San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker is currently playing through the final season of his rookie contract and is set to hit restricted free agency next summer. While the motivation of a new contract often results in players having big years, that hasn't necessarily been the case with Walker this season.
Fortunately, he has started to play better, but it remains to be seen whether he's begun to turn the page on his season and how it will affect his next contract. So how much could Walker make in restricted free agency? Let's take a closer look.
Walker's next contract is complicated by the fact that he'll be entering restricted free agency, which is likely to affect the number of offers he might receive. After all, teams may not offer what they think he's worth if they expect San Antonio to match any reasonable offer. That could limit his market to teams that believe in Walker enough to overpay him, thus hoping San Antonio would think twice about matching their offer.
Based on his play thus far, that doesn't seem realistic at the moment. Walker, despite his physical gifts and natural talent, hasn't found a way to channel that into consistent production. To be clear, Walker's capable of going off for 20 points on any given night, and that's valuable especially off the bench.
However, those games can be few and far in between and there are plenty of games where his impact is minimal. This is a result of his overreliance on his jump shot despite shooting poorly. For instance, he averages 5.2 3-point attempts per game but is only drilling 31.2% of his threes.
He also barely gets to the rim or the free throw line, making him an incredibly inefficient player. Defensively, he also has plenty of potential but hasn't exactly lived up to expectations either. All of which begs the question, how much is he worth?
How much is Lonnie Walker worth?
With the salary cap now at $112 million, it can be difficult to gauge a player's value relative to the high cap. Still, it seems reasonable that a great bench player could earn around $15 million a year. Walker isn't a great or even a good bench player, yet, so I'd doubt that his next contract will be worth even $10 million annually, especially in restricted free agency.
Instead, I could see him signing a 3-year deal worth between $24 million and $27 million without competitive offers. That figure may seem low to many Spurs fans, but fellow Spur Jakob Poeltl was also a restricted free agent a couple of seasons ago. However, unlike Walker, Poeltl was coming off a good season and projected to be a starter.
Despite that, he was ultimately re-signed to a 3-year deal worth $26.2 million, which obviously looks like a steal now. Poeltl's situation was likely affected by a lack of available cap space, while next year's free agency doesn't appear to have the same issue.
Teams may have more money than they know what to do with, and one could make a run at Walker. But paying significantly more than $8 million or $9 million annually for him to keep San Antonio from matching still seems far-fetched to me.
Is a Sign-and-trade of Lonnie Walker on the table?
Another option could be for a team to attempt and work out a sign-and-trade with the Spurs rather than try to outbid them in restricted free agency. That might be a more viable option, especially if San Antonio doesn't view Walker as a part of their long-term plan.
After all, the Spurs already drafted Walker's potential replacement, Joshua Primo. Additionally, the Spurs could be open to a sign-and-trade for financial reasons.
For instance, they have Keldon Johnson's upcoming extension to think about, which in combination with Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Doug McDermott's contracts, could drastically cut into future cap space. Therefore, it might make more sense for the Spurs to either let Walker leave in restricted free agency, or trade for assets, rather than pay him.
Overall, the Spurs appear to have a lot of leverage heading into the summer of 2022 regarding Walker's restricted free agency, given his play thus far. Other teams could still be interested, but it's hard to see a team outbidding the Spurs.
As a result, I expect Walker to be re-signed to an affordable three-year deal worth around $27 million. Considering he's only 23, the potential would still be there for him to eventually develop into an above-average player who could outperform that contract.
As for Walker, were he to exceed expectations, he'd be able to hit unrestricted free agency a year earlier than most former first-round picks and cash in. Therefore, I expect Walker and the Spurs to agree to a new deal in restricted free agency this off-season.