As of 12:01 am Sunday morning, free agency in the NBA officially began. There have already been some shocking signings, including Paul George resigning with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Trevor Ariza confusing everyone by signing a one-year deal with the Phoenix Suns. Several other less-prominent deals have been made such as Doug McDermott signing a three-year deal with the Indian Pacers and Will Barton signing a four-year deal with the Denver Nuggets. As of this very moment, no former Kentucky players have officially made moves, but that is set to change. There are plenty of former Wildcats who will be hoping to ink new deals before next season, let’s take a look at who they are.
DeMarcus Cousins – Unrestricted Free Agent
Boogie is the prize Kentucky player this offseason. After tearing his Achilles, teams are going to be a bit more cautious about how they approach a contract for him, but he’ll surely be in high demand. As it has already been mentioned on the site today, the New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards, and Los Angeles Lakers appear to be the three “front-runners” to land Boogie. I recently wrote about why the Pelicans should sign Boogie no matter what and the Wizards news has been rumbling for a couple weeks now, but the Lakers news is the most interesting.
After Paul George resigned with the Thunder, the Lakers shifted their attention to Cousins, according to The Ringer. Now that the Lakers have officially signed LeBron James, they’re going to look to sign another All-Star free agent as soon as possible (or trade for one). With James now in the fold, adding Boogie on a short, two-year deal would be a monumental win. The Pelicans should be the favorites to resign Cousins and he’s been vocal about wanting to stay in New Orleans, but the allure of playing next to James in LA will at least tantalize him. Signing a two-year deal would allow Boogie to become a free agent once again in 2020 when the NBA’s cap is set to spike about $14 million, up to $116 million, per Zach Lowe.
Very important information buried in the NBA’s salary cap memo sent to teams: projection for 2019-20 cap up to $109 million, and then $116 million for 2020-21. Cap is set at $101.9M for upcoming 2018-19 season.
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 1, 2018
If he chooses this path, he could come back fully healthy, prove he’s worth a max contract, and earn the supermax at age 29. Would I prefer he stay in New Orleans? Absolutely, but I won’t knock him for moving out West to potentially play with the greatest player of all time, especially if the money is there.
Julius Randle – Restricted Free Agent
Much like Cousins, I also wrote about Julius Randle and why the Lakers should go all in on him as a piece for their future. The Lakers are likely going to see what plays out with LeBron James while also trying to convince the Spurs to send Leonard their way before they deal with Randle. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Randle is going to be a hot commodity, and despite money being tight around the league, there will be a team that offers Randle a ton of it. And when that happens, the Lakers will have limited time to do something about it. Since Randle is a restricted free agent, the Lakers are allowed to match any contract offer he receives, no matter which teams offers it, but must do so within three days of the offer sheet being made. Teams such as the Sacramento Kings or even the Utah Jazz have money to work with if they want to offer Randle a contract, which will likely be in the $15 million plus per year range.
Now that George is off the table, the Lakers might feel more compelled to lock down Randle, but they’ll likely want to see what happens with Leonard and Cousins first. I would expect the Lakers to match any offer for Randle.
Enes Kanter – Player Option (Opted in)
Enes Kanter had been circling his $18.6 million player option with the New York Knicks for what felt like weeks, but ultimately made the correct decision to take the money with this…. weird tweet.
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) June 29, 2018
Had Kanter declined, he would have been an unrestricted free agent on the open market and the odds of him securing anything close to $18 million per year were slim to none. Taking the player option was the smartest route and it was somewhat surprising that there was apparently such an ongoing debate surrounding it. In coming back to the Knicks, Kanter provides elite offensive rebounding and all-around offensive game. He’s not known for his defense, but playing next to a (hopefully) healthy Kristaps Porzingis is a favorable fit for him. He’ll also remain teammates with Knicks draftee Kevin Knox.
Rajon Rondo – Unrestricted Free Agent
The New Orleans Pelicans are having to deal with the DeMarcus Cousins free agency ordeal, but also the one with Rajon Rondo. The Pelicans want to bring back both former Kentucky players, but it’s going to be tricky with how their roster and money currently stands. Resigning Cousins will almost assuredly put the Pels over the luxury tax line and resigning Rondo would only exacerbate that issue. Rondo was valuable for the Pelicans last season, especially in their playoff run, but it’s questionable if he’s the right player worth going into tax hell for.
A lot of this situation depends on how much Rondo asks for (I would expect his value to be somewhere in the $6-7 million per year range) and if it would, in fact, cause the Pelicans luxury tax issues. Anything over $5 million per year would cause issues. However, the connection between Rondo with both Cousins and Anthony Davis is huge and it could be the reason the Pelicans bite the bullet and inhale the monster tax cost that comes with resigning him. There probably isn’t going to be front offices banging down Rondo’s door, which works in the Pelicans favor.
Nerlens Noel – Unrestricted Free Agent
Nerlens Noel is in a confusing situation. He clearly didn’t want to be a member of the Dallas Mavericks (and their signing of DeAndre Jordan showed the feeling was mutual) as he was held to the bench and ate hot dogs during games. But now he’s an unrestricted free agent, available to sign with any team he’d like. Unfortunately for Noel, he’s not going to get a generous contract, especially not this offseason. Noel should be looking for one-year deals around the $4-5 million per year mark in order to prove that he can still be the player who showed promise in Philadelphia. Luckily, he’s still only 24 years old.
The Golden State Warriors, who are seemingly gunning for every free agent center this offseason, could make a move on him for the previously mentioned price. The Washington Wizards recently traded away their center, Marcin Gortat, and now have a gaping hole at that position. His fit on that team is questionable, but the opportunity for him to play next to John Wall makes me grin with excitement. Yahoo Sports reporter Shams Charania recently tweeted this about Noel.
Sources: Free agent center Nerlens Noel has narrowed decision on signing to these teams: The Wizards, Lakers, Thunder — with interest from the Pelicans.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 2, 2018
The goal for Noel should be to ball out for a year no matter who signs him, then chase the money next offseason. He’s not exactly in the position to be picky.
Tyler Ulis – Unrestricted Free Agent
As Jack wrote about earlier today, news broke Sunday morning that the Phoenix Suns’ release of Tyler Ulis did not sit well with Devin Booker. Ulis was released ahead of free agency and was apparently not a part of the Suns’ future. The Suns drafted a point guard in the 2018 NBA Draft and will also have a healthy Brandon Knight for the upcoming season. There was hope the Suns (one of the few teams with cap space) would spend their money on a point guard, but fooled everyone and went after Trevor Ariza, something that still has people scratching their heads.
Aside from all that drama, Ulis is now a free agent and it shouldn’t be long before another team comes along and scoops him up. There is little potential with Ulis as a starting point guard, but he proved to be a serviceable backup and there are going to be teams desperate for that position. Ulis won’t be expensive – think $2 million per year, if he’s lucky – and teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks or Chicago Bulls could pull the trigger on him with no real downside.
Aaron Harrison – Unrestricted Free Agent
Aaron Harrison recently signed a Summer League deal with the Washington Wizards and is an unrestricted free agent after finishing last season with the Dallas Mavericks, where he averaged 6.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in nine total games. He won’t be a sought-after player on the open market, but if he can put together an impressive Summer League run, there should an opportunity for him somewhere, possibly in the G League.
Follow me on Twitter as I keep up with all things NBA free agency: @ZackGeoghegan