NBA: Top 10 Restricted Free Agents
With the 2011-12 NBA regular season in the books, 14 of the league’s 30 teams have now turned their focus fully toward the NBA Draft and free agency. In less than two weeks, eight more teams will join them as they are eliminated from the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Just like the league, most fans and media will turn their attention to both of these subjects, so in that spirit we offer you the top (potentially) restricted free agents on the market.
First, a few details about restricted free agency:
Who is eligible? Players coming off the final season of their rookie scale contract or any player with three years or less of NBA experience (presuming they are not a former first-round pick who did not have all their rookie scale options picked up – like Jonny Flynn or Hasheem Thabeet). For reference, check out HOOPSWORLD’s list of 2012 free agents.
How do they become eligible? None of these players, technically, are restricted yet. Their team must issue them a Qualifying Offer (QO; amount in parentheses) by June 30th to make them restricted. If there is no QO, there is no restriction. None of these players have yet received a QO; typically that happens later in June.
What does restricted mean? It means the player’s current team can match any offer sheet the player signs with another team. If they match the sheet (within three days), the player stays with his current team. If they decline, he joins the new team. Either way, once an offer sheet has been signed the player’s contract has been decided. (See more at the NBA Salary Cap FAQ.)
How much is the QO? Well, it depends. For players coming off their rookie scale contracts that amount is defined in the rookie salary scale (see the 2008 Rookie Salary Scale here). For non-first-round picks (like Jeremy Lin), the QO amount is a calculation – the greater of 125% of their previous salary or the minimum salary for their years of experience plus $175,000.
What is the new 2011 CBA wrinkle? One of the tweaks in the new CBA had to do with players over- and under-performing their rookie scale deals. Now if a player is coming off their rookie scale contract and started 41 or more games or played 2,000 minutes in each of their past two seasons, they receive a QO equal to the one previously defined or that of the 9th pick as defined in the rookie salary scale (in this case, $3,654,514). Non-first-round picks who meet the same criteria will get an offer equal to the 21st pick (in this case, $2,695,391). First-rounders from the top 14 who fail to meet this criteria get a QO equal to the 15th pick (in this case, $4,001,917). (Players affected by this in the list below will have an * next to their QO amount. For reference on the QO changes see this document posted online by Sports Illustrated and scroll down to the bottom of page six.)
Hopefully this helps explain restricted free agency a bit.
Quick note on the list: This list ranks the players not only on their recent contributions but also their ability to appeal and fit into a broad variety of teams.
Now, on to the top 10!
10 – George Hill, Indiana Pacers ($3.1 million QO)
Hill has had the bad luck of being behind two very good point guards in his career, first with Tony Parker in San Antonio and then with Darren Collison in Indiana. He is a good defender who can run a team and score. Lately his play has the Pacers questioning who their starting point really should be. Several of the teams with money are in need of a point guard, which means chances are someone will offer him a starting role and starting money.
9 – Ryan Anderson, Orlando Magic ($3.2 million QO)
Up until this season, Anderson was a nice niche player, able to come off the bench and hit a few three-pointers every so often. All he’s done in 2011-12 is post career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, FG% and FT%, plus lead the league in three-point attempts and makes while hitting 44% of them. He gets press for his shooting, but the other numbers are pretty dang good, too.
8 – O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies ($4.0 million QO*)
Mayo is the first on this list to have his QO reduced, down from $7.4 million. If it had been based on his first two years in the league, he would have hit that higher number, but 2010-11 was a rough year for him as he struggled to keep his role with the new-look Grizzlies. This year, he became a top-tier sixth man, improving in almost every category over 2010-11 in about the same minutes.
7 – Courtney Lee, Houston Rockets ($3.2 million QO)
The Houston Rockets have been talking about trading starting shooting guard Kevin Martin for awhile and it may well happen as soon as they can re-sign Lee. However, with his balance of defense, offense and basketball IQ there will be many teams looking to acquire him. The question becomes for how much?
6 – JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets ($3.7 million QO*)
By contrast, McGee gets a small bump in his QO (from $3.5 million) because of his number of starts. This past year, he posted career-highs in scoring, FG% and steals. Considering the way big men with some defensive talent are in demand in free agency, McGee will be a hotter property than perhaps the rest of his game deserves.
5 – Jeremy Lin, New York Knicks ($1.0 million QO)
Too low? There is no doubt Lin made his mark on the Knicks and the NBA scene before his unfortunate knee injury, but it’s tough to say Lin deserves to be higher than the remaining four names on this list. There are still questions about turnovers, but the Knicks are in the driver’s seat with Lin because of the protection they enjoy in his restricted free agency with the “Gilbert Arenas Provision.” (See more details in a well-written piece by Larry Coon.) If they want him, he’ll be a Knick.
4 – Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets ($4.0 million QO*)
Yes, it would be nice if Lopez rebounded a bit more and put a little more effort into the defensive side of the floor, but it’s hard to argue with a center averaging 17.4 points a game for his career. Coming off injury, he dropped a bit on this list (as did his QO, from $4.2 million), but he will have no shortage of suitors.
3 – Nic Batum, Portland Trail Blazers ($3.7 million QO*)
Batum, with a QO bump from $3.2 million for his games started, may be the best all-around player on this list. He has shown he can effectively start at shooting guard and small forward, is a very good perimeter defender with the ability to defend at least three positions and can score from anywhere on the floor. The question has always been his consistency, but this season he became a legitimate second option to LaMarcus Aldridge. Portland wants to keep him, so prying him away will be expensive.
2 – Eric Gordon, New Orleans Hornets ($4.0 million QO*)
Like Lopez, Gordon’s QO drops (from $5.1 million) because an injury-shortened 2011-12 prevented him from getting in enough starts. He is the best pure scorer of the bunch and will be the top shooting guard available, restricted or otherwise. In fact, for many teams he will be the number one target on their shopping list. With a new owner in New Orleans, though, it just got a little harder to pry him away.
1 – Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers ($3.7 million QO*)
All Hibbert did in his fourth season was get named to his first All-Star team, help lead the Pacers to a five-win improvement over the previous season (in 16 less games!), and posted career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks, FG%, steals and minutes. That earned him a modest bump in the QO (from $3.6 million). As an All-Star center hitting free agency at only 25 years of age, many teams will be drooling over acquiring him. However, chances seem pretty slim the Pacers let him go.
Twelve More: Greg Stiemsma, Boston Celtics; D.J. Augustin, Charlotte Bobcats; Omer Asik, Chicago Bulls; Brandon Rush, Golden State Warriors; Marreese Speights, Memphis Grizzlies; Michael Beasley, Minnesota Timberwolves; Anthony Randolph, Minnesota Timberwolves; Landry Fields, New York Knicks; J.J. Hickson, Portland Trail Blazers; Jason Thompson, Sacramento Kings; Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs; Jerryd Bayless, Toronto Raptors