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Ranking The Free Agents – Centers

There aren’t many game-changing centers on the market, but Spencer Davies believes there’s plenty of good options out there.

Spencer Davies

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As the moratorium period approaches fast, the fifth and final installment of Basketball Insiders’ free agent rankings focuses on the class of centers.

To refresh your memory, last week the NBA informed teams that the salary cap for the 2017-18 season is projected to be $99 million, slightly lower than what it was projected to be for much of last season. Based on this, maximum salaries are expected to amount to the following:

  • $25,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience
  • $30,300,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience
  • $35,350,000 for players with 10 or more years of experience

Aside from the maximum values, the mid-level exception for teams in year one is set at $8,406,000.

Knowing this, let’s take a glimpse at this year’s group of fives.

Max Guys / Near Max Guys

Nerlens Noel* – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $4,384,490

After acquiring him before the trade deadline last season, the Mavericks have made it clear that they covet Noel as their center of the future.

Under a new system in Dallas, Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle took advantage of his ability to cut to the basket and draw defenses in, leaving players open on the perimeter to shoot. He was also an aggressive finisher at the rim, especially on lob passes.

Because of this and his obvious rim-protecting prowess, Noel received consistent playing time and was utilized in a prominent role on the floor in only 22 games with the team.

It’s been reported already that the Mavericks are expected to tender their qualifying offer to Noel, making him a restricted free agent and allowing themselves to match any bid made by other teams interested in bringing him in.

Depending on his value on the open market, the 23-year-old may not be offered a maximum contract due to a lack of a jump shot, but he’s definitely the best center among his peers with plenty of untapped potential.

Above Mid-Level Guys

Pau Gasol – San Antonio Spurs – Last Year’s Salary: $15,500,000

Approaching his 17th season as one of the most respected and impactful big men in the NBA, Gasol will still be paid handsomely despite turning 37 years old on the day free agency signings officially begin.

Being the team player that he is, the seven-foot Spaniard agreed to opt out of his player option in order to re-negotiate a contract with the Spurs as an unrestricted free agent, giving the organization more flexibility for their offseason wishes.

The deal will reportedly be restructured to clear cap space and will likely be short-term.

Mason Plumlee* – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $2,328,530

Whether it’s off the bench as a backup or on the court next to Nikola Jokic, Plumlee has proven himself as one of the most dynamic centers in the game.

Similar to his teammate, he can offer production with assists, on the glass and inside. According to multiple reports, the Nuggets are expected to make the qualifying offer to Plumlee to make him a restricted free agent.

Javale McGee – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $980,431

There isn’t a single center in this crop of free agents that will have rightfully earned a payday like McGee did.

Through the ups and downs that his career has seen, the 29-year-old provided a spark off Steve Kerr’s bench and played with unrelenting energy on both ends. The turnaround is a great story to follow, and it’ll surely result with a deserving contract.

Nene – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $2,898,000

Zaza Pachulia – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $2,898,000

Kelly Olynyk*– Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $3,094,013

Richaun Holmes**– Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,025,831

Dewayne Dedmon – San Antonio Spurs – Last Year’s Salary: $2.898,00

Alex Len* – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $4,823,821

Mid-Level or Below Guys

Andrew Bogut – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $385,000

Aron Baynes – Detroit Pistons – Last Year’s Salary: $6,500,000

Spencer Hawes – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $6,348,758

Tyler Zeller**– Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $8,000,000

Salah Mejri** – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $874,636

Festus Ezeli – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Year’s Salary: $7,400,000

Roy Hibbert – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $5,000,000

Mike Muscala – Atlanta Hawks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,015,696

Cristiano Felicio** – Chicago Bulls – Last Year’s Salary: $874,636

Anderson Varejao – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $980,431

Jeff Withey – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $1,015,696

Chris Andersen – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $980,431

Jordan Hill – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $4,000,000

Joel Anthony – San Antonio Spurs – Last Year’s Salary: $346,034

Tiago Splitter – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $8,550,000

Edy Tavares** – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $5,145

Stephen Zimmerman** – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $950,000

Larry Sanders – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $207,722

Mitch McGary – Oklahoma City Thunder – Last Year’s Salary: $1,526,040

*Qualifying Offer (If made, player becomes restricted free agent)
**Non-Guaranteed Contract (If player is waived by current team before contract becomes fully guaranteed, becomes unrestricted free agent)

As you can tell, it’ll be slim pickings if you’re searching for a game-changing big. But by the same token, if a team is seeking somebody they don’t have to rely on primarily, there are some decent options to look at to make an impact with the second unit.

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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NBA

Top Free Agent Decisions: The Northwest

With free agency coming up soon, it’s now time to look at some of the biggest decisions the teams from the Northwest division will have to make.

Matt John

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Two weeks ago, the staff writers at Basketball Insiders wrote a five-part series previewing free agents at all five positions this summer. With the draft now over, and free agency starting in a matter of days, we now turn our focus over to the most important free agent decisions each team in every division in the league will face this summer, starting with the Northwest Division.

The Northwest Division may have had arguably the tightest race in NBA history this season. Every division matchup counted this season, as only three games separated Portland, the division champion, from Denver, the only team in the division that (barely) missed the postseason.

Every single one of them will be looking for that extra oomph that will vault them into the league’s elite, but at the same time, a fair amount of them also have big decisions to make in regards to their guys that will hit the market this summer.

But which are the ones that you should really keep your eye on? Well, let’s start with the most obvious one.

Paul George – Oklahoma City Thunder – $19,508,958 (Last Season’s Salary)

Speculation surrounding Paul George’s free agency started last summer when it was revealed that the Los Angeles native wanted to leave the Pacers for his hometown team, the Lakers. Indiana granted only one of his wishes, as they sent his bags packing for Oklahoma City. George did just fine for a player of his caliber this past season, but the Thunder dealt with untimely injuries and there is a growing concern that George lacks the ability to close out games.

That won’t stop the Thunder from offering George the max, even with Carmelo Anthony opting into his deal. Convincing him to stay, however, will be the tricky part. A player as good as George will reel in plenty of interested parties, with the Lakers being the toughest competition. Many have believed that George to the Lakers is a foregone conclusion dating back to last summer, but the most recent reports indicate that George is leaning towards staying with the Thunder. The deciding factor may be whether LeBron joins the Lakeshow this summer, so stay tuned!

Nikola Jokic* – Denver Nuggets – $1,471,382

Denver opted to decline Jokic’s team option this week, which means he will hit restricted free agency. The play of “The Joker” should earn him a nice fat contract this summer given that his offensive repertoire makes him one of the league’s most talented young centers. Re-signing him would be a no-brainer, especially with the limited money available for potential suitors, but Denver’s in a sticky situation with their cap at the moment.

The team didn’t make the wisest investments when they gave big contracts to Mason Plumlee and Darrell Arthur following the cap boom, but the extensions they gave Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried beforehand have now come back to bite them. Pending any surprises, Denver will definitely pay Jokic, but the real situation to keep a monitor on is which player(s) the Nuggets will try to get rid of to avoid paying the tax, and what they’ll have to include in order to get rid of the said player(s).

Jusuf Nurkic* – Portland Trail Blazers – $2,947,305

Unless they have shown enough promise to warrant a nice payday, restricted free agents aren’t going to see a lot of green this summer, with Jokic and Aaron Gordon likely being the rare exceptions. Jusuf Nurkic will not be one of those exceptions. After a very exciting half-season for the Blazers in 2017, Nurkic had a very uneven follow-up season in Portland, so an eight-figure contract probably isn’t in the cards for now.

That isn’t helped by the Blazers’ current salary cap situation. The Blazers have tried like hell to avoid paying the luxury tax since they unwisely invested tens of millions in role players. Up to this point, they’ve been pretty sly at avoiding it by trading Allen Crabbe and Noah Vonleh off their payroll. Given that Nurkic arguably took a teensy step back this season, they’re probably not going to offer what he wants. Lucky for them, Nurkic probably won’t see any rich offers this summer from anyone, so the most likely outcome is he takes the qualifying offer.

Derrick Favors – Utah Jazz – $12,000,000

After struggling with injuries and losing playing time over the last two seasons, Derrick Favors had himself a comeback season with the Jazz. 12.3 points and 7.1 rebounds isn’t a whole lot to brag about, but shooting a career-high 56 percent from the field should have raised some eyebrows. The cap crunch will hurt Favors’ chances of getting the same contract he received from the Jazz when they extended him, but his unrestricted free agency should make him a coveted commodity.

If his cryptic tweets indicate anything, Favors sounds interested in re-signing with the Jazz. Whether the Jazz want to re-sign him is another story. The issue with bringing him back is that he and Gobert do not space the floor much in a league that values spacing from bigs. Depending on what they do with Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko, and Ekpe Udoh, the Jazz should have cap room this summer in a rare time where hardly anyone else does, so they need to spend wisely. They will get to decide whether or not re-signing Favors fits that description.

While none of the teams really qualified as a contender, the Northwest Division has some big names coming up on the free market this summer. Whether they decide to stay or go could not only impact their division but the entire league as a whole for years to come.

*Restricted free agent

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NBA Daily: Potential Free Agent Bargains

With the NBA’s free agency right around the corner, David Yapkowitz identifies some valuable players that could be had for a nice price.

David Yapkowitz

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The NBA Draft is in the rearview now which means free agency is right around the corner—this coming weekend, to be exact.

With seemingly few teams having money to spend, it might not shape up to be as crazy a free agency period as some believe.

Already, several players such as the Los Angeles Clippers’ Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic, the Denver Nuggets’ Wilson Chandler and the Atlanta Hawks’ Mike Muscala have chosen to exercise their player options rather than test the open market. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Carmelo Anthony will do the same.

With little money to go around, some free agents are going to have to settle for whatever is left. There might be a few guys who end up signing bargain contracts, and here’s a look at some players who could end up on that list.

Mike Scott – Atlanta Hawks – $1,471,382

One year ago, Mike Scott was recovering from multiple injuries and was seemingly on the borderline between being in and out of the NBA. He signed a one-year contract with the Washington Wizards last offseason and ended up having a resurgent year. He emerged as a key contributor for a Wizards bench that has been one of their weaknesses for some time.

He’s a stretch-four, a perfect fit for today’s NBA game. He put up career-high shooting numbers with 52.7 percent shooting from the field and 40.5 percent from the three-point line. He played well against the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. He’ll fetch more than the minimum contract he signed last summer, but again, it’s a question about how much. Plenty of teams could use a versatile shooting big man with solid defense.

Kevon Looney – Golden State Warriors – $1,471,382

Seemingly buried on the Golden State Warriors bench his first two years in the league, Kevon Looney broke out this season and proved he could be a valuable option in the rotation. To begin this season, he was even behind rookie Jordan Bell in the lineup. It wasn’t until Bell went down with a brief injury that Looney got his chance.

With today’s game increasingly moving away from positions and big men needed more of an all-around skill set to thrive, Looney is perfect. He’s shown an ability to guard multiple positions. He can finish well around the rim and he’s active on the glass. One area he could improve on is developing a consistent jump shot, but that’s something that can come with time. Depending on what the Warriors decide to do with JaVale McGee and David West, Looney might be squeezed out from the team. He’s sure to attract interest though around the league.

Jerami Grant – Oklahoma City Thunder – $1,524,305

When he was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers four years ago, Jerami Grant immediately became a solid rotation player. He continued his strong play after coming over to the Thunder in a trade about two years ago. His numbers may not jump off the stat sheet (8.4 points and 3.9 rebounds), but he does a lot of little things that bring value to a team.

In today’s NBA, he’s able to play multiple positions both offensively and defensively. He didn’t shoot so well from beyond the arc this season (29.1 percent), but the year before he connected on 37.1 percent of this three-point attempts. He has that ability to spread the floor. He made $1,524,305 this past season and he most definitely is in line for a bigger payday. How much bigger though is the question. His versatility would be a boost to any team.

Will Barton – Denver Nuggets – $3,533,333

Heading into free agency, Will Barton had the best season of his career. He put up 15.6 points per game on 45.2 percent shooting from the field, 37 percent from the three-point line and 4.1 assists, all career-highs. He was a contender for the Sixth Man of the Year award but he also proved that he could start as well. Known for being a scorer most of his career, he really developed into more of a playmaker this season.

Barton would be an asset to any team looking to add some wing firepower and playmaking to their rotation. Close to the end of the season with the Nuggets making a playoff push, Barton was thrust into the starting lineup for the final 13 games. During that stretch, he put up 19.2 points while shooting 40 percent from three-point range. He’s proved himself worthy of getting paid, it just remains to be seen what those offers might look like.

Isaiah Thomas – Los Angeles Lakers – $6,261,395

A little over a year ago, Isaiah Thomas was the face of the Boston Celtics and a legit MVP candidate. The Celtics were then swept out of the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it was revealed that Thomas had an injury that required surgery. After being dealt to the Cavaliers last offseason, he never really was able to fit in with the team and they jettisoned him off to the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline.

He looked a bit more comfortable with the Lakers but ended up having to shut it down in late March due to lingering injury issues. He once was on the threshold of receiving a max contract, but that doesn’t appear to be so anymore. There’s no question about his value to a team if healthy. He did average 15.6 points and 5.0 assists in 17 games with the Lakers. It’s possible he opts for a one year deal to prove he’s healthy and then test free agency again next summer. In any case, provided his injuries are behind him, he could be a free agent steal.

It will be interesting to see how the free agent landscape unfolds money wise. The players on the list can all be capable contributors to a playoff contender. It just seems like most of the teams with cap room this summer are teams in the midst of rebuilding. These guys could wind up being contract bargains for a contender off the bench.

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NBA Daily: Kevin Knox and Kristaps Porzingis Already Have One Thing In Common

Kevin Knox’s experience on draft night was eerily similar to that of Kristaps Porzingis.

Moke Hamilton

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Michael Porter, Jr. might be the next Kevin Durant, but he could just as easily be the next Greg Oden.

And if you’re searching for comfort in the wake of the decision of the Knicks to pass on the opportunity to draft the young man who was widely regarded as being the top prospect in the class of 2018, it is pretty easy to find in the fact that of all people, Jerry West decided that Porter wasn’t worth the risk, either.

While Porter might end up being a Hall of Famer, when it comes to drafting prospects, we might as well be shooting in the dark. We all knew that Markelle Fultz was the best option for the Sixers in last year’s draft, and 12 other teams clearly had no idea what Donovan Mitchell had in store for the league.

Heck, two years ago, as I was recently reminded by someone on Twitter, I predicted that the Knicks would select Emmanuel Mudiay with their fourth pick. Instead, they walked away with Kristaps Porzingis.

If I were the man making the call back then, with the information I had, I certainly would have drafted Mudiay. And you know what? That decision probably would have gotten me fired, and rightfully so.

The true moral of the story is that we simply can’t see into the future and all the analytics in the world won’t able to measure things like guts and heart. So as the Knicks pin their hopes on Kevin Knox, it truly will be interesting to see how the career arcs of he and Porter compare.

As for why we would single out the Knicks and make the franchise’s decision to draft Knox over him a personal one, quite a few people in the know relayed the same information on the Knicks and Porter going back to their date at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago in May—they loved each other.

Thereafter, there were reports that the Knicks were looking to move up in the draft, and Porter was on their minds. On Thursday night in Barclays Center, with the Knicks on the clock, their fans in attendance cheered for Porter, as they were hopeful that he would be selected to be the franchise’s next stud.

They were disappointed, and now, they’ll hope that Scott Perry’s decision to go with Knox ends up being the right one. It might be, just like Porzingis was the right pick over Mudiay, and it might not be, just like selecting Frank Ntilikina over Mitchell wasn’t.

Like it or not, though, the two young men will forever be linked, both in my mind and in the minds of plenty of other Knicks fans.

“That’s just motivation,” Knox said of the Knicks fans in attendance chanting Porter’s name.

“A lot of people want him to get to the Knicks, but I mean, it’s all good with me. I’m ready to get to work. I’m ready to get to work and ready to prove people in Summer League and prove people in the NBA.”

Knox’s experience on draft night was remarkably similar to that of Porzingis, and now, if you even so much as suggest trading the Latvian unicorn for a player such as Kyrie Irving, Knicks fans just might call for your head.

It’s strange how quickly things can change for you in New York City. At the end of the day, it comes down to working hard and earning the adoration of the faithful in Gotham City. Porzingis succeeded there, and there’s every reason to believe that Knox will, as well.

“They booed Porzingis (on draft night) and look where he is now,” the rookie remarked.

“They can chant Michael Porter all they want, but they got Kevin Knox, and I’m willing to work and I’m willing to get better.”

When asked, Knox would tell you that he and Jayson Tatum happen to have something in common. According to him, neither of the two really got an opportunity to show what they could do at the collegiate level.

With more opportunities and more repetitions, the sky truly is the limit for the 18-year-old.

“I think I can pretty much play all around the floor,” Knox said.

“I can handle the ball, pick-and-roll situations, make plays, make passes. I can stretch the floor, shoot the ball, get rebounds, push it coast to coast. So I think that versatility in the league is something that a lot of teams really need, and I think that’s something I can bring to the Knicks right now.”

Privately, to members of the Knicks organization, Knox has spoken highly of the spotlight that he’s bound to face in New York and believes that playing at Kentucky helped to prepare him for the type of demanding environment that he’ll be introduced to once the season gets underway in New York. And even without a bad back, the crushing expectations and heavy burden could cause a weaker minded player to crumble.

A FaceTime call with Porzingis on draft night went a long way toward giving the rookie the confidence that he’ll need to thrive in New York.

That the franchise’s pride and joy immediately reached out to his new running mate to congratulate him, welcome him to the team and give him some insight is a good sign. At the very least, it shows that Porzingis takes his responsibility as being the team’s lead man seriously.

At most, it could signal K.P.’s being pleased with the selection.

We’re about to embark upon the story of Kevin Knox. We’ve only seen the preamble.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, and you certainly can’t know how the final chapter will end based on what you’ve read in the first chapter. So no, the Knicks fans that wanted Michael Porter on their squad didn’t get their wish, but in the long run, they may end up being better for it.

Just like Kristaps Porzingis, Knox wasn’t received warmly by Knicks fans on draft night.

Hopefully, for the rookie, it’s not the last thing he and the beloved Porzingis will have in common.

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