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NBA AM: Max Player versus Max Contracts

There is a difference between guys generating max deals based on market conditions and being a true max player

Lang Greene profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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Max Player versus Max Contracts

We’re less than two months from the start of free agency and with it comes the toughest part of a general manager’s job – being able to properly compensate guys and manage their respective team’s salary cap in the short and long term.

As always, leading up to the beginning of the free agency frenzy you’ll hear a lot of talk about players rising and sometimes largely unproven guys who will command a max deal versus players who should be considered no-brainers for a large payday.

See there’s a difference between guys who will generate a maximum level deal because the market dictates the salary more than the skill level, and those where it should go with little to no thought on sliding a blank check over to the player. These are the true max level guys regardless of market conditions.

Let’s take a look at the guys who could be in for max deals this summer and whether they’re truly a max level player.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
Unrestricted Free Agent

The Trail Blazers have managed to remain relevant in recent years because of the play of Aldridge, anchoring their lineup. Once thought to be the third cog in a nucleus planned to feature Brandon Roy and Greg Oden (both no longer in the league), Aldridge emerged from the shadows and became a legitimate All-Star and franchise player. There’s little doubt Aldridge will be in high demand come July 1 and command a max level deal this summer from any team looking to pursue his talent.

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
Restricted Free Agent, if Bulls issue $4.4 million qualifying offer

Rather than signing an early extension offered by the team back in October, Butler decided to gamble on his talent and let the market set his value this summer in free agency. The gamble paid off as Butler became a leader in the Bulls’ locker room, won the league’s Most Improved Player award and developed into a legitimate 20-point scorer. If Chicago doesn’t opt to offer max money, another team will undoubtedly do so which will force Chicago to open up their wallets and match the offer. Either way, Butler is in for a prime payday.

Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons
Unrestricted Free Agent

Monroe is definitely a talented big man, but it’s important to note that the Pistons have not reached the playoffs with the forward at the head of the rotation. Armed with good footwork, a solid face up game and jumper, Monroe is a strong offensive player working from 15 feet and under. However, Monroe hasn’t established himself as a strong post defender on a nightly basis. When given the opportunity to max Monroe out last season, and avoid him hitting unrestricted free agency this summer, the Pistons hesitated. With teams like the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers looking to make a splash and get out of the league’s basement, expect Monroe to get a huge payday. But he’s clearly not the type of player who can strap a team on his back and take it to the playoffs.

Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
Unrestricted Free Agent

Since coming to Atlanta on a bargain two-year, $19 million deal in 2013, Millsap has developed into a two-time All-Star for the Hawks. Now with Millsap entering free agency this summer, and the Hawks coming off their first ever 60-win campaign, all eyes will be focused on how Atlanta handles his next deal.

Under the Hawks’ new front office regime, the team has typically frowned upon issuing long term high dollar contracts, preferring to keep their financial flexibility for the long term.

Rajon Rondo, Dallas Mavericks
Unrestricted Free Agent

Once considered to be one of the best point guards in the game, Rondo has battled injuries the last two seasons and is coming off a disastrous run with the Dallas Mavericks. It’s interesting to note the Mavericks paid a nice penny to acquire Rondo from Boston early in the season, but at the end of their playoff run head coach Rick Carlisle all but guaranteed the veteran guard would not be back in Dallas.

At this point, it wouldn’t be wise to issue a max (or close to max) deal on Rondo until he shows he can return to an elite level. The flashes are there, but the consistency is no longer present.

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Restricted Free Agent, if Warriors issues $2.7 million qualifying offer

Green, the rare second pick that pans out early, isn’t a traditional max level player. But for franchises with money to burn and a need for prime talent in the fold, you can expect Green’s line to be ringing off the hook come the start of free agency.

Green isn’t a 20-point threat every single time he steps on the court. But the forward is a nightly box sheet stuffer in every sense of the phrase. Points, rebounds, assists, steals and three-point field goals are all in Green’s wheelhouse and the reason why he’ll command an eight figure payday.

DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Unrestricted Free Agent

Jordan will likely never develop into a prime offensive go to option in the post, but he’s a force to be reckoned with on the glass and defending the rim. There’s little to no doubt the Clippers will pay Jordan what’s required to retain him this summer, especially if the team marches deeper into the playoffs.

Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
Restricted Free Agent, if Bucks issues $2.7 million qualifying offer

Middleton’s development is one of the prime reasons Milwaukee went from a 15-win team in 2014 to a playoff team this season. A smooth scoring wingman, Middleton’s profile has steadily risen in league circles and he could potentially score a huge payday, forcing the Bucks to dig deeper into their pockets to retain his services long term.

Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Unrestricted Free Agent

The former Defensive Player of the Year could be a franchise changer for a team idling in the middle of the pack or toiling in the league’s basement. The Grizzlies can offer the most money and the selling point to the veteran is the team’s perennial penchant for being in the playoff mix – and him being a central piece in their core and community. But almost every team with the necessary cap room to make it happen will be on the line with Gasol come July – and in free agency anything can happen.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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