Fantasy Hoops: Offseason preview, keeper league strategy
The Fantasy Hoops season nearly over, Jeff Edgerton helps Fantasy owners prepare for the offseason and formulate their keeper strategies.
For those of you who participate in keeper or dynasty NBA leagues, there are a lot of things to consider as the season winds down. In this first installment of keeper league strategy, we'll take a look at who could be on the move in the free agency market, and how their stock would potentially be impacted.
For a refresher, here's a run-down of the terms you'll see in this list.
Unrestricted Free Agent: Also known as a UFA, this means that the player is free to sign with any team. However, there may be some additional options on their existing contract that the team may attempt to utilize in an effort to persuade a UFA to stay put.
Restricted Free Agent: Basically the same as a UFA, with one glaring difference. While a player can get offers from any team, the franchise he currently plays for has the right to match any offer sheet.
Team Option: This contract feature guarantees the right for any team to keep a player for another year at a predetermined salary, should they choose to do so.
Player Option: This option basically defines itself. The player can decide if he wants to stick around for another year -- again, under a predetermined salary -- or become a UFA.
Notable player options
1. LeBron James
This situation is pretty well-documented. If he does flee Cleveland, the Lakers still look to be the top spot for him to land, though Houston and, more recently Philadelphia, lurk as dark-horse options. Regardless of where James takes his talents next season, his Fantasy stock will remain relatively unchanged. While a move to Houston would likely require a step back in terms of playmaking, James will still be running the show wherever he lands. He won't capture his fifth MVP award in Year 15, but James' production -- 26.8 PPG, 9.0 APG, 8.4 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 54% FG, 37% 3PT -- is yet to show any signs of decline.
2. Kevin Durant
While Durant could technically test free agency again this summer, he's given no indications that he'll so much as consider leaving Golden State. Durant has too much of a good thing going with the Warriors, and I seriously doubt he'd find a greener pasture, although there are teams that could flash some more lucrative offers.
3. Paul George
George's future remains uncertain as the Thunder continue to struggle, but it seems like Russell Westbrook and George have learned how to work together, and the partnership hasn't shown any signs of strain. The prevailing belief is that George will make his way to Los Angeles at some point, but he could opt in for next season and make his big move in 2019.
Jordan seemed to be on the way out of LA at the trade deadline, but that never came to pass as the Clippers continue to push for a playoff spot out West. The Clippers signed Lou Williams to a long-term contract and seem happy with Tobias Harris -- whose deal expires next summer -- so it's anyone's guess as to whether Jordan fits in with the team's future plans or not. Montrezl Harrell has played well in relief, but if Jordan and the Clippers parted ways they'd need to find a better upgrade.
While the Westbrook-George tandem has been mostly fine, this is a deal that really didn't pan out for the Thunder, and Anthony has found his role in Oklahoma City particularly frustrating. It would be no surprise to see agent Leon Rose shop Anthony around for a better situation, but it's difficult to ascertain whether Anthony would sacrifice several million dollars -- his player option is worth nearly $28 million -- to sign elsewhere.
Either way, Anthony's value as a Fantasy commodity has fallen off considerably this season. He hasn't been a true superstar for several years, but his inability to adjust to a complementary role makes it difficult to believe he'll bounce back as a 34-year-old, whether that's in Oklahoma City or elsewhere.
Notable unrestricted free agents
1. Chris Paul
I don't see much motivation for Paul to walk away from a contender like the Rockets. Although he plays second fiddle to James Harden in this scenario, the Rockets wouldn't be where they are now without his help. The bigger question may be what salary cap figure Paul will command. Playing alongside another superstar should prolong his prime, but at the end of the day he'll still be 33 at the start of next season. While Paul, himself, is a priority, his future could ultimately be determined by whether or not Houston is able to lure another star this summer.
The Twin Towers experiment of Anthony Davis was going OK, but just OK. Cousins' injury and the addition of Nikola Mirotic have actually given the Pelicans' new life, and although Boogie has moved around once already, he could elect to shop around where he could be the main guy as opposed to part of a duo.
All indications are that both Cousins and the Pelicans would like to reach a new deal, and they'll likely be able to do so if the Pelicans, who hold Cousins' Bird Rights, are willing to offer him the fifth year other teams cannot. Also working in the Pelicans' favor is the fact that cap space -- especially max cap space -- projects to be as scarce as it's been in recent memory this summer.
Fantasy-wise, Cousins' injury, not his destination, will probably determine his ceiling. While he ceded some playmaking to Anthony Davis, Cousins' numbers in New Orleans were virtually the same, if not better, than his production in Sacramento.
Many considered this move a bit of a head-scratcher considering Lonzo Ball's stranglehold on the starting job at point guard, but things have worked out relatively well so far, and Thomas certainly enjoys playing in a high-profile market, even if it means accepting a bench role.
Even if Thomas looks more like his old self over the final month of the season, there's little reason to believe the Lakers will consider bringing him back, particularly if they think they have a serious shot at landing LeBron.
Thomas will be among the more difficult players to project from a Fantasy perspective next season. He proved to be enough of a hindrance both on and off the court in Cleveland that it's hard to imagine a contending team offering him a starting role. Realistically, Thomas landing with a bad team willing to hand him 30 minutes per night might be the best-case for Fantasy owners.
4. Tyreke Evans
I could think of several potential suitors right off the bat for Evans, as his skill set would fit right in with teams that need help in the backcourt. Detroit, Oklahoma City and San Antonio are all teams that could use him, but Evans will certainly command much more than the $3.3 million he's making this season.
Evans is another difficult Fantasy case, as some of his success this season has come as a result of Mike Conley missing extensive time. If Evans lands in a spot where he could again see 30 minutes per night, there's reason to believe this production is replicable. That said, Evans has been injured and inconsistent in the past, so it remains to be seen whether teams will be willing to commit long-term.
5. Will Barton
Barton has been on one of the best contracts in the league for the last few seasons and has certainly played well enough this year to command a higher payout, so it's almost a given that he'll look for a suitor to fit the bill. While the Nuggets would love to retain his services, they're committed to at least one more year of Paul Millsap, while Gary Harris' cap figure is set to take a major leap as he enters Year 1 of a four-year, $84 million deal. Bet on the Nuggets doing all they can to keep Barton, but it's no lock at this point.
Notable restricted free agents
1. Clint Capela
Again, this is a case where it wouldn't make much sense for Capela to leave for another team, although an upgrade at the position might be something the Rockets consider on their own. I think if Capela goes elsewhere, it means the Rockets have found a better player on whom to spend that money.
2. Aaron Gordon
Gordon would probably be lighting it up with better talent around him, but the Magic are keenly aware that he's one of the team's best scoring options. Obviously, plenty of teams would come calling if the Magic back away, but all indications are that Orlando will hang onto one of its few promising, young pieces.
Assuming Gordon stays relatively healthy next season, he'll be on the short list of Eastern Conference players who could make their first All-Star Game.
Because of Parker's injury concerns, I find it highly unlikely that he'll field an attractive price to go elsewhere at this point, unless he shows some impressive late-season heroics as a 2018-19 audition. He's in a crowded situation in Milwaukee, and the Bucks might make a move to deal him away before he can even negotiate.
4. Zach LaVine
The centerpiece of last summer's Jimmy Butler trade, LaVine isn't going anywhere. Like Gordon, he'll be a popular candidate next season if he stays healthy.
Basically, Randle's future in LA hinges entirely on the Lakers' play for LeBron and another star. If James comes, then Randle probably plays elsewhere next season. If there's no movement in that arena, it's anyone's guess, but Randle's chances to stick around appear much more realistic now than they did a few months ago.
Notable team options
1. Nikola Mirotic
The Pelicans already picked up the $12.5 million on Mirotic's deal for next season as part of the agreement to get him to New Orleans in the first place. While his role will be impacted by the future of DeMarcus Cousins, Mirotic will be more than a short-term rental, and his current value should endure through at least half of next season, with Cousins unlikely to return until next January or February, at the earliest.
The journeyman has been as mercurial as ever, but there's little reason to believe the Pacers won't exercise an option for just $4.4 million next season. Stephenson has rehabbed his value to some degree this season -- 9.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.1 APG -- but he's still a wildly inconsistent shooter who's crashed and burned everywhere other than Indianapolis, so it's unlikely that he'd be able to land a longer-term deal elsewhere anyway.
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