With the NBA salary cap expected to jump from $70 million this season to at least $89 million for the 2016-17 campaign, a majority of teams in the league may have cap room this summer.
While there are quite a few big-name players who may be unrestricted – such as Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks), Mike Conley (Memphis Grizzlies), Hassan Whiteside (Miami HEAT), Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets) and DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors) – a number of restricted free agents will also hit the market.
The most notable restricted players will include Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons), Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors) and Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards).
Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson is also restricted, but with two years in the league, he’s an Arenas-rule free agent, which limits what teams can offer him over the next two seasons.
Other restricted players include Festus Ezeli (Golden State Warriors), Allen Crabbe (Portland Trail Blazers) and Evan Fournier (Orlando Magic) among others. But it’s the likes of Drummond, Barnes and Beal who could command lucrative contracts that will pay them in the $21 million range in the first year of their new deal.
The catch for teams hoping to steal a restricted free agent is this: they may be forced to tie up their cap room while the top unrestricted players come off the board.
The NBA allows for teams to negotiate with free agents as of July 1, but this season, the league’s annual moratorium will last until July 12 so players cannot sign until that date. Once a restricted free agent signs an offer sheet, their original team has three days to decide whether or not to match the contract.
So if a team earmarks $21 million for Barnes on July 1, they’ll have to wait until at least July 14 (or later) to learn if they’ll actually be able to land him. Meanwhile, the cupboard of unrestricted free agents will be dwindling.
Most of the top free agents last July made their decisions quickly, before the end of the moratorium. Deciding to go all-in on a restricted free agent is a huge risk that could force a team to miss on making a big addition if the player’s original team matches and the unrestricted pool has dried up.
Instead, teams are far more likely to make pitches to both higher and lesser unrestricted free agents before turning their sights on the restricted class. What’s the point of giving Beal an offer that may prove fruitless when holding out to make that offer kills the chance to get attainable players?
Once the unrestricted market dies down, then by all means, teams should look to force the Pistons, Warriors and Wizards to make difficult financial decisions.
As the 2016-17 cap rises, so will the luxury-tax threshold. The 2017-18 salary cap may also jump to the $108 million range.
These three teams can afford to max out their restricted stars, but that doesn’t mean they will. And as we’ve learned in recent years, restricted free agency can be unpredictable – just ask former restricted free agents like Chandler Parsons (Houston to Dallas), Jeremy Lin (New York to Houston), Omer Asik (Chicago to Houston) and Greg Monroe (who chose to take the one-year qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent the following summer and leave Detroit for Milwaukee).
Trade Restrictions (Mostly) Lifted
On January 15, the no-trade restriction on players who re-signed last summer with sizable raises was lifted.
While most are not on the block, players like DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers), Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors) and Reggie Jackson (Detroit Pistons) can technically be traded now.
Those players won’t be dealt, but others who had a similar restriction may eventually be moved with trade talks likely to heat up as the February 18 deadline gets closer.
A few players still have trade restrictions, specifically those who signed in mid-October or later.
Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson still can’t be moved until January 22. New Orleans Pelicans guard Toney Douglas is restricted until January 30.
Any player who joined their respective squad after December 18 cannot be moved at all this season, given the 90-day restriction. An example of this is Elton Brand, who signed with the Philadelphia 76ers on January 4.
Naturally, those on 10-day contracts cannot be dealt as well.
Danilo Gallinari, who renegotiated and extended his contract this summer with the Denver Nuggets, cannot be traded until February 2.
A long list of players can block a trade, including Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers), Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks), Dwyane Wade (HEAT), Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks), Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs) and Kevin Garnett (Minnesota Timberwolves).
Any players who re-signed with their existing teams last summer for one year, even if they have an option for a season, can also stop their team from trading them. Some players in this situation include J.R. Smith (Cleveland Cavaliers), Leandro Barbosa (Golden State Warriors) and Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs).
Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.