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NBA Daily: Ranking the Free Agents – Point Guards

Basketball Insiders kicks off a new series examining the free agent class of 2019 by position. To start, Drew Maresca assesses the free agent point guards hoping to sign new deals.

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ALERT: THIS IS NOT A DRILL. FREE AGENCY BEGINS IN FOUR DAYS.

With that being said, Basketball Insiders is kicking off a new series ranking the free agents by position. This first piece will rank the top 10 free agent point guards in terms of ability and the contract they will receive.

In this series, we will provide: a player summary, an overview of their 2018-19 salary, a projected 2019-20 salary and an opinion on where we feel they fit best and/or sign.

For context, here is a comprehensive list of all notable 2019 free agents.

Before getting into the actual free agents, here’s a look at what the salary cap numbers project to be. The NBA’s salary cap is expected to jump from $101 million to $109 million this offseason. Based on that, here are the projected numbers for max contracts:

$27,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience

$32,700,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience

$38,150,000 for players with 10+ years of experience

In addition, the mid-level exception for teams in the first year is expected to be $9,246,000, while the taxpayer MLE is expected to be $5,711,000 and the room MLE is expected to be $4,760,000.

The point guard position is at least as important as any other position in basketball. And while basketball has taken strides to become more positionless, there is still significant value in having a floor general to direct the offense and maintain a preferred pace and playing style.

2019 free agency features lots of talented point guards, many of whom seem open to the idea of joining a new team.

Let’s explore the 10 best free agent points guards and project where they’ll sign and the length and value of their new contracts.

Max Guys

Kyrie Irving – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $20,099,189

Irving is the definitive best point guard available. Everyone may not love his approach on and/or off the court, but he is the only player on his specific list of accomplishments, including leading a championship team.

Furthermore, Irving is only 26 years old and is the only point guard on the list capable of being the best player on a playoff team.

Irving made approximately $20 million last season. He chose to not opt-in to the final year of his contract, thus enabling him to enter unrestricted free agency.

He is eligible for the Supermax by Boston having been selected to an All-NBA team this season.

Where Does He Fit: The Clippers, Knicks, Lakers and Nets are all viable options – many of whom are in need of a point guard. The Nets are viewed as the favorites to land Irving, and ironically so considering the Nets could just as easily forge ahead with the younger D’Angelo Russell. But as good as Russell is, Irving is a clearly superior player at this stage of their respective careers. Irving can be cut and pasted into the Nets lineup and he instantly improves the team.

New Deal: Irving will ultimately sign with Brooklyn for 4 years/$140 million– especially following rumors that he hasn’t enjoyed living in Boston.

D’Angelo Russell* – Brooklyn Nets – Last Year’s Salary: $7,019,698

This ranking might surprise some considering that Kemba Walker is the more talented of the two and has yet to be listed. But we’re ranking free agents and not players, and since luring Walker out of Charlotte will require paying the 29-year-old the full max, Russell is the more appealing of the two.

Russell’s 2018-19 salary was the final year of his rookie deal, which netted him $7.019 million. He is due for a major raise.

Russell is only 23. He will cost approximately $23 million in his first season – significantly less than Walker’s Supermax  He will continue to improve over the course of the next few seasons, and it seems that he now understands the work and dedication required to maintain success in the NBA.

Where Does He Fit: Russell’s perfect fit is Brooklyn; but unfortunately, it seems as though the Nets are content to chase Irving. And Russell has apparently moved on quickly himself. While the Suns and Timberwolves are rumored to have interest in Russell, there is no better landing spot for the young lead guard than his former team – the Lakers. Rumors began circulating earlier this week that there is mutual interest between the two, and the Lakers are projected to have enough cap space to swing a deal.

New Deal: Russell may not fit the Lakers timeline as well as Walker, but he’ll fit in their salary cap better. Let’s say Russell signs a 4 year/$100 million deal with the Lakers.

Kemba Walker – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $12,000,000

Walker is definitely a special point guard and player in the NBA. He gets buckets, makes his teammates better and operates without much of the drama that has surrounded Irving or Russell for the majority of their careers, respectively.

And Walker will probably be the second-best point guard signed this offseason in the 2019-20 season. But he is also two years older than Irving and six years older than Russell. He turned 29 last month, which means he has limited time remaining in his prime – especially for a guy listed generously as 6-foot-1; smaller guards are highly reliant on their quickness, and once that begins to wane, so too does their effectiveness.

Walker made only $12 million dollars in 2018-19 and is due for a hefty raise. Look for Walker to either cash in and sign a full max or give Charlotte a slight discount and remain with the Hornets on a five-year contract.

Where Does He Fit: While his age is prohibitive for teams looking to build around a younger core (e.g., Phoenix and Dallas), his timeline syncs up nicely with the Lakers and Celtics. Both teams would be ideal landing spots for Irving, but the Celtics are projected to have enough cap room to offer Walker a max. LA appears unable to free up enough space.

New Deal: Walker is eligible to sign a five-year, $231 million Supermax deal with Charlotte, but the allure of chasing a title will be too much to pass up. Walker may ultimately flee to the Celtics with a 4-year/$140.6 million deal.

Near Max Guys

Terry Rozier* – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $3,050,390

Rozier took a step back in 2018-19. But he still put up relatively strong numbers – he ended the season averaging 14.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per 36 minutes. And he can still hang his hat on his 2018 NBA Playoffs performance.

Where Does He Fit: Rozier just turned 25 years old and he should be a main target of teams like the Knicks, Pacers, Suns and Bulls. Rozier made only $3 million in 2018-19, and he is eligible for a significant raise. He rejected a deal last year that would have paid him $12 million per year.

New Deal: It sounds as if Rozier’s camp is excited about going to Indiana in a starting point guard role; Rozier and Pacers star Victor Oladipo share an agent. His contract with the Pacers could come somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 years/$45 million.

Above Mid-Level Guys

Ricky Rubio – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $14,975,000

It feels like Rubio has been in the NBA forever. But in reality, Rubio is still only 28 years-old. This will be his first go-round in unrestricted free agency. Rubio’s coming off of a nice season in which he averaged 12.7 points and 6.1 assists per game.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Rubio’s 2018-19 salary was $14.9 million. The Suns have become the favorites for Rubio’s services next season. As previously noted, the Suns have only $14 million in cap space. Be on the lookout for Rubio signing with Phoenix for 3 years/$50 million.

George Hill** – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $19,000,000

Hill was an important part of the Bucks’ rotation He is an above average defender and shooter. And he doesn’t command many touches, nor does he disrupt continuity or chemistry. But he is also 33-years-old, which will limit the teams that chase him in free agency.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Hill made $19 million last season. His contract technically runs through 2020-21, but his contract allows the Bucks to buy him out for only $1 million if it’s completed prior to July 2. The Bucks will waive Hill and offer him a longer-term deal starting at less than what would otherwise be a $19 million cap hit. Look for Hill to re-sign with Milwaukee for 2 years/$26 million.

Tyus Jones* – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $2,444,053

Jones had a breakout year of sorts in 2018-19. He set the NBA record with a 6.9-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Furthermore, he’s coming off a season in which he set career highs in points, assists and rebounds per game. And he’s only four years into his career. Having just turned 23 bodes well for Jones, as he should continue to improve over the next few years.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Jones made $2.444 million in 2018-19. He can go out and sign an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, forcing the Timberwolves’ hand. Or they can reach an agreement quickly. Either way, Jones should command a contract in the range of 4 years/$40million. And we’ll expect him to re-sign with Minnesota given his relationship with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Wolves head coach Ryan Saunders.

Patrick Beverley – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $5,027,028

Beverley is the quintessential point guard if you’ve already got a lead ball-handler and/or scorer. He is among the best defensive point guards in the league. He’s also an antagonist who is completely unafraid of literally anyone – including Kevin Durant, as was evidenced in the 2019 playoffs. Beverley turns 31 this July, but that shouldn’t deter interested teams.

Beverley made $5 million in 2018-19. He certainly proved his worth this past post-season, again. While he’s unlikely to get too much more, he is likely to receive a longer-term contract considering the market he’s created for himself.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Lots of teams are interested in Beverley, which bodes well for the Chicago native, including the Bulls, Mavericks and 76ers; but he fits in with Dallas the best. Assuming the Mavericks maintain the requisite space, a deal with Dallas for 2 years/$22 million might be the best option.

T.J. McConnell – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,600,520

McConnell definitely played himself into a handsome contract. He had a great playoff run, and his nagging defense was noteworthy in the playoffs against the Nets and Raptors.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: The 27-year-old  made only $1.6 million in 2018-19. There are rumors of mutual interest between the Suns and McConnell. If the Suns strike out on Russell, Beverley and Rozier, they could turn their attention to McConnell,. But the 76ers also still need his services and they will be over the cap if they re-sign Butler and Harris (while unable to exceed it to sign others whose bird rights they do not possess).  McConnell could just ultimately sign with Philadelphia for 3 years/$30 million.

Mid-Level or Below Guys

Delon Wright – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $2,536,898

Wright has been serviceable for most of his four-year career, but his breakout took place in Memphis following a trade from Toronto at the 2019 deadline. Wright averaged 12.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists in his nearly 31 minutes per game over 26 games with Memphis. Wright is also 27-years-old and still has most of his prime ahead of him.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Wright’s contract for 2018-19 was $2.536 million. He, too, will get a significant raise. He probably won’t take home quite as much as McConnell, but it will be close. Look for Wright to sign with the Magic– who were interested in acquiring him at the deadline – for 3 years/$27 million.

Shaun Livingston** – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $8,307,692

Livingston has been an important piece of the Warriors’ championship teams. He has also been a seemingly perfect teammate, playing his role perfectly and not asking for anything more than he’s been given.

Where Does He Fit: Livingston’s length and high basketball IQ have made him irreplaceable in Oakland – and his role will likely grow next year when the Warriors move to San Francisco considering the injuries and/or departures or Durant and/or Klay Thompson, and the team’s lack of salary cap space. The Warriors will need the 34-year-old-to-be, and would struggle to replace him considering they’re already over the cap.

New Deal: Livingston made $8.3 million in 2018-19. His re-signing with Golden State is probably the most predictable move of all the projections on this list. He will likely sign a one year/$8 million deal with the Warriors– after alluding to possibly even retiring in an interview with NBC Sports in October 2018 and re-affirming that he’s close to being done with our own Spencer Davies this past winter.

Derrick Rose – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601

Rose had something of a resurgence in 2018-19. He notched a career high of 50 points last October, playing strongly beyond his career night, too. He averaged 18 points, 4.3 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game – which represents a better season than he’s had since 2015-16.

Rose didn’t make much last season, which is a bargain considering the season he posted. He may not get a long-term deal, but he will most certainly command significantly more than $2 million.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Rose fits in nicely with a number of teams. He can still provide scoring punch off the bench, with his best fit being with Indiana or Chicago. While Indiana is probably the better landing spot, Chicago will be in serious need of help at the point guard spot. And it is there that Rose could reunite with his hometown team that drafted him on a one year/$10 million contract.

Other Notable Free Agents

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

Elfrid Payton – New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $3,000,000

Cory Joseph – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $7,945,000

Rajon Rondo – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $9,000,000

Emmanuel Mudiay* – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $4,294,480

Shabazz Napier** – Minnesota Timberwolves– Last Year’s Salary: $1,942,442

Quinn Cook* – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $1,544,951

J.J. Barea – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $3,710,850

Ish Smith – Detroit Pistons – Last Year’s Salary: $6,000,000

Trey Burke – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,795,015

Frank Jackson** – New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242

Yogi Ferrell** – Sacramento Kings– Last Year’s Salary: $3,000,000

Shaquille Harrison** – Chicago Bulls – Last Year’s Salary: $1,311,265

Jerian Grant* – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $2,639,314

Frank Mason** – Sacramento Kings– Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242

Shelvin Mack – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601

Ryan Arcidiacono** – Chicago Bulls – Last Year’s Salary: $1,349,383

Raul Neto – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $2,150,000

Tim Frazier – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $196,553

Jeremy Lin – Toronto Raptors – Last Year’s Salary: $487,109

Isaiah Thomas – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601

Raymond Felton – Oklahoma City Thunder – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601

Michael Carter-Williams – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $59,820

*Qualifying Offer (If made and accepted, player becomes restricted free agent)

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

The 2019 free agent class is filled with point guard talent. Lots of teams will add a new floor general. And lots of point guards will get paid. This particular free agent class boasts an even breakdown of established point guards and unproven floor generals.

Still, some teams will miss out on their desired point guard and will be forced to turn to Plan B, C or even D. Either way, the madness begins this Sunday at 6 pm EST.

Basketball Insiders contributor residing in the Bronx, New York.

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