Atlanta Hawks big men Mike Muscala and Dewayne Dedmon both have important decisions to make between now and June 29, the date by which they must decide whether or not they will pick up their respective player options for the 2018-19 NBA season. Muscala has a $5 million player option, while Dedmon holds a $6.3 million player option.
A more than reasonable argument can be made that both players have delivered to the value of their 2017-18 contracts, if not more. Both rank within the top 15 in true shooting percentage (TS%) at their position, per ESPN.com. Even if ESPN classified Muscala as a center, which seems appropriate, he would rank 20th in TS% at that position. And both players have a positive impact on the Hawks’ defense when on the court.
Should either or both players choose to decline their player option for next season, the Hawks would still have some flexibility that other teams in the league would not have should they have interest in bringing them back.
The Hawks could pay Muscala any salary without being required to use cap space, as they would hold his full Bird rights. The Hawks could only hold non-Bird rights on Dedmon, but that would allow them to offer a contract up to $7.2M without tapping into cap space.
The entire 2018 free agent market is expected to be tight for players apart from those considered to be among the top 25 or so in the league. Center might be the toughest position in the market given that numerous teams are already significantly committed financially to big men for the 2018-19 season and beyond.
There are (at least) 16 centers in the league earning $10 million or more this season with guaranteed contracts for at least next season. Seven of those players have either started fewer than 10 games or played fewer than 750 minutes. Those players include Miles Plumlee (ATL), Timofey Mozgov (BKN), Tristan Thompson (CLV), Omer Asik (CHI), Joakim Noah (NYN) and Ian Mahinmi (WAS). That’s a significant amount of money committed to the position.
And that list of players does not include the likes of Bismack Biyombo and others whose teams would likely seriously explore any potential opportunity to move on from their contracts.
Below is the list of likely free agents with whom Muscala and/or Dedmon would be competing with in tight market. (Note: some assumptions have been made regarding player and team options for the 2018-19 NBA season; the list includes restricted free agents and unrestricted free agents)
Greg Monroe (BOS), Aaron Baynes (BOS), Nerlens Noel (DAL), Salah Mejri (DAL), Zaza Pachulia (GSW), David West (GSW), JaVele McGee (GSW), Kevan Looney (GSW), Tarik Black (HOU), Clint Capela (HOU), Al Jefferson (IND), DeAndre Jordan (LAC), Brook Lopez (LAL), Channing Frye (LAL), Cole Aldrich (MIN), DeMarcus Cousins (NOP), Marreese Speights (ORL), Amir Johnson (PHI), Alan Williams (PHX), Alex Len (PHX), Ed Davis (POR), Jusuf Nurkic (POR), Derrick Favors (UTA)
The players heading toward likely free agency are of significantly varying levels of skill, experience and health status. After an initial glance at the list, it might seem as though the obvious choice for Muscala and Dedmon would be to opt in to their contracts for next season.
But the thing that might make them think twice about doing so is what separates them most of the centers on the list... versatility. Both are widely considered to be, at the very least, passable defensive players. Both can also play on the interior and the perimeter on the offensive end of the court.
Of the likely free agent centers with whom Muscala and Dedmon would be competing, just four players have made 10 three point field goals or more this season heading into play on Friday night.
Let’s take a look.
*age as of July 1, 2018
When considering that list of players including the age, health situation and defensive prowess of each of the players, one can see how Muscala and Dedmon and their respective representatives might feel like they might be able differentiate their clients even in what is expected to be the tightest free agent market in a number of years.
An additional consideration regarding how the Hawks might want to approach the contract situation for both players is that the 2018 draft class is heavy with talented big men. Should the Hawks feel that taking a young center is a possibility in June, having the right experienced big men around to provide leadership could be a priority.
Nothing is certain for either player at this stage but, at the very least, there will be plenty of intrigue as to the decisions both Muscala and Dedmon will be making when the offseason arrives.