5 NBA Players Who Will Be Overhyped and Overpaid in Free Agency
Every NBA offseason's free-agency period has its own unique character, and the one that starts Aug. 2 will be defined by a surplus of salary-cap space with few marquee names to sop it up.
That's a recipe for a summer of overpays.
It's rare for more than one or two teams to carry unspent cap space into the season; organizations tend to operate with a "smoke 'em if you've got 'em" mindset. This is great news for the players on the market, some of whom are in line for outsized deals that wouldn't have been available to them in an offseason with more superstars or less cash available.
Around here, we root for players to get as much money as they possibly can. Labor over management, basically.
That said, we can highlight a handful of candidates who, from the perspective of a team with finite resources, could be in for surprisingly bloated payoffs.
Jarrett Allen, C, Restricted
Every postseason, we get reminders that conventional centers—even the very best of them—struggle to survive when opponents invariably downsize, space the floor and take old-school bigs out of their comfort zones. The pace-and-space revolution is over a half-decade old now, and it's only getting crueler to 7-footers who can't switch or shoot threes.
And yet, here we are seeing reports that Jarrett Allen could be in line for nine figures in restricted free agency.
Allen is good at what he does, which is defend the rim and rebound. He's been in the league since 2017-18 and is one of just eight players to amass 200 games in that span with a rebound rate over 17.0 percent and a block rate north of 4.0 percent. The only guys in that club with more win shares over the last four seasons are Joel Embiid, Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have signaled their intent to make Allen a key piece of their long-term plans all along. They traded a first-rounder to get him, bought out Andre Drummond and straight-up said the 23-year-old center is a significant part of their future.
But $100 million? For a throwback big? In a league increasingly obsessed with versatility and 6'8" wings who can switch across five positions?
That's a little excessive.
Dennis Schroder, PG, Unrestricted
Dennis Schroder ranked 56th in true shooting percentage among the 72 players who attempted at least 700 shots in 2020-21. Charitably, that's unremarkable for a guy defined mostly by his offense.
Despite his submediocrity among volume shooters, Schroder has long seemed confident he's due for a heap of cash in free agency. He wasn't interested in the four-year, $84 million extension the Los Angeles Lakers offered him during the season, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, and now it sounds like that rejected deal (which was the most L.A. could offer in an extension) was nowhere near the 27-year-old's asking price.
Armin Andres, the vice president of the German Basketball Federation, told the Abteilung Basketball podcast (h/t TalkBasket.net) that "Dennis Schroder has communicated this clearly: He wants $100 [million], $120 million—which he will probably also get."
Schroder started 61 games for a Lakers team that needed offensive creation, even if it came with ho-hum efficiency. That said, he profiles as a prototypical spark off the bench—the type of guy teams typically pay $12-15 million per season and turn loose against opposing second units. The money Schroder is seeking, which he may very well find, is that of a top-flight starter.
This is a classic case of John Hollinger's Bird rights trap—when a team is capped out and cannot replace key talent on the open market, but it can spend lavishly to retain its own players. Schroder isn't worth what he's hoping to get, but he's got a good chance of getting it anyway.
Lonzo Ball, PG, Restricted
Several factors could combine to make Lonzo Ball, a fine player, among this offseason's most grossly overpaid free agents.
Start with his restricted status, which sometimes prompts teams to extend offer sheets at rates designed to make the player's incumbent team uncomfortable. The ideal offer sheet is a slight but calculated overpay.
Add to that the fact Ball is such a perfect plug-and-play fit on virtually any roster, and you get the potential for several competing offers driving up his price.
Everyone should have interest in a brilliant passer who can supercharge a transition attack, drain catch-and-shoot threes at a high volume, and keep the offense flowing with excellent vision and one-step-ahead reads. Ball gets a lot accomplished with a relatively low usage rate, making him terrific complementary piece in lineups of all shapes and sizes.
There's also the New York Knicks component.
They're one of the teams with max-level cap space, and they have particular need of a quality young player who can thrive alongside other primary ball-handlers like Julius Randle and RJ Barrett. The Knicks shouldn't need to use a salary slot quite that large on Ball, but they can absolutely inflate his price with their spending clout.
Finally, who knows what the Pelicans might be driven to do in an effort to appease Zion Williamson?
If he lets management know that his contentment depends on the team proving it will pay to retain talent or if he specifically signals he wants to keep playing with Ball, New Orleans might have no choice but to remove the ceiling on what it's willing to match.
Ball isn't a star, but market conditions are lined up to ensure he'll be paid like one.
Mike Conley, PG, Unrestricted
Mike Conley made his first All-Star team in 2020-21 and shot a career-best 41.2 percent from long range. An all-time good dude (he's never been called for a technical foul in 886 games played) and a critical creator for a Utah Jazz team that needed as much playmaking as it could get, the 33-year-old clearly brought a lot to the table this past year.
Utah's disappointing second-round playoff exit had several causes, but the hamstring injury that limited Conley to just 26 minutes in the entire series belongs atop the list.
And that's where we segue into the "concerns" section.
Conley will play his age-34 season in 2021-22, and he's lost significant time to hamstring troubles for two straight years. Throw in the Achilles injury that limited him to just a dozen games in 2017-18, and his durability going forward is a serious issue. Even when healthy, Conley's performance suggested signs of athletic decline. For example, he'd never gotten to the rim less frequently than he did in 2020-21.
This is another Bird rights' trap situation, as Conley is vital to the Jazz's hopes of contention and can't be replaced from the outside because of their cap situation. Utah is surely going to pay the luxury tax next year, but it may need to move one of Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson or Derrick Favors to avoid venturing frighteningly deep into the penalty. Though not technically tied to any one player, the added luxury-tax dollars involved in re-signing Conley to a deal worth upward of $25 million per season are no less real to the organization.
It feels like a mistake to fork over star-level money to an aging Conley, even if he is pretty close to stardom at the moment. But the alternative of losing him and replacing him with nothing is even worse.
DeMar DeRozan, SG, Unrestricted
DeMar DeRozan averaged just under $28 million per season on his last deal, and there's a surface-level case for paying him that much on his next one.
He's averaged over 20.0 points per game in eight straight seasons, he gets to the foul line at elite rates for his position and he's become one of the best passing wings in the game over the last four years, peaking with 6.9 assists per game in 2020-21.
The 31-year-old has also cultivated an offensive game based on footwork, feel and pure mid-post skill. Those types of wings age better than the ones who depend on speed and springs.
Bubbling underneath all that comforting "we should definitely pay this guy" data is a troubling and consistent truth: DeRozan's production and reliability have almost never correlated with on-court success for his team.
In 11 of his 12 seasons (including the last nine in a row), DeRozan's teams have performed better with him on the bench. The veteran wing has played for several different coaches and alongside dozens of different teammates for two different franchises during that span. If DeRozan's teams producing superior net ratings without him is a coincidence, it's one of the most confounding imaginable.
Rebuilding clubs with copious cap room, like the Oklahoma City Thunder, shouldn't have interest in DeRozan. But you can imagine the New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks or Miami Heat believing the veteran could put them over the top and pay him accordingly.
Unless a dozen years of on-off splits suddenly reverse themselves, the club paying market rates for DeRozan will regret it.