NBA Free Agency: Best of the Big Men

Two days after the nation celebrates Independence Day, NBA players will get to exercise their independence with the start of the league’s free agency period on July 6.

According to the latest numbers by Spotrac, the New Orleans Pelicans have a bit of work to do to get under the salary cap. The Pels have 13 players currently under contract, with more than $207 million committed to the roster. They sit $73.64 million over the cap. Only seven teams in the league are worse off financially.

This is professional sports however, and what is true today may not be true tomorrow.

David Griffin does have some flexibility and he has plenty of assets to sweeten a deal if need be.

Though Jonas Valanciunas has shown his value over the past two seasons, averaging 15.9 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, it seems that he is not the Pelicans’ center of the future. JV saw his minutes cut by nearly six per game to 24.9, his lowest since the 2018-19 season. Yet, he still was one of only nine players in the entire NBA to average at least 14 points and 10 boards. Jonas was the only member of the group to post those figures in fewer than 30 minutes per game.

And, he only has one season left on his contract. His expiring deal and production could be very appealing to the right team. If the Pelicans do decide to move on from Valanciunas, they’ll need to replace his offensive rebounding, offensive efficiency, toughness, and ability to show up.

Restricted free agent Jaxson Hayes’ days in New Orleans appear to be numbered, and if you ask much of the fan base they should be expired. There is no more frustrating statement associated with the Pelicans, perhaps other than “wait until this team gets healthy,” than “if Jaxson Hayes ever puts it all together.”

In four seasons, Hayes has yet to show the type of improvement the franchise has expected since he was taken with the eighth pick in 2019. That was ahead of other front court players like Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, PJ Washington, and Nic Claxton.

Then, there’s Willy Hernangomez. Though Willy has been a fan favorite and a loyal soldier over the last three seasons, he too has fallen out of favor when it comes to Willie Green’s rotations. Hernangomez appeared in just 38 games last season, his fewest since the season before he arrived in NOLA. His discontent with his playing situation was clear as the season wore on. The Pelicans hold his club option, though it seems highly unlikely that he returns.

The Pelicans’ options as far as free agents aren’t plentiful. Like this year’s NBA Draft, the big board is not deep with big men. But there are a few who could make an impact.

Thomas Bryant, Denver Nuggets

Bryant will be entering his seventh NBA season, but will only be 26 years old when it ends. While not the most glamorous name on the list, Thomas Bryant has proven to be an effective offensive presence during his career.

This season he averaged 25.1 pts, 14.7 reb, and 1.3 blks per 100 possessions while shooting 62.3 percent from the floor and 44.1 percent from long distance. The only other players to match those numbers were named Nikola Jokic, Domantas Sabonis, and JaVale McGee.

Defensively, he has work to do, but he isn’t a disaster. His defensive real plus-minus last season was 0.50, ahead of DeAndre Jordan, Nerlens Noel, and Jalen Duren. Hernangomez and Hayes registered at -1.31 and -1.86 respectively.

As an inexpensive, rotational big, there’s still potential for Bryant to tap into. He could provide scoring around the rim and can still be a threat from the perimeter while providing more athleticism than either JV or Hernangomez.

Mason Plumlee, Los Angeles Clippers

The last of the Flying Plumlee Brothers, Plumlee continues to plug along as one of the NBA’s most consistent and durable bigs in the league; capable of being effective as both a starter and as a reserve.

In his 10-year career Plumlee has appeared in fewer than 70 games in a season just twice, averaging 74 per year, with 446 starts. In 79 games with the Hornets and Clippers this past season, he posted 10.8 pts, 8.9 reb, and 3.1 ast.

He started 60 games, collecting 23 double-doubles. He had at least eight rebounds in a game 49 times and at least one block in 33 games. Hernangomez and Hayes combined for 9 and 22 such games, respectively. Valanciunas had 56 games with eight boards and 37 with one block.

Plumlee will surely draw suitors as long as Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, stand atop the league. He earned more than $8M with the Clippers this season, and should get more in the open market.

Meyers Leonard, Milwaukee Bucks

Meyers Leonard has two things going for him. He’s 7-feet tall and he is an exceptional shooter for his size. He’s also incredibly cheap, so make that three things.

Leonard was on the rise until his career was knocked off track after he used a racial slur during an online gaming session. He was exiled from the NBA, and it took him a while to find his way back to the league.

The Bucks took a chance on him, and though he only appeared in nine games during the regular season, Leonard showed that his shooting touch hasn’t left him yet.

Over 10 seasons, he’s maintained a career .390 shooting percentage from beyond the three-point line. Between 2017-2021 he made 43 pct. of his attempts from downtown and had an effective field goal percentage of 64 pct.

He doesn’t provide much in terms of rim protection or rebounding, but he’s a specialist who’s really good at what he does. He could be worth a look.

Naz Reid, Minnesota Timberwolves

Pelicans fans have been salivating over Reid for the past four seasons. And with good reason. After going undrafted out of LSU, Reid has put the work in to develop his game, and it should pay off this summer.

Though undersized at 6-9, Reid is powerful, packing 260 lbs onto his frame. He’s also coming off of the best statistical season of his young career.

In 68 games for the Timberwolves, Reid posted career highs in points (11.5), rebounds (4.9), steals (0.6), and field goal percentage (.537). He’s also become a very accurate three-point shooter, making a career best 75 triples this past season, while shooting 35 pct. from deep.

Most of Reid’s skills are displayed on the offensive end, he has yet to prove to be much of a one-on-one defender. He has shown some flashes as a shot blocker, averaging just under one block per game for his career. With his athleticism, his work ethic, and perhaps some additional coaching, he can become at the very least a solid team defender. No matter what, there is going to be a lot of competition for his services.

Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks

While Lopez is probably the least likely of the free agents to join the Pelicans, based on just how valuable he has been to the Bucks, there’s still a chance that “Splash Mountain” could relocate from the Midwest.

Though he’s only been named to the NBA All-Star team once in his career, Brook Lopez is still one of the top centers in the league at the age of 34.

Lopez was named to the All-Defensive First Team for the first time in his career after this past season, his 15th in the league. After missing most of the 2021-22 campaign, Lopez played in 78 games, his highest total since 2019.

He also played 30.4 minutes per game, the most he’s played in almost a decade. Even still, his efficiency was incredible. Lopez was one of only four players in the NBA to average at least 15 points, six rebounds, and two blocks per game (Anthony Davis, Jaren Jackson Jr., Myles Turner).

His 37.4 percent shooting from distance was a career-best, and since the start of the 2016 season Lopez has shot a robust 35 pct. overall from downtown. He’s clutch at the line as well, converting better than 80 pct. of his free throw attempts.

It would take a tremendous amount of maneuvering and convincing, but adding a veteran like Lopez into the heart of the Pelicans defense would be the type of landscape shifting move that fans are looking for.

Honorable mention: Jakob Poeltl, Raptors; Dwight Powell, Mavericks; Drew Eubanks, Trail Blazers; Bismack Biyombo, Suns


21 thoughts on “NBA Free Agency: Best of the Big Men

  1. How about boogie? If he has a decent attitude and willing to take a cheaper deal, he’d be a great backup. Can pass hit the 3 rebound and plays at least as good defense as Jonas. Great in the half court where we were worst. Plus he is only 32. Yeah the injury he had he will probably never be the same but his game was never built around superior athleticism

    1. I just don’t see Griffin taking any risks on players with extensive injury histories. It’s already been a PR nightmare for the franchise.

      1. I am really noticing how instead of a coach augmenting to the the players they have, many teams now are having to augment to the coach’s style.
        Look at Miami, they draft and go for hard nose active players, who focus on defense because that is spol style. For the bucks they went for players that could hit the 3 because that was their coaches style more than what Giannis needed. Thibs was always a defensive first iso ball coach and that is the style Brunson has enjoyed.

        The big question becomes do you trust Willie to lead us to a deep playoff run. If so, you give him the style of players he wants, a small quick 5 that can switch, a 4 that can rebound when z is hurt, and a non iso ball guard, that can make quick decisions.

        Or you move on from Willie, giving jonas and z a chance

        1. Using Miami as a template is flawed logic. Spoelstra has one 50-win season without LeBron on his roster and Miami’s path is not replicable. The Bucks did not settle on players that could hit the 3. Milwaukee’s identity was based on defense first. Middleton and Giannis were the foundation and they added some shooters, but mostly they’re about defending the paint and limiting free throws, then creating transition opportunities. The Knicks are still a mediocre team. Talent wins. And the Pelicans have some talent, but not enough, especially when the best players are frequently injured. The Pelicans don’t have an identity, and the roster can only be upended so much this offseason.

          1. Talent wins but the coaching has to match the style of play for the talent. Certain stars are better at playing a half court style that is based on ball movement while others are better in a hurry up offense. Look at z, he is better as the ball handler starting in the top than being the ball handler starting in the post, only took a third of the season for Willie to realize that. Bi is better as the screener or high post man, cj really needs to play off ball and really none of them are great getting out and running unless they are leaking and not rebounding. Can will augment his style to match them or at least bring someone in he trusts to do it?
            Also, how can you call the Knicks mediocre when they got to the second round? It is just not true.

      2. Griffin’s PR nightmares originate in his decision making… How can you be relegated to the bench on game day when there is a conditioning issue.. Look at certain player trades… What did moving Drue Holiday cost considering what we got resulting in CJ over Holiday plus we get George Hill, Drew Bledsoe, 3 1st and 2 or 3 swaps… In the end we trade a 1st for Devonte Graham and he gets a $43M extension… weren’t the Hornets PG heavy… 2 years later we trade Graham giving away a 1st…

        Adding insult we supposedly did that awful trade because we had a bead on either Chris Paul or Lowery… lol… The Pelicans were searching for a PG since CP3…

        1. So many of his moves have been corrections of moves that didn’t work. And he gets credit for cleaning up the mistake. He could try not making the initial mistake for a change.

    2. Great suggestion… I have similar thinking but will Mr. Analytics have the basketball IQ… Cousins got a bad deal with injuries with the last an incentive for AD to flee… We still have the kid from Ohio State… Miami has a team of 2nd Rounders… But that’s Pat Riley….

      1. The injury to Cousins was not really a factor in AD’s decision to leave. That plot had started at least 2 years prior.

    1. I went to WordPress and signed in there. They sent me a sign in link and I just go to the email and sign in each time. The new site is on WordPress so I do it through there.

  2. Trying to post again. Had to switch browsers.

    Didn’t have any idea they were $73M over…not sure how that is going to work.

    Seems like almost everyone who was a commenter has disappeared from here.

    1. It’s still one of the security issues we’re working on. SB Nation did not make it very easy to make the changeover. This is a smaller, independent media company and we’re working to make sure that our site is more user friendly as quickly as possible.

  3. The new CBA makes it really tough to keep a young core together. Boston likely won’t be able to keep Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum together, or if they do, they will rally have to shed a lot of other contracts. Lots of devices that teams used to use, like the mid-level exception, etc, have been cut back or eliminated. And teh luxury tax really goes through the roof at certain levels. Personally, I see no way the Pels are able to keep Zion, BI, Trigga, CJ, Val, Herb, etc together. They will have some tough decisions to make.

    1. You have to settle on 3-4 players and continuously recycle around them, as the league is currently set up.

    2. The new CBA seems like it could really change things. Not sure if true but read it could even affect draft picks in future years if certain levels of the tax are hit. I see no way it doesn’t impact the Pels who never go into the tax, maybe one more year with this crew but big changes with nothing to show for the last 4 years may soon arrive. If Trey builds on his best performances of last year they need to lock him down with an extension soon. Also, teams that built through the draft should have had some kind of carve outs to at least make it easier for them to keep their own players.

      1. Trey is a potential All-Star, and with his shooting and athleticism, he’s going to command a max-type deal. Herb still needs to be paid as well. Don’t think there aren’t teams waiting to swoop in there. This is the last stand for this group. If it doesn’t work, 2 of the big 3 are likely gone.

        1. I have no problem with them building around Trey and Herb if they keep progressing. They so far are less injury prone than some others which is a pretty big deal as well. Two of the big three could be one either way unless they make a deep run.

          Realized we can’t edit on here like before.

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