The playoffs are getting closer and closer with each passing game, but what if you have no skin in this postseason? For those of you that are already looking forward to the typically wild free agency period in July, Basketball Insiders has been taking a look at the players that could potentially move this summer. Now more than halfway through the series, up next are the pending power forwards — a group of talented players that could shape the NBA landscape with a single signing.
First off, should the Los Angeles Clippers be worried about Blake Griffin? Will the Atlanta Hawks fork over the cash to keep Paul Millsap? If a team is strapped for cap space, what low-cost, high-impact free agents exist at this position? Separated into ranked tiers, here’s how the power forward dominos could fall in free agency.
Tier 1: Top Shelf Starters
1. Blake Griffin — Early Termination
For a player that once looked well on his way to becoming the next darling of the league, there’s been little hubbub about his potential unrestricted free agency this summer. Griffin (along with point guard Chris Paul) has the ability to terminate the final year of his contract, and the former All-Star would have plenty of suitors. While the last few seasons haven’t gone swimmingly for the high-flyer, Griffin is still just 28 years old and sports a nice average of 21.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
Griffin is a five-time All-Star and a great fit next to DeAndre Jordan, the rebounding machine he helped re-sign to a hefty deal back in 2015, but the Clippers have never made it past the second round with this core. In recent years, Griffin has attempted to expand his range and has made a career-high in three-pointers with 26 in 2016-17, making them at a 32.9 percent clip.
Ultimately, if Griffin ends his deal early, he’ll likely just re-sign with the Clippers again. Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler was told as much around the trade deadline. But with Paul potentially hitting UFA with sharpshooter J.J. Redick as well, there are plenty of decisions to be made this summer in Los Angeles.
2. Paul Millsap — Player Option
If Griffin truly is off the market, that would make Paul Millsap the crown jewel of potential power forward free agents. Millsap has a Player Option worth $21.4 million heading into the final year of his contract, but with the Atlanta Hawks trending backward without Al Horford, could he look to greener pastures? Reports have indicated he might. Of course, Millsap was a hot topic around trade deadline season following Kyle Korver’s move to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Hawks stood firm on their power forward.
If he opts out, the Hawks will certainly look to retain the talents of Millsap alongside the lengthy deals of Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore and Dwight Howard. Millsap is a defensively stout power forward that contributes in all major statistical categories, averaging 3.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 1 block and 1 three-pointer per game this season. At 32, this may be Millsap’s final opportunity to lock down a major deal with a contender, so if he reaches unrestricted free agency, the do-it-all big man will be a much-desired commodity in July.
Tier 2: Serviceable Starters
3. Serge Ibaka — Unrestricted Free Agent
Now, here’s where things get interesting.
Serge Ibaka was set to become one of the trade deadline’s most sought-after players, but after the shot-blocking power forward wouldn’t commit long term to any of his suitors, the market cooled considerably. At 27, Ibaka would still be a major addition to any franchise this summer as the first truly unattached player on this list.
Although his blocks per game averages have been trending down since his unreal mark of 3.7 in 2011-12, Ibaka is still one of the league’s premier rim protectors. He’s still trying to find his way in a post-Thunder world without Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to set him up with easy looks, but his numbers over the past year with Oklahoma City, Orlando and Toronto look nearly identical.
Ibaka relies on his athleticism to impact basketball games, but you can likely count on him to contribute about 14 points, 6 rebounds and a block per game for the next couple seasons. For teams out there looking to capitalize on a shrinking window like the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls, adding a defensive game-changer like Ibaka could be interesting.
4. Taj Gibson — Unrestricted Free Agent
By all accounts, Taj Gibson has been a consistent contributor since the Bulls drafted him in 2009. He doesn’t fit the prototypical mold of the new age deep-shooting big man, but Gibson’s skill set would be a helpful addition to most teams. Before he was traded to the Thunder at the deadline, he was averaging 11.6 points, 7 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game, a line more or less near his averages since 2013-14.
As a post player, he’s about as old-school as they come: hard-nosed and gritty with a soft touch around the hoop, but he was never more than a supporting piece in Chicago. After Carlos Boozer moved on from the franchise in 2014, Gibson was the natural replacement but the Bulls opted to bring in Pau Gasol for a one-year trial. Alongside Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, Gibson was always a contributor, but he never quite made the next big jump. Ironically, he may be the perfect lower-cost answer to losing Ibaka for the Thunder. For contending teams in need of some steady defense and scoring — Gibson was the runner-up for Sixth Man of the Year in 2013-14 — the former Trojan makes sense.
5. Dirk Nowitzki — Team Option
After reaching the 30,000 point plateau with the Dallas Mavericks, the chances of these two sides splitting at this point are next to nothing. Much like Tim Duncan’s tenure with the San Antonio Spurs, Nowitzki has little reason to ring chase and leave the organization after 19 years. It’s possible that Nowitzki could provide the Mavericks with a more team-friendly deal should the franchise find a max-worthy player to chase, although he’d been giving Dallas a hometown discount for many years before this last $25 million contract.
Injuries have slowed down the smooth shooting German as of late and, as a result, Nowitzki is averaging just 14.5 points per game this season, his lowest mark since his rookie year in 1998-99. Either way, an NBA landscape without Nowitzki on the Mavericks is nearly implausible, so don’t expect the best European player of all-time to swap jerseys at this point in his first ballot Hall of Fame career.
Tier 3: Quality Reserves
6. Zach Randolph — Unrestricted Free Agent
It’s hard to believe that Zach Randolph has already been with Memphis Grizzlies for eight seasons, cast away by both the Knicks and Clippers way back in 2008-09. Since then, he’s helped lead the Grizzlies to their best finishes in franchise history alongside Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. However, now that he’s made the ever-graceful transition to sixth man, could Randolph explore new possibilities this summer?
He’ll be 36 years old by the time the next NBA season rolls around, so this veteran won’t likely require a large chunk of a team’s cap space. Unfortunately, this Grizzlies team has only reached the Conference Finals once and that was back in 2012-13. With an excellent career beginning to wind down, Randolph could prefer to join a team that’s better suited for a deep playoff run.
This season, Randolph has averaged 14 points and 8.2 rebounds off the bench and is well in the running for Sixth Man of the Year.
7. Ersan Ilyasova — Unrestricted Free Agent
Ersan Ilyasova’s surprisingly strong season with the Philadelphia 76ers may just parlay itself into a pretty good payday this summer. The Turkish 29-year-old has never lit the NBA on fire, but over his nine-year career, Ilyasova has carved out quite the niche for himself. He’ll never anchor a defense and he’s as streaky a shooter as they come, but as a consistent scorer, Ilyasova gets it done.
This season alone, Ilyasova is averaging 13.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game and has scored 20 points or more on 13 different occasions— topped off by a spectacular 31-point, 11-rebound effort against the Bulls in late January. Ilyasova is in the final year of an $8.4 million deal that he signed back in 2012. Since then, he’s played for the Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers and now the Atlanta Hawks — so wherever he lands this summer, he’ll hope to stick around a bit longer this time.
8. Amir Johnson — Unrestricted Free Agent
Amir Johnson has never been the type of player to stuff the stat sheet and, in fact, he’s only ever averaged more than 10 points per game twice in his long career dating back to 2005. As one of the few remaining players that made the jump right from high school to the NBA, Johnson has been a consistently healthy, productive member of playoff-bound basketball teams. You’ll hardly hear his name in a conversation about this great Boston Celtics team, but Johnson has started for them in 67 games next to Al Horford, two steady defensive forces on a roster full of them.
He’s a career 57.3 percent shooter from the floor and has blocked 0.95 shots per game over his two years with Boston. Even better, his injury history is stellar and, by season’s end, Johnson will have started in 70 or more games for the fourth straight year. Johnson won’t revolutionize a franchise this summer, but he’ll be a cheap, flexible and healthy piece that many championship-ready teams will look to recruit.
9. Patrick Patterson — Unrestricted Free Agent
Patrick Patterson’s name doesn’t pop out on the box score very often, but he’s become a fan-favorite in Toronto thanks to his timely three-point shooting. After bouncing around with the Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings, Patterson has found a home with the Raptors and is now a key cog in head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation.
Patterson nearly has more games with two or more three-pointers (25) than not (29) this season and is the perfect second unit big man for the Raptors. Although his minutes have dropped since the arrival of Tucker and Ibaka, Patterson helps complete one of the league’s deepest rosters.
The Raptors will have bigger fish to fry with Kyle Lowry’s early termination clause and Ibaka’s impending free agency in play, but they’d be remiss to forget about the team’s third-best three-point shooter.
10. James Johnson — Unrestricted Free Agent
James Johnson has been hanging around since 2009, but it seems like this year has finally brought his permanent arrival. From being the HEAT’s do-it-all glue guy to getting named on Zach Lowe of ESPN’s 2017 Luke Walton All-Stars, this has truly been his moment of glory. With Justise Winslow shelved since January, Johnson has helped fill the void on one of the NBA’s hottest teams. There’s no telling what kind of market will be out there for a 30-year-old journeyman finally making his big jump in the NBA, but he’ll have plenty of options soon enough.
11. JaMychal Green — Restricted Free Agent
JaMychal Green is the man that unseated the aforementioned Randolph as the Grizzlies’ starting power forward and there’s a good reason for that. Surrounded by plenty of firepower, Green often sticks with what he knows best, averaging 9.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, both career-highs, and shooting 54.6 percent from the floor.
The Grizzlies’ Grind-and-Grind mantra makes them a must-watch during the postseason and this year it’s in part thanks to Green. Even head coach David Fizdale has bought into the hype, suggesting that Green has what it takes to be a future first team all-defender.
Green is one of the few restricted free agents on the list, but one must wonder what Memphis will be willing to match after giving out huge contracts to Conley and Gasol in back-to-back summers.
12. Nikola Mirotic — Restricted Free Agent
Nikola Mirotic is another interesting power forward set to hit the restricted free agent market, but a split between the sharpshooter and the Bulls could reasonably come to fruition here. After a solid 2015-16 campaign saw Mirotic improve nominally on his numbers — 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2 three-pointers per game — he’s bounced around head coach Fred Hoiberg’s rotation all season.
The former Spanish League MVP is one of best shooters on one of the NBA’s worst shooting franchises — Chicago ranks dead last in three-pointers made per game at 7.2 — so the Bulls could do much worse by looking for a replacement. This one may boil down to whether or not Hoiberg survives the hot seat again in the Windy City.
13. Terrence Jones — Unrestricted Free Agent
Terrence Jones might rank higher on this list if it were not for the strange inaction by many franchises when he hit the waiver wire last month. Jones was averaging 11.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game with the New Orleans Pelicans, and, at the age of 25, has loads of basketball ahead of him.
And yet, nobody touched Jones, not even the talent-hungry Brooklyn Nets or Philadelphia 76ers. After he cleared waivers, the Bucks eventually signed him for the remainder of the season on March 2, but he’s played just two minutes in one game. If he doesn’t end up cracking the Bucks’ playoff rotation, he’ll hope that his solid work in New Orleans will net him a fresh start and a new contract.
14. Richaun Holmes — Non-Guaranteed
Richaun Holmes was an infrequently used forward toiling away behind the 76ers’ massive frontcourt logjam for much of the season. But with Nerlens Noel in Dallas, Joel Embiid in the trainer’s room and head coach Brett Brown in full-on evaluation mode, Holmes’ minutes have greatly increased following the All-Star Break.
The early returns have been fantastic as the hard-working Holmes will have likely saved himself and his non-guaranteed contract for another season. He won’t beat out Embiid as the future starter, no, but after watching him drop 24 points and 14 rebounds on the Orlando Magic this week, the rest of the league should take notice.
Tier 4: The rest
The power forward scraps range from journeyman to old-school veterans looking for one more playoff run. Some notable names include David West (UFA) and David Lee (PO), two former San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors rotation pieces near the end of their careers. Nick Collison, who has only played in 15 games with the Thunder this season, will also be an unrestricted free agent — but he’s been with Seattle/Oklahoma City since 2004.
Elsewhere, there should be interest in Jared Sullinger after he was waived following the Raptors’ deadline deals for Tucker and Ibaka — but, surprisingly, he hasn’t drawn much attention thus far. Josh McRoberts’ stint as a Miami HEAT player has been underwhelming thanks to injury, but he’s a great passer for his size and could latch onto a playoff bound roster if he waives his option.
And, last but not least, Derrick Williams, the former No. 2 overall pick will rejoin the free market after a couple of solid seasons with the Knicks, HEAT and now the Cavaliers. After bouncing around the league since he was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011, he’ll hope to parlay a strong run with the defending champs into another guaranteed contract.
Non-Guaranteed: Anthony Tolliver, Sacramento Kings; Quincy Acy, Brooklyn Nets; Kevin Seraphin, Indiana Pacers; Tarik Black, Los Angeles Lakers; Ryan Kelly, Atlanta Hawks; Johnny O’Bryant, Charlotte Hornets; Jordan Mickey, Boston Celtics; Maurice Ndour, New York Knicks
Unrestricted Free Agents: Brandon Bass, Los Angeles Clippers; Mike Muscala, Atlanta Hawks; Kris Humphries, Atlanta Hawks; Thomas Robinson, Los Angeles Lakers; Udonis Haslem, Miami HEAT
Restricted Free Agents: Joffrey Lauvergne, Chicago Bulls; James McAdoo, Golden State Warriors
Team Option: Lavoy Allen, Indiana Pacers
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