Monday morning, Jack Winter started Basketball Insiders’ newest series titled Trade Targets, where he looked at the best players that could potentially be on the trade market when the fateful Feb. 7 deadline arrives.
Today, we take a look at the Northwest Division. Before we get to it, we need to set the stage. With the exception of the Oklahoma City Thunder, every single team in the Northwest came into the season aiming to make the playoffs. Since the season began, everyone’s seasons have been pretty topsy-turvy.
Up until the last few weeks, there were red flags everywhere concerning the Utah Jazz’s season outlook. Now, there’s red alarms everywhere concerning Utah’s potential. Coming off their run to the Conference Finals, the Portland Trail Blazers’ injury-plagued roster has put their playoff hopes in jeopardy. The Minnesota Timberwolves were turning some heads early on. Then, those heads instantly turned back after a miserable December. The Denver Nuggets are the one team that’s looked like a great team from the get-go, but it’s odd that they managed to keep things afloat while Nikola Jokic got himself into game shape.
The one team that’s shown consistency has oddly been the one team that didn’t have much current aspiration to begin with — Oklahoma City. With the season entering its halfway point, teams are going to look wherever they can to add to their playoff hopes. The Northwest Division has quite a few of those.
If you’re familiar with our guys up in the Northwest, then you probably know who’s going to show up on here.
Let’s just get this out of the way — this is going to be very Thunder-centric because they could very well dominate the trade buzz from here on from now until the deadline. If we’re being honest, they’ve taken over the rumor mill ever since the Russell Westbrook-Chris Paul swap, so seeing their name in any new buzz shouldn’t send any shockwaves.
We should rename the Thunder, “The Oklahoma City Clash” because the title of OKC’s season right now is “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” Even though the plan reportedly has been to trade away what they can to start fresh, they have a likable winning team on their hands.
They have all the makings of a squad who would give any contender fits in the playoffs. Yet, as much of a fun story that they’ve been, their play hasn’t deterred the front office from their original objective. Their most recent loss at the hands of the LeBron James-less and Anthony Davis-less Los Angeles Lakers served as a good reminder that they’re not going anywhere near a title.
From the looks of things, Oklahoma City is going to cut ties with all of its best players not named Shai-Gilgeous Alexander. To evaluate this fully, we have to do this in order from most expendable to least expendable. Usually, that starts with the player whose contract is the closest to expendable
Danilo Gallinari — $22,615,559
Gallinari’s return to full health is one of the stories that doesn’t get enough attention around the league. Over the years, we’ve forgotten about what he can do on the court because of both his prolonged injury history and playing for irrelevant Denver teams between Andre Iguodala’s departure and pre-Nikola Jokic.
He had quite the resurgence with the Los Angeles Clippers last season, and that’s only continued since playing for the Thunder. While Gallo has not been able to maintain the same efficiency he had in LA last season — averaging almost 20 points on 46/43/90 splits — his numbers this season, 18.3 points on 43/40/90 splits, should make him a desired asset on the market.
Plenty of teams can use a feared scorer like Gallo. His scoring abilities won’t make him an alpha dog but a very respectable secondary scorer. Teams like Toronto, Phoenix, and, for some reason, Boston, have expressed interest in Gallinari and for good reason. His ability to score from just about anywhere can make a huge difference in the playoffs.
The only qualm is the expiration date. Teams don’t usually pay top dollar for an expiring deal. As good as Gallinari is, OKC shouldn’t expect much of a haul for him since he’ll be looking for a new deal six months from now. Then again, their ship already came in from the deals they made last summer, so they won’t lose much sleep over it.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti’s best option might be just to wait it out until the summer then work out a sign-and-trade with Gallinari. That’s what Denver did back in 2017, and it got them Paul Millsap. Presti doesn’t have to get a Millsap-type to cash in on Gallo. He just has to add to an already strong foundation of assets.
Steven Adams — $25,842,697
Adams has been through it all with the Thunder. He was there when they came within inches of returning to The Finals. When they almost upset the Warriors. When they lost Kevin Durant. When Russell Westbrook had his MVP season. When Paul George came to town. When Carmelo Anthony followed. When the team bowed out in disappointing fashion. When they somewhat blew it up.
Adams has been there to witness it all.
Now, it looks like his time might be up in OKC. What’s somewhat sad about this is that Adams has been a good soldier throughout all the turmoil. He always kept his head up and did his job no matter what changes he had to go through with the Thunder. That’s one of his more subtle appeals. Adams is a presence in your locker room.
The main appeal to the New Zealander? He’s pure beef in the frontcourt. The guys clogs up the paint. Any team who needs an upgrade in the frontcourt will get its money’s worth. This season, he’s putting up a respectable 12/10, as well as putting up his usual fantastic rim protection. Adams is currently is surrendering a respectable 54.2 shooting percentage at the rim. Should he make his way to a contender, he can change the equation when defending the post.
The only teams who have been linked to Adams have been Sacramento and Atlanta. Neither team exactly fits the contender profile, but their youth movement could be a suitable change of pace for Adams, who’s only 26. It wouldn’t be the worst fate in the world, but NBA fandom would prefer to see him on a contender again.
Dennis Schroder – 15,500,000
It’s depressing that on his second team, Schroder is again playing the perfect role for him — the very overqualified backup point guard — on a team that again is facing its final days. It’s not his fault that much like how it was in Atlanta, there isn’t much use for him now in Oklahoma City.
Much attention has been given to OKC’s three-point guard lineup containing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul and Schroder. Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander get the most attention for that because one is a star veteran while another is a star on the rise. Not enough is being put on Schroder, which honestly is kind of unfair.
The three of them together are plus-29 when they share the court, which has the highest net rating among any Oklahoma City three-man lineup that has logged 200 minutes or more. If you don’t think Schroder has a lot to do with that, check out the net rating of the next five three-man lineups.
Chris Paul-Danilo Gallinari-Dennis Schroder: Plus-22.2
Chris Paul-Steven Adams-Dennis Schroder: Plus-20
Danilo Gallinari-Steven Adams-Dennis Schroder: Plus-19.5
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-Steven Adams-Dennis Schroder: Plus-17.2
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-Danilo Gallinari-Dennis Schroder: Plus-16.9
Seeing a pattern?
For the duration of his entire career, Schroder’s developed a reputation for being the league’s best backup point guard. On his next team, wherever that is, Schroder should slide in just fine whether if he’s starting or coming off the bench. Let’s just hope he stays there when that happens.
Chris Paul — $38,506,482
*Hot Take* Chris Paul is still an elite player.
He’s still an excellent floor general. He’s still capable of taking over games. He’s killing it from mid-range. He’s still a reliable three-point shooter. He still plays great defense. He’s no longer the very best in the league — if he was, Oklahoma City would probably keep their squad together — but his play this season has been so good that just about everyone in the league is begging for his services to be put on a contender.
It’s just the elephant in the room that’s been there since last year. As his game continues to age, his contract further plummets as an albatross. There is some draw to that, though, when you look at what he’s still able to do. He’s very available right now. Oklahoma City will do just about anything to get off his deal. As bad as that contract is, Paul has plenty of playoff experience on his belt, and he’s even proven from his time in Houston and Oklahoma City that he can adjust accordingly as his prime dwindles.
The options are limited. Only teams like Miami and Dallas have the expendable contracts to acquire Paul. Those teams have been better than advertised, yes. Are they winning a championship with their current squads? No. Does acquiring Paul change that? It’s possible. Of course then, they have to consider cap flexibility and all, which is hard to give up. This writer has also written about where he thinks CP3’s ideal team would be.
Even if he’s badly overpaid, a player with as much talent as Chris Paul can basically be had without having to exchange any valuable assets. If getting him on your team gives you a championship window, then what does it matter how much you have to pay him for the next two years?
Robert Covington — $11,301,219
The Wolves are at a crossroads right now. They could roll with this crew if they’d like. They can fight tooth and nail for a playoff spot, and maybe even get one. Doing so would make the season a success. It would probably lead to a sweep in the first round, but expectations were low coming into this season. They should be proud of themselves if they make the playoffs.
Or, they can punt on the season. Is it worth fighting that hard for such little reward that is the last playoff spot? If they decide to tank, there’s only one other team in the Western Conference that’s all but out of the playoffs right now — the Golden State Warriors. The opportunity to increase your lottery odds has never been bigger.
If they choose Option B, then Robert Covington easily becomes one of the most coveted players at the trade deadline. RoCo has one of the most desired skillsets a team vying for a championship could want. He’s an All-NBA Defense alum and has shown that he can’t be left wide open from three.
Covington’s already been in a fair amount of trade rumors. The worse Minny plays, the likelier they are to trade him because a win-now veteran like Covington doesn’t have a place on a team like that. Someone like him should be put on a team that’s fighting for more than just a playoff spot.
The upside for the Timberwolves is, because of what he does and because of how cheap his contract is, Covington should fetch some good value back. For the Timberwolves, he might be better as an asset than as a player.
Malik Beasley — $2,731,714
It’s not often you see a productive player on a rookie contract get mentioned among the more valuable trade targets. If all the buzz surrounding the Denver Nuggets and Beasley is true, then we’ve got a potential steal in the works.
After taking a leap in his third year as a pro, Beasley’s seen his minutes take somewhat of a dive this season. Going from an average of 23.2 minutes to 16.7 shouldn’t come as a welcome development for Beasley. He established himself a long-range threat last season, shooting 40.2 percent from three. While his minutes and point average have declined, Beasley’s ability to stretch the floor has not wavered, as he’s still shot 38.6 from deep on the season.
It may only get worse. Michael Porter Jr’s development is starting to get some great results. He and Beasley don’t play the same position, but as Porter gets more minutes, more players in the active rotation are going to have their minutes adjusted to make room for him. Beasley might just be the odd man out.
If that turns out to be the case, expect teams in need of a three-point shooter — or really, anyone trying to win it all — to come calling Denver. They’d be foolish to trade Beasley to a rival, so don’t be shocked if they trade him somewhere in the east if it comes to that.
He will be a restricted free agent this summer, so it’s not like the Nuggets are caught between a rock and a hard place on this one. If they trade him, it means they don’t see him as a building block going forward. If they don’t, then they clearly see value in him.
There was some temptation to put Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore on this list, but at this point in time, if they were to get traded, teams that would trade for them would pull the trigger more for matching contract purposes than to acquire their talent.
The race to the championship should only get tighter as the season goes on. If trade season plays a major role in shaping up who wins the championship this season, don’t be too shocked if the players in the Northwest Division have something to do with it.
NBA Daily: Free-Agent Watch: Centers
Drew Maresca continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch by discussing the robust class of centers set to hit the market.
The NBA is returning incredibly soon, but it definitely won’t be the same – at least not initially.
While most aspects of the game will hopefully return to normal as soon as next season – and other fun surprises like the return of Jamal Crawford and Michael Beasley to the Brooklyn Nets (the latter of whom is still in negotiations) will bring some unexpected joy to an otherwise nerve-wracking situation – the long-term financial implications of COVID-19 are very real. Immediately, players will sign lesser deals due to an assumedly smaller salary cap and teams with multiple max contracts on their books will struggle to surround their star players with the support they need to compete.
With that being said, Basketball Insiders is identifying the best free agents at each position with the new and unique realities facing NBA teams in mind. Today we turn out attention to the men in the middle. The center position has changed dramatically since the 1990s, when having an elite big man was practically a necessity. But the definition of “elite” has changed drastically between that era and this one. Historically, big men hunkered down in the post — they were burly and physical, blocked shots and grabbed rebounds. What they did not do was stretch the floor, handle the ball or defend guards like many at the position do today.
So let’s dive into the best centers available in free agency.
Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors – Unrestricted – $25,595,7500
Gasol will be an unrestricted free agent following this season. And, from the surface, his prospects wouldn’t seem great; Gasol missed considerable time in 2019-20, playing in only 36 games due to a hamstring injury, which resulted in career lows in scoring, rebounds and blocks per game.
That said, there’s still some room for optimism – and it’s squarely rooted in his weight.
Gasol has slimmed down quite a bit since COVID-19 forced the NBA to shut down in mid-March. Returning lighter and more fit should allow him to move more seamlessly with the team on the court and further leverage his athleticism. It should also enable him to stay on the floor for longer stretches, another positive as Gasol’s presence on the court has often been positive for the Raptors; of Toronto’s six lineups that logged 100 or more minutes, Gasol is in all three that are at least +10 and didn’t play at all in the other three (which were -4.1, -10 and +3.1, respectively).
What’s more, Gasol’s a great passer, an excellent defender (he allowed the tenth fewest points per touch last season) and his three-point shooting has continued to improve dramatically (he shot 40.2% on 3.5 three-point attempts in 2019-20 – second among centers in the entire league behind only Karl-Anthony Towns).
Gasol isn’t the modern and mobile “point center,” but adding bits and pieces of that style to his game has surely made him a valuable asset on the open market, even at the age of 35 and despite the lackluster regular season. He’ll have eight games plus the playoffs to prove that he’s healthy and ready to contribute — if Gasol can step back up, he should be in line for a nice payday.
Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers – Unrestricted – $27,093,018
Whiteside was meant to be a stop-gap for the Trail Blazers. Portland’s plan was always to bide their time until Jusuf Nurkic was able to return from a compound fracture of his left tibia and fibula.
But the 31-year-old put forth such an impressive 2019-20 campaign that, while it’s highly unlikely the team recants their dedication to Nurkic, Whiteside has almost certainly secured himself a major deal for next season.
Just look at Whiteside’s 2019-20 output so far; he improved essentially each month, which culminated in 19.6 points, 14.8 rebounds and 5 blocks per contest across five games in March. Further, Whiteside connected on 57.1% of his three-point attempts – even if he only launched seven all year. If Whiteside can convert threes at that rate – even at such a limited volume – he remains a threat who defenders must cover all the way to the three-point line.
To put Whiteside’s season in context, he secured a career high in points per game, led the league in blocks per game (3.1) and is the second-leading rebounder in the entire NBA. Not bad, right? It may not come from Portland, but Whiteside would certainly seem to be in line for a raise, and a big one at that. And, given his age, don’t be surprised to see him jump at potentially his last chance to cash in big.
Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers – Unrestricted – $3,500,000
Howard signed a one-year, non-guaranteed deal with the Lakers last summer. Expectations were relatively low, especially considering he was a last-minute signing; Howard was signed in August after DeMarcus Cousins suffered a knee injury.
But expectations and reality are not always aligned. Despite his age — Howard turned 34 last December — and the lack of actual playtime to go around with Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee soaking up most of the time at the five, Howard managed an impressive bounce-back season. In 62 games, Howard averaged 7.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while hitting 73.2 percent of his shots and playing strong defense in just over 19 minutes per game.
Per-36, those numbers look even better: 14.1 points, 13,8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per-36 minutes.
It could be tough for the Lakers to re-sign Howard, as they have about $75 million in guaranteed contracts next year before inking Davis to a massive new deal. That said, and while Howard will be competing with veterans like DeMarcus Cousins for a roster spot, he’s built a strong case for himself – especially if he’s willing to take another discount and continue to accept more of a reserve role.
Andre Drummond, Cleveland Cavaliers – Player Option — $28,751,774
The Cavaliers traded for Drummond for pennies on the dollar. Less than that, even.
In exchange for Brandon Knight, John Henson and a future second-round pick, the Cavaliers netted a two-time All-Star and the NBA’s leading rebounder in each of the last three seasons. It’s not like there was a major downtick in his play this season, either; in 2019-20, Drummond averaged 17.7 points and 15.3 rebounds per game.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses in Cleveland.
Drummond’s situation with the Cavaliers appears to be pretty open-and-shut. He’s been quoted as saying that he will exercise his $28.7 million player option, adding nearly $30 million in salary to Cleveland’s 2020-21 salary cap. But, just because Drummond said it doesn’t make it a guarantee. The Cavaliers could attempt to negotiate a long-term deal, bringing down their 2020-21 cap hit and guaranteeing Drummond more total dollars to appease him.
But there are a few questions that must be addressed before offering Drummond anything beyond next season. Firstly, does Cleveland believe that he’s versatile enough to play center in the modern NBA? Drummond shot just 28.6% on three-point attempts this season and he’s a sub-50% career free-throw shooter. Do those deficiencies outweigh Drummond’s strong contributions elsewhere (i.e. his scoring, rebounding and defense)?
The second question for Cleveland has more to do with his timeline rather than his play. Do the Cavaliers want to further invest in players on a different timeline to that of much of their young core (Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Dante Exum, Kevin Porter Jr., etc.)? Drummond is set to turn 27 later this year and, while surrounding youth with a veteran leader is definitely the right move, Cleveland already has two of those veteran personalities in the locker room in Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.
That said, while Love is signed through 2022-23, Thompson — a similar player to Drummond — is set to hit unrestricted free agency at the end of the season.
Cleveland’s strategy as of this past February’s trade deadline didn’t appear entirely cohesive — they resisted trading Thompson (and could now lose him for nothing) only to add Drummond to the fold. And, going forward, it looks as if they have two options: either overwhelm their roster with mismatched talent and try to let it work itself out, or they can surrender Thompson now or Drummond next season. We’ll know which direction they prefer very soon.
DeMarcus Cousins, Los Angeles Lakers – Unrestricted – $3,500,000
Last we checked, Cousins was working his way back from a torn ACL suffered just prior to the start of the 2019-20 season. Cousins’ stats were very good, but not quite great; the former Golden State Warrior averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in 30 games last season, still hobbled in his recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Before that, Cousins was averaging 25.2 points and 12.9 rebounds per game, shooting an impressive 35.4% on three-point attempts while bullying opponents at the rim (63.1%).
So, is a team willing to gamble on Cousins bouncing back to that form? It will have to wait until next season, as Cousins has stated his intent to sit out the NBA’s restart in Orlando, but the answer is probably yes, but for the right price.
Cousins was (and probably still is) an uber-talented player. But, like Howard this season, he may have to take a backseat-type deal before he can truly bounce back and earn his next big payday.
Whatever Cousins does is, ultimately, up to him, but, whether with the Lakers or another squad, it would seem wise for Cousins to ride the wave next season with a squad that could go the distance. Rather than rush himself back and risk another potential injury, Cousins could slowly work his way back and show teams that he can still get it done at a high level before hitting the market next offseason looking to cash in.
The return to basketball is inevitable. Of course, not everyone is happy with it, but that won’t stop teams from taking advantage of the remaining games in order to scout players and absorb new information. There are opportunities for players to secure future contracts, while other players will probably play their way into retirement and or out of the league. The 2020 free agent period will probably be the most chaotic version of itself, ever, and, while it may be a little rough for the front offices, it’ll be all the more fun for us to cover and watch.
And it’ll all be here in just a few short months.
NBA Daily: Malachi Richardson Has Learned What It Means To Be A Pro
Spencer Davies catches up with Malachi Richardson about his participation in The Basketball Tournament, spending a season overseas and what it will take to get back to the NBA.
At this time last year, Malachi Richardson had just come off a championship-winning season with the Toronto Raptors, and he was set for a five-game Summer League stint with the Golden State Warriors.
One year later, the matured 24-year-old swingman is competing for Boeheim’s Army in The Basketball Tournament to showcase his talents, ultimately poised to earn his way back into the NBA after a season overseas.
“I miss playing and being on the court with teammates to find ways to work together and win,” Richardson told Basketball Insiders. I’ve been training hard at Impact with Joe Abunassar this offseason to perfect my game. It’s going to be fun.”
Sporting a slimmed-down frame — he’s lost 17 pounds — Richardson scored 15 points and grabbed three rebounds in his TBT debut, a win over Men of Mackey. The Syracuse alum will take on Team Sideline Cancer this weekend.
Despite his short stay at ‘Cuse, playing for the Orangemen holds a special place in Richardson’s heart. It was where he capitalized on his McDonald’s All-American high school status and put it into action on a national collegiate stage for a top program, making him an attractive prospect at the NBA level. In June 2016, the Charlotte Hornets took the talented wing with the No. 22 pick.
“I wouldn’t change anything about my process,” Richardson said of his decision to enter the draft as a freshman. “Our Final Four run at Syracuse was special and I often reflect on how fun the game was for me at the time.
“Being a one-and-done put me at an advantage to be able to learn the business side of basketball early, so that I learned what it will really take for me to have a long NBA career.”
Richardson was traded a couple of weeks later to the Sacramento Kings, where he spent the beginning portion of his career. He appeared in 22 games during his rookie season, and the minutes in those were scarce.
However, he took advantage of G League assignments with the Reno Bighorns. In 11 games, Richardson averaged over 21 points and 4 rebounds per game, nailing 46 percent of his threes. Things were looking up heading into his sophomore season.
Richardson received an uptick in minutes and even earned his first four starts with the Kings, but it wasn’t for long. Sacramento dealt him at the 2018 trade deadline to the Raptors. He’d spend the next year-and-a-half with Toronto; again, he made the most impact in the G League, this time with the Raptors 905.
“The G-League is great for young guys, especially on teams that may not have as much opportunity for you to get on the floor with the NBA team,” Richardson said. “It gave me a chance to stay sharp so if I did get an opportunity on the NBA floor, I would be ready.”
The silver lining in the situation? An NBA title. During his time up north, Richardson was a part of a championship organization and had a great mentor in Danny Green. The lessons he picked up along the way can’t be replaced.
“On and off the court,” Richardson said. “Being a champion and a player that has made a name for himself as a specialist in the league he definitely helped me figure out what I can potentially be for a team.
“Being with the Raptors showed me what it takes to win at a high level in the NBA. From film, scouting reports, taking care of your body with treatment. And just coming in each day mentally prepared. From day one, it was clear that the goal was to win a championship, and being young in that locker room has put me at a serious advantage today.”
When last July’s summer league concluded, Richardson didn’t receive a training camp invite. He ended up signing with Hapoel Holon of the Israeli Premier League through mid-December. Next up was a move to Italy to join Vanoli Cremona in Lega Basket Serie A.
For the first time in his career, he was traveling from country-to-country and making a living overseas. Luckily, his loved ones were along for the ride and made the transition that much easier.
“Coming home to my son and family every day after a game or practice helped me grow because it’s made me leave the different obstacles of a professional athlete at the door,” Richardson said.
“My son looks at me as daddy. I can’t come home after a long day and not interact with him. He made me forget about a lot of the tough days at the gym as soon as I step in the door.”
Unfortunately, in late January, Richardson suffered a fractured hand and was subsequently released a couple of weeks afterward. By the same token, he took advantage of the opportunities and his hard work showed. In 21 total games (12 starts) between the two teams, Richardson averaged over 11 points and nailed a pro-career-best 43.9 percent of his threes.
“Playing overseas was a great experience for me. Being able to see the world and experience the different types of play styles was important for my growth as a player.”
While Richardson’s embryonic career has not been as straightforward as your usual typical first-round pick, hindsight is always 20-20. He’s determined to show his development as a player and a person.
“I’ve learned what it means to be a pro,” Richardson said of his improvements. “Just finding ways to make the most of my body and what I can do to be effective on the court. These were things that I did not take as seriously as I should have the first time around.”
Mental preparation is a facet Richardson is no longer taking for granted. He understands that the NBA is a business, and if you’re not at the top of your game, it can be a harsh one. So he’s going to continue to use his time wisely, mainly perfecting his craft in the gym.
“The different things I need to do basketball-wise that lets me know I’m locked in and ready to play and practice at a high level,” Richardson said.
“Scoring the ball is one thing I think I can do with the best of them, and I’m working on becoming a more complete player. I’m a better passer now and a better defender. Learning as a professional, not just a basketball player, has helped my game grow.”
An NBA return is the goal.
In the meantime, Richardson will look to add another trophy to his collection in TBT.
“I am really putting in the work with this offseason to be ready for whatever comes my way. I hope to get a chance to work out for some teams this offseason and earn a chance to get a roster spot in camp,” Richardson said. “My family has been an amazing support system for me and I’ve been locked in with my workouts, taking care of my body and waiting for the right call to show what I’ve accomplished this past year.”
NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Power Forwards
Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch by examining the power forwards that could potentially be hitting the market this summer.
Welcome back to Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch series! We’re now making our way to the frontcourt players that could see a new team when the new NBA season starts in December.
On paper, the power forwards have the deepest pool of free agents talent-wise. Although, a few of these players on this list are mentioned because they potentially could hit the market. Common sense would say otherwise. Case in point — take a look at the first guy mentioned here.
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers – Player Option – $28,751,775
Yeah, we *technically* had to include Davis in here because he could *technically* hit the open market, and he *technically* is listed as a power forward since he plays the majority of his minutes at that spot — 62 percent this season alone, which was his highest since 2014-15. His free agency (if he becomes one) should be pretty straightforward.
Whether he opts in or not, expect Davis back with the Lakers. LeBron James and the Lakers gave up a lot to get him to Hollywood. The Lakers will be damned if they’re going to let him go after they’ve had their best season since 2011, and LeBron will be damned if he’s going to let him go because as much as he’s defied father time; he’s only got so many years left at the top. The two of them have made up the NBA’s best pairing this season. If that breaks up, it’ll be pretty much impossible to find an adequate replacement.
Considering all the drama that led up to the Lakers acquiring Davis, it would take a 99-yard hail mary pitch against the Legion of Boom to get him off the Lakers. This is the best team that Davis has been on his entire career by far, and when you have LeBron taking a lot of responsibility off your shoulders on a team vying for a championship, there’s not a whole lot of incentive to leave. Unless you’re Kyrie Irving.
That’s where the real question lies. Davis will definitely stay on the Lakers for as long as LeBron is right there with him, but how long will that be? LeBron will be on the books for two more years after this season, and everyone knows of his plans to play with his son Bronny in the near future. Should LeBron go leave to take part in the family business, Davis’ future with the Lakers goes up in the air. LA doesn’t have to worry about that for another two years — and those two years should be prosperous — but it’s something they should keep in the back of their minds. Especially if there’s fire to these “return-to-hometown-Chicago” rumblings.
Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers – Unrestricted – $6,000,000
When you have a championship window, you have to do everything you can to keep it open, even if it means paying more than what a guy is worth. People give Dan Gilbert so much grief for what he paid LeBron’s supporting cast in Cleveland, but give the guy credit. He knew he had an opportunity that he could not afford to let slip through his fingers. Now, Steve Ballmer has a similar predicament with Harell’s free agency coming up.
Harrell has easily been one of the league’s best bargain contract players over the past couple of years. Not many teams have bigs averaging 18/7 off the bench. The Clippers are the only team to have such a player while paying him chump change. They may no longer have that luxury when he hits the open market.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George create a championship window that needs to have as few holes as possible. Letting Harrell walk will create one that cannot easily be filled. His energy on both sides of the floor makes him an absolute terror to deal with any opponent they go up against. He’s also going to be their best bet against Anthony Davis in what feels like an inevitable conference finals date with their crosstown rival.
Having both his bird rights and a limited market will help the Clippers in the negotiating room, but we’ve seen guys leave good teams for less money because they felt insulted by the deal they were offered. This is the chance for the Clippers to show that they truly are committed both to Harrell and the window they have.
Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets – Unrestricted – $30,000,000
Millsap is the last of a dying breed in the NBA — a pure power forward. Because of the league’s versatility, we see more and more small forwards playing a fair amount of time at the four because they are multi-faceted enough to do so. Millsap impressively has been able to stay productive at the four even as the league has embraced this change. Even more so, the teams he’s been on have pretty much always been good.
At 35 years old, it’s clear Millsap is on his last legs. Although his per-36 stats look just about as good as they were during the height of his prime both in Utah and Atlanta, Denver’s decreased his minutes for a reason. At the same time, there’s a reason why Denver opted to pick up his $30 million team option last summer.
Millsap is definitely not going to see anywhere near the kind of contract he got from the Nuggets back in 2017, but there is going to be a lot of interested parties in his services once the season ends. He’s among those players that aren’t very flashy on the court nor anything spectacular in one area, but just a good fundamental basketball player all-around. He’s a good veteran presence in the locker room, and maybe he won’t put up the All-Star numbers he once could; but as it stands, if all you’re asking him is to be a rotation big on a playoff contender, he’ll do that for you.
Denver has the advantage both because of both its competitors’ lack of available funds and the team having Millsap’s bird rights. Returning to the Nuggets seems like the most obvious path, but Millsap does have to ask himself if he can win with them with what amount of prime he has left.
Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors – Unrestricted – $23,271,605
It’s tough to describe where Ibaka is in his career right now. He’s no longer the shot-blocking terror that he was during his time in Oklahoma City — from 3.7 blocks a game in 2011-12 to 0.8 this season — so when you hear stuff like that, you think he’s past his prime. Then you look at his numbers on the offensive end — 16/8 on 52/40/75 splits, some of his best numbers ever — and you would think he hasn’t lost a step.
The contract Toronto gave Ibaka back in 2017 may have been a bit of an overpay — who wasn’t overpaying in 2017? — but he has done what the Raptors have asked of him. He brought veteran experience, still blocks a shot or two, and spaces the floor for them most of the time. He doesn’t have the highest basketball IQ, but he knows what he can do well and sticks to it.
As far as where he goes after this season is quite the mystery. Toronto has been as awesome as a reigning champ who lost its best player could be, but even they have to wonder if it’s worth it to keep the whole band together for another run when Ibaka, Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol are all starting to get up there age-wise. The Raptors could really go either way, and there wouldn’t be a wrong answer. Masaji Ujiri has proven time after time that he knows what he’s doing.
Whoever gets Ibaka knows what they are getting. Besides the skills that have already been listed above, they are getting a champion. That can count for a lot in a playoff run.
Marcus Morris, Los Angeles Clippers – Unrestricted – $15,000,000
Not every player gets to go through what Morris did this season. He got paid a ton of money to play for a team that was bad enough to trade him to a contender willing to pay a high price for him, and now he gets a golden opportunity to showcase his talents for a payday. His odds of getting one took a hit for reasons that were out of his control, but still. This could not have worked out any better for Morris.
Now he’s on the Clippers, where he is the overqualified third wing to spell Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, as well as be a body to throw at LeBron. His three-point percentage took a bad spill once arriving in LA, but before that he was shooting a blistering near-44 percent from three in New York. Morris is a career 36.7 percent three-point shooter, so asking him to shoot that hot from three is placing unfair expectation, but if he can be a reliable shooter from that department, the Clippers will have no regrets for what they spent on him.
Considering the other Clippers who will be hitting free agency this summer, the odds of Morris coming back to LA seem slim on paper, but who knows how the low salary figures will impact free agency. Morris has proven that he is a valuable two-way wing that can play gritty defense as well as score the ball.
Buyer beware, though — Marcus Morris is in the Russell Westbrook mold of players that will not adapt to the system. The system adapts to guys like him. It doesn’t matter if he’s got the likes of Kawhi or PG-13 on his side. If the basketball is in his hands, his first instinct is to score. If you’re bringing him in, you have to know what you’re paying for. There’s much more good than bad to Mook, but the bad is still something that can’t be overlooked.
Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings – Team Option – $8,963,640
“Uh…. what” you may ask? It’s true. Even as the second overall pick in the draft, Bagley’s rookie deal is structured to have a team option for his third year with the team for… some reason. To be honest, this is really brought up more for being a fun fact than anything else.
Because, even if Bagley has paled in comparison to some of his fellow 2018 draftees thus far — Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Jaren Jackson Jr., Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — Sacramento would be absolutely insane to let him go knowing the kind of potential he has… right?
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