With the NBA’s moratorium lifted, the league’s focus now shifts to restricted free agents

The NBA’s offseason moratorium period ends Thursday, allowing pens to hit paper across the league, thus marking the first opportunity for restricted free agents to sign an offer sheet from a rival team. A restricted free agent could have agreed to the terms since the bell rang at 1 p.m. 6:00 PM ET Friday, just like players on the open market. You can bet Austin Reaves, Miles Bridges or Grant Williams would have responded to a four-year, $100 million overture from, say, San Antonio. But the fact that such an offer sheet could not be officially signed until Thursday, before that player’s established team then has 48 hours to consider matching, certainly kept front offices from making an aggressive pursuit in this year’s restricted class.

Reaves and Bridges are already off the board. Without the lucrative offer over the four-year, $56 million Reaves took to return to the Lakers, the Arkansas product was always headed back to Los Angeles. Bridges surprised many league observers by agreeing to the one-year, $7.9 million qualifying offer that the Hornets had to extend to keep him limited.

The qualifying offer is usually just a formality, not a dollar figure most players ever consider. It does, however, allow a potential exit ramp for a touted young prospect if negotiations with his current club go awry, and a chance for someone like Bridges to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent the following year. The fact that Bridges missed the entire 2022-2023 season after a domestic violence incident that occurred on the eve of his originally scheduled restricted free agency last summer obviously clouds any evaluation of his play in terms of contract value.

There was plenty of talk of Bridges drawing several offers of around $30 million annually, perhaps from the Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and even the Memphis Grizzlies, before news broke of Bridges’ assault allegations.

Restricted free agent PJ Washington and Charlotte appear to be far apart in contract negotiations. (AP Photo/Rusty Jones)

A year later, it’s no surprise that a similar market didn’t materialize for Bridges, who sought up to $25 million in average annual value from the Hornets in July, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Charlotte and Bridges’ representation were far enough apart in negotiations that Bridges quickly took the qualifying offer, not even 24 hours into free agency. Bridges, who pleaded no contest to a domestic violence charge in November 2022, could have waited. There is recent history, such as Lauri Markkanen in 2021, of a restricted free agent lingering on the market deep into the summer and ultimately landing a strong option through sign-and-trade. Perhaps that will be the end result of PJ Washington’s own restricted free agency with the Hornets, as he also appears far apart with Charlotte in his contract negotiations.

Bridges and his representatives went so far as to ask Charlotte to withdraw the qualifying offer, sources said, to hit the open market now. Washington’s pending negotiations with the Hornets seem a bit more complicated. As Marc Stein reported on his Substack, Washington wants well north of the $12.4 million mid-level exception, in the four-year, $80 million range, sources said. The similar contract Keldon Johnson signed with the Spurs last summer has become something of a benchmark for starter-level players’ rookie and second contract extensions across the league — note that’s the same number Dillon Brooks drew from Houston . Not all deals are created equal in terms of guaranteed money and various bonuses, but for Washington to get that type of salary, he might have to hold out for a sign-and-trade opportunity, which Markkanen eventually found with the Cavaliers.

Dallas has been the only team to emerge as a good landing spot for restricted free-agent forwards. However, the Mavericks have been focused on wing defenders, not a versatile big man like Washington. The two names most often associated with the Mavericks have been Williams and Blazers forward Matisse Thybulle, after another top target in Brooks went on to sign with Houston.

And as of Wednesday night, Williams will join the Mavericks thanks to a sign-and-trade, according to reports, that will net him a four-year, $53 million deal. For Williams to find the payday he wanted this summer, it was always going to require a sign-and-trade concept. Back during extension negotiations in the fall, Williams was hoping for about $15 million in average annual value, league sources told Yahoo Sports, while the Celtics were more comfortable extending Williams closer to a $12 million salary. After the first weekend of free agency, any rival suitor — forgetting the Spurs’ excellent $25 million-plus in cap space — was limited to reaching Williams in that mid-price range. And the Spurs actually ate into that space by taking back Reggie Bullock in the three-team deal that brought Williams to Dallas.

The sign-and-trade also allows Dallas to add another wing using this mid-level exception. Chris Haynes of Turner Sports reported Wednesday that Thybulle intends to sign an offer sheet from the Mavericks. According to league sources, Dallas has rated Thybulle at a number slightly below the full mid-level. That salary, however, would be on the court, where Portland, on the precipice of trading franchise face Damian Lillard, appears to be positioned to match a young player who some talent evaluators still believe has untapped offensive potential. The Blazers also acquired Thybulle at the February trade deadline, when teams typically pursue players they don’t plan to let go even if their All-NBA lynchpin requests a trade.

Despite all the trade smoke swirling around the league this past weekend, there doesn’t appear to be a clear next deal on the way. NBA personnel have been waiting to see what the Spurs would accomplish to reach the salary floor, which is 90% of this season’s salary cap. There are other ongoing ideas such as New Orleans wanting to move Kira Lewis Jr., sources said, as they continue to gauge the market for Jonas Valančiūnas’ expiring contract. Blockbuster talk of moving Lillard or Sixers All-Star guard James Harden has not materialized.

Even the growing buzz about Toronto forward Pascal Siakam has seemed to quiet down. The Hawks and Raptors have discussed various concepts to send Siakam to Atlanta in recent weeks, sources said, but those talks have not generated progress of late. Elsewhere on the Hawks, there remains optimism among league personnel familiar with the situation that Atlanta will agree to a contract extension for All-Star guard Dejounte Murray.

The Raptors have a lot left to sort out after losing Fred VanVleet to the Rockets. Toronto added Dennis Schröder as a replacement, and the Raptors, sources said, had also expressed interest in Bulls restricted free agent guard Ayo Dosunmu. It remains to be seen whether Toronto will make additional trades to overcome the loss of its starting point guard.

The final restricted free agent on the board is Sixers backup center Paul Reed. By all accounts, Philadelphia intends to bring Reed back, and that interest is mutual.

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