- The Suns‘ approach to the offseason will hinge largely on where the team’s first-round pick lands in the lottery, as Gina Mizell of The Athletic explains. Mizell sketches out multiple potential paths for Phoenix’s offseason — one that involves Zion Williamson, one featuring Ja Morant, and one in which the Suns land outside the top two in the draft.
Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we turn our attention to the Pacific Division:
Klay Thompson, Warriors, 29, SG (Up) – Signed to a four-year, $69MM deal in 2015
The smart money has Kevin Durant signing elsewhere this summer, which makes it more imperative for Golden State to keep its dynamic backcourt intact. The Warriors would probably have to max out Thompson at $190MM over five years and ownership appears willing to do so. If not, rivals with ample cap space would certainly give him a four-year, $140MM deal, the max they could offer. In any case, Thompson won’t have to take a discount the way the market figures to play out. Even in a somewhat down year by his standards, he still had the sixth-most 3-point makes in the NBA.
Reggie Bullock, Lakers, 28, SG (Down) — Signed to a two-year, $5MM deal in 2017
The cap-strapped Pistons figured they couldn’t re-sign Bullock, so they traded him to the Lakers for a couple of assets. He was Detroit’s most reliable wing player but things didn’t go well for him in L.A. He never got into a shooting rhythm with the Lakers, as the career 39.2% long-range gunner made just 34.3% of his 3-point shots. Bullock’s price tag might have gone down somewhat, though he should still field some multi-year offers. He might even return to Detroit, where he played four seasons, if the Pistons can fit him into their budget.
Rodney McGruder, Clippers, 27, SF (Up) – Signed to a three-year, $3.4MM deal in 2016
McGruder finished his season in the Clippers organization, though he’s ineligible for the playoffs. Miami put him on waivers to get under the luxury tax and the Clippers claimed him. The Clippers gained control of his Early Bird rights and can make him a restricted free agent by extending a $3MM qualifying offer. It seems that McGruder might benefit from Miami’s surprising move, as he could claim a rotation role with his new club depending upon how well they do in free agency. If they choose not to give him a QO, he should be able to secure a contract on the open market befitting a second-unit player.
Jamal Crawford, Suns, 39, SG (Up) – Signed to a one-year, $2.39MM deal in 2018
How crazy is this? Crawford entered the league in 2000, the same year Zion Williamson was born. They could be teammates next season. That’s if Crawford decides re-sign with Phoenix. He wants to play at least another year and why not? This week, Crawford became the oldest player in NBA history to record a 50-point game. Crawford appeared in 64 games with Phoenix after playing a minimum of 79 the previous three years. He’ll be providing offense off the bench somewhere next season, a tribute to his preparation, perseverance and durability.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings, 25, C (Down)– Signed to a four-year, $15.35MM deal in 2015
Cauley-Stein said prior to the season he was “ready to get paid” after his walk year. He started all but one game this season for Sacramento but didn’t really enhance his value. He’s not a shot-blocker. He doesn’t rebound particularly well for his size. He can’t shoot free throws, nor does he pose much of an offensive threat. The Kings can make him a restricted free agent by extending a $6.25MM qualifying offer but even that’s not a given. Cauley-Stein will certainly get a raise compared to his rookie deal but it probably won’t be what he expected.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The NBA’s draft order is determined by the league’s reverse standings for that year, with the first four spots in the draft up for grabs via the lottery. However, when two teams finish the season with identical records, an additional step is necessary.
In order to determine which of those tied teams will move ahead of the other(s) in the draft order, the NBA conducts tiebreakers via random drawings. The league completed the random drawings for 2019’s tiebreakers today, and we have the results below. Let’s dive in…
Tiebreaker No. 1:
- Teams: Phoenix Suns vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (19-63)
- Draft positions: 2-3
- Winner: Cavaliers
Tiebreaker No. 2:
- Teams: New Orleans Pelicans vs. Dallas Mavericks vs. Memphis Grizzlies (33-49)
- Draft positions: 7-9
- Winner: Pelicans
- Second place: Grizzlies
- Note: Grizzlies’ pick will go to Celtics if it falls outside top eight; Mavericks’ pick will go to the Hawks if it falls outside top five.
Tiebreaker No. 3:
- Teams: Sacramento Kings vs. Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Hornets (39-43)
- Draft positions: 12-14
- Winner: Hornets
- Second place: Heat
- Note: Kings’ pick belongs to Celtics (or Sixers if it’s No. 1).
Tiebreaker No. 4:
- Teams: Brooklyn Nets vs. Orlando Magic (42-40)
- Draft positions: 16-17
- Winner: Magic
Tiebreaker No. 5:
- Teams: Los Angeles Clippers vs. San Antonio Spurs vs. Indiana Pacers (48-34)
- Draft positions: 18-20
- Winner: Pacers
- Second place: Spurs
- Note: Clippers’ pick belongs to Celtics.
Tiebreaker No. 6:
- Teams: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Boston Celtics (49-33)
- Draft positions: 21-22
- Winner: Thunder
Tiebreaker No. 7:
- Teams: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Houston Rockets (53-29)
- Draft positions: 25-26
- Winner: Trail Blazers
- Note: Rockets’ pick belongs to Cavaliers.
Teams’ lottery odds didn’t really change as a result of today’s tiebreakers. In instances where two or more lottery teams finish with identical records, the lottery combinations are split evenly among them, with the tiebreaker winner getting one extra combination if there’s an odd number.
However, today’s results were still important. As a result of ending up at No. 8, for instance, the Grizzlies now have a 57.4% chance of retaining their own top-eight protected pick, something they don’t really want to do unless it jumps into the top four.
The Celtics, who already have three first-round selections for 2019 and would prefer to roll that Memphis pick over to 2020, will get it if it falls outside of the top eight. There’s only a 42.6% chance that will happen. The Grizzlies’ result was the only good news today for the Celtics, who lost their other three tiebreakers.
The pre-lottery 2019 draft order for the first round is listed below. For more information on the lottery odds for the top 14 teams, be sure to check out our recap from Thursday, as well as our glossary entry on the draft lottery. This year’s lottery will take place on Tuesday, May 14.
- New York Knicks
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Phoenix Suns
- Chicago Bulls
- Atlanta Hawks
- Washington Wizards
- New Orleans Pelicans
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Note: The Celtics will receive this pick if it falls out of the top eight (42.6% chance).
- Atlanta Hawks (via Dallas Mavericks)
- Note: The Mavericks will keep this pick if it moves up into the top four (26.2% chance).
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Charlotte Hornets
- Miami Heat
- Boston Celtics (via Sacramento Kings)
- Note: The Sixers will receive this pick if it moves up to No. 1 (1.0% chance).
- Detroit Pistons
- Orlando Magic
- Brooklyn Nets
- Indiana Pacers
- San Antonio Spurs
- Boston Celtics (via Los Angeles Clippers)
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Boston Celtics
- Utah Jazz
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Cleveland Cavaliers (via Houston Rockets)
- Brooklyn Nets (via Denver Nuggets)
- Golden State Warriors
- San Antonio Spurs (via Toronto Raptors)
- Milwaukee Bucks
Information from Tankathon.com was used in the creation of this post.
The NBA’s rookie scale, which determines how much first-round picks earn during their first four NBA 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:
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.
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 in 2016/17 and 32 in 2017/18, he’d meet the starter criteria, since his average number of starts over the last two seasons is 41.
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.
Extending a qualifying offer to a player eligible for restricted free agency officially makes that player an RFA, ensuring that his team has the right of first refusal if he signs an offer sheet with another club. It also gives the player the option of signing that one-year QO.
Generally, the value of a restricted free agent’s qualifying offer isn’t hugely important, since very few RFAs accept those offers outright. There are exceptions though.
Two years ago, for instance, both players who signed their one-year QOs – Suns center Alex Len and Mavericks center Nerlens Noel – failed to meet the starter criteria heading into restricted free agency, reducing the value of their QOs to approximately $4.2MM (from $6.4MM and $5.85MM, respectively). Had Len and Noel met the starter criteria and been eligible for those larger QOs, their free agencies could have played out differently.
Top-14 picks who failed to meet starter criteria:
With that in mind, let’s check in on how this year’s RFAs-to-be will be impacted by the starter criteria. Listed below are the former top-14 picks on track for restricted free agency who have not met the starter criteria. These players will be eligible for qualifying offers worth $4,485,665.
- Kristaps Porzingis (Mavericks)
- Stanley Johnson (Pelicans)
- Frank Kaminsky (Hornets)
- Trey Lyles (Nuggets)
No player was hit harder by missing out on the starter criteria than Porzingis, who had no chance at meeting the playing-time requirements due to his torn ACL. If he’d stayed healthy, the former No. 4 overall pick would’ve been in line for a qualifying offer worth just over $7.5MM. Of course, it may not matter much, since Porzingis is expected to sign a long-term deal with the Mavericks anyway.
For Johnson, Kaminsky, and Lyles, falling short of the starter criteria was more about their roles than health issues.
First-round picks between 10-30 who met starter criteria:
Only one player falls into this group this season.
- Kelly Oubre (Suns)
Because Oubre was selected between No. 10 and No. 30 in the 2015 draft and met the starter criteria, he’s eligible for a qualifying offer worth $4,915,726 instead of $4,485,665. No other players fit the bill this year, as many of the players drafted between Nos. 10 and 30 in 2015 have either already been extended or are no longer on their rookie contracts.
Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the 23rd overall pick in 2015, was the strongest candidate to join Oubre in this group, but fell just short of meeting the criteria, having started 80 games over the last two seasons — he needed to get to 82. Wizards forward Bobby Portis, the 22nd overall pick, also would have had a shot if he stayed healthy, but injuries limited his minutes over the last two seasons.
Second-round picks and UDFAs who met starter criteria:
The players listed below signed as second-round picks or undrafted free agents, but have met the starter criteria and are now eligible for a qualifying offer worth $3,021,354.
Tomas Satoransky (Wizards) was another player who qualified for this group, but because his initial NBA contract was more lucrative than most, his qualifying offer will already be worth $3,911,484 based on other criteria.
There were a few second-round picks and UDFAs who just missed out on meeting the starter criteria, including Dorian Finney-Smith of the Mavericks (1,985 minutes played), Bulls guard Ryan Arcidiacono (1,961 minutes), and Clippers center Ivica Zubac (37 starts).
Those players, and the rest of this year’s restricted free agents, won’t have their projected qualifying offers impacted by the starter criteria.
Since the dismissal of general manager Ryan McDonough last fall, James Jones and Trevor Bukstein had been running the front office in Phoenix as co-interim GMs. Jones and Bukstein will stick with the Suns going forward, but only Jones will remain in the GM position on a permanent basis. Bukstein, who is more of a scouting and salary-cap specialist, will assume the role of assistant GM.
As for Bower, he’ll be the Suns’ senior vice president of basketball operations. According to the Suns, Jones will oversee all basketball operations, with Bower and Bukstein reporting to him.
“James has demonstrated a remarkable ability to manage the day-to-day efforts of our front office while developing strong relationships with our players, coaches and those across our organization and league,” team owner Robert Sarver said in a statement. “Furthermore, he is instilling the same championship culture and standard that he experienced on multiple occasions as a player. I have the utmost confidence in James as the leader of our basketball operations moving forward, and we are aligned in the ultimate goal of one day bringing an NBA championship to Phoenix.”
It should be a busy offseason for the new front office in Phoenix — the Suns are in position to nab a top draft pick in the lottery, and will also have some cap flexibility, even if Tyler Johnson picks up his player option and Kelly Oubre is re-signed as a restricted free agent.
[RELATED: Suns expected to be active in free agency]
Of course, before addressing the roster in June and July, the Suns will need to make a decision on head coach Igor Kokoskov, who led the team to a disappointing 19-63 record in his first year in Phoenix. Greg Moore of The Arizona Republic questioned this week whether Kokoskov might be a one-and-done coach, but there has been no indication yet which way the Suns’ new decision-makers are leaning.
The Suns haven’t made the playoffs since 2010 and they didn’t exactly get closer to ending their drought during the 2018/19 campaign. Despite the lack of success, Devin Booker remains optimistic about the future.
“I feel like you take the positive,” Booker said (via Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic). “That’s just me being a positive person. There were stretches this season we played really good basketball. Played the right way and it resulted in wins. We have to take that same vibe that we had during that stretch and carry that into the summer and build on that.”
The offseason will bring change in Phoenix. Jeff Bowers will take on the role of senior VP of basketball operations in the front office and the organization will look to make upgrades on the court. League sources tell Rankin that the Suns are willing to go over the salary cap in free agency this summer.
The latest projections have the cap coming in at approximately $109MM for the 2019/20 season. The Suns have slightly under $61.7MM in guaranteed salary on the books next year, though that doesn’t include Tyler Johnson‘s player option – worth roughly $19.3MM – or Kelly Oubre‘s $9.6MM cap hold. It would be an upset if Johnson decides to turn his option down.
The Suns could find themselves over the cap if they choose to sign outside free agents before circling back to offer Oubre—a restricted free agent—a new deal. Several teams have employed this strategy with restricted free agents, such as the Pistons with Andre Drummond in 2016.
The team could also go over the cap by utilizing exceptions. The Suns will almost certainly enter July operating as a team under the salary cap (unless they decide to take back salary in trades that exhaust their cap space prior to the start of the new league year). They’ll likely have the room exception at their disposal, which is projected to come in at $4.76MM.
Phoenix added several veterans over the past few offseasons and those moves didn’t work out with the team shipping Trevor Ariza to Washington as the most recent example. The Suns will need to find the right additions this time around.
“We have the good young core that’s ready to go. We just all have to stick together. Sprinkle in a couple of vets and some guys that are ready to win,” Booker said.
APRIL 10: The Suns are expected to officially name Bower their senior VP of basketball operations within the next day or two, reports John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7.
APRIL 6: Former Pistons and Hornets GM Jeff Bower is being strongly considered for a front-office role with the Suns, sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Bower may join the organization next week, Woj adds, as owner Robert Sarver has begun telling other candidates that they’re no longer being considered.
Bower appears headed for a “senior advising role,” with interim GM James Jones remaining in charge of the front office and retaining the power to make decisions. Jones has been part of the interview process, along with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, league sources tell Wojnarowski. The Suns have been operating without an official GM since dismissing Ryan McDonough in October before the season began.
Bower spent four years with the Pistons before he and coach/executive Stan Van Gundy were fired last May. He has been in the NBA for two decades and served as interim coach of the Hornets during the 2009/10 season.
The 16-64 Knicks have clinched the NBA’s worst record for the 2018/19 season, but a number of other spots behind them in the draft lottery remain very much up for grabs, as our reverse standings show. Now that every NBA team only has one or two games left on its schedule, here are the key races and games to keep an eye on this week:
The battle for No. 2:
A nine-game losing streak for the Cavaliers has pulled them even with the Suns for the No. 2 spot in the lottery standings, as both teams head into their final game of the season at 19-62. Each club plays its last game on Tuesday, with the Cavs hosting Charlotte while the Suns play in Dallas.
The Hornets are still fighting for their playoff lives and the Suns have a 7-33 road record this season, so it wouldn’t be surprise if both Cleveland and Phoenix lose and finish at 19-63. In that scenario, a coin flip would decide which team gets the second spot in the lottery standings and which team finishes third. Their odds at a top pick would be the same either way, but the third-place team could fall to as far as No. 7 in the draft, as opposed to No. 6.
[RELATED: Hoops Rumors Glossary: Draft Lottery]
Four teams separated by one game between Nos. 6-9:
The Wizards (32-49) currently sit at No. 6 in the lottery standings, but the Grizzlies (32-48), Mavericks (32-48), and Pelicans (33-48) are right there with them. Adding intrigue to this logjam is the fact that the Grizzlies would like to see their top-eight protected first-round pick convey to Boston this season, while the Mavs probably wouldn’t mind keeping their top-five protected first-rounder.
Memphis, with the most incentive to win out, has perhaps the toughest schedule of this group, with games on tap in Detroit on Tuesday and vs. Golden State on Wednesday. The Pistons are still fighting to make the postseason, and the Warriors reportedly intend to play at least half of their regulars in the 82nd game. Wins won’t come easy for the Grizzlies.
The Pelicans’ final game comes on Tuesday vs. Golden State, in a contest which will likely feature the other half of the Warriors’ regulars.
The Wizards finish at home vs. the Celtics, who might be resting some top players now that they’ve sewn up the No. 4 seed in the East.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, have a winnable game at home vs. Phoenix on tap for Tuesday before finishing their season in San Antonio on Wednesday. The Spurs may still be battling for playoff seeding at that point.
The difference between finishing sixth and ninth in the lottery standings is significant. The No. 6 team has a 9% chance at the No. 1 pick and a 37.2% chance at a top-four selection. For the No. 9 team, those odds dip to 4.5% and 20.2%, respectively.
Minor back-of-the-lottery intrigue:
The Heat and Hornets are both 38-42 and remain in the hunt for the postseason. They’re currently just ahead of the 39-42 Kings in the lottery standings.
If Miami (vs. Philadelphia, at Brooklyn) and Charlotte (at Cleveland, vs. Orlando) both win out and the Kings lose in Portland on Wednesday, Sacramento would move up from No. 14 to No. 12 in the lottery standings. That’s not really a huge deal, since the No. 12 team is still a real long shot to move up.
Still, Sixers and Celtics fans will certainly take note of the difference between No. 14 (0.5% chance at the No. 1 pick; 2.4% chance at a top-four pick) and No. 12 (1.5% and 7.2%, respectively). If the Kings’ pick jumps to No. 1, Philadelphia would get it. If it lands anywhere else – including Nos. 2, 3, or 4 – it’ll go to Boston.
After the Timberwolves snapped a 14-year playoff drought last spring, only seven NBA teams entered the 2018/19 season having not reached the postseason at all since 2015. Three of those teams – the Nets, Magic, and Nuggets – have secured playoff berths, meaning that 26 NBA clubs have now earned postseason berths at least once in the four-year period from 2016-19.
That leaves the following four teams with the NBA’s longest playoff droughts:
- Sacramento Kings (last playoff appearance in 2006)
- Phoenix Suns (2010)
- Los Angeles Lakers (2013)
- New York Knicks (2013)
None of those teams ultimately came very close to reaching the postseason this season, but the Kings will finish the closest. After holding onto one of the top eight spots in the Western Conference for much of 2018/19, Sacramento has struggled down the stretch — the team is just 9-15 since the All-Star break. Still, the Kings will end up ninth in the West and feature an impressive collection of young talent, led by De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Marvin Bagley. There’s plenty of reason for optimism going forward.
The Lakers will finish right behind Sacramento in the West, though L.A.’s young core wasn’t nearly as impressive in 2018/19 as the Kings’ group. Armed with cap room and trade chips this offseason, the Lakers will make every effort to add a second star to complement LeBron James, which would put them in a good position to return to the playoffs next season. Of course, there’s no guarantee the club will land that kind of star, and if James’ health issues in ’18/19 are a harbinger of things to come, the Lakers are no lock to rebound next year.
Further down the Western Conference standings, the Suns will win fewer than 25 games for the fourth straight season. The team is starting to put together a nice group of long-term building blocks, led by Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges. However, the Suns have yet to experience a Kings-like breakout season. Phoenix will add another top prospect in June’s draft and is expected to have some flexibility in free agency, so perhaps that will happen in 2019/20.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks are perhaps the NBA’s biggest wild card heading into the 2019 offseason. The club has the cap room necessary to sign, say, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and doing so would make New York a near-lock to return to the playoffs a year from now. On the other hand, if the Knicks strike out in free agency, or end up with a couple second- or third-tier stars, their position will be far more tenuous.
What do you think? Which of these four perennial lottery teams do you expect to return to the postseason first? Is there a team that will have to wait another two or three years (or more) to end its drought?
Head below to the comment section to weigh in with your thoughts!
Asked about the possibility that he might leave to run the Wizards‘ front office, Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly passed on the chance to issue a denial, relays Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post. Washington has reportedly targeted Connelly as its top candidate after firing Ernie Grunfeld this week.
“To be honest with you, I was hoping not to have to answer that question on a night when we win the Northwest Division,” Connelly responded Friday as the team celebrated its title.
Connelly grew up in Baltimore and had his first NBA job as an intern with the Wizards. He signed an extension with the Nuggets in February, but Kiszla notes that the organization doesn’t have a history of paying executives especially well, which led to the departure of Masai Ujiri in 2013. Kiszla suggests that Josh Kroenke, vice chairman of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, should refuse any request from the Wizards to interview Connelly.
There’s more from the Southeast Division:
- With the Hornets as a long shot to reach the playoffs, Shane Rhodes of Basketball Insiders examines some situations that might be better for free agent guard Kemba Walker. Rhodes states that the Suns are intriguing with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton already in place and a high lottery pick about to join them. Rhodes names the Bulls, Knicks, Lakers and Mavericks as other possibilities.
- Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer examines whether the Hornets can afford to bring back Jeremy Lamb if they re-sign Walker. Lamb has established himself as a legitimate scorer and another crunch-time option, but the team would be well into luxury tax territory if it brings back both free agents. Bonnell speculates that it will probably take a max offer to keep Walker ($190MM over five seasons or up to $221MM if he makes an All-NBA team and qualifies for a super-max contract), plus something in the range of $10-$13MM annually for Lamb.
- The Magic are interested in working out a new deal with Isaiah Briscoe this summer, tweets Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports. Briscoe, who is sidelined by a torn meniscus, was waived this week to open a roster spot for Michael Carter-Williams. He cleared waivers yesterday and is an unrestricted free agent.