Late last week, the NBA's Board of Governors proposed starting the 2020-21 season on Dec. 22, with a shortened 72-game slate. Although commissioner Adam Silver and owners across the league are desperate to get fans back into arenas to bolster revenue, this proposal is a concession to reality. COVID-19 is once again surging in the U.S. and the league seems to have determined that more games, adhering closer to the normal NBA schedule, is better than waiting indefinitely. Another interesting proposal is the inclusion of a play-in tournament similar (or identical) to what we saw this season -- the No. 8 seed would need to fend off No. 9 for a playoff spot, as long as they're within a certain number of games in the standings.
All of this is subject to ongoing negotiations with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA). The NBPA's executive director, Michele Roberts, said earlier this month that resuming the season in January would be the "absolute earliest" date possible. "The latter part of January, February makes sense," she told The Athletic. "If it’s later than that, if we have a terrible winter because the virus decides to reassert herself, that’s fine. The absolute earliest would be January, and that’s doable." To make a late-December start more palatable for players, the league is projecting that a later start would forfeit more than $500 million in revenue, much of which ends up in players' bank accounts. The league also wants the 2020-21 season to end prior to the Tokyo Olympics, enabling Team USA athletes to compete while giving other guys a more 'normal' summer offseason.
Whether the season does start on Dec. 22 or another date, things are ramping up quickly. Free agency is expected to open sometime prior to the NBA Draft on Nov. 18, so we could potentially have free agency, the draft, training camps, preseason and opening night in the next two months. Fantasy managers who pay close attention in the coming few weeks will have an advantage on draft day, and we're busy assembling Rotoworld's hoops Draft Guide to give you an additional Edge on the competition.
Today's column looks at the first step in this whirlwind process -- free agency. It's not a banner class of FAs this offseason, so after a quick list of free agents (and player/team options) I'll discuss questions swirling around Giannis Antetokounmpo and Victor Oladipo.
Let's begin with a roll-call of free agents and potential free agents. This isn't comprehensive but covers guys I expect to be fantasy relevant. That's a wide net to cast, ranging from Anthony Davis at the top to a guy like Wes Matthews at the bottom. It's pointless to project fantasy implications prior to players signing with a team, so I'll save us all some time by sticking to simple lists.
Unrestricted free agents
Restricted free agents
(Most RFAs aren't relevant in typical fantasy leagues. If you're in a league with 20+ teams, you might track a guy like Garrison Mathews or Justin Wright-Foreman. But as you can see, there really aren't many enticing RFAs this offseason.)
The prevailing sentiment is that the vast majority of these guys will opt into their deals. Team finances are uncertain due to covid, and most franchises want to maximize cap space for the 2021 free-agent class. Even among the free agents listed above, I'm expecting plenty of one-year deals.
Gordon Hayward - $31.9m
DeMar DeRozan - $27.8m
Otto Porter - $26.6m
Andre Drummond - $25.4m
Nicolas Batum - $24.0m
Tim Hardaway Jr. - $17.7m
Evan Fournier - $17.0m
Jerami Grant - $9.1m
Enes Kanter - $4.8m
JaMychal Green - $4.8m
Avery Bradley - $4.8m
Wes Matthews - $2.6m
Austin Rivers - $2.2m
Willie Cauley-Stein - $2.2m
Marvin Bagley - $7.9m
There are only 16 players with team options this offseason. Beyond the Kings this is a barren fantasy landscape, studded with the likes of Frank Kaminsky, Svi Mykhailiuk, Semi Ojeleye and Garrett Temple. Those are the cream of the team-option crop. Let's move on with a discussion of Giannis' situation in Milwaukee.
The Bucks will offer Giannis Antetokounmpo a five-year "supermax" extension worth $250+ million over five years. Locking up a two-time league MVP and reigning Defensive Player of the Year is one of the easiest decisions ownership and GM Jon Horst will make in their lifetimes. Whether Giannis will accept is another question, though he has suggested before that he plans to stay in Milwaukee. In mid-September he Tweeted this:
During an ESPN interview a few days later, he said, "As long as everybody’s fighting for the same thing … which is to be a champion, I don’t see why [I wouldn't] be in Milwaukee for the next 15 years." He also spent three hours talking to the Bucks' co-owner Marc Lasry, discussing plans to improve the team, and seems happy with the entire organization. After he was ruled out for the Bucks' Game 5 vs. Miami, he praised the team's decision to protect his long-term health. "There’s a lot of cases, previous cases in the past that put the team over the player’s health," he said. "And I love my organization for that, I appreciate that they protected me." If he decides to forego the supermax in favor of free agency next year, there will be a deluge of Giannis-trade rumors. Literally every team in the league covets him, so take it all with a grain of salt.
Elsewhere ... Victor Oladipo and the Pacers failed to negotiate a contract extension last summer, which set the stage for VO to leave the franchise. Sure enough, it was recently reported that Oladipo is "looking to move on" from the Pacers. With one year left on his contract, Indiana has incentive to trade him rather than letting him sign elsewhere for no returns after the 2020-21 season. The Knicks have been mentioned as a possible suitor, and it will be interesting to see how hot the market is for him given his sub-par play after returning from a ruptured quad.
An unnamed NBA executive said Oladipo will be "looking for a max deal," though I'd think that's unlikely unless he returns to an All-Star level of play next season. After all, he shot a career-worst 39.4% from the field (31.7% from deep) this season, with additional lows in assist percentage and steal percentage, even while posting his second-highest turnover percentage. As I wrote in a recent blurb, fantasy managers should tread warily on draft day.
Way further down the list, we got some insight into Boston's thinking from team president Danny Ainge. “I feel like there’s a lot that we don’t know about our team just because the opportunities haven’t come for so many of our players that are on our bench," Ainge said. "We saw Grant Williams finish up pretty strong with a few short-minute opportunities. Robert Williams had a good finish to the season. Enes Kanter gave us a big boost many times throughout the year. Daniel Theis had a terrific year."
Kanter has a $5 million player option he's likely to opt out of in favor of free agency, where he'd likely seek a deal longer than one year. Boston may not mind his exit with Theis installed as a starting center (on a bargain $5 million deal) and Robert Williams showing plenty of promise. The Timelord, in particular, seems destined for a bigger role in 2020-21. “[Williams] spent a lot of time injured, which has limited his development, unfortunately,” Ainge said. “We feel that his time in the bubble was huge. Just being around the coaches and having fewer distractions, he was really improving. I thought he played really well in a lot of the games. So, yeah, we’re very excited about Robert’s future and what he can be."
Fantasy GMs should keep an eye on Williams as a FG%, blocks and boards guy, especially if Kanter signs elsewhere. He only averaged 11.3 minutes in 19 appearances in the bubble, but his per-36-minute stats in that sample are encouraging: 16.8 points on 78.9% shooting (!), 11.9 boards, 2.5 assists, 2.2 blocks and 0.8 steals. That said, he's unlikely to play even 25 minutes per game while Theis is healthy. Ainge's mention of Williams' injuries was also spot-on, as he's been hurt for much of his first two NBA seasons. Still, there's some helium in Williams' balloon as late-round pick.