Just one day before the NBA Draft, the Jazz have sent their first round pick, 12th overall, to Atlanta. They will acquire George Hill from the Indiana Pacers. The Jazz were already a strong defensive team, and the acquisition of Hill will only aid on that end. Hill is a long and skilled defender. Likely starting alongside Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert, the Jazz will likely be a top-5 defense - especially so on the raw numbers, given their likely pace.
Hill has one year remaining on his contract, at a cheap $8 million. This buys the Jazz one more year to determine if previously injured PG Dante Exum can take over in the future. Exum tore his ACL in Summer League in 2015, causing him to miss the entire 2015-16 season.
The Jazz were linked to many prospects at #12, though it was difficult to find an ideal fit. While Hill is likely a lesser asset than the 12th overall pick - due to cost and team control - it is understandable why the Jazz wanted to move their timetable forward. They have an array of young assets, and it seems important to the franchise to reach the playoffs in the 2016-17 season. In terms of pure assets, the Jazz likely overpaid to acquire Hill. However, from a basketball sense, they made their team significantly better at the cost of a pick that they were unexcited to make.
A Jazz team of Hill-Hood-Hayward-Favors-Gobert, with Exum, Burks, and Lyles off the bench should be a favorite for a playoff birth this season. The Jazz's cap situation becomes murkier in future years, as they will have to begin to pay their young stars market prices - making retaining Hill beyond this season a challenge. Nonetheless, the Jazz likely increased their expected win total for the upcoming season by an important margin - given where in the standings they are likely to fall - and a competent point guard should only help to further develop their complementary young talent.
The 76ers logjam is certainly in the frontcourt, with the much-discussed Nerlens Noel for Jeff Teague swap being a constant possibility. Moving a big seems more likely than not – as it’s hard to imagine the 76ers go into next season with Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and potentially Dario Saric on the roster. It stands to reason that the five most-talented players the 76ers have control over would all be best at the 4 or the 5. Point guard is the glaring need, but the wing is just a mystery. If the 76ers opt to make another or larger move, Covington would be a logical chip. He has two years left on his contract at just over $1 million per season. The cheap contract is more valuable to teams looking to spend up to or near the cap, while the 76ers will struggle just to reach the salary floor.
There are effectively two types of rotation players – players with “vacuum” value and players with “derivative” value. Players with “vacuum” value will be initiators, and they will have value no matter who else is on the court. They’re often primary play-makers and the focal point of the team’s offense. The 76ers are still searching for players of this ilk. Covington is a player with derivative value. He plays off of the guys around him, likely succeeding as a catch-and-shoot option offensively and an adequate system defender on the other end. Covington would likely be better utilized on a team with the lead offensive players already in tow. Philadelphia should consider moving him now, while he still has the two years remaining.
Brooklyn Nets: Chris McCullough
Brooklyn is down their first round pick to Boston, and they had to swap their second round pick with that of the Clippers. They may opt to trade Brook Lopez or Thaddeus Young, but fringe moves seem more likely. Chris McCullough may be more appealing to another team, and he was selected by the previous administration. Truly any path or direction is on the table for the Nets, and it stands to reason that McCullough’s value and roster spot may be better served elsewhere.
New York Knicks: Kyle O’Quinn
I thought the Knicks got a bargain when they signed O’Quinn to a four-year, $16 million contract last offseason. Then, they buried him on the bench. O’Quinn has value, but it is unlikely to be in New York. Porzingis and Lopez will start at the 4 and 5, and Carmelo will need to see some minutes as a stretch-four, as well. Instead of seeing his value wane further with limited run, the Knicks should try to see if someone sees O’Quinn as a viable bench contributor.
Milwaukee Bucks: Rashad Vaughn
While there is much talk about the potential to move Michael Carter-Williams and/or Greg Monroe, these trades have to be considered less than likely. The rumors about the Bucks’ demands for Carter-Williams have been unreasonable, and their demands for Monroe would have to be high when considering the PR hit they would take for trading their biggest free agent acquisition just twelve months after signing.
However, the team is likely to have significant turnover. Many role players are unrestricted free agents, and the Bucks have to be wary of committing too many long-term dollars when Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo will be up for large extensions on their rookie contracts in the coming years. Vaughn is a player who could potentially be moved to open up a roster spot, clear a little money above the minimum salary hold, and/or bring back a competent rotation bench option.
Orlando Magic: Nikola Vucevic
It is hard to imagine new coach Frank Vogel being content with Nikola Vucevic anchoring his patented defense. Vogel has had defensive centers Roy Hibbert, Ian Mahinmi, and even competent rookie Myles Turner in past seasons, and Vucevic would represent an unprecedented shift in the other direction. With a robust market for defensive centers this offseason, including past-Vogel options Hibbert and Mahinmi, the Magic could certainly opt for an alternative who would better fit Vogel’s ideals. However, the Magic could run into a problem similar to that of the Thunder with Enes Kanter and the Bucks with Greg Monroe. While the Vucevic, Kanter, and Monroe contracts are not necessarily bad deals, it is unclear that any team will give up assets to take them on. As free agency develops, some teams will be left with significant cap space and no desirable players to spend on. These bigs could have a market then. However, if the Magic had not locked up a replacement earlier in July, Vucevic may be unavailable. Sequencing will play a huge role here.
Washington Wizards: Marcin Gortat
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Unlike the aforementioned offensively focused bigs, Gortat is desirable for a wholly different reason. He is a strong all-around center who has valuable cost certainty. Gortat has three years left on his deal, costing just under $13 million per season. This is a substantial bargain. The Wizards will have substantial cap space, and they will have effectively more when considering the difference between Bradley Beal’s cap hold and his eventual salary. They could opt to reinvent their frontcourt, seeking someone younger and more athletic potentially. The Wizards could spend slightly more money to acquire a different center in free agency and then move Gortat to bring in wing assets. The market for the free agent centers figures to be active and aggressive, meaning that the centers already under contract could also have a market as cheaper alternatives.
Chicago Bulls: Tony Snell
Many organizations have a player who may be relatively talented, but – for whatever reason – never seems to have the confidence of the organization or the fans. While LeBron was in Miami, this was Mario Chalmers. For the 2015-16 Warriors, it was Festus Ezeli. For the Bulls they past few seasons, it has been Tony Snell. Snell is in the final year of his rookie contract, making $3.4 million this upcoming season. As players like DeMarre Carroll last year and Kent Bazemore this year emerged from unexciting role players to eight-figure salary 3-and-D options, Tony Snell could represent an intriguing buy-low. Snell has shot 36.6% from three-point range the last two seasons, shooting even higher than that from above the break. The Bulls allowed 9.5 fewer points per 100 possessions with Snell on the court than they did with him off last season, and it is not as if Snell played exclusively with starters. The Bulls disinterest in Snell could be warranted, but the statistics certainly indicate that he has value and could have substantial upside.
Detroit Pistons: Marcus Morris
The Pistons could go in a variety of directions this offseason, but it is clear that backup point guard is their primary need. Marcus Morris has three years left on his contract at a miniscule $5 million per season. He would have substantial value on the open market, and he could be a great chip to acquire a viable backup point guard. The free agent point guard market is horrific, and the Pistons may be wary to overpay. If the Pistons moved Morris to fill that need, they could then take their eight-figure cap space and try to buy low on a wing or backup big. This may be the optimal asset allocation, as the Pistons are beginning to have a strong array of combo forward options.
Indiana Pacers: George Hill
Hill is in the last year of his contract, making just $8 million for this season. He is an extremely valuable player, as he can add value on or off the ball. Hill can defend point guards, competently run a pick and roll, and also represent a strong spacing option with his shooting ability. The Pacers may have an opportunity to acquire a point guard that they see carrying the team beyond just this year, and they could attempt to extract value for Hill before he leaves next year. It has been well-documented that Hill has many ties to the Indiana area, so they would likely want him to sign off on any trade deal, slightly complicating the situation. However, the Pacers may choose to go in a younger direction, and Hill could be attracted to more of a win-now situation. He would be a great bridge option in Utah, Dallas, Sacramento, and Milwaukee. In Milwaukee, especially, Hill’s ability to defend point guards while not demanding the ball offensively would be particularly valuable.
Charlotte Hornets: Jeremy Lamb
Lamb will begin a three-year, $21 million contract extension this upcoming season. Every team views every contract differently. While Lamb is not necessarily overpaid on that deal, Charlotte may prefer to have that $7 million to spend on retaining at least two out of Marvin Williams, Jeremy Lin, and Nicolas Batum. I am a big fan of a Trey Burke for Jeremy Lamb swap, personally. This would clear a few million for Charlotte and solve their potential need at backup point guard. Utah is unlikely to spend much of its cap space for this year, and the upgrade from Burke to Lamb makes them better and deeper in the short-term.
Miami Heat: Josh McRoberts
Josh McRoberts has been an entertaining value, as his value has oscillated as much as any NBA role player’s has in the past few years. With two years and under $12 million remaining on his deal, I think we can safely say that McRoberts is a positive asset. The Heat, however, may prefer to have that cap flexibility, as that $6 million a year could be part of a much larger deal for a superior player. So many teams could use McRoberts’ playmaking ability, and his $6 million may help them to reach the salary floor. Generally defensive minded teams like Indiana or Orlando may value McRoberts’ as a second-unit playmaking stretch 4, and I think the Heat could potentially recoup a small asset here.
Atlanta Hawks: Paul Millsap
The Hawks are an organization that is subtly on the verge of a massive rebuild. With the Jeff Teague rumors logically running rampant and Al Horford’s free agency, the Hawks could look much different next season. There is a viable scenario where Al Horford leaves, Jeff Teague is flipped for Nerlens Noel, and the Hawks are left with a Schroder-Millsap-Noel core. Millsap is obviously on a wildly different timeline, making him also a potential trade candidate. Millsap could bring back substantial value, and he would make a great Boston Celtics trade target. The Hawks would, in this scenario, be a team that would value draft picks as a way of moving their timeline back. The Hawks could build a very fun and hope-inducing core around Schroder, Noel, and multiple high draft picks in the coming years. Their cap flexibility would allow them to make moves like last summer’s Portland Trail Blazers, where they can attempt to simply find value wherever the market allows – without worrying about pressing short-term needs.
Boston Celtics: Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko
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Nearly every Celtic is at the heart of trade rumors, but these two seem both logical and hushed. Johnson ($12 million) and Jerebko ($5 million) both have unguaranteed contracts for this season. They would both likely get larger contracts, in terms of years, dollars, or both, on the open market. The Celtics may not want to keep them on their roster, but they ought to guarantee the contracts. This combination of value contract and difficult roster construction make both players – especially Johnson – logical trade candidates.
Toronto Raptors: Jonas Valanciunas
While unlikely, a Valanciunas trade actually makes a world of sense. The Raptors will be unable to retain Bismack Biyombo this offseason without clearing significant cap room. However, if they moved Valanciunas’ four-year, $64 million contract, they would create the space. Biyombo will likely demand something slightly less than this, and he may be the superior player. The Raptors should strongly consider moving Valanciunas, bringing back a small asset or draft pick, and using the newfound money on Biyombo. These sorts of trades are uncommon, but with this large amount of cap space available, I can envision teams becoming much more creative in these situations. Valanciunas is a great example of a player who is adequately paid, but his contract may not represent the best allocation of resources for his current club.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Iman Shumpert
Shumpert was a disappointment for the NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason, and they must now make some tough decisions on the wing. This team figures to once again be among the most expensive in basketball, even if they do not retain Timofey Mozgov or Matthew Dellavedova. With J.R. Smith opting out, the Cavaliers will have to shell out eight-figures annually for him as well. Even with the rising cap, this luxury tax bill will be sizable. A Shumpert trade would allow the Cavaliers to shed his remaining three years and $31 million, while potentially recovering a cheap young player or draft pick. If the Cavaliers could bring back a player who would not make much above the minimum roster cap hold, they would save over $10 million on Shumpert’s salary and considerably more in luxury tax considerations. Given the way their rotation looked at the end of the season, they may not be end up any worse off on the court, anyway.
While the NBA salary cap is going to rise dramatically as we begin the 2016-17 league year, it is expected to undergo another dramatic increase heading into 2017-18. The relatively weak crop of free agents in the summer of 2016 has to make a difficult decision.
Some free agents will want to cash in this offseason. Players on the downside of their career or at the peak of their value are likely to take the contract with the most guaranteed money available to them at this juncture. With an average starter expected to be worth around $15 million per year, many average role players will be ecstatic at the prospect of a three-year pact worth upwards of $20 million. Young players who are already close to average starters – like Evan Fournier – will surely have demands in the range of four years and $60 million. It is a lot easier to take these monstrous guarantees if it stands to reason that your value may not be higher next year – where, while there will be even more money to spend, the free agent class looks much stronger.
Another class of players will want to bet on themselves. Players like Joakim Noah, Timofey Mozgov, Josh Smith, or Kris Humphries may want to take a relatively cheap one-year deal in the best situation to rehab their values. In that scenario, they’ll attempt to get their last relatively substantial contract next offseason, where they feel more likely to generate more significant interest. Many teams will also not want to limit their 2017 flexibility, so these one-year deals will be potentially even more common this offseason than in past years. Teams like the New York Knicks and even Chicago Bulls will have some cap flexibility this offseason, but they anticipate even more maneuvering room next year. With big markets and huge money available, they likely see themselves as candidates to woo the stars of the 2017 class. They are perfect candidates for one-year overpays – a way to utilize their space this year without limiting their 2017 upside.
There are a few free agents that will straddle the line between these two groups. These players may value the financial stability of a three or four year contract that boasts an eight-figure annual guarantee. However, they also may be candidates to substantially increase their value with a healthy and/or successful 2016-17 campaign.
The epitome of such a player is New Orleans Pelicans SG Eric Gordon.
Though due to injury he played only 45 games in 2015-16, Gordon had a very impressive and encouraging season. Gordon had a 56.5% true shooting percentage, his highest in his five seasons with New Orleans. Gordon’s shot distribution was ideal for a shooting guard in this era. 76% of Gordon’s shots were either at the rim or from three-point range. Notably, Gordon shot a career high 53.3% of his shots from three-point range. Gordon was considered a potential point guard early in his career, but he now represents a lower-usage spacing weapon as a two-guard.
Gordon shot an impressive 38.4% from three-point range, but he was even more effective than that figure indicates. Gordon shot just 29% from the corner, where he traditionally shoots closer to 40%. If we assume his low percentage on his 45 attempts from the corner are a relative outlier, it is worth getting excited about the 40.1% he shot on threes from above the break. That is a phenomenal figure, and that makes Gordon very desirable to spacing-deficient teams.
Of players with at least 250 three-point attempts, only ten NBA players shot higher than Gordon’s 40.1%. If Gordon’s corner shooting improves to anywhere close to his career figures, Gordon could be one of the most efficient three-point shooters in the league. This is clearly valuable.
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Gordon may not be the playmaker that he was earlier in his career, but he certainly boasts enough off the dribble to attack overzealous close outs. He is likely to never replicate his 60% shooting at the rim that he attained during his early years in Los Angeles, but Gordon is an elite free throw shooter and should work to draw fouls on contact in his later years.
There is no doubt that Eric Gordon is a desirable free agent. The only question is if Gordon wants to build his value even higher or take a contract that will last through his age 28, 29, and 30 seasons.
While not knowing the details of Gordon’s health, it would be unsurprising to see him take the deal with the most guaranteed dollars. Gordon has averaged only 44 games played during his five seasons in New Orleans – albeit that includes a nearly completely lost 2011-12 season. If he played under 50 games next season on a one-year contract, it is unclear that the prospects for the then 29 year old Gordon would be any brighter than they are now. Gordon could hedge his bets by attempting to find a 2+1 contract – a deal with two guaranteed years and a player option for the third.
Gordon is certainly going to make more than $10 million in the 2016-17 season. The real question will be if he is willing to take the risk on a one-year deal that could be worth twice that.