So, this is what the wasteland is like, huh?
During 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, the titular character – aimlessly stuck in the barren desert sands and forever shooing his inner-demons – makes the best of a terrible situation. In short, Max helps others in need, survives a horrific storm and then releases the floodgates, thus giving the people what they want: Conten…err, water. Our hero gives them water. Yep, definitely water.
It’s been 13 days since the last NBA game. That’s the type of non-action that onlookers have bitterly accepted to be the case in mid-August’s post-free agent landscape and pre-training camp lull. And although the world is dealing with a much more serious issue at hand, it’s been even harder to do so without everybody’s favorite distraction. Hell, without the daily action and locker room availability, Basketball Insiders’ Trending Now column is conspicuously empty and the Slack channel has ground to a halt.
But with no clear end date in sight, a portion of our small team has decided to blow the dust from our bones and resurrect the fountain of professional basketball content. In doing so, we’ll simply do our best. We’ll do our April content plan in March and schedule our May series pieces for April. We’ll tackle draft content whenever a draft happens – whether that’s in June or July or, like, 2021. We’ll throw out all the rules in hopes of providing that slight at-home itch-scratcher, something to satiate you while trying not to click over to Twitter.com again and read more debilitatingly upsetting updates for the 954th time before noon.
We’re no Max Rockatansky; nor are we Furiosa, either. All of us, whether we realize it or not, are just different versions of Nux. Chasing our next high of basketball euphoria – a silly article, narrating your own mixtape, taking to Instagram Live with a beloved teammate, rapping because there are no games to cover, whatever it may take – just to get through another day without the real thing.
So, with all that said: Hello, let’s get to that thinly-veined metaphor of content as water and wade through this oasis side-by-side.
Over the following week, Basketball Insiders will go toe-to-toe with 2020’s free-agent class. While there’s no guarantee that the season will resume soon, once it does, there will be chatter almost immediately. By division, we’ll check out presumed free agents of all varieties – restricted, unrestricted, with options, etc. – and wonder just how the dominos might fall. These may not even become definitive Top 8 lists by skill alone, but instead sorted by those with the most interesting situations.
For the Northwest Division, three of the four franchises are in the thick of the home-court advantage chase, while those pesky Portland Trail Blazers just won’t go away. Karl-Anthony Towns finally got his wish in D’Angelo Russell, but the Minnesota Timberwolves are closer to the conference-worst Warriors than the final postseason seed, so that’s not exactly optimistic-adjacent, either.
Their upcoming class of free agents is not spectacularly insane by any means – nor is there a showstopper or hotshot offer sheet to be made. Truly, the biggest decision money-wise will be made by a player that many have already left behind, a fringe Hall-of-Fame candidate that was supposed to push his team up and over the top…
The Classy Veterans
Mike Conley Jr., Utah Jazz – Early Termination Option – $32,511,624
Given Utah’s rollercoaster ride of a campaign, Conley has taken the brunt of that criticism and it’s not difficult to see why. It’s the 32-year-old’s first season outside of Memphis and his numbers are down across the board and dealt with a lingering injury to make matters even worse. But for Conley to rip up the richest final season of a contract that once made him the highest-paid player in the NBA back in 2016, he’d need millions upon millions of reasons why.
(Al Horford just made a similar decision, you’d scream from the rooftops; worse: you’re right!)
On the open market – and without a wildly-prohibitive contract, importantly – there’s no reason to believe that Conley is done just yet. If the Jazz want to remain in that dark horse Western Conference race, they’ll need the point guard to be himself – and, in all likelihood, this is a relationship that’ll last on until 2022.
Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets – Unrestricted – $32,511,624
Also falling into the stalwart-veteran-turned-cap-space-sponge-but-intriguing-on-the-open-market category is Millsap, the Nuggets’ starting power forward that hasn’t stopped doing the little things right. At 35, the best days are behind Millsap, but he’s still contributing in ways that have helped Denver stay within reach of a top postseason seed. Still, at just 12 points per game — his lowest tally since 2009-10 — coupled with the franchise’s need to add another star to the mix, he’s not a must-sign anymore. With Nikola Jokic developing into one of the league’s best centers and Michael Porter Jr. finally looking for more consistent minutes, paying Millsap will be far from an offseason priority.
He’s undeniably well-loved within the locker room, so a team-friendly deal would benefit both sides – but seeing Millsap as a deep bench piece on a bonafide contender sounds like captivating television as well.
The… “Uh, What Are We Calling You?” Category
Carmelo Anthony, Portland Trail Blazers – Unrestricted – $2,159,029
So, you’ve probably heard by now, but Anthony is back…and honestly, he’s held his own. After being unceremoniously ousted from the NBA for over a year, the future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer has provided a serious punch to Portland’s attack. At 15.3 points per game, it’s not Anthony’s most prolific performance – again, this is a man that won a scoring title and rocks All-Star appearances in the double-digits – but it should be enough to secure him another gig in 2020-21. Anthony, 35, won’t win you a ring, nor is he anywhere close to being “the missing piece” or third wheel as many that are stuck in 2005 would like to believe.
And yet, why not? Why not put Carmelo Anthony on your squad for a minimum if it’s a fringe franchise case-by-case? Sacramento Kings? Sign him up. Orlando Magic? Let’s get to work. A retirement tour for Anthony, who grew up in Baltimore, would be a dose of fresh air for a Washington Wizards team that needs any sort of silver lining these days. At worst, this lightning-in-a-bottle fizzes out and any hit on the cap will be easily navigated. At best, he’ll end up as the second-best player on the roster behind RJ Barrett.
What’s to truly lose?
Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers – Unrestricted – $27,093,018
Undeniably, his origin story remains great as a second-rounder turned G League graduate turned multi-year millionaire – however, somewhere along the way, the narrative turned sour. Between the poor free throwing shooting and suspect effort, Whiteside, in spite of his stat-packing performances, became this weird entity of box score bliss. Even today, the 7-foot center is enjoying averages of 16.3 points (second-highest of his career), 14.2 rebounds (career-high) and 3.1 blocks (shockingly not a career-high but is today’s league leader) per game and there’s zero buzz about his impending free agency.
With the center, it’s always been about finding the right fit or coach and, at 30, his best days are likely behind him. Given the Trail Blazers’ unexpected woes, we’ve not heard about Whiteside much outside of recent comments asking for consideration in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. When the season kicks back up, the talented Whiteside will likely cede minutes to Jusuf Nurkic, a big man that is signed to a long-term deal. For Whiteside, much of his future depends on how the remainder of 2020 shakes out – but has he done enough to change the tides?
The Serviceable Section
Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets – Unrestricted – $14,041,096
Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz – Unrestricted – $13,437,500
Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder – Unrestricted – $10,740,740
All three have proven to be worthy-rotation pieces in the past: Plumlee as a capable passer and rim-runner, Clarkson as a microwave scorer and Roberson as the potential-laden defensive stalwart. All three, too, might be paid less as free agents this offseason.
Plumlee, 30, was tossed behind an emerging Jokic in 2016-17 and has since struggled to break out from that role – but he’s still shooting 61.7 percent from the floor this season and knows his limits. As an energy guy, he could remain in Denver and his average status across the board makes him an adequate, affordable solution for franchises filling out a depth chart.
Clarkson, 27, hasn’t always been on top, but he certainly helped resurrect Utah’s half-sunken ship earlier this season. Since the red-hot shooter arrived from Cleveland in December, he’s single-handedly saved the Jazz on multiple occasions. As a fine enough three-point shooter and consistent scorer, Clarkson is somebody that Utah would like to keep, but that might prove difficult given roster hurdles. But for a bench unit that has desperately needed the 6-foot-4 guard’s scoring punch, the conference contender ultimately may not have much choice.
The road for Roberson has been the most challenging of all, but not without plenty of promise. In Jan. 2018, the standout defensive player ruptured his left patellar tendon and missed the remainder of the year. Following setback after setback, Roberson still has yet to feature in another NBA game. Unbelievably, that makes him one of the most intriguing free agents in the entire class.
During an incredible breakout campaign, Roberson reached the NBA All-Defensive Second Team, mentioned alongside names like Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Throughout that 2016-17 season, Roberson was one of 11 players to finish with at least a block and steal per game. So if the 28-year-old is half the defender he used to be, he’ll be a steal in free agency – whether that’s in Oklahoma City again or elsewhere.
The Danilo Gallinari Category
Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder – Unrestricted – $22,615,559
The esteemed Danilo Gallinari Category only features Danilo Gallinari – go figure, right?
After entering the 2019-20 season as for-sure trade bait on a likely-to-be-bad Thunder roster that had just lost Paul George and Russell Westbrook, Gallinari has strongly spotlighted on the league’s biggest surprise team. In fact, despite his status as an unrestricted free agent barrelling down the pipeline, Oklahoma City decided to hold onto the Italian-born veteran to keep their dazzling postseason chase alive.
At the time of the season’s suspension, the Thunder were 40-24, a league-best 8-2 in their last 10 games and proud owners of the No. 5 postseason seed. Without question, Gallinari is a major reason why, and keeping him was worth the risk – even if he ends up leaving for nothing.
He’ll be 32 whenever the next campaign begins, and although he’s a talented scorer, a spotted injury history doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Since he was drafted in 2008, Gallinari has played 70 or more games just twice (2009-10, 2012-13) and struggles to get back on the court once he’s initially hurt. In any case, after all these years, he’s posted back-to-back career seasons – one with the Los Angeles Clippers, then this campaign for Oklahoma City.
At 19.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.1 three-pointers on 41 percent from deep, he’s been an excellent fit with Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schröder and Steven Adams – and that very five-man lineup sports the best offensive rating by a considerable amount.
It’s hard to tell what will become of this once-makeshift Thunder roster when the offseason finally commences: Will they let Gallinari walk? Will Oklahoma City try to trade Paul again? What about Adams? For a franchise that was ready to reach the bottom of the barrel in their first-ever rebuild following that long-ago move from Seattle, this is uncharted territory.
If a return to the Thunder doesn’t pan out, Gallinari will have suitors – at the trade deadline the Miami HEAT aggressively pursued him, reportedly. And even if he doesn’t pull down another whopping $22.6 million per year deal again, Gallinari’s ability to space the floor and work as a secondary playmaker makes sense for most, if not all, of the usual suspects.
With basketball nowhere closer to resuming, and much of the collective public close to losing their minds, try to use Basketball Insiders’ coverage to your advantage. Whether as a simple distraction, a way to supply staff-meeting-at-the-virtual-water-cooler fodder or just as another reminder to go watch Mad Max: Fury Road again, we’ve got you covered.
We are all but hopelessly-optimistic Nuxs and this sand-filled, dunk-absent landscape feels a little less empty with some content — so, please, dig in.