Restricted free agents have it rough

Updated: July 20, 2004, 4:10 PM ET
By Chad Ford | ESPN Insider
With Vlade Divac heading to the Lakers, Erick Dampier close to picking his new home and Rasheed Wallace still on the verge of re-signing with the Pistons, the top free agents left on the market are all restricted free agents.

Only a handful of restricted free agents -- Quentin Richardson, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Morris Peterson -- have received offer sheets from other teams. In every case, there was strong evidence to suggest the player's current team wouldn't, or couldn't, match the offer.

Why can't players like Stromile Swift, Darius Miles and Jamal Crawford get real offers? Surely they're worth more than role players like Brian Cardinal, Adonal Foyle, Rafer Alston and Derek Fisher, who've all pulled down huge deals.

Swift, Miles and Crawford were the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 8 picks in the 2000 NBA Draft, respectively. All three showed enormous promise last season. Swift, who is 24, is one of the most athletic big men in the game. He averaged 9.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg and 1.5 bpg playing out of position at center last season. Miles, who is just 22, blossomed in Portland, averaging 12.6 ppg and 4.5 rpg with the Blazers. Crawford, who just turned 24, is a rare "big" point guard who averaged 17.3 ppg and 5.1 apg for the Bulls last season.

The answer is that restricted free agency is just that -- restricting. Teams don't want to make offer sheets, have their cap space locked up for 15 days only to learn that the team owning the restricted free agent's rights is going to match.

That leaves a restricted free agent three options. One, work out a sign-and-trade (ask Crawford how easy that is). Two, work out a contract with your own club. Or, three, beg someone else to drop down an offer sheet. Teams consider option three a last resort.

There are plenty of teams interested in Crawford, Swift and Miles, but so far no one has officially extended an offer sheet. Teams are reluctant to pull the trigger, knowing they'll either have to give up a valuable asset in a trade or overpay the player in an effort to dissuade his current team from matching.

Neither is an attractive proposal, which is why many restricted free agents either re-sign with their own teams or take the one-year tender and wait for unrestricted free agency the next summer.

How will the summer play out for the NBA's top restricted free agents? Insider takes a look.

Chad Ford

ESPN Senior Writer