Restricted free agents have traditionally lingered on the market while teams focused their energies on the unrestricted lot. They have sat and waited for some brave team to make an offer, only to have it matched by their original team. This allowed teams to focus on other needs while their own RFAs had their market set for them, lowering the risk of an overpay. The players had little say in the matter – they could either try to force their team’s hand by signing an offer sheet, threaten to take the one-year qualifying offer (an empty threat), or wait out the process and take what they could get.
This offseason was different. Both Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons signed lucrative offer sheets soon after the moratorium on new contracts was lifted and forced their teams to make tough decisions about their futures. Hayward’s offer sheet from the Hornets was ultimately matched by Utah, but he landed more money than he was expected to and will be the highest paid player on the Jazz for at least a couple of years.
Parsons didn’t even need to be a free agent this offseason, but Houston set its sights high, making him restricted while aiming for Carmelo Anthony and then Chris Bosh, hoping to wrap up its business with Parsons after landing one of the big fish. While they waited for those two situations to shake out, Dallas signed Parsons to a huge 3 year, $45 million deal to force the Rockets’ hand. After striking out on their top targets, Houston opted to seek out a less expensive small forward in Trevor Ariza to fill the void, allowing Parsons to leave for the Mavs.
While they may not have gotten full control over where they spend their next few years, these two moves opened the door for the possibility that RFAs may have more leverage than ever before. Perhaps the market conditions were finally favoring players coming off of their rookie deals, instead of leading them into a false and perfunctory free agency.
A little over a week removed from the early spectacle of this year’s free agency period that doesn’t seem to be the case. While Hayward and Parsons enjoyed some negotiating leverage, the other two big names in this situation, Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe, have seen little activity.
Bledsoe proved his value last season starting for a surprisingly frisky Suns team that nearly made the playoffs after being projected to finish near the bottom of the league. He missed a chunk of time to injury (a bit of a concern after similar issues in L.A.), but when he was on the floor he meshed well with Goran Dragic to form a fantastic dual-point guard backcourt. His energy and athleticism help him break down defenses and get to the rim, and on the other end he harnesses that athleticism to play tenacious on-ball defense.
An increasingly respectable 3-point shot has legitimized one of Bledsoe’s few weaknesses, and he has the ability to play either backcourt spot.Teams with cap space should be trying to lure him away with a tricky offer sheet that will make the Suns think twice before matching, especially now that Isaiah Thomas has signed on as another point guard in the Phoenix backcourt, but so far it hasn’t happened. As of now the only action on the Bledsoe front is a rumor about the Lakers trying to orchestrate a sign and trade.
Monroe is a bit of a different case. While Bledsoe played well for an over-achieving team, Monroe went about his work in the clogged paint in Detroit. The Pistons struggled all season, and at times were completely unwatchable because of their no-space offense featuring three non-shooting post players in the starting lineup. Monroe can score in the paint and rebounds well, but no one who needs the ball in the paint was going to look too good playing next to Andre Drummond and Josh Smith – there were simply too many bodies in the paint.
Monroe is a solid offensive building block, but his defense leaves a lot to be desired. His ability to get steals thanks to his quick hands doesn’t make up for his lack of quickness, which leads to a lot of blow-bys and bad positioning. In the right scheme this could be covered up, but Detroit (at least with last year’s squad) isn’t the place to make that happen.
The Pistons need to clear some space in the frontcourt, and Monroe has his flaws – a team could conceivably acquire him by working out a sign and trade or simply overpaying to force Detroit to decide how much it wants to keep him. It seems that Stan Van Gundy would prefer to trade Smith rather than Monroe, but a good offer could easily net the solid young big. Again though, no one seems willing to pull the trigger.
So what makes Parsons and Hayward different from Bledsoe and Monroe? Why do the former get the big contracts and leverage while the latter play the waiting game?
Positional scarcity plays a huge factor. Wings are harder to come by than either point guards or power forwards, so they are in much higher demand. When a good one comes available teams feel the need to pounce. Truly elite power forwards and point guards would receive the same kind of attention, but Monroe and Bledsoe are a tier or two below that level.
Another reason is timing: no team wants to occupy cap space with an offer to a RFA when other players may get signed away during the waiting period. If the original team matches the offer, you risk walking away with nothing. It only makes sense if you can take advantage of the other team’s timing, as Dallas did to Houston, or if you think the offer may not be matched. Phoenix may well have made it clear that they intend to match all offers to Bledsoe, turning the act of signing him to an offer sheet into a pointless waste of time and flexibility.
After the initial rush on restricted free agents had died down, the teams that started with major cap space had mostly spent it. There are still a few teams lurking, but both they and the teams holding these players’ rights are in no hurry now. They can calmly navigate the waters with most teams done making their major moves, and Bledsoe and Monroe will suffer for the lack of suitors. As much as things change, it appears they always stay the same, and this year’s notable restricted free agents will once have to deal with a dried up market and the knowledge that their teams have more control over their futures than they do.