Lonnie Walker

Details On Starter Criteria For 2022 RFAs

The NBA’s rookie scale, which determines the salaries first-round picks earn during their first four seasons, also dictates how much the qualifying offers will be worth for those players when they reach restricted free agency after year four. However, the value of those qualifying offers can fluctuate depending on whether or not a player has met the “starter criteria.”

Here’s how the starter criteria works in a typical year:

  1. A player who is eligible for restricted free agency is considered to have met the starter criteria if he plays at least 2,000 minutes or starts 41 games in the season before he reaches free agency.
  2. A player can also meet the criteria if he averages either of those marks in the two seasons prior to his restricted free agency. For instance, if a player started 50 games one year and 32 the next, he’d meet the starter criteria, since his average number of starts over the last two seasons is 41.

The first method of meeting the starter criteria will remain unchanged this season, but that second method will look a little different due to the truncated nature of the 2020/21 season.

For starter criteria purposes, the number of starts and minutes a player logged last season will be prorated upward by 82/72 to account for the 72-game schedule, Hoops Rumors has learned.

For example, Suns center Deandre Ayton started 69 games last season. Typically, Ayton would require 13 more starts this season to meet the starter criteria, since 82 total starts would get him to the required average of 41 over the last two seasons.

However, Ayton’s 69 starts last season came in just 72 regular season games. Prorated across a typical 82-game schedule, he would’ve made 78 starts. That means he’ll only need four starts this season to meet the starter criteria. In other words, he should get there next Wednesday, barring an injury.

Hornets forward Miles Bridges, meanwhile, only started 19 games last season, but he played 1,932 total minutes in Charlotte’s 72 games. That works out to 2,200 minutes when prorated across an 82-game schedule, meaning he’d require just 1,800 more this season in order to meet the starter criteria. Since he’s part of the Hornets’ starting five now, Bridges could also meet the criteria by simply getting to 41 starts in 2021/22.

A player’s ability or inability to meet the starter criteria can affect the value of the qualifying offer he receives as a restricted free agent, as follows:

  • A top-14 pick who does not meet the starter criteria will receive a qualifying offer equal to the amount the 15th overall pick would receive if he signed for 120% of the rookie scale.
  • A player picked between 10th and 30th who meets the criteria will receive a qualifying offer equal to the amount the ninth overall pick would receive if he signed for 120% of the rookie scale.
  • A second-round pick or undrafted player who meets the criteria will receive a qualifying offer equal to the amount the 21st overall pick would receive if he signed for 100% of the rookie scale.
  • For all other RFAs, the standard criteria determine the amounts of their qualifying offers.

In most cases, a qualifying offer is a mere placeholder that allows a team to retain its right of first refusal on a restricted free agent — very few players actually accept the one-year offer. Still, a player who fails to meet the starter criteria could have his free agency reshaped by an adjusted qualifying offer.

For instance, Kings big man Marvin Bagley III would be in line for a qualifying offer worth $14,762,309 if he meets the starter criteria or just $7,228,448 if he doesn’t.

Bagley would need to start 35 games this season in order to meet the starter criteria, which might be a long shot, given that he’s out of the rotation for now. Still, a $7.2MM qualifying offer could be more palatable to the Kings – or whichever team has him on its roster by the end of the 2021/22 season – than a $14.8MM one would be. Somewhat paradoxically, Bagley may have a better chance of actually receiving his QO if he starts fewer games this season.

Collin Sexton (Cavaliers), Lonnie Walker (Spurs), Donte DiVincenzo (Bucks), and Josh Okogie (Timberwolves) are some of the other top candidates to meet the starter criteria this season. We’ll be keeping an eye on them and the rest of 2022’s RFAs-to-be over the next several months.

Ayton, Sexton Among Players Who Don’t Agree To Extensions

While 11 players received rookie scale extensions this offseason, many notable players didn’t reach an agreement with their respective teams prior to Monday’s deadline.

As we detailed earlier, the Suns couldn’t come to terms with the No. 1 pick of the 2018 draft, Deandre Ayton. Phoenix was unwilling to offer Ayton a full max contract, which short-circuited any hopes of an agreement.

The Suns raised the concept of a shorter maximum contract — presumably for three or four years instead of the full five years — but never formally made the offer or broached the idea again with Ayton’s reps, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst report. Ayton is unhappy with the franchise’s consistent stance that it simply doesn’t view him as a max player, the ESPN duo adds.

That adds an intriguing subplot to Phoenix’s drive to make the Finals again. Ayton will be headed toward restricted free agent next summer. Will he be motivated toward proving the front office wrong or will his unhappiness create a major distraction? Ayton could be the most attractive free agent on next year’s market and receive a giant offer sheet, which would force the Suns to decide to match it or let their franchise center walk away.

Ayton has some company among his peers. The Cavaliers and guard Collin Sexton were unable to reach an agreement and he’s headed toward restricted free agency, Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer tweets. Even though Sexton posted impressive offensive stats last season (24.3 PPG, 4.4 APG), his name was frequently mentioned in trade rumors this summer, a signal that the Cavs aren’t sold on the eighth pick of the 2018 draft as their long-term floor leader.

Sexton was hoping for a $100MM+, multi-year deal that aligned with his production over the first three years, Fedor reports. At one point this offseason, Sexton used De’Aaron Fox‘s five-year, $163MM extension in 2020 as a baseline. The Cavs were unwilling to go anywhere near that number and optimism waned in recent days about reaching an agreement.

The Hornets and swingman Miles Bridges also couldn’t come to terms, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports tweets, nor could the Spurs and Lonnie Walker, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express News tweets. Bridges averaged 12.7 PPG and 6.0 RPG last season, while Walker contributed 11.2 PPG in his third year.

Donte DiVincenzo, a key member of the Bucks’ rotation last season until he suffered a torn ligament in his ankle in July, is also headed to restricted free agency. DiVincenzo averaged 10.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG and 3.1 APG last season. Some of the other notables who didn’t sign an extension or were not offered one include the Kings’ Marvin Bagley III and the Magic’s Mohamed Bamba.

The list of players who did and did not receive rookie scale extensions can be found here.

Spurs Notes: T. Jones, Walker, Popovich, Young

Spurs guard Tre Jones is eager to bounce back from a sprained left ankle that slowed his progress after an outstanding Summer League performance, writes Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. Jones had to miss the entire preseason after suffering the injury in training camp, but there’s optimism that he will be ready for Wednesday’s season opener.

A second-round pick in 2020, Jones averaged just 7.3 minutes and 2.5 PPG in the 37 games he played as a rookie. He took a big step forward in Las Vegas, putting up 22.8 points, 6.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game, and he hopes to carry that over to the new season.

“It’s only been two weeks, so it’s not that much time in the big scheme of things. but it feels like it’s been forever,” Jones said. “I’m itching to get back out there.”

There’s more from San Antonio:

  • The Spurs are counting on Lonnie Walker to provide an offensive spark off the bench, Orsborn notes in a separate story. Walker has focused on improving his outside shooting after connecting at a 35.5% clip last season. “(Shooting coach) Chip Engelland has worked with him really well in trying to improve and get confidence in the 3-point shot,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “The last part we want to keep working on is him finding other people. He’s one of the guys on our team that can beat somebody, get into the paint and create, so it gives him an added responsibility finding teammates. That will be his next step.”
  • Rumors have emerged recently that Popovich is contemplating retirement, but he sounds energized by the challenge of coaching a young team, per Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News. With his veteran core gone, the 72-year-old is in a rebuilding role after missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. “A lot of these guys, they had one or two years in college and haven’t had a lot of time to get grounded in the fundamentals and that sort of thing,” Popovich said. “It’s made it a lot of fun to come to work every day and watch these guys wanting to improve, get to know each other and figure out how you have to play to win.”
  • Mike Finger of The San Antonio Express-News offers predictions for the upcoming season, including a trade of Thaddeus Young and more games in the NBA than the G League for first-round pick Joshua Primo.

Ben Simmons Takes Physical, Meets With Sixers’ Brass

After returning to Philadelphia on Monday, Sixers star Ben Simmons took his required physical and met with the team’s brass on Tuesday, per Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. That meeting included president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and general manager Elton Brand, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, who says sources described it only as “brief.”

Both Pompey and Shelburne indicate that Simmons won’t be cleared to participate in any team-related activities until at least Friday, due to the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols. As Brian Windhorst observed during an appearance on ESPN’s Get Up (video link) on Wednesday, that timeline suggests Simmons may not yet be fully vaccinated, since the league requires fully vaccinated players to register just one negative PCR test in order to interact with other players. Players who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated require at least four negative tests upon reporting to the team, according to ESPN.

We don’t know yet whether Simmons actually intends to return to the court and play for the 76ers following his holdout, but for what it’s worth, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report says the 25-year-old’s physical showed no signs that he isn’t healthy. Simmons will be able to begin conducting individual workouts with the assistance of Sixers coaches on Wednesday, Fischer notes.

As we wait to see what the next steps are for the Sixers and Simmons, there’s no indication that the team is anywhere close to making a trade. Both Fischer and Sam Amick of The Athletic have heard that Philadelphia continues to hold out hope that a star like Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal will become dissatisfied with his situation and ask for a trade, but that remains a long shot unless the Trail Blazers or Wizards get off to a really disastrous start this season.

According to Amick, Simmons’ camp hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a trade to the Nets, but sources with knowledge of the situation tell The Athletic that the Sixers have exhibited zero interest in pursuing a deal involving Kyrie Irving.

Fischer names the Cavaliers, Pistons, Rockets, Pacers, Timberwolves, Blazers, Kings, Spurs, and Raptors as the nine teams that have remained at least somewhat engaged with Philadelphia, and adds that a “mystery” 10th club has also had “substantive” discussions with the Sixers as of late. Not even Klutch Sports is certain of the identity of that 10th team, per Fischer, who cautions that the mystery suitor still hasn’t come close to meeting Morey’s asking price.

Here’s more on Simmons:

  • Sources tell Fischer that the Sixers have informed potential trade partners whose offers would be heavy on draft picks that their best bet would be a three-team structure in which Philadelphia lands at least one impact player, since Morey and his front office are interested in win-now pieces rather than future assets.
  • Although the Timberwolves still have interest in Simmons following their front office shake-up, new head of basketball operations Sachin Gupta isn’t believed to be pursuing the three-time All-Star as aggressively as Gersson Rosas did, according to Fischer.
  • The Kings remain unwilling to discuss either De’Aaron Fox or Tyrese Haliburton in a potential Simmons deal, while the Sixers appear unmoved by the idea of acquiring Dejounte Murray and/or Lonnie Walker from the Spurs, sources tell Bleacher Report. Fischer adds that there’s a belief the Pistons would entertain trading Jerami Grant in a deal for Simmons.
  • Improving the relationship between Simmons and head coach Doc Rivers is believed to be a priority for the Sixers if Simmons is going to stick around for a little while, according to Fischer, who says the two men never seemed to build a strong rapport last season. Sources tell Bleacher Report that during an offseason meeting at agent Rich Paul‘s home, when the Sixers confirmed they intended to fine Simmons for not complying with the terms of his deal, Rivers shouted, “It’s in your f–king contract” to report to training camp and play for the team.

Spurs Notes: Final Roster Spot, Eubanks, McDermott, Walker

There appears to be a three-way competition for the Spurs‘ final roster spot, writes Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News. The team has 17 players with guaranteed contracts, and it looks like the decision will come down to forwards Luka SamanicKeita Bates-Diop and Al-Farouq Aminu.

Samanic, 21, was taken with the 19th pick in 2019, but hasn’t established himself in San Antonio, playing just 36 games in two seasons. The Spurs have an October 31 deadline to pick up his option for 2022/23, but they may decide to part with him before then. Coach Gregg Popovich gave Samanic a start in Friday’s preseason game, and McDonald described the results as “mixed.”

“He hasn’t played very much, so his is more of a confidence game and understanding what it takes to be a player,” Popovich explained.

Bates-Diop, 25, signed a two-year, $3.5MM contract before training camp began, but only this season is guaranteed at $1.7MM and he has been slowed by a hamstring injury. Aminu, who was acquired in the DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade, is owed $10.1MM this season in the final year of his contract. Knee injuries have limited him to 41 games over the past two seasons and he recognizes that he has an uphill fight to make the roster.

“That’s your whole life,” he said. “You go to one camp and maybe there are 100 guys. Even from high school, everyone is competing. We understand the business of whatever the case can be.”

There’s more from San Antonio:

  • Drew Eubanks‘ place on the roster appears secure, even though the Spurs could easily afford to unload his $1.76MM salary, McDonald adds. Eubanks has steadily improved throughout his three seasons with the organization, and Popovich recently called him “a poor man’s Dave Cowens.”
  • Free-agent addition Doug McDermott feels suited to the Spurs’ new offensive philosophy, which is based on movement with fewer set plays, McDonald notes in a separate story. The 29-year-old is with his sixth NBA team, and San Antonio is counting on him to boost its outside shooting. “The system is great because it’s a lot of random basketball, and that’s what my game is built for,” he said.
  • Popovich is enjoying the challenge of coaching young players after so many years of having a veteran team, tweets Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. The coach also praised the progress of Lonnie Walker, saying he has added game-related knowledge to his athletic skills (Twitter link).

Southwest Notes: Thad, Spurs Youth, Wood, Clarke, Tillman

New Spurs forward Thaddeus Young appears to be staying put in San Antonio for the time being. The Suns continue to be intrigued by the versatile veteran, but an immediate move is “doubtful,” per John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM (Twitter link).

Young was sent to the Spurs from Chicago in the sign-and-trade package that netted the Bulls pricey small forward DeMar DeRozan during the 2021 offseason. The 33-year-old Young enjoyed a stellar year with the Bulls in 2020/21, averaging 12.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 4.3 APG while logging time at the small forward, power forward, and center positions for a Chicago team in desperate need of his veteran leadership, passing skills, and defensive savvy.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • With longtime leaders DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Patty Mills and Rudy Gay now all gone from the Spurs‘ roster, the club’s young players have developed a strong bond together, writes Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News“The Spurs do a great job of picking people who have great personalities off the court,” said 22-year-old shooting guard Lonnie Walker. “We all hang out every other day, going out to eat, doing something as a team… As we continue to build that trust, it starts to lead onto the court, knowing what each other can do, knowing what each other can’t do, what we should be better at.”
  • When Rockets center Christian Wood first inked a three-year, $41MM deal with Houston in the 2020 offseason, he was not anticipating that he’d soon find himself on a rebuilding roster. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle details how Wood continues to look on the bright side of his new situation. At the time, the club still sported then-All-Star guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook, along with veteran power forward P.J. Tucker. Now all those players have moved on. Westbrook was subsequently traded to the Wizards later in the 2020 offseason (and has now been rerouted to the Lakers), while Harden forced his way onto the Nets and Tucker was sent to the 2021 title-winning Bucks. “I know what we’re trying to build and develop,” Wood said. “I’m looking ahead at the future at what this team has to offer. I know we have a bunch of young talent. I said before, we’re not going to go in try to be the No. 1 seed or No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. But we’re going to try to play every game like it’s our last.”
  • Though they could play together, defensive-oriented 6’8″ Grizzlies bench big men Brandon Clarke and Xavier Tillman Sr. seem poised to compete with each other to carve out rotation roles in Memphis, writes Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian. Herrington suggests that Tillman may have an edge edge over Clarke in the eventual rotation, thanks in part to his solid shooting and half-court passing acumen.

Spurs Rumors: Popovich, RFAs, Simmons, Ginobili, Young

In the years leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, there had been speculation that the event would be Gregg Popovich‘s swan song. However, even after leading Team USA to gold in Japan following a one-year delay, Popovich is returning to the Spurs‘ sidelines for the 2021/22 season. And several sources who know him told Zach Lowe of ESPN in recent weeks that they wouldn’t even be surprised if Popovich sticks around for ’22/23 too.

With 26 more victories, Popovich would pass Don Nelson for the top spot on the list of the NBA’s all-time winningest coaches. Although the Spurs don’t necessarily project to be a playoff team this season, winning at least 26 games seems like a realistic goal. However, Popovich isn’t “running out the string” just to claim that record, Lowe writes.

While it remains unclear when Popovich will retire, there are some potential heir apparents within the organization, according to Lowe, who says that Will Hardy and Manu Ginobili are the two mentioned most frequently in NBA circles. Becky Hammon would also be in the mix, but Kansas coach Bill Self – previously cited as a possible candidate to succeed Popovich – has “faded” from those conversations, Lowe notes.

Here’s more on the Spurs:

  • The Spurs “sniffed around” restricted free agents like John Collins and Lauri Markkanen this offseason and could be an intriguing suitor for Jaren Jackson Jr. next summer if he and the Grizzlies don’t agree to an extension before then, says Lowe. The Spurs also have the assets to make a run at a player like Ben Simmons and have talked to the Sixers about him, but those discussions haven’t gotten far and it’s unclear whether San Antonio wants to re-engage with Philadelphia, sources tell ESPN.
  • The Spurs have turned down offers of single protected first-round picks for some of their core young players, Lowe reports. Lowe doesn’t name specific players, but Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, and Lonnie Walker are among those who could fit the bill.
  • Popovich suggested this week that Ginobili’s new role with the Spurs will be even more wide-ranging than initially reported, as Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News writes. “He is going to help (general manager) Brian (Wright) with management,” Popovich said of Ginobili. “He is going to help me with coaching. He is going to help the players with development. He is probably going to go scout some people. I think he is probably going to figure out a two-week trip to Italy to scout some players. I might go with him. But I am being serious — he is going to do all those things. See what he feels comfortable with. It’s just great to have him in the program for all kinds of reasons. But mainly because we love the guy. He is Manu Ginobili, so who wouldn’t want to have him around?”
  • Thaddeus Young wasn’t sure after he was traded to San Antonio whether the team intended to keep him and still doesn’t sound positive that he’ll spent the whole year with the Spurs, but he plans to be a mentor to the club’s young players as he long as he’s with the team (Twitter links via Orsborn). I am going to show up each and every day and make sure I am working, and make sure I am bringing the guys along and getting them better as well,” Young said. A previous report suggested Phoenix is among the contending teams with trade interest in the veteran forward.

Latest On Ben Simmons

The “overwhelming sense” among NBA insiders is that Ben Simmons will likely still be with the Sixers when training camp opens on September 28, writes Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.

As Fischer explains, if Damian Lillard becomes available, the likelihood of a Simmons deal would increase significantly, since the Trail Blazers star appears to be Philadelphia’s preferred trade target. However, there’s a belief in league circles that Lillard will open the season in Portland and give new head coach Chauncey Billups a shot, according to Fischer.

Given the ugly way the 2020/21 season ended in Philadelphia, having Simmons report to training camp could create an uncomfortable dynamic. Fischer suggests that Simmons hasn’t personally been in close contact with Joel Embiid, head coach Doc Rivers, or president of basketball operations Daryl Morey this offseason and may welcome a trade — his representatives have canvassed front offices around the NBA this summer about a potential deal, Fischer adds.

However, with trade talk quieting down and teams more focused on filling out their final roster spots than making any blockbuster moves, a deal may not materialize in the next six weeks or so, and the 76ers appear ready for that possibility, Fischer says.

“Daryl is not afraid to go into training camp with a potentially combustible situation,” a source told Bleacher Report.

Here’s more on Simmons:

  • The Timberwolves remain very interested in Simmons, but it will be a challenge for Minnesota to put together a package strong enough to entice the Sixers, according to Fischer, who notes that if Philadelphia makes a non-Lillard deal involving Simmons, the team may try to get pieces that could eventually be flipped to the Trail Blazers for the star guard.
  • Sources from the Trail Blazers and Warriors “categorically denied” rumors that any traction was gained in talks about a potential three-team trade involving the 76ers, reports Fischer.
  • There’s a faction of the Spurs‘ front office rumored to have strong interest in Simmons, according to Fischer, who says San Antonio was willing to discuss Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker prior to the draft.

Southwest Notes: Ball, Popovich, Griffin, Walker

Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball has shown why he’s so polarizing during the team’s most recent home stretch, Christian Clark of NOLA.com writes.

Ball has delivered both good and bad performances since returning from a hip flexor strain in April, but one thing is certain: New Orleans is a far better team when it receives strong production from the 23-year-old.

“Lonzo is one of the most highly scrutinized players I’ve ever seen,” executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said in March, as noted by Clark. “He has the most polarized narrative around him. He’s either the greatest player in the NBA or the worst player that’s ever played. Apparently, there is no in-between.”

Ball is holding per-game averages of 14.7 points, 5.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds on the season. He’s set to reach restricted free agency this summer.

Here are some other notes from the Southwest Division tonight:

  • Spurs coach Gregg Popovich may be the last of his kind, Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News writes. Popovich is widely regarded as one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, spending the past 25 years as head coach of the team.
  • The rant delivered by Pelicans EVP of basketball operations David Griffin about the team’s officiating concerns was meant to help Zion Williamson down the road, as Scott Kushner of NOLA.com explains. Griffin received a $50,000 fine for criticizing the officiating, noting that Williamson hasn’t received enough respect from many referees this season.
  • Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV enjoys closing out games for the team, but doesn’t seem to mind coming off the bench to start contests, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News writes. “I could care less about starting,” Walker said. “I could care less about being on the bench. But being able to play in the final few minutes of the game and close it out, that’s my favorite time.”

Western Notes: Gordon, Redick, Walker, Little

Aaron Gordon asked the Magic to trade him because he had grown weary of trying to change that franchise’s culture, he explained to Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Gordon is thrilled to play for a prime contender like the Nuggets.

“I felt like it was time,” Gordon said of his trade request. “I spent a good seven years in Orlando doing my best to change the culture, uplift the culture, turn the culture into a basketball mecca. That’s the ultimate goal. It was difficult. I was looking for insight. Looking to be a part of a winning culture, to see what that is really about, instead of being a part of a culture that you’re trying to turn into a winning culture.”

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • J.J. Redick was in uniform on Monday for the first time since the Mavericks acquired him from the Pelicans at the trade deadline last month, Dwain Price of Mavs.com tweets. He participated in his first full practice with Dallas on Saturday. The veteran guard has been sidelined since March 3 by a sore right heel and Achilles and underwent a non-surgical procedure last month. Dallas traded for Redick to have another outside shooting option heading into the postseason. Redick entered Monday’s game in the first quarter.
  • Spurs forward Lonnie Walker revealed that a wrist injury has nagged him throughout the season, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express News tweets. Walker missed nearly three weeks of action before returning this past weekend. “It was extremely frustrating,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with this hand/wrist injury for a few months prior to me sitting down. For me to sit down is probably one of the hardest things in the world for me to do.”
  • Trail Blazers swingman Nassir Little has earned more playing time at shooting guard, Jason Quick of The Athletic writes. The team’s first-round pick in 2019 played 24 minutes against Detroit on Saturday and contributed 11 points. “We’ll be doing it again,” coach Terry Stotts said. “He still has to learn some of the tricks of the trade as far as guarding perimeter players — coming off pin downs, guarding pick and rolls — but I think he is capable of doing that and we have to continue to see how he does in that role.”