After a breakout season, Davis Bertans decided he’d done enough. Bertans chose not to join the Wizards for the NBA resumption at Disney World. He’ll bide his time before free agency, where he’ll almost certainly cash in.
Many more impending free agents are hitting and trying not to bust.
NBA players seeking new contracts this offseason will face a tough environment. Economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic will reduce revenue and owners’ discretionary spending. Even optimistic projections for next season have the salary cap remaining roughly flat (with greater salary withholding) – a disapointment after expected 5% growth.
With cap room dashed around the league, there will be greater importance in impending free agents impressing their own teams, which can re-sign players through Bird Rights. And, of course, there’s still value in creating leverage with the few teams that have cap space or are willing to spend the full mid-level exception.
For some players, the seeding games, potential play-in games and playoffs could be particularly important.
These are not the best impending free agents. Lakers star Anthony Davis will get max offers no matter what happens the rest of the season. Plenty of other impending free agents have already shown their level of play and are unlikely to swing their fortunes in this condensed finish.
Here are the impending free agents with the widest range of possible outcomes based on how the rest of the season goes:
Marcus Morris, forward, Clippers
The Clippers reportedly offered Morris a three-year, $41 million contract last summer. He instead signed a one-year deal with the Knicks (after initially committing to the Spurs)… then got traded to the Clippers. Obviously, L.A. has some interest. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer also has the deep pockets and winning desire to keep spending amid the economic downturn. As third forward behind Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Morris is more of a luxury. A luxury the Clippers are willing to pay big for? It probably depends how well Morris fits the rest of the way – and how far L.A. goes. The cap-space teams skew younger and might not have interest in the 30-year-old Morris. His most likely path, by far, to a contract above the mid-level exception is with the Clippers.
Jerami Grant, power forward, Nuggets
Paul Millsap, power forward, Nuggets
By trading a first-round pick for Grant last summer, Denver clearly signaled an intent to re-sign him. Grant has been solid at power forward. The 26-year-old could definitely make sense with the Nuggets long-term. But he hasn’t quite played well enough to absolutely seize the long-term job. At 35, Millsap remains steady, and his interior defense particularly covers well for Nikola Jokic. Millsap helps Denver win right now, and Denver is eager to win right now. But how long will he remain this good? How will expensive will he be? For that matter, how expensive will Grant be? Could Michael Porter Jr. or even Bol Bol be ready for larger roles sooner than later? Though the Nuggets will be allowed to re-sign both Grant and Millsap at any price based on salary-cap rules, the luxury-tax line (or lower) will likely serve as a hard cap. The playoffs could clarify which power forward Denver will pay.
Derrick Jones Jr., forward, Heat
Miami is clearly prioritizing 2021 free agency. That’s why – even if re-signing free agents like Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder and Meyers Leonard – the Heat are are unlikely to give multi-year guarantees. Jones could be the exception. He’s just 23, already helpful and still has clear areas for growth. Jones’ length and athleticism make him a defensive weapon, especially in Erik Spoelstra’s creative schemes. The reigning dunk contest champion, Jones is an excellent finisher with emerging shooting range. This is the time for him to convince Miami it’s important enough to keep him despite complications in 2021.
De’Anthony Melton, guard, Grizzlies
Ja Morant gets – and deserves – so much credit for lifting Memphis. But the Grizzlies have actually been outscored with him on the court. Make no mistake: There’s a lot of value in a rookie point guard who can lead a starting lineup to break nearly even against other starters. But the Grizzlies have really made their hay with their reserves – particularly Melton. He’s a menace defensively and good secondary ball-handler/passer. There are still plenty of rough edges with his game – outside shooting, turnovers (especially when playing point guard). But the 22-year-old will make for a compelling restricted free agent, particularly to the young teams with cap space. Melton is big enough to get an expanded role at Disney World with small forward Justise Winslow sidelined.
John Konchar, wing, Grizzlies
Konchar was incredibly productive in college. He shot 2-pointers efficiently. He shot 3-pointers efficiently. He rebounded. He defended. He passed. The only drawback: He was doing all that at IPFW (Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne). So, he went undrafted last year. But after signing a two-way contract with Memphis, Konchar is playing similarly effectively – in the NBA! He has played just 167 minutes with the Grizzlies, so sample-size caveats obviously apply. But he had cracked the rotation when the season got suspended, and there’s plenty of interest in seeing more. With a strong finish, the impending restricted free agent could tempt a risk-taking team into an offer sheet Memphis would find difficult to match.
Mike D’Antoni, coach, Rockets
After an unfruitful summer of contract negotiations, D’Antoni coached the Rockets on the last year of his deal this season. And coached them well. His offensive creativity helped unlock a small-ball lineup that features, depending on your perspective, either P.J. Tucker or Russell Westbrook at center. But it’s still unclear whether Houston will keep D’Antoni. Most teams would’ve extended him by now. So, a breakup appears likely – unless D’Antoni forces the Rockets’ hand with a deep playoff run. Though moderate postseason success might not be enough to save his job in Houston, D’Antoni could gain interest from other teams. So much of his arguments about continuing to coach despite his age putting him at high risk of severe symptoms if he contracts coronavirus seem to be predicated on an underlying argument: He wants to keep coaching beyond this season.