When the NBA season resumes in Orlando, some players will have more at stake than just the chance to win this historic and unusual championship.
While it won’t quite have the March Madness atmosphere of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament that helps college prospects standout for the NBA Draft, the recency bias of “what have you done for me lately?” can help some upcoming free agents stand out.
One front office executive in the Eastern Conference explained the impact that these games can have on contracts (via ESPN):
“Everybody has done their work. So you can only go down … They can only get worse. Maybe some third-tier guy plays well and moves up a tier, but the top-tier guys can only get worse. That work is already done.”
That is exactly why some upcoming free agents (e.g. Washington Wizards sharpshooter Davis Bertans) may decide not to play and instead opt to lose 1.09 percent of their salary for each game missed.
Players like Bertans and Brooklyn’s Joe Harris, previously expected to “at least double” his money when his contract expires during the offseason, have likely already done enough to solidify their earning potential.
But the following players are the ones worth watching the closest when they suit up for their teams in Orlando.
Montrezl Harrell, LA Clippers
Montrezl Harrell, who was a finalist for NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2019, plays a crucial role for the Clippers. The two-man lineup of Harrell and Lou Williams has played more minutes together than any other combination of players for the team. Harrell has the third-most points scored as the roll man in pick-and-roll sets (241) among all players in the Western Conference, per Synergy. He is a savvy defender who has recorded the most charges drawn (30) in the league. One league executive gave ESPN’s Tim Bontemps a range of between $12 million to $18 million for Harrell on the open market.
Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder
The Miami Heat nearly landed Oklahoma City’s Danilo Gallinari at the trade deadline. However, the two sides had trouble agreeing to an extension. At the time, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor projected that Gallinari “should earn more money” by waiting until the summer. Our own Yossi Gozlan noted that Gallinari could receive a max deal of $26.5 million. Unfortunately, all of the financial circumstances have since changed due to the global pandemic that will have an inevitable hit on basketball-related income in the CBA. He will have options, though, as Oklahoma City may want to keep him in the mix given the success they have had. The New York Knicks, who selected Gallinari at No. 6 overall in the 2008 NBA Draft, are another rumored suitor.
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
Toronto’s Fred VanVleet is the poster child of someone who does the dirty work for his team. For example, he ranks third-best for defensive loose balls recovered per game (0.8) so far this season. Before the pandemic hit, ESPN’s Bobby Marks projected that VanVleet could earn between $25 million and $30 million on his annual paycheck. The guard has said that he would re-sign with the Raptors “in a perfect world” but with Kyle Lowry on their roster, it may be hard for the front office to justify such a price tag. Meanwhile, if he returns to the form he had in the 2019 postseason, it is easy to imagine a rival franchise like the Detroit Pistons deciding that he would fit as a longterm starter.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Sacramento Kings
The Athletic’s Jason Jones has reported that the “top priority” for the Sacramento Kings is to re-sign restricted free agent Bogdan Bogdanovic. Jones also reported that Sacramento plans to match any offer sheet that their wing signs with another team. Until then, note that three players on the Kings (Buddy Hield, Jabari Parker and Alex Len) have reportedly tested positive for coronavirus. While it is unclear how that impact playing time when the team joins the bubble in Sacramento, it could spell more playing time for Bogdanovic.
Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz
Utah’s Jordan Clarkson has been a nice addition as a scoring option off the bench for the Utah Jazz. According to The Athletic’s Tony Jones, Utah’s front office would be happy to bring him back to the team on a player-friendly, short-term deal. Before he was traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Jazz had the second-worst scoring average (26.9) from their bench. Since he joined the squad, that number (36.3) increased considerably. The Jazz also bragged an offensive rating (117.5) that ranked in the 96th percentile when Clarkson was on the court, per Cleaning the Glass.
Marcus Morris, LA Clippers
The Athletic’s Jovan Buha reported that the Clippers are interested in re-signing Marcus Morris. Considering that the front office will be over the cap, it will be harder for the franchise to add a replacement for talent like Morris. Especially after the organization traded away recent lottery pick Jerome Robinson and a 2020 first-rounder to land Morris, the investment is far more beneficial with the forward on the roster for longer. If he helps the Clippers in their hunt for a title, the 6-foot-9 forward could be a longterm rotation piece.
Jerami Grant, Denver Nuggets
Denver’s Jerami Grant recently told Yahoo’s Chris Haynes that he does not intend to pick up his player option for $9 million. Even though the security of guaranteed money would be very appealing amidst so much uncertainty, The Athletic’s Nick Kosmider reported that Grant and the Nuggets are “pushing toward” some kind of future commitment beyond just next season. The forward has been crucial in their offensive identity as a threat during pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop opportunities. He has also ranked as one of the most accurate three-point shooters among big men, per Cleaning the Glass.
Jae Crowder, Miami Heat
Back in March, Jae Crowder told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald that he intended to re-sign with the Heat. Meanwhile, The Athletic’s Andre Fernandez included the Golden State Warriors as potential suitors. Since landing with Miami, per Synergy, Crowder has averaged 1.17 points per possession (95th percentile) on his offensive finishes. His marksmanship from downtown (39.3 percent) has been near a career-best for the Heat. He has been shooting better off the dribble, connecting on 9-for-15 (60.0 percent) when creating his own look than usual.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Los Angeles Lakers
Now that the Los Angeles Lakers will be without Avery Bradley when the season resumes in Orlando, 27-year-old wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is going to have an opportunity to play a bigger role for his team. The Lakers were able to outscore opponents by 6.4 points per 100 possessions when Caldwell-Pope was on the court without Bradley, per NBAWowy. He also averaged 13.9 points per 36 minutes during his minutes that he did not share with Bradley but just 10.7 points per 36 alongside Bradley. With his strong defensive presence and some hot shooting nights, Caldwell-Pope could be a candidate to opt-out of his player option for a more alluring long-term deal.
Derrick Jones Jr., Miami Heat
Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. reportedly tested positive for coronavirus, though he is considered asymptomatic. The 23-year-old previously said that he was “willing to accept the risk” of playing during the bubble season, despite a potential injury hurting the chances of him otherwise receiving an estimated “eight-figure” salary. Jones has said that his focus is on helping the organization win a title and that he wants to play for the Heat on his next deal. Jones has also been linked to the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But as noted by The Athletic’s John Hollinger, the high-flying wing would be a fantastic option for any “up-tempo” offense.
Harry Giles, Sacramento Kings
After the Sacramento Kings declined the fourth-year option for big man Harry Giles, the franchise is now only able to pay Giles up to $3.98 million this offseason. He was tasked with a “prove-it” season by the front office for Sacramento, per NBC Sports’ James Ham, but he has since reportedly fallen back into the “good graces” of executives for the team. The 22-year-old former first-rounder had played very well when he was in the first unit for the franchise. He averaged 17.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per 36 minutes in the seventeen games that he appeared in the starting lineup for the Kings. Ham also reported that the team received multiple trade offers for Giles, which is a good sign for his potential suitors in free agency, but Sacramento declined.
The following players are all talented NBA veterans who have done enough in their professional careers to garner interest around the league this offseason. For all of these names, while a minimum deal will absolutely be available, strong play in Orlando could lead to the security offered by a multi-year contract.
Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors
Goran Dragic, Miami Heat
Derrick Favors, New Orleans Pelicans
Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors
Reggie Jackson, LA Clippers
Wesley Matthews, Milwaukee Bucks
Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets
Nerlens Noel, Oklahoma City Thunder
Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers