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NBA AM: What Happens With…

There are a number of notable NBA players hitting free agency in July. Here is what we know today.

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What Happens With…:  The beauty of Twitter and social media is that it’s easy to see what people care about and what may be going unanswered. With that in mind, one of the popular questions asked on Twitter lately is “what’s the status of player X?” While free agency is still several months away, there are some rumors surfacing about some of the would-be free agents, so let’s look at what we know today.

Radon Rondo – Dallas Mavericks

The narrative around Mavericks guard Rajon Rondo is that he is going to explore free agency. While Rondo has said several times that staying in Dallas long-term is a very serious option he’ll consider, those around Rondo are saying the fit in Dallas has been less than stellar and that he’ll explore his options. The Mavericks can and likely will offer more money on an annual basis, but there is a sense that Rondo will finish out the season and see what other options are available to him before making a decision. A return to Dallas isn’t out of the question, but there is a sense that Rondo may have at least half a foot out the door.

Reggie Jackson – Detroit Pistons

The Reggie Jackson situation is a tough one to read. Since Greg Monroe went down to knee injury, Jackson has been on fire, logging double-double type numbers. The problem is the Pistons have regressed a lot since acquiring Jackson, making his future in Detroit murky at best. Sources close to the process say the team is still very committed to keeping Jackson long-term and does plan on making a sizable free agent offer. Jackson will be a restricted free agent so the Pistons can control the process in some ways, but there is a sense that there are limits to how far the Pistons will go in a new contract, which opens the door for another team if they want to test the Pistons’ resolve.

Goran Dragic – Miami HEAT

The narrative around HEAT guard Goran Dragic is that he is going to look at the marketplace this summer. The HEAT are said to believe they have the inside track on a new deal, but it’s going to cost them a ton and Goran’s camp intends to maximize his next deal even if that means leaving Miami. The HEAT knew what they were getting into when they traded for Dragic, so none of this is below the board. Both sides have been open about what they’d like to see happen, so this one will come down to who offers the best contract and the HEAT have the means to do that and can include a fifth guaranteed year.

Lou Williams – Toronto Raptors

Raptors guard Lou Williams will be an unrestricted free agent in July and while it’s possible he is somewhere else next season, he has said repeatedly that he’d like to be back with the Raptors next year, in part because they have his Bird Rights and can offer him the most money. That’s ultimately what it’s going to boil down to how far the Raptors will go to re-sign him and it’s going to cost more than the $5.45 million he’s making this season. The Raptors have some tough choices to make. They can continue to keep the current team together at whatever the new prices are, or they can try and leverage that money into better players. The sense is that Williams and the Raptors can make a deal in July; the question becomes, at what price?

Jimmy Butler – Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls will get a chance to make things right with Jimmy Butler, or at least that’s the sense around the situation. The Bulls and Butler were unable to reach a deal in October and he went on to be named an All-Star and post a monster season. How the Bulls play things will be dictate what comes next. If the Bulls come to the table and open their wallet and say ‘take what you want’ and let Butler’s camp structure the deal in the player’s favor, he may not take meetings with other teams. If they come to the table with the same stance they had in October, there is a very strong possibility that Butler seeks an offer sheet from someone else and seriously entertains other situations and forces the Bulls’ hand. The Bulls really can’t offer much more than anyone else in the marketplace, the marginal increases the home team can offer are not believed to be significant enough to get Butler to sign unless it’s on terms that make sense to Butler. That’s the power of waiting to sign and Jimmy’s camp plans to give the Bulls a chance to make things right before they get out the hammer.

Monta Ellis – Dallas Mavericks

Mavericks guard Monta Ellis has dropped into a funk lately and that has many wondering if he’ll stay in his current deal versus free agency. Sources close to the process say the plan all along was for Monta to hit free agency this summer and his option year was always about security in the event of an injury. Ellis, for the most part, has had a solid season and would like to stay in Dallas; however, it’s not a lock considering Ellis also wants market value for his services after leaving some cash on the table to get out of Milwaukee. The Mavericks will have the means to lock Ellis into a long-term deal and if Rajon Rondo opts to walk as a free agent, keeping Ellis might become a priority.

Luol Deng – Miami HEAT

HEAT forward Luol Deng hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in Miami, but he’s been serviceable. There is a sense that given Deng’s age and his injury history, that he’s going to opt for free agency in July and try to secure a longer-term deal. That may not be with Miami. Deng was signed right after LeBron James opted to return to Cleveland, so the fit in Miami wasn’t exactly the best given the situation. The HEAT has battled injuries all season, but is still in the playoff picture. There is a chance the HEAT pony up more money for Deng, but it might be more likely that Deng is somewhere else next season, mainly to secure a new long-term deal. The sense is he’s going to be a free agent and trade his remaining $10.15 million for a new deal.

Tobias Harris – Orlando Magic

Will the Magic pay Tobias Harris? That is the magic question. Harris has posted a solid season since the Magic tabled extension talks in October. Harris is believed to be obtainable in free agency even though the Magic plan to issue a qualifying offer and restrict his free agency. There have been a number of teams linked to Harris including the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and even Atlanta Hawks. The Magic have the means to match anything offered to Harris in free agency. Given where the salary cap is headed, the Magic have to spend money and pretty soon they may have a hard time reaching the salary floor given where they are at in guaranteed money. The belief is that the Magic would match almost anything under $13 million a season, the question is will Harris get an offer sheet worth more than that number in July and will the Magic budge off their price range?

Kawhi Leonard – San Antonio Spurs

Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard isn’t in quite the same boat as Harris and Butler. The Spurs have a window this summer where they could have cap space if Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili retire, which is viewed as a 50/50 scenario at best. Either way, opting not to do a deal with Leonard in October preserved about $8-$9 million in future cap space in July as Leonard’s cap hold is $7.235 million. The Spurs can fill out the rest of their roster and then use Leonard’s Bird Rights to exceed the cap to re-sign him. The wrinkle becomes will another team put a max offer on the table before the Spurs can finish their shopping? Waiting to do a deal does take some of the power and leverage out of San Antonio’s hands, but it also allows them to ensure that giving Leonard max money equals what the marketplace believes he’s worth. Most of this is about cap maneuvering on the Spurs part, but that does not mean Leonard’s agents are not ready to talk to other teams if San Antonio drags things out. The Spurs can match anything Leonard is offered and likely will. The question becomes, how patient will Leonard’s side be as the money starts flying in July?

Greg Monroe – Detroit Pistons

Pistons big man Greg Monroe did the unexpected last year and accepted the qualifying offer from Detroit, leaving what could have been as much as $6 million on the table in order to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The narrative was that he didn’t want to tie the rest of his career to a Pistons franchise that’s been stuck in the mud for most of the last 10 years. Monroe is believed to be one of the top obtainable free agents, and that he will go shopping in July. The Pistons are not out of the picture, but it seems they will be treated like every other suitor – how much, how long and what are the odds of contending in the immediate future? Most of the teams with potential cap space are no closer to a title run than Detroit is and the Pistons can and likely will offer the most money. It’s very possible Monroe is somewhere else next season, but the door in Detroit is far from closed simply because they can offer more money, although Greg’s proven that money isn’t his primary factor.

Kevin Love – Cleveland Cavaliers

As we covered in this space earlier this week, Cavaliers big man Kevin Love has said a few times this season he was planning to stay in his current contract, but those close to the situation say that was simply Love trying to stop the noise of his future so he could focus on the season. The season hasn’t gone nearly as expected for Love personally, but his team is having success and this is as close to a championship as Love is likely going to get.

There are a few schools of thought on Love’s future, the biggest being Cleveland can and likely will overpay to keep him. Money talks. The second is that Love wins a championship in Cleveland, says “thank you” and walks to a team in free agency where he can be more of a focal point. The last being that Love does indeed leave some $3.3 million on the table, stays in his current deal and explores whether a second season in Cleveland can be better than the first and maybe add or compete for a second championship, assuming the Cavs win the first one.

The problem with staying in his current deal is Love becomes trade bait if the stories of not fitting in are true. There is a window this summer where teams like the Lakers and the Celtics – both rumored to be on Love’s list prior to the trade to Cleveland – have ample cap space to sign him. If he waits, those options may not be possible next July, although with the cap ballooning aggressively they might, depending on how those teams spend this summer.

The common belief is that Love is opting out and exploring his future on his terms, and while the Cavs are not out of the picture by any leap of the imagination, there is a sense that Love is going to look because this summer presents an opportunity for him to be one of the top free agents in the market, which would not be the case in 2016.

Paul Millsap – Atlanta Hawks

Hawks All-Star Paul Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent in July, but the storyline around him is that he wants to stay in Atlanta. While Millsap does not have full Bird Rights due to the two-year deal he signed, he is eligible for Early Bird Rights that could get him a new deal starting at $16.62 million without the Hawks needing to touch their cap space. That’s not max money for his experience in the NBA, but that number might be enough to keep him in Atlanta long-term. The Hawks will have ample cap space in July so they can go as a high as max if needed, but if Millsap will play along, they could add another significant free agent with cap space and use his Bird Rights to exceed the cap. It is unlikely that Millsap is leaving Atlanta, but he is unrestricted and that means other teams may have a window; it’s just hard to imagine Millsap leaving a situation that’s yielded two back–to-back All-Star berths.

LaMarcus Aldridge – Portland Trail Blazers

Blazers big man LaMarcus Aldridge has indicated that his goal this summer is to sign a new long-term deal with the Blazers. The problem is that’s not binding and there are a few teams that want to try and lure the big man out of Portland. The smart money says Aldridge inks a massive deal to remain in Portland, but for a long time there were rumors of unhappiness in Portland and that changing the market was something he would consider as a free agent. A lot has changed since then, and the Blazers are in a position to surround Aldridge with players this summer. Portland has just six players under contract for next season and only $23.07 million in fully guaranteed contracts. Aldridge’s $17.69 million cap hold will eat into some of the Blazers’ cap room, but they still could have plenty of free agent money to re-tool the team around Aldridge and guard Damian Lillard and that might be enough to get a new long-term deal done. Aldridge will be unrestricted though, so it’s up to the Blazers to get him locked in before other teams try to sway him elsewhere.

Brook Lopez – Brooklyn Nets

Nets big man Brook Lopez has a player option worth $16.74 million for next season and the common belief was he was staying in that deal. Lopez was asked recently about his plans and he candidly said he wasn’t thinking about it and that his agent reminds him about every so often, but he wouldn’t make a decision until the end of the season. That’s fairly common with would-be free agents in Lopez’s situation. The narrative around Lopez is that he won’t get anywhere close to $16.7 million as a free agent, but would he trade the $16.7 million for a new long-term deal at a slightly lower per year number to get out of Brooklyn and the constant trade rumors? This summer, he’ll have the ability to pick a spot that’s a bit more committed to him as a player. The smart money says Brook stays in his deal, but with so much cash available this summer and so few options for upper-tier talent, Lopez may not have the marketplace next year that he would this July and that’s something he’ll have to consider, especially considering his somewhat rocky relationship with Nets coach Lionel Hollins.

Marc Gasol – Memphis Grizzlies

As much as some want to paint Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol as obtainable, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll take many meetings. The Grizzlies are expected to present a full max-level offer on the opening day of free agency. However, there is a sense that Gasol is going to take a few meetings and listen to a few other situations just to be sure that his next deal in Memphis is the right deal and he doesn’t have second thoughts down the road. It’s believed that the Spurs have targeted Gasol as their big man of the future and they may present the only real threat to Memphis. The fact that Gasol went to high school in Memphis, has played every game of his NBA career for Memphis and has deep rooted connections to his teammates makes Gasol leaving Memphis unlikely. But there are teams that are going to try, and Gasol may take the meetings because that’s what you do when you are an unrestricted free agent.

DeAndre Jordan – LA Clippers

The smart money says the Clippers lock up big man DeAndre Jordan regardless of the price tag. They won’t have the cap space to replace him, so they can either pay Jordan what he wants or try to replace him with exception money. There is a sense that Jordan is going to shop, not just to ensure he gets what he wants contractually, but to make sure he lands in a situation to compete for a championship and maybe play a bigger role. The Clippers do hold the money card and Jordan likes playing in L.A. Other teams can get to the table, but none of them can offer the $100 plus million the Clippers can. Like most of the unrestricted free agents, Jordan is going to take a few meetings and that’s going to make the Clippers sweat a little.

Al Jefferson – Charlotte Bobcats

Like Paul Millsap, Charlotte big man Al Jefferson has the option to hit unrestricted free agency in July. Jefferson has an option year worth $13.5 million, but will likely leave that option in favor of a new deal. Jefferson is not a full Bird Rights player, but through Early Bird Rights he can get a new deal starting at 175 percent of his previous or a starting salary up to the NBA max. The belief is that Jefferson wants to stay in Charlotte and is enjoying the situation. However, given that he’s now on the wrong side of 30 and this may be the last major contract he gets in his career, there is a sense that as much as Big Al likes Charlotte, he will go where the biggest payday takes him. The Hornets have the ability to go as high as they want to go with their offer, but is Jefferson really worth $20 million to them and will anyone offer anything close to that to poach him?

If you are looking for a complete list of the 2015 NBA Free Agents, check out this list. If you want to see the current 2016 Free Agents, those can be found here.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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