As we move closer to the February trade deadline, now is a good time to look at the upcoming free agent class set to hit the market in July. From franchise players like Kevin Durant and LeBron James, to All-Star caliber players like Mike Conley and DeMar DeRozan, to up-and-coming players like Hassan Whiteside and Harrison Barnes, this free agent class has some notable talent (though it lacks overall depth).
Before getting to the top 10, some honorable mention free agents include Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks), Nicolas Batum (Charlotte Hornets), Pau Gasol (Chicago Bulls), Rajon Rondo (Sacramento Kings), Al Jefferson (Charlotte Hornets), Joakim Noah (Chicago Bulls) and Ryan Anderson (New Orleans Pelicans). Also, there are several stars who have a player option for next season but are extremely unlikely to leave their current team, such as Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs) and Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks).
Without further ado, here is my look at the top 10 free agents set to hit the market this summer:
10. Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies, Unrestricted Free Agent
Mike Conley will be an unrestricted free agent, which is pretty scary for the Grizzlies since he’s an integral part of their team and they have no way of stopping him from bolting. Conley is an All-Star-caliber player who has yet to actually make an All-Star game simply because he plays in the Western Conference. It would be somewhat surprising to see Conley leave Memphis, where he has played his entire career. The city has endless love for Conley and wants to retain him, but Conley may be able to go to a team that’s closer to contending. Conley’s free agency is certainly an interesting one to watch.
9. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors, Player Option
If DeMar DeRozan chooses to opt out of the final season of his current contract with Toronto (and he almost certainly will with the cap rising and his player option worth just $10,050,000), he can expect teams to line up with lucrative offers for him because of his recent play. DeRozan was selected to his first All-Star game last season and has not looked back since. Look for DeRozan to get some big bucks this offseason, whether that is with Toronto or another franchise.
8. Dwyane Wade, Miami HEAT, Unrestricted Free Agent
Wade enters free agency unrestricted, but many people believe he is simply looking to lock in another contract with the HEAT. Nonetheless, stranger things have happened and Wade will definitely have potential suitors looking to snatch him away from Miami if he chooses to explore his options. At this stage in his career, Wade certainly isn’t the star he used to be, but he is still a weapon offensively and he is putting up just about 19 points per game this season. Wade is healthier than he has been in recent seasons and is showing flashes of his younger self, which will surely give league executives something to think about when free agency rolls around.
7. Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors, Restricted Free Agent
Harrison Barnes might have some teams willing to throw max money at him this summer given his talent and age, along with the fact that executives know they need to make a lucrative offer in order to make the Warriors hesitant to match the contract. Barnes has helped the Warriors to a historic start this season (though he missed significant time with an ankle injury) and it’s clear he has All-Star potential so there will be plenty of interest in him. The Warriors will be the deciding factor in whether Barnes departs from the Bay since he’ll be a restricted free agent.
6. Hassan Whiteside, Miami HEAT, Unrestricted Free Agent
Miami has made it clear that they want to retain their big man who they so happily stumbled upon last season. But Whiteside will have many options to choose from as he enters unrestricted free agency with a tremendous amount of upside. Whiteside, at age 26, finds himself leading the league in blocks by a wide margin, averaging four per game. Whiteside is a freak of nature and many teams would love to have his presence around the basket. The fact that Whiteside will be an unrestricted free agent has led to rumors that Miami may move him to acquire assets rather than risk losing him for nothing after this season. The problem is that Whiteside is only making $981,348 this season, which makes getting something significant back for him and matching salaries in a potential trade complicated. Also, any team that acquires Whiteside will have the same problem as Miami: Whiteside can walk away for nothing after the season. Miami doesn’t have Whiteside’s Bird rights, so they’ll have use cap space to sign him.
5. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards, Restricted Free Agent
The Washington Wizards will ultimately have the final say in whether Beal stays in Washington since Beal is a restricted free agent and Washington can match any offer sheet a team throws at him. So although it seems likely the Wizards will keep Beal – who has emerged as one of the better young talents in the league – Beal will still draw a lot interest from teams looking to splurge on a scorer. However, Beal’s recurring leg injuries are a cause for concern for any team looking to make a long-term investment in the talented shooting guard. Despite the injuries, Beal is set to land a big deal this offseason.
4. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets, Player Option
Dwight Howard may no longer be as dominant as he once was, but his presence underneath the basket is still significant enough to impact games and draw plenty of interest in free agency. Howard has still managed to put up many double-doubles this season, as he is averaging 13.9 points and 11.7 rebounds a game to go along with 1.6 assists, 1.6 blocks and one steal. The bottoms line is the Rockets haven’t been trending in the right direction so far this year and if Howard wants to compete for a title, he may choose to opt out and explore his options. Howard’s player option is worth $23,282,457, but he’ll likely be willing to bypass that huge salary to lock in a new long-term deal (especially with the salary cap spiking).
3. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons, Restricted Free Agent
Expect Andre Drummond to lock up a long-term deal with Detroit this July since the Pistons will have the ability to match any offer Drummond gets. Drummond has been putting up numbers that we haven’t seen since Wilt Chamberlain’s era, so there is no reason to believe that Detroit won’t match any max deal Drummond receives. Teams are sure to still reach out to Drummond when July hits, but Detroit would be foolish to let their dominant big man leave.
2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers, Player Option
It seems pretty obvious that LeBron James will re-sign with the Cavaliers for a massive salary once summer comes but, again, stranger things have happened. LeBron has made it clear he wants to stay in Cleveland for the rest of his career and nobody expects him to leave (again). Look for James to opt out of his player option at the end of the season in order to either sign a new humongous deal to stay with Cleveland long-term or ink another short-term deal to retain his flexibility, capitalize on the rising salary cap in upcoming seasons and have some leverage over the Cavs’ decision-makers to influence the franchise’s moves.
1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder, Unrestricted Free Agent
Durant will certainly be the center of attention when free agency comes around, and deservedly so since he has the ability to turn just about any franchise into a contender. This will be Durant’s first free agency tour in his prime so expect him to take his time and hear from all of his viable options. Though Durant says loves Oklahoma City and their fans, the Thunder haven’t seen the NBA Finals since 2012 and Durant isn’t getting younger, so leaving for another franchise isn’t out of the question. Other players are looking forward to making a free agency pitch to Durant, as Wizards guard John Wall admitted to our own Alex Kennedy in October.
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