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NBA AM: The Damage Caused By Restricted Free Agency

Restricted free agents eventually get paid, but the damage inflicted during the process can ruin relationships.

Lang Greene

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Earlier this week, Basketball Insiders’ senior writer Jesse Blancarte wrote an in-depth piece on the problems of the current restricted free agency system. In this space, we’ll continue the theme of identifying an unfavorable aspect of restricted free agent: The offer sheet.

When it comes to the NBA, the term “offer sheet” refers to a contract offer made by an opposing team to a current restricted free agent. Once the player signs this offer sheet, their current franchise has three days to match the proposed offer or lose the player to the new suitor.

Restricted free agency, in its purest form, has strong benefits for players and team executives.

For the player, it allows them to dip their feet into the free agency pool in an effort to secure a more lucrative payday. Many restricted free agents have gotten larger pay days than expected since teams often make a significant offer so the player’s original team may not match.

For a league executive, restricted free agency allows the market to set the value of the player instead of needlessly bidding against themselves.

But here’s the rub… and where things can get ugly.

Restricted free agents are routinely the last set of guys to get paid when the market opens each summer. This is because teams are reluctant to tie up valuable salary cap space for up to three days while the player’s current franchise decides whether to match the respective offer sheet. In the worst-case scenario, a team will make a large offer, tie up their money for three days, miss out on the player because the other team matched the offer sheet and, in the meantime, miss out on other free agents who signed during that 72-hour period.

So for restricted free agents, unless they are elite-level guys, there’s plenty of waiting involved in the process as the market develops around them. This extended waiting period to get paid naturally leads to a sense of resentment toward their current team for not ponying up the dough quickly.

By the time a restricted free agent is able to get an opposing team to extend an offer sheet, the player is usually ready for a change of scenery due to the perception that their current front office was sitting on its hands and treating them unfairly. Of course, the franchise was just doing its due diligence based on the current rules of the system. But to the player, it is a huge bruise to the ego.

Today, we’ll take a look at what happens after the offer sheet is matched and the player has to return to the team after a turbulent offseason full of tension.

History shows that once it gets to the point where an offer sheet must be matched, the relationship between player and franchise will eventually come to an end. Some of it is the player leaving via free agency at the first opportunity; other times, it’s the franchise waiting for the perfect opportunity to trade the player. But one thing is certain: many player-team relationships have been damaged to some extent due to the nature of the restricted free agency process.

Let’s take a look at some examples of what happened after another team’s offer sheet was matched:

Jeff Teague, Point Guard
July 2013:
Atlanta Hawks matched the Milwaukee Bucks’ offer of four years, $32 million
End Result: Hawks traded Teague to Indiana in July 2016

The Hawks traded Teague to the Indiana Pacers this summer, but the writing had been on the wall for quite some time. From the team drafting point guard Dennis Schroder after head coach Mike Budenholzer was hired to the former All-Star being relegated to bench duty late in games, it became clear that it was just a matter of time until Atlanta pulled the trigger on a Teague deal.

It is common knowledge that the restricted free agency process left a sour taste in Teague’s mouth. The point guard struggled to understand why the Hawks organization didn’t shower him with a lucrative offer from day one of the process. But the Hawks, then led by general manager Danny Ferry, wanted to bring Teague back but not at a penny over what the market said he was worth. Once the team matched the deal, it was all smiles – but the tension during the process never subsided and Teague was eventually traded before he was set to hit unrestricted free agency next summer.

Nicolas Batum, Guard / Forward
July 2012:
The Portland Trail Blazers matched the Minnesota Timberwolves’ four-year, $46 million offer
End Result: Portland traded Batum to the Charlotte Hornets in July 2015

Batum signed the Timberwolves’ offer sheet in order to join a young core that featured Kevin Love at the time. Batum grew frustrated with Portland’s handling of his free agency and his agent was adamant that the player wanted a change of scenery after signing the offer sheet.

Blazers general manager Neil Olshey has a different take on the saga:

“The decision was made a long time ago,” Olshey said in July 2012, according to ESPN. “We were never not going to have Nicolas back. We did investigate certain things with Minnesota as a due diligence deal. We wanted to make sure we explored every option to improve our basketball team, but there was never a situation where there was a commensurate package offered back that was attractive enough to let Nicolas go.

“He’s always expressed a desire to come back to Portland. His agent did what he needed to do, which is get him the best possible deal for his client. He feels like he did that. Nicolas got his deal, we got our player back and we’ll move on.”

Batum’s restricted free agency saga was filled with tough negotiations and both sides trying to call the other’s bluff at varying time. Ultimately the deal got done, but the relationship didn’t last the duration of the signed deal.

Paul Millsap, Power Forward
July 2009:
The Utah Jazz matched the Portland Trail Blazers’ four-year, $32 million offer
End Result: Millsap bolted Utah in free agency once the contract ended to sign with Atlanta in July 2013

The Blazers front-loaded their offer to Millsap in an effort to make it more difficult for Utah to match, but the Jazz ultimately decided to bring Millsap back into the fold anyway. At the time, Utah was close to $5 million over the luxury tax threshold. There were big questions about Millsap’s worth at the time, as he made less than $800,000 the previous season and the team had former All-Star Carlos Boozer on the roster ahead of him on the depth chart. Millsap would eventually become the primary starter for Utah after Boozer departed via free agency in 2010, but left the franchise once he became an unrestricted free agent in 2013.

Eric Gordon, Shooting Guard
July 2012:
New Orleans matched the Phoenix Suns’ four-year, $58 million offer
End Result: Gordon signed a four-year deal with Houston this summer once the contract ended

Gordon’s desire not to play in New Orleans has been documented plenty of times, but the two sides at least made the last few seasons amicable. However, once Gordon got a chance to choose his destination, he bolted to Houston.

But if you want to know how players feel about restricted free agency in general, look no further than Gordon’s comments during the summer of 2012 before the Pelicans matched the Suns’ offer sheet.

“Being restricted, you’re just being taken advantage of,” Gordon said, according to NOLA.com. “[The system] is built for players after their rookie contracts to play with their [existing] team. I can’t deny it or have a judgment against that.”

Gordon also flat out said that he hoped to join the Suns, and criticized New Orleans’ roster make up.

“There’s been no negotiations,” Gordon said, according to NOLA.com. “As for now, I don’t know what’s going on. [If the Pelicans match] as of right now, I’d be disappointed.”

“I was a little surprised [New Orleans drafted Austin Rivers]; we have no center and no bigs,” he added. “You look at our roster right now, what do we have, one big? Jason Smith? Before Anthony Davis, we had no bigs. My thing is, if you’re trying to be a good team, and you’ve got a young team, you’ve got to fill in spaces. I am the shooting guard. We’ve got plenty of point guards on our team right now.”

These were some of the most honest and critical quotes to come from a restricted free agent, but New Orleans ultimately decided to match the offer anyway. Still, the bad blood caused by restricted free agency was on full display here (and of course Gordon’s initial trade from the Los Angeles Clippers caused the initial tension).

Roy Hibbert, Center
July 2012:
The Indiana Pacers matched the Portland Trail Blazers’ four-year, $58 million offer
End Result: The Pacers traded Hibbert to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2015 for a second-round pick

Portland kicked off free agency with a bang in 2012 by offering Hibbert a max-level deal. The Pacers promptly matched the terms and the team enjoyed strong success the following two seasons. However, the Pacers eventually moved on from the core group and Hibbert was sent packing to Los Angeles.

There weren’t many reports of bad blood in the case of Hibbert, as Indiana seemingly chose to just let the market set their center’s value. But at the end of the day, Hibbert didn’t finish out this contract in Indiana.

Marcin Gortat, Center
July 2012:
The Orlando Magic matched the Dallas Mavericks’ five-year $34 million deal
End Result: The Magic dealt Gortat in a three-team deal to Phoenix the following offseason

Before free agency even started, Gortat was publicly stating he wanted to compete for a starting job. But this was 2009 and former All-Star center Dwight Howard was at the top of his game so it wasn’t happening in Orlando.

The Mavericks came offering big money to Gortat, who made less than $800,000 the season before, to compete for their starting spot. Gortat’s camp made it clear they wanted a change of scenery, but the Magic didn’t want to lose such a promising big man prospect for nothing in return.

“It was definitely about the opportunity to find out how good he can really be,” Gortat’s agent Guy Zucker said, according to ESPN at the time. “We had requested that Orlando not match the offer. We stated the fact that he sincerely wanted the chance to carve his own path, be his own man, so to speak, which is not going to be realistically possible in Orlando.”

The Magic matched the deal and subsequently traded Gortat out of town a year later.

DeAndre Jordan, Center
December 2011:
The Los Angeles Clippers matched the Golden State Warriors’ four-year, $43 million offer
End Result: Jordan played out this contract and remains in Los Angeles, but gave a verbal commitment to Dallas in 2015 when he became an unrestricted free agent. Jordan then abruptly changed his mind and headed back to the Clippers.

Then-Clippers-GM Neil Olshey was blunt when talking about the team’s approach of taking their time dealing with Jordan’s free agency.  It was all about retaining salary cap flexibility.

“There are strategic reasons, there are some sequential transactions that have to happen first,” Olshey said, according to ESPN when asked whether the team would match Jordan’s offer sheet. “We’ve still got $3.5 million in cap room and before we give up that flexibility we have to exhaust every opportunity that we have to use the remaining cap room we have.

“But I would expect DeAndre to be here smiling and being goofy and doing skits with Blake [Griffin] at some point at media day.”

Jordan played out the contract, but flirted with the idea of bolting to Dallas; he gave the Mavs a verbal commitment after reports of internal Clippers issues. The veteran center represents the only player on this list that signed another deal with the same team after the matched offer sheet.

Other players who were matched in restricted free agency but didn’t re-sign with the same team after the contract ended are Josh Smith (offered a five-year deal worth $58 million by Memphis) and J.J. Redick (offered a three-year deal worth $19 million by Chicago).

Players in a similar position to watch in the coming years

Gordon Hayward: Utah matched Charlotte’s four-year, $63 million offer in 2014.

Enes Kanter: Oklahoma City matched Portland’s four-year, $70 million offer in 2015.

Allan Crabbe: Portland matched Brooklyn’s four-year, $75 million offer in 2016.

Tyler Johnson: Miami matched Brooklyn’s four-year, $50 million offer in 2016.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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