Free agency is a complicated time full of misdirection, brief opportunities, and a whole lot of persuasion. We’ve put together these shopping lists to ensure every team stays on track.
2016-17 record: 67-15, NBA champions
Restricted free agents: James Michael McAdoo
What do you get for the team that has everything? In this case, as many of its existing players as possible. Curry and Durant are not serious threats to leave, and it would not be a surprise if the Warriors and their two leading superstars announce new deals several hours into July. Neither is going anywhere.
However, the terms of those contracts will determine their ability to bring back their two most important reserves — Iguodala and Livingston. If the Warriors keep those two, they’re overwhelming favorites to win the title. They’re still that if Iguodala and Livingston leave, but gaps will begin to form.
Everyone else is probably going to leave, unless vets Pachulia and West decide the chase for a second title is worth accepting another year with a below-market salary. McGee, Clark, and McAdoo are likely to chase big money deals, as they should, and Barnes is going to take whatever contract he can get wherever he can get it.
In short, then, the Warriors will have to bring in most of or all of a new bench, much like they did after adding Durant last summer. This course is the (not very dark) dark side of employing four All-NBA talents — almost every other player is going to come in on a one-year deal in the hope of winning a title. There are worse situations to be in.
Yet, if the Warriors really don’t have that much at stake, it’s worth noting that they would lose a lot if Iguodala and Livingston prove too expensive. The former’s status as 2015 Finals MVP and key cog of the Hamptons Five lineup is well known, but Livingston is often just as important to maintaining Golden State’s peerless defensive versatility and wealth of scoring options.
It’s unlikely that Executive of the Year Bob Myers can bring in cheap replacements who approximate their contributions. A 2017-18 season without them will require Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green to take on more responsibilities. They’re certainly capable of shouldering that load, but tearing through the rest of the league as they did this postseason seems like a tall order.
Los Angeles Lakers
2016-17 record: 26-56
Unrestricted free agents: Nick Young, Metta World Peace, Thomas Robinson, Tyler Ennis
Restricted free agents: None
The Lakers are unlikely to be major players in the free-agent market, because their future is tied to their ability to bring Paul George to Staples Center. If they’re able to engineer a trade, then George will soak up the cap space opened up in last week’s trade with the Brooklyn Nets and look to rebuild the Lakers brand ahead of next summer’s potential offseason bonanza.
If George goes elsewhere, then the Lakers will probably look for short-term fixes and hope they can bring in PG-13 and another star when Brook Lopez comes off the books next year. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka are looking for bona fide stars and won’t ink the likes of Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng to long-term contracts on the first day of free agency. They’re going to wait out the market and see what transpires on the George front before making any big moves.
Whatever happens, though, they’re going to have to sign a fair number of players to fill out the backcourt. As of now, Jordan Clarkson and Lonzo Ball are the only true guards on the roster. Even the best versions of both players do not add up to anything like a high-level backcourt, and it’s hard to say Ball can develop as hoped if he doesn’t have a steady shooting guard next to him. The Lakers will have to look for such a player at some point this offseason, whether in early July or later.
Los Angeles Clippers
2016-17 record: 51-31, eliminated in the first round
Unrestricted free agents: Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Raymond Felton, Brandon Bass, Marreese Speights, Alan Anderson
Restricted free agents: None
At the very least, Wednesday’s trade that sent Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets makes the Clippers’ offseason approach much clearer. Doc Rivers can now devote the bulk of his energy to convincing Blake Griffin to take a massive five-year deal that will make him the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future. Griffin may well opt to leave what’s now a fringe playoff roster in the hopes of creating a real title contender, but if he does it won’t be for lack of trying from the Clippers. The risks of falling back into the franchise’s old role as a laughingstock, especially just three years after Steve Ballmer bought it for $2 billion, are too great.
Whether or not Griffin leaves, the Clippers have some glaring needs. Patrick Beverley is a capable shooter and All-Defensive First Team member, but the roster now lacks a true point guard alongside players used to the most natural floor general of his generation. Moreover, adding Sam Dekker does not change the glaring need to add versatile wings to compete with the Warriors and accept the league’s prevailing trends.
A Griffin departure could cause the Clippers to punt on this season and open up approximately $70 million in cap room for next summer. That’s a reasonable short-term solution if the alternative is overpaying middling players this year, but no sure thing. Even one season in the lottery could change the Clippers’ image considerably. Expect some attempt to compete from this team, if only because the alternative is hard to face.
2016-17 record: 24-58
Unrestricted free agents: Ronnie Price
Restricted free agents: Alex Len, Alan Williams
Big-money deals for Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight and a surfeit of lottery picks ensure that the Suns will not make plays for too many big-name free agents this summer. That’s a good thing, because this team desperately needs to give its young players time and allow them to develop around budding star Devin Booker. Recent lottery picks Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss should get every opportunity to show if they can form one of the NBA’s best frontcourts, and less notable picks like diminutive guard Tyler Ulis should get chances to reach their potentials, too. The 2017-18 season should be about deciding if this rebuilding process has yielded anything tangible, lest they have to start another one.
To that end, it would not be a surprise if general manager Ryan McDonough moves Bledsoe and/or Knight to allow Booker to become the face of the franchise with no real competition for minutes or shots. Phoenix should be OK with losing games as long as their 20-year-old 70-point scorer and the young wings and bigs turn into effective players. Bledsoe and Knight are relics of the Suns’ recent past in which they competed earlier than anticipated and necessitated a push for a playoff spot. That time is now long gone, and any attempt to hold onto it risks harming the players that actually matter to the franchise’s future. A salary dump would be more than acceptable.
So don’t expect much movement in the free-agent market unless the old-guard backcourt brings back little more than draft picks. If that occurs, then the Suns will have to add a point guard. The future of Alex Len could also factor into the need for another center, although he’s unlikely to get a big offer anywhere other than Phoenix.
2016-17 record: 32-50
Unrestricted free agents: Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, Tyreke Evans, Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo
Restricted free agents: Langston Galloway, Ben McLemore
The Kings will have a lot of cap room this July, but February’s DeMarcus Cousins trade and a much-praised draft last week appear to have set up a lengthy rebuilding process. The franchise has been nothing if not unstable in the Vivek Ranadive era, but it seems as if Vlade Divac will not pursue aging stars and lunge at a playoff berth forever out of reach. The Kings know they’re bad, and they’re probably OK with it. For a few months, at least.
Even so, the core of promising youngsters cannot play 38 minutes apiece out of the gate and will need some help. Unfortunately for the Kings, most of their guards and forwards are about to become free agents and, much like all veterans, will likely only return to Sacramento on long-term deals or short-term contracts with salaries well above market rates. The latter is not a worst case for a rebuilding team with loads of players on rookie deals, but it’s also not ideal to bring back a bunch of vets used to getting minutes and putting up decent numbers.
The good news is that the Kings can overpay any veteran guards and forwards willing to transition from early-season starting gigs into mentor roles and not sweat what it means for the future. A reported three-year, $36-million deal for Euroleague star Bogdan Bogdanovic fits the bill, too — he has something to prove in the NBA and won’t join the team with too many preconceived notions of what he deserves in the league.
Sacramento is not going to be an attractive destination for free agents until the Kings get better, and that’s going to take time. Hopefully the front office has learned its lesson and realizes that this process cannot be sped up.
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