- Will DeMarcus Cousins' injury woes slow down his pay day? Will the Sixers keep Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris? The Crossover takes a look at the players who have helped or hurt their free agency value in the 2019 NBA playoffs.
Free agency will kick off when the clock strikes midnight ET on July 1, ushering in a spree of big contracts and franchise-altering decisions. Letting a key piece walk can have dire consequences, while overspending for middling assets is a recipe for disaster. Front offices throughout the league will have to walk a fine line when pursuing the greatest free-agent class in recent memory.
The 2019 playoffs have featured a slew of future free agents as we roll through the second round, and not everyone’s stock has been aided by the additional spotlight. So which upcoming free agents have most adversely affected their standing in the summer market? We at The Crossover dissected the July fate of six notable free agents.
D’Angelo Russell, Nets
Barring a miraculous coup of Kevin Durant and/or Kyrie Irving, it’s unlikely D’Angelo Russell will bolt from Brooklyn anytime soon. The Ohio State product shimmied his way to an All-Star appearance in 2018-19 and carried the Nets down the stretch to their first playoff appearance since 2015. Letting Russell walk would represent a sizeable step back for the franchise.
Brooklyn may not have to completely break the bank to secure Russell. A bidding war won’t emerge barring a foolhardy team falling in love with the 23-year-old point guard. Russell is slight and inefficient. His reliance on floaters and contested triples could spell regression next season, especially if he continues to shy away from contact. Russell’s .135 free throw rate ranked 96th of the 103 players to log at least 2,000 minutes in 2018-19, and he ended the season 81st in free-throw rate among the 82 players to average at least 15 points per game. His inability to get to the free-throw line is astounding for a player with such a high usage rate.
We shouldn’t nitpick Russell too much, and harping on his flaws obscures the legitimate leaps he made this season. D’Lo has shed many of his selfish ways, and he’ll continue to rack up the triples behind Kenny Atkinson’s let-it-fly approach. But the shortcomings are legitimate, enough to scare off most teams outside of Brooklyn. Expect Russell at the Barclays Center well into the next decade.
Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, Sixers
Philadelphia will vault to the top of luxury tax payers in the 2020s if they re-sign both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris in July, but don’t discount the Sixers’ willingness to bet big. Team ownership has signaled it will attempt to lock down both free agents this summer, and a run to the Finals will all-but-secure a Big 4 for years to come. And even with Butler and Harris landing below the league’s top tier of stars, such an investment would be the prudent move.
Harris feels increasingly likely to stay in the City of Brotherly Love. He’ll begin his age 27 season next year, entering his prime years as the Sixers eye the East crown. The Georgia product is one of the most malleable assets around, comfortable filling in the gaps as an elite slasher and quality three-point shooter. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid need the ball in their hands to excel. Harris is as low maintenance as it gets.
The assets dealt for Harris also play a critical role in Philadelphia’s decision with Harris. The Sixers traded Landry Shamet, their 2020 first rounder and Miami’s 2021 first rounder to Los Angeles in February, shedding increasingly-valuable draft capital as the Heat falter from playoff relevance. It’s hard to envision the Sixers dealing such a haul for a four-month rental. Harris should cash in with a max deal from Philly.
Butler’s free agency remains a significant question mark. The Harris trade signaled to some that Butler could be on his way out come July, and the former Timberwolves malcontent remains a risky bet. He’ll turn 30 before opening night and he isn’t a strong three-point shooter. Dedicating four years to a 30-year-old midrange artist is far from a no-brainer, even when discussing a four-time All-Star.
The holes in Butler’s game are less jarring in Philadelphia. He looked content to take a back seat in the regular season, morphing into a switch punisher and defensive ace as Embiid and Simmons racked up the usage. Butler has taken the reigns when needed in the playoffs, including a 30-point eruption against the Raptors on Monday night. His playoff chops should serve the Sixers well as they hunt for the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Where could Butler land if Philly eschews a long-term deal? Both the Knicks and Lakers could settle for Butler as a consolation prize, though Los Angeles appears to be a more natural option given the ticking clock on James’ championship window. Butler may not get paid by Philadelphia, but a suitor should emerge with a max offer in the first week of free agency. His playoff performance has ensured a big payday.
Ricky Rubio, Jazz
We won’t say any teams offering a deal similar to the four-year, $55 million contract Rubio signed in 2015. 40% from the field and 31.1% from three won’t cut it the modern era, and there are few teams with an outstanding need at point guard. Rubio was exposed against Houston in the first round. James Harden and Chris Paul abused him in isolation, hunting switches with glee. Rubio is frankly limiting Donovan Mitchell’s development at this point, and his Utah tenure looks to be at an end. Maybe a team like Phoenix or Orlando overpays on July 1, but Rubio is more likely to spend his next contract as a third guard as the league passes him by.
DeMarcus Cousins, Warriors
Two playoff games won’t affect Cousins’ free-agency stock, but we should take a look at his July prospects nonetheless. The Artist Formerly Known as Boogie will enter free agency after a year-long recovery from an torn achilles, followed by quad injury against the Clippers on April 16. His injury woes won’t crater his value like Isaiah Thomas, yet they’ll still ding the final sticker price. A full max is likely out of play.
Cousins can still exit free agency with a nine-figure deal, though the list of suitors may be slimmer than originally assumed. The Lakers are a potential partner, with a glaring need at center next to LeBron and their pair of young wings. An Anthony Davis deal remains a priority, but a healthy Cousins isn’t a bad consolation prize. He showed signs of his former self in Golden State, though bad habits set in late in the regular season. An abbreviated 2018-19 should be enough to avoid another one-year prove-it deal. Someone will cough up big bucks for the four-time All-Star.