Restricted free agency can be an interesting game, where the free agent’s team has the primary rights to the player and other franchises can put in an offer sheet. It is intriguing, fascinating perhaps. Recently, we’ve seen Miami’s Tyler Johnson sign an offer sheet with Brooklyn and, before that, Gordon Hayward signing a huge deal with Charlotte before Utah got involved.
To get a restricted free agent, the offer sheet likely has to be huge, so big that the free agent’s team won’t match it. But most of the time, restricted free agency is not so interesting. Most of the time, it is simply a period of time in which a player takes his time to sign a new deal with his previous team.
And with the season winding down towards the postseason, those teams who won’t be involved in the playoffs will begin to look towards the draft and free agency and so shall I.
Here are the top restricted free agents this summer and what their future will be.
Otto Porter Jr.
Since the New Year, the Washington Wizards have been quite excellent. They have cooled down recently but are still on a 47-31 record, tied with the Toronto Raptors. And while John Wall and Bradley Beal have been the catalysts, another strength is Washington’s depth, a vital part of which is Otto Porter Jr. He has been a strong contributor for the team with his scoring from the wing, sweet-shooting and a strong effort game. It is a no-brainer for Washington to re-sign him.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is an example of something you do not always get from young players, especially guards. He is well-rounded and two-way, strong on defence and promising (but inconsistent) on the offensive end. At times, he can be a wonderful player but, as I said, he can be inconsistent.
The Detroit Pistons are in a difficult situation. Stan van Gundy’s guys are 11th in the Conference, and yet they are not really rebuilding, nor postseason contenders. Led by big man Andre Drummond, the Pistons boast a roster with other players such as Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris. Despite his age, KCP is a key member of the Detroit Pistons rotation and, while there is often a debate about starting Jackson or Ish Smith, Caldwell-Pope is an assured starter. As such, there should be no hesitation in re-signing him, despite his increased salary demands.
This is a difficult one. At Portland, Plumlee was almost definitely a cert to be re-signed. He was not the best rebounder but he was strong in many areas and his passing was constantly surprising us. At the trade deadline, he was sent to the Denver Nuggets in a deal that sent Bosnian sensation Jusuf Nurkic to Oregon. That deal already looks like a bad one for the Nuggets, given that they also gave up a first pick in the deal. Things look worse, though, when you consider that Plumlee is a restricted free agent in the summer.
And things are very different in Denver in comparison to Portland. With the Nuggets, Plumlee is a definite back-up to Nikola Jokic and that will never change because Jokic is a great playmaker and shooter from the five. Plumlee will be a strong bench player for the Nuggets and yet there is a chance that they balk at paying him the price he wants. It would be a surprise to see a key part of the Nurkic trade relinquished or used in a sign-and-trade, but stranger things have happened. Plumlee will probably be in the Nuggets blue next year, but it will cost Denver a pretty penny to do so.
Another recently traded player, Nerlens Noel was sent from the big-man-heavy Philadelphia 76ers to the Dallas Mavericks. And while there may be some doubts about Noel’s mindset and maturity, he has a great deal of undeniable skill. Defensively, he thrives, swatting shots around the rim and stealing adeptly when a player drives towards him. He’s an athletic big man who can rebound well and score around the rim, if not further away.
Dallas wanted Noel and they got him. They have not really had a strong, defensive big to put next to legend Dirk Nowitzki since Tyson Chandler was in Texas. Noel gives them that and he fits in well with a Mavericks team that will soon be looking to the future. Nowitzki is getting older by the day and the team is not even close to contending. Wes Matthews‘ contract is restricting, Deron Williams has gone and only Harrison Barnes is left to offer them anything real.
Dallas is a transitioning team and there is no chance that they release a young piece that was well-acquired and could be a key part of their future. Nerlens Noel is a Maverick.
Not such an easy one again. Nikola Mirotic arrived from Spain as a superstar and has been inconsistent during his years in Chicago. After a promising rookie season, his performance levels have slipped, as his stats have barely improved despite increased playing time.
And now that the Bulls have shipped Taj Gibson, the starting spot at the four is there to be taken. Mirotic is still young and can shoot well from range. However, second year player, Bobby Portis is not only younger but also held in high regard by the Chi-Town front office. Even if Portis is the future, Mirotic offers a lot and has a good skill-set for the modern power forward. At the very least, Mirotic is a solid member of the rotation. He may never reach the levels he did in Spain but it would be a surprise to see the Bulls let Mirotic go elsewhere.
Like Mirotic, the big man from Gonzaga is a great shooter from range and that is always a deadly trait for any big in today’s NBA. The Celtics are an ambitious team looking for the next step into championship contention and they have a great deal of assets to do so and a strong young core. Olynyk is a good part of this core, a shooting threat with a soft touch from the bench. The big man’s potential is likely capped at being a member of the rotation but he holds a great value to the Celtics in that role. Boston is pushing forward. Giving up good pieces makes no sense now. Thus, Olynyk will remain in Massachusetts.
Acquired by the Washington Wizards towards the deadline to give a much-needed offensive boost from the bench, Bogdanovic has spent much of his career as a leader of a subpar Brooklyn Nets roster. He boasts a strong offensive game and is a good scorer from the wing.
The Wizards wanted to improve their depth. While their starters performed, Washington was often let down by a lack of scoring off the pine and so snagging Bogdanovic was not only a sensible move but also a smart one. His salary increase will be modest, so there is little reason for the Wiz to let the Croatian small forward go. Of course, Otto Porter is their off-season priority, but Bogdanovic fills a key role for the Wiz and they should do their utmost to keep him.
Alex Len was once the future of the Phoenix Suns at the center position but times have changed. He boasted a nice, all-around game that promised to be the heart of Phoenix’s young rebuild. And, while his development has perhaps not been to an extent many might have thought, his game has improved. But perhaps not quickly enough.
The problem for Len is that the Suns now have a number of other bigs to speak of, namely Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss, as well as Tyson Chandler (who is locked down for the next two seasons). Still, Bender and Chriss are stretch bigs, as adept at the four as the five, and so Len should have a future in Phoenix, but only if he can continue to develop. It’s rare for any rebuilding team to let young pieces go and that is worth remembering. Barring a surprise decision to move the big man, Len should be re-signed by the Suns.
His lack of offence is well-known but Andre Roberson has his own appeal. Despite that offensive-inability, especially at shooting the three, Roberson is a great defender and a perfect fit with Russell Westbrook. Why? Russ is a great player but to perform at his best, he needs a lot of possessions. While that might be a problem with some others, Roberson does not demand the ball or complain about his role. His wage demands should be modest and Oklahoma City are well aware of his fit. Roberson will remain with the Thunder.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
THJ was the subject of a great deal of doubt when he was acquired by the Atlanta Hawks for a first-round pick. His defence was questionable and his offense was inconsistent. Both have developed during his stint in Georgia and he has become a key offensive contributor. Indeed, he is now a starter and a threat from behind the arc or on the drive.
Around the mid-point of the season, the Hawks dealt Kyle Korver and a team-wide fire-sale seemed imminent. With rumours that he was available for as little as a second-round pick, it appeared the Hawks’ front office seem far from enamoured with the shooting guard. Atlanta are struggling to find a direction. Hardaway’s stock is rising and he is performing. The Hawks should re-sign him, but there are no guarantees. It would not be a surprise to see THJ in a different jersey next year on a much improved deal.
Perhaps a victim to the team his plays for, Muhammad struggles for playing time on a team that boasts Zach Lavine and Andrew Wiggins at the shooting guard and small forward positions that Muhammad plays. Despite that, Shabazz remains a solid scorer, a great hustler and a surprisingly good post player when matched up against smaller guards. Playing at shooting guard or small forward, Muhammad helps Minnesota’s rotation, but it would be in his interest to the leave the Timberwolves if he wants a chance to be more than a rotation player. Rumours have put his name in trade talks and that might happen again in a sign-and-trade.
He might not be better than some of the other restricted free agents not on this list, but Ben McLemore is an intriguing case. That stems from the fact that he was drafted by the Sacramento Kings, who have one of the worst front offices in the league for their lack of direction. A seventh overall pick, McLemore was likened to Ray Allen for his smooth stroke but there were struggles early. His development seemed slow but steady and yet the Kings lost patience. Despite a pretty impressive sophomore season, McLemore was a constant trade rumour as Sacramento did what they could to improve and push for a first postseason appearance since 2007.
This season, the Kings have imploded, dealing DeMarcus Cousins in what seems like a lopsided deal with New Orleans to kick-start a rebuild. Since then, McLemore has found time as a small three, with much improved play, but he should not think that this means his future is in California. Instead, McLemore should look to leave in the summer.
And with three-point specialist, Buddy Hield, brought in from the Pelicans, it seems like the Kings are happy to move on. McLemore needs a new start as much as any player in the NBA. Perhaps a fresh situation could bring about the potential that had him so highly touted coming out of college. And there should be plenty of teams willing to take a chance on him, lower teams where he can continue to get good game time. Brooklyn, perhaps? Or Philadelphia, who need three-point shooters around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid?
This one is simple. The San Antonio Spurs are as much a family as an organisation and franchise. Players drafted by Gregg Popovich’s team often stay there and the athletic Simmons has carved a place for himself on a competitive Spurs roster with Danny Green and the veteran Manu Ginobili. Why would he leave?