The Summer of 2016: Bucking the Trend of Restricted Free Agents?

Restricted free agents have changed teams at about the same rate Joey Dorsey connects on two consecutive free throws…in other words at an incredibly pedestrian level.

The rules regarding restricted free agency increases player attainment as evidenced by this past offseason where prestigious youngsters such as Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green and Khris Middleton resigned with minimal in-house quibbling or outside involvement. One could argue each of the aforementioned foursome was a sought-after and valuable commodity their respective clubs would never relinquish, but even a stat stuffer such as Tobias Harris went unspoiled on the free agent market despite the foison of dollars distributed in free agency. In fact, just two restricted free agents will be suiting up elsewhere next season, Mirza Teletovic and Cory Joseph, both of whom had their cap holds renounced by the Nets and Spurs respectively, essentially making them unrestricted free agents.

Despite the ample documentation and discussions across the league centered upon the incessantly difficult quest to acquire a star talent and quickly change the fortunes of middling organizations, there has been little interest from outside organizations in terms of negotiating with restricted free agents. After all it’s not every offseason a player of Leonard or Butler’s caliber becomes even slightly available to the rest of the league. Yet, teams have displayed a distinct unwillingness to handcuff cap space for possibly three days as an imbursement for the faintest of hopes at landing such a player. It just hasn’t been justifiable for organizations to tie up cap space and force themselves to sit out the constructively engrossing game of free agency when the likelihood of a payoff is so minuscule.


However, the rising cap in the Summer of 2016 presents a new case study, and plenty of youthful free agents coming off their rookie deals could be accompanied by the RFA description when free agency begins. With no less than a projected 15 teams and as many as 24 working with max cap space, would a team be willing to indulge in restricted free agency if the first wave of free agency yields no impact players? With so much money needed to be spent league wide, a collection of teams are bound to miss on their primary targets and still sit on a pile of cash gazing upon a free agent crop that doesn’t warrant such paydays. Is the slightest chance of adding someone like Harrison Barnes, Michael Kidd-Gilchirst or Terrence Jones worth sacrificing the opportunity to make a serious offer to a guy Luol Deng or Gerald Henderson? Much depends on the competitive state of the franchise, of course, but it’s an enticing risk in which the potential payoff far outweighs the surrendered opportunity.

barnes and curry

The deterrent of organizations investing in restricted free agents is, of course, that the front office of his current team likely hasn’t been residing under a rock and usually recognizes the value of a skilled and youthful asset, resulting in a willingness to match any offer even if the ensuing return is a bit of an overpay. The trick is navigating the group of restricted free agents in a responsible manner, gathering information on players and a team’s present and future cap situations. For example, teams are cognizant of the impending gargantuan raise Golden State will have to afford Steph Curry, meaning if a team throws a lucrative and player-friendly deal at Barnes, the Warriors may let him walk, while envisioned franchise cornerstones such as Andre Drummond and Bradley Beal will be next to impossible to yank from the grasp of the Pistons and Wizards, respectively.


Drummond and Beal will get max-level extensions from their respective clubs either this fall or next summer[1], but the rest of the class’ discussions regarding extensions remains uncertain. Such a garrulous negotiating table provides a stimulant for organizations to nail down extensions now before the October 31 deadline as discounted deals may be had due to the unspecific market demands. Essentially organizations would base a player’s standard of play and subsequent contract offer upon this past season instead of allotting another year of possible improvement that would jack up financial requests. To varying degrees, players such as Jonas Valanciunas, Kidd-Gilchrist, Jones, Dotie Motiejunas, John Henson, Terrence Ross, Festus Ezeli, Meyers Leonard and others fall into this category. Take Valanciunas for instance, a player surely seeking a max deal, and, while he has shown flashes of being that type of player, those dreamy sample sizes of play have been too spotty for Toronto to oblige without excessive haggling. However, if such stretches of play become more consistent and Valanciunas displays at least a prayer of adequacy passing out of double teams, plenty of suitors may oblige in his desires for the max, forcing Toronto’s hand. For less polished players whose strong flashes dissolve merely into sparks, such as Ezeli, Henson and Leonard this effect is compounded.


Players place guaranteed money on a pedestal (again, for support of this claim, look no further than the past month or so), and by signing an extension this fall, financial security would be obtained a season in advance, no small stipulation in the world of sports. However, that security along with flexibility regarding player options in an extension are the only points of leverage an organization has when attempting to lock up a player this autumn. Agents will surely push their clients to play out this season and then insist on a contract in line with the going rate of other free agents next summer, be it restricted or unrestricted, as they wave the bluff of playing under the 1-year qualifying offer and becoming an unrestricted free agent the following July.

Restricted free agency is one of the league’s more compelling wildcards because of the varying possibilities, but most cases finalize in a dull, fairly-typical fashion, with a player resigning early on in the free agency process on what is often considered a fair deal for both the player and the organization. Nevertheless, let the art of speculation and hearsay commence.

For detailed analysis on specific restricted free agents and their situations I highly recommend reading Grantland’s Zach Lowe’s piece here.

[1] The Wizards have incentive to wait till next summer with Beal because his cap hold number is preferable to that of a max contract in terms of guaranteeing themselves cap space to go after Durant.


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