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NBA AM: Free Agent Dollars Drying Up

There’s not a lot of cash left in the free agency pool. Which teams still have money to spend?… Setting a value for Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe.

Steve Kyler

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The Cash Is Drying Up:  Most of the teams that had major cap space have basically spent it. While there are still a few teams with sizable exception money remaining, the big money available in free agency has basically dried up.

Here is what the current cap picture looks like:

Here are the teams with real money to play with:

The Atlanta Hawks currently have about $2.08 million in space and could open up an additional $6.75 million more by renouncing the cap holds on Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon, giving them a possible $8.83 million to spend. The Hawks are still very much engaged on the free agent front so spending their cash is likely.

The Charlotte Hornets have roughly $1.41 million remaining under the cap and still have Brian Roberts’ deal to finalize. Roberts’ deal is valued at the “room exception” so Charlotte appears to have structured things to get at the cap number, meaning they should have one more transaction up their sleeve.

The Detroit Pistons have $1.43 million in space, but are carrying a $10.216 million cap hold on their qualifying offer to Greg Monroe. Pistons president Stan Van Gundy has labeled retaining Monroe as the team’s top offseason priority, but it’s clear they are not willing to give a max offer. With almost no money left in the market, they are simply playing the waiting game. There were reports that the Phoenix Suns may make an offer to Monroe, but it’s likely that Detroit matches an offer sheet.

The Milwaukee Bucks technically don’t have cap space by virtue of the $11.173 million cap hold they carry on free agent Ekpe Udoh. If they were to renounce it, they could open up roughly $10.3 million in space. The Bucks are believed to be one of the suitors for Phoenix’s Eric Bledsoe, but landing him would require a sign-and-trade as it’s likely Phoenix would gladly match a $10 million offer sheet. Because the Bucks are still technically over the cap, they still retain their cap exceptions.

The Orlando Magic have roughly $8.34 million in cap space and could free up an additional $2.81 million by renouncing the cap holds on E’Twaun Moore and the draft rights to Fran Vasquez. The Magic are roughly $5.66 million away from the NBA‘s required minimum salary of $56.759 million, although they have until the end of the season to meet that number. The Magic for the most part seem finished in free agency and are more likely to use their space later in the season given that they have basically 13 players under contract for the upcoming season.

The Philadelphia 76ers lead the NBA with the most available cash under the cap with a whopping $23.58 million available, with an additional $2.646 available by renouncing the cap holds on Byron Mullens, Charles Jenkins and Adonis Thomas. The 76ers are the lone remaining team with massive cap space. However, they do not seem overly engaged with anyone on the free agent front. Last season, the 76ers carried a massive amount of space all season, ultimately using it at the trade deadline to acquire Danny Granger in a cap clearing move with the Indiana Pacers.

The Phoenix Suns have roughly $12.759 million available under the cap and could free up an additional $915,000 by renouncing the cap hold on Leandro Barbosa. The Suns do have a $6.56 million qualifying offer out to Eric Bledsoe. There have been reports that the Suns might issue an offer to Pistons free agent Greg Monroe, and could do a deal starting at $13.6 million and still be able to retain Bledsoe using his Bird rights. The Suns and Bledsoe remain somewhat apart on a deal,with reports suggesting that a four-year, $48 million offer was made by the Suns and turned away by Bledsoe.

The Utah Jazz still have cash remaining under the cap to the tune of about $3.636 million. The Jazz have basically fleshed out their roster, but do have cash to spend. However, they have 15 players on the roster, including several non-guaranteed contracts. The Jazz’s core seems to be in place, although there has been continued talks that a third guard is on their wish list and with $3.6 million to spend they should be able to secure one.

There are currently four teams already over the $76.829 million luxury tax line: The Boston Celtics ($1.937 million over), Brooklyn Nets ($16.202 million over), L.A. Clippers ($2.850 million over) and New York Knicks ($14.586 million over).

The teams with notable cap exceptions remaining include: The Boston Celtics ($5.305 million mid-level and $2.07 million bi-annual), Denver Nuggets ($5.305 million mid-level), Houston Rockets ($5.305 million mid-level and $2.077 bi-annual), Memphis Grizzlies ($1.393 remaining from their mid-level), Milwaukee Bucks ($5.305 million mid-level and $2.07 million bi-annual), Minnesota Timberwolves ($5.305 million mid-level), Oklahoma City Thunder ($2.105 million remaining on their mid-level and $2.077 million bi-annual), Portland Trail Blazers ($505,000 remaining on their mid-level exception), San Antonio Spurs ($5.305 million mid-level and $2.07 million bi-annual) and Toronto Raptors ($2.80 million remaining on their mid-level and $2.077 million bi-annual).

A couple of housekeeping notes:

NBA teams carefully manage how and when contracts are submitted in order to maximize their flexibility. A large number of deals have been agreed to but have yet to be filed with the NBA as it would impact a team’s flexibility in free agency.

Meeting things like the NBA minimum are not required until the end of the season, meaning teams like Philadelphia and Orlando are under no obligation to spend money now, but would face a minor penalty if they do not meet the so called “floor” at the NBA Trade Deadline in February.

Equally, the luxury tax is computed based on what’s on the roster at the end of the season, so teams like the L.A. Clippers and the Boston Celtics could trigger cap clearing deals before the deadline and avoid the luxury tax.

Of the four tax paying teams, the New York Knicks are looking at the stiffest tax bill due to the “graduated tax” system and the new repeater penalty that kicks in this season. The Knicks are $14.58 million over and are looking at a tax bill of $42.302 million. The Knicks will become the first “repeater” tax payer this season, having been over the tax line in all three of the last three seasons. The Celtics are also looking at the repeater penalty on their $1.97 overage, which will cost them $4.84 million in tax. The Nets are currently $16.02 million over the tax line and are looking at a tax bill of $32.656 million, but have one more season before being designated a repeat tax payer.

Bledsoe and Monroe:  Arguably the top two remaining free agents in the marketplace are Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe; both are likely going to have offer sheets matched, so the fact that both sit unsigned is not altogether surprising. What might be a little surprising is that in a market that saw Utah’s Gordon Hayward and Dallas’ Chandler Parsons get basically maximum level offer sheets is that neither Bledsoe nor Monroe saw that kind of love in free agency.

Surely if Hayward can get $14.76 million next season, Bledsoe and Monroe should get something similar right? Well, not exactly. Here is the thing about valuations: it requires two competing bids.

The reason Parsons got such a hefty number from Dallas is that the Mavericks knew that’s the number it would take to steal Parsons away from the Rockets. It’s not that Dallas believes Chandler to be worth $14.7 million, it’s that is what it costs to steal him. The Mavs needed a win in this free agency class and overpaid a little to get one.

The Hornets tried to do the same with Hayward, hoping that a maximum deal would scare the Jazz away.

The problem for Bledsoe and in many regards Monroe is that neither player seems to be garnering the same “over pay to get him” mindset from other teams.

The L.A. Lakers had cash to spend and did not make offers. The Miami HEAT and Houston Rockets could have made offers and didn’t. The Philadelphia 76ers have more money than anyone and are not at the table.

The Suns offered Bledsoe a four-year, $48 million package. Considering Stephen Curry signed a four year, $44 million in 2012, is $48 million for Bledsoe so crazy? Sure, Curry would command a lot more today than he would have in 2012, but are Bledsoe and Curry’s situations that much different? Both do have a long history of injuries.

In order for Bledsoe to be “worth” more, someone has to be willing to pay a bigger price. With almost no money left in the market place, Bledsoe is somewhat stuck.

It is clear his camp is trying to drum up a sign-and-trade deal; however, the Suns don’t have to entertain anything on that front if it’s not in their best interest.

So would Bledsoe sign the qualifying offer of $6.5 million and take his chance as an unrestricted free agent next year? Bledsoe is coming off a nasty knee surgery; do you really turn down what amounts to $12 million per year in his situation?

There is no question that players hate restricted free agency. It ties them up and limits their free market earning potential, but the one thing restricted free agency is supposed to do for teams is help them avoid overpaying.

The market place sets what a player is worth and unfortunately for Bledsoe and Monroe, the market place wasn’t nearly as kind to them as it was to Hayward and Parsons. That doesn’t mean they each won’t get a very good contract offer. The Pistons have had a number on the table for Monroe since July 1. The Suns have a number on the table for Bledsoe now.

Both players can try to wait out the process and see if a better offer surfaces, but with almost no “interested money” in the field, the odds that either are going to get a max offer sheet now seems fairly slim and that’s simply how valuations go.

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Payton Blocking Out Trade Talk, Believes Magic Will Turn It Around

Spencer Davies sits down with Elfrid Payton to discuss his fourth year, trade rumors and a trying season for Orlando in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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It’s hard for a team to look for positives when it’s living in the basement.

The Orlando Magic have had a rough go of it this year. They’re 13-32 at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they’ve have had a ton of setbacks, and they currently rank 29th in the NBA in defensive rating.

There is a bright spot hidden in there, though, and head coach Frank Vogel sees it growing as the season progresses.

“We’re frustrated with our record, but we’re encouraged with the development we’ve had with our young players,” Vogel said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “Aaron Gordon, Mario [Hezonja], and [Elfrid Payton] have all had strong individual seasons and continue to get better. All those guys are improving individually and at some point, it’s gonna lead to more Ws.”

While Gordon stands out more to some than the others because of his star appeal, Payton is right up there with him as far as making the next step goes.

“Elfrid’s shooting the ball better from the perimeter and at the rim,” Vogel said. “He’s worked on his left hand. He’s worked on his floaters. Shooting 52 percent from the field and that’s pretty darn good for a point guard, and the 39 percent from the three as well.”

Those are your more traditional statistics that don’t address the leap he’s taken in efficiency. Sure, Payton’s scoring the same amount of points per game, but it’s the way he’s been getting that’s been most noticeable.

According to Basketball-Reference and NBA.com, he’s making nearly 70 percent of his tries between 0-3 feet and ranks third among point guards in restricted field goal percentage (min. four attempts).

But Payton doesn’t like to evaluate himself using numbers, so he doesn’t know how to feel about how he’s played for Orlando this year.

“It’s tough to say because I like to measure my success by winning and we haven’t been doing that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “So tough to say.”

He’s not kidding. Since starting out the season 8-4, the Magic have taken a hard fall, only winning five games since November 10. In this stretch, there have been three hefty losing streaks—two 9-game slides and most recently a 7-game skid.

“Not to make excuses—we had a lot of injuries,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of what happened. “Haven’t really been playing with the group of guys that we started the season with, so kinda derailed us a little bit.”

As the losses pile up, so does the chatter. Indicated by multiple recent reports, Orlando has made it clear that many players on the roster are available on the trade block. Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja, and Payton were recently brought up as names who could possibly on the move if the right deal presents itself.

When asked about the rumblings, Vogel claimed he doesn’t have a message for his guys.

“They understand it’s part of the business,” he said. “Just focus on playing the game.”

Like his coach, Payton doesn’t have a reaction to the noise.

“I don’t get caught up into the things like that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Today I’m an Orlando Magic. I play for the Orlando Magic and I’m gonna give them 100 percent of me. I’m somebody that likes to finish what I started, so I definitely would like to see this through and try to turn this organization around.”

So who does he see on this team that can help jump-start the process in flipping the script?

“Everybody,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I like Vuc. I like AG. Evan [Fournier] is somebody who can fill it up. T Ross is somebody who can fill it up when healthy. I think we have a lot of talent on this team. Even the rookies—Wes [Iwundu] plays well for us in stretches. Jon [Isaac] when he was playing he’d do well.

“You could see the potential there. So I think we have a lot of weapons on this team. I’m very confident in the group we have here. I think we have a lot of talent, we just have to do it.”

Saying you’re going to right the ship is one thing. Actually doing it is a whole other challenge. With where the Magic sit in the standings currently, their work is cut out for them. That being said, Payton isn’t giving up.

In fact, he’s still got his eyes on making it to the postseason, and it starts with him.

“Definitely trying to get a run going,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Make a playoff push. It’s definitely not out of sight right now, especially with the way the East is. We win a few games and we right back in the thick of things.

“Do whatever I can to help us to get more wins, man. I think that’s what it all boils down to. I figure if I’m playing well, that means we’re winning for the most part.”

Defense matters the most, and it’s something Payton and his group know they need to get better at if they have a chance to play past mid-April.

“Just be tied in together a little bit more,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I think sometimes we have too many breakdowns on the backside. So just being more in-tune with each other.”

One thing is for sure—Orlando is going through this difficult time as a team, but refuses to fold. Payton says Vogel has constantly stayed in their ears with uplifting advice.

“Keep fighting,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of his words. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. No one’s gonna feel sorry for you, so just keep fighting.”

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NBA Daily: Three Teams Treading Water In The West

While the Clippers have surged into the playoff picture, the Blazers, Nuggets and Pelicans are barely staying afloat out West.

Buddy Grizzard

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While the L.A. Clippers have surged into the Western Conference playoff picture on the crest of a six-game win streak, the Trail Blazers, Nuggets and Pelicans are stumbling toward the All-Star break with records around .500 over their last 10 games.

All four teams are within a game of each other and hovering around the playoff cut line. For teams that are treading water, the second half of the season will be a struggle for consistency in a brutal playoff race that promises to leave a good team on the outside looking in.

Although Richard Jefferson is winding down a storied career and barely playing for the Nuggets, he often takes the role of elder statesman in media scrums. After the Nuggets became the latest victim of the red-hot Clippers Wednesday, Jefferson said they should not be underestimated.

“They’ve been a playoff team for many, many years,” said Jefferson. “They’ve dealt with some injuries but, for the most part, I think they’re going to be in the hunt for the playoffs just like we are.”

Jefferson was also asked about the Nuggets’ late-game execution and pointed to the team’s overall youth with major addition Paul Millsap missing extended time due to injury.

“We’re getting to a spot of being a little bit more consistent in those moments,” said Jefferson. “But ultimately, I think guys are still learning. Most of the guys that are in these positions are in these positions for the first time. I think we’ll continue getting better as the season goes on.”

Meanwhile, the Pelicans experienced its own setback Wednesday in a loss to an Atlanta Hawks team that’s tied for the second-worst record in the league. For now, the Pelicans hold the seventh seed. It will be up to the continuing evolution of the Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins pairing to keep New Orleans trending in the right direction.

“For us, we’re two guys who can shoot the ball, handle it, pass,” said Davis after the loss in Atlanta. “We’ve got a lot of guys around us who are capable of making plays. I think we compliment each other. There’s still some stuff we still want to get better at as a unit.”

Davis went into further detail about what makes the rare pairing of two elite big men work.

“Cuz is always spacing the floor,” said Davis. “One guy’s inside, the other one’s outside. We set screens for each other, throw lobs for each other. So it’s tough for bigs to try to play that. When we set a pin-down for myself or DeMarcus, most four or fives are not used to that.”

Davis came into the game with 30 or more points in three straight games and seven of the previous 10—he’s been on a massive roll. However, that streak came to an end as Davis hit only two of eight shots for eight points. Hawks rookie John Collins scored 18 while dealing with the issues Davis described.

“You’ve got A.D. on the one hand and then you’ve got Boogie on the other hand,” said Collins. “[They’re] some of the best bigs in the league, very skilled guys, obviously a handful to deal with.”

Hawks shooting guard Kent Bazemore led Atlanta with 20 points and hit the final shot in the waning moments to secure the victory. Bazemore is a player the Pelicans could conceivably pursue at the trade deadline to address wing issues.

Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers are dealing with questions of whether a team built around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can become competitive with the West’s upper echelon. Marc Stein of the New York Times went so far as to predict that Portland’s backcourt could be broken up this year.

“No one’s suggesting it’ll happen before the Feb. 8 trade deadline,” Stein wrote. “But Portland’s latest so-so season threatens to be the impetus that finally pushes the longtime Blazers owner Paul Allen in a new direction.”

This is the time of year when NBA teams take stock and have to decide if they are properly constructed or need to look at changes. With the Pelicans, Trail Blazers and Nuggets barely keeping pace in the playoff race, few other teams will be more heavily scrutinized — internally as well as externally — as the trade deadline approaches.

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NBA Daily: Things To Watch Heading Into Trade Season

Two of our experts identify four teams and four players to keep an eye on during trade season.

Basketball Insiders

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With memories of DeMarcus Cousins being told that he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans during his postgame availability at last season’s All-Star game, the NBA moved the trade deadline up.

This season, the deadline falls on February 8, and all there has been a lot of discussion leading into next month’s deadline.

We asked Moke Hamilton and Lang Greene to weigh in on some items to keep an eye on over the next three weeks.

Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Favors

This year’s trade deadline will probably lack big names getting moved, but teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets are within sniffing distance of a playoff berth for the first time in years. It will be interesting to see if their respective front offices swing for the fences to achieve the goal.

There are three ways to improve a roster or prepare for the future in the NBA. The methods are free agency, trade and the annual draft. Trade deadline deals are risky. There are a lot of deals each season which involve players on the verge of hitting the free agent market. Teams acquiring these take the risk that they’re only “renting” those guys until the season concludes.

At the end of the day, though, the two biggest names we may see moved are Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Favors.

Mirotic has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his career, but the fourth-year forward is by far having his best season as a professional despite his minutes remaining flat. On a per 36 minute basis, Mirotic is averaging 25.1 points and 9.9 rebounds.

Mirotic and teammate Bobby Portis made headlines before the season for their fight, which led plenty of missed time for the forward. Mirotic’s name has been mentioned on the block ever since this incident, but it’s clear the Bulls have integrated him back into their rotation fully. Still, the team is believed to simply be waiting for the right time and trade partner and that Mirotic’s days in Chicago are numbered.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls plan to be patient in fielding calls for Mirotic, while the player has deflected all talks to his representatives.

“I didn’t talk to [the Bulls’ front office recently],” he said. “Probably my agents are talking, so I don’t know so far what’s going on, but I know my name is going to be out there. I’m doing my job, and I’m sure they’re doing their job, and we’re both going to do what’s best for the team.”

Mirotic has a no-trade clause built into his contract and would have to waive it prior to completing any deal, unless the Bulls were to guarantee the team option on the final year of his contract for 2018-19. Don’t count on that, though.

With respect to Favors, he battled injuries the past two seasons but has remained relatively healthy to begin this campaign. The forward is shooting a career high from the field, but according to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Utah Jazz have dangled him in trade talks since the beginning of the season.

Favors was one of the central parts of the Deron Williams trade years ago, but could be expendable because of the emergence of center Rudy Gobert in the Jazz’s frontcourt. The forward is on the books for $12.5 million this season and was most recently linked to the aforementioned Mirotic in trade talks between Utah and Chicago.

– Lang Greene

DeAndre Jordan and Paul George

Heading into deadline season, there’s not much out there to suggest that we’ll see any superstar-caliber players moved. With the likes of Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving among the players that switched teams over the summer, it seems that most NBA teams that have difference-makers on their rosters are in construction mode—they’re trying to compete with the Cavs or the Warriors.

The two superstar players who merit some discussion, though, are DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan.

With respect to Jordan, the Clippers find themselves in a very peculiar situation. With Chris Paul having defected to the Houston Rockets, it’s easy to conclude that the Clippers are no longer a true contender. Still, they’ve played so well over the past few weeks (including scoring a victory over Paul and his Rockets) that it seems a difficult proposition to proactively pull the plug.

Still, though, as written in this past Sunday’s column, it’s time for the Clippers to trade Jordan, mainly because a team that is heading toward a rebuild can’t afford to lose a player of his caliber for nothing, and that’s quite possible unless the Clippers fork over a max contract to Jordan this summer. The proposition wouldn’t be wise, particularly because it could cost the Clippers a first round pick in one of the upcoming drafts.

He’s definitely a player that should be watched.

Paul George, on the other hand, doesn’t appear likely to be headed out of Oklahoma City. The team is reportedly committed to keeping him for the duration of the season, with the hope being that the Thunder will get their act together and win a round or two in the playoffs. With the team still hovering around .500, it seems a long shot.

There are some, however, that believe that the Thunder should at least see what might be available to them in exchange for George, especially with the team trading Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him. That’s especially true with Oladipo closing in on what certainly appears to be his first All-Star selection.

– Moke Hamilton

Dallas Mavericks Are Open For Business

The Dallas Mavericks are in a clear rebuild and the prospect of making the playoffs is more dream than reality this season, but the team does have some things going for it.

The Mavs have roughly $13 million in cap space, which puts them in a prime spot to acquire talent at the deadline without giving up any of their players in return. In fact, Mark Cuban went on the record and said exactly that.

“I would say we are looking to use our cap space actively,” Cuban told the Dallas Morning News earlier this week. “We will take back salary to get picks or guys we think can play.”

The Mavericks have the second-lowest payroll in the league, but Cuban has been known to spend money to acquire relevant talent. The team hasn’t had much success in in attracting free agents in recent years, and with the Hall of Fame career of Dirk Nowitzki coming to an end, the team is undoubtedly looking to retool.

– Lang Greene

Cavs and Lakers Each Likely To Do Something

It’s a poorly kept secret that the Los Angeles Lakers have had their sights set on acquiring a superstar or two this coming summer. With Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and LeBron James among those who could hit the market in July, the Lakers have quite a bit of incentive to try to rid themselves of the contracts of Luol Deng and Jordan Clarkson.

Where things get interesting for the Lakers is with the emergence of several of their young players this season. Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma and to a lesser extent Josh Hart have each given the team impressive minutes this season. If the Lakers feel they have a real shot at signing James and, say, DeMarcus Cousins, it may be enough for them to package Deng and/or Clarkson with one of their promising young players and perhaps a future draft pick.

It’s certainly something I’d keep my eyes on.

And speaking of future draft picks, with the Cavs not taking their standing in the Eastern Conference for granted, one can only wonder the extent to which the Nets’ first round pick this coming season is burning a hole in their pockets. Aside from the Nets pick, though, the Cavs do own their own first round pick, which could be enough for them to pry the likes of a player like Mirotic or Favors from their current team.

There has also been some conjecture revolving around the availability of Tristan Thompson, with one interesting scenario having the Cavs and Clippers at least contemplating a trade involving Thompson and Jordan.

The Cavs and Lakers each have too much at stake to not do something.

– Moke Hamilton

Only 21 Days To Go…

With the trade deadline exactly three weeks from today, talks will certainly heat up.

For now, though, the Mavs, Cavs and Lakers appear to be the teams most involved in conversations, with Nikola Mirotic, Derrick Favors and DeAndre Jordan among those most likely to be dealt.

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