Let the silly season begin in earnest. As of roughly last night, the free-agency negotiation period has begun. No official contracts can be inked until July 9 when the July moratorium is lifted and the new cap year begins, but teams can begin speaking with players and agents and verbally agree to terms immediately.
With 2016’s cap explosion looming over everything, deals that may have seemed exorbitant in previous years are expected to be the norm. Teams with cap space will look to maximize what’s almost certainly the final summer where their room is a major advantage, with the majority of the league’s teams coming into max-level space in a year.
For certain franchises, though, this will make finding bargains amid the madness of paramount importance. Who will be some of the best options while the flashier names dominate the headlines? Let’s take a look.
West may or may not qualify as a potential “bargain” depending on his mindset after opting out of his $12.6 million final year in Indiana. If this was a move made with designs on securing a larger payday elsewhere, West’s skill set has probably diminished just enough that he’d be at a fair number or perhaps even slightly overpaid.
But if, as many assume, the opt-out was less a financial move and more an abandonment of a Pacers team he no longer feels is his best chance to win in his mid-30s, potential suitors could be in business. West is a noted locker-room presence who could bring instant maturity and know-how to a group that’s just a step or two away.
He declined slightly over the last season or two, but is still a capable shooter from midrange who can create for himself in a pinch. He’s hard-nosed on both ends of the floor, and will bring some grit – maybe a team like Portland (should they lose LaMarcus Aldridge) or New Orleans would grab him on a two-year deal if he were willing to take a bit of a discount. The Rockets could also potentially have interest if they don’t end up bringing Josh Smith back.
He’s been seemingly all over the map since Linsanity back in 2011-12, and what’s sometimes been obscured with all the minutiae is that this is a serviceable NBA point guard. He’s a career 35 percent three-point shooter who has steadily improved here each of the last three seasons – he shot an even 40 percent on all open threes last season (no defender within four feet), per NBASavant, decimal points behind Dirk Nowitzki and dead even with Jrue Holiday, who many consider a much better shooter.
He’s a solid option as a ball-handler in pick-and-roll sets, with good passing instincts and the ability to get his own points if available. His defense is sometimes criticized, but some of this feels unfair; he ranked 20th of 84 point guards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus last year, and has solid fundamentals even if he’s not a lock-down one-on-one guy.
One of the Texas franchises in Houston or Dallas could have interest – Houston if Patrick Beverley heads elsewhere (and if Lin can forgive Daryl Morey for dumping him last summer), Dallas if they see Lin as an upgrade over Raymond Felton and Devin Harris (he is). The Jazz could look in his direction as a moderately-priced upgrade to their woeful point guard play last season, someone who could play alongside Dante Exum and perhaps replace Trey Burke for certain minutes. If he comes in cheap enough, Lin could be a nice little bargain for the right group.
Like West, whether Chandler ends up a true bargain depends on his asking price. He could probably find a solid eight-figure deal to take him through the rest of his mid-30s from someone, but with a career salary earnings of well over $100 million, maybe he prioritizes the right fit and takes less to allow a contender to bring him into the fold.
Chandler is younger than West at 32 and may have more left in the tank. He’d be a similar type of presence in the locker room and could bring some major defensive upgrades on the interior for the right team. Milwaukee has already expressed public interest, and others with needs at the big positions might look in his direction as well.
Belinelli is often referenced as the prototypical “Spurs veteran,” but he’s actually only 29 as he hits unrestricted free agency. With San Antonio possibly in cost-saving mode to make room for a big-splash target like LaMarcus Aldridge, they may not be able to fit the sharpshooter into their plans.
How he’ll operate outside the vaunted Spurs system is a worthy concern, but if he can be had for something around the mid-level range, he could be a solid backup and depth piece for the right contender. He could also be another guy a team like the Jazz has on their radar as a short-term stopgap while Exum develops, or a similar situation elsewhere. Sources have already reported interest from both Golden State and Charlotte as well, and his suitors could be numerous if the price is right.
Something of a forgotten man after his involvement in the Rajon Rondo trade and eventual landing in Phoenix, Wright could almost certainly be had for a good price and is only 27. He’s not a starter-caliber player at this point, but has a blend of skills that could be very useful in a depth capacity for several teams.
With the right offensive creators around him and in a well-designed defensive scheme, he isn’t a bad player. He’s been an advanced stats darling for several years and has limited miles on his legs. If used optimally, he could be a real bargain in the $5-$6 million range as the cap explodes.
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