5 Storylines to watch as NBA Free Agency cools off
Every year I pencil in two additional holidays onto my calendar, July 1st and whatever date the NBA trade deadline is set for. These two days are different sorts of holidays, though have very many familiar aspects. They’re both gift giving holidays, where an omnipresent sort of being presents knowledge to us lay-people.
These holidays bring vastly different groups of people together in search of a common goal. They tend to end with your group of family or friends sitting around a dinner table, arguing over nuances and pedantic differences in opinion, knowing full well no one will convince the other.
Indeed, those first days of NBA Free Agency and the Trade Deadline are a joyous one, but once the dust settles and the hectic nature of tweet after tweet slows to a crawl, only a few major storylines tend to remain. From player drama to changes in the league rules, here are five major storylines that should keep even the most hard-core NBA fan occupied until the preseason starts in October.
A Kawhi Leonard Trade
There is no story greater than Kawhi Leonard’s break from quiet monastery that is the San Antonio Spurs. Once known as the league’s bastion of stability, San Antonio seemingly wants nothing more than a return to its quiet ambiguity. Instead, every source from Pro Football Hall of Famer Cris Carter to Kawhi’s Uncle Dennis Robertson is ready to drop some sort of new information.
At this point we’ve heard from nearly everyone except the most important voice in the room, Kawhi himself.
Kawhi’s refusal to speak publicly on his trade demands only spark additional chatter around the NBA’s most notoriously quiet man. It seems like every day a new nugget of information or wrinkle in the story emerges. This week, the Toronto Raptors vault to the forefront of the Kawhi Sweepstakes, earning themselves a position as Vegas’ odds on favorite to land the small forward. Perhaps next week everything could readjust again.
This perplexing rumor-mill of an offseason surrounding Kawhi represents an interesting duality, rampant speculation drives the media’s storyline while the absence of any actual trade implies calm and thorough decision-making dictates any behind the scenes negotiations.
Any discussion regarding Kawhi’s trade request, regardless as to what angle you approach his request, starts with the Los Angeles Lakers. Kawhi’s camp has expressed their unwavering desire to join a Los Angeles team this offseason, seemingly doubling down on this claim at almost every opportunity his camp gets. This obviously doesn’t stop a team such as Philly or Toronto from pursuing a trade, but if this sort of jargon persists it clearly drops his trade value in the eyes of any potential buyer.
Even in the case of Philadelphia, a franchise which that has expressed their confidence in selling its culture and retaining the superstar defender, the potential for exit drives Kawhi’s pricing from buying bird rights to renting a superstar.
Kawhi’s lowered cost benefits two other players in this sweepstakes, the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers respectively.
On the Lakers end, they know full well that next year they can create a max salary slot if Kawhi’s claims are true, driving their offer even further down (possibly offering Luol Deng and only one of their young stars as opposed to a Hart/Kuzma/Ingram package). Additionally for the Lakers, waiting might actually be their best option. Kawhi’s injury still is an absolute mystery to anyone outside his camp and waiting a year mitigates the risk of trading assets for an injured and ineffective player.
With LeBron on a four year contract, the Lakers can afford to take their time building a championship contender without concerns of LeBron taking off the second the grass is greener. LeBron’s presence on the Lakers, however, opens Kawhi up for another suitor which could see a trade as the most attractive solution, the Los Angeles Clippers.
Following the trades of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin (both substantially intelligent moves from a strictly financial sense alone, the assets received made those even better) and departure of DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers are want for superstar talent.
With Kawhi reportedly not wanting to play second fiddle to LeBron James, the Clippers are in a prime place to strike. Young players such as Montrezl Harrell combined with a veteran such as Avery Bradley or Tobias Harris could make the basis of a strong trade package. Additionally, the Clippers can offer the exact same Los Angeles experience without the LeBron spotlight.
None of this, however, takes into consideration any of the options which the San Antonio front office might employ. Where do they want to send Kawhi? Are they convinced they can still make a strong playoff push? If so, perhaps they want to send Kawhi to the Eastern Conference (though once again the Boston/Philly offers are dwindling due to remarks made by Kawhi’s camp).
Why not hold onto Kawhi until the trade deadline and prove he is healthy to increase the offers. What about a real compromise, promising Kawhi a trade next summer and extending him to super-max extension. This story alone is proving to make the offseason just another gift that keeps on giving.
Carmelo Anthony Buyout
From one disgruntled superstar to another (if you’re willing to call Carmelo Anthony that), the Carmelo Anthony saga represents a very diplomatic outcome for a situation which looked like it’d turn out anything but. Getting rid of Carmelo Anthony would save Oklahoma City ownership more than $100 million dollars this year alone. This leads to two questions, how does Oklahoma City do it, and where does Anthony land?
After the three team salary dump undertaken by the Atlanta Hawks/ Brooklyn Nets/ Denver Nuggets and signing of Jabari Parker to an incredibly team friendly contract by the Chicago Bulls, Sacramento remains as the only team with significant cap space remaining.
With rumors that Sacramento is looking to tender an offer sheet for Rodney Hood, a team with somewhere around 28 million dollars in cap space simply doesn’t exist. As such, the likely option for Oklahoma City is a waive-and-stretch (unless they’re interested in paying nearly 225 million dollars in luxury tax for another contributor or two).
For reference, read more on what a waive-and-stretch is here.
Unless for some absolutely maddening reason a team such as Houston or LA trades for Anthony, there’s an almost 100 percent certainty that Anthony gets bought out. This means that Anthony will get his pick of the litter of small-forward needy contenders.
Does Anthony move to Houston despite the similar fit to Oklahoma City? Does he join up with LeBron in LA, adding another ball dominant, middling three point shooter to a team that clearly needs another one of those? Or does Carmelo select a team that might provide a better fit such as Miami or Detroit (lol bants he won’t sign with Detroit).
Likely there will not be a resolution to this issue until Sacramento figures out how they want to use their cap-space, but luckily the resources Sacramento can misspend their money on are quickly dwindling.
Clint Capella Shenanigans Continue
Remember when Houston General Manager Daryl Morey said on November 16th, 2017 that Clint Capela, “…couldn’t price himself out of Houston?”
Now it’s starting to look like Clint Capela and his agent Jason Ranne are testing this theory, turning down a reported five-year, $85 million dollar offer from the Rockets. Capela is reportedly looking to receive a contract similar to Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams of four-years, $100 million.
While the arguments for this deal are clearly logical, Capela wants to get a pay check similar to his peers, the actual logistics are seemingly driven by conflicting statements and a cautious owner.
This discussion starts with Tilman Fertitta. Sinking more than half of his fortune into purchasing the Houston Rockets, Fertitta sends mixed signals, both publicly and through his front office’s actions, regarding how much he’s willing to spend.
In February of 2018, Fertitta released an interview stating that he had, “… no problem paying luxury tax” if his team is set up to take home a championship. Then, once again, Fertitta reinforces this sentiment during an interview with ESPN’s Tim Macmahon, claiming that the luxury tax hasn’t even come up in any discussions this year. Both pretty good signs if you’re a championship caliber team.
And yet, Fertitta’s actions tend to skew away from these sorts of claims. Two critical pieces to Houston’s success, Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, were signed to lower than projected amounts (Ariza taking $15 million for one year and Mbah a Moute taking $4.3 million for one year). Houston could have easily matched or beaten those offers by adding additional years or dollars. Now here come the Rockets with a below market offer for Capela, and obviously he’s correct to reject it. Or is he?
See restricted free agents come into the free agent market at a significant disadvantage. Unlike an unrestricted free agent, restricted free agents aren’t immediately signed to the team where they sign a contract. Rather, the team which holds restricted rights (their former team) can chose to match this contract and bring that player back.
This creates a negative situation for the team signing the contract, who dedicate cap space for two days without necessarily even getting a player in return. For restricted players, this means their likelihood of getting a higher payday increases (the worse looking the contract, the less likely a team is to match) if they can find someone to pay them, but that’s a major if.
As mentioned before, the only team left in the league that can offer a major contract to Capela is the Sacramento Kings. With multiple centers and power forwards on their roster, they’re unlikely to tender Capela an offer. As such, the Rockets have no real incentive to offer anything more than this number, as Capela’s other option is to play this year on his qualifying offer, a one-year $4.7 million contract that will make him an unrestricted free agent next year and offers him the right to reject any trade next year.
While this might be preferable on paper, giving Capela the option to go on the open market and sign with whomever he wants next year, waiting and seeing represents a significant risk for Capela as well. What if he’s injured, suddenly he’s worth far less than the reported $17 million a year this contract would give him.
Similarly, the center market next year will be packed, with DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, and Al Horford all representing competition, with over 10 other All-Star level players hitting the market for teams to spend their money on. Either way this is a situation neither side is winning until Capela signs a contact.
Changes to the Rules?
Of all the under-the-radar statements made this offseason that could have significant impact on the league’s future, Adam Silver hinting that the one-and-done rule might end represents the most impactful of them all. Effectively it would make first round draft picks in one of 2022-2023-2024 (whichever year the rule is ended) into arguably the most valuable picks of all time.
This is due to the fact that if the one-and-done is ended, that draft class would consist of not only the previous year’s 5-star recruits that are finishing their one-and-done year of college basketball, but also the top high school prospects that declared for the draft immediately.
The resulting draft would likely find superstar players falling as low as 10th overall, and even a late first round pick could round out to a quality starting caliber player. Teams, start clearing your decks and convincing Vlade Divac to pick-swap with you to try and get those sweet, sweet high quality rookies.
Filling out the rosters
Finally, Free Agency isn’t over, and watching the trickle of small name/veteran players’ sign on low cost-high value contracts should provide entertainment enough over the next few weeks. When writing this piece alone, Cleveland inked Channing Frye to a one year veteran’s minimum $2.4 million dollar contract and Brooklyn reunited newly signed Ed Davis with his Portland teammate and breakout player Shabazz Napier on a two year deal.
Although these deals aren’t the bombshell that a Kawhi Leonard trade or Carmelo Anthony buyout could provide, each of these depth pieces represent a potentially major shift to a team’s roster and shouldn’t be overlooked. Watch for names such as Treveon Graham (a personal favorite of mine), Marcus Smart, David Nwaba, Greg Monroe, or Alex Len to make an impact on a team this coming year.
Additionally, trades such as the Atlanta/Brooklyn/Denver one project to continue occurring, with teams figuratively pushing their vegetables around the plate as they try and move salary or remove bad contracts from their books. Even if the major Woj bombs already happened, don’t write off mid to late July for some smaller nuggets of NBA free agency.
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