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.