Two weeks ago, the staff writers at Basketball Insiders wrote a five-part series previewing free agents at all five positions this summer. With the draft now over, and free agency starting in a matter of days, we now turn our focus over to the most important free agent decisions each team in every division in the league will face this summer, starting with the Northwest Division.
The Northwest Division may have had arguably the tightest race in NBA history this season. Every division matchup counted this season, as only three games separated Portland, the division champion, from Denver, the only team in the division that (barely) missed the postseason.
Every single one of them will be looking for that extra oomph that will vault them into the league’s elite, but at the same time, a fair amount of them also have big decisions to make in regards to their guys that will hit the market this summer.
But which are the ones that you should really keep your eye on? Well, let’s start with the most obvious one.
Paul George – Oklahoma City Thunder – $19,508,958 (Last Season’s Salary)
Speculation surrounding Paul George’s free agency started last summer when it was revealed that the Los Angeles native wanted to leave the Pacers for his hometown team, the Lakers. Indiana granted only one of his wishes, as they sent his bags packing for Oklahoma City. George did just fine for a player of his caliber this past season, but the Thunder dealt with untimely injuries and there is a growing concern that George lacks the ability to close out games.
That won’t stop the Thunder from offering George the max, even with Carmelo Anthony opting into his deal. Convincing him to stay, however, will be the tricky part. A player as good as George will reel in plenty of interested parties, with the Lakers being the toughest competition. Many have believed that George to the Lakers is a foregone conclusion dating back to last summer, but the most recent reports indicate that George is leaning towards staying with the Thunder. The deciding factor may be whether LeBron joins the Lakeshow this summer, so stay tuned!
Nikola Jokic* – Denver Nuggets – $1,471,382
Denver opted to decline Jokic’s team option this week, which means he will hit restricted free agency. The play of “The Joker” should earn him a nice fat contract this summer given that his offensive repertoire makes him one of the league’s most talented young centers. Re-signing him would be a no-brainer, especially with the limited money available for potential suitors, but Denver’s in a sticky situation with their cap at the moment.
The team didn’t make the wisest investments when they gave big contracts to Mason Plumlee and Darrell Arthur following the cap boom, but the extensions they gave Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried beforehand have now come back to bite them. Pending any surprises, Denver will definitely pay Jokic, but the real situation to keep a monitor on is which player(s) the Nuggets will try to get rid of to avoid paying the tax, and what they’ll have to include in order to get rid of the said player(s).
Jusuf Nurkic* – Portland Trail Blazers – $2,947,305
Unless they have shown enough promise to warrant a nice payday, restricted free agents aren’t going to see a lot of green this summer, with Jokic and Aaron Gordon likely being the rare exceptions. Jusuf Nurkic will not be one of those exceptions. After a very exciting half-season for the Blazers in 2017, Nurkic had a very uneven follow-up season in Portland, so an eight-figure contract probably isn’t in the cards for now.
That isn’t helped by the Blazers’ current salary cap situation. The Blazers have tried like hell to avoid paying the luxury tax since they unwisely invested tens of millions in role players. Up to this point, they’ve been pretty sly at avoiding it by trading Allen Crabbe and Noah Vonleh off their payroll. Given that Nurkic arguably took a teensy step back this season, they’re probably not going to offer what he wants. Lucky for them, Nurkic probably won’t see any rich offers this summer from anyone, so the most likely outcome is he takes the qualifying offer.
Derrick Favors – Utah Jazz – $12,000,000
After struggling with injuries and losing playing time over the last two seasons, Derrick Favors had himself a comeback season with the Jazz. 12.3 points and 7.1 rebounds isn’t a whole lot to brag about, but shooting a career-high 56 percent from the field should have raised some eyebrows. The cap crunch will hurt Favors’ chances of getting the same contract he received from the Jazz when they extended him, but his unrestricted free agency should make him a coveted commodity.
If his cryptic tweets indicate anything, Favors sounds interested in re-signing with the Jazz. Whether the Jazz want to re-sign him is another story. The issue with bringing him back is that he and Gobert do not space the floor much in a league that values spacing from bigs. Depending on what they do with Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko, and Ekpe Udoh, the Jazz should have cap room this summer in a rare time where hardly anyone else does, so they need to spend wisely. They will get to decide whether or not re-signing Favors fits that description.
While none of the teams really qualified as a contender, the Northwest Division has some big names coming up on the free market this summer. Whether they decide to stay or go could not only impact their division but the entire league as a whole for years to come.
*Restricted free agent
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