This is the offseason of Kevin Durant as the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar is hitting free agency for the first time in his career. A lot of teams have cap space to go after him, though many believe it is likely that he will stay in Oklahoma City with Russell Westbrook and company (depending on how the postseason goes for the Thunder).
With the salary cap rising, nearly all of the contracts handed out this offseason will likely seem inflated, but that’s simply a result of the NBA’s changing financial landscape. From mediocre players, to solid rotation players and all the way up to the superstars, free agents are going to get paid serious money this offseason.
Here we are covering some underrated free agents in the class of 2016. These aren’t the top-tier free agents, but they are those that are improving and still have significant room to keep developing.
The projected salaries are just estimates since the hard numbers don’t come out until the NBA’s moratorium in early July.
Barnes is a talented forward who benefits from playing alongside the sharpshooting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as well as Draymond Green. This season, Barnes averaged the most minutes (30.9) and points (11.7) per game of his career. However, his overall rebounding numbers and three-point percentage have dipped.
He is a restricted free agent, meaning that the Warriors can match any offer sheet he potentially signs with another team in order to retain him. It’s possible that the Warriors may decline to match a max-offer sheet, but it is very likely that he will remain with Golden State. The question for any team that pursues him is how will he fare as one of the top offensive options while drawing a lot of defensive focus from opponents? Also, will he regress at all if he is no longer playing alongside players as good as Curry, Thompson and Green?
Barnes has four years of experience, so his max contract would be 25 percent of the salary cap, which is projected next year at $92 million, putting his contract at roughly $23 million per season.
The French swingman is finishing up his eighth year in the league and will likely be one of the second-tier players signed once Durant and others are off the market. Batum averaged a career-high in points per game (14.9) this season as the starting small forward for the Charlotte Hornets. His field goal percentages need to come up, but he is a good defender and a versatile all-around player that can fit on nearly any team. And at only 27, he is just entering his prime.
Batum has a nice role with the Hornets and fits well under head coach Steve Clifford, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he re-signs with the Hornets.
Batum is likely to receive a max-deal considering his age, versatility and the amount of money teams will have to spend. Since he has been in the league for eight years, his max contract would be 30 percent of the cap, so his max salary would be around $25.9 million, which will increase with annual raises. Other teams can only offer four years and smaller raises.
Clarkson’s role should increase next season if he returns to the Los Angeles Lakers with the retirement of NBA legend Kobe Bryant.
However, the athletic, former University of Missouri star may go elsewhere as he is a restricted free agent. His free agency is somewhat unique since he fits within the Arenas Rule, but the point is the Lakers can retain him if they choose to do so.
The likely scenario is the Lakers will re-sign Clarkson, who averaged 15.5 points per game this year and is a building block for Los Angeles. If he ends up on another team, he could likely fill in as an excellent sixth man potentially.
Clarkson is a promising young talent. He needs to work on improving his defense and being a more effective playmaker, but he has shown a lot of promise in his short NBA career.
Since the craziness of Linsanity in New York back during the 2011-12 season, Jeremy Lin has bounced around the league, but seems to have found a home in Charlotte. He has a player option to stay in Charlotte next season, though, he likely will test free agency since there is so much free agent money to go around and a lack of talent to spend it on.
Lin is only averaging 11.7 points per game as opposed to his 14.6 in New York or 13.4 in Houston, but is doing it in a reduced role, primarily coming off the bench for a more competitive team. The hype of Linsanity has worn off, but Lin has transformed himself into a legitimate NBA player, who at 27 would be a nice addition for many teams. His shooting percentages could be better, but he has shown enough development and impact this season that someone will give him a nice offer if he goes into free agency this offseason.
Fournier really took a leap forward in his second year with the Orlando Magic after being traded from the Denver Nuggets. This season, Fournier started 71 of the 79 games he played in for the Magic. His minutes per game went up (28.6 to 32.5) as did his points per game (12.0 to 15.4). What is probably most impressive and key to why he’ll be paid well this offseason is how he increased his shooting percentages. He brought his three-point percentage from 37.8 percent all the way up to 40 percent, which puts him among the better shooters in the league. His free throw percentage went up significantly as well — from 72.8 percent to 83.6 percent.
Fournier is a good shooter that could really help a lot of teams and he’s only 23 years old. He’s restricted though, so the Magic could decide to match whatever he is offered.
Bazemore has certainly come a long way from being the hilarious, arm-waving, end-of-the-bench cheerleader he once was for the Golden State Warriors. He also played well for their D-League team back in 2012-13. He then spent one season with the Los Angeles Lakers and subsequently signed a two-year contract with the Atlanta Hawks, where he has been a solid contributor.
This season he averaged 11.6 points in only 27.8 minutes per game and started 68 of the 75 games he played in, mostly at small forward but also at shooting guard.
Bazemore has really taken a step in his development and as an athletic wing. He was also very good in the Hawks’ first-round victory over the Boston Celtics. For more on Bazemore’s success and why he’ll do well this summer, check out Lang Greene’s recent article about his significant improvement.
Harkless is a restricted free agent for the Portland Trail Blazers. His numbers (6.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game) may not jump off the page right away, but remember that he was only playing 18.7 minutes for the Blazers during the regular season. A closer look reveals why he could be very attractive to teams this summer.
Harkless is only 22 years old, has a great work ethic and has the potential to be a talented 3-and-D player (which many teams are searching for in today’s NBA). Per-36 minutes, he averaged 12.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game, while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 27.9 percent from beyond the arc. Those are impressive increases from last year and it displays just how much his offseason work and a change of scenery has benefited Harkless this season.
Even better, Harkless has maintained and, for the most part, improved on those numbers this postseason. He was an important part of Portland’s first-round win over the L.A. Clippers, averaging 12.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 0.7 steals while shooting 56.4 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three-point range. Harkless’ versatility on both ends of the court and his ability to switch at the two forward positions with Al-Farouq Aminu helped the Blazers advance (though they did get some help with Los Angeles suffering several injuries to key players).
If he can keep up his development, he’ll be a great pick-up for any team in free agency. The market is unclear for him at this point, but he has played his way into a nice salary increase this upcoming offseason.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.
Winslow and the Miami HEAT Are “Believing in Each Other”
Justise Winslow discusses the all-around team effort of the Miami HEAT with Basketball Insiders.
The days of LeBron James in Miami are over. Chris Bosh isn’t there anymore, either. No more Ray Allen or Shane Battier. Dwyane Wade is back, but he’s not “Flash” nowadays.
Actually, check the entire Miami HEAT roster; there’s no superstar. They have an All-Star in Goran Dragic, even if he was the third alternate. But during this most recent playoff push, the HEAT don’t have a worldwide household name to plaster all over billboards as a reason for their success.
With 10 games remaining until the playoffs, Miami doesn’t have a player averaging more than 33 minutes per game. Instead, they have 11 players who average at least 20 minutes a contest. Their approach is that of a deep rotation, and its led them to a 39-33 record and the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. All while the rest of the league is star-driven.
One of those key cogs to the Miami machine is third-year wing, Justise Winslow. A former top-10 pick out of Duke, Winslow is enjoying most efficient season so far for the HEAT. To him, the fact that his squad isn’t littered with names like LeBron and Steph doesn’t make a difference.
“I think our team is extremely confident in each other,” Winslow said. “I think that’s a big thing is that we all believe in each other. We play to each other’s strengths, and most importantly we’re a defensive-minded team. We hang our hats on the defensive end, and that’s really what gets us going as a team.”
Winslow isn’t exaggerating. The HEAT is seventh in the NBA in defensive rating. Head coach Erik Spoelstra harps on the team’s defensive scheme and preparation. Without a go-to scorer capable of getting the team 30 any given night, Miami needs to do their job as a collective unit on the defensive end of the floor night in and night out.
“Each night the coaching staff preaching to us that we have enough, no matter who is in the lineup,” Winslow said. “So it’s just about going out there and executing and putting together a good game of 48-minute basketball. I think our belief in each other that we have enough to get the job done is key.”
In the current NBA landscape, a lot of the playoff contenders are centered around players with big resumes and bigger names. As a result, the HEAT get lost in the shuffle of the national conversation from time to time. Their culture of togetherness and slight from the media outside of their city could make for the perfect “chip on the shoulder” recipe. Or so you would think. Winslow doesn’t believe the chatter, or lack thereof, matters any to Miami.
“We don’t pay too much attention to that,” Winslow said. ‘We’re so focused, and locked in on our team, and each other, and trying to win each game. For us, it’s about having the respect of your peers, of the other team. I think every night no matter who we have or who’s healthy, I think teams know we’re going to be a tough, physical team. Guys in this league don’t want that, you don’t want to have to play against a Miami HEAT team that’s going to be physical, that’s going to get into your body, that’s going to make you play a hard, 48-minute basketball game.”
Because of the HEAT’s brand of basketball, an 82-game season can be grueling. For Winslow, keeping his body right throughout the grind is important to him. After dealing with a few injuries last season, and ultimately being shut down for the year last January to undergo right shoulder surgery for a torn labrum, Winslow was determined to make sure he kept his body in check throughout his comeback so he would be available for a long playoff run.
While his numbers aren’t flashy, Winslow is showing improvement. His 49.3 true shooting percentage is the highest of his career, along with shooting nearly 43 percent from beyond the arc, Winslow made strides in arguably the biggest knock against his game since coming out of college.
Because NBA players have the freedom to form partnerships with whichever companies they’d like, Winslow made the choice to strike up a partnership that he felt would not only help him off the court but more importantly, on it as well.
“My partnership with MET-Rx has been great,” Winslow said. “They’ve really helped take my game to the next level with all their nutritional supplements, and the Big 100 bar. So, for me, I’m always looking for ways to stay off my feet, but also get in the best shape possible and this was just a great way to help.”
The grind of the NBA season is also eased for playoff teams by a veteran presence. So, when the HEAT brought back franchise legend Wade at the trade deadline, their locker room suddenly had a face and feel of someone who’s been there before. A player who reached the pinnacle, with the very team that traded for him nonetheless.
Getting Wade back to Miami was crucial for the team’s playoff run down the stretch, and more importantly for Winslow, who benefited greatly from his time with the future Hall of Famer when he was fresh out of college.
“First and foremost, it was great to get him back,” Winslow said. “Just the role that he played in my career as a rookie, and everything I learned from him. But then also, just the energy and positivity that he brought to the locker room, and also the community of Miami, the city of Miami as a whole. It was a much-needed energy boost, and good vibes that he brought back for that post All-Star break push for playoffs. So, it’s just been great having him back, and it’s kind of rejuvenated the team and the locker room, and just the city in general.”
Wade is the MVP-caliber player he once was this time around, though. But that’s okay. This version of the Miami HEAT is charging toward the postseason with a team-first mentality.
NBA Daily: The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr. is an elite prospect, but questions surrounding his back will determine his landing spot in the NBA.
The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
While some of the highly thought of college players have made their intentions on declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft known, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr still hasn’t made his proclamation. Most people in NBA circles believe he’ll be in the 2018 NBA Draft class—you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think he’s in.
Back in November, the Missouri staff was somewhat vague and guarded about Porter’s condition until it was announced that he’d have back surgery on a couple of problematic discs in the lumbar area of his spine. The procedure is called a microdiscectomy and by all accounts was a success.
Porter missed virtually all of his college season but opted to play in the post-season for Missouri, who got eliminated fairly quickly.
There were certainly a lot of ugly things about Porter’s game. He looked out of shape, and certainly wasn’t the overwhelming dominating force he’d been in high school. Some executives applauded his decision to play, even though he wasn’t at a 100 percent. Some pointed to that fact that too many college players play it safe and that’s not always viewed positively. Almost no one Basketball Insiders spoke with was holding the less than stellar outing against him. In fact, most had far more positive things to say than negative. There was one resounding theme from the NBA executives who spoke about this situation—none of it matters until they see his medical.
Assuming Porter does as expected and hires an agent and enters the draft, the next challenge he’ll face is how open he wants to be to teams looking at drafting him.
In recent years, NBA teams have not shied away from using high draft picks on injured or recently injured players. Once a team can get a sense of how the player is recovering, they can make a value judgment.
Agents often use this information and access to the player to help steer their client to the situation they deem most favorable. While fans and outsiders often get caught up in the pick number a player ultimately lands at, more and more agents are concerned with fit, especially for a player that may need time to get back to 100 percent.
Most agents would want to steer their client to a team with favorable medical staff, a team with a proven track record of patience or more importantly, a team with the best chance at a long and fruitful career.
This won’t be good news for some team that could end up in the top 10, as it’s more likely that Porter isn’t made available to everyone. NBA executives will tell you, they can certainly draft him if they wanted to, but most teams won’t draft a player if their medical staff doesn’t sign off, and without information and access how can they do that?
There is a significant financial difference in going third in the draft ($5.47 million) and 10th ($2.964 million) – but several agents commented that the short-term money shouldn’t drive the long-term decision, especially if the player isn’t 100 percent. The fit and situation typically trump everything in these situations.
Another concept to consider is while Porter did play, there are questions about whether he’ll host a pro-day, take part in private team workouts or simply let his body of work drive his draft value.
Almost no one who spoke about this situation believed Porter would take part in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, as he’d have to subject himself to the medical testing that’s part of that event.
The common perception on Porter is he’s a top-five talent, although it seems more likely that his camp is going to try and work the process to ensure he lands in a favorable situation. That could mean he falls out of top-five selections, simply because he and his agents choose to.
There is still a lot that needs to play out for Porter, including his announcement that he will enter the draft. But given where things stand with him, it’s more likely than not he’s coming into the draft, and it’s more likely than not he’ll have a lot of questions NBA teams will want to understand before his real draft position is clear.
The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago this year and is scheduled for May 15th. The annual Draft Combine, also in Chicago, gets underway on May 16th.
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