Ryan Knaus

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Free Agency Preview: Southwest

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Today’s column discusses the free-agency and personnel outlook for the five teams in the Southwest Division, focusing on the players whose immediate futures are uncertain. There aren’t many teams with copious salary-cap space, which should result in plenty of smaller deals, cap-clearing trades and clever use of the Collective Bargaining Agreement’s detailed bylaws. If you missed the previous Eastern Conference previews, you can check them out right here:


Southeast Division

Atlantic Division

Central Division


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Dallas Mavericks

Draft Picks: 5, 33, 54

Salary Cap Projection: $23.8m (via Sportrac)


Dirk Nowitzki has vowed to return for 2018-19 in what could be his final NBA season. He played an impressive 77 games in his 20th campaign but will obviously be a huge risk for fantasy owners on draft day. Among other things, he's coming off left ankle surgery and Dallas will likely cut his 24.7 minutes even further in what should be another rebuilding season.


There are a ton of moving pieces throughout the roster, so let's break this down by contract type heading into the summer:


Guaranteed Contracts: Harrison Barnes, Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Dwight Powell and J.J. Barea. All five of those players will be back, barring trades, with Matthews and Barea entering the final years of their deals.


Non-guaranteed Contracts: Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith and Kyle Collinsworth. The Mavs must decide this summer whether to keep this trio around for 2018-19, but they’re cheap enough to think they’ll make the cut.


Restricted Free Agents (assuming qualifying offers are made): Doug McDermott, Salah Mejri, Yogi Ferrell and Aaron Harrison. Dallas has enough cap space that they can tie up money in qualifying offers without much trouble, but it remains to be seen how highly they value this group.


Unrestricted Free Agents: Nerlens Noel and Seth Curry. There was enough optimism surrounding Curry last preseason that he was drafted in many fantasy leagues, but his left tibia injury proved too serious – he didn't play a single game and eventually had surgery in February. Noel also had injury issues, exacerbated by questions about his attitude and effort. Throw in the dearth of teams with big salary-cap space and Noel's already-infamous decision to turn down a four-year, $70 million extension last summer looks even worse.



Memphis Grizzlies

Draft Picks: 4, 32

Salary Cap Projection: -$5.4m


The Grizzlies went 22-60 last season and look like a team that should be rebuilding, but they have limited options to do so quickly. Chandler Parsons' contract has been a disaster, injuries limited Mike Conley to 12 games last year, and 33-year-old Marc Gasol has been openly displeased with his team's direction. Those three guys will earn $78.7 million between them.


The most obvious building block for the Grizzlies is the No. 4 pick, and even that wasn't an unqualified success – they had the 2nd-best odds in the lottery. What they do with that pick could determine the long-term outcome of their summer, but they also have some free agency decisions to make. Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers are both unrestricted and could easily leave – after all, Evans was benched while the Grizzlies tanked down the stretch. If he does leave, the Grizzlies' decision not to extract at least some value for him last season will be even more puzzling.


Andrew Harrison and Wayne Selden both have affordable $1.5m deals which Memphis will assuredly guarantee, hoping that J.B. Bickerstaff (and assistant Jerry Stackhouse, a former G League coach) can develop the younger guys. That also includes Dillon Brooks, Jarell Martin, Ivan Rabb, Deyonta Davis, and whoever they land with their two draft picks. Maybe they’ll even get something out of Ben McLemore, whose net rating last season (-13.2) was fourth-worst in the entire league among qualifying players.



Houston Rockets

Draft Picks: 46

Salary Cap Projection: $21.9m


Chris Paul becomes an unrestricted FA this summer, but early signs were that he might stay put. He reportedly began recruiting LeBron James to the Rockets days after Houston's season ended, and GM Daryl Morey came away from CP3's exit interview "speaking of Paul's free agent plans as if he had already reached his decision." The caveat is that Houston would likely need to pay him close to the max-salary as he heads into his age-33 season. Might they commit $200+ million to a long-term deal, despite the obvious risk? We’ll find out.


The Rockets also have rotation players Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute and Gerald Green hitting unrestricted free agency, and Clint Capela is going to get paid as a restricted FA. Back in November, Morey even said, "We'll have [Capela] here as long as he'll have us. He couldn't price himself out." They'll likely try to defer those decisions until the biggest free agents like CP3, LeBron and PG-13 are off the board, because Houston doesn’t have much flexibility. It would help if Ryan Anderson, who fell out of the playoff rotation, wasn't owed a guaranteed $41.6 million through 2020. Good luck moving that contract.



New Orleans Pelicans

Draft Picks: 51

Salary Cap Projection: $680k


The Pelicans' offseason decisions begin with DeMarcus Cousins, but they don't end there. Cousins is rehabbing left Achilles surgery with an indefinite return date – for what it's worth, he's reportedly "shooting to be ready for training camp." Multiple reports suggest the Pelicans hope to hedge their bets with a 2-3 year deal for Boogie, but the Mavericks may also have interest in him. That's particularly intriguing since they need a center and have some historical precedent to bet on players recovering from Achilles injuries – they gave Wes Matthews a four-year, $70m deal in 2015.


If Cousins leaves town, all bets are off. If he stays put, they'll need to pad the depth chart on a budget since affordable salaries for Rajon Rondo ($3.3m) and Ian Clark ($1.4m) expire this summer. The 32-year-old Rondo had a strong year for New Orleans but was non-committal about his plans in free agency. "I love this group of guys ... I love playing for coach [Alvin Gentry]," he said. "We'll see how it goes." There are four players with partially- or non-guaranteed deals: Darius Miller ($2.2m), Emeka Okafor ($2.4m), DeAndre Liggins ($1.7m) and Chieck Diallo ($1.5m). Miller and Diallo are obvious pickups, Liggins is cheap enough to stick around, and even Okafor said recently that he expects to be back in 2018-19.



San Antonio Spurs

Draft Picks: 18, 49

Salary Cap Projection: $670k


Gregg Popovich plans to meet with Kawhi Leonard soon to offer him a five-year, $219 million "supermax" extension. He's reportedly feeling "96, 97 percent" recovered from the quad tendinosis that plagued him throughout 2017-18. Leonard’s slow rehab from that injury may have created a rift between his camp and the team – details remain scarce. It's worth pointing out that the Spurs mended fences with LaMarcus Aldridge last year, despite his own reported discontent in San Antonio, and he wound up inking a three-year extension last October. A few reports suggest that Pop will also try to meet with LeBron James this summer, to sell him on an LBJ/Kawhi pairing in San Antonio, but for now that's in the 'rumor' phase.


The other dominoes yet to fall in San Antonio involve Tony Parker (unrestricted), Kyle Anderson (restricted) and Danny Green (likely to decline player option). Davis Bertans and Bryn Forbes are also restricted, with cheap qualifying options, so the Spurs have some flexibility in their decision-making once the Kawhi situation is settled. They hope to retain Anderson, but it will likely depend on his salary expectations and desired length of contract. He's unlikely to come cheap since seven teams could reportedly pursue him.


Parker, meanwhile, said in May that he's "not yet sure [he'll] stay with the Spurs ... I would like to make my entire career in San Antonio [but] the sport remains a business." He missed 27 games last season, after missing 19 games in 2016-17, and his playing time has fallen for five straight years (to just 19.5 per game last year). It doesn't sound like he'll give the Spurs a hometown discount and it's hard to see him with fantasy value no matter where he lands.


That concludes the Southwest Division free-agency overview...check back throughout the week for my overviews of the other Western Conference teams!

Despite residing in Portland, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.
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