Although deals cannot officially be signed until after the league moratorium is lifted on July 11, there has been a flurry of activity on the free agency front since the session began on July 1. Understanding the details of the frenzy can be a bit complex, but it is important to note there are two types of free agents – restricted and unrestricted.
An unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any team around the league without restriction, provided the pursuing team can meet the financial obligation within their salary cap.
However, when it comes to restricted free agency, a player’s current franchise has the right to match any offer proposed from an opposing team to retain their restricted free agent’s services. Restricted free agency is where you typically see rebuilding teams with significant cap space looking to pry young and emerging talent away from their current clubs. Pursuing teams routinely tend to overpay slightly during this process banking on the player’s upside, which in turn puts pressure on the current team to either match the deal or let their young talent leave without any compensation.
The list below contains a summary of restricted free agents who have received offers and our HOOPSWORLD panel debates whether their current team should match or not match the reported deals on the table.
Roy Hibbert, Center
Current Team: Indiana Pacers
Pursuing Team: Portland Trail Blazers
Offer on Table: 4 years, $58 million (Max)
Stephen Litel: Roy Hibbert was an NBA All-Star and is a good center, but he is not worth a maximum contract. Maximum contracts should be reserved for franchise players, the players you build your entire team around and the one player the team wouldn’t have a chance to win without. In the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Hibbert averaged 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 2 blocks, his career year. While those are solid numbers, they also do not make him a franchise player. With the Pacers flirting with Chris Kaman lately, the Indiana Pacers should not match Portland’s offer to Roy Hibbert.
Derek Page: While there are other options for the Pacers at the center position, namely Chris Kaman, none compare to the current production or possible potential of Roy Hibbert. Sure, the Blazers are vastly overpaying Hibbert in this situation, but letting him walk would be a huge blow to the Pacers’ franchise.
Talented, 7-foot-3-inch centers don’t exactly grow on trees and, at just 25 years old, Hibbert still has plenty of room to grow so I see Indiana matching this contract.
Lang Greene: The Indiana Pacers have slowly (and frugally) built a team on the rise over the past few seasons, but now comes the business portion of the process. Do you overpay your homegrown All-Star talent and anchor in the paint to continue the team’s upward trajectory? Hibbert isn’t your typical max level talent, but Portland gave him the deal since big men still come at a premium and he’d work nicely with their franchise player LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt. One area of concern is in Indiana’s biggest three contests of the season, Games 4-6 of the second round versus the Miami HEAT, Hibbert shrank in the moment. Still, losing him for nothing in return is too big of a blow for Indiana to absorb and would derail their process. Match.
Tommy Beer: This is a tough call for the Pacers. Hibbert certainly still has some growing to do as a player, and the flaws in his game are apparent for all to see. However, with that said, the dearth of quality big men in undeniable. When you have a seven-footer that competes and can contribute on both ends of the floor, it is extremely difficult to let him walk without receiving anything in return. In addition, the Pacers are clearly a team on the rise, as evidenced by their supremely impressive postseason push, when they fought the HEAT hard and were even leading 2-games-to-1 in that series. Moreover, if Indiana is willing to pony up $40 million to re-sign George Hill, I’d argue that by comparison, it would be foolish to then not spend $58 million to keep their starting center.
Landry Fields, Small Forward
Current Team: New York Knicks
Pursuing Team: Toronto Raptors
Offer on Table: 3 years, $20 million
Stephen Litel: Landry Fields is a good locker room guy, a solid professional on and off the court and a fine off-the-bench addition to any team. In a perfect world, the New York Knicks would love to have Fields back in their mix, but the Raptors offer is simply too much for them to match. Now that Jason Kidd looks to be a Knick in a matter of days, as well as New York’s plans to match Jeremy Lin’s offer sheet from the Houston Rockets, the team has a lot of money on their books (and that’s not even discussing the money owed to Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.) Simply put, this one is a no-brainer not to match.
Derek Page: In what originally appeared to be a ploy by the Raptors to keep Steve Nash away from the Knicks, Toronto has offered Landry Fields a three-year deal with a dramatic spike expected to take effect in the final year of the contract. Now, neither Toronto nor New York were able to acquire Nash, but the Raptors are still on the hook to pick up the second-year swingman.
Tommy Beer is the go-to guy on this, but I don’t see the Knicks matching this offer, especially after likely matching the offer sheet currently extended to Jeremy Lin.
Lang Greene: Fields is a role player, a decent one, but as role players go you can find much cheaper options on the open market than paying him a reported $6.3 million per season. Fields is a good complimentary piece, excellent team player and solid locker room guy but the price here just isn’t right or logical. I don’t believe the Knicks should match this deal.
Tommy Beer: This is the easiest decision of the bunch. The Knicks would have to be insane to even consider matching this ludicrous offer from Bryan Colangelo and the Raptors. In their defense, the Raps originally made the offer in hopes that it would block a potential sign-and-trade deal between Phoenix and New York, which would have brought Steve Nash to NYC. The hope was that if the Knicks couldn’t use Fields as a piece in a trade with the Suns, Toronto would swoop in and sign Nash to a massive contract. However, with Nash now in Los Angeles, the Raptors are left holding the contract that will drastically overpay Landry Fields.
After a promising start to his NBA career, Fields saw his statistics plummet dramatically as his confidence eroded. Over the second half of the 2011-12 season, Fields (the Knicks starting shooting guard), shot just 23.7 percent on three-point attempts and 48 percent from the free-throw stripe. Yes, Fields had a lower free-throw percentage than Dwight Howard during that stretch. In addition, Fields struggled mightily when New York needed him the most – in the postseason. Here are Fields’ career playoff numbers (9 games, all starts): 4.8 points (39.1 FG%, 11.1 3PT%, 46.2 FT%), 2.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.4 turnovers… Fields does have some redeeming qualities. He rebounds well and is a solid citizen and a quality character guy who always plays hard and gives maximum effort; however, he is not worth half of what Toronto will be paying him over the next three seasons.
Eric Gordon, Shooting Guard
Current Team: New Orleans Hornets
Pursuing Team: Phoenix Suns
Offer on Table: 4 years, $58 million (Max)
Stephen Litel: What a situation in New Orleans with Eric Gordon. The main asset the team received in the Chris Paul trade last year, now – like Paul earlier – doesn’t want to stay with the Hornets. While Gordon may be a player on the verge of deserving a max contract, which is the offer sheet he received from Phoenix, the Hornets now have the tough decision on whether to match and keep a player and asset or just cut ties and move forward with their new core of Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers. Situations like this rarely turn out well and give more headaches than they are worth, so in this case it is probably best for New Orleans to allow the disgruntled Gordon to go to the Phoenix Suns.
Derek Page: This is a no-brainer: the Hornets must match the Suns’ offer to Eric Gordon – no ifs, ands or buts about it. If New Orleans was to let the key acquisition from the Chris Paul trade go after just one season, it could only be seen as disastrous both for the team and the franchise as a whole.
Even though Gordon is scheduled to make over $6.4 million per contest he played in this past season (9) over the course of this contract, the Hornets have no choice but to bring their cornerstone back – even if his heart is in Phoenix.
Lang Greene: Gordon only played in nine games for the Hornets last season, but re-signing him is the franchise’s biggest priority this summer. Gordon was the centerpiece asset returned when the team dealt Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers and is a bona fide 2o-point-per-game scorer, who has yet to reach his prime. Couple those facts by adding No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis into the mix and the Hornets’ future appears bright just seven months after dealing away a perennial MVP candidate. There’s no conceivable way here where the Hornets don’t match this deal – happily, even if Gordon wants a change of scenery. Gordon is too valuable of a future trade chip if the relationship ultimately goes sour. Match.
Tommy Beer: Despite that fact that Gordon has made it known that he’d prefer the Hornets not match the Suns offer (apparently “his heart is in Phoenix”), New Orleans should certainly match the deal on the table. In the NBA, when you have the ability to retain a valuable asset, it is usually in your best interest to do so.
Gordon was the centerpiece of the deal in which they traded away franchise cornerstone Chris Paul. Letting Gordon leave town without having anything to show for it would be devastating to the New Orleans franchise. When they made the trade for Gordon last winter, they were well aware that they’d have the opportunity to match any offer he received in free agency this summer. They will take advantage of that contract caveat to keep EG in NOLA. The worst case scenario is an unhappy Eric Gordon, in which case the Hornets can then trade him for another player(s)/picks that would address various holes on the roster. Bottom line, for a team in rebuilding mode, it doesn’t make much sense let a valuable asset walk out the door.
Jeremy Lin, Point Guard
Current Team: New York Knicks
Pursuing Team: Houston Rockets
Offer on Table: 4 years, $29 million (back loaded)
Stephen Litel: A back-loaded offer sheet from the Houston Rockets may make the New York Knicks take a slight pause with the amount of money they have on the books for years to come, but in the end the Knicks should match for Jeremy Lin. All indications from New York are very strong stating they will, in fact, match and retain Lin’s services. With Jason Kidd in the mix reportedly, Lin will have the opportunity to learn from a sure-fire Hall of Famer while continuing his own growth as a basketball player. He is a media darling, sells tickets, jerseys and other merchandise and still has a great number of years ahead of him in the NBA. The Knicks should and will match.
Derek Page: After missing out on Steve Nash, the Knicks must bring back the young and talented Jeremy Lin regardless of the amount of the contract currently on the table. Lin proved last season that he had the ability to successfully run a team and it will be interesting to see what he can accomplish with a full preseason and training camp under his belt.
New York will likely match this contract and the point guard guidance of veteran Jason Kidd is going to work wonders for the 23-year old Lin. Even though Linsanity had its ups and downs this past season, NY letting Lin go without a better option in place is highly unlikely.
Lang Greene: Take a deeper look at Lin’s numbers and subtract the Linsanity hype and you have an average point guard as NBA starters go. However, Lin hasn’t reached his full potential and with Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire expected to do the heavy lifting, he doesn’t have to be an elite floor general for the Knicks. Reports also indicate the Knicks have reached an agreement with veteran point guard Jason Kidd, which will do wonders for Lin’s development as he learns the subtle nuisances of the game under Kidd’s tutelage. And since this is a business and Lin offers mainstream appeal, there’s no way the Knicks don’t match Houston’s offer – especially at the price tag. Match.
Tommy Beer: As I have addressed previously this week, the Knicks will match the Rockets offer primarily because it makes fiscal sense to do so. Just one example: Through the first seven games on MSG after Lin was installed as the team’s starting point guard, the Knicks’ average household rating has increased 138% compared to the previous 20 games. In addition, the jersey sales and assorted streams of revenue via the sale of various other merchandise were unparalleled.
If Houston had maxed out an offer approaching $40 million over four years, then I suppose there might be some shred of doubt as to whether or not the Knicks would match. But considering the offer sheet the Lin will bring to the Knicks doorstep has only three guaranteed seasons, and team option on the fourth year – it is all but a forgone conclusion that New York will retain Lin long-term. When you factor in Lin upside, and the lack of quality point guards left on the open market, the decision is that much easier.
Omer Asik, Center
Current Team: Chicago Bulls
Pursuing Team: Houston Rockets
Offer on Table: 3 years, $25 million (back loaded)
Stephen Litel: Yes, if the Chicago Bulls decide to match the offer sheet Omer Asik is expected to sign with the Houston Rockets, they will have a player they value highly for three more seasons. However, when looking at value for performance, matching for Asik would not be a wise move for the Bulls. While he is a good NBA player, Asik has only started two games in his career and has career averages of 2.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game. $25 million dollars for that type of production? Unfortunately, the Bulls should not match.
Derek Page: The Rockets have been looking for a young, quality center since Yao Ming was forced to retire due to injury after just nine NBA seasons and may have found just that with Omer Asik. With All Star center Joakim Noah already firmly situated as the Bulls’ starting center, it would appear that Chicago could be apt to let Asik depart, especially with the third year of that contract ballooning up to $15 million.
Although it doesn’t seem like the most prudent of moves, the Bulls have maintained that retaining Asik is a top priority so, if you believe the Bulls’ brass, Asik will return to Chicago for at least the next three seasons. However, the reality is the Bulls simply might not be able to afford that type of contract for a second string center.
Lang Greene: Asik’s legend has developed sort of a cult following here on HOOPSWORLD within the weekly chat circuit as an asset fans would love to have on their respective teams. That’s fine at the right price because, in reality, Asik is a very limited offensive player and coming off a season with averages of 3.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per night. With a borderline All-Star caliber talent starting at center in Joakim Noah already eating up rotation minutes, the price tag for a backup here is too high, especially factoring in the back-loaded third year which could be in the neighborhood of $15 million. Asik is a very strong defender and the cap hit the first two seasons isn’t bad, but Chicago should look to pass here. You just can’t tie up this type of long term money on a 15 minute per night rotation guy. No match.
Tommy Beer: Another difficult call here… When you look at Asik’s numbers, they are by no means overwhelming. Last season, Omer posted a scoring average lower than Sheldon Williams or Chris Duhon. And Asik’s free-throw percentage was actually worse than Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin. Omer’s season high was just 11 points, and he didn’t record a single double-double the entire season. Obviously, Asik played limited minutes, and this has to be factored into the equation. In addition, Asik’s true value lies on his defensive contributions. He was considered by many to be one of the more underrated and effective low-post defenders in the Eastern Conference.
However, if I am Chicago, I think I have to let him walk. Maintaining cap space to build around Derrick Rose is of the utmost importance, and tying up $25 million in Asik may eventually be a decision Gar Forman might regret. Early word out of Chicago is that in order for the Bulls to match, they would have to amnesty Carlos Boozer. That is a very heavy price to pay.
Nicolas Batum, Small Forward
Current Team: Portland Trail Blazers
Pursuing Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
Offer on Table: 4 years, $45 million (base)
Stephen Litel: The Minnesota Timberwolves are always going to have to overpay for free agents if they want a legitimate shot at players going north, but Portland should really think about this one. Does Batum really want out or not? Reports have been all over the place on this one, but the Blazers have stated they will match any offer sheet Batum signs. If the Timberwolves do, in fact, make the offer as reported, the Blazers would be committing a lot of money to another player who is not a franchise player. Batum is talented and worth a lot of money in the market, but how much does the Pacers matching/not matching the offer to Hibbert factor in? Portland should match this deal if they truly believe they are only a piece or two away from legitimately contending, but, if not, they should let him go to Minnesota. This may be a good place to at least explore a sign-and-trade.
Derek Page: After touting Nicolas Batum as a franchise player and a future building block in Portland, all signs point to the Blazers bringing back the 23-year old Frenchman. Even though four years at $11.25 million per is excessive, this might be a crucial move for Portland – especially if the Indiana Pacers match the Blazers offer to Roy Hibbert.
Minnesota is making a bold move here in offering that type of money to Batum and the price of acquiring Hibbert and keeping Batum might be too much for the Blazers to stomach. Expect Batum back in a Blazers uniform if the Hibbert deal falls through, otherwise Batum could be sporting a Wolves jersey at some point next season.
Lang Greene: The Portland Trail Blazers have made it known they are not interested in any sign-and-trade scenarios with Minnesota and will match the Timberwolves’ offer to retain Batum. The young man is extremely talented, young and undoubtedly a key building block for the team during their current rebuilding project. Batum is poised for a breakout year with a full season ahead without having to compete with Gerald Wallace for minutes and a coach who has faith in him. Yes, the price tag is a little high, but all signs indicate Batum’s play on the court will ultimately grow into the dollars offered here. Match.
With the new collective bargaining agreement designed to be more punitive towards luxury tax paying teams, the importance of leveraging the salary cap is at an all-time high around the league. Factor in “poison pill” provisions where pursuing teams can heftily backload contracts while averaging the contract amount on their own books, and the choice to overpay in order to retain homegrown talent becomes even more risky.