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Here Are the Remaining NBA Free Agents Who Could Find Niches on Top Teams

Not everybody in basketball is cashing out

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Monsoon season in the NBA has come to an end. After leaguewide splurging last offseason, spending room has dried out and shriveled up. Even franchises that entered the summer with money to spend, well, it’s mid-August — they’ve mostly exhausted their budgets. But there’s still a small group of viable free agents hoping for rain.

Though a roster spot or two remains for some teams, few franchises have ample cap space, and so the free agents who have been holding out are beginning to settle. Last week, Michael Beasley agreed to a one-year veteran minimum with the Knicks, shortly after Derrick Rose committed to the same with the Cavaliers (the ’08 draft class weeps). Fringe players, like Norris Cole and Ty Lawson, are finding a payday abroad, opting for spots on teams in the EuroLeague and China, respectively.

But there are still a few solid free agents who haven’t blinked, betting that their value will hold over time. For these players, it’s not a matter of if they’ll sign, but when. (Also, from a franchise payroll perspective, how they’ll sign.) Below are the free agents still holding out under the clouds.

Nerlens Noel

Noel’s position — an old-fashioned Texas standoff with the Mavs — hasn’t changed in the past month. As of late July, Dallas’s standing offer was a figure that Noel’s camp felt could not be “serious.”

The 23-year-old entered the offseason with maximum contract hype; now-stale reports that other teams planned to extend him that money made Noel seem like a must-have target. He never got those offer sheets, or at least never signed any. Without the market jacking up his fee, Dallas found itself in a position to have its 6-foot-11 cake and eat it, all for half the price.

Now, a month later, it looks like the Mavs are the only suitor. In that case, Noel has no leverage (and no reason) to hold out this long on a deal. His $5.8 million qualifying offer still stands; if Dallas is lowballing to an insulting degree, Noel should take the offer and try his luck with the market next summer. But if other teams are still in the mix, expect him to wait it out. For a player of Noel’s caliber, there’s no risk in holding out. He’ll eventually get signed. The only thing he’ll miss out on is sprints in training camp.

JaMychal Green

Green is in the same boat as Noel. He’s also a restricted free agent caught between last summer’s inflated expectations and the diminished 2017–18 cap reality. Trusted as a starter for Memphis last season, Green’s multipurpose play shone against San Antonio in the playoffs, where he shot a 57 effective field goal percentage and defended multiple positions. The 27-year-old’s market value is far above the qualifying offer that Memphis extended him, worth $2.8 million, but the franchise doesn’t appear willing to offer anything more.

In the first week of July, Green’s agent, Michael Hodges, said that it looked like the Grizzlies were “going in a different direction” from his client. Hodges mentioned considering a sign-and-trade for Green, a move that seems all the more likely with cap space in short supply elsewhere. His one-year QO is a much smaller sum than Noel’s, and is barely above the veteran minimum, but the power forward could also benefit from increased exposure and flashier numbers in another season with Memphis. Without Zach Randolph in the frontcourt, Green’s 27.3 minutes per game from last year will grow into a bigger role — not the worst setup for a contract year.

Nikola Mirotic

Chicago has other money on its mind as the season approaches, and the Mirotic holdout appears completely on the backburner. Or off the stove altogether. “We want Niko back,” GM Gar Forman said during Las Vegas summer league, “and we think Niko wants to be in Chicago. Usually when you have those two things, at the end of the day there’s usually a way to get something done.”

Mirotic pulled out of his Team Spain obligations earlier this summer, skipping the FIBA EuroBasket tournament because he felt he was too distracted by free agency and was “betraying the team.” He’s also keeping his bosses happy: Forman said last summer’s bronze-medal run caused Mirotic to “[lose] some time” in the weight room.

Mirotic’s $7.2 million qualifying offer is the fattest on this list, and after a dip in shooting production last season, it might be the best offer the Bulls extend, especially after Chicago’s choice to draft a lengthy outside threat in Lauri Markkanen.

Shabazz Muhammad

When Muhammad and the Wolves failed to reach an extension last fall, the forward said he was “still confident” in his future with the team and called Minnesota the place where he wanted to be “long term.” Bazz brought a welcome supply of shooting and confidence off the bench, but was a liability elsewhere. After a season of unimproved ball movement and defensive struggles, the Wolves renounced his rights to clear cap space for Taj Gibson.

The good: No longer a restricted free agent, Muhammad can still return to the Twin Cities, as the Wolves are reportedly interested in bringing him back. The bad: Minny can afford the 24-year-old only at the veteran minimum. The ugly: Of the teams that were reportedly interested in Muhammad in July, none can afford to offer much more than the minimum, if they can make an offer at all.

Memphis Grizzlies v San Antonio Spurs - Game Two Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Tony Allen

Allen is a six-time All-Defensive Team selection. He’s a lockdown technician, Kobe Bryant’s least-favorite guard to square up against, the Grindfather, a Memphis institution, and a free agent. He’s also 35 years old and can’t shoot in a shooter’s league. His time with the Grizzlies seems to be over (is anything more final than removing something from your Twitter bio?). Allen looks like he will be following the trail of other Memphis vets that left after the 2016–17 season.

But Allen can still work his skills into the demand-heavy, low-supply market that is NBA defense — just ask the Finals runner-ups.