Offseason Outlook

2016 Offseason Outlook Series

Hoops Rumors took a look ahead at the potential offseason moves for all 30 teams. We examined free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise heading into the summer. Listed below are all 30 team previews organized by conference and division.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic Division

Central Division

Southeast Division


WESTERN CONFERENCE

Northwest Division

Pacific Division

Southwest Division

Offseason Outlook: Cleveland Cavaliers

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise as the summer approaches.

State Of The Franchise

Forgive the Cavaliers and their fans if they’re not quite ready for the offseason to get underway quite yet. It has been four days since Cleveland won its first major sports championship in more than 50 years, and Cavs fans probably aren’t prepared to end the party quite yet. Given the quick turnaround between Game 7 of the NBA Finals and the 2016 draft, however, it’s time for the franchise to start looking ahead to 2016/17 and re-evaluating its roster.

What A Difference A Game Makes

Perhaps it’s more accurate to call this section “What A Difference Three Games Make,” since heading into Game 5, speculation surrounding the Cavaliers’ offseason centered around the team retooling the roster around LeBron James. Kevin Love was the most obvious bad fit on the roster, but he likely wouldn’t have been the only player shopped this summer if the Cavs had gone down quietly in the Finals.

Instead, Cleveland completed a comeback for the record books, storming back to win the next three games against the Warriors, and now the idea of blowing up the roster around LeBron doesn’t look quite so necessary.

Will the Cavaliers still consider moving Love? Probably. Despite the team’s championship victory, and Love’s contributions to that title, he was never a perfect fit with LeBron and Kyrie Irving, and it could make sense for Cleveland to move him if it helps the club add some help on the wing, a shooter, and/or a little spending flexibility.

Still, winning the championship means the Cavaliers are playing with house money in 2016/17. The team doesn’t have to move Love, and likely won’t be aggressive about trying to find deals that shake up the roster. There’s no harm in listening, since there’s still room for improvement, but the Cavs won’t be under nearly as much pressure to sell Love – or anyone else – for 50 cents on the dollar.

Trade Possibilities

What sort of offers would make Cleveland listen on Love? I’ve always viewed the Celtics as the best match, and a hypothetical trade sending Love to Boston has been the subject of plenty of speculation. The C’s have a ton of draft picks at their disposal, and veteran players like Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder could be appealing to Cleveland.

The Rockets could also make sense as a potential trade partner. If Dwight Howard doesn’t return to Houston, GM Daryl Morey will be on the lookout for a second star to pair with James Harden. The Rockets don’t have a first-round pick to offer this year, but have been gauging trade interest in players like Patrick Beverley, K.J. McDaniels and Trevor Ariza, all of whom would make some amount of sense for the Cavs.

Outside of Love, there are some other potential trade candidates on the roster. Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, and Channing Frye don’t necessarily need to be moved, but they wouldn’t be untouchable either. Irving, on the other hand, has probably cemented his spot on the roster after his performance in the Finals.

The Cavaliers also have several trade exceptions that could be used to accommodate incoming players without sending out any salary, including one worth nearly $10MM that doesn’t expire until next February. The Cavs’ cap situation may prevent them from taking on too much salary without getting rid of some, but the team certainly has plenty of options when it comes to making roster adjustments.

LeBron: Not Going Anywhere

While LeBron’s contract features a player option for 2016/17, and he’s expected to decline that option, there has never been much real suspense about whether or not he’ll leave Cleveland this summer. There has been a tacit understanding that his contract is structured in a way that will allow him to re-up for more money as the cap increases and the CBA gets renegotiated. James confirmed as much prior to the club’s victory parade on Wednesday.

“I love it here. I love being here. I love my teammates,” James told Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. “Obviously my agent will take care of all the logistical things but, I’m happy. I’ve got no plans to go nowhere at this point.”

Those “logistical things” LeBron alludes to are somewhat complicated, since the Cavaliers only have Early Bird rights on their superstar, and don’t have any cap room. That could prevent LeBron from signing a maximum-salary contract this offseason, but he’ll be in line for a raise on his player option, and can get the max a year from now, as Bobby Marks of The Vertical explained in his breakdown of the situation.

Free Agent Outlook

Assuming James opts out of his contract and signs a new deal, his salary figures to increase to at least $27.5MM, which would put the Cavaliers’ total guaranteed salary commitments over $102MM for the 2016/17 season. Even with a projected $94MM cap and $113MM tax threshold, that’s a lot of money for eight players.

That $102MM+ figure doesn’t take into account J.R. Smith, who turned down his player option and will hit the open market in line for a raise. It also doesn’t include Matthew Dellavedova, who is eligible for restricted free agency, or Timofey Mozgov, an unrestricted free agent.

Replacing a couple of those veterans with young prospects would be one option to save a little money, but the Cavaliers have traded away both of their 2016 draft picks. As such, filling out the bench probably won’t be cheap, and with the cap on the rise, the mini mid-level exception and minimum-salary exception may not attract the caliber of player they once did.

With their flexibility somewhat limited, the Cavs may either have to rely on signing their own free agents or counting on an outside veteran to take a discount to join a championship contender, like David West did last year with the Spurs. If they can’t find free agents willing to do that, the trade market could be the Cavs’ most logical route for an upgrade.

Final Take

The Cavaliers’ NBA Finals win took away much of the urgency from their offseason. The roster, as constructed, is still a favorite to win the East, so there’s no pressure on the franchise to make major changes this summer. That doesn’t mean Cleveland won’t make a few noteworthy moves in the next few weeks, but it could open the door for the club to wait until the trade deadline to address potential holes in its roster, rather than agreeing to a deal it’s not 100% sold on this offseason.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

Team Options

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offers/Cap Holds)

Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Other Cap Holds

Projected Salary Cap: $94,000,000

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Offseason Outlook: Golden State Warriors

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise as the summer approaches.

State Of The Franchise

On the heels of a championship season in 2014/15, the Warriors had another outstanding run this past year, right up until the final few minutes of Game 7 of the NBA Finals, when the team couldn’t find the basket, and failed to put a bow on its record-setting, 73-win season.Stephen Curry vertical

It was a disappointing end to an otherwise magical season, and there were no shortage of possible explanations for the Warriors’ inability to close out the Cavaliers in a series they led three games to one. If it hadn’t been for Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut‘s injury, or even Stephen Curry‘s health issues, which may have limited him a little in the postseason, the series might have ended differently.

Still, the Warriors’ decision-makers aren’t the types who will rely on better luck next season. Golden State’s front office is proactive and aggressive, and won’t be shy about pushing to improve the roster for 2016/17. After all, this year’s squad won 73 regular-season games, not 82 — there still could be room to get better.

Pursuing Another MVP

Curry has won the last two NBA MVP awards, but Golden State’s offseason may focus on the guy who won the award before him. Multiple reports have indicated that the Warriors are expected to make a major push for Kevin Durant, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time.

The Thunder, who pushed the Warriors to the brink in the Western Conference Finals, remain the odds-on favorites to retain Durant, who seems more likely to head into the summer hoping to beat Golden State rather than to join them. but if KD does want a change of scenery, the Warriors could certainly make a compelling pitch. A recent report indicated that the Warriors are viewed as the biggest threat to OKC as Durant prepares to meet with potential suitors.

With more than $71MM in guaranteed contracts for 2016/17, the Warriors won’t have the cap room necessary to offer Durant a max contract unless the cap greatly exceeds the projected $94MM figure, and working out a sign-and-trade with the rival Thunder seems unlikely. Still, outside of Curry, Green, and Klay Thompson, Golden State would surely be willing to part with any of its current players to land Durant. Bogut and Andre Iguodala, who are each entering contract years and are on the books for $11MM+ apiece next season, would probably be the prime candidates to be moved in that scenario.

Other Free Agent Targets

If the Warriors don’t land Durant, they’ll have plenty of alternate targets on their shopping list. A forward who can shoot makes the most sense for Golden State, which could ultimately lead the team back to restricted free agent Harrison Barnes.

Barnes’ performance in the Finals, where he struggled mightily with his shooting touch, was a worrisome sign for a player who could be looking at a maximum-salary offer sheet this offseason. It appeared at one point that Golden State would match any rival offer Barnes received, but that’s not quite so certain now. If Barnes does sign an offer sheet from another team, the Warriors will have a few days to make their decision on whether or not to match it, so that could allow the team to explore the market to see if there are more appealing options out there.

One of those options may be Dirk Nowitzki, whom the Warriors reportedly intend to call once free agency begins. I would be shocked if Nowitzki, a Maverick since 1998, left Dallas, but there’s no reason Golden State shouldn’t take a shot. It’s hard to imagine any free agent who wouldn’t have at least some interest in joining a team coming off a 73-9 season.

Whether or not the Warriors are able to land a big fish in free agency, the club also figures to focus on retooling its bench. Like Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Ian Clark are restricted free agents, while Marreese Speights, Leandro Barbosa, Brandon Rush, and Anderson Varejao are eligible for unrestricted free agency.

It’s possible that Ezeli will be retained if his price doesn’t get too high, and a couple of those veterans could be back on minimum-salary deals. But I’d expect the Warriors to let some of those players walk, then use any leftover cap room or exceptions to focus on upgrading its bench, adding players to complement Iguodala and Shaun Livingston on the second unit.

Draft Outlook

  • First-round picks: 30th
  • Second-round picks: None

Of course, with so many veterans facing free agency, one path for the Warriors to address their bench is through the draft. The 30th overall pick is actually a very nice asset to have this season, given the rising salary cap. The draft’s final first-rounder will likely sign a four-year contract worth less than $6MM, including a first-year salary of about $1.17MM, as we outlined here. Talented young players don’t come much more affordably than that — we could even see some second-round picks sign bigger deals than that.

With 29 prospects off the board ahead of their pick, the Warriors are unlikely to land an impact player at No. 30, but if several teams select draft-and-stash players ahead of them, it could make sense for the Dubs to grab a player who can join the roster immediately.

Many mock drafts agree with that approach, suggesting that Golden State could swap out a departing veteran free agent for a young replacement. In their latest mocks, ESPN’s Chad Ford and Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com have the Warriors addressing the center position, picking Damian Jones (Vanderbilt) and Diamond Stone (Maryland), respectively. Our own mock draft has Golden State adding depth at the two spot by nabbing Patrick McCaw (UNLV).

Planning For Steph’s Raise

Curry is currently one of the NBA’s best bargains, having signed a four-year, $44MM extension with the Warriors in 2012. That deal will expire after the 2016/17 season, and it’s virtually a given that the club will offer Curry a max contract – in terms of both dollars and years – at that time.

Assuming Curry remains in Golden State, that means his salary will more than double for the 2017/18 season. With the cap increasing and only Thompson and Green currently on guaranteed contracts beyond 2017, the Warriors should be in great shape to accommodate that huge raise. But it’s still somethings worth taking into account as they pursue free agents this summer, since the cap is expected to level out somewhat, beginning in 2018.

Final Take

The Warriors have vowed to be aggressive this offseason, and given what an appealing destination Golden State is, I’d expect plenty of free agents to be linked to the team in the coming weeks. Nonetheless, it will be a challenge to lure top targets like Durant and Nowitzki, who have only played for one team for their entire careers, to the Bay Area.

If the Warriors are unable to land one of those top free agents, re-signing Barnes and making a few changes to their bench isn’t a bad Plan B. Considering the team was just one quarter away from its second consecutive championship, it should be a legit title contender again in 2016/17, even without making a huge splash.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

  • Shaun Livingston ($2,782,450) — Partial guarantee; guaranteed portion listed above1

Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offers/Cap Holds)

Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Other Cap Holds

Projected Salary Cap: $92,000,000

Footnotes:

  1. Livingston’s full $5,782,450 salary will become guaranteed if he’s still on the roster beyond June 30th.

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Offseason Outlook: Utah Jazz

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise heading into the summer.

State of the Franchise

Russ Isabella/USA TODAY Sports Images

Russ Isabella/USA TODAY Sports Images

The Jazz finished under .500 for the third straight campaign, narrowly missing posting a winning mark for the first time since the 2012/13 season. The franchise won 40 games this year, a two game improvement from 2014/15’s victory total. But despite the losing record and trip back to the NBA draft lottery, there is much to be optimistic about in Utah.

While the minor improvement in the win column should give fans reason to hope for next season, the fact that the team did so despite the myriad injuries suffered by key personnel should generate significant excitement in Utah. 2015 lottery pick Dante Exum missed the entire season recovering from the torn ACL he suffered during play with the Australian National Team, Alec Burks missed more than half the season with ankle woes and Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert both missed roughly a quarter of the campaign, yet the Jazz were still competitive, which is a testament to coach Quin Snyder and the players who remained healthy.

It will certainly be a challenge for the Jazz to take that next step toward contention. Utah already has 12 guaranteed contracts on its books for 2016/17 and only about $64.5MM in guaranteed salary against a projected salary cap of $94MM. This will allow the team to pursue rotational upgrades and bench depth this offseason, but the Jazz will need to spend with an eye on next summer. Small forward Gordon Hayward will have the ability to opt out of his deal and hit unrestricted free agency in 2017, plus the franchise also has to consider contract extensions for Gobert and point guard Trey Burke. If the Jazz wish to keep their core intact the next few seasons, it will become significantly more expensive to do so moving forward.

Gordon Hayward‘s Future

Utah has a complex decision to make regarding Hayward, whether it’s when his current deal expires after the 2017/18 season, or next summer when he can opt out and hit unrestricted free agency. With the salary cap potentially increasing to as much as $109MM in 2017, a max salary for Hayward could approach the neighborhood of $30MM annually. Quite a hefty sum for a player owning a career 14.6 points per game scoring average.

For many franchises, I would immediately advise against inking Hayward to a deal approaching that sum, given his production level the past few years. But Utah has never been a destination city for free agents, something that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. So it becomes paramount that the team retain its talent, especially if its win totals keep improving, which will lessen the quality of draftees the Jazz will have a shot at landing annually.

I fully expect Hayward to opt out next summer given the hefty pay increase he will be in line for by doing so. The Jazz more than likely will be in a position where they are forced to retain Hayward in order to remain competitive, but he isn’t a player a team can build around, being better suited to a role as a second or third option on offense rather than a focal point. That makes paying him nearly $30MM annually a bit difficult to justify, but Utah may lack other options and it will have to hope that its younger players make significant strides toward becoming stars or its investment in Hayward will likely end up being for naught.

To Extend, or Not To Extend?

The Jazz will also need to address the contract situation of defensive-stopper Gobert, who is eligible to ink an extension this summer. The big man wasn’t quite as dominant this season as he was during his breakout campaign in 2015/16. He finished the year sidelined with ankle woes, but there has been no indication the malady is one that will linger and Gobert should be back at full strength in time for the preseason.

Utah could decide to hold off and wait for the center to hit restricted free agency next summer, or it could decide to forgo any potential drama and lock him up to a long-term pact prior to October’s deadline. Given the difficulties Utah has in attracting free agents and Gobert’s ability to control the paint with his defense, it should definitely try to work out a deal prior to the player hitting the open market. But with the salary cap set to keep escalating, Gobert may wish to try his luck in scoring a larger payout by passing on any extension. The only true negative for the Jazz in extending Gobert is that much of their cap flexibility for next summer would be eliminated, but locking up Gobert may be well worth it.

Backcourt Situation

While the team is relatively settled in its frontcourt rotation, the backcourt remains a bit of a mystery. Exum showed flashes of enormous potential during his rookie campaign, but coming off an entire missed season, it is unrealistic to expect him to make significant strides forward this coming year. Former lottery pick Burke has been a disappointment during his tenure and it may be time to get him a change of scenery, for the sake of the player as well as the team. Rodney Hood appears to be the starter at shooting guard going forward after a solid sophomore campaign, but he will have to share playing time with Burks and the newly acquired George Hill, who will also spend time at point guard.

Nabbing Hill in exchange for the No. 12 overall pick was a solid move by the team, as it needs his outside shooting, positional versatility and veteran leadership much more so than another young prospect to develop. But his addition further marginalizes Burke and creates a challenge for Snyder to find the correct combinations on a nightly basis. This isn’t the worst problem to have, but NBA players don’t always respond well to reduced playing time, so it is something that will require finesse on the part of the coaching staff to manage.

Draft Targets

As I previously mentioned, Utah jettisoned its first round pick in the Hill deal and its extremely difficult to find fault with the team’s logic. Adding a veteran who can be effective from three-point range (Hill owns a career mark of .376 from beyond the arc) fills a major need for the team, plus it leaves open roster space for more veteran additions down the line. The Jazz could likely have nabbed a decent big man with the pick, but that wouldn’t have moved the franchise any closer to contention next season.

Final Take

The Jazz enter the offseason with a roster that is essentially set for 2016/17, but still have enough available cap space to make some needed upgrades. The franchise will have some crucial calls to make regarding the future contracts of Hayward and Gobert, plus, it will also need to settle on its backcourt of the future. The return of Exum will certainly be a boon for the team, though I would caution against expecting too much out of the young guard this season given his age and inexperience. The Jazz will need to look to improve from within, as well as hope to get lucky with its free agent signings given the geographical limitations of playing Utah, if it hopes to take the next step forward. But the good news for fans of the team is that the squad looks to be in good hands under Snyder and there is enough talent present to keep things interesting.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offers/Cap Holds)

  • None

Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Other Cap Holds

  • None

Projected Salary Cap: $94,000,000

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

Offseason Outlook: Minnesota Timberwolves

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise heading into the summer.

State Of The Franchise

 Jesse Johnson / USA Today Sports Images

Jesse Johnson / USA Today Sports Images

At the start of last season, the Timberwolves were in a state of mourning. The sudden death of ex-coach and team executive Flip Saunders cast a pall over the franchise and it was difficult for everyone in the organization to overcome their grief.

As the season moved along, it was clear that Saunders’ blueprint for turning the franchise around was working. His decision to select Karl-Anthony Towns ahead of D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor with the No. 1 overall pick in last June’s draft accelerated the process toward making the Timberwolves a playoff contender again. Towns quickly established himself as a franchise player, averaging 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds to earn the Rookie of the Year award.

Several other young players — Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng — showed significant development even though Minnesota finished with a 29-53 record.

Owner Glen Taylor decided to shake up the front office and find a high-profile coach to nurture the talented core into reaching its full potential. Interim coach Sam Mitchell was replaced by ex-Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who was also given the title of president of basketball operations. Former Spurs assistant GM and longtime Jazz executive Scott Layden was hired as Minnesota’s new GM.

Blockbuster Trade Brewing?

Thibodeau seems intent on getting an established, All-Star-caliber player to pair up with Towns. That was made clear when a report surfaced that the Timberwolves were willing to deal the No. 5 pick as part of a package to acquire Bulls star shooting guard Jimmy Butler.

It’s uncertain whether Chicago would consider moving Butler and go into full rebuild mode. Certainly, the Timberwolves would have to sweeten the pot by giving up one or more of their young assets.

Towns is obviously an untouchable but it’s not out of the question that the Timberwolves would consider moving Wiggins if Thibodeau doesn’t view him as the No. 2 scoring option on a contending team. Wiggins averaged 20.7 points in his second season but he’s not a three-point threat and his defensive box rating of minus 2.5 last season needs to improve dramatically for a defense-oriented coach like Thibodeau.

The club would almost certainly rather part with LaVine and other assets, but that might not be enough to acquire an All-Star entering his prime.

Free Agent Targets

It’s no surprise that unrestricted free agent Joakim Noah has been linked to his former coach.

Noah was unhappy with his playing time last season under first-year Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg before a shoulder injury short-circuited his season. A mobile shot-blocker like Noah would seem to be an ideal fit for a club that finished 28th in defensive field-goal percentage. Though Kevin Garnett is still on the roster, Noah would give the club another veteran leader who would play significant minutes.

The Timberwolves will have anywhere from $26-$29MM to sign other free agents with an eye toward versatile defenders and three-point shooters. The Wolves were 25th in three-point percentage last season and the addition of floor spacers will make Towns an even tougher cover in the post.

Potential Trades

Even if the plan to acquire Butler falls through, the Timberwolves figure to be active in the trade market as Thibodeau tries to reshape his roster.

A couple of Minnesota’s rotation players could be on the move. Point guard Ricky Rubio, who has three years and $42.MM remaining on his contract, would be expendable if Thibodeau isn’t sold on him as his long-term floor leader. LaVine could step into that role, or the Timberwolves could draft a point guard if they keep their pick.

Meanwhile, center Nikola Pekovic‘s career has been sidetracked by injuries and he only appeared in 12 games last season while recovering from Achilles tendon surgery. Pekovic has two years and $23.7MM remaining on his deal, but he’s a proven low-post scorer for a team lacking inside punch.

Another big man, Nemanja Bjelica, was a disappointment in his first season with the club, but was highly sought after during last summer before he signed with the Timberwolves. His remaining contract — two years, $7.75MM — makes him a movable piece.

Draft Outlook

  • First-round pick: No. 5

The Timberwolves could go in a lot of different directions if they don’t deal their pick.

They could opt for a wing shooter like Buddy Hield to improve their perimeter game. They could secure one of the top point guards, either Kris Dunn or Jamal Murray, if they’re intent on dealing Rubio. Or they could hone in on a big man such as Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender to pair up with Towns.

Other Decisions

Muhammad and Dieng are eligible for rookie-scale extensions before next season and it will interesting to see how much the new regime values that duo.

While Muhammad provides instant offense off the bench, he’s a subpar three-point shooter. Dieng is a solid defender — he sports a 2.4 defensive box rating in each of the past two seasons — and Thibodeau can’t get enough of those kinds of players.

Coaching Outlook

In stark contrast to the uncertainty surrounding Mitchell’s future last season, the Timberwolves now have an established playoff coach on a long-term contract. Thibodeau signed a five-year, $40MM deal and his front-office title makes him the unquestioned leader of the franchise.

The addition of Layden echoes what the Pistons did when hiring Stan Van Gundy with the same titles as Thibodeau. Detroit added a proven front-office executive in Jeff Bower to negotiate trades and handle most of the day-to-day front office operations. Thibodeau will work in concert with Layden, but the former Bulls coach will have the final say.

Final Take

The Timberwolves look a lot like the Thunder several years ago. They have star talents in Towns and Wiggins, a la Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, to build around. With Thibodeau in charge, they’re ready to take the next step. If they can pull off a blockbuster and pry an proven, top-tier talent away from a team looking to shake up its roster, the Wolves could find themselves in the playoffs next season.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offers/Cap Holds)

  • None

Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Other Cap Holds

Projected Salary Cap: $92,000,000

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

 

Offseason Outlook: Washington Wizards

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise as the summer approaches.

State Of The Franchise

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

The Wizards never expected to be spectators at playoff time. Coming off back-to-back postseason appearances and with a strong foundation built around an elite backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, Washington saw itself as a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference. But that rise hit a brick wall in an injury-filled 41-41 season that has transitioned into an offseason of uncertainty.

The question marks start with Beal, a restricted free agent who was limited to a career-low 55 games this season. Beyond deciding on whether to bring back their talented shooting guard, the Wizards have to quickly rebuild a rapidly aging roster to compete with a slew of young challengers in the East.

Coaching Change

The first casualty of this non-playoff season was head coach Randy Wittman, who was fired and replaced by former Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks. Wittman alienated center Marcin Gortat with public comments about his rebounding and had a deteriorating relationship with other players, so his fate was sealed once the Wizards missed the playoffs.

Brooks oversaw the Thunder as they developed into one of the top teams in the West and will bring a welcome change to the Washington locker room. He had a 338-207 record in seven seasons with OKC.

Bring Back Beal?

A recent report from Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post says the Wizards are planning to offer the 22-year-old a maximum contract when free agency begins next month. That contract would start at approximately $22MM per season and would run for five years. Beal set himself up for the massive payday when he and the Wizards mutually agreed in November not to work out an extension.

Beal was Washington’s second-leading scorer this season at 17.4 points per game and has a career scoring average of 16.0. Under normal circumstances, a max deal for a player of that caliber would be an easy decision, but Beal carries a long-term injury risk that has to make the Wizards think twice. He was placed on a minutes restriction in December when doctors discovered “the beginnings of a stress reaction” in his lower right fibula. Beal started just 35 games this season and has only once played in more than 63 in a season.

But the Wizards seem to have little choice about making a max offer if they want to keep Beal. He recently told Castillo that he considers himself a maximum-salary player and that he plans to seek such a deal from another organization if the Wizards don’t agree. “If Washington can’t meet that requirement then I may be thinking elsewhere,” Beal said. “I’m pretty sure that they probably won’t [let me go].”

No Nene?

Washington’s other major free agency decision involves veteran power forward Nene, who made $13MM this year. A calf strain hampered the 33-year-old at the start of the season, but he improved as the season progressed. Still, Nene started just 11 games and saw his playing time dip below 20 minutes per night. As a result, he averaged less than 10 points per game for the first time in eight years and fewer than five rebounds per contest for the first time in his career.

Nene recently indicated that he’s not considering retirement. He has a solid relationship with Brooks, who started as an assistant coach in Denver when Nene played there. If he returns to Washington, it will be likely be in a reserve role at a deeply discounted price.

Where Are All The Big Guys?

Free agency and non-guaranteed contracts have left Gortat and Markieff Morris as the only big men who will definitely be on Washington’s roster next season. Alan Anderson and J.J. Hickson are both free agents, while Drew Gooden‘s $3.6MM salary is not guaranteed. The need to add size will loom over all of Washington’s trade and free agency decisions.

Free Agent Targets

Washington’s dream scenario is for Kevin Durant to decide he wants to return home to the D.C. area. If that happens, the Wizards can team the former MVP with Wall and Beal to form a new Big Three that would become an immediate title contender.

Even if they don’t land Durant, the Wizards are positioned to make an impact on the free agent market. With only five players holding guaranteed contracts and a little more than $50MM committed against a $94MM salary cap, Washington is in position to offer two maximum deals. Al Horford would be a nice addition to help fill the void up front, while either Harrison Barnes or Nicolas Batum could be a long-term answer at small forward.

Filling Out The Roster

With so many roster openings, the Wizards might use some of that cap space to rebuild their bench. Jared Dudley, Ramon Sessions and Garrett Temple are free agents and are all 30 years old. Washington needs reliable backups to Wall and Beal, so Brandon Jennings, Arron Afflalo or Gerald Henderson might be in the mix. Other names to watch include Eric Gordon, O.J. Mayo, Seth Curry and maybe even Ty Lawson.

Barring a late trade, no help will be coming through the draft. Washington sent its first-round pick to Phoenix in the February deal that brought back Morris, and its second-round pick belongs to Atlanta from a 2015 trade.

Final Take

This is an extremely important offseason in defining the Wizards for the remainder of the decade, and a wide range of outcomes are possible. Landing Durant would be like winning the lottery and make Washington an instant challenger to Cleveland for Eastern Conference supremacy. The nightmare scenario would be losing out on all the top free agents, re-signing Beal to a max contract and watching him struggle with leg problems for the next five years.

GM Ernie Grunfeld was spared when Wittman was dismissed after the season ended. If he wants to ensure a long-term future in Washington, Grunfeld is going to need to make some really shrewd decisions this summer.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offers/Cap Holds)

  • Bradley Beal ($7,471,412/$14,236,685)
  • Totals: $7,471,412/$14,236,685

Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Other Cap Holds

Projected Salary Cap: $92,000,000

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

Offseason Outlook: Sacramento Kings

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise heading into the summer.

State Of The Franchise

Ed Szczepanski / USA Today Sports Images

Ed Szczepanski / USA Today Sports Images

If nothing else, the Kings should have a more harmonious locker room in 2016/17.

Controversy swirled around coach George Karl and star player DeMarcus Cousins throughout last season. Karl nearly got fired midway through the campaign and finally got the ax after it ended. A disconnect between the front office and Karl added to the turmoil enveloping the franchise.

“There were too many distractions on and off the court,” said point guard Rajon Rondo, no stranger to controversy himself.

There are signs of better days ahead for a franchise that hasn’t visited the postseason for 10 years. They hired a much less contentious head coach to replace Karl in Dave Joerger, who guided the Grizzlies to three straight playoff appearances. They’ll also be playing in a brand new arena, the Golden 1 Center, which should boost attendance and create some positive energy.

The next step is to reshape the roster and give their fans a reason to keep coming back.

Point Of Contention

The Kings may have to find replacements for their top two point guards, Rondo and Darren Collison.

Rondo revived his career after a woeful stint with the Mavericks in 2014/15, leading the league in assists at 11.7 per game. He’s an unrestricted free agent and the Kings want him back, but apparently don’t want to get into a bidding war for his services. Rondo, who made $9.5MM in the final year of his contract, will explore all his options, though he’s not averse to re-signing as long as he’s convinced of a culture change in the organization.

Collison has a team-friendly $5.23MM contract for next season but he could face a lengthy suspension after domestic violence charges were filed against him over a May incident. Collison wasn’t a typical backup, as he averaged 14.0 points — third most on the team — and 30 minutes despite starting only 15 games.

The Kings ranked third in points scored and fourth in assists with Rondo and Collison being the main distributors. Even if they manage to re-sign Rondo, they’ll have to acquire another point guard who can play regular minutes if the league cracks down on Collison.

Building Block Or Blockbuster?

VP of Basketball Operations and GM Vlade Divac tried to quell speculation about a possible Cousins trade this summer, saying in recent interview, “He’s not going to be traded — this year for sure.”

Joerger echoed that sentiment by saying he wouldn’t have accepted the job if the team was in a full rebuild mode.

“There’s still some heavy lifting to do but some of the heavy lifting has been done,” he said. “This is not a blow it up, let’s start all over again situation.”

That still won’t end all the rumors about Cousins’ status, considering the Kings have never won more than 33 games with the big man as their centerpiece. Teams such as Celtics and Sixers have been angling to acquire a superstar for years and could put together impressive packages for Cousins, who averaged 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds last season.

The mercurial Cousins has said all the right things since his frequent verbal sparring partner, Karl, was sent packing.

I want to bring us back to those glory days,” said Cousins, who has two years remaining on his contract.

Free Agent Targets

The Kings will be hanging up a “Help Wanted” sign and with only $61.3MM committed to guaranteed salaries, they’ll have plenty of salary cap space to pursue top free agents.

Naturally, they’re not a prime destination and some free agents may not want to put up with the volatile Cousins. Thus, the Kings may have to overpay to land a player they covet.

Would Mike Conley consider joining his former head coach in Sacramento? Unlikely, but Joerger’s presence gives the Kings a glimmer of hope toward landing the top free agent point guard on this year’s market.

Beyond Conley and Rondo, there are only second-tier options such as Jeremy Lin and Brandon Jennings.

The Kings, who gave up the most points in the league last season, also need to acquire some veteran defenders to instill toughness. A player like shooting guard Courtney Lee, whom Joerger coached in Memphis, would be a good fit.

Potential Trades

Even if the Kings live up to their vow to retain Cousins, they will likely be active on the trade market.

Rudy Gay, who will make $13.3MM next season and holds a player option on the final year of his deal, will be easier to move with the salary-cap jump coming this summer. Ben McLemore could also get sent packing to a suitor willing to take a chance on the disappointing lottery pick.

Marco Belinelli has two years left on his deal but with shooting at a premium around the league, he could also draw interest.

Draft Outlook

  • First-round pick: No. 8
  • Second-round pick: No. 59

The Kings brass is reportedly enamored with Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, who would be an immediate upgrade at shooting guard. However, there’s certainly no guarantee he’ll still be on the board when the No. 8 pick comes up. They may have to trade up to get him.

Otherwise, the Kings are expected to shop the pick for a more experienced rotation player.

Coaching Outlook

There’s a lot more stability along the sidelines than on the roster, as Joerger signed a four-year, $16MM contract. He has promised to work closely with the front office and end the discord that was so prevalent during the Karl era. How he’ll mesh with Cousins is the big unknown. The jury is still out on whether Cousins will respond better to a players’ coach like Joerger or a no-nonsense type like ex-Kings coach Michael Malone.

Final Take

The Kings seem content to build around Cousins for the time being and hope that he matures into a true leader. They can always explore trades for him during the season if that doesn’t happen.

The bigger issue is that they have question marks at every other spot on the roster. The front office will have make a series of shrewd moves to obtain quality pieces and end the playoff drought. It’s easy to be skeptical of that happening.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offers/Cap Holds)

Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Other Cap Holds

  • No. 8 pick ($2,451,200)

Projected Salary Cap: $92,000,000

Footnotes:

  1. Curry, Acy, and Anderson all declined player options for 2016/17.

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

Offseason Outlook: Dallas Mavericks

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise as the summer approaches.

State Of The Franchise

Not many experts and analysts believed the Mavs would make the playoffs this past season, but Dallas defied expectations and, indeed, made the postseason for the 15th time in the last 16 years. It was another first round exit for the Mavs, but considering the team experienced an odd summer and was again led by an aging star in Dirk Nowitzki, this had to be considered a success.

It appeared the Mavs on their way toward locking up DeAndre Jordan to their core of Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons. Jordan, however, balked in the 11th hour and re-signed with the Clippers. The Mavs did land Wesley Matthews via free agency, though, and then  shifted gears by acquiring Zaza Pachulia in a salary dump from the Bucks. The Mavs made, perhaps, one of the shrewdest decisions of last summer by inking Deron Williams, who intends to opt out.

While Matthews was mostly inconsistent, Pachulia gave the Mavs pretty much what they could have expected and Williams over-performed in system that included other point guards J.J. Barea, Raymond Felton and Devin Harris. Nowitzki remained a capable player and dependable scorer by averaging 18.3 points per game and as long as the 38-year-old is still a fixture on the team, the Mavs will not be rebuilding. Instead, look for the Mavs to retool and add veteran talent. The Mavs will again need another steady season from Nowitzki, who is expected to opt out and re-sign, and above average contributions from the point guard position to exceed expectations. As it stands now, the Mavs must also address their rebounding deficiency; they ranked 19th in the league in rebounds per game and finished 26th in  rebounding percentage.

Free Agents

The salary cap puzzle for the Mavs this summer depends largely on three player options worth more than $30MM. Chandler Parsons will almost certainly decline his to seek more on the open market, and Nowitzki has said he plans to opt in as long as the Mavs don’t start a rebuilding project. Pachulia, Felton, Charlie Villanueva and David Lee will all hit the market as unrestricted free agents when free agency begins on July 1st. Second-year standout Dwight Powell will be a restricted free agent, giving the Mavs an opportunity to match any offer for the coveted young pro. Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson has said that the front office will prioritize re-signing free agents, which makes considering the group seemed to mesh well together.

Williams, an 11-year veteran who turns 32 in June likely needs offseason surgery to address a sports hernia. The Jeff Schwartz client said in the aftermath of the Mavs’ playoff ouster this week that he’d love to return to Dallas, and coach Rick Carlisle said he’d also like to see him return. Nelson pointed to what he saw as a renewed sense of enthusiasm in Williams’ play this season, the first for Williams with the Mavericks

There is a decent chance Parsons finds a more lucrative deal on the open market if he opts out. He sustained another serious injury last season, but that should not stop Parsons from landing what is likely to be his final significant pay day. It will be interesting to see if the Mavs re-sign the versatile forward because they already have a stretch-four in Nowitzki. It seems likely Lee could garner some interest as a bench player from other teams after he thrived with Dallas late in the season. Look for Felton, who rejuvenated his career, to return on a cheap deal and Villanueva could return for the veteran minimum. With Salah Mejri and JaVale McGee on the roster, it would not be surprising if Powell did not return if he were to land a significant offer elsewhere.

Free Agent Targets

The Mavs can offer one max contract to free agents this summer and possibly a second if Nowitzki and Parsons follow Williams and opt out for next season, as Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post recently detailed. Dallas entered the offseason expecting to have at least $32MM to spend, but that number could rise closer to $60MM if Nowitzki, Parsons and Williams all opt out. Bontemps noted that Dallas is counting on landing an elite free agent this summer and added that owner Mark Cuban is trying to surround Nowitzki, who’s likely to remain, with as much talent as possible before he retires.

If the Mavs do not re-sign Williams, they would need an upgrade at point guard. Jeremy Lin, Brandon Jennings and Greivis Vasquez all would make sense as options. Dallas would also need a scorer on the wing and a veteran that comes to mind would be Eric Gordon. If the Mavs decide to splurge a bit, Nic Batum would not be a far-fetched option.

Draft Outlook

  • Second-round pick: 46th

The Mavericks do not own a first-round pick in the 2016 Draft, as that pick belongs to the Celtics as part of the Rajon Rondo deal. Barring a deal, the Mavs’ only pick is No. 46 in the second round, so Dallas is not expected to make a whole lot of noise here. Indiana forward Troy Williams and Maryland big man Robert Carter Jr. are two names to watch as they have been linked to the Mavs in workouts and meeting. Of note, Purdue center A.J. Hammons is the No. 46 ranked player in ESPN.com’s Chad Ford’s Top 100.

Final Take

Dallas seems to be in a similar position it was in heading into last summer. The Mavs still need to find an answer at point guard, would need another big man and are unsure what to expect on the wing. Look for the Mavs to re-sign the core group of their bench players and upgrade at point guard. Dallas needs someone on the roster to emerge as capable scorer to take some of the load off of Nowitzki. As long as Nowitzki is on the team, the front office will build a team that is in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offers/Cap Holds)

Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Projected Salary Cap: $92,000,000

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

Offseason Outlook: New Orleans Pelicans

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise as the summer approaches.

State Of The Franchise

The Pelicans were decimated by injuries this past season. Eric Gordon was sidelined for 37 games. Anthony Davis missed 21 games, while Tyreke Evans sat out 57. Jrue Holiday missed 17 and was limited in more than half of the contests he did play. The result was a 30-win campaign that exposed the team’s lack of depth.

Benny Sieu / USA TODAY Sports

Benny Sieu / USA TODAY Sports

The team was in that position due to the moves it made in previous offseasons. New Orleans doubled down on the center position last summer, handing out a four-year, $20MM deal to Alexis Ajinca and five-year, slightly less than $53MM deal to Omar Asik. Asik’s contract is one of the worst in the league, though the rising cap should help mitigate having it on the books. Even so, for a team that employs Davis and has plenty of other needs, spending so heavily on the center position was a foolish decision.

Ever since the Pelicans drafted Davis, they’ve been determined to speed up the timeline of putting together a winning team around their No.1 overall pick. They traded two first-round picks for Holiday and dealt another for Asik during Dell Demps’ time as GM. The franchise would have been in better position had it had kept those selections. Nerlens Noel, Elfrid Payton and Sam Dekker were the players selected with those picks. The Pelicans likely would not have made the playoffs last season with those youngsters, and there’s no guarantee that they would have picked all three of those players had they kept the selections. In fact, they likely would been in worse position in the standings over the past several years had they not made the trades, which would have led them to receiving better picks in each of the 2014 and 2015 drafts. Having three developing players on rookie contracts in place of Holiday and Asik would have improved their cap situation going forward as well as given them a chance of injecting themselves into trade talks for potentially available All-Stars such as Jimmy Butler or Jeff Teague.

As it stands, the Pelicans have a core with a limited ceiling. Davis may very well win the MVP award one day and carry his team deep into the playoffs. Beyond him, there arguably isn’t an All-Star caliber player on the roster. Thursday’s draft likely represents the team’s best shot at acquiring a long-term running mate for Davis.

Draft Outlook

  • First-round picks: 6th
  • Second-round picks: 39th, 4oth

Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray could be targets at No. 6. Either player would fit nicely next to Holiday in the backcourt, though Murray could potentially replace Holiday as the starting point guard down the road, as I outlined in his Prospect Profile. The draft is unpredictable after the No.2 pick, so both players could gone by the time New Orleans is on the clock. The team could also go with Jaylen Brown, and he would be a tremendous addition via the No.6 pick. It’s possible that Hield, Murray and Brown come off the board right before the Pelicans are on the clock, but it’s likely at least one of those players fall to them.

This is a deep draft in terms of the amount of prospects who are projected to become at least rotation-level players. The Pelicans may be able to pick up a couple role players with their two second-round picks, which would benefit the team greatly.

Free Agents

Gordon is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, and he may have played his last game as a Pelican. In 2012, Gordon signed an offer sheet presented by the Suns and claimed his heart was in Phoenix. New Orleans matched anyway and Gordon became a subject of trade rumors for the ensuing four years. Gordon has since backed off those comments and acknowledged that he should have handled the situation differently. From a basketball standpoint, he hasn’t meshed well with Evans and Holiday. That, coupled with his inability to stay on the court, should have the franchise looking for a new shooting guard.

The Pelicans would like to keep Ryan Anderson, but his price tag may keep them from doing so. New Orleans isn’t in position to give Anderson max or near max contract, and if he receives one on the open market, which is a good possibility, he’ll likely be suiting up for a new team next season. Anderson will be eligible for the middle-tier max, which is projected to be approximately $25.4MM. The team simply can’t afford to bring Anderson back on that kind of contract.

Davis’ Extension

Davis signed a max extension last offseason that will go into effect this upcoming year. He had an opportunity this season to trigger the Fifth-Year 30% Max Criteria, which is also known as the Derrick Rose Rule. He wasn’t named to an All-NBA team this past season nor was he voted as a starter in the All-Star game. Davis also didn’t win the MVP award, so he failed to meet any of the criteria and as a result, he will make roughly 25% of the salary cap in the first year of his five-year deal rather than nearly 30%. While I’m sure the team wanted to reward its franchise player with as much salary as possible, it’s now in better position to improve the talent around him because of the cap space it saved.

Free Agent Targets

Adding a top-tier free agent, such as DeMar DeRozan or Mike Conley, probably isn’t going to happen. Nicolas Batum would be a great fit with this team, but he’ll have no shortage of suitors, which will probably lead him to receiving a deal near the max elsewhere. More likely, the team will have to look at the next tier of free agents in order to add talent.

Danny Ferry, whom the team hired as a special advisor earlier this month, was reportedly a big fan of Kent Bazemore during his time in Atlanta. Signing Bazemore is a gamble, as I discussed in the Grizzlies’ Offseason Outlook, but he could grow into the type of player who outperforms his next deal. If the Pelicans can snag the small forward at an annual salary of $12MM-14MM, they could still add a few other pieces via free agency.

Evan Fournier is another option who would fit in with the franchise both on the court and on the cap sheet. I speculate that the shooting guard will command a deal with annual salaries in that $12MM-14MM range. That’s a reasonable price given the league’s current climate, but he’s a restricted free agent, so the Magic could match any offer.

New Orleans should be looking to add a few pieces to its existing core provided it doesn’t trade away Evans or Holiday. Adding a potential starter, such as Bazemore or Fournier, in addition to a couple of role players would make for a successful offseason. Courtney LeeGerald Henderson and Mario Chalmers are among the players whom the Pelicans could look at when filling out their bench.

Final Take

Davis is progressing toward becoming one of the best players in the league, and if he reaches that pinnacle, it will overshadow some of the team’s deficiencies. Outside shooting and perimeter defense are areas that the team should address. This offseason needs to be about surrounding Davis with players who can help him elevate this team, but unless the Pelicans can pull off a deal that brings them a second perennial All-Star, the team can only go so far.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offers/Cap Holds)

Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Other Cap Holds

  • No. 6 pick ($2,931,000)

Projected Salary Cap: $94,000,000

Footnotes:

  1. Davis’ exact salary on his max contract won’t be determined until July. This figure represents an estimation.
  2. Babbitt’s full $1,227,286 salary would become guaranteed on July 12th.
  3. Dejean-Jones died in May, but his contract will remain on the Pelicans’ books until the team makes a roster move.

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

 

Offseason Outlook: Oklahoma City Thunder

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise as the summer approaches.

State Of The Franchise

The Thunder’s season ended in disappointment, as a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference Finals gave way to three straight Golden State wins and a barrage of Klay Thompson three-pointers. Still, it’s unfair to consider Oklahoma City’s season a disappointment on the whole."<strong

Before being bounced from the playoffs by the Warriors, the Thunder earned the No. 3 seed behind two historically great teams that averaged 70 regular-season wins apiece. Oklahoma City ultimately dispatched one of those two teams – the Spurs – from the postseason before very nearly eliminating the other. If a couple more breaks had gone the Thunder’s way, we could very well be discussing their postseason run as one of the greatest of all time, rather than looking back and wondering how they failed to finish off Golden State.

It’s possible that the Thunder’s 2016 playoff run represented the last time we’ll see this group together, but it would be a bit of a shock if that were the case, as we’ll outline below.

Priority No. 1 (and No. 2 and No. 3): Re-Sign KD

With apologies to LeBron James, whose potential free agency hasn’t generated the same sort of discussion that it has in years past, no free-agent-to-be has been the subject of more speculation and rumors than Kevin Durant. It’s the first time Durant will be eligible for free agency, and there’s an expectation that he’ll be open to hearing pitches from potential suitors.

It remains to be seen exactly how open Durant will be — will only one or two teams besides the Thunder get an audience with the former MVP, or will he be willing to give every interested club a shot? The latter approach could certainly prolong his decision, since it’s possible that 15 or 20 teams will have interest in making a play for Durant, and most clubs will have the cap space necessary to land him.

Ultimately though, there are two key factors that should push Durant back to Oklahoma City after he tests the open market. For one, there simply aren’t many teams around the NBA that are as championship-ready as the Thunder. Only the Spurs and Warriors, both of whom are believed to be eyeing Durant, could make a convincing case that adding KD would make them the prohibitive favorite for the 2017 title, and Durant may not want to simply jump ship to one of the Thunder’s biggest rivals.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, no team can offer the kind of money to Durant that Oklahoma City can. Whether the 27-year-old wants to sign a long-term contract right away or a year from now – when that max contract will likely be worth significantly more, as we’ve previously outlined – it makes the most sense for him to re-up with Thunder, who can offer more years and higher raises than any rival suitor.

Those factors don’t make OKC a lock to re-sign Durant — anything can happen in free agency. But barring a drastic turn of events, the Thunder will head into July as the frontrunners in the KD sweepstakes.

The Other Free Agents

Durant isn’t the Thunder’s only free agent, but he’s clearly the most important one, and his decision will have a trickle-down effect on all the other moves the team makes this offseason. If Durant elects to sign elsewhere, Oklahoma City will have a major hole to fill in its frontcourt, and would have the cap room necessary to add an impact player. But if we’re assuming Durant returns, the Thunder will likely turn their attention to filling out their roster with complementary pieces, and that could mean re-signing Dion Waiters, who is eligible for restricted free agency.

Waiters, acquired in a trade a year and a half ago, isn’t an ideal bench piece for the Thunder. His shooting percentage has been below 40% since he arrived in Oklahoma City, and his PER slipped to single digits in 2015/16. With Durant and Russell Westbrook rarely both on the bench at the same time, Waiters’ ability to create his own shot and score points for the second unit isn’t as valuable as it otherwise might have been, and OKC might be better off with a pure shooter in that spot instead.

However, if Durant re-signs, the Thunder will be right up against the salary cap threshold. Even parting ways with Anthony Morrow – who has a non-guaranteed salary – wouldn’t create much more room under the cap than an over-the-cap OKC squad would have with the mid-level exception at its disposal. So even though allowing Waiters to depart in free agency would free up a roster spot, it wouldn’t necessarily free up any more spending flexibility for the Thunder. That may be why GM Sam Presti has indicated he’s optimistic about bringing back both Waiters and Morrow.

Randy Foye and Nazr Mohammed are unrestricted free agents for the Thunder, but I don’t expect either player to re-sign, unless it’s for the minimum. Mohammed may be headed for retirement, while Foye set new career-lows in FG% and 3PT% in 2015/16.

Looking To The Future

One important consideration for Durant as he decides on his next contract will be the Thunder’s plan for the future. Two years after the former second overall pick agreed to his first contract extension with Oklahoma City, the team sent James Harden to Houston, so Durant will want to know if any such moves are on the horizon this time around.

Durant surely recognizes that the current roster is getting expensive, with several of his teammates eligible for free agency a year from now, so he’ll want to know how the Thunder intend to address the cap crunch. Even with the cap on the rise, retaining Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter, Steven Adams, and Andre Roberson for the long-term probably isn’t tenable.

The Thunder are unlikely to make any moves related to Westbrook or Ibaka this offseason, but Adams and Roberson will both be extension-eligible for the first time, so the club will have to determine whether it makes sense to lock up either player before they hit restricted free agency. Both Adams and Roberson have emerged as crucial cogs in the Thunder’s rotation, with Adams providing rebounding, rim protection, and toughness, while Roberson is an excellent defender whose three-point shooting has improved.

Of the two players, Adams is expected to be the Thunder’s top priority, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be extended this year. The team will be able to match any rival offer for the big man next summer, so it could be prudent to wait to see what happens at that point with Westbrook and Ibaka, rather than prematurely locking in a big new deal for Adams.

Filling Out The Roster

The Thunder haven’t been very active in free agency in recent years, preferring to build their roster by drafting and making trades, then re-signing their own players. The team usually only has the mid-level exception at its disposal, so that inactivity isn’t surprising. Still, if there was ever a year to use that full MLE to add one more player to the roster, this might be the year.

In the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder made just 55 three-pointers to Golden State’s 90, and shot only 32.2% on their three-point attempts, compared to 39.6% for the Warriors. It’s probably unfair to expect OKC to match up with the greatest three-point shooting team of all time in that department, but players like Morrow and Foye, brought in to fill that role, were mostly non-existent in the Conference Finals. Using the mid-level exception to pursue a free agent like Jared Dudley or Courtney Lee, who could more reliably make those open shots created by Durant and Westbrook, seems logical.

If the MLE isn’t enough to attract a free agent of that caliber, given the rising salary cap, the Thunder could also explore the trade route. Former first-round picks like Mitch McGary and Josh Huestis aren’t part of OKC’s rotation, having spent a good chunk of last season in the D-League, and could be packaged with Kyle Singler and/or draft picks in a trade. Of course, it wasn’t long ago that Singler looked like a possible solution to the Thunder’s three-point woes, so perhaps the team prefers to hang onto him in hopes of a bounce-back season. The club may also still envision McGary and Huestis as inexpensive rotation players for the future.

Final Take

Durant’s decision will dictate what sort of summer it is in Oklahoma City. If he returns, this team remains a championship contender, even without any other real changes. If he bolts, Presti will have some challenging decisions to make, particularly with Westbrook set to enter the last year of his contract.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offers/Cap Holds)

Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Other Cap Holds

Projected Salary Cap: $92,000,000

Footnotes:

  1. The cap hold for Durant will be the maximum salary for a veteran of 7-9 seasons. The number shown here is an estimate based on the projected cap figure.

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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