Bernucca: The top 10 restricted free agents

Yesterday, we ran down the top 20 unrestricted free agents.

Today, we look at the top 10 restricted free agents, which is a little trickier.

By and large, restricted free agents are all on their rookie contract, which provides guaranteed money that can establish the starting point for negotiations. And that’s where it gets tricky.

JaVale McGee made $2.46 million this season and has a qualifying offer for $3.49 million next season. Both figures are well below what starting centers receive. But how high do the Denver Nuggets go to keep him?

Do the Nuggets offer McGee the $60 million over five years that Chicago gave Joakim Noah? Or do they offer an equivalent to the $8.3 million annually given to Anderson Varejao? Or do they let another team set the market, then decide whether or not to match?

McGee is just 24 and has displayed both erratic play and behavior, which also is a factor when investing in your team’s future. No one wants to give $50 million to a knucklehead.

Many of these guys should remain with their current teams, who can give them more money and exceed the cap to retain them. But you never know when a team with cap room that is desperate to improve will overpay to get the player they want.

Here is a rundown on the top 10, with five more to watch.

1. ERIC GORDON: You have to love his spirit, coming back to play seven games in a lost season when he could have tapped out and showing flashes of the 22.3 points he averaged a season ago with the Clippers. But he has missed 100-plus games over the last three years and still knows very little about winning in the NBA — although he was a key player for Team USA at the 2010 World Championship, beating out Stephen Curry as the team’s go-to shooter. DESTINATION: Having the top pick certainly helps the Hornets, who have said they want another team to set the market for Gordon. That could be dangerous with about a half-dozen teams interested, including the Pacers in his home state of Indiana. THE RIGHT PRICE: Four years, $50 million.

2. RYAN ANDERSON: The NBA’s Most Improved Player (even though he wasn’t) isn’t going to be a part of any Dwight Howard trade because he is the only young stud the Magic have. His offensive effectiveness was greatly enhanced by Howard’s presence, so Orlando’s GM – whomever that ends up being – has to be smart about what pieces he puts around Anderson. DESTINATION: Hard to see him going anywhere else. THE RIGHT PRICE: Four years, $45 million. The Magic cannot max him out, because it will set the market for other good but not great players on their roster.

3. NICOLAS BATUM: He was a reserve when unsuccessfully negotiating an extension, and there was some bad blood. His agent said, “The Blazers had their chance.” But Portland traded Gerald Wallace, elevating Batum to starter status and perhaps bridging the gap between the sides – as long as Batum’s camp isn’t holding a grudge. He had career highs in scoring, rebounding and 3-point shooting and is just 23 and incredibly athletic. DESTINATION: So much depends on the initial tone in negotiations. If it sours, Batum could end up in Charlotte or Phoenix, both of which have cap room and a hole at small forward. THE RIGHT PRICE: Four years, $40 million. Batum has upside, but not max player upside.

4. ROY HIBBERT: He came into his own this season, becoming an All-Star, raising his defensive numbers and showing his ability to impact playoff games. Before the Pacers address needs in free agency or talk to George Hill, they need to lock up Hibbert to keep moving up the title contention ladder. DESTINATION: Hibbert is not going anywhere. The Pacers might allow another team in need of a center to set the market, then match the offer. THE RIGHT PRICE: Four years, $50 million. He is not a max center – not yet, anyway – but probably will get the max.

5. JAVALE MCGEE: Nuggets coach George Karl compared him to Connie Hawkins, probably not the best thing to do when your GM is about to negotiate a contract with McGee’s agent. Yes, McGee is the long-term answer in the pivot. But he averaged just 21 minutes per game after the trade in which Denver gave up Nene, can’t make free throws and still has way too many lapses in judgment both off and on the court. DESTINATION: What if Rockets GM Daryl Morey – who chased Marc Gasol last offseason – renounces Marcus Camby, doesn’t pick up the option on Samuel Dalembert and makes a max run at McGee? Can the Nuggets afford not to match? Probably not. THE RIGHT PRICE: Four years, $36 million. But he will get more, deservedly or not. Centers get overpaid in the Association.

6. O.J. MAYO: Because he was such a high draft pick, Mayo already makes starter money ($7.4 million qualifying offer) but has been a reserve for two seasons. In that time, the Grizzlies have backed up the Brinks truck for Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and have $50 million-plus committed to that trio plus Rudy Gay through 2015. It is highly possible that Memphis could turn Mayo loose. DESTINATION: Mayo could help contenders such as Boston and Chicago get younger and more athletic at the 2-guard. THE RIGHT PRICE: Four years, $30 million, if he has a skillful agent.

7. BROOK LOPEZ: He figures to be the key piece heading to Orlando in a potential Dwight Howard deal, which makes him an ideal candidate for a lucrative extension via a sign-and-trade to make the money match. That is a bit risky given that he played just five games this season due to a broken foot and sprained ankle, but he never missed a game before that. A scoring center who leaves something to be desired on the backboards and needs a thug next to him. DESTINATION: Orlando in a sign-and-trade. THE RIGHT PRICE: Four years, $40 million. He is not a max player.

8. MICHAEL BEASLEY: There was serious interest in him at the trading deadline because he can flat-out score. But he is coming off the worst season of his career, hasn’t gotten any better since entering the league in 2008 and has some off-court issues in his past. His qualifying offer is nearly $8.2 million – which Minnesota might offer to keep him as a trade asset. DESTINATION: Moving on, because the Timberwolves have to clear the position for Derrick Williams. The Lakers showed interest at the deadline. The Bobcats, Kings and Suns all have cap room and could use his scoring at the 3-spot. THE RIGHT PRICE: Three years, $24 million. He needs to show maturity.

9. JEREMY LIN: The arbitration case to determine whether the Knicks have Bird rights on Lin and Steve Novak (both claimed on waivers) will go a long way toward determining his future. After setting the basketball world on its ear, Lin won’t be a minimum player anymore. The Knicks would love to win the arbitration case and exceed the cap to re-sign him and save their mid-level exception for someone else – like Steve Nash. Keep in mind that Lin’s body of work, while solid, was two months. DESTINATION: Really can’t see the Knicks letting a draw like Lin get away, even at the expense of Nash. Portland needs a point and could make a serious offer, as could Dallas and Denver. THE RIGHT PRICE: Four years, $21 million.

10. GEORGE HILL: He will be priority No. 2 for the Pacers, but they cannot underestimate his value as a combo guard. He took Darren Collison’s starting point spot late in the season and was solid in the playoffs, as he had been for the Spurs. Just 26, his qualifying offer is about $3.1 million, and Indiana has the cap room to keep him around. DESTINATION: Hard to see the Pacers letting him go unless they put the full-court press on Gordon. If so, the Wizards, Jazz, Blazers, Suns or Mavs may pounce with a big offer. THE RIGHT PRICE: Four years, $28 million.

FIVE MORE TO TRACK: Omer Asik, C; Jerryd Bayless, G; Aaron Brooks, G; J.J. Hickson, F; Jason Thompson, F.

Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.

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  1. Thomas says

    I’m gonna laugh for week straight if someone gives Anderson $11 per – probably be Dumars if he had it.

    • Chris says

      Sorry, I missed the sale of the franchise from the Dolan family to Amir.
      They could have Howard if they were willing to part with Chandler and Melo (and take back Turkoglu); dunno if they will, although I believe they won’t contend with Melo at the controls. Trading Melo is an admittal that acquiring him was a mistake.
      They have to wait on arbitrator’s decision on Lin and Novak; unlikely that it will be favorable, which means Lin can only get mid-level, which then cannot be used on someone like Nash, whom they also want. Nash would help because his presence takes ball out of Melo’s hands and forces him to actually play basketball – pass, cut, screen, etc. If no Nash, then maybe Hinrich or Dooling on vet minimum.
      Personally, I think they should try to re-sign Jeffries and Walker, pick up option on Harrellson and cut bait with everyone else except maybe Fields and try to keep him on the cheap. They should try to trade Toney Douglas. They also need a real backup center at vet minimum. Dampier? Jason Collins?
      Knicks are in same boat as Heat – really can’t change top 7 much unless they do something drastic. Elsewhere, it’s just shuffling guys at end of roster. Thanks for reading.

  2. Jared Jammer says

    Really bad rankings, in my opinion. There’s not a team in the league who would take a run-of-the-mill, one-dimensional SF like Batum over an All-Center center with legitimate center size in Hibbert. Not one. McGee and Lopez, too, would go ahead of Batum, even with the latter’s injuries.

    1. Roy Hibbert – Scoring ability. Rebounding. Shot blocking. Passing. Elite size. Great work ethic. All-Star. There’s no way Hibbert’s not #1 on this list.

    2. Eric Gordon – Could be #1 if not for career-derailing injuries. He’s got the potential to be near the top of the list of the next generation of SG’s, along with James Harden, but he has to stay healthy.

    3. Brook Lopez – Elite post scorer and shot blocker who has to improve his rebounding.

    4. Javale McGee – Questionable intelligence and maturity, but elite physical gifts. Productive.

    5. Ryan Anderson – Oversized SF who disappeared in the playoffs. Still, he’s the league’s M.I.P. for a reason: He can produce. Someone will have visions of turning him into their own Dirk and offer him a hefty payday.

    6. Nicolas Batum – Good young prospect, albeit somewhat one-dimensional. I’d put him on par with Arron Afflalo, who ended up overpaid last season. Portland overvalues their talent more than any other fanbase in the league, in my opinion.

    7. Jeremy Lin – He has to prove he’s for real for an entire year, but he showed lengthy flashes of utter brilliance.

    8. George Hill – Fairly productive comboguard who’s done nothing but win in his career.

    9. Michael Beasley – He’s not what he was expected to be, but he can still put the ball in the hole at a high level.

    10. Jason Thompson – Reasonably skilled big with good size. Someone’s gonna take a chance on him.

    Mayo’s past two seasons have exposed him as nothing more than mediocre. Sure, there are still someone people who view him as a potential star due to his pre-NBA hype, but NBA GM’s aren’t that stupid. I’d be shocked if he got more than the MLE.

    • Chris Bernucca says

      Jared,

      You are entitled to your opinion, and big man value probably cannot be overstated. However, I would not qualify Batum as one-dimensional. He certainly defends and has shown he can score when given limited opportunity. I know folks are high on Jason Thompson – he is in my five more to track – but maybe I’m just watching at the wrong times because he never impresses me. Thanks for reading.

  3. Alex says

    Hey Chris,

    You mentioned the nets trying to include Lopez & Humpries in a possible sign and trade for Howard. Is that really still a possibility, especially since they don’t have their pick this year? It seemed like the Nets were hoping for the #1 pick to try and trade to Orlando (which made no sense to begin with). The Gerald Wallace trade looks worse everyday.

    • Chris Bernucca says

      The thought process is that to take Howard, the Nets also have to take Turkoglu, which Sheridan’s sources have said they are willing to do. That’s $30.6 million in salaries and even with a 150 percent window that means the Nets would have to send back $22.5 million or so. Lopez at $10M, Humphries at $8M and Green at $4M gets it done and they can go up from there.
      Greater concern may be lack of high pick. That might mean Nets have to include two future No. 1s or one with Marshon Brooks. Remember, Howard’s boy is Anthony Morrow, not Brooks.
      Wallace trade was ridiculous unless DWill held their feet to the fire. Given Wallace’s contract, Okur’s $10 million slot may have been more valuable. Thanks for reading

  4. Joey says

    Maybe I’m naive about the penchant of GMs to overpay but a lot of those prices seem high. It would be pretty amusing though if Beasley ended up on the Kings.

    • Chris Bernucca says

      Don’t we say that every offseason? Look at Nene and Marcus Thornton and Caron Butler last offseason. Will be interesting to see how Kings use cap room because owners have cried poor in an effort to get out of arena deal. Thanks for reading

  5. Cory says

    I cringe at the thought of JaVale McGee making $9+ million a year. The basketball he goal tends every game has a higher IQ than him.

    It’s also funny that the lockout’s goal was to stop giving ridiculous contracts to undeserving players, but there will be a handful of teams willing to give McGee a $40 million dollar deal. Maybe the right coach and change of scenery is what it took to set him straight as the McGee in Denver was a different player than the McGee in Washington. If he plays like he did in the playoffs, he might be worth that money, but that’s a relatively small sample size compared the years in Washington.

    • Chris says

      Cory,

      I agree. NBA salary issue is rarely non-max guys getting max deals (although that happens – look at Brand, Iguodala, Rudy Gay). Bigger issue is $2 million guys (like Chris Andersen and Josh Childress) getting mid-level and mid-level guys (like Jose Calderon and Redick and Hinrich) getting $8-9-10 million. Don’t forget big men have it good because there’s not many of them. Thanks for reading.

  6. says

    You don’t see Toronto maybe overpaying/sign-and-trading for Batum? Seems to both fit what they need (athletic 3 who can defend and score some), and they have some assets (Davis, Amir Johnson, #8 pick)? Or possibly working with Houston to solve their Lowry vs. Dragic conundrum?

    • Chris says

      Sure – they have flexibility and some assets as you say. Remember, this was not a team needs piece. This was who’s out there and where they could land. Toronto just not a marquee landing spot right now. But I’m sure they will upgrade in offseason. They could a lot worse than Batum and he might be a good guy to target based on his agent’s feelings toward POR mgmt.

  7. Sean says

    Nice article–yesterday’s too–but I’m curious why the Raptors aren’t mentioned as a suitor for even one of the 30 players listed here. Huge hole at small forward. Should have tons of cap space.

    • Chris says

      Dunno that anyone’s in a hurry to play there. One of the RFAs might be a prime candidate, because I see TOR having to overpay to lure players. Kinda unfair because Bargnani-DeRozan-Valanciunas is a good start. But that’s just how it is. Thanks for reading.

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