NBA

Is the 2015 Free Agent Class Better than 2014?

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The NBA’s regular season is over, which means free agency is right around the corner. This summer’s list of free agents is fluid as many players have the choice to opt out of their current contract in order to secure a new, longer contract with their team or another team; players such as Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph have to decide whether they want to test free agency now or at some point down the road. This often precludes a potential free agent from ever actually hitting the market. Also, players can extend their current contract and avoid free agency. This happens less often under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but is still possible. Thus, here we will be making educated predictions on whether players such as Anthony, Gay and Randolph will enter this summer’s free agency pool or put off the bidding war for their services until next offseason.

In some years, NBA free agency includes a star-studded cast, like in 2010 when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Carlos Boozer, Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Dirk Nowitzki among others were all free agents. More often, however, there are one, two or maybe three stars who are free agents and generate a lot of buzz, such as Chris Paul and Dwight Howard last year.

Considering this, let’s take a look at who may be available this upcoming offseason.

Notable 2014 Unrestricted Free Agents:

Early Termination Option:

Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Andrea Bargnani

Player Option:

Tim Duncan, Josh McRoberts, Darren Collison, Glen Davis, Danny Granger, Chris Andersen, Anthony Morrow, Mo Williams, Rudy Gay, Channing Frye, Zach Randolph, Nick Young, Andray Blatche

Currently in Final Year of their Contract:

Dirk Nowitzki, Lance Stephenson, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Jerryd Bayless, Kris Humphries, Andrei Kirilenko, Shaun Livingston, Luke Ridnour, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Spencer Hawes, C.J. Miles, DeJuan Blair, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Aaron Brooks, Rodney Stuckey, Steve Blake, Jermaine O’Neal, Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmar, Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman, Jodie Meeks, Mike Miller, Beno Udrih, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, Greg Oden, Ramon Sessions, Dante Cunningham, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jason Smith, Greg Stiemsma, Thabo Sefolosha, Emeka Okafor, Boris Diaw, Kyle Lowry, Marvin Williams, Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat

»In Related: Full 2014-15 Cap Space Projections

Nobody’s free agency decision has created more speculation and interest than Anthony’s. This is due to the disappointing season that the New York Knicks had, and their questionable ability to become a contending team in the next few years. ‘Melo can forgo the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent this summer to potentially join a team with significant cap space, like the Chicago Bulls or Houston Rockets. Anthony’s free agency situation is in flux and will garner the most interest throughout the league. New York is still considered the favorite to retain ‘Melo, but at age 29, he may just take his chances moving forward in Chicago or Houston.

The Big Three in Miami similarly have the option to forgo the final year of their contracts and sign with any team that has cap space. However, given their success in Miami, and their close relationship, most insiders and fans believe that James, Wade and Bosh will either choose not to exercise their early termination options this summer to put off their free agency by one year, or re-sign long-term with the HEAT. However, if Miami gets bounced in the playoffs and the long-term health of Wade becomes a major issue, James may look to other teams. While this scenario seems unlikely, it’s not implausible. Wade had to miss a lot of games this season to preserve himself for the playoffs, and he has been injury prone throughout his career. Additionally, Bosh has taken a back seat to James and Wade since teaming up in Miami, and may look to go elsewhere in order to reestablish himself as a franchise player. Don’t forget that in Toronto, Bosh was the franchise cornerstone who put up huge numbers each season.

These are not the only major players to potentially hit free agency this upcoming season. Players like Duncan, Gay and Randolph can forfeit significant money in the last year of their contracts in order to secure a long-term deal. Duncan is a Spur for life and would most likely retire before joining another team, so he doesn’t impact this list too much. However, Gay and Randolph are both players that are set to make major money next year, but may benefit more by re-signing with their teams, or another team, for more guaranteed years at a lower annual salary. Gay has stated that he would like to stay in Sacramento, and Randolph has had his best seasons in Memphis. However, if other teams make significant offers to either player, they will have to seriously consider moving to a new team.

Nowitzki is in a similar situation to Duncan. Nowitzki is more likely to retire than leave the Mavericks, so he is not a major factor in terms of free agency. Teams like the Houston Rockets and Miami HEAT may come calling to woo Nowitzki, but the safe bet is that he remains in Dallas. However, Gasol, Pierce and Deng are some players who will draw a lot of attention this offseason. Gasol and Pierce are looking for their last significant contracts, and could potentially end up anywhere this offseason. Deng could stay with the Cavaliers, but he has not been a natural fit since arriving from Chicago. Cleveland should be considered the favorite right now, but teams like the Suns and Lakers are reportedly interested.

Stephenson is another player to keep an eye on. Stephenson is a nightly triple-double threat and has a very diverse skill-set. Though he has had some behavioral issues, such as recently butting heads with teammate Evan Turner, Stephenson is very talented and will get a lot of interest from teams this offseason.

Notable 2014 Restricted Free Agents:

Avery Bradley, Greg Monroe, Evan Turner, Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas, Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vazquez, Gordon Hayward, Jordan Crawford, Ed Davis, P.J. Tucker

In general, restricted free agents are less likely to leave their team, as most franchises tend to match any offer sheet their player receives. However, this year some very talented players could be available. For example, when former Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars signed Josh Smith to a large contract this past offseason, he made it increasingly difficult for the team to retain Greg Monroe. Monroe has emerged as one of the most talented young bigs in the league, but with Smith on board (who is virtually unmovable due to the size of his contract and poor outside shooting) Monroe may be lost to a team willing to offer a max deal. If Monroe secures a max offer from another team, the Pistons will have the option of matching the offer sheet, but it will be a difficult decision. Two other examples are Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas, who have both shown flashes of brilliance throughout this season and may interest other teams enough to receive near max, or max contract offers. In these scenarios, the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and Detroit Pistons would have to make a tough decision, deciding to match the offer sheet or let the player walk or try to work out a sign-and-trade to get something back for losing the player.

Gordon Hayward and Evan Turner are in similar situations. They are both players who have value, but they are not bona fide stars. Therefore, other teams may be willing to offer Hayward and Turner significant contracts in the hopes that they will continue to improve and someday be worth that contract offer. This will put pressure on their current teams to either pay them more than they may be currently worth, or let them walk away for nothing. This is what happened a few seasons ago when the Golden State Warriors offered Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan a four-year, $43 million offer sheet, which seemed ridiculously pricey at the time. The Clippers decided to match the offer, though the cost was higher than what they wanted to pay. Fortunately for the Clippers, Jordan has developed enough that he is now worth that contract.

Overall, with names like Anthony, James, Wade, Bosh, Gay, Stephenson, Bledsoe, Thomas, Monroe, Hayward, Deng, Gasol and Pierce available, this is a very talented free agency class. Additionally, there are also some potential gems like Shaun Livingston and Kyle Lowry who will be available as well. However, as talented as this pool of players may seem, a lot of the talent potentially available will likely re-sign with their current teams, which diminishes the potential talent that will actually be available.

The summer of 2015 has a lot of talented names that will be potentially available as well. Here are some of the more notable players likely to hit free agency the following summer:

Notable 2015 Unrestricted Free Agents:

Early Termination Option:

Thaddeus Young, Jared Dudley

Player Option:

Jeff Green, Brook Lopez, Gerald Henderson, Al Jefferson, Monta Ellis, Roy Hibbert, David West, Chase Budinger, Kevin Love, Arron Afflalo, Goran Dragic

Will be in Final Year of their Contract:

LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Louis Williams, Brandon Bass, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Marcus Thornton, Gary Neal, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, Anderson Varejao, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Brandan Wright, Will Bynum, Omer Asik, Omri Casspi, Jeremy Lin, Luis Scola, C.J. Watson, DeAndre Jordan, Steve Nash, Marc Gasol, Kosta Koufos, J.J. Barea, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ronny Turiaf, Tyson Chandler, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Jason Maxiell, Jameer Nelson, Ronnie Price, Gerald Green, Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews, Dorell Wright, Jeff Ayres, Marco Belinelli, Austin Daye, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Tony Parker, Landry Fields, Tyler Hansbrough, Chuck Hayes, Amir Johnson, John Salmons, Jeremy Evans, Andre Miller

The big name that has everyone’s attention for 2015 is Kevin Love. Love has never made it to the playoffs and has not given much indication that he wants to stay in Minnesota long-term. Love can forgo the last year of his contract and hit the market as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015. Teams like the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly keeping tabs on Love and may avoid adding any significant salary this upcoming offseason in case Love does decide to leave Minnesota.

While Love headlines the 2015 class of free agents, there are other talented players who will potentially be available as well. Players like Rajon Rondo, Goran Dragic, DeAndre Jordan, Brook and Robin Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Arron Afflalo and Paul Milsap will all potentially be available as well.

While teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers are likely to retain players like Jordan, Dragic and Aldridge, it is less clear what will happen for players like Rondo and Brook Lopez. Rondo, when healthy, is one of the best point guards in the league. Similarly, Lopez, when healthy, is one of the most talented centers, despite his low rebounding rate. With Boston rebuilding and Brooklyn experiencing so much success without Lopez, Rondo and Lopez may be on the move.

There are also some other names that may be obtainable, like Tyson Chandler, Amir Johnson and Carlos Boozer (note: Boozer may be amnestied this offseason and would then join the 2014 crop of free agents). These players are not likely to receive the types of offers that Aldridge or Gasol will, but they are talented pieces who can significantly help a team looking to add a solid veteran. Another notable player is Afflalo. Afflalo is one of the best two-way shooting guards in the league, but has been hidden away in Orlando. With the Magic rebuilding, Afflalo is likely to change teams either through a trade this upcoming offseason, or in free agency in 2015.

Notable 2015 Restricted Free Agents:

Pero Antic, Mirza Teletovic, Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Jae Crowder, Kenneth Faried, Quincy Miller, Kyle Singler, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Patrick Beverley, Nick Calathes, Norris Cole, Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, Ricky Rubio, Alexey Shved, Iman Shumpert, Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb, Kyle O’Quinn, Nikola Vucevic, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Joel Freeland, Derrick Williams, Kawhi Leonard, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Glen Rice Jr.

The list of restricted free agents in 2015 is deeper than the list for 2014, but it could shrink if some of these players ink extensions. Names like Jimmy Butler, Kenneth Faried, Klay Thompson, Partrick Beverley, the Morris twins, Iman Shumpert, Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris and Enes Kanter may be available if they continue to increase their value and become too expensive for their current team to keep. Some names that will not likely make it to free agency are Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio and Kemba Walker. These players will likely agree to a contract extension with their current teams as they are cornerstone pieces for their franchises.

However, for players like Reggie Jackson, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler, they may get offers that their current teams are not comfortable matching. For example, Jackson has shown that he is very talented, but with Russell Westbrook ahead of him, does it make sense for the Thunder to keep Jackson if he is offered a contract worth over $8 million a year? Probably not when teams like the Clippers, Bulls and Nets have backup point guards like Darren Collison, D.J. Augustin and Shaun Livingston playing big minutes for $2 million or less. Leonard is more likely to be retained by the Spurs no matter what since Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are in the latter parts of their careers and Leonard is considered a cornerstone piece moving forward. Similarly, Butler is likely to be retained by the Bulls unless he is given an unexpectedly large contract offer.

Comparing the two free agent classes, it seems that there is more talent available this upcoming offseason with names like James, Wade, Bosh, ‘Melo, Gay, Randolph, Bledsoe, Monroe, Gasol, Stephenson, Pierce, Deng, Lowry, Duncan and Nowitzki all potentially available. However, a lot of these players, like James, Wade, Bosh, Bledsoe, Duncan and Nowitzki are almost certain to re-sign with their current teams and so it is difficult to say that they should really be included in this year’s free agent class. This summer’s free agent pool has big names, but it may end up being somewhat anticlimactic.

Names like Love, Rondo, Afflalo, Millsap, Jordan, the Lopez twins, the Morris twins, Jackson, Shumpert, Faried, Harris and Kanter are more likely to join new teams if they are given big enough offers. So while the biggest names may be technically hitting free agency this upcoming offseason, it may be in 2015 when significant free agents will actually be available to teams looking to make big signings. This is why teams like the Lakers and Knicks may forgo adding any major salary this offseason and hold off for 2015. When looking at the talent that will be available during these next two years, the biggest names will technically be available in 2014, but there will likely be more talent that is actually on the move in 2015.

Of course, these are all fluid situations, and the final list of players actually available each offseason may look very different in the future than it does today.

Leave your thoughts below on which class of free agents you think is more talented, and what players you think may be on the move in the next two seasons. If you think this list overlooked some significant names that could impact the 2014 or 2015 free agent markets, let us know in the comments section.

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About Jesse Blancarte

Jesse Blancarte

Jesse Blancarte is in his second year covering the NBA for Basketball Insiders. He is a law student at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and graduated from UCLA in 2011.