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Ranking The Free Agents – Point Guards

There aren’t that many elite point guards available this summer, but the cap crunch should still make the market for them quite fascinating.

Matt John

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Well hoop freaks, the NBA season is officially over. With the NBA Finals concluded and the draft coming up, there’s no hurt in taking an early look into the free agency period happening less than a month from now. Especially since this one is going to be a change of pace compared to the last two.

The new TV deal between the NBA and ABC led to an exponential rise in the league’s salary cap, as it went from $70.1 million to $94 million in the summer of 2016, then from $94 million to $99 million in 2017, which led to a whole lot of excess spending over the last two summers.

This summer, however, will not be the same. The salary cap rose to $101 million, which, combined with the amount of salary that teams already owe to their current rosters, means there’s not going to be many nine-figure salaries being tossed around willy-nilly this time.

Because of that, expect this free agency period to be the equivalent of a whiplash effect. There are going to be plenty of players who aren’t going to see the luxurious contract offers that they deserve. Not necessarily because they didn’t earn said contract, but because money is so tight that no one can offer the contract they want.

With money being so tight this summer, there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty surrounding the available free agents this summer, particularly with our first installment: Point guards.

This isn’t the strongest class of points guard available on the open market, but with the NBA’s current financial climate, no one can firmly grasp what kind of money these guards are going to make, with the exception being one particular guard from Houston, which makes it all the more fascinating.

A fair amount of these guys deserve more than the Mid-Level Exception, but they might have to settle for it. So, without further ado, here’s what the market looks like for point guards that will be available this summer.

Based on the $101 million projected salary cap, maximum salary amounts are expected to fall in these ranges:

$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+ years of experience

Max Guys/Near Max Guys

Chris Paul – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $24,599,495

The Chris Paul experiment was a monumental success in Houston. Paul may have played just 58 games as a Rocket, but of those 58 games, the Rockets lost only eight of them. Paul’s role in the Rockets having their most successful playoff run since the days of Hakeem the Dream would make giving him the max a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, it’s precisely the injuries, along with his age, that makes Paul’s contract situation a little open to question. Even at 33, Paul still is one of the best floor generals in the game, but his persistent injuries at this point in his career make investing in him a risk.

Reportedly, Paul will not take a penny less than a max contract, which may make contract negotiations a little tough for the Rockets. General Manager Daryl Morey could meet Paul’s demands, but Paul’s health and age concerns could lead to a compromise between the two sides.

Houston is going for the hail mary this summer, as they hope to keep Paul and Clint Capela as well as bring in LeBron to form their own super team. No matter what the details of his next contract will be, it would be in the Rockets’ best interest to keep Paul, even if it means throwing caution to the wind.

Mid-Level Guys

Rajon Rondo – New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $3,300,000

After bouncing around the league for the last four years, Rondo may have finally found a new home in New Orleans. Rondo’s comeback season, along with his reputation for stepping up in the playoffs, contributed to one of the NBA’s most pleasant surprises with the Pelicans.

Rondo should also expect a significant pay raise, as he was one of the NBA’s best bargains, but the drought in cap room makes it hard to envision eight figures in his next contract.

It’s hard to see New Orleans letting Rondo go after all he did for them, but their hands will already be tied with DeMarcus Cousins. Rondo may go to the highest bidder, but his best bet might be to stay with the Pelicans and roll the dice next summer.

Isaiah Thomas – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $6,261,395

This time last year, Thomas was advocating for a Brinks truck, but for now, he’ll have to settle for a compact pickup instead.

All that could have gone wrong for Thomas has gone wrong since being traded last summer. After flopping badly in Cleveland, Thomas revived himself a bit mid-season in Los Angeles only to opt for season-ending hip surgery.

Because Thomas’ value has cratered to where it is now, he won’t see any large long-term offers, so his best option would probably be to take a one- or two-year prove-it type deal.

Dante Exum* – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $4,992,385

No one will be victimized in restricted free agency more than Exum. Since his very raw rookie season, Exum missed his second season because of an ACL tear, was put in the doghouse in his third season, then missed most of his fourth season with a shoulder injury.

Despite all that, Exum showed more and more flashes of the terrific and unique player many pegged him to be coming out of the 2014 draft since returning from his shoulder injury. He has a very limited sample size, but Exum is a versatile 6-foot-6 point guard who plays exceptional defense.

Something to keep in mind with Exum, along with some of his other fellow 2014 NBA draftees, is that because of the cap crunch, his best option might be to take the Qualifying Offer, then wait until next summer where he will be Unrestricted and there should be more available money.

Marcus Smart* – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $4,538,020

Avery Bradley – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $8,808,989

Milos Teodosic – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $6,000,000

Darren Collison** – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $10,000,000

Austin Rivers – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $11,825,000

Elfrid Payton* – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $3,332,340

Patrick Beverley** – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $5,000,000

Fred VanVleet* – Toronto Raptors – Last Year’s Salary: $1,312,611

Mid-Level or Below Guys

Spencer Dinwiddie** – Brooklyn Nets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,524,305

Tony Parker – San Antonio Spurs – Last Year’s Salary: $15,453,126

Shabazz Napier* – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Year’s Salary: $2,361,360

Devin Harris – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $4,402,546

T.J. McConnell – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Shelvin Mack** – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $6,000,000

Seth Curry – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $3,028,410

Derrick Rose – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $290,951

Marquis Teague – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $83,129

Ty Lawson – Washington Wizards – Last Year’s Salary: $8,313

Mario Chalmers – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Julyan Stone** – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary $1,524,305

Trey Burke** – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $784,160

Raymond Felton – Oklahoma City Thunder – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Yogi Ferrell* – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,312,611

Jarrett Jack – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Brandon Jennings** – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $130,911

Jameer Nelson – Detroit Pistons – Last year’s Salary: $1,429,818

Jose Calderon – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Shane Larkin – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Michael Carter-Williams – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $2,700,000

Dwight Buycks – Detroit Pistons – Last Year’s Salary: $748,160

Isaiah Canaan – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $997,547

Larry Drew II – New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $74,159

Lorenzo Brown – Toronto Raptors – Last Year’s Salary: $16,626

Tyler Ennis – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,524,305

Tim Frazier – Washington Wizards – Last Year’s Salary: $2,000,000

David Stockton – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $44,495

Joseph Young – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Raul Neto – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Briante Weber – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $83,129

Malcolm Delaney* – Atlanta Hawks – Last year’s Salary: $2,500,000

Jonathan Gibson* – Boston Celtics – Last year’s Salary: $44,495

Isaiah Taylor** – Atlanta Hawks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,312,611

Andrew Harrison** – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $1,312,611

Wade Baldwin** – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Year’s Salary: $229,892

Tyler Ulis** – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $1,312,611

Kyle Collinsworth** – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $290,304

Shaquille Harrison** – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $175,000

Josh Gray – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $46,080

Walter Lemon Jr. – New Orleans Pelicans – Last year’s Salary: $46,080

*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)

It is true that outside of Paul, there aren’t that many golden options out there as far as point guards go. However, the cap crunch has made it so that impactful players such as Rondo and Thomas could be had for much less than what they are worth.

Gentlemen, start your engines!

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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NBA Daily: The NCAA’s Recent Policy Changes are Problematic

The NCAA made unilateral changes to its rules that may look good on paper but more likely make a difficult situation even more complicated.

James Blancarte

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Going into 1995 NBA Draft, the NBA still allowed high school players to enter straight into the NBA but few had actually done so over the years. That year, Kevin Garnett, an extremely talented high school prospect, went straight into the draft from high school and went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, like Garnett, also went straight to the NBA from high school and each have also had Hall of Fame careers. Many other similarly situated players such as Rashard Lewis, Jermaine O’Neal and Tracy McGrady succeeded on the same path. Yet concerns remained that although there were individual success stories, perhaps it would be best overall to have kids mature a bit more before entering the NBA. Eventually, through collective bargaining, new rules were put in place that prohibited high school players from entering the league.

As time has gone on there has been some frustration with the fact that perhaps these young men, legally adults at 18 years of age, have been unfairly prevented from earning at least one year of significant income as an NBA rookie. There is also frustration, mentioned below, at how the NCAA and college programs have policed themselves (or failed to do so) over the years. There is rampant abuse and under the table dealing that has largely benefitted the people around these young athletes and the schools, while often times harming the players or not benefitting them in any tangible way. The FBI has been conducting an investigation into these practices, which has shed new light and more focus onto the situation. Accordingly, now there is widespread discussion and speculation that the NBA again intends to reverse course and allow players to bypass the collegiate game.

With accusations of impropriety, constant attacks against the amateur model and an ongoing federal investigation, the NCAA took drastic action last Wednesday to counter the negativity around the college game — at least in appearance.

First the good part; players will be allowed to enter the draft and should they be not be chosen, the player may return to school under certain circumstances. Back at his collegiate program, a player can return to a place where he can continue to mature as a basketball player and as a college student. This is a nice option for many players and should have been available years ago.

For NBA teams, they now face the prospect of a first wave of high school seniors going straight to the NBA in addition to the other collegiate and international prospects. If it turns out that these high school prospects are collectively more prepared than expected and demonstrate they can contribute at a high level shortly after entering the league, there could be a sizable shift in how teams value first-round draft picks. Teams are already extremely hesitant to trade first-round picks, which means there would be some additional stagnation in the trade market. There are many complexities to this prospective new system that could have consequences that aren’t even foreseeable at this juncture.

Additionally, while this may be an appealing option for some players who are on the fence about going pro, it may not have as much widespread appeal. Some prospects may not realistically expect to be drafted. Once skipped over, a player is likely to seek compensation in the G-League or by playing international basketball. That’s the rub overall, the college game is sticking to the amateur model and the insistence that players not be compensated beyond the education they receive. Even worse, a player may have declared for the draft knowing that he might be leaving behind academic or conduct violations behind. Should that player attempt to go back, he would have to deal with any situation that joining the professional ranks would have avoided. The point here is that while this new rule may look good for the NCAA from a PR perspective, the truth is it may have little benefit to the college players overall.

Now the thornier part. As reported, the NCAA will allow “elite” high school prospects to obtain an agent. Previously this would have been a violation of NCAA rules that prevent amateur students from doing so. Should a player instead decide to go to college, he would have to break off his relationship with the agent. This adds more complications and issues to a system that is already plagued with questionable rules and policies.

In addition, it appears that USA Basketball was not initially thrilled to be put in a position to determine which players are considered “elite,” which could cause some more logistical issues.

There is much more to dive into on this issue unfortunately. The NCAA has seemingly taken a strategy to fixing issues that are symptoms of a bigger problem – that is the NCAA’s insistence on treating its players as students who should not be compensated rather than actual athletes. There are no easy solutions to this situation and adding more layers of complexity with unilateral changes such are likely to make matters worse.

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NBA Daily: It Still Isn’t Time To Expand The NBA

As much as we talk about expanding the NBA, has anything really changed to suggest it’s any more viable now? Basketball Insiders’ Publisher Steve Kyler digs into the barriers that have to be overcome.

Steve Kyler

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Expanding The NBA?

In what has become an annual off-season obsession, the topic of expanding the NBA beyond its current 30 teams has surfaced, again.

There is little doubt that the top-level concept of more NBA teams is fun to contemplate, mainly because there are major cities without teams. There is almost no one that wouldn’t want to see the Seattle market get their Sonics back, or Las Vegas complete their pro sports team trifecta by adding an NBA team to their exploding local sports market. Kansas City has long been talked about as an appealing basketball market, along with Louisville. There is a growing swell of renewed support in Vancouver for another run through the NBA, and Mexico City continues to host massive crowds during the now annual regular season NBA games held there.

So why not pull the trigger on one or two of them if local ownership groups can pony up the expected $1 billion or more expansion fees?

There are a number of issues with expanding the NBA. Here are a few of them:

Revenue Sharing

The biggest hurdle facing NBA expansion is revenue sharing. Currently, the biggest NBA cash markets are contributing serious dollars to the lesser markets to create a more balanced playing field for the league as a whole. While that’s evened out some things economically, there are still more than a handful of NBA teams that would be money losers if revenue sharing were backed out of the equation.

Equally, the NBA salary cap system is based on total revenue generated by the league, which does not take into account local market inequities. For example, the teams in LA have local television deals worth almost three times that of say Milwaukee or New Orleans. Those teams still have to pay out salaries and compete in a salary and expense landscape of teams sometimes generating twice their local revenue. Revenue sharing helps make that work, but adding new teams, that may or may not compete economically is a tough sell, especially to ownership groups that are already sharing dollars with other teams.

Proponents of expansion point to an easy fix, by not allowing new teams to participate in Revenue Sharing for a fixed amount of time but is that really a reasonable long-term answer? Adding a new team or teams and then immediately handicapping them economically for the first years of their existence?

Some would say that problem would simply have to be factored into an expansion agreement, and new owners would have to shoulder that risk as part of gaining entry into such an exclusive ownership club, but is that really good for competitive balance and solidarity of the business?

The TV Deal Isn’t Forever

Currently, the NBA is swimming in a record-setting media rights deal that has ballooned franchise valuations and NBA payrolls dramatically.

The problem with the current rights deal is the shifting and changing landscape of broadcasting. With traditional cable services dying out, and new “Over The Top” media players coming into the sports rights market, there is a sense that maybe the next round of rights negotiations could see the NBA eclipsing the current deal, and that would be a second windfall of dollars current NBA owners would have to share with new owners.

There is also the risk that with subscribers defecting the NBA current partners in droves, that broadcast rights could become less valuable by the end of the current agreements or far more complicated than the current two-partner model that’s in place now.

There was talk the last time around that Google and Facebook, the titans of the digital world, wanted in on NBA rights. That could be a good thing for preserving the value of rights related revenue streams, but its far from a given that NBA games will be consumed the same way they are being consumed today inside the next five years. That is a variable that has a huge impact on the appeal of expansion.

Is There Enough High-Level Talent?

The biggest on-court hurdle for expansion is the lack of star talent. Ask any NBA fan to name the top 20 NBA players, and you’ll find the talent pool flattens out pretty fast outside the top ten or 15 players.

Current NBA teams are struggling to find franchise cornerstones now. Would adding more teams really help competitive balance, especially with current stars opting to play together when they reach unrestricted free agency?

There is little doubt new expansion teams could field rosters, there are plenty of talented players that could populate a team. But the last time the NBA allowed expansion, the new teams were restricted from landing the top overall picks in the draft. How do those new teams compete?

Pay Once Eat Forever

The idea of a $1 billion expansion fee on the surface seems enticing. Especially given that the bulk of that fee would go to existing owners. Let’s assume that the NBA allowed two new teams, that’s $2 billion in expansion fees, divided by at least 30 teams (the NBA historically has taken a piece of those fees to cover operating costs), but for the sake of discussion, let’s say $2 billion paid out to 30 ownership groups, or roughly $66.66 million per owner.

Is a $66.6 million per team worth a slice of the NBA pie in perpetuity?

Let’s take the current $24 billion TV deal that breaks out to roughly $800 million per team over the life of the deal. Let’s say the next deal is $28 billion, that’s $933.3 million per team. If two more mouths are added to the table, that reduces the per team share down to $875 million, or $58 million less per team.

So, is getting paid a one-time team fee of $66.6 million now worth $58 million less in a new rights deal later?

Sure, there are caps and limitations that could be imposed on new ownership groups as part of expansion agreement, which lessens that impact on the current individual teams, but the biggest argument against expansion is that new teams don’t raise the revenue waterline enough to justify the slice of the revenue pie they get forever.

From a fan perspective, more teams sound like a great idea, especially in markets with rabid fan interest, but the reason expansion hasn’t been actively explored is because of many of the items listed above. That’s not to say those obstacles can’t be overcome, but when you hear NBA commissioner Adam Silver really downplay expansion, there are a lot of reasons for that, and most of them are simply that the current owners don’t want to see their golden goose diluted any more than necessary.

Expanding the NBA isn’t a dead issue, it’s simply not one the NBA seems overly eager to start chasing.

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NBA Daily: Memphis Poised for Comeback

After one of the franchise’s worst seasons, “Grit-and-Grind” should be back with the vengeance after the moves the Grizzlies made.

Matt John

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There are a few teams that should bounce back after their disappointing output from last season.

Washington certainly comes to mind with John Wall coming back healthy and after what they added this summer. Detroit does too, since they never really played with their current roster fully healthy after the Blake Griffin trade. However, the team with the safest bet to make the strongest comeback this season is the Memphis Grizzlies.

It’s a shame what happened to Memphis last season, and after such a promising start too.

The Grizzlies started off as hot as could be, as they won five of their first six games against some stiff competition, namely, the Warriors, the Rockets (twice), and the Pelicans. Teams are always bound to cool off after a hot streak, but shortly after the Grizzlies came back to earth, Mike Conley Jr. went down for the season with a heel injury.

It all went downhill from there.

Besides the Celtics, there wasn’t a team bitten as badly by the injury bug as the Grizzlies were in 2018. Just about everyone on the roster besides Marc Gasol missed a good chunk of time with some kind of ailment. It may have helped that the injuries led to a high lottery pick, but who enjoys watching their team lose 19 games in a row?

A season in hell usually triggers a rebuild for a team like Memphis. Conley and Gasol aren’t getting any younger, and the Western Conference remains as tough as ever. But as evidenced by the moves they made this summer, the upcoming challenge this season didn’t phase them for a second.

Hence, NBA audiences should expect Grit-and-Grind to return for the following reasons.

A Savvy Off-Season

Because of their tight salary cap situation, the Grizzlies only had so much cap room to work with this summer. Despite the cap limits, they made the most of what they had at their arsenal.

First, they made use of their expendable assets. The Grizzlies probably regret trading the 2019 Clippers pick for Deyonta Davis, but at least he was traded for something valuable. Davis, along with Ben McLemore, was traded to Sacramento for the criminally underrated Garrett Temple. Though he is a late-bloomer, Garrett Temple should give Memphis a veteran sharpshooter who can also play solid defense. In other words, think of him as the new Courtney Lee in Memphis.

Next, with the available cap room that they had, they gave Spurs alum Kyle Anderson a 4 year, $37 million contract. That may have been a slight overpay, but Anderson fits the style that Memphis loves to play. While not a floor stretcher, what Anderson brings defensively — his Defensive Real Plus-Minus of 3.2 was second among small forwards — should improve the Grizzlies’ defense, which was ranked no. 25 in defensive rating last season (111).

They also made under-the-radar acquisitions such as signing Shelvin Mack, a productive backup point guard who has played under brilliant coaches such as Quin Snyder and Brad Stevens, and Omri Casspi, who was a rotation player for the Warriors before injuries ended his season prematurely.

Though not the sexiest group of names, Temple, Anderson, Mack, and Casspi is a fantastic haul for a team that was looking for depth this summer.

Jaren Jackson Jr.

The Grizzlies picked wisely at the 2018 draft. With the fourth overall pick, they snagged the hotshot big from Michigan State, and boy, was he the talk of the town this summer.

Jackson was a perfect fit for the Grizzlies because what he brings to the table should make him NBA-ready from the start. Jackson was one of the most obvious stand-outs at the summer league, as his agility and floor spacing abilities wowed audiences everywhere. Best of all, though he already has proven to hit the three-pointer, he showed that his all-around offensive game is raw but malleable.

What makes Jackson the perfect player for Memphis is that he fits the team’s timeline no matter where Memphis goes from here on out. What he brings to the court should fit well with the Grizzlies’ hopes of going on a playoff run this season. At the same time, should they decide to rebuild, Jackson is a perfect building block to start with.

Regardless of how he fares compared to his peers in his draft, Jackson was the right choice for the Grizzlies because of what he can offer both now and later.

Their Best Players’ Health

Injuries ruined the Grizzlies last season, so it’s imperative that their guys will be ready to go once the season begins. That all starts with Mike Conley. Conley waited until mid-season to have surgery on his heel. It’s sad to see one of the game’s underrated floor generals go down like that, so it’s encouraging to see that he should be fine coming into the season.

Conley runs the Grizzlies, so having him healthy for the season opener should be very encouraging for Grind City’s fans.

Then there’s Gasol. Foot problems are not easy to deal with for bigs, especially as they approach their mid-30’s. So far, Marc Gasol has been an exception to that. Gasol has been pretty healthy over the last two seasons since his foot surgery in 2016 and was one of the few Grizzlies who stayed on the court through most of the season.

Gasol is not out of the woods yet, but Grizzlies fans should be relieved to see that their franchise player has not slowed down a bit in the face of adversity.

Conley and Gasol carry this stable, so having them at 100 percent should do wonders for the Grizzlies this season. Nothing is set in stone, but having the two faces of the franchise fully functional is always a good thing.

Other Future Moves

Since the Grizzlies fetched back decent value out of McLemore and Davis, who’s to say they can’t do the same with other dead weight on the roster? I wrote last week about how the moves the Grizzlies made this summer indicate that Chandler Parsons will probably spend the majority of his season on the bench. Since the Grizzlies’ transactions have demonstrated that they are going all in, trading Parsons may be in play.

Trading Parsons for a player on a fair contract is probably out of the question, so the Grizzlies may look to trade him for another player who is overpaid but at least more productive than him. That’s only in theory, though. If everything goes Memphis’ way this year, expect Parsons to be in some trade rumors.

At the end of the day, you have to tip your hat to Memphis. They have steadfastly refused to pull the plug on Grit-and-Grind even though they haven’t done much since pushing the Warriors to six games in the conference semifinals three years ago. With what they’ve added to their roster, it’s clear that they’re going for as much success as they can possibly attain.

A title is probably not on the horizon, but the Grizzlies should be admired for milking Grit-and-Grind to the very last drop.

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