NBA free agency is already heating up, and we haven’t even reached the witching hour.
Teams supposedly have to wait until midnight EDT (10:00 p.m. in Utah) to do business with this year’s class of free agents, but there’s already a report of at least one preliminary agreement, with rough salary figures and all.
In other words: here we go.
It certainly adds to the immediacy of the whole thing, so we better continue along in our scan of the market. Yesterday we considered 92 potential free agent wings in Part I, and now we continue by looking at what bigs — power forward and centers — the Jazz might be inclined to speak with.
The Jazz are apparently set up front with starters Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. The former is a 16 & 8 with defensive versatility that is oh-so-important in today’s NBA, and the latter a rim-protecting prodigy who is extension-eligible starting on Friday (but not a free agent until at least 2017).
Behind them, Trey Lyles has shown flashes of a tantalizing skill set, although he still has a pretty scant résumé, with under 1400 NBA minutes. Centers Jeff Withey1 and Tibor Pleiss are also under contract.
Ideally, whoever earns that fourth big spot will be able to knock down an open jumper now and then. While Favors & Gobert create a formidable defensive presence, they make spacing tough on the other end, and Utah would like to be able to unlock some different lineup combinations that involve scoring threats all over the floor. Lyles shot well as a rookie — 38% from three, including 44% from the corner — but he’s still below average in terms of overall per-possession efficiency.
Now, finding a shooting big who’s available for a reasonable salary and willing to play a complementary role might be a tough order. Let’s try.
Big guns. The biggest gun is Dwight Howard, who could be on the first of signing a $120 million deal somewhere. The other All-Stars are Al Horford, Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol. So far, Utah hasn’t been linked in rumors to any of these guys. Joakim Noah is the guy who is allegedly already off the market, New York-bound for $18 million a year.
Best of the rest. An Al Jefferson reunion is unlikely. Nene is far from his Denver peak2, but is still impactful. Bismack Biyombo and, to a lesser degree, Ian Mahinmi helped their respective free agent values with good postseasons.
Names fans are discussing. The names getting the most traction right now are Jon Leuer and Marvin Williams.
Leuer makes on-paper sense as a legitimate center who shot 38% from three last year, but keep in mind that he has averaged less than 700 minutes a year so far in five NBA seasons3.
A Marv reprise is a cute idea, and I thought Williams had an underrated impact on the young Jazz of a few years ago. He might make more sense in the mold of a big wing that we discussed yesterday, but as he has aged and slowed down, he’s almost exclusively a four now. And that makes him an odd fit alongside Lyles in Utah’s second unit.
And really, that’s the problem with a lot of these names. Most are either pure fours who create bench lineup questions — Williams, Luis Scola, Anthony Tolliver, David Lee — or they’re pure centers who aren’t much of an offensive threat, like Zaza Pachulia, Timofey Mozgov and Cole Aldrich.
Guys I’m just not all that excited about. Ryan Anderson has long been the apple of many Jazz fans’ collective eye. He’s a real shooter with real gravity, so in a vacuum, he makes sense. So why can I just not get excited about him as a Jazz fit? Some of it is his defensive profile, but I think largely it’s the fact that he’s going to be way too pricey as a backup, and yet he’s not good enough to be anything but a marked downgrade from Favors should the Jazz do something bolder where Anderson becomes a starter. Just doesn’t work.
Sneaky candidates. Why aren’t we talking more about Darrell Arthur? Sure, he’s a 4, but he has dragged his range out a few more feet and it starting to take more threes. Also, James Johnson’s name has been bubbling up a bit. He used to be a combo forward, but now plays almost exclusively as a big man. At 6’9″ and 250, he has size to defend inside, and he can also shoot — thought he’s not great from three.
Big guns. Andre Drummond will almost surely be staying put. He’s the one star in this group.
Best of the rest. Houston may not be able to keep both Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones. I would have to think the Jazz would prefer DoMo since he’s more of a center, but they may sniff around to see which guy the Rockets are less likely to match. Update: the Rockets apparently did not tender a qualifying offer to Jones, so he is an unrestricted free agent.
Festus Ezeli probably became less available when the rumors of Golden State’s frustration with Andrew Bogut popped up.
Names fans are talking about. Tyler Zeller was Boston’s sixth big, so there’s a good chance they decline to match even a moderate offer. But there are reasons he was their sixth big: he doesn’t shoot from outside and he’s a middling defender and rebounder. Meyers Leonard would be a great fit for Utah, but he probably wants (and will probably get) a lot of money and a chance to play a bigger role. He just averaged 22mpg for a playoff team, after all.
Not all that excited. Miles Plumlee gets love from Jazz fans, but keep in mind that he rarely shoots from outside 10 feet, so he exacerbates the spacing thing Utah hopes to alleviate to some degree.
As with the wings we covered in this category, expect most of these guys to have their options picked up.
Amir Johnson is a starting-quality forward who, at $12 million, will come cheaper than the going rate for a starter. But even if the Celtics waived him — say, if they got Kevin Durant or Al Horford to say yes in the first three days of free agency — Johnson would get picked up off waivers by one of the teams ahead of the Jazz.
Ersan Ilyasova was part of the Serge Ibaka haul, so OKC pretty much needs to keep him for optics reasons.
Jonas Jerebko is interesting as a shooting five, but again — Utah not only needs Boston to cut ties, they also need 11 other teams to pass on a waiver claim4.
After that, you get into a price range where it’s almost silly for teams to waive anybody who’s even remotely rotation-quality. I know some folks like Joffrey Lauvergne for the Jazz5, but at $1.7M, he’s a deal even as Denver’s third center. Why would they cut him loose? If the Jazz want someone like him, they may have to go get him via trade.
We’ve left the PG spot alone in this exercise, and there are a couple of good reasons why: George Hill and Dante Exum. The Jazz believe too much in the latter’s future to bury him at the end of the bench, and after securing the former via trade6, their present-day situation looks really solid, too.
Think about it: how many PGs on this year’s market would be a marked upgrade over Hill? Probably one: Mike Conley. Even he is closer in macro value than you might think.
Now, that’s a little unfair because it doesn’t account for roles. Conley is much more of a creator, where Hill usually benefits from others a bit more. For instance, 43% of Conley’s used possessions come as the P&R handler, compared to 29% for Hill. Conversely, Hill gets 20% from spot-ups and 9% shooting off of screens, two play types where others are creating your look for you; Conley gets 12% and 0% there, respectively.
But the point stands: even if Utah were to somehow land the #1 free agent PG target, they’d get a guy who’s in the same ballpark as the guy they acquired last week.
The next group down wouldn’t return Utah’s calls for a third-string role. Utah could find guys on the following list who might be OK as third PG, but would they better than Raul Neto or Shelvin Mack?
For all those reasons, the Jazz probably consider their work done at the point. Just for the sake of completeness, though, here are the free agent point guards this summer.