NBA AM: The Free Agent Update
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The Free Agent Update: NBA free agency has now passed from the frantic “get ‘em signed” phase into the bargain shopping phase. The worst values in free agency occur within the first five days of the process. This is typically when teams have to overpay to get the players they covet. When you look at the contracts that players like Tyreke Evans, Zaza Pachulia or even Monta Ellis received – all were the results of multiple offers and the teams that wanted them understanding that they either had to offer a million or two more or an additional contract year in order to secure those players.
The most expensive players in sports are someone else’s’ players. Equally the most expensive players to retain are players other teams covet, and that plays out in the first week or so of free agency.
So now that the “mad money” is spent, let’s take a look at some of the guys who are left:
Brandon Jennings: The Milwaukee Bucks tried to sign Atlanta Hawks’ restricted free agent Jeff Teague, mainly because they thought they could get him cheaper and felt he fit the direction the team was heading under new head coach Larry Drew. The Bucks tried to do a contract extension with Jennings last year only to have the table turned and the price jacked way up. The price tag for Jennings is what has the Bucks looking at other options.
Sources close to the process explained that the team has never wavered in their desire to ink Jennings to a new deal, they just won’t massively overpay Jennings and it seems that’s what his camp is seeking.
The Bucks issued a $4.5 million Qualifying Offer to Jennings at the start of free agency in order to restrict his free agency. With most of the major free agent money off the table, Jennings looks to have two options – make a reasonable deal with the Bucks or pick up the offer year and play out another season for the Bucks.
Both Jennings and the Bucks have entertained sign-and-trade scenarios, but sources close to the situation say Milwaukee is not going to sandbag their season to move Jennings for basically nothing and that any deal made would have to return a legitimate starting point guard.
Both sides are talking, and a deal to keep Jennings in Milwaukee could be had in the $8 million per season range. The question is will Jennings take a deal at that price? He wants significantly more considering his peers received deals in the $11 to $12 million per season range last year by way of extensions.
If Jennings picks up his Qualifying Offer, he would become untradeable this season without his consent and he’d become an unrestricted free agent in July, something he and his camp are strongly considering.
The Bucks and Jennings have a dialogue going. Will they reach a deal?
Mo Williams: Utah Jazz guard Mo Williams has no shortage of suitors, but what he does not have is a long list of big-dollar offers.
Williams is said to be weighing a number of scenarios, but is holding out hope that a solid multi-year offer will come his way.
Williams has told friends in the league that if the offers don’t improve, he may opt for a one-year deal for a contending team like Miami, who has expressed interest.
Unfortunately for Williams, the market doesn’t have a ton of money left and those teams with cash to spend are not teams Williams is actively considering.
There is no doubt that Williams lands somewhere, but the question is which would-be contender gets his services and how much will that cost them?
Gerald Henderson: The Charlotte Bobcats have been talking with Gerald Henderson about a new deal, but as you can imagine the numbers and years on the table are not in Henderson’s favor.
Sources close to the process say there is no question the team wants Henderson back, but they are not about to overpay for him.
The problem for the former Duke star is that most of the league views him the same way. There are several teams that would do a mid-level exception based offer sheet, but the Bobcats almost certainly match that kind of number.
Eventually, some team will set the price on Henderson and that’s the unfortunate side of restricted free agency. Once that happens, Charlotte will then make their decision, mainly because they don’t have to do anything until then.
Like Jennings, Charlotte did issue a $4.53 million Qualifying Offer to restrict Henderson’s free agency and the Bobcats have talked about sign-and-trade scenarios with Henderson and other teams, so moving him in a trade is a consideration. However, sources say that seems somewhat unlikely at this point unless it’s a good deal for Charlotte.
When teams reach a pricing impasse like Charlotte has with Henderson and Milwaukee has with Jennings, they often turn to the trade market to make sure they are not over or under valuing a player.
It is telling that no one has tendered a major offer for Henderson (or Jennings). Rather than bid against themselves, the Bobcats, like most teams with restricted free agents, are letting the marketplace do their negotiating.
Henderson could opt to pick up his Qualifying Offer and head into unrestricted free agency next year, but sources close to the process say it’s far more likely Henderson reaches a new deal in Charlotte than play out next season on his Qualifier.
DeJuan Blair: There’s no shortage of interested teams inquiring about DeJuan Blair. In fact, most of the league has called about Blair in some capacity. The issue for Blair is how can he get a multi-year deal or a deal that preserves his Bird Rights via sign-and-trade with the San Antonio Spurs.
Blair’s time in San Antonio was far from ideal for a free agent since he played sparingly in the postseason and didn’t have a huge role in the last two years. This makes landing a significant free agent deal tough, especially for a guy with no anterior cruciate ligaments in his knees.
Teams are more than willing to do one-year, low-dollar deals for Blair, mainly because when he did play in San Antonio, he played extremely well. The issue is how to get him a multi-year deal or how to preserve his Bird Rights.
The Spurs are not closed to a sign-and-trade with Blair, but like all things with San Antonio the deal has to favor them and that’s tough to construct.
Free agency comes in tiers and with most of the upper-tier guys off the board, Blair’s window for a deal is open and there are no shortage of scenarios, especially for a guy that could be playing for less than $2 million next season.
Timofey Mosgov: Mosgov has been a regular at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, going hard daily against the likes of Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka. The word around Summer League was that Mozgov was headed to the Sacramento Kings as a free agent, although the Denver Nuggets were trying to re-sign him.
There were reports this week that after signing guard Nate Robinson to a free agent deal, the Nuggets could be working on a sign-and-trade deal for Mozgov.
The Spurs have emerged as a team interested in Mozgov and they could be the team trying to construct a deal with Denver.
Like Blair, the window for a deal for Timofey is open and it seems like he could come off the free agent board fairly soon.
Nikola Pekovic: The Timberwolves and Pekovic have been working on a multi-year deal that would keep the seven-footer in Minnesota for the next four seasons.
Sources close to the situation say retaining Pekovic is a virtual lock and all that’s remaining is for the Wolves to finish their offseason.
Because of how the cap rules work, Pekovic has to be the last player signed as his number could push the Wolves into the luxury tax and that would limit any other roster moves the team can make.
The deal that’s expected for Pekovic is in the four-year, $50 million range, which should put his first year’s salary at roughly $10.7 million. This would give the Wolves a committed salary of $65.812 million, assuming they don’t make any other deals.
The Wolves still have roughly $650,000 remaining on their mid-level exception and $516,000 left on their bi-annual exception, and at least one open roster spot.
The move would be strictly about cap management to allow the Spurs to potentially add another player via sign-and-trade.
Dropping Neal and possibly DeJuan Blair’s cap holds would allow the Spurs to make such a move.
Neal has had interest from other teams and like most free agents, he has to play the waiting game. San Antonio removing his restricted status will help.
We Want To Know:
More Than Just 48 Minutes: Someone asked me on Twitter yesterday why new Denver Nuggets guard Nate Robinson didn’t receive a bigger deal, agreeing to a two-year deal worth $4.03 million after what was an impressive postseason with the Chicago Bulls.
The truth of the situation is that while some players are uber-appealing on the floor, they are incredibly tough to manage off the floor. Enter Nate Robinson.
There is no question that Robinson is an impressive basketball player, but the problem for Robinson and many free agents who are still unsigned is that their history and their reputation for being disruptive limits what teams are willing to offer.
Robinson is a clown around guy off the court. If you spend 10 minutes in a locker room with him you’ll eventually see it. That kind of stuff surfaces in practice, on the team plane and in meetings.
For the most part, it’s harmless. However, for teams with culture issues or control issues, Robinson can be a distraction and he’s not alone. Free agent guard Delonte West is in the same boat; talented player on the court, an eventual distraction off the court.
It’s not a surprise that Robinson had success in Chicago. They are a tough veteran team with a controlled environment. The structure in place (and fear of Tom Thibodeau, according to sources) was great for Robinson. Unfortunately for these players, there are not a lot of those kinds of teams willing to take on someone who could be a distraction.
NBA teams have to live with each other for roughly 200 days a year when you factor in training camp, preseason and the regular season.
They have to practice together, travel together and live around each other for more than the 48 minutes of game time we see on the court.
So when you ask yourself, ‘Why doesn’t this guy get a deal? Why is this guy out of the NBA? Why didn’t this guy get a major contract?’ a lot of times it boils down to how teams see a player fitting into their culture.
The good teams really value that; the great teams cultivate that. And guys that could be a distraction tend to find themselves looking for jobs more often than not.
It’s About Improving: Staying on the topic of Twitter questions – yesterday someone asked me, what’s the Orlando Magic’s plan?
While surely the question was trying to solicit a complex answer, the truth of the matter is the Magic, like many teams outside the playoff picture, have a very basic answer — get better.
Making the playoffs or getting a high draft picks isn’t a goal most teams have. It’s a result. You make the playoffs because you are good, typically better than the teams you play against.
Getting a high draft pick is typically the result of being bad, or having less talent or maturity than the teams you play against.
The Magic are trying to build a culture of winning. They are not willfully losing games; in fact they really don’t want to lose games at all. No one stays employed in the NBA very long if all they do is lose games, regardless of the players you draft with high draft picks.
Is the 2014 NBA Draft class appealing? Sure. There is no question that some of the roster decisions being considered have the 2014 draft in mind, but the Magic are not fielding a D-League team just to land a 25 percent chance at Andrew Wiggins.
They want to see Tobias Harris improve. They want to see Maurice Harkless come into his own as a star-level talent. They want Nikola Vucevic to develop the same kind of impact on a game defensively as he showed last year offensively. They want Jacque Vaughn to grow as a coach and they want their new free agents and draft additions to make them a better team.
The Magic won 20 games last year, but were in a lot of those games. The goal this year is to win a few more of those and if that results in a playoff berth, great. If that results in a high draft pick, that’s not going to be a problem either.
The goal for the Magic, like most teams, is to work at getting better. For Orlando, as they enter year two of this new regime and program, they are expecting more from themselves.
While that certainly isn’t the sexy answer, it’s the truth of what they are doing.
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