Free Agency Preview: Top 10 restricted free agents
Jeremy Lin. Isaiah Thomas. Chandler Parsons.
All good players, albeit with flaws, but ones teams saw as potentially part of the long-term future for their teams. However, when they came up as a restricted free agent another team valued them more, came in with a big offer, and the team where they had been playing chose not to match it. That’s how Dallas snatched Parsons away from the Houston, while Houston did the same thing to get Lin from New York. Kings fans loved second-round pick Isaiah Thomas but team management wasn’t willing to pay to keep him.
This is what restricted free agency is: First round picks with enough flaws they and the team couldn’t reach a deal on an extension, or a second round pick or undrafted player who had a team option on the end of their contract.
The team that has the player’s rights can keep him — they have the right to match any offer. That’s why it’s restricted. Just sometimes they do not.
Who are the guys at the top of the restricted free agency food chain? Here’s our list. (Note, come back tomorrow for our list of the top unrestricted free agents, such as LeBron James and Chris Paul.)
1. Clint Capela (Houston Rockets). Rockets Grand Poobah Daryl Morey has made it clear he will match any offer and bring Capela back — as he should. Capela averaged 13.9 points, and 10.8 rebounds a game (with a 24.5 PER), plus was a crucial part of the Rockets starting lineup and switching defense (because he can handle himself on the perimeter fairly well, plus protect the rim). The Rockets were 4 points per 100 better with him on the floor, and he was a big part of their playoff run. He’s going to get near a max salary and while there are certainly other teams that would like him (he’d be a perfect fit in Dallas) the Rockets will match anything and keep him in-house.
2. Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic). There are times Gordon looks like a sure-fire franchise cornerstone player (usually the first half of the season), the prototype modern NBA four. Then there are times he looks pedestrian. Last season before the All-Star Game, Gordon averaged 18.4 points per game, hitting 34.6 percent from three and with a true shooting percentage of 54.7 (above the league average). Then after the All-Star break he had his problem with his shot, scoring 16 a night, hitting 31.6 percent from three and a 49.3 true shooting percentage. He can defend the three but performs offensively better as a four. Talking to teams around the league, they expect the Magic will match any offer, but another team who believes in the high-flying Gordon may try to poach him with a max deal (it would probably take that to get Orlando to balk, and the new management team may well match that anyway).
3. Julius Randle (Los Angeles Lakers). The Lakers like Julius Randle and how he’s developed into a bull of a player — he’s strong, attacks the basket, and can be the definition of “bully ball” as he pushes his way to the rim. Randle averaged 16.1 points and 8 rebounds a game last season, with an efficient PER of 19.9. He’s also a guy a number of teams are eyeing because they think he can be gotten — if the Lakers spend their cap space on two max free agents (which is the goal, landing both LeBron and Paul George) then they will not have the money to match an offer to Randle. Dallas has been linked to him, but they are looking at bigger name targets and may only come around on Randle if they strike out there; however, other teams could come in quicker with a Randle offer to try to force the Lakers’ hand (Indiana?).
4. Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics). The definition of the kind of player with flaws who ends up on the restricted free agency list: Smart is one of the better defensive two guards in the NBA, he can cover point guards and wings with anybody. He can switch, he plays with a high motor and gets loose balls, he can get steals. But on the other end of the court, you can help off him and not guard him on the perimeter, daring him to shoot. Boston values him in the $12-$14 million a year range, he thinks he deserves more than that. If another team agrees with him and comes in with a big offer in the higher teens, it will be interesting to see if Danny Ainge lets a key emotional part of his young team walk.
5. Fred VanVleet (Toronto Raptors). He just came in third in the Sixth Man of the Year voting because he was the face and emotional leader of the best bench unit in the NBA last season. VanVleet has said he wants to return to Toronto, and Raptors head man Masai Ujiri has called keeping him one of the team’s highest priorities. The question is at what price? Likely at least $10 million a year, maybe a couple million more than that. If another team comes in hot and goes higher than that the Raptors may have to rethink their position, but that’s not likely. It’s hard to picture a deal not getting done.
6. Jabari Parker (Milwaukee Bucks). Is there a team out there willing to gamble that Parker can get back to his old form? He’s an incredibly versatile scorer, but he has had two ACL surgeries now, and when Parker came back last season he was solid to good, but not the 20-point-a-game guy he had been before. That scoring made up for his poor defense in the past. The Parker/Giannis Antetokounmpo pairing is not the frontline cornerstone of the future in Milwaukee, but they would like to keep him. A number of teams, including Sacramento, have been linked to him, but to get him away from the Bucks a team is going to have to come in with a big offer. That money may not be out there for Parker right now.
7. Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls). He’s got a world of potential, but his game is based on athleticism and he is coming off an ACL surgery, then had to be shut down last season with knee tendonitis. If he can get back to his old form and improve his defense, LaVine would be one of the better young two-guards in the league, a guy Chicago wanted in the Jimmy Butler trade. But will he? The injury and questions may keep teams from coming in with the max or near-max offer it would likely take to poach him away from Chicago, but as teams strike out on other options it’s something to watch. Most likely LaVine and the Bulls find some middle ground and get a deal done.
8. Jusuf Nurkic (Portland Trail Blazers). For a couple of seasons now, he has been the inside to the Damian Lillard/C.J. McCollum outside in Portland, and last season he averaged 14.3 points, and 9 rebounds a game with a very efficient 19.2 PER. However, he’s not consistent, and with the growing emergence of Zach Collins the Trail Blazers may want to consider what they are willing to spend on Nurkic. That said, there are rumors around the league that Portland and Nurkic have a handshake deal in place already, it just can’t be signed until July 6. Maybe. But if a team was looking for a solid big man they could potentially steal with a healthy contract, Nurkic could suddenly find himself with options.
9. Kyle Anderson (San Antonio Spurs). “Slo-mo” is a crafty pick-and-roll ball handler and a long, switchable defender, he’s got an unorthodox game that fits well with what the Spurs will do, but would it work as well with another team? He averaged 8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.7 assists this past season. Where he fits in with the Spurs ties into the bigger questions about the Spurs direction and what happens with Kawhi Leonard, but in a tight financial market is there another team that has the resources to come in hard and get Anderson? The two sides likely will work out a deal to keep him a Spur, but it’s something to watch.
10. Rodney Hood (Cleveland Cavaliers). No player has cost himself as much money in the past year as Hood. He went into last season as the expected go-to scorer of the Utah Jazz, and by the end of the season couldn’t get off the bench in Cleveland. Throw in some malcontent moments in the locker room, and teams will be hesitant. That said, 6’8” players who can score and defend are limited, so there will be interest (New Orleans is one rumor), and while the Cavaliers may want to keep him they will be focused on the LeBron situation to start free agency, and that outcome will dictate their moves after. A team may be able to slide in their and get Hood away from them.