On July 1st, the craziest free agency period in the history of the NBA will begin. From Kevin Durant’s potential change of teams, to the trajectory of several franchises improving their fortune, to players like Harrison Barnes getting a max contract they don’t deserve, the summer is going to be explosive. Add to that, the salary cap is going to increase to $94 million.
Among restricted free agents, two names stick out as clear examples of how crazy this summer could be. Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters, picked third and fourth in the 2012 Draft respectively, are on expiring rookie deals and are likely to cash in on the cap insanity that will unfold in July and August. No agent wants their player to receive a bad deal and no player will want a contract that will look bad in three years when all of this settles down. Therefore, Waiters and Beal, despite relatively underwhelming resumes, will likely demand a ton of money.
Beal and Waiters are interesting because they have the potential to be great players, but they have an inconsistent history as well. In 2014, Waiters and Beal exchanged blows on social media, regarding which team had the best backcourt in the NBA.
In 2014, Beal proclaimed in an interview that he and John Wall were the best backcourt combination in the NBA and Waiters fired back with a hilarious tweet linking to a YouTube video of his highest scoring game with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since then, Waiters left the Cavs for the Thunder and Beal and Wall have failed to put in a full 82-game season together to backup their claims. Mostly this argument was rendered irrelevant by the play of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but it still showed what most of the league and media thought of these two at the time.
A lot of changes have occurred for Beal and Waiters since 2014, and despite their inability to reinforce their claims, they are still solid players. Also, as second-tier shooting guards they can change the way we perceive the position going forward. It’ll be interesting to see what a constantly injured knockdown shooter like Beal and a ball dominant one-way guard like Waiters could get in this open market. The fact they are both restricted free agents makes them more difficult for other teams to sign as the Thunder and the Wizards have the right to match any offer sheet.
Beal, in particular, is interesting because he is widely perceived as the better and more consistent player of the two. Partly because of his expanding skill set, Beal refused to sign an extension last fall in anticipation that he would be offered the max this summer. This is a realistic goal for Beal considering, that when healthy, he is one of the best starting guards in the East with perennial All-Star John Wall, next to him.
It is a safe bet that he will get a max deal because of his efficiency. This is true too: the Wizards will be much worse without him. Beal is a near 40% three-point shooter, still only 22, and therefore cannot be allowed to leave. This leaves the Wizards with no choice but to give him his max money.
The situation with Dion Waiters is much different. He was traded from the Cavaliers to the Thunder at last year’s trade deadline. However, even though he has changed teams and is no longer a starter, he has found a role as a decent bench player. It would be unprecedented to give a bench player anything more than the Mid-Level Exception of about $5 million (which will increase with the new cap) but with every team having cap space, Waiters could sign for much more.
Waiters numbers throughout his career are mixed. Last year, his Per-36 Minutes numbers were very respectable with 12.7 points, 2.6 assists, and 3.4 rebounds but he has never shot above 36% from behind the three-point line since entering the league. His shot selection has always been questionable and his borderline defense has always been a problem. However, the appeal for a team to carve out a larger role for him is still there.
Waiters will not demand the max but he will likely get more money than he’s arguably worth. Adding to the benefit of being an NBA player with a contract expiring this lucky summer, Waiters also has the added bonus of having a superstar free agent player on his team. Durant has been outspoken of his support for Waiters, citing how he wanted to make him feel welcome after Waiters was exiled out of Cleveland, and that support could be very telling going forward.
The Thunder’s entire off-season will be tailored around retaining Kevin Durant and making him happy. If Durant wants Waiters around, the Thunder will bring him back, no matter the price. This could have massive repercussions on the Thunder’s ability to pay their other stars like Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and Steven Adams.
Waiters and Beal are both underwhelming players, but for different reasons. Beal has never played a full season and is a question mark going forward. Waiters is frustratingly unable to put it all together for his team. He is clearly not a starting level guard but that doesn’t mean he won’t get paid like one.
photo via llananba