The 2021 NBA Offseason figures to be an offseason where the level of talent will not be in equilibrium with the amount of money available to spend. NBA teams will be flush with cash after a relatively tight fisted 2020 offseason. In other words, there will be too many dollars chasing too few top players. We all know what happens when this occurs (Hello summer of '16). This could lead to some real overpays in the marketplace.
Without a real crop of top-level talent available outside of Kawhi Leonard, teams could look to spend in the restricted free agency market, a market that is usually one they try to avoid at all costs. While many fourth-year former first round players who ended up extending this past offseason got deals that were good, if not great, for them (think Kennard, Fultz, Isaac), some may have left money on the table (Anunoby, Kuzma). The ones who ended up not extending and waiting out to test the market could be the big winners this summer. I am going to take a deeper dive into these players that will be available in restricted free agency this summer.
Tier 1: The Top-Level Talent
The four top restricted free agents still on the market are the Cavaliers' Jarret Allen, the Pelicans' Lonzo Ball, the Hawks' John Collins, and the Bulls' Lauri Markkanen. Each player has shown talent and upside, but have considerable flaws as well. They are all on teams where there seems to be a glut of players in their respective backcourts/frontcourts, making them all realistically gettable on the restricted market, Additionally, some teams without cap space may also try to take advantage of their small current year contracts and try to trade for them and extend them this offseason. This would be a smart way for capped out contenders to add long-term talent. Let's take a look at the current situation for these four.
- Jarrett Allen: The Cleveland Cavaliers just recently traded for Jarrett Allen in the James Harden blockbuster deal, giving the Rockets only a Milwaukee Bucks first rounder to secure his talents. So far this season, Allen is averaging 11.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game. He was a steadying force in the middle for Brooklyn before the trade, and the teams defense has cratered after dealing him away.
While it was a smart move on the margins to bring in a young, talented player like Allen, the Cavs already had. a log-jam in the frontcourt with Andre Drummond, Javale McGee, Larry Nance, and Kevin Love. The decision to bring in Allen almost assuredly means they are going to re-sign him this offseason, which also implies Drummond walks in free agency. The Cavaliers will have competition in the marketplace, however. They could face stiff competition from the likes of Charlotte, Dallas, and Oklahoma City, all who could use Allen and have the cap space to make real offers.
As for the potential deal, I would expect the floor to be the deal to be a 4 years $60 million, or $15 million per year. That number could get up to around $20-$23 million per year if a team like Charlotte really thinks he is the long term answer at the 5 for them.
- Lonzo Ball: Ball has not been enjoying a great contract year up to this point. He's putting up 12 points on 39/29/58 shooting splits, 4.7 assists and.3.8 boards a game and just hasn't looked great all year. Some of it may be due to team fit, as he's playing alongside multiple non-shooters in Eric Bledsoe, Zion Williamson and Steven Adams and another primary ballhandler in Brandon Ingram. He has shown flashes of his game where he looks like a legit point guard, especially in his passing and his defense, but just hasn't been able to put it together on a consistent basis. His career shooting numbers are concerning to say the least.
However, there is still value in a player with Lonzo Ball's skillset, it just depends on the team around him. According to Shams Charania, the Pelicans are taking calls on Ball to feel out his value around the league in a potential deal. Capped-out teams with lots of shooters like Minnesota or Golden State could trade for Ball and utilize his defensive and passing alongside point guards like Steph Curry or D'Angelo Russell. Phoenix could trade for him in preparation for a post CP3 world. Cap space teams like the Thunder or Knicks or even the Heat could take a gamble on the former second overall pick's talents and sign him to an offer sheet.
If your Ball and his agent(s), any deal negotiations probably starts out at the $17 million per year number that Markelle Fultz got. There almost assuredly is no future in New Orleans for Ball at that number, hence the trade talks. It will be interesting where Ball ends up signing and how much he signs for. His offseason may be the most intriguing of all the restricted free agents.
- John Collins: Collins has been enjoying a productive year in Atlanta, putting up 16.7 points and 7.7 rebounds a game on impressive shooting splits of of 53.6/41.4/81.6. Collins' ability to both roll and pop in the ball screen has been an invaluable asset for Trae Young, as those two have a special connection in the pick-and-roll. Collins has shown the ability to play either frontcourt spot, although the team defense hasn't been great with him at center.
Normally extending Collins would be a no-brainer for Atlanta, but the players already on the team under contract past this season give the signal that an extension may be no sure thing. Consider this, the Atlanta Hawks both drafted and signed players that play the same position as Collins in Onyeka Okongwu and Danilo Gallinari. Couple that with the breakout season of Deandre Hunter and impending max extension of Trae Young, and it is starting to look dicey for a deal with Collins. Any deal north of $20 million per season already puts the Hawks near luxury tax territory. A deal within the $25-$30 million range almost assuredly puts them in the tax. Are the Hawks comfortable locking into this core for the future?
There will be competition in the marketplace. Dallas would be a dream fit for Collins, although they may have to make some moves to clear the space required. A Collins Porzingis frontcourt with Luka running point would be a dream. San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and New York have a lot of cap space to burn and Collins fits their timelines well. Miami is always lurking. Collins has been too productive and fits the modern NBA to a tee to not get a deal in the 4 year $90-$100 million range.
- Lauri Markkanen: Markkanen has been a bit streaky so far in his NBA career, but he's got the skillset to be a very good player. He's a mobile 7-footer with a good shot and range out past the three-point line. He's nominally a power forward but can handle minutes as a stretch center as well. He's averaging almost 19 points a game this year, canning 2.6 threes a game at a 37% clip. It seems that he has responded well under Billy Donovan compared to his prior play under former Bulls coach Jim Boylen.
This contract negotiation might be the most interesting of the bunch. It was reported that Bulls FO and Markkanen were far apart on an extension number. There are a number of factors that could play into this. First, the Bulls have a new head of basketball operations, Arturas Karnisovas, and he could want the season to evaluate and hold off on an extension before this season. Also, the team has a new head coach in Billy Donovan and the front office could want to see how he and Markkanen gel. Additionally, Lauri has not been real healthy throughout his career and this could be a red flag in a long-term deal.
You have to think that Markkanen and his representation look at the deal that Jonathan Isaac got, around $20 million per year, and tell Chicago that's the deal they want. It will be interesting to see how the Bulls respond and what deal eventually gets offered, if any. Markkanen could see numerous offers from other suitors in San Antonio, New York, Oklahoma City, or even Charlotte.
Tier 2: Intriguing Role Players
The next crop of restricted free agents from the 2017 draft class are a group of players that have been productive role players or still have unrealized potential. These players include Josh Hart, Zach Collins, Frank Ntilikina, and Tony Bradley.
- Josh Hart: Hart has been a consistent role player since he first stepped foot on an NBA court. He's a smart defender and can guard multiple positions. Additionally, he is one of the better rebounding guards in the league. He's currently 40th in the league in rebounds per game, above names like Myles Turner and Deandre Jordan. Offensively, Hart is a decent shooter who makes smart plays. He would be a rotation player on any team in the league, and can stay on the floor during crunch time of a playoff game. I envision Hart getting a deal in the same vein as the one Norman Powell got in the summer of 2018, 4 years $42 million or so. With the glut of guards the Pelicans have on the roster, it will be interesting to see where their discussions with Hart and his representation lead to.
- Zach Collins: If Collins were able to stay healthy, he would probably be in Tier One. Unfortunately, it seems that he is just never able to stay on the floor. He is currently out indefinitely after having ankle surgery. It is no surprise that there was no extension agreement between Portland and Collins before this season. His health just doesn't permit the Blazers to sign him to any long-term deal. He has shown potential as a stretch big that also projects as a good defender. Teams could roll the dice and sign him to a long-term deal at great value and hope the injury bug doesn't flare up again. It will be interesting to see at what number Collins signs for, and especially for how many years.
- Tony Bradley: Bradley has shown that he is capable as serving as a backup center. After serving in that role behind Rudy Gobert in Utah last year, he's now the third big on the roster behind Joel Embiid and Dwight Howard in Philadelphia. He projects as a good rim protector and rim-runner, doing the little things on both ends such as rebounding and screening. He could play similar roles to Khem Birch in Orlando or Nerlens Noel in New York. He doesn't project to be expensive by any means, and teams could look to sign Bradley as a cheap option at backup center. Expect a deal around the $5-$7 million annual range.
- Frank Ntilikina: Ntilikina's career to date certainly has not impressed many. He has struggled to get consistent playing time in New York and hasn't been able to put together consistent performances. He has shown that he can defend at a high level, but he hasn't been able to stay on the floor due to his offensive play. There is still potential in his game, though. He will always be able to defend, and a team could bet on their player development department to turn him into an average shooter. He could follow a similar path to Dante Exum, who took a little while to fully develop in Utah and finally was enjoying some success in Cleveland before the injury and trade to Houston. Ntilikina could be a low cost, developmental flier for teams that could pay off in the long run.
Nick Thoreson is a young professional working in finance who is passionate about the NBA and especially all things salary cap related.