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.
NBA Daily: Pelicans Might Be Better Off Without DeMarcus Cousins
Without DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis has excelled. It might not be a coincidence.
Forget Kawhi Leonard, the most interesting storyline of this NBA summer is going to be DeMarcus Cousins.
By now, if you’ve wondered whether the New Orleans Pelicans would be better off without the talented big man, you’re certainly not alone.
Just ask the Portland Trail Blazers.
On Saturday, the Pelicans pulled off an improbable sweep of the third-seeded Blazers in the first round of their best-of-seven playoff series. And while the immediate question that comes to mind is what to make of the Blazers, a similar question can be (and should be) asked of the Pelicans.
Without question, Cousins is one of the most gifted big men the NBA has sen in quite some time, but it shouldn’t be lost on any of us that Anthony Davis began to put forth superhuman efforts when Cousins was absent.
Ever heard the saying that too many cooks spoil the brew?
That may be pricisely the case here.
Sure, having good players at your disposal is a problem that most head coach in the league would sign up for, but it takes a special type of player to willingly cede touches and shots in the name of the best interests of the team.
We once had a similar conversation about Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, mind you. Those that recognized that Westbrook’s ball dominance and inefficiency took opportunities away from Durant to be the best version of himself once believed that the Oklahoma City Thunder would have been wise to pitch Westbrook to New Orleans back when Chris Paul was still manning their perimeter.
For what it’s worth, with Cousins in the lineup, he averaged 18 shots per game. In the 48 games he played this season, the Pelicans were 27-21. With him in the lineup, Davis shot the ball 17.6 times per game and scored 26.5 points per contest.
In the 34 games the Pelicans played without Cousins, Davis’ shot attempts increased fairly significantly. He got 21.9 attempts per contest and similarly increased his scoring output to 30.2 points per game.
Aside from that, Cousins’ presence in the middle made it a tad more difficult for Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday to have the pace and space they need to be most effective. With both Davis and Cousins, the Pelicans struggled to consistently string together wins. Without Cousins, they improbably became the first team in the Western Conference to advance to the second round.
That Cousins tore his achilles tendon and is just a few months from becoming an unrestricted free agent combine to make him the most interesting man in the NBA.
* * * * * *
With Chris Paul having decided that the grass was probably greener with James Harden and Mike D’Antoni than it was with Doc Rivers and Blake Griffin, the Clippers fulfilled his request to be trade to the Houston Rockets and re-signed Griffin to a five-year max. deal. In doing so, they both gave Griffin a stark reminder of what life in the NBA is like and provided a blueprint for teams to follow when they have a superstar player with whom they believe to have run their course.
The glass half full perspective might be that Davis has simply become a better, healthier, more effective player and that with Cousins, he would have another weapon that could help catapult the Pelicans ever further toward the top of the Western Conference. But the half-empty glass might yield another conclusion.
At the end of the day, although he still hasn’t appeared in a single playoff game, Cousins is regarded as a game-changing talent and is one of the few players available on the free agency market this summer that could justify an annual average salary of $30 million. In all likelihood, the Pelicans will re-sign him for a sum that approaches that, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best move.
In the end, the Clippers traded Griffin for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, a first round pick and a second round pick. All things considered, it was a great haul for the Clippers when you consider that, just a few months prior, they could have lost Griffin as a free agent and gotten nothing in return.
Remarkably, after seeing Griffin dealt to Detroit, in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on a collision course with the Golden State Warriors. Their health a constant concern, the team will have to deal with the pesky perimeter defense of Holiday and Rondo and versatility and two-way effectiveness of Davis.
Nobody gave New Orleans a chance against Portland, and for sure, not many people are going to believe in their ability to score an upset over the defending champions. But believe it or not, New Orleans has become a different team. And they’ve done so without Cousins.
Indeed, believe it or not, the Clippers gave us a blueprint for what a team should do when it has a superstar who might not be the best long-term fit for their program.
And if the Pelicans were wise, they’d be smart to follow it.
NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams
This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.
This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.
As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.
With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.
Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.
Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.
With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.
However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?
Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.
Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.
In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.
So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.
However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.
Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.
At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.
Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.
For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.
On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.
With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.
Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.
Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.
Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success
The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.
The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.
The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.
Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.
He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.
“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”
It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.
Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.
“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”
The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.
This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.
“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”
Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.
While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.
“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”
Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.
For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.
“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”
These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.
This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.
“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”