Most people around the country got their first glimpse of Marc "Baby" Gasol these playoffs, but we Stiffs have been watching him long enough to know that Marc doesn't actually go by Baby … but I digress. Long since the most coveted player the Nuggets have realistically had some chance of trying to land, Gasol finally hits the market, well restricted market, this off-season. Let the debate begin as to whether or not we could land him in free agency. Here are the facts ...
Money- To put it simply, we have it. To be much more complex I present the following information:
· The Nuggets have long since been in a position to experience relative flexibility this offseason. Ever since Kenyon signed his contract, this offseason was going to have some spare spending cash because K-mart would be coming off the books. However, a series of other moves made by the former Nuggets regime, and one big one by the current regime, have placed Denver in a position to be a major player in the free agent market. Namely the Nene resigning and the JR Smith extension by the old regime and the Chauncey Billups trade by the new regime. Here are some of the financial basics behind the Nuggets offseason:
Nene contract: Nene signed on for 6 years and 60 million back in 2006 and can opt out of the final year of that contract, which would be next season. Nate posted the recent article about Nene's possible intent to do just that on the main page. While we can debate whether or not Nene opting out is a good thing, what we can't debate is the 11.6 million dollars that would come off the cap if he does indeed test the market.
JR Smith extension: JR signed a 3 year extension back in 2008 for 16.5 million. He is not eligible to receive an extension because his current contract is shorter than 3 years in total length. His 6 million dollars will come off the books at the end of the season and he will be an unrestricted free agent.
Chauncey Billups Trade: Denver traded home town hero Chauncey Billups, 2 guys on the veterans minimum (which are one year contracts and thus always expiring), Renaldo Balkman's 1.65 million dollar sitting bonus and some other player who I can't seems to recall who made north of $18 million. In return they received Gallinari, Chandler, Felton, Mozgov and Koufos, but you already knew that. The trade sent out almost $38 million while only taking back a little over $17 million in contracts, one of which (Wilson Chandler) will expire at the end of this season.
Now, obviously there is some uncertainty surrounding the future financial landscape of the NBA with the collective bargaining agreement to expire. While I don’t know what will happen with the cap and player salaries, I would guess that the relative ratio a player makes vs. the allowable amount of total salary for a team will remain fairly similar. With that idea we should be able to predict which teams will have enough cap space to make a run at Gasol.
First off how much can Gasol expect to make. A few big men received contracts last year in free agency. Brendan Haywood received a 6 year $55 million dollar contract after averaging close to a double double the prior season. That averages out to about $9 million a year or 16% of the current $58 million cap. Meanwhile, David Lee received a 6 year $80 million dollar contract from Golden State, about $13.3 million a year or 23% of the cap after averaging 20pts and 11 reb. Gasol’s numbers this year were 11 pts and 7 reb but after his performance in the playoffs I’d imagine he will see a higher offer than Haywood. My guess is about 18% of a team’s cap
If Nene opts out then the Nuggets will have only $28,575,414 on the cap. Assuming Denver will extend qualifying offers to both Wilson Chandler and Arron Afflalo, the cap number will climb to just over $34.6 million. If they were to continue to operate under a $58 million cap the Nuggets would have just over 40% of their cap available, even if the cap decreases by 20% Denver still would have 20% available so plenty of money to make a lucrative offer to Gasol as well as re-sign 2, maybe 3, of their own free agents(depending on what kind of offers AAA and Chandler will get in RFA, if the Nuggets try to break the bank on keeping Nene and if the NBA goes to a hard cap)
So which other teams in the NBA have at least 18% of their cap available next year and would realistically make a run at Gasol (meaning teams like Milwaukee, Indiana, LAC, New Jersey, OKC, Washington and Sacramento who already have a young center are not likely to make a run at him)? Well, not that many. Realistically it’s a race between 8 teams, with maybe up to 11 if some teams get creative. The main players would be Denver, Memphis, Houston, Toronto and Minnesota. Other teams could be possible players such as Portland, Phoenix, New Orleans, Cleveland and Detroit, but each of those teams would have to make some moves to free up the space.
Let’s dive into each of the five main players a little deeper
Denver- I’m not going to go on long about this because we already all know Denver would benefit from having Gasol. It would allow Nene to move to the 4, or replace him if he leaves. Personally, I like Mosgov a lot but I’m not sure if I’m sold on him being a starter at this point in his career. The Nuggets have size, but take one look at Dallas, who traded for Tyson Chandler despite having Brendan Haywood, and it’s obvious you can never be too big
Houston- Who knows if Yao will ever be anything close to what he was, probably not very likely and thus Houston finds themselves with a huge hole at the center position. Houston has about 22% of their cap available to them next year so they have the money to offer Gasol a big contract, one that would make Memphis cringe at matching, however such an offer would cripple any other flexibility they have.
Toronto- Toronto may appeal to Gasol because it has the international vibe, one of the reasons our own Linas Kleiza was so anxious to go there (side note, how do we all feel about giving Harrington that money instead of Kleiza now?). The Raptors have 23% of their cap available next season, though if Leandro Barbosa exercises his player option the Raptors will likely not have the money to make a significant offer. Also the Toronto does have Andrea Bargnani, similar to Nene however, Bargnani is better served playing the 4 rather than the 5.
Minnesota- Do you know who Minnesota trotted out as their starting center this year? A guy by the name of Darko Milicic. Certainly Minnesota has a need at center and they won’t be getting any top big men in the draft (if you’re looking for a definition of weak, just look at the center prospects in this draft). The Twolves will have 28% of their cap available, and virtually no players of their own to worry about retaining (I’m pretty sure Sebastian Telfair is not high on the re-sign list) so they certainly got the dough to make a big offer. One has to wonder why any free agent would want to play for Minnesota though…
Memphis- Memphis, regardless of their cap number, can match any offer made to Gasol because he is a RFA and Memphis will hold his bird rights. That said how much money will be too much for Memphis to think about matching. I know Memphis will certainly not just let Gasol go without a fight, and will probably be willing to overpay a little to retain him. However, Memphis has been shelling out the bucks for the past year and thanks to the recent Zach Randolph extension they will only have 7% of their cap available, so it’s not like they are rolling in the dough. Memphis also notoriously loses money, in fact some sources say they have lost money every year since they moved from Vancouver. I don’t think Memphis would match a max offer, but giving Gasol a max offer is crazy, however if a team was to offer say 19% of their cap, I think it would put the Grizzlies in a tough position. This is not to say that they still wouldn’t match. An interesting side effect of New York picking up Billups’ option is it all but completely made them lose their chance at signing Gasol, whom they were rumored to be interested in. Is this because NY really like Chauncey, probably, but also New York not believing Memphis will let Gasol get away could also have something to do with it but that is merely speculation on my part.
Bottom line, I think it’s a three horse race. I don’t expect Barbosa to opt out of his contract thus nullifying Toronto’s chances, and I just don’t see Gasol wanting to go spend his time in Minnesota playing for a bottom dwelling team. So that leaves us with Houston, Denver and Memphis. Houston may even lack the financial flexibility to make a big offer at Gasol so it could come down to Denver and Memphis. However, I fully expect Memphis to match any reasonable offer for Gasol, and ones that are slightly unreasonable. Like I said, a 19% of the cap offer would put them in a spot, a 21% offer, or at this point just over $12 million a year would be a tough choice to match. It would also mean Denver would likely be retaining only 2 of their own free agents because I don’t think the Kroenke’s are going to change suit and break the bank to keep everyone. If I were to guess what would happen I would say Gasol will definitely get some over paid offers in RFA and Memphis will end up matching. There are a few other big guys that will be on the market with decent value, mainly Tyson Chandler (likely to resign with Dallas I would guess) Carl Landry and possibly David West. There are also a couple of guys who could be big gambles such as Greg Oden, Yao Ming and our own Kenyon Martin.
Personally, I say save as much cash as possible this season and let someone else overpay for the big Spaniard. If we do poorly we end up with a higher pick in a deep draft and have you seen the free agent class next offseason? Ridiculous, how do names such as Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace, Elton Brand, Roy Hibbert, Javale Mcgee, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Jason Terry, Andrew Bynum, Darrell Arthur, OJ Mayo, Kevin Garnett and Jeff Morton’s personal favorite Russell Westbrook strike you?