wings are all the rage, and he's quietly putting together one helluva season. His light has never been greener; he's averaging right around seven three-point attempts per game since the start of March, which he's downing at a 41 percent clip.
Equally paramount: Bullock is doing some heavy lifting on the defensive end. Payton is the only Knick who has spent more time pestering No. 1 options, by virtue of being a point guard, and no one has logged more reps versus No. 2 options, according to Bball Index.
Having Early Bird rights on Bullock gives New York extra maneuverability compared to the cases of Burks and Noel. His cap hold comes in just under $5.5 million. The Knicks can carry that, burn through their space and then re-sign him for whatever. But his price tag also stands to be higher than those of Burks and Noel. That's more of a red flag given New York isn't at the point when it should spend semi-lavishly on role players over longer terms.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Svi Mykhailiuk (Restricted)
Svi Mykhailiuk is among the scant few noteworthy players the Oklahoma City Thunder do not have under team-friendly control. They have a quartet of bargain-bin non-guarantees on Moses Brown, Luguentz Dort, Isaiah Roby and Kenrich Williams, and their only free-and-clear flight risks are hardly irreplaceable.
The 23-year-old Mykhailiuk is the most intriguing from the group scheduled to reach the open market. At 6'7", he puts up more of a positional fight than advertised, and his offensive reputation is that of a sharpshooter.
Granted, Mykhailiuk has seen his efficiency tumble this season. His three-point clip has ticked up since he joined Oklahoma City, but he's still under 34 percent for the year, including a sub-33-percent success rate on catch-and-fire opportunities.
That dip should normalize in an offense with more playmakers for Mykhailiuk to orbit. He didn't have that luxury with the Detroit Pistons and still doesn't have it now on the Thunder while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander recovers from a right foot injury. The best version of Mykhailiuk is someone who can fly around the half-court and even dribble into his own jumpers.
Other teams might have that same vision, become enamored with his size and try to pry him from Oklahoma City. It isn't yet clear how much of a fight the Thunder will put up to keep him. They can match any offer he receives, but his arrival as part of the Hamidou Diallo trade seemed more about the 2027 second-round pick than Mykhailiuk.
Money shouldn't be the primary problem. Mykhailiuk isn't going to nab a cost-prohibitive deal. But the Thunder do have a long-term roster crunch on their hands. They project to have two first-round picks this year—their own and the Houston Rockets' selection (top-four-protected) or the Miami Heat's; the Golden State Warriors' top-20-protected first probably won't convey—and another three in 2022. With 10 roster spots most likely on lock for next year before considering inbound rookies, any free agent who fetches a multiyear deal must be deemed a flight risk.
Orlando Magic: Otto Porter Jr.
Otto Porter Jr. isn't just a flight risk this offseason. He could fly the coop now. His name is routinely mentioned among players who could hit the buyout wire.
Interested parties shouldn't hold their breath. Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported Porter had no plans to seek a buyout from the Orlando Magic after coming over from the Chicago Bulls.
There is merit to that stance. The Magic are done playing meaningful games after their quasi-teardown at the deadline, but they're thinner on the wings after moving Al-Farouq Aminu, Gary Clark, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon.
Staying in Orlando should allow Porter to juice his numbers in advance of free agency, and the Magic could always use his Bird rights to keep him. A soon-to-be 28-year-old doesn't perfectly jibe with their latest timeline, but plug-and-play wings fit everywhere.
Not that hanging on to him for the rest of this season guarantees anything. Injuries have robbed Porter of serious court time over the past three years, over which time his stock has plummeted. But he's still a career 40.2 percent marksman from beyond the arc who can guard 2s, 3s and 4s.
Translation: Porter will be in demand. At least one team should be willing to sling him a multiyear offer even if he doesn't rebound with Orlando. Anything nearing the full mid-level exception would probably take the Magic out of the running. They've only just fired up their reset. They cannot make another investment with Aminu-level risk attached to its aging curve.
Those who prefer to slot Khem Birch in Porter's place won't receive much pushback. Bigs who pancake opponents on screens, roll to the basket with purpose, jack the occasional corner three and move their feet well enough to guard some 4s are incredibly useful. But the Magic have Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. to deploy at the 5. Porter fills a larger void, and wings almost always drum up more market interest than reserve bigs.
Philadelphia 76ers: Danny Green
Danny Green seems to become a divisive figure once every few months—usually because he's schlepping through a jump-shot rut or missed a few big threes. But there's a reason his lows engender such a strong response: He tends to play for really good teams who need him to be really good because he is really good.
This season is no different. Green is draining 40.7 percent of his treys while routinely defending one of the opponent's two best players for the Philadelphia 76ers, who have the East's No. 1 seed in sight. He continues to typify the three-and-D niche, and even though he's lost a couple of steps at age 33, his free-agent market will reflect as much.
Philadelphia has the power to pay him more than anyone if it doesn't give a darn about next year's luxury-tax bill. Green's top-dollar offers also shouldn't meet, let alone exceed, the $15.4 million he's making now. His age will scare off some potential admirers, too.
More teams than not will still be poking around his availability. Heightened competition inherently bumps up his flight-risk meter. The Sixers won't have nearly as much trouble keeping Dwight Howard despite his non-Bird status.
This may be a moot point. Philly would cost itself only tax dollars and a roster spot by re-signing Green. The mini mid-level exception will be its best spending tool whether he stays or goes. But, well, tax dollars may matter to the Sixers.
Failing that, they might just consider Green a functional luxury. They have Seth Curry to supplant his shooting and Matisse Thybulle to offset some of the defensive loss. Adding another half-court playmaker remains their more pressing priority and could put Green's return lower on their to-do list.
Phoenix Suns: Cameron Payne
Torrey Craig is making an eleventh-hour push for this nod. He's averaging 16.8 minutes per game since the Phoenix Suns acquired him from the Milwaukee Bucks, a stretch that has included some crunch-time run and hot three-point shooting (6-of-15).
This is worth revisiting later if Craig's role and outside clip hold serve. The Suns don't own his Bird rights and have five other free agents to monitor.
Cameron Payne is chief among them. He is averaging more minutes per game than any of Phoenix's other soon-to-be free agents and remains the team's only true backup point guard.
Colder shooting in recent weeks has crimped some of his appeal, but he's still an offensive firework. He is downing 53.1 percent of his twos and 39.6 percent of his threes for the year and represents a nice change of pace from the methodical Chris Paul. Payne plays with more frenetic energy and puts additional pressure on the rim. He's shooting 65.6 percent (21-of-32) on pull-up jumpers inside the arc to boot.
How well Paynes holds up in the postseason will go a long way toward determining his value to both the Suns and any interested parties. His court time should decrease when the Suns up the minutes of Paul and Devin Booker and implement more star staggering, but he's still the reserve guard best equipped to manage the offense.
Hang tough against postseason defenses, and Payne will be in greater demand. That won't preclude Phoenix from keeping him—he's an Early Bird free agent—but any additional competition will make it more likely he finds a deal and/or role the team is unwilling or unable to match.
Portland Trail Blazers: Norman Powell
Full disclosure: I had trouble processing the Norman Powell trade in real time and still don't fully understand it. This appears to be a matter of the Portland Trail Blazers' attempting to raise their ceiling at the expense of their long-term overhead.
That is not a gamble without cause. Gary Trent Jr. has more defensive range, but Powell postseason-proofs the Blazers offense tenfold as the superior shot creator both at and away from the basket. He's averaging 19.2 points while canning 54.3 percent of his twos and 44.1 percent of his threes.
"Staggering" doesn't even begin to describe the efficiency with which Powell is scoring. Among the 39 players averaging more than 19 points per game, his true shooting percentage (64.1) ranks fourth—trailing those of only Zion Williamson, Nikola Jokic and Stephen Curry.
This marriage of volume and efficiency is going to get Powell puh-aid. His $11.6 million player option can't be declined quickly enough. Something in the neighborhood of $16 to $20 million per year seems not only plausible but likely.
Such a lofty number puts the Blazers in an awkward position. They have more than $70 million committed to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Powell can sponge up plenty of reps at the 3—he's starting there now—but $90 million(ish) is an awful lot of money to invest in three dudes under 6'4".
Every scenario under the sun feels in play. Maybe Portland doesn't care and will just pay Powell whatever. Maybe the Blazers acquired him as a rental. Maybe they're less scared of giving Powell $18 to $22 million or so per year than they were of paying Trent $12 to $15 million annually.
Spin this however you want. Even if Powell sticks beyond this season, it will not be without at least a dab of drama—in the form of intense and widespread interest from admirers outside of Portland.
Sacramento Kings: Richaun Holmes
Richaun Holmes' ambiguous future isn't an issue of opinion. It's a matter of fact.
The Sacramento Kings are only working with his Early Bird rights, which allow them to offer him 105 percent of the league's average salary before they have to use cap space. Here's the thing: They don't forecast as a cap-space team.
And here's the other thing: Starting Holmes at 105 percent of the league's average salary should amount to around $10.5 million—barely more than the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception ($9.5 million). That's not going to cut it.
Bigs are liable to get squeezed in free agency, but more teams will have money to peddle than last summer, and Holmes ranks as the best available center. As yours truly wrote previously (stats updated):
"He's averaging 14.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists [with 1.7 blocks] while downing 65.1 percent of his twos—all career highs. His offensive game is both scalable and incredibly hard to neutralize. He sprints in transition and glides in the half court. His 1.37 points per possession as the roll man rank in the 88th percentile, and he's shooting 26-of-32 on the break (81.3 percent).
"Cutting off Holmes' path to the basket isn't enough. He has honed one of the league's most dangerous push shots; he's converting 64.2 percent of his floaters. You are going to feel him on the glass too. He is one of 12 players who has cleared 1,000 minutes and an offensive rebounding rate of 9 percent in each of the past three seasons."
Holmes would be speeding toward a more lucrative jackpot if he could make an entire defense. He can't. But he's a dependable rim protector with operable mobility when yanked away from the basket. His starting-salary floor should be more than the Kings can offer. That doesn't mean he's definitely leaving. It does, however, mean they'll have to clear money off their cap sheet if they want him to stay.
San Antonio Spurs: DeMar DeRozan
Pretty much all the San Antonio Spurs' free agents profile as high-alert flight risks, mostly because they run counter to the organization's revamped timeline. The team is skewing younger, and Rudy Gay, Patty Mills and DeMar DeRozan are the three oldest players on the roster.
DeRozan ranks as the biggest flight risk in scope and importance. Mills might fit on more teams because he's plug-and-play, but DeRozan is the only primary creator of the three. That both widens his market and buoys his significance to the Spurs.
Do not confuse this with the LaMarcus Aldridge situation. San Antonio is statistically better with DeRozan off the floor, but he's not actually holding it back. This is more so a compliment to the Spurs bench and a nod to the difficulty in finding a starting lineup that works. (The current one does.)
Shot-profile truthers will downplay DeRozan's impact on the Spurs. Some will go as far as saying he's another addition-by-subtraction candidate. Both stances are tough to justify. DeRozan is clearing 20 points and seven assists per game with a true shooting percentage of 59.0. He's not some throwaway rotation player. The San Antonio offense will feel the squeeze if he leaves.
And make no mistake, he could leave. His name never really broached the buyout mill, a harbinger of how much the team still values him. But the Spurs are chock full of (younger) 2s and 3s and won't enter next season on the precipice of title contention without swinging a major trade or free-agency addition.
Neither scenario is impossible. Historically, though, timeline acceleration is not the Spurs' style. DeRozan could have the chance to cash in with a squad closer to contention or just agree to play for one of the premier heavyweights at the mid-level exception. San Antonio should try to keep him, within reason, but it will be more likely than not at his mercy rather than the other way around.
Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry
Never mind offseason flight risk. Kyle Lowry was a midseason flight risk—until he wasn't.
The Athletic's Sam Amick reported the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers came close to striking an agreement that would've landed the 35-year-old point guard in his hometown. Draft compensation was reportedly the final hangup and deal-breaker. Philly traded for George Hill, and Lowry stayed with Toronto.
Whether this non-move culminates in the Raptors' keeping Lowry beyond 2020-21 is a matter of course. Their 11th-place standing in the Eastern Conference suggests they're too far away from contention to justify breaking open the piggy bank for an aging 6-foot point guard presumably hoping to chase another championship. On the other hand, Toronto isn't as entrenched in obscurity as it appears.
Injuries and COVID-19 have ripped through the roster this season at a disturbingly high rate. Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet haven't even played in 20 games together. And then there's the whole "Every game is a road game" thing.
This season doesn't have to be the pivot point so many are painting it to be. The Norman Powell trade has hollowed out the Raptors' shot-creation depth, but they are, like, one-and-a-half players away from making real noise at full strength—preferably a more well-rounded 5 and offensive generator on the wings. They also have a positive net rating despite being 11 games under .500.
Diluted down further: Toronto has Anunoby, Siakam and VanVleet on multiyear contracts. And it wouldn't have traded for Gary Trent Jr. (restricted) without the intent to keep him. The plan isn't to bottom out after this year. It can't be without a thorough teardown. Maybe the Raptors get a high draft pick and swing an offseason trade or make additions on the margins and then Lowry sticks around.
Or, you know, maybe he doesn't. He is going to have suitors with cap space, some of whom will be closer to the championship discussion. The extent to which the Raptors listened to offers, even if they didn't accept one, says a lot.
Utah Jazz: Mike Conley
Mike Conley is barreling toward free agency with next to zero fanfare. That at once feels weird and apropos. This year's free-agency class is so starved for marquee impact that his availability should be a bigger deal, but he's always been among the lower-key stars, and the Utah Jazz are, you know, busy recording the best record in basketball.
Talk yourself into choosing one of the team's other options if you must. That conversation won't go very far. Juwan Morgan (Early Bird restricted) and Georges Niang are the only other players ticketed for the open market. Neither one comes close to sniffing Conley's importance to the Jazz and curb appeal on the auction block.
Utah is doing its damnedest to convince him to stay without actually saying anything. It's sporting the Association's best net rating on the back of a top-two offense and defense. Debates are waged daily about the merits of the Jazz's contender status, but it would take a postseason flameout of epic proportions to prove they're more than a heartbeat away from title-winning caliber.
Money stands to be a bigger roadblock than Utah's future. Conley isn't commanding another max deal at the age of 33, but he won't come cheap unless he decides to accept a pay cut. Paul George, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nikola Jokic and Khris Middleton are the only players averaging at least as many points (16.3) and assists (5.5) per game while matching his efficiency on twos (career-high 49.8 percent) and threes (career-high 41.4 percent).
Framed another way: The Jazz will not be alone in their ability or desire to pony up for Conley this summer.
Washington Wizards: Garrison Mathews (Restricted)
Garrison Mathews' case is twofold. For starters, he might be the only choice.
The Washington Wizards have set themselves up nicely to bring back Robin Lopez with non-Bird rights if they're so inclined by paying him $7.3 million. After that, nobody else is emanating must-keep vibes. Raul Neto's defensive energy is fun, and Isaac Bonga should still be playing more, but Washington hasn't bestowed major roles onto them, Jerome Robinson or Ish Smith.
This isn't just a process-of-elimination choice, though. Look at only long-term value to the Wizards, and Mathews still comes out on top.
Knocking down threes is his business, and business is good. He's hitting 41.5 percent of his triples for the season, right in line with his 41.3 percent flip from last year. And he's not just camping out in the corners or draining gimmes, either. He is firing on the move and off balance and has shown he can bake in an escape dribble when necessary.
Prospective suitors will be able to picture him doing more in an expanded role. He has a certain comfort level on the ball and is lightning quick when he gets going downhill—almost recklessly so.
Washington will have final dibs if Mathews sparks a bunch of offers, and the starting salary on his next deal is capped, as he is an Early Bird restricted free agent. But the Wizards already have a not-so-small fortune invested in guards and might balk at medium-sized offers if they don't consider Mathews capable of sponging up wing minutes.