Today’s column discusses the free-agency and personnel outlook for the five teams in the Pacific Division, focusing on the players whose immediate futures are uncertain. There aren’t many teams with copious salary-cap space, which should result in plenty of smaller deals, cap-clearing transactions and clever use of the Collective Bargaining Agreement’s detailed bylaws. If you missed the previous four Division previews, you can check them out right here:
Draft Picks: 28
Salary Cap Projection: -$2.6m (via Spotrac)
The reigning champs are sitting pretty this offseason. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Jordan Bell, Quinn Cook and Damian Jones all remain under guaranteed deals next season. The headline personnel move involves Kevin Durant, but he's already said he'll re-sign with the Warriors as they seek a three-peat (he said they need to sort out "small details").
Steve Kerr and the Warriors have mutual interest in a contract extension, with Kerr saying that negotiations should go “quickly.” Warriors owner Joe Lacob may not have as much luck getting Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to also sign extensions, as he recently said he hoped to do this summer. "All good things cost a lot," Lacob said. "[Maybe Thompson and Green] want to wait until free agency. I can't control that.” It didn’t take long for a report to surface that Draymond, at least, might do exactly that – he’s expected to decline an extension and seek a huge payday in 2019. So far, there have been no concrete reports about Klay’s inclinations.
There isn’t much else in flux for the Warriors. Kevon Looney increased his asking price in free agency, leaving some uncertainty there. Golden State can match offers for Patrick McCaw – but like Durant, McCaw said he would "love" to stay with the team, adding, "There's no other place I'd rather be." JaVale McGee could re-sign as an unrestricted FA this summer, while a recent report from The Athletic suggests it's a "sure thing" that Nick Young, David West and Zaza Pachulia will leave town (or possibly retire, for West and Pachulia). In any case, the Warriors' front office will have a queue of ring-chasing role players willing to accept a pay cut. Plus, they're already considering buying a second-round pick as they did last season with Jordan Bell, and before that with McCaw in 2016.
Draft Picks: 12, 13
Salary Cap Projection: -$12.4m
DeAndre Jordan said in April that he'd had "zero discussions" with L.A. about a contract extension and hadn't decided whether to decline his $24.1 million option. If he does decline, it will be interesting to see which teams show interest in a 29-year-old big man who averaged 12.0 points and a career-high 15.2 rebounds last season. There aren’t many teams with the financial wiggle-room to afford him, which could drastically narrow the field. Austin Rivers ($12.6m) and Milos Teodosic ($6.3m) also have player options, but it seems more likely they'll opt-in at those salaries.
Avery Bradley will be unrestricted, Montrezl Harrell will be restricted, and L.A. doesn't have to fully guarantee Patrick Beverley's deal until January. He was cleared for basketball activities in June, though, so it should be an easy 'yes' for the Clippers at $5.0 million. A huge factor is L.A.’s back-to-back lottery picks at Nos. 12 and 13, which could be used to fill voids that might otherwise require free agent signings or trades. They could even try to trade up in the draft, and either way they’re in position to completely overhaul the team within a few years – Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams are the only players with guaranteed deals in 2019-20. This could be a make-or-break summer for Doc Rivers, Lawrence Frank and the rest of the Clippers’ braintrust.
Draft Picks: 25, 47
Salary Cap Projection: $61.8m
The Lakers are the talk of free agency. In addition to the glitz and glamor of L.A., they can offer a global market and gobs of money to elite FAs. With multiple max-salary slots available, rumors are already buzzing about superstar groupings – LeBron James and Paul George are popular options. They have all that cash because of numerous affordable deals still on the books – Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Ivica Zubac will earn $18 million combined. That's the same amount they'll pay to Luol Deng each of the next two seasons, which is the only financial smirch on the Lakers' books.
Julius Randle is an unknown variable right now. He's a restricted FA who has expressed a desire to re-sign in L.A., but his agent admitted in May that they have "no indication of where Julius stands among the Lakers' priorities ... or if he is a priority at all." If he signs an expensive offer sheet early in free agency, the Lakers may have no choice but to let him walk in favor of their higher-profile targets.
Elsewhere, we find veterans Brook Lopez, Isaiah Thomas, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Channing Frye all hitting the open market. BroLo said in April that he was "open" to returning with L.A. at a discount if he felt they could win a championship, but players say a lot of things in free agency. There are no clear indications where Thomas or KCP might end up, but at least KCP is healthy and coming off a strong season. IT declared his troublesome hip "pain-free" in May, but teams will assuredly be wary after his disastrous 2017-18 campaign. Perhaps signaling their willingness to let KCP leave this summer, the Lakers are reportedly hoping to trade up from No. 25 to draft 3-and-D swingman Zhaire Smith.
Draft Picks: 1, 16, 31, 59
Salary Cap Projection: $13.2m
With so many young players on affordable deals, the Suns have money to play with this offseason. Brandon Knight is slated to be their highest-earning player at $14.6m, followed by Tyson Chandler ($13.5m), T.J. Warren ($11.7m) and Jared Dudley ($9.5m). Alex Len comes off the books as an unrestricted FA and Phoenix has partially- or non-guaranteed deals for Alan Williams ($5.5m), Tyler Ulis ($1.5m), Davon Reed ($1.3m) and Shaquille Harrison ($1.3m).
Of course, the Suns also boast a promising group of young guys including Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender – the cherry on top is the No. 1 pick in the draft, followed by Nos. 16, 31 and 59. DeAndre Ayton is rapidly becoming the consensus pick at No. 1. That takes pressure off the Suns to add a center via free agency since Len is unrestricted, Chandler is on the decline and Williams’ future is uncertain. There will assuredly be some free-agency moves that impact the Suns in 2018-19, but the crux of their offseason is drafting wisely and developing existing talent.
Draft Picks: 2, 37
Salary Cap Projection: $24.5m
Iman Shumpert recently opted into his $11 million player option, which was a simple choice since he’d make far less money in free agency. He’s actually the second-highest-paid player on the roster behind Zach Randolph ($11.6m), and both guys will have negligible fantasy value as veteran leaders on a rebuilding team. Garrett Temple has yet to opt into his own $8.0m player option but that should be inevitable for the same reasons as Shumpert – he’s a 32-year-old defensive specialist who wouldn’t earn anywhere near that price-point as a free agent.
Kosta Koufos is in the same boat as the aforementioned veterans, with an expiring deal that will pay him $8.7m next season. He held a surprisingly steady role last year with 6.7 points. 6.6 rebounds. 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.5 blocks in 19.6 per game, but that wasn’t nearly enough for value in most leagues. Expect even less in 2018-19. To wrap up the veteran-review portion of the Kings’ roster, Vince Carter’s contract ended in 2017-18 and he’s unrestricted. Carter said in April that he plays to play next season but is “90 percent sure” that will be the end of his NBA career.
With most of their veterans returning on expiring deals, the Kings have a ton of flexibility as they look to the future. The group of promising young guys under contract includes De’Aaron Fox, Willy Cauley-Stein, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Skal Labissiere, Frank Mason, Harry Giles and Justin Jackson. The Kings hold team options or non-guaranteed deals for most of those players in 2019-20, with the lone exception being WCS, who could become a restricted FA.
The unavoidable decisions Sacramento faces this summer involve whom to draft at Nos. 2 and 37, and (less importantly) whether to extend Bruno Caboclo a $3.5m qualifying offer. After being traded from Toronto last year, Caboclo averaged just 2.6 points on 31.0% shooting in 10 appearances for the Kings. He’s still just 22 years old but the ‘give him a few years to develop’ excuse has worn thin. Considering their existing core of young talent, and the prospect of massive cap space with veteran deals expiring next summer, the Kings could be content to add a stud with the No. 2 pick – don’t expect them to splurge on a productive veteran at the expense of long-term flexibility.
That concludes the Pacific Division free-agency overview...check back soon for the final installment of my free agency previews!