Free Agent Stock Watch Rumors

Free Agent Stock Watch: Shawn Marion

July 30 at 11:45am CDT By Chuck Myron

The snail’s pace of negotiations for Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe are somewhat explainable, given that both are restricted free agents. It’s a little harder to believe that unrestricted free agent Shawn Marion still remains unsigned. He started 76 games for the Mavs last season and all seven contests during the team’s first-round challenge of the eventual-champion Spurs. The 36-year-old is nearing the end of his career, but he still appears to have a lot left to give.

The Heat had been expected to make a push for Marion when free agency began, apparently viewing him as the sort of player whose addition could help convince LeBron James to stick around. Of course, LeBron ended up elsewhere, and Miami committed its available cash to Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger and its own free agents, leaving only the minimum salary left to chase anyone else. The Mavs can’t offer Marion more than the minimum, either, having renounced their Bird Rights on the versatile forward, exhausted their cap space, and spent the room exception on Jameer Nelson.

The Dan Fegan client probably would have signed by now if he had been willing to accept the minimum salary, and it appears he continues to hold out for more. That’s in spite of a growing number of teams limited to paying only the minimum. There were 11 such clubs when I ran them down this past Friday, and the Lakers have since joined that group. Similarly, Marion probably would have signed by now if teams with the $5.305MM mid-level exception or better thought he was worthy of that sort of cash, so it seems there’s a disconnect at play. Marion doesn’t appear too worried, recently telling Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News that, “It’s only July, man. We got two more months. We’ll just wait and see how it works out.”

Yet teams rarely dole out more than the minimum salary once September rolls around, and if they do, it’s not much more than that. So while there’s no need for Marion to sign now if he intends to play in the NBA next season, there’s urgency if he wants to play on a salary befitting his production.

Marion remains valuable, but there’s no doubt that he’s slowing down. The Mavs outscored opponents by 7.8 points per 100 possessions whenever Marion sat this past season, but they only broke even when he was on the floor, according to NBA.com. He put up a career-worst 13.7 PER this past season, a rather steep decline from his 18.0 mark in 2012/13. His 10.4 points per game in 2013/14 were his fewest since his rookie season, though that was a product of his shot attempts per contest nearing a career low as he played on a Mavs team that could draw its offense from an array of other capable sources.

More encouraging was his three-point stroke, as he nearly doubled his attempts from that distance over the previous season and improved his accuracy to 35.8%, his best mark in 11 years. That percentage is just about average in today’s NBA, but it nonetheless represents growing proficiency in a sought-after skill that’s extended many careers. It’s more difficult to gauge just how strong a defender Marion remains, but suffice it to say that the Mavs entrusted him with holding together their defense in a lineup largely devoid of stoppers.

The Bulls and the Rockets are the teams other than the Heat and the Mavs to have been linked to Marion this month. Chicago, like Dallas and Miami, has only the minimum to offer, but Houston would be an intriguing suitor if its efforts intensify. The Rockets have most of their non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception to spend, as well as their $2.077MM biannual exception. It would surely please Rockets GM Daryl Morey to poach the Mavs’ starting small forward after Dallas had done the same to Morey’s team with a near-max offer sheet to Chandler Parsons. It’s worth wondering if Fegan, who represents Marion as well as Parsons, harbors ill feelings toward Morey and company, given the acrimony surrounding Parsons’ cross-Texas move. Still, that probably wouldn’t forestall a deal in the end, especially since the Rockets employ star Fegan client Dwight Howard.

There are other seemingly attractive teams with either the cap space or the exceptions to give Marion a fair deal, including the Spurs, Hawks and Nuggets. Still, none have appeared to show interest. It’s conceivable that the market for Marion will soften once the fates of Bledsoe and Monroe are resolved. He’ll have opportunities, and it would be surprising if he doesn’t field multiple offers for better than the minimum. The questions are whether those offers will be for substantially more, just how long the deals would run, and just which teams will come to his doorstep. It seems as though Marion has ideals in mind for each, and, as he indicated, he doesn’t feel the need to compromise now, regardless of whether he’d ultimately be better served by doing so.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Marvin Williams

May 13 at 8:20pm CDT By Ryan Raroque

Back in February, the Jazz reportedly rejected at least one trade proposal for Marvin Williams that would have netted them a late first round pick in this year’s loaded draft. Around that time, the 6’9 forward also mentioned that he liked Utah and hoped to be a part of the team’s future. However, it’s worth mentioning that Sam Amico of FOX Sports Ohio most recently listed Williams as one of a handful of free agents who appear unlikely to be back with their respective teams. To get an idea of his current value, let’s take a look at how his NBA career has fared up to this point.

Judging by the improvements made over his first three seasons in the league, Williams steadily climbed toward fulfilling the potential envisioned when the Hawks selected him second overall in 2005. Over that span, his scoring numbers jumped from 8.5 to 14.8, his rebounding average increased from 4.3 to 5.7, his overall shooting averages improved from 44.3% to 46.2%, and he got to the line 5.1 times per game in his third year, up from his 3.2 FTA as a rookie. Although he didn’t see marked improvements in any of the aforementioned categories during his fourth season – he posted 13.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.5 FTA and 45.8% shooting overall, respectively – Williams began to show promise from long distance, connecting on 35.5% of his attempts from three point range. With all this in mind, the Hawks rewarded Williams during the 2009 offseason with a five-year deal worth about $37.5MM.

Following that contract extension, Williams’ production over the next three seasons was more characteristic of a solid role player rather than a former second overall pick: 10.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG, and roughly 2.6 FTA in his next 203 games. The Hawks would eventually deal him to Utah in exchange for Devin Harris during the 2012 offseason, and Williams’ numbers dipped even further. In 2012-13, he averaged 7.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, and shot 42.3% from the field in 23.7 minutes per game. The 2013/14 season was a modest bounce back year for Williams, as he put up 9.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, and delivered on 43.9% of his overall field goal attempts in 25.4 MPG.

To get a rough idea of what type of contract Williams could be looking for, we can examine some of the deals that a few other wing players around the league earned last summer. Blazers guard-forward Dorell Wright signed a two-year deal worth $6MM following a 2012/13 season in which he averaged 9.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, and shot 39.6% from the field in 22.6 MPG. Last summer, Martell Webster re-upped with the Wizards for four years and $22MM after posting 11.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, and shooting at a  44.2% clip in 28.9 MPG. The Timberwolves inked Corey Brewer to a three-year, $14.1MM deal after the former Florida standout produced 12.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG, and 42.5% shooting in 24.4 MPG for the Nuggets. Keeping this in mind, it would seem fair to assume that Williams would set his asking price somewhere between $3MM-$6MM annually.

Throughout the season, there was ample indication that the Jazz hoped to make Williams part of their future. He is known to be well-liked by his teammates in Utah and, as mentioned earlier, the front office decided against trading the former UNC product for a draft pick in order to have a chance at retaining him this summer. Those factors probably won’t be enough to dissuade Williams from testing the waters, however. The Tandem Sports & Entertainment client will turn 28 in June, which should make him an intriguing option for other teams that are scouring the free agent market for a combo forward. A chance at more minutes on a more competitive team could be too enticing to pass up, especially if that team can offer him close to the same amount of playing time he received during his first few seasons in the league.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Zach Randolph

May 10 at 12:55pm CDT By Cray Allred

Zach Randolph may have spent his final game as a member of the Grizzlies away from the team, serving a surprise suspension for Game 7 against the Thunder. Now Randolph must turn his attention to the the offseason and his player option for the 2014/15 season. His salary is set to drop from $18.2MM to $16.9MM if he picks up the option, a decrease that was ratified despite going against CBA rules per Mark Deeks of ShamSports.com.

Despite shooting under 40% in the playoffs, his inside presence helped Memphis impose its physical style on the Thunder and push the No. 2 seed to the brink of an upset. After missing half of the 2011/12 season due to injury, and scoring well below his career average last year, Randolph returned to form when the Grizzlies desperately needed him to, having lost star center Marc Gasol to injury for a significant chunk of this season. Randolph led Memphis in scoring for the playoffs at 18.2 PPG, and he averaged a double-double in the regular season.

The Raymond Brothers client hasn’t discussed his future with team management, but Randolph and the Grizzlies have mutual interest in him remaining in Memphis for the remainder of his career. Randolph is one of the only great post scorers in a league that has become more perimeter-oriented, even among frontcourt players. The Memphis front office is more driven by advanced stats than most around the NBA, so the continued presence of a player with Randolph’s skill set and age hasn’t always been a foregone conclusion. The Grizzlies denied rumors that they were looking to trade the power forward earlier this season, but Randolph expressed disappointment in the perceived lack of loyalty from the team.

While few teams have a frontcourt scorer as sturdy as Randolph, there isn’t an abundance of teams that seem to be in a position to target the big man. Many clubs with significant cap space are invested in young power forwards, and adding a piece like Randolph could stunt their development. Examples of this include the Bucks and John Henson, the Magic and Tobias Harris, and the Jazz and Derrick Favors. Toronto reportedly showed interest in Randolph this winter, and if the Raptors believe they can contend in the Eastern Conference by building around their core, adding a proven veteran of Randolph’s abilities would make sense. It would probably mean clearing Amir Johnson‘s salary via trade, and Johnson is a productive big on an affordable contract, but pairing Randolph with Jonas Valanciunas would be an intriguing move. The Pelicans were rumored to have light interest in Randolph as well. If New Orleans wasn’t confident in Ryan Anderson‘s return to form following a scary neck injury that cost him most of last season, Randolph could play alongside Anthony Davis.

Randolph could also become a fallback signing for teams that either strike out on their primary targets in free agency or want to offer a one-year deal around the value of Randolph’s option for next season to preserve max money for 2015. The Mavs have pursued a similar strategy in the past, and I could see the Lakers keeping their sights set on 2015 while adding a piece like Randolph in the meantime. It would be tough for Randolph, who turns 33 this summer, to pass on locking in long-term money while his market value is still relatively high, but the right team and the right salary might make him think about it. Randolph mentioned the Lakers earlier this season when he spoke of teams that had shown loyalty, a virtue he hoped the Grizzlies would espouse.

Randolph’s market value is believed to be in the three-year, $30-35MM range. A 13-year veteran who has logged as many bruising minutes as Randolph would seem a risky player to sign for multiple years at over $10MM in annual salary. Al Jefferson, three years Randolph’s junior, inked a three-year, $40.5MM contract last summer. Jefferson has superior offensive prowess at this point, but he’s also a greater liability on the defensive end. The fact that Z-Bo hasn’t built his game on athleticism — Randolph barely jumps when putting up his shot — mitigates some risk of a sudden decline in ability. Randolph relies heavily on strength and craftiness, elements that won’t evaporate overnight.

Randolph’s next contract will likely be his last extended deal as one of the league’s top earners, and it would make sense for him to pursue it sooner rather than later, especially since he’s facing a pay decrease on his option anyway. While Memphis wants to keep Randolph, it will still be interesting to see if the Grizzlies value him as much as they do other players on the market should he decline his option. Randolph came in ninth on our latest Free Agent Power Rankings, but he could find that player pool less crowded once free agency begins. Seven of the players ahead of him on that list can remain with their teams either through option clauses or restricted free agency. If the market dries up and Randolph stands as one of the few premier players available, teams with cap space might be able to pry him away from the city he has thrived in for the last five years.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Dwyane Wade

April 26 at 8:39am CDT By Cray Allred

A three-time champion, Dwyane Wade could find himself in a peculiar position this summer. This offseason will be the first of two opportunities for the guard to get out of his contract early, and his decision will likely be tied to what he and teammates LeBron James and Chris Bosh decide to do collectively. All three players have early termination options this offseason and player options for 2015/16, a structure they formed by design when they joined forces in hopes of forming a dynasty before the 2010/11 season. NBA executives reportedly expect the trio to terminate their contracts but re-sign with Miami next season. While they made moderate sacrifices to squeeze into Miami’s salary books together, they aren’t expected to give up millions of dollars in salary to benefit the Heat cap structure this time around.

Ranked ninth in our latest Free Agent Power Rankings, Wade would risk the most by becoming a free agent before his six-year, nearly $108MM contract runs its full course. While James and Bosh could find max contracts in a number of cities, it seems doubtful that teams would be jumping at the chance to offer over roughly $20MM in annual salary to a 32-year-old who missed 74 games over the last three seasons due to knee injury and regimented rest. It’s unlikely that there are many teams, if any, outside of Miami that could afford to regularly rest a player of Wade’s caliber while paying him more than most or all of their other players.

Wade could play it safe and ride out his contract, but he would then face an even more precarious scenario at the age of 34. A team that believed in his talents enough to pursue him in free agency would presumably think he is still capable of performing as one of the best guards in the league for years to come. It could be worth accepting an annual pay decrease if it means securing a lengthy extension that guarantees more money overall. There haven’t been any teams legitimately linked to Wade at this point as the league waits on the Miami trio to makes their moves. The last time Wade was on the open market, his hometown Bulls made a serious play for his services.

Wade’s game has transformed significantly since taking a backseat to LeBron in the Heat offense. The year before the big-three era began, Wade averaged 30.2 points per game and stood tallest among the Heat legends. His scoring average has decreased each year since, with his 19.0 clip this season a career low outside of his rookie season. His 2013/14 per-game averages in minutes played, field goals attempted, free throws attempted, steals, and blocks are also at career-worst levels for Wade, not including his rookie year. On the other hand, he has adapted to his reduced role with improved efficiency. His true shooting percentage of .588 this season is a career high, as is his field goal percentage of .545, well above his career average of .492.

Wade has always been an abysmal three-point shooter, and he hasn’t improved at all as a veteran. He only took 0.6 threes per game this year, and only hit on 28.1% of those attempts. As his knee issues continue to be a concern, his reliance on a brutally physical offensive game is somewhat troubling. All aging players lose athleticism, and if Wade’s knee problems cause his driving and slashing abilities to decline more quickly than with most players, he doesn’t have a long-term skill set to fall back on. Shooting guards that can’t shoot from distance aren’t common in the NBA, and typically have to play defense at an elite level to stay on the floor. Wade is one of the best instinctive defenders in the game, but deteriorating athleticism would damage his defensive ability as well.

Wade has built his Hall-of-Fame career in Miami, and he has expressed a desire to play there until he retires. Kobe Bryant‘s latest extension fortified Wade’s inclination to stay, but many around the league pilloried the wisdom of such a lucrative deal for a player on the downside of his career. It would be difficult for the Heat to avoid repeat-offender tax penalties if they extend Wade significantly above market value and they also retain James and Bosh.

If Wade does opt out, my guess is that Wade’s fate as a free agent will be influenced as much by Miami’s thinking as his own. Pat Riley has been shrewd in building a championship roster without incurring enormous tax bills, but the repeater tax looms if the team moves forward with three max contracts. It would certainly be unpopular with the fan base, but if Wade’s departure would open the door for Miami to free up space for better role players or even another, younger star to complement the final stretch of LeBron’s prime, the Heat might just walk through it.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Rudy Gay

April 25 at 4:02pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Rudy Gay was so torn about whether to exercise his $19.3MM+ player option for 2014/15 when the month began that he couldn’t so much as identify the criteria he’d use to come to his decision. He now has little more than two months to make a choice that seemed a certainty in the wake of his trade to the Kings in December, when he appeared ready to opt in. He spent the rest of the season reviving his game to the point that accepting a season of guaranteed maximum salary is no longer a slam dunk.

The former eighth overall pick hit a nadir in Toronto at the beginning of the season, becoming the epitome of the inefficient albatross so many of his analytically minded detractors had regarded him to be. He was shooting just 38.8%, a career low, and yet he was taking a career high 18.6 shots per game through 18 contests with the Raptors, 12 of which were losses. His PER was 14.7, a tick below the mark of an average NBA player.

Enter an NBA owner and advanced metrics devotee who had a different view of Gay. Vivek Ranadive has said repeatedly that his numbers suggested that Gay would perform much better with the Kings, for whom he could be a secondary option to the inside presence of DeMarcus Cousins. Gay was a 20.1 PPG scorer in a partial season in Sacramento, an average identical to the one he posted during 2007/08, his highest scoring season of his eight years in the NBA. He shot 48.2% with the Kings, which would have exceeded his all-time best mark. He also dished out 3.1 assists per game, a volume great enough to set a new career high of 2.9 for the season.

The advanced metrics tell a similar story. His PER spiked to 19.6 in Sacramento, 1.8 points better than his previous career best. He notched .114 win shares per 48 minutes on a team that finished with 28 wins. Tellingly, the average distance of his shot attempts decreased to 11.6, nearly a foot closer than his career average, according to Basketball Reference.

Ranadive had coveted him for months and reportedly was the catalyst behind the trade. There probably isn’t an owner who’s a greater fan of Gay’s, or more willing to open his checkbook for the Octagon Sports client. Perhaps Gay feels as though the time to capitalize on this is now, before any regression happens, before another losing season in Sacramento spoils the owner’s mood, and before the Kings make another move that ties up their books.

There hasn’t been much chatter about an extension after it seemed in the wake of the trade that there was a decent chance it would become a topic of discussion. Former Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo had broached the subject before his ouster last summer. Still, unless Gay opts in and signs an extension after the end of June, it could only run two years longer than his current deal. It wouldn’t give him the kind of long-term financial security that a new, five-year deal from the Kings could provide.

Even a four-year deal with an interested suitor from outside Sacramento would probably ensure more money than an extension would. Some GMs said early in the season that he wouldn’t be worthy of mid-level exception salaries, but that group probably doesn’t include Suns GM Ryan McDonough, as Phoenix appears to have him in its sights. The Suns have been linked to a number of potential free agents this summer, as they’re set to have plenty of cap flexibility even with a new max deal for Eric Bledsoe.

Phoenix, coming off a 48-win season, might be an intriguing destination for Gay, who suggested in December that he wants to play for a winning team. He made similar comments when he spoke about his option decision at the beginning of the month, saying that while he can see himself continuing to play for a rebuilding team, it’s not ideal. Gay was part of a high-scoring trio with Cousins and Isaiah Thomas in Sacramento, but the Kings are miles from contention, and Thomas is set to become a restricted free agent this summer.

Gay has expressed a fondness for Sacramento and said in February that he appreciates the on-court freedom Kings coach Michael Malone and his staff have given him. Gay’s arrival in Sacramento was certainly a boon for his on-court production, even if it meant joining a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2005/06. The vast majority of that streak of lottery appearances was under the ownership of the Maloof family. Ranadive was right about Gay’s improved play this season, and his complete reboot of the front office and coaching staff since buying the team last year is reason for optimism. Sacramento has a decent chance to make significant improvements between now and the end of Gay’s next deal.

That next deal is one I think he chooses to sign with Sacramento after opting out of the final season of his existing contract. Hoops Rumors readers pegged his value at between $10MM and $15MM before his time in Sacramento began, and I think he’ll warrant salaries at the high end of that spectrum from Ranadive and company, if not slightly more. That kind of long-term money will more than make up for sacrificing his lucrative option year.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Luol Deng

April 18 at 12:32pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Luol Deng is eighth in the latest version of our 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings, but there’s a strong chance that he’ll be the most valuable free agent changing teams. It seems that there’s at least a better shot of that happening than there is of Deng re-signing in Cleveland, given the rumors that have surrounded him since the Cavs brought him in via trade on January 7th. Cleveland was 19-21 with Deng in the lineup, and while that’s better than the team’s record without him, his arrival didn’t exactly bring about drastic change to a moribund Cavs franchise. Deng began to privately express displeasure with the Cavs shortly after the trade, and a dispatch from last month indicated that Deng was simply counting the days until he could leave.

Deng took a much more positive tone in public, saying shortly after the trade deadline that he was pleased with the direction of the franchise. Less than a week after Cleveland acquired him, he expressed a willingness to sign an extension and referred to the Cavs as an “amazing organization.” It wouldn’t be in character for Deng, the winner of season’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award and a tireless worker in his days with the Bulls, to lash out or undermine his team in on-the-record statements. Still, it appears he holds some misgivings about the Cavs, given the reports that have leaked, and it’s telling that his most forthcoming statements about his future came months ago. Extension chatter has vanished, too.

The Cavs were in talks with several teams about flipping Deng at the deadline, a sign that the club isn’t confident about its chances to keep the small forward, who turned 29 on Wednesday. The Wizards, Pistons, Pacers, Kings, Warriors and Mavs were among the teams reportedly in the conversation, though the Cavs were apparently merely gauging the market and never closed in on a deal. Still, some teams seemed reluctant to take on a player who can walk away this summer, reflecting a greater sentiment of uncertainty over just where Deng is headed in the offseason.

The Lakers and Suns have interest, and the Mavs, Celtics, Magic and Bobcats are reportedly likely suitors as well. Deng, when asked, didn’t rule out the notion of returning to the Bulls, though that seems a long shot. Agent Herb Rudoy has publicly pointed to Andre Iguodala‘s four-year, $48MM deal with the Warriors as analogous to Deng’s value, and some believe Rudoy will seek annual salaries greater than the $13.5MM Josh Smith makes. Deng was upset with the assertion that he sought an extension of $15MM a year from the Bulls before Chicago traded him, so it would be surprising if Rudoy attempted to go that high. Still, Deng scoffed at Chicago’s final offer of three years at $10MM each, so he’ll almost certainly seek more than that in free agency.

The seventh pick in the 2004 draft put up numbers this season that were similar to the ones he had the past two years, when he was an All-Star with the Bulls, though much of that is a product of strong performance in the months leading up to the trade. He was scoring 19.0 points and dishing out 3.7 assists per game in Chicago this season, which would have been career highs in spite of him having played fewer minutes than he ever had under Tom Thibodeau. Those minutes took an even sharper decline once he arrived in Cleveland, down to his lowest rate in six years, and his production suffered accordingly. Some of that could simply be a regression to the mean after his hot start, but Deng’s half-season with the Cavs hasn’t been memorable.

Deng’s most valuable contributions are usually on defense, and indeed the Cavs were a better defensive team with him on the floor, giving up 1.1 fewer points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. He didn’t revolutionize the Cavs defense, which finished tied with the Magic for the 13th most points per 100 possessions allowed, but drastic improvement was probably too much to ask, considering the shortcomings of the rest of the team’s starting unit.

His half-season as a Cavalier probably didn’t hurt his value, since he had such a strong start with the Bulls that his performance essentially evened out. Some teams may worry that Deng was a product of an effective system in Chicago, and that he’d more closely resemble the Cleveland version of himself on most NBA teams, but Thibodeau, for all his accomplishments as a coach, is no offensive genius, and Deng’s defense has held steady.

The shock of a midseason trade and the turmoil in Cleveland, where GM Chris Grant lost his job just weeks after acquiring Deng, probably didn’t help him play his best. Injuries to his back, ankle and Achilles tendon all forced him to miss time, which helps explain his offensive drop-off, too. Perhaps the ailments signal that his body is breaking down as he nears 30, after having led the league in minutes per game the past two seasons, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of his suitors insist on non-guaranteed money at the back end of his deal.

Deng is no superstar, and he won’t ask to be paid like one. He’s been a valuable starter for eight playoff teams in his 10 seasons, and he became an All-Defensive Second Team selection under Thibodeau’s guidance in 2011/12. He’s the sort of player who can help an established team that’s ready to start contending, and he’d be a better fit with teams like the Mavs, Wizards and Suns than the Lakers, Magic, or any other team with cap flexibility but without a semblance of a playoffs-worthy core. Deng might have to settle for salaries closer to Iguodala’s than Smith’s to fit into the sort of ascendant team that’s ideal for him, but that might be the best way for him to sustain his value for his next contract, particularly if his new coach watches his minutes. His signing won’t be July’s leading story, but it might make a significant difference come the following June.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Gordon Hayward

April 10 at 4:00pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Gordon Hayward has had no choice but to step into a leading role for the Jazz this season. Utah cleaned house this past summer, allowing Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and others to leave via free agency, and the team used the cap space to absorb Golden State’s toxic contracts in exchange for two first-round picks and three second-rounders. It was a clear indication that the Jazz are looking down the road, particularly since only one of those picks comes Utah’s way anytime before 2016. The Jazz ensured Derrick Favors would be a part of their future, inking him to a four-year, $48MM extension before the deadline to do so in October. Utah didn’t do the same with Hayward, a fellow 2010 draftee, setting him up for restricted free agency this summer, when he’ll be one of the top 10 players available.

Just how available the 24-year-old will be remains to be seen, since the Jazz have the power to match any other team’s offer and Hayward has said that signing a new deal to stay in Utah is his preference. The comments coming from Hayward, agent Mark Bartelstein and Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey in the wake of their failure to reach an extension deal were universally rosy. Lindsey expressed his admiration for Hayward and Bartelstein, who heaped similar praise on the Jazz. All of the three will surely look out for themselves this summer, but without any reports of private resentment behind their public statements, it seems as though the working relationship between the three is fully functional, at the very least.

The Jazz aren’t the only ones signing Hayward’s praises. Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who doubles as the team’s primary front office decision-maker, said this past autumn that he has a “man-crush” on the former Butler star. The Celtics employ Hayward’s college coach, Brad Stevens, and they showed interest in trading for the versatile swingman before the trade deadline. Many in the league have seen Boston as a strong candidate to pursue Hayward this summer. One NBA GM told Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher before the October extension deadline that “the Jazz had better lock up Hayward,” a signal that there would be leaguewide interest this summer. League executives told Sean Deveney of The Sporting News in February that they generally feel as though the Jazz plan on re-signing him unless they wind up drafting a marquee small forward, in which case they believe that Utah will consider sign-and-trade possibilities.

It’s no secret that the Jazz covet combo forward Jabari Parker, a Mormon who would have inherent popular appeal in Utah, and small forward Andrew Wiggins looms as a possible draft pick for the Jazz, too. Still, Utah has started three small forwards for much of the season, grouping Hayward, Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson together. Parker could slide in at power forward, and Wiggins, a strong defender, could cover the opposing team’s most potent offensive wing player, allowing the team to hide Hayward. The Jazz give up fewer points per possession when Hayward isn’t playing this season, per NBA.com, and that’s been true three out of the four years he’s been in the league.

Hayward nonetheless contributes in a multitude of other ways. He’s one of only five players in the league to average more than 15 points, five rebounds and five assists per game this season, as Basketball-Reference shows. The others are Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Michael Carter-Williams, putting Hayward in heady company. The opportunity to play outsized roles on teams with poor records surely has to do with the inclusion of Hayward and Carter-Williams on this list, but it nonetheless suggests Hayward’s wide-ranging value to the Jazz.

Hayward and Bartelstein apparently never asked for a maximum-salary extension from Utah, though they and the team were reportedly in talks for a deal worth more than what Favors received. Assuming the team was and remains willing to exceed $12MM salaries, and that Hayward and Bartelstein are still willing to accept less than the max, it would make for a small window of negotiation between $12MM and roughly $14MM. I’d be surprised if they couldn’t get a deal done, though there are a lot of “ifs” in that scenario.

The Jazz have no shortage of cap flexibility in the years ahead, with about $27MM in commitments for next season and only Favors under contract after that. Enes Kanter and Alec Burks will be extension-eligible this summer, but neither is likely to command the same sort of money that Hayward and Favors are about to make, and Utah should be able to keep all four if it wishes. Retaining Trey Burke and this year’s first-rounders might become an issue down the line, but Burke’s second contract would only overlap with the last season of Favors’ deal, so it shouldn’t be that much of a concern at this point.

Hayward is clearly a hot commodity around the league, but it would be a surprising about-face if he doesn’t wind up back with the Jazz, who hold most of the leverage with their right to match offers. Even if they didn’t, Hayward seems to feel comfortable in Salt Lake City and is giving every indication he intends to stay there for years to come.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Eric Bledsoe

April 2 at 1:50pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Suns owner Robert Sarver and president of basketball operations Lon Babby both said even before Eric Bledsoe returned from a torn meniscus in his right knee that they intend to match any offer for the restricted free agent this summer. That doesn’t preclude teams from challenging them to honor their word and making the Suns pay dearly to keep a 24-year-old who’s only started 69 games in his NBA career. Indeed, it appears the Lakers have considered overpaying for Bledsoe this summer to see if they can bring him back to L.A., where he spent his first two NBA seasons with the Clippers.

Overpaying for Bledsoe would almost certainly entail a maximum-salary offer, and even that sort of money might not be too much for a player with his upside. The Rich Paul client is only eligible for a starting salary worth approximately 25% of the salary cap. The precise figure won’t be known until after the July Moratorium, but it’ll likely be close to $14MM, based on last year’s numbers. That would give him more money than fellow point guards Stephen Curry and Ty Lawson but less than elites like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose. He’d have the same salary as John Wall, who shared a backcourt with Bledsoe in their lone season at the University of Kentucky.

Wall received his max via an extension with the Wizards this past summer. The Suns were wary of handing out a lucrative extension to Bledsoe, whom they’d just acquired via trade with the Clippers. The former 18th overall pick had never been a full-time starter, and so GM Ryan McDonough and company took a cautious approach, even though it seems likely they could have extended Bledsoe for significantly less than the max. The Suns gave him a chance to prove his worth this season, and when healthy, he’s done just that, averaging 17.3 points, 5.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game. The Suns give up 3.1 fewer points per 100 possessions with Bledsoe on the floor, thanks in part to his team-leading 1.5 steals per game. In hindsight, the decision not to extend Bledsoe looks like a mistake.

There’s still plenty of room for him to improve, as his 3.1 turnovers per contest demonstrate. Still, it’s about the same rate of turnovers per minute as he’s committed throughout his career, so it’s no sign of regression. He shot nearly 40% from behind the arc last season and is making just 34.2% on such attempts this year, but apart from last season’s small sample size of 78 attempts, he’s never been a top-flight shooter from long distance. His assist numbers aren’t eye-popping because he shares ball-distributing duties with Goran Dragic.

The presence of Dragic complicates matters to some degree. The pairing of two point guards has certainly worked so far this season, but Bledsoe and Dragic have only shared the floor for a total of 716 minutes, or the equivalent of about 15 full games, a sample size that might be too small for the team to draw definitive conclusions. Dragic, not Bledsoe, has been the team’s most productive player this season, and if Dragic turns down his $7.5MM player option after next season, he can become a sought-after free agent in the summer of 2015. Dragic is also three and a half years older than Bledsoe, and the Slovenian has never played nearly as well as he has this season, so a regression could be in order for next year. If Dragic continues his sterling play, the Suns face the prospect of paying nearly $30MM a year to retain both of them.

The Suns have the benefit of cap flexibility if that scenario emerges. They’re tied only to about $23.6MM for next season and less than $1MM in the two seasons that follow. That doesn’t include rookie salaries for the slew of first-round picks coming Phoenix’s way in the new few years, but those are fungible assets that the Suns would have little trouble sending away if they want to pursue a marquee to add to Bledsoe and Dragic.

Plenty of teams would love to forestall the rise of the Suns, who play in an attractive, warm-weather city, as a title contender, and Bledsoe will draw plenty of attention this summer, as he did last year when he was on the trade block. The Raptors, Pelicans, Pistons, Magic, Mavericks and Celtics all expressed interest in trading for Bledsoe this past summer, with the majority of the talk surrounding Orlando. The Magic’s interest might have been overstated, and while the team seems committed to a slow rebuild, I wouldn’t be surprised to see GM Rob Hennigan float an offer to the point guard. The Magic would have little to lose in doing so, since even if Bledsoe signs an offer sheet and the Clippers take the maximum three days to match, Orlando probably wouldn’t miss out on any of its primary targets during the 72-hour holding period.

Sacrificing $14MM worth of cap maneuverability for three days is probably a worthwhile endeavor for other teams, too, but it’s certainly no given that Bledsoe would entertain signing an offer sheet. His contract could run for five years, with 7.5% raises, if he signs with the Suns outright, but he’d only get four seasons and 4.5% raises on an offer sheet with another team. Given the team’s stated intention to match any offer, Bledsoe and his agent have reason to negotiate with Phoenix first. That might be why Sarver and Babby have both said publicly that they’re willing to match offers, though I’d expect Paul to shop his client elsewhere if the Suns don’t at least come in with an offer equivalent to what other teams can make.

Ultimately, I don’t expect Bledsoe to change teams for a second consecutive summer. He’s only appeared in 35 games for the Suns, but his success, and the success of the team, is enough to justify the Suns keeping the No. 4 free agent in our 2014 power rankings around at any price.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Greg Monroe

March 27 at 4:03pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Most restricted free agents as valuable as Greg Monroe is are virtual shoo-ins to return to their teams. That’s not the case with the 6’11″ former Georgetown Hoya whose departure would appear to offer the Pistons the easiest way to dismantle their clumsy, super-sized frontcourt. Much hinges on just who the Pistons will have running their basketball operations this summer, with the job security of Joe Dumars in doubt. Most would probably conclude that the teaming of Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith has been a failed experiment, but even if Smith and Drummond continue to be unmovable assets, for completely different reasons, it doesn’t necessarily mean Monroe is a goner.

The Pistons could sign Monroe this summer and trade him at the deadline, although his statistical decline this season suggests that his value would take a hit if Detroit continues to play him with its current set of misfit parts. His points, rebounds and assists per game — and per minute — are all down, and his PER is at a career-low 17.9. Monroe no doubt bears some responsibility for his own declining numbers, but it seems most logical to suggest that playing out of position and amid tight offensive spacing has been the primary reason behind his regression. He might not be all that enthusiastic about playing under these conditions for another year, but the Pistons wield the power to match any offer Monroe takes from another club.

Still, part of what makes Monroe such an intriguing case is the strong possibility that other clubs find him significantly more valuable than whoever will be making basketball decisions for Detroit does. Agent David Falk is averse to extensions for less than the maximum salary, and it never appeared as though the Pistons were willing to go that high. Still, Monroe is only 23 years old, and with averages of 15.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game with a 19.8 PER over the past three seasons, there’s plenty of reason to believe that at least one team would be willing to give him the max. That’s especially true since Monroe qualifies for a max that’s equivalent to only 25% of the salary cap, significantly less than the max salaries that more experienced players can make. The precise amount won’t be clear until after the July Moratorium, but it will likely entail a starting salary close to $14MM a year.

Falk has mastered the art of linking a client with the team that holds him in higher regard than most, having done so most recently with Roy Hibbert of the Pacers. Hibbert, who like Monroe is a former Georgetown big man, wasn’t widely considered worthy of a max deal when the Blazers agreed to sign him to an offer sheet for that amount in 2012, forcing the Pacers to quickly swoop in with an identical offer to retain him.

Five Eastern Conference teams are reportedly already planning to pursue Monroe, and one of them is probably the Wizards, who would apparently like to bring him back to the same city where he played his college ball. The Bobcats and Warriors had interest in trading for Monroe at the deadline, an idea that Detroit resisted short of an extraordinary offer. The resistance to part with Monroe in advance of his free agency indicates that Dumars and company are by no means anxious to see him go. The Pistons are hoping to re-sign him to a contract similar to the four-year, $49MM deal the Thunder gave Serge Ibaka in 2012, as TNT’s David Aldridge wrote in February. Aldridge believes the team will settle for paying the max if another club makes him such an offer, but given Detroit’s inability to find a taker for Smith, it’s not unreasonable to believe otherwise. A max deal for Monroe would require a commitment of nearly half the salary cap to two parts of a three-man unit that simply hasn’t worked.

The possibility of a sign-and-trade is in play. The Pistons could use their ability to match offers as leverage to gain assets from Monroe suitors. Dumars was on the other end of such a transaction this summer, when he acquired Brandon Jennings for three players including Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton, a pair of inexpensive young talents with upside. Detroit can’t expect to receive a player of Monroe’s caliber in this sort of swap, but the big man’s status as a restricted free agent means the club could reap assets more valuable than the ones conveyed in many sign-and-trades.

Monroe is certainly no superstar, but a young, productive interior player who stands 6’11″ needn’t be a marquee name to command a max deal. His down year this season raises legitimate concerns, but I think he’ll nonetheless be able to sign a max contract in the summer. Whether it’s the Pistons or another team that winds up shelling out the money depends on just who is running the front office in Detroit. If the new GM is a confident, aggressive sort who feels like there’d be an avenue to solve the team’s frontcourt mess even with Monroe on the books for max money, the big man will stay put. If owner Tom Gores installs someone who wants to play it safe and take the path of least resistance, Monroe will be wearing a different uniform.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Kris Humphries

March 24 at 7:39pm CDT By Zach Links

So far in our Free Agent Stock Watch series, we’ve profiled Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James.  Today, we look at Celtics forward Kris Humphries.  While it’s true that one of these things is not like the other, the 29-year-old big man could get some serious attention when he hits the open market this summer.

Humphries, a late lottery pick of the Jazz in 2004, had a rather unremarkable career until January of 2010 when he was traded by the Mavericks along with Shawne Williams to the Nets for Eduardo Najera.  The Nets quickly discarded Williams, but Humphries was given an opportunity to shine in New Jersey and made the most of it, posting 10 PPG and 10.4 RPG in a then career-high ~28 minutes per contest.  Over the next two years, he proved that his stint with the Nets was no fluke as he proved to be a reliable low post scoring option and brought the tenacity on the glass that center Brook Lopez seemed to lack.

The move across the Hudson River over to Brooklyn may have been a step forward for the organization, but it was quickly apparent in the 2012/13 season that Hump left his best basketball in the Garden State.  While he was supposed to be a fixture in the Nets rotation after inking a two-year, $24MM deal in July, he was bounced from Avery Johnson‘s rotation and couldn’t reclaim his spot under his replacement, P.J. Carlesimo.  After a season to forget, Humphries found himself on the less-glamorous end of one of the biggest trades in NBA history.

Once again, Humphries was able to make the most of his situation as he was (eventually) able to get significant playing time with the rebuilding Celtics.  In 20.2 minutes per contest, Humphries has averaged 8.5 PPG and 6.1 RPG and put up a PER of 18.5, an even stronger mark than his best years in New Jersey.  The veteran has said that he would like to stay in Boston, but he could see lucrative offers come in from multiple suitors.  It’s tough to say where Humphries will wind up, but in a league where size and toughness are valued, the big man should be in line for a nice payday.