The Pending Free Agent Watch List
There are 239 NBA players who could become eligible for some type of free agency in July of 2017. Of those players, 25 hold a Player Option for next season and many will likely opt out. Thirty of those players are possible restricted free agents by way of a Qualifying Offer from their current team. Sixty-two of those players have a Team Option for next season, and many are likely to be free agents if they continue to underplay their deal. Two players – Chris Paul and Blake Griffin – hold an Early Termination Option.
While it’s unlikely that all 239 players actually hit the market, there are a couple of would-be free agents who are worth watching as the 2016-17 NBA season starts to gear up this month – mainly because all of them could walk away from their current team and leave them with nothing.
Jeff Teague – Indiana Pacers
The Pacers just got Teague into town in a draft-day trade and are hopeful he is the long-term answer at point guard for a team that’s very quietly become a sneaky contender in the Eastern Conference.
The problem for the Pacers is that, historically, players who have been traded the year before free agency tend to go shopping when it’s time for a new deal. That could get dicey for Indiana.
Teague is eligible to have his contract re-negotiated, much like the Oklahoma City Thunder did with Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets did with James Harden. The issue there is that Paul George also becomes re-structure eligible on September 25. The Pacers are sitting on about $6 million in cap space – enough to get George to the current NBA max, but not enough to also sign Teague to a new deal.
Unless the Pacers opt to dump a contract and create more room, re-structuring Teague’s deal does not seem to be in the cards, which means a stroll through unrestricted free agency for the point guard and a ton of risk for Indiana.
The good news for the Pacers is that Teague is a hometown kid who has said he’s very excited about the long-term future in Indiana. The problem with that is there are no guarantees there and if Teague does flourish with the Pacers, will they play the game in a free-agent bidding war?
The Pacers could put an end to all of this with a new deal for Teague, but to get there they’d need to make a trade. At this point, the Pacers do not seem overly concerned about making one.
Jrue Holiday – New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans made a strong run at free agent point guard Ty Lawson, and they also recently brought free agent Lance Stephenson in for a workout. Sources close to the situation say that the Pelicans are looking for backcourt depth and considering the long injury history of both Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, it’s understandable that the Pelicans are not ready to bet their future on what they have.
Both Holiday and Evans are entering the final year of their respective contracts, and it’s a safe bet that one or both players aren’t back next season.
Holiday is the more intriguing of the two, mainly because when he has been healthy he’s been very productive on both end of the court. However, the stretches of good health have been too few and far between.
Here are the questions New Orleans has to ponder: How many games can Holiday really log this year? And at what point do the Pelicans face the inevitable that Holiday likely walks in July?
The Pelicans seem to be at least exploring what their options are now, which likely means that as the deadline gets closer and their season comes into better focus, making a deal around Holiday or Evans becomes a real option.
Considering Holiday has played in just 139 games in his three seasons in New Orleans, it’s hard to envision he returns a ton of value in trade. But for the Pelicans – who just got nothing for Ryan Anderson’s free agency – would letting another player (or two) walk for nothing really be smart?
The guard spots are absolutely something to watch in New Orleans. The Pelicans seem like they are open to ideas.
Rudy Gay – Sacramento Kings – $14.2 million Player Option
The Kings and Rudy Gay are headed toward a divorce; it’s only a matter of time. Gay holds a Player Option for next season and even though $14.2 million seems like the right number for Gay, even in this new bloated contract environment, he likely opts-out not for the first number, but the last number on his new deal.
It’s unlikely Gay fetches a deal more than $14 million annually as a free agent, but can he get a team to lock in two or three more contract years in the process? More importantly, opting out would allow him to choose his next team.
Gay’s option year makes consummating a trade tough. Some of the teams that like Gay (that’s you, Houston) don’t want the 2017-18 contract year. The teams that are interested in the contract year want Gay to opt-in and lock in that security, but it doesn’t seem he’s ready to commit to that.
The Kings are expected to open camp with the roster as it stands, but as things start to take shape, there is little doubt Gay is one of the odd guys out, especially if the fit is less than ideal.
Uncertainty is a problem in any transaction in the NBA, but as things get closer to the trade deadline and teams fail to meet their objectives, obtaining a versatile small forward who more than likely opts out is a viable possibility. Word is the Kings do not want a ton in return for him, so this one seems like a matter of when rather than if.
Zach Randolph – Memphis Grizzlies
If you follow the Grizzlies, you may feel that it’s hard to imagine Zach Randolph not finishing his career in Memphis. The question is, will the Grizzlies go the Tim Duncan route and give Randolph years on his next deal in exchange for a lower cap value? Or, do the Grizz cash Randolph out in trade and move into the future?
Even though the Grizz can exceed the cap to sign Randolph to any number they want in July, is it smart to make a longer-term or big-dollar investment in Randolph? It’s romantic to think that he would take a huge pay cut to stay in Memphis, but it’s not really practical to believe it happens.
The Grizzlies have to come to terms with what Zach is in the near-term as they enter training camp. If Randolph can bounce back to form in what will be his 16th season in the NBA, that’s good for the Grizzlies. But at some point, they are going to have to find minutes and a role not only for big free agent addition Chandler Parsons but also rookie Deyonta Davis. A case can be made that there is no better teacher and tutor for the new Grizz players than Randolph. That may very well be true, but should the Grizzlies really try to keep Zach beyond this year, especially with the new coaching staff and system coming in that’s expected to increase the tempo? That’s the real question; if the answer is no, there is little question he has trade value around the NBA.
Trading Randolph is not overly likely, but as the deadline gets closer and the Grizzlies have a sense of who they really are in the West, that could change.
Paul Millsap – Atlanta Hawks – $21.4 million Player Option
We have talked about Millsap in this space before and the story from Atlanta is that Millsap is a cornerstone to their season. Whether that’s true in the long-term remains to be seen, but in the short-term the Hawks see Millsap as the counterbalance to Dwight Howard and a focal point for their season.
Here’s the question: If the Hawks are not out of the gate world-beaters – if they are a middling team in the East – do they hang on to Millsap? Keep in mind, he can walk as a free agent.
League sources say the value of a would-be free agent diminishes the longer a team holds on to him, so if the Hawks are not sold Millsap will stay in his $21.4 million Player Option, can they really risk letting him potentially walk in July?
Sources close to the Hawks say the relationship between Millsap and management is actually pretty good, even despite the trade rumors around the draft. They say that there has been an honest, open dialogue about Millsap’s role and future in Atlanta.
But if the Hawks get out of the gate at 5-15, does all of that change?
Millsap is absolutely a name to watch as the trade deadline gets closer. But like many of the guys on this list, he’s not someone the Hawks would look to move today – if they looked at moving him at all.
Greg Monroe – Milwaukee Bucks – $17.8 million Player Option
The next month or so will be huge in understanding if Monroe has a long-term future in Milwaukee. To say the fit is less than an ideal is an understatement and given how the Bucks and Monroe constructed his contract, extracting value out of a trade is going to be tough if the fit does not improve.
Sometimes, a player and team reaches an agreement on a hard-to-trade contract structures as a sign of faith in the partnership. In Monroe’s case, he holds all the power.
To get value for Monroe, a team is going to want to know he’ll stay in his deal for next season because the value proposition on a Monroe rental is very different than if he’ll opt-in to his Player Option at $17.8 million.
The Bucks are not expected to make any bold changes before training camp opens; in fact, this is likely the squad that opens the regular season. The big unknown to all of it is at what point does Milwaukee cut their losses on Monroe? And how helpful will Monroe be in helping the Bucks get anything of substance in return for him?
If this past summer taught teams any lesson, it’s that home-court advantage is not much of an advantage when it comes to retaining free agents. With many of the names above, their home team may be unwilling to pay current market value to keep them beyond this season, meaning most (if not all) could be traded at some point before the trade deadline in February.
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