Free Agent Stock Watch Rumors

Free Agent Stock Watch: Wesley Matthews

May 13 at 11:06pm CDT By Chris Crouse

The Blazers head into the offseason with several question marks, one being the status of Wesley Matthews. The shooting guard tore his left Achilles tendon on March 5th, 60 games into the season. Portland went 41-19 with the guard in the lineup and just 10-12 without him. The Marquette product averaged 15.9 points and 1.3 steals per game and sported a player efficiency rating of 16.1. He shot 38.9% from behind the arc and only MVP Stephen Curry and Warriors backcourt-mate Klay Thompson made more three-pointers per game.

Feb 22, 2015; Portland, OR, USA;  Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews (2) dribbles the ball up court against the Memphis Grizzlies at Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Shooting wasn’t the only thing Matthews excelled at this season. His defense was just as impressive as his offense, as he ranked fifth among shooting guards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus/Minus. He played a good chunk of his minutes next to point guard Damian Lillard, who has a negative Defensive Real Plus/Minus. Despite employing such a defensive liability at the point guard position, the team ranked third in the league in defensive efficiency leading up to his injury. In the 22 games without him, the team ranked 24th.

Jeff Austin, Matthews’ agent, is likely to cite all of the above in the guard’s contract negotiations this summer. Many of the teams in the league are transitioning to a pace-and-space style of play and because of his shooting range and ability to play efficiently without the ball in his hands, Matthews should have no shortage of suitors. Before the injury, Matthews was in line to see a hefty raise on his roughly $7.25MM salary and he could have seen a salary that approached the max, although that is just my speculation.

The injury complicates things, though while he may not even be ready for the beginning of the season, he’s said he expects to return to the court well in advance of opening night (video link). It’s unclear what kind of offer teams will be willing to give Matthews in July. Signing a one-year deal to prove his health, re-establish his stock and enter the free agent pool next offseason when the salary cap is expected to reach $89MM might be beneficial for the sixth-year veteran. Yet, he could also, with great trepidation, simply seek the highest guaranteed salary he can get this summer. The 28-year-old has made it known that he would like to re-sign with the Blazers.

“So much stuff can happen between now and when free agency starts,” Matthews said in response to a question about returning to Portland. “Ideally, perfect situation, yeah, who doesn’t want to go for the ideal, perfect situation?”

The status of free-agent-to-be LaMarcus Aldridge could be a factor in his decision. One of Aldridge’s teammates reportedly believes it is a 50-50 proposition whether the power forward leaves Portland. If the Blazers lose the former No. 2 overall pick to free agency and cannot add an All-Star caliber replacement, like Paul Millsap, it would be unlikely they contend for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

If Portland doesn’t remain a contender, I’d imagine it would like to rebuild a younger team around Lillard. Playing on a young team without any real playoff aspirations wouldn’t be in Matthews’ best interest, especially if he decides to go with a one-year-prove-it deal. Whether he intends to sign that kind of deal or not, this scenario would give outside suitors an advantage in courting Matthews since he would probably be in his early 30s by the time Portland is ready to contend again.

New York was reportedly planning to target the 28-year-old in free agency and the team employs the NBA Trainers Association’s 2014 Physician of the Year. Yet, the Knicks haven’t exactly been a stable franchise known to rehabilitate players’ values and Matthews’ injury probably dilutes their interest anyway. The Celtics are reportedly “open to putting together some type of package deal” for Aldridge and Matthews. Boston has a stable front office but hasn’t been a real contender in a few years.

A franchise that’s stable, has won recently, and has a history of rehabilitating player values resides in Dallas. Brandan Wright and O.J. Mayo are among the players who have seen significant raises after playing for the team.  Monta Ellis and Al-Farouq Aminu should also see raises this offseason after playing for the Mavs this year. Matthews, a Texas native, would give Dallas a defensive stopper on the perimeter, which is something the team should focus on acquiring if it intends to stick with the Dirk NowitzkiChandler Parsons-defensive-liability pairing.

Dallas has slightly more than $28MM in commitments for the 2015/16 season against a projected $67.1MM salary cap. That figure doesn’t include Raymond Felton‘s player option, which, unsurprisingly, he intends to exercise. Even with the former No. 5 overall pick returning to Dallas, the team could still offer Aldridge or DeAndre Jordan a max contract and still have enough cap space for two mid-sized contracts. If the team can land Matthews, it can afford to offer Ellis another contract, despite his defensive inefficiencies, and trot Ellis out as its starting point guard on opening night. The Ellis-Matthews-Parsons-Nowitzki-Jordan starting lineup would recapture the offensive firepower that the Mavs had before the Rajon Rondo trade and give them the defensive improvement they hoped to achieve with that deal.

The Spurs are another team to watch out for. San Antonio has shied away from giving significant money to free agents. However, the team appears to be a legitimate suitor for Aldridge. Perhaps Matthews follows his current teammate to San Antonio, the guard’s birthplace, and signs a one-year in hopes of cashing in once the cap rises.

Matthews’ defense and ability to shoot from behind the arc makes him an attractive addition to any team, but the Achilles injury certainly complicates matters. The guard was in line for a huge payday prior to the injury and he most likely will not realize that earning potential now. Matthews has a key decision to make about whether to sign a one-year deal and re-enter the free agent pool next summer or sign a multiyear deal that gives him more long-term security. His risk appetite will likely determine his list of potential suitors. Any team hungry for a championship next season should inquire about his services.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Goran Dragic

May 10 at 4:56pm CDT By Arthur Hill

The Heat lost their top free agent last summer, and even though the stakes are much lower this time around, the franchise is hoping to keep Goran Dragic in Miami. The Heat are still reeling from LeBron James‘ announcement last July that he was returning home to Cleveland. After four straight trips to the NBA Finals, Miami missed the playoffs with a 37-45 record this season. Now, instead of dominating the NBA, the Heat have started rebuilding.

Apr 11, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat guard Goran  Dragic (7) dribbles the ball against the Toronto Raptors during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Part of that process will be re-signing Dragic, who came to Miami from Phoenix in a three-team deal at February’s trade deadline. It cost the Heat four players and two first-round draft picks to acquire Dragic, who was a Third-Team All-NBA selection in 2013/14. To get the seventh-year guard from Croatia, Miami dealt Danny Granger to the Suns, along with a top-seven protected pick in 2017 and an unprotected selection in 2021. The Heat also sent Norris Cole, Shawne Williams, Justin Hamilton and cash considerations to New Orleans to complete the deal.

After shelling out so much to get Dragic, Miami wants to make sure he stays with the franchise for the long term. He has a $7.5MM player option for next season that he has already announced he will decline. Dragic has seemed to form a bond with Miami since the trade, calling it his favorite U.S. city. “I had a great time in Miami and I want to come back,” he told Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post last month, “but we’ll see what happens.”

What might happen is a large offer from the Lakers or Knicks, who were both reportedly on a list of favored destinations — along with Miami — that Dragic compiled before being traded from Phoenix. Both teams could use an experienced point guard and both have plenty of cap room to throw maximum offers at Dragic. And there are likely to be more suitors. Dragic, represented by agents Rade Filipovich and Bill Duffy of BDA Sports Management, has repeatedly made it clear that he will listen to every offer that comes his way.

One possible landing spot for Dragic is Houston, although the Rockets would have to clear some cap room to become serious bidders. Dragic spent part of the 2010/11 season and all of 2011/12 in Houston before leaving in the summer of 2012 to sign a four-year, $30MM free-agent deal with Phoenix. The Rockets were pursuing Dragic at this year’s trade deadline before he was dealt to Miami. It was reported in February that Dragic wasn’t willing to sign a long-term deal with Houston or any other team not on his list of preferred destinations. Dragic was apparently reluctant to sign long-term with the Rockets for fear that they would trade him later.

No matter who comes calling, Dragic noted that the Heat have a “huge” advantage because they own his Bird Rights and can offer a five-year deal, while other teams are limited to four. The total value of a maximum offer from Miami would be roughly $110MM, compared to about $81MM from anyone else. Miami also has the built-in financial advantage of being located in Florida, which has no state income tax.

“As long as I’m in a happy environment and a healthy organization, that’s the most important thing,” Dragic told Lieser in a separate story. “The next three, four, five years — I want to spend it on this kind of team, like the Miami Heat. They have great players, great coaching staff and great training staff.”

The attraction of Dragic, who turned 29 last week, is obvious. In 26 games after being traded to Miami, he averaged 16.6 points and 5.3 assists. He’s a 36% career shooter from three-point range and has a reputation for being durable, appearing in 77, 75 and 78 games the last three seasons.

The Heat have been open about their desire to retain Dragic. Shortly after their season ended, coach Erik Spoelstra said that he wants to bring back Dragic and Luol Deng, who also has a player option. “They’re absolute pros,” Spoelstra said, “the kind of guys you want to build your team around, the guys you want to go to work with, the guys you want to be in a foxhole with.”

Still, the Heat have some cap concerns. Chris Bosh signed a max deal last summer that will pay him more than $118MM through 2018/19; Dwyane Wade has a player option worth more than $16MM next season, and Hassan Whiteside will be seeking a sizable new deal next summer. But if Dragic stays in Miami, his new contract will be offset by an expected jump in the salary cap once the new television deal kicks in after next season. Dragic is certain to get plenty of offers this summer, but his fondness for the city and the Heat’s financial edges should be enough to make him one of the leaders of a post-LeBron resurgence in Miami.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Reggie Jackson

April 27 at 8:00pm CDT By Dana Gauruder

The long-term outlook for Reggie Jackson took a dramatic turn at the trade deadline when he was dealt from the Thunder to the Pistons, who immediately installed him as their starting point guard. By season’s end, Detroit had emerged as the clear frontrunner for Jackson’s services as the restricted free agent enters his prime. Jackson ranks third among point guards on Hoops Rumors’ 2015 Free Agent Power Rankings behind only Goran Dragic and Rajon Rondo, whose stock has dipped after his disastrous partial season with the Mavericks.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Boston CelticsThere was plenty of uncertainty surrounding Jackson as he entered the 2014/15 season with Oklahoma City, with the expectation that Jackson could command a yearly salary averaging $13MM or $14MM when he entered the free agent market. Given its salary commitments to superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as well as Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City seemed highly unlikely to match an offer sheet for Jackson.

Jackson started just 36 games in his career prior to the season. Even so, the projections of his future value were reinforced by his play when given the opportunity to be a floor leader. With Westbrook sidelined by an injury, Jackson averaged 19.5 points, 7.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds during the month of November. Once Westbrook returned, Jackson found himself in a backup role again and his relationship with his teammates deteriorated. Jackson asked for a trade and got his wish when the Thunder shipped him to the Pistons, who had lost Brandon Jennings to a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury.

Following a slow start that included a 10-game losing streak which knocked the Pistons from playoff contention, Jackson emerged as an offensive force in coach Stan Van Gundy’s pick-and-roll attack. He developed chemistry with franchise cornerstone Andre Drummond in the final 16 games while averaging 20.0 points, 11.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds and shooting 49% from the field. Van Gundy, who also doubles as the team’s president of basketball operations, made it clear that he views Jackson as his starting point guard going forward and plans to match any offer that may come Jackson’s way. The Pistons will not have any difficult retaining Jackson from a salary-cap standpoint, as they have approximately $27.9MM in guaranteed salary commitments next season.

That may not deter a potential suitor from trying to pry Jackson away from Van Gundy’s grasp. The Nets and Pacers reportedly were close to dealing for Jackson before he wound up in Detroit, and the Kings were also interested. The Knicks are believed to have a strong interest in Jackson as well, though they may be more focused on another Pistons free agent, Greg Monroe.

The Aaron Mintz client has his drawbacks, particularly at the defensive end. Jackson was ranked 41st among point guards on ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus/Minus rankings and has received a minus rating in all four of his seasons in Basketball-Reference’s Defensive Box Plus/Minus evaluations.

That won’t deter the Pistons from doing everything possible to keep Jackson, who hinted about his intentions of staying in Detroit right before the season ended. He told the team’s beat reporters he planned to stay in frequent contact with his teammates and organize summer workouts with them. He also feels Van Gundy’s coaching will make him a high-level point guard. It’s possible that Jackson could sign a deal with an opt-out clause to take advantage of the anticipated jump in the salary cap when the league’s new TV contract kicks in during the summer of 2016. In any case, it would be a surprise if Jackson isn’t wearing a Pistons uniform next season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Free Agent Stock Watch Series

April 20 at 1:53pm CDT By Chuck Myron

The playoffs have begun, and within two weeks, all but eight of the 30 NBA teams will be finished for 2014/15. That means players on expiring contracts are making their final statements before they hit free agency, if their teams haven’t already been eliminated. So, it’s time to start looking at soon-to-be free agents across the league and gauge their value.

Hoops Rumors will examine several players who are a part of the 2015 free agent class. Our Free Agent Stock Watch pieces will explore what a player brings to a club, what sort of earnings he can expect on his next contract, teams that could be in the market for the player, and where the player might want to end up, along with any other relevant factors.

We’ll be profiling many of the players set for free agency in the next couple of months, and we’ve already begun. We’ll be maintaining the list below as we continue this series, and you can find them in alphabetical order by last name. Potential restricted free agents will have an (R) by their names. A link to this list will stationed on the right sidebar under “Hoops Rumors Features.” You can also find these pieces under our Free Agent Stock Watch tag, and you can set up an RSS feed if you enter this URL into the reader of your choice: hoopsrumors.com/free-agent-stock-watch/feed

Free Agent Stock Watch: Brandon Knight

April 10 at 10:25am CDT By Chuck Myron

The Suns have plenty invested in Brandon Knight, having relinquished a potential lottery pick from the Lakers as well as Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis, both of whom have shown promise and are on rookie scale contracts. Knight is also on a rookie scale contract, but unlike Plumlee and Ennis, his deal expires this summer, when the Suns figure to have to shell out eight-figure salaries to keep him. Several GMs told Michael Scotto of SheridanHoops earlier this spring that they believe Knight is worth $12MM a year. Suns GM Ryan McDonough referred to Knight as the best player in the trade, though it’s unclear if he was merely referring to the Knight trade itself or the series of moves the Suns made on deadline day, when they shipped Goran Dragic to Miami in a separate trade. It’s nonetheless clear that McDonough thinks highly of Knight, a former eighth overall pick, having referred to him as a “23-year-old who is a borderline All-Star in the East.”

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Orlando MagicMcDonough and president of basketball operations Lon Babby will have to go chiefly by what Knight did while he was in the East with the Bucks as they wade through his restricted free agency, since a heel injury has ended the season for Knight after he played only 11 games as a Sun. The point guard took just 4.6 shots per game during that small sample size, a figure that would be a career low if extrapolated over a full season. He looked every bit the part of the budding All-Star that McDonough envisions in a 28-point performance against the Magic, but that was less than a week after a one-point, 0-for-6 clunker against the Spurs.

Knight has struggled over the course of his NBA career to become a true point guard, though he’s expressed a desire to embrace the role. The Suns don’t have to worry too much about that with Eric Bledsoe around. He and Bledsoe fit the mold of the small backcourt that’s marked McDonough’s Suns teams, and Bledsoe’s presence also takes pressure off Knight to improve defensively. Bledsoe is second among point guards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus/Minus this season, while Knight languishes at No. 50, well into the minus side of the ledger. Knight has been a minus defender in all four of his NBA seasons, according to Basketball-Reference’s Defensive Box Plus/Minus.

There’s still potential for growth on that end of the floor, since he’s only 23, as McDonough notes. He certainly wouldn’t be the only one-way player making $12MM a year if that’s what he ends up with, and he helps in other areas. He averaged 5.2 rebounds per game this season, the 12th most among any player 6’3″ or shorter who saw at least 500 minutes, as Basketball-Reference shows. Bledsoe is third on that list. Knight also bumped his three-point shooting to a career-high 38.9% this season after last year’s regression to 32.5%, and he was at 40.9% in that category this year before his disjointed 11 games with the Suns. His PER was 18.5 with Milwaukee, and though that shrunk to 17.2 thanks to his brief time playing with Phoenix, it’s still a career high.

The Arn Tellem client has validated his draft position, and while he doesn’t seem the sort who’ll ever be one of the top two players on a contender, he could certainly be the third. Bledsoe’s ceiling is beginning to emerge as a No. 2 on that kind of team. So, the Suns have the groundwork for a contending core, but they lack the superstar piece that’s almost always the hardest to obtain.

A new deal for Knight would essentially put the Suns out of the running to acquire a superstar in free agency this summer, since Phoenix already has about $41MM on the books. It wouldn’t be much of a setback for the franchise if it comes up empty in its star search this summer, since the top five players in the Hoops Rumors Free Agent Power Rankings all seem likely to stay put. It’s the summer of 2016 when the Suns appear positioned to make their move, as they only have about $28MM committed, and even with an eight-figure salary for Knight, they should have no shortage of flexibility with the cap set to catapult to around $90MM. The Valley of the Sun looms as an attractive destination for top free agents as long as the roster infrastructure is there for a superstar to contend immediately upon joining the team, and Knight’s presence helps the Suns toward that roster prerequisite.

Phoenix also has its share of trade assets, with the Heat’s 2021 unprotected first-round pick perhaps the juiciest. The Suns took a step back at the deadline this season, as Babby has acknowledged, with the long term in mind, and that’s why keeping Knight is more or less imperative. There’s been chatter connecting the Lakers to Knight, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see some team with aspirations of contending in the West in the near future pitch an outsized offer sheet to Knight this summer, just to force the Suns to pay a premium. That would carry risk for a team like the Lakers, since it would be difficult for any team to end up paying a defensive minus a salary approaching the max in case Phoenix doesn’t match, but it’s a distinct possibility nonetheless, given the consequences for the Suns if they let Knight walk.

Knight might not be the best player involved in Phoenix’s deadline trades, but he’s the best the Suns have to show from a pivot point in their rebuilding. Phoenix, which still hasn’t made the playoffs since Steve Nash left town, can’t afford to take a step back in both the short and the long term, so expect Knight’s Suns tenure to last a lot longer than 11 games.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Greg Monroe

March 31 at 2:04pm CDT By Chuck Myron

A strained right knee has kept Greg Monroe out since March 14th, but while he said he’ll definitely make it back before the regular season ends two weeks from Wednesday, it’s quite conceivable, if not probable, that he’s seen his last moments of meaningful basketball in a Pistons uniform. The Pistons are in 12th place and four and a half games out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and Monroe’s unrestricted free agency looms in July. The end of the season will signal the end of a period of relative financial sacrifice for the former seventh overall pick, who turned down reported offers of eight-figure salaries to take a one-year qualifying offer of slightly less than $5.48MM and hit unrestricted free agency as soon as possible.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Golden State WarriorsThe move appeared to signal that Monroe wanted out of Detroit, as signing a lucrative, long-term offer sheet with any other team of his choosing last summer could have simply tethered him to the Pistons for that much longer if they had matched. Still, agent David Falk insists that his client will “absolutely” consider re-signing with the Pistons, echoing Monroe’s own comment on the matter from before the season. Falk also made it seem as though Monroe was a long way from thinking about where he wants to play next year, though the impending end of the season will no doubt bring him a step closer to that.

Monroe and Falk reportedly discouraged teams from presenting him with offer sheets. The big man said he was wary of committing for the long term to Detroit before he became comfortable with Stan Van Gundy, who was then just a few months into his job as coach president of basketball operations. A sign-and-trade was an alternative solution, since that would have allowed Monroe to sign a market-value deal for multiple years with another team without the threat of a match from Van Gundy and company. The Pistons reportedly talked to the BlazersHawks and Pelicans about sign-and-trades, but nothing materialized. The Magic and Cavs apparently had interest in Monroe, too, but Orlando felt “lukewarm at best” about him, as Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press put it, and Cleveland seemed to move away from him once LeBron James committed to go back there.

Nearly a year has passed since last year’s free agency, and Monroe has had just about a full season to get a feel for Van Gundy. Monroe dismissed rumors that he didn’t want to play alongside Josh Smith, but Van Gundy’s bold decision to waive Smith in December, less than halfway into a $54MM contract, had a marked effect on Monroe’s production. The former Georgetown Hoya was putting up 14.7 points and 8.8 rebounds in 29.0 minutes per game prior to Smith’s release, all figures that would have represented his lowest season numbers since he was a rookie. Since then, he’s put up 16.9 PPG and 11.5 RPG in 32.6 MPG, and those scoring and rebounding figures would be career highs if extrapolated over an entire season. The contrast could scarcely be more stark.

One executive estimated to Michael Scotto of SheridanHoops around the time of the Smith waiver that Monroe would merit a four-year, $48MM deal, but he’s probably lifted his value quite a bit since then. He denied that he received an offer from the Pistons that would have eclipsed the value of Smith’s deal, and he said that it wouldn’t have taken a maximum-salary offer for him to commit to Detroit. He downplayed the idea of accepting the highest bid and Falk reiterated that this season, insisting that money won’t be the primary determinant for where Monroe will play next year.

That’s an inauspicious sign in one respect for the Pistons, who can offer a fifth year and higher raises than any other team can. It’s a stance that could also ease a burden for a team that’s already planning a push to re-sign restricted free agent Reggie Jackson and faces rookie scale extension negotiations with Andre Drummond in the offseason ahead. Having Monroe back at any sort of discount would no doubt accelerate Van Gundy’s rebuilding plans.

That idea still seems a long shot, particularly with other teams already showing interest. The Hawks, who were one of the teams apparently in sign-and-trade talks with Detroit this past summer, and Knicks were reportedly planning pursuits as far back as December. The Lakers reportedly asked the Pistons about trading for Monroe before this year’s deadline. Surely others will be in the mix for the promising big man, who turns 25 in June, and even if he winds up with a max deal, it would likely cost his team a starting salary of no more than $16MM, since he’s in the 25% max bracket, a rarity for a high-level unrestricted free agent.

Monroe’s PER number is a flattering 21.1 this season, and while he’s not an elite defender, he holds his own, as his No. 20 ranking in ESPN’s Real Defensive Plus/Minus for power forwards shows. He’s No. 10 in Basketball-Reference’s Box Defensive Plus Minus among the 18 players who swing between forward and center and who’ve compiled at least 500 minutes this season. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t score a deal that at least comes quite close to the max. Pistons owner Tom Gores has made it seem as though he’s willing to open his checkbook to make it happen, but I suspect Monroe will settle for lower raises and one fewer year on his contract to head to another team. Still, that’s just my speculation, and the market can shift between now and July as others distinguish themselves even if Monroe isn’t playing, especially come draft time.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Free Agent Stock Watch: DeAndre Jordan

March 22 at 7:16pm CDT By Will Joseph

DeAndre Jordan told Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today Sports last week that “the free agency process is definitely going to be a fun one.” The Clippers’ center, who will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, has good reason to be looking forward to the summer. He’s enjoying another season of gaudy raw numbers that could land him a maximum deal.

NBA: Preseason-Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State WarriorsJordan, who is making $11.44MM this season, is averaging 11.2 PPG and 2.2 blocks. His 14.8 rebounds per game and .709 field goal percentage are both tops in the league. He’s this season’s only player to post three 20-point, 20-rebound games. He ranks second in the NBA in defensive win shares.

“He’s clearly the defensive player of the year,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, per Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com. “If anybody else gets that award, we need to have an investigation.”

Winning the award could further solidify Jordan’s status, but it’s likely that he inks a maximum deal regardless. Another thing to keep in mind: Jordan will only turn 27 in July and has started every regular season game for the Clippers since the 2010/11 season. He brings size, length and athleticism. Outside of his offensive limitations, there isn’t much to dislike. With top big men being hard to find, there are several teams — including the Clippers — that could conceivably make pitches to Jordan, who said he has no interest in signing a one-year contract, as Markazi wrote.

“I’m not going to be greedy and sign a one-year deal,” Jordan said. “Nah. I’m just focused on getting it over with and focusing on playing again. I’m just trying to win here.”

It’s too early to tell which teams are seriously interested in reeling in Jordan, who, as Markazi pointed out in the aforementioned story, has been making the rounds on national sports talk radio shows recently while gaining more mainstream attention. The market could be dictated by the actions of other soon-to-be unrestricted free agent big men Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge. Tim Duncan is in the final year of his contract and if he retires, that could make things even more interesting because the Spurs would be in play for a big man.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Emeka Okafor

September 13 2014 at 8:45pm CDT By Cray Allred

Of the league’s remaining unsigned free agents, Emeka Okafor is at the very top of the list in earnings from last year. Despite not playing a single game with the Suns, Okafor raked in $14.5MM in the last year of the six-year, $72MM deal he originally signed with Charlotte. If and when Okafor does receive a new NBA contract, it will almost certainly be for a massive pay reduction.

A herniated disc in Okafor’s neck was the reason the center missed all of 2013/14 and will likely remain unsigned for the near future. After playing 79 games for the Wizards in 2012/13, the ailment was discovered last preseason and wrecked his entire 2013/14 campaign. Okafor was subsequently traded to the Suns, who planned on flipping his contract for another asset. The center was viewed by many as a hot commodity, but his value was exclusively tied to his substantial expiring salary, which would have been useful in clearing cap space for a potential recipient. Phoenix had extensive discussions with the Lakers about moving Okafor as part of a trade to acquire Pau Gasol, but a deal never materialized.

If the status of his health weren’t up in the air, Okafor would most likely be signed by now. An intimidating interior defensive presence, the former No. 2 pick has averaged 1.7 blocks for his career, a number bolstering a virtual double-double career average in points (12.3) and rebounds (9.9) per game. The veteran did show signs of offensive decline the last season he saw the floor, turning in a career-worst .278 rate of free throw attempts per field goal attempts and a .496 true shooting percentage, well below his career average of .535. However, he still produced an above average PER of 15.8 for Washington, and maintained an elite defensive impact. While his blocks per game dropped to a career-worst 1.0, he generated a 99 defensive rating, according to his Basketball-Reference page, and 3.7 defensive win shares, top-10 and top-25 marks for the season, respectively.

Ongoing concerns about Okafor’s neck have prevented the big man from securing a deal, but they haven’t kept roughly half of the league from registering interest in his services. Contenders including the Heat, Cavs, and Clippers are among the teams interested. Those teams make a lot of on-the-court sense, as a steady rim-protector is always high on a playoff hopeful’s wishlist. The Clippers are the only team that has reportedly worked out Okafor, and they have since signed Ekpe Udoh in a move that would presumably reduce their need for Okafor on the roster. The Heat were considering both Okafor and Udoh as potential interior additions, so while Udoh’s deal with Los Angeles may hurt Okafor’s prospects there, it could very well help his outlook in Miami.

While no word has surfaced on the impression Okafor’s workout left, the league is wary of his lingering medical issues. He isn’t expected to sign anywhere until mid-season, and it’s unclear if doctors have cleared him for full basketball activities at this point. As much as a big, defensively disruptive body excites general managers, the thought of a big, ailing body under contract distresses them.

All of the teams known to be interested in Okafor are limited to paying the veteran’s minimum, as are most contenders in general at this stage in the offseason. If Okafor were to alleviate concerns about his health, a minimum salary would seem to be a discount for a player of his caliber. Elton Brand doesn’t have the same ceiling as Okafor at this stage in his career, but he just received a $2MM contract for 2014/15 on the merits of being a sturdy big off the bench. Chris Andersen, another big man expected to fill a role that’s smaller or similar to the one Okafor might play, re-signed with the Heat for two years and $10MM. Of course, Okafor may be willing to play on a one-year deal for the minimum for the chance to contend and demonstrate his viability looking toward next summer and a more lucrative deal.

Okafor could end up with more options if he waits until midseason to look for a deal. In-season pickups earn prorated salaries, meaning a team without room to squeeze the big man under the tax line now could conceivably do so later in the season, when a minimum contract’s payout would shrink. As always, opportunities could open up for Okafor if any teams lose a frontcourt piece to injury. Teams currently unable to offer Okafor more than the minimum could gain that flexibility if granted a disabled player exception after a season-ending injury to one of their players.

At this point, we’re more likely to hear updates on Okafor’s health than any announcement of a signing. The center has bounced back from injury before throughout a solid career, and I expect him to do so again. Don’t be surprised if Okafor is unemployed as the regular season opens, but making a difference once the postseason arrives.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Ryan Hollins

September 12 2014 at 11:07am CDT By Chuck Myron

There’s always a market in the NBA for seven-footers who’ve proven capable of handling one or two specific duties, and the interest that a handful of teams are reportedly showing in Ryan Hollins is evidence. Hollins is to have met with the Heat, with the Kings, Bulls and Spurs having etched his name near the top of their remaining wish lists, too. Many NBA clubs take chances on undrafted rookies and second-tier pros as they fill out their training camp rosters this time of year, holding out hope that they can unearth a hidden gem, and while there’s no such upside with Hollins, there’s little risk involved with him, either.

The former UCLA Bruin fell out of the rotation for the Clippers late last season after the team acquired Glen Davis, even though Hollins was as efficient as ever in the minutes he did see. He put up an 11.9 PER, a number better than in all but one of his eight NBA seasons. That’s well below 15.0, the mark of an average NBA player, but for a career reserve who’s never averaged more than 16.9 minutes per game, that stat is not a discredit. More impressive is his 73.6% shooting percentage, a product of self-awareness as much as any other factor. He took 65.3% of his shots from three feet and in, and he made them count, connecting on 87.2% of those looks, according to Basketball-Reference. Just 4.2% of his shots came from farther away than 10 feet. Hollins, less than a month shy of his 30th birthday, is not part of the new breed of floor-stretching big men, and he knows it.

The Todd Ramasar client also knows to stick close to the rim on the other end of the floor. He blocked 2.3 shots per 36 minutes last season, which put him in a three-way tie with Tim Duncan and John Henson for 14th in the league in that category among those who played at least as many total minutes as he did. There’s a decent chance his block rate was artificially high thanks to a small sample size, since he only racked up 482 minutes over the course of the entire season, but it’s not too far removed from the 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes he recorded in 2012/13, when he hit the floor for 663 minutes.

The Clippers were a significantly more effective team defensively when Hollins played the past two seasons, which is surprising, considering that starting center DeAndre Jordan placed third in Defensive Player of the Year balloting this past spring. They gave up 4.4 fewer points per 100 possessions when Hollins played compared to when he didn’t in 2012/13, as NBA.com shows, and 3.9 fewer in 2013/14. Of course, there are a variety of influences that go into that statistic, and it’s far from enough evidence to suggest that Hollins is a better defender than Jordan, or even in the same class. Still, it points to the notion that Hollins should have an NBA job this year, and he probably deserves a role greater than the one he played in the second half of this past season, when he was largely an afterthought.

Doc Rivers has an opening on his Clippers roster, but Spencer Hawes figures to absorb nearly all of the backup minutes behind Jordan. Hollins would provide an inside complement to Hawes’ long-range shooting, but it’s doubtful that Hollins would want to go into the year with little hope of being more than a third-stringer. The Heat have Chris Bosh, Josh McRoberts and Chris Andersen to take the bulk of the minutes at the power positions, and Udonis Haslem will receive plenty of consideration for playing time, too, so Miami might not be the fit that Hollins seeks, even though the Heat lack a true center. The Bulls have Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic crowding the frontcourt. The backup center job for the Kings seems to be a tossup, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the club envisions sliding one of its many power forwards, like Jason Thompson or Reggie Evans, into minutes at center when DeMarcus Cousins sits. Few on the Spurs roster have trouble hitting the floor thanks to Gregg Popovich‘s egalitarian allocation of minutes, but Duncan, Tiago Splitter, and Jeff Ayres are all still around to play center and Hollins is just one of many free agents the team is targeting for its final opening-night roster spot.

There’s no obvious fit for Hollins among the suitors that have so far been identified, so perhaps that explains why he remains unsigned. It’s a distinct possibility that Hollins is better suited to sign after the season begins, when a team might need added depth at center because of injuries. That would allow Hollins to jump immediately into the lineup without having to compete for minutes during training camp. It would also give Ramasar increased leverage in negotiations, since in such instances the team would figure to have greater motivation to make a deal and close on it quickly than most clubs appear to have at this point. In any case, it would be surprising to see Hollins go without an NBA deal this year, and I suspect he’ll sign with a team with playoff aspirations. He’s not the sort of player that a franchise focused on the future would seem to want, but for a club that can’t afford too many mistakes this year, he’d fit right in.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Earl Clark

September 5 2014 at 1:51pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Cleveland’s ill-fated addition of Andrew Bynum last summer and the return of LeBron James this year have overshadowed another significant miss from last season’s free agent haul for the Cavs. Earl Clark signed with the team a year ago for two years and $8.5MM, and while only the first season’s salary of $4.25MM was guaranteed, GM David Griffin wasted little time in divesting the team of the deal that former GM Chris Grant had signed with the combo forward. Griffin made the best of the Clark contract, shipping it to the Sixers as part of the deadline deal that netted Spencer Hawes, a major contributor for Cleveland in the season’s second half. The Sixers promptly waived Clark and after a pair of 10-day contracts with the Knicks, the 14th overall pick spent the rest of the season out of the league.

It quickly became apparent that the Cavs misjudged Clark last summer, but it nonetheless seems like a similar market overreaction that the 26-year-old has remained without a contract for so long. The Lakers gave him consistent playing time during a 22-game stretch in the 2012/13 season, when Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol were injured, and Clark showed why the Suns made him a lottery pick in 2009. He averaged 11.6 points and 9.2 rebounds in those 22 games, and the career 33.1% three-point shooter lifted his accuracy to 37.8% during that hot streak. That performance over a small sample size helped him earn his contract with Cleveland, even though he tailed off in his final days with the Lakers once Gasol and Howard returned. Still, a regression to the mean might not be the only explanation for why Clark didn’t pan out with the Cavs.

The former Louisville standout took a total of 15 three-point shots over his first three seasons in the league, but with the Lakers, he turned the three-pointer into a significant part of his game, as 104 of his 386 field goal attempts came from behind the arc. Still, he shot more often from three feet and in than any other range on the court that season, according to his Basketball-Reference profile. In Cleveland, three-pointers constituted nearly half his shot attempts, and he took just 16.3 percent of his shots as a Cav from three feet and in. He made threes at a 34.5% clip for the Cavs, but overall, he was inefficient, posting a woeful 8.6 PER in wine-and-gold, down from the 12.4 PER he recorded over his full season with the Lakers. The three-pointer that once served as the missing piece of his game became far too much a part of it.

The Spurs certainly seem wise enough to diagnose the problem, and they were reportedly set to work out the Kevin Bradbury client this week. Clark said earlier this summer that he had fielded interest from a few teams, but otherwise it’s been quite a reversal from last year, when Clark and the Cavs struck agreement during the first week of free agency. He’s proven effective in the right system, and perhaps the key is finding an up-tempo approach that gives Clark chances to go to the basket in transition, like the Mike D’Antoni-led Lakers attack he thrived in, and doesn’t leave him too many opportunities to stand around behind the arc. Clark struggled playing for the defensive-minded Mike Brown in Cleveland and failed to find his way with the Magic when they were focused on pounding the ball inside to Howard. There is irony in that he merely passed through Philadelphia, where the Sixers were the league’s fastest-paced team last season, and never suited up. Still, the Sixers easily could have kept him if they wanted him, so he seems unlikely to end up with Philadelphia again. The Rockets and the Suns loom as other teams that run go-go offenses and possess fewer than 15 guaranteed contracts, though neither Houston nor Phoenix has been linked to Clark this summer.

The Spurs didn’t play at a particularly speedy tempo last season, finishing 12th in possessions per 48 minutes, according to NBA.com. GM R.C. Buford and his staff are reportedly working out a handful of others, so Clark still has much to overcome. Yet mere interest from the Spurs stands to drive up Clark’s value, given the respect around the league for San Antonio’s continued ability to turn lightly regarded players into key contributors. It wouldn’t be surprising to see other teams jump into the mix soon as long as the Spurs don’t reach a deal with him. There aren’t many available former lottery picks who stand 6’10” and are less than two years removed from having played effectively in the NBA. Clark probably won’t validate his draft position, but he can provide depth of the sort that helped the Lakers sneak into the playoffs in 2013. Clark would no doubt like to see guaranteed money if he were to sign, but should he open himself to accepting a non-guaranteed camp invitation, it seems he’d still be in strong position to stick on the roster all season.