NBA AM: The 2015 NBA Free Agents

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The 2015 Free Agents:  With the 2014-15 NBA season now firmly on tap with the release of the regular season schedule yesterday, there are somethings to think about in regards to next season, especially as it pertains to free agency.

As currently constructed, there are 245 players that have uncertain status beyond the current season. This includes 59 players with team options, which are usually picked up, especially for first round draft picks. There are 41 players who can be issued qualifying offers and have their free agency restricted. There are 30 players with player options for free agency; a large number of those are likely to be exercised in order to secure new long-term deals. Thirty four players have some level of non-guaranteed money owed them beyond the upcoming season. Seventy nine players look poised to be unrestricted free agents barring an extension during the season. There are just two players with early termination options.

Click here for the complete list of 2015-2016 Free Agents

There are some notable names to know regarding next year’s free agents class, here are just a few of them:

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers – $20,644,400 (option worth $21.57M)

While the conspiracy theorists want to make a big deal out of James’ decision to sign a short-term deal, what he has done is given himself repeated options to cash in. More importantly, it ensures the power stays on his side of the equation.

The plan for James is to re-sign as frequently as possible and stay on the top end of his earning potential. This was discussed with the Cavaliers and they are fully on board, so discussing James as a free agent next year is unrealistic unless things go massively bad.

Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves – $15,719,062 (option worth $16.744M)

It is commonly believed that the Timberwolves and Cavaliers will trigger a trade sending Love to the Cavs on our about August 23. There have also been reports that Love and the Cavs have had some level of contract discussions about what it would take to re-sign him going forward. The plan for Love is to opt out of his remaining $16.74 million contract year and sign a new max level deal in July; such a deal would likely be worth $120 plus million over five years. NBA teams are not permitted to make future contract agreements with players in Love’s situation, however knowing a player wants a max level deal and agreeing that something like that is workable is not the same as hammering out a completed contract. Love’s potential trade to the Cavaliers is likely going to be scrutinized heavily, mainly because it’s been characterized that the Cavs and Love have a firm commitment in place, something both sides are likely going to deny wholeheartedly. It is important to note that there can be nothing binding between Love and the Cavaliers beyond the terms of his existing contract, so there is a small window to consider Love in free agency, but it’s likely to be a very small one if there is any shot at all.

Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics – $12,909,090

The Celtics have a dilemma. They seem to be open to keeping Rajon Rondo long-term, but unless he would sign a contract extension – something he is highly unlikely to do – he is poised to be an unrestricted free agent in July.

If the Celtics cannot get a sense of commitment from Rondo beyond this year, they have to trade him or risk losing him for nothing in return.

Rondo is considered the top obtainable free agent in the 2015 free agent class and he is likely going to command a max level, or near max level contract.

It seem inevitable that Rondo is going to be traded, the question is what’s the return going to be for Boston, especially when it’s more likely than not that Rondo explores his options in July?

LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers – $16,256,000

Two seasons ago it seemed like a foregone conclusion that LaMarcus would be leaving Portland. Today it seems unlikely that he won’t be back on a new long term deal in July. Aldridge has said repeatedly that his intention in July is to sign a new max contract with the Trail Blazers.

Like all potential unrestricted free agents, there is risk for Portland, but given that both sides of this have a very open dialogue going, it’s unlikely that Aldridge isn’t back in Portland. But, this one will linger, and Aldridge’s name is going to come up a lot even though it’s unlikely he’s going anywhere.

Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies – $15,829,688

The odds that Marc Gasol is not in Memphis next year are fairly small. The Grizzlies are going to pay Gasol the max level money he’ll command; unfortunately, like Love, in order for Gasol to get all that’s available he’ll have to hit free agency in July.

Gasol could sign an extension, but that would leave money on the table as he is now eligible for 30 percent of the upcoming salary cap projected to be $66 million. Doing the math, that’s a starting salary next year in the $19.8 million range, wherein an extension would be based on a minor increase on his $15.82 million salary this year.

There is always a risk of losing a player whenever they can hit unrestricted free agency, but the sense from Gasol and the Grizzlies is that as long as a max offer is there in June, he’ll re-sign.

Arron Afflalo, Denver Nuggets – $7,500,000 (option worth $7.5M)

It is extremely likely that Afflalo will opt out of his deal in Denver this summer. Afflalo has steadily improved over the last two seasons and hopes to put an All-Star caliber season together this year in Denver.

It is possible that Denver explores Afflalo’s trade value given that he is likely going to command a deal at the top end of his range ($10-$12 million per season). That may be too rich for Denver’s liking.

In terms of potentially available players, Afflalo looks to be one of them.

Jeff Green, Boston Celtics – $9,200,000 (option worth $9.20m)

The Celtics have had trade talks regarding Jeff Green for almost two years. With the Celtics poised to have what looks to be a sub-par season there is a strong chance that Green is packed into any trade involving the aforementioned Rondo.

Green has the option to hit free agency. Assuming he plays well this season, the odds are good that he’ll opt-out and re-sign in a situation of his choosing and trade his remaining $9.2 million in for a longer term deal.

Luol Deng, Miami HEAT – $9,714,461 (option worth $10.15M)

Deng turned down a multi-year extension with the Bulls last season valued at roughly $10 million a season, prompting his trade to the Cavaliers. After a ho-hum showing in Cleveland, Deng got considerable attention as a free agent but did not command that upper tier money his camp expected after several All-Star appearances.

Deng needs to have a strong season in Miami if he hopes to cash in. The structure of his deal with the HEAT allows for him to opt-out in July, something he will likely do if he can out-play his contract.

Deng is a 50/50 candidate for free agency in July. Those odds go up if he returns to All-Star form.

David West, Indiana Pacers – $12,000,000 (option worth $12.6M)

West’s deal with the Pacers seemed like the twilight deal; he’d play out the deal make a couple of runs at a championship, however with Paul George out for the season and the Pacers in something of disarray as a result, there is a belief that West might get traded at some point this season. The prevailing thought on the Pacers is that they will open camp and make a go of it and see what they have. If the team starts to fall off, then changes and significant trades are likely.

West will turn 34 this month, so he’s not exactly a spring chicken, but with this year and a player option year left on his deal, he may be more attractive to teams with championship aspirations. It’s possible that West opts-out of his final year, especially if he is traded to an unfavorable destination. If the Pacers hang on to him, or he is traded to a contender it’s unlikely that anyone is going to offer more than $12.6 million for West. However, there is always the chance that West trades in his final $12.6 million in exchange for a few more guaranteed years in the NBA.

Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks – $9,500,000

There is no doubting that Paul Millsap outplayed his contract last year. The problem for the Hawks is much like Marc Gasol and Kevin Love, the only way for Millsap to reset the finances is to hit unrestricted free agency. This becomes a problem for Atlanta, mainly because that means potentially losing him for little or nothing in return.

Given that Millsap recently choose Atlanta in free agency and that he’s had success there, they may have the inside trade on keeping him, but with so many teams expected to have cap space can the Hawks risk losing such a solid asset?

That’s going to be the question they have to debate this season and one of the reasons the Hawks have been linked to so many trade scenarios.

Millsap looks to be one of the better free agent options in July and unfortunately for the Hawks there is not a lot they can do about it, given where Millsap’s contract is currently priced.

Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets – $15,719,062 (option worth $16.74M)

It is highly likely that Lopez opts-out of his existing deal, even with the chronic foot injuries he has endured. When healthy Lopez is one of the top centers in the game and with just one-year left on his deal he likely opts for the chance at a new payday and long-term security, even if that means re-upping in Brooklyn.

Like many of the other potential free agents, this puts the Nets on the clock on a number of fronts. There is the threat that Lopez could walk away and the question of what is he really worth in trade?

If Lopez can pick up where he left off before the injury last year there is a really good chance he could be one of the more coveted free agents in the 2015 free agent class and he might be obtainable too.

Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers – $14,898,938 (option worth $15.51M)

Like Lopez, Hibbert has a decision coming up. The problem with Hibbert is he hasn’t exactly played up to his contract, but elite level big men are hard to find and they are usually overpaid.

There has been some talk that the Pacers would entertain trading Hibbert, although Pacers sources were pretty adamant that was not the case, but with the Pacers’ season is very much up in the air and the risk that Hibbert could opt-out and walk away means the Pacers have to explore their options, especially with the gruesome Paul George leg injury.

Like most players with one year remaining on their deal, it’s likely Hibbert forgoes $15.51 million in exchange for more long-term money. The question is who invests in him given his production as of late?

DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers – $11,440,123

Like Paul Millsap, Jordan has outplayed his current contract. It’s very likely that DeAndre re-signs in LA with the Clippers on a new max level, or near max level contract. This is where the depths of the new Clippers ownership’s pockets is going to pay off.

Like all potential unrestricted free agents, Jordan could walk away, but considering the Clippers will put the money on the table and the success the team has had as currently constructed, the odds that Jordan hits the market in a real way are slim. The problem is that he has to hit free agency to get the raise his camp is seeking. So, there is risk for the Clippers, but all sides have been fairly clear they want the marriage to continue.

Robin Lopez, Portland Trail Blazers – $6,124,729

Like Millsap and Jordan, Lopez has outplayed his contract, which means he too will likely have to hit unrestricted free agency in July in order to get his contract re-set on par with his performance. This poses some risk for the Blazers, but all indications are that both sides want to continue to the relationship. It’s simply going to cost the Blazers more than the $6.1 million Lopez is set to earn.

Al Jefferson, Charlotte Hornets – $13,500,000 (option worth $13.5M)

Like Millsap it’s very possible that Jefferson opts-out of his deal simply to cash in under new terms. Given the success Jefferson has had in Charlotte, it seems unlikely that he’d leave, but whenever a player hits unrestricted free agency there is risk.

Jefferson recently chosing Charlotte in free agency bodes well for a new long-term deal, however with Jefferson’s season last year he might be in line for a hefty new deal and that becomes a question mark for the Hornets on whether they’ll go to near max for a player who will turn 30 this season.

If Jefferson posts another All-Star worthy campaign like last season, the odds are very good he’s hitting free agency in July, if only to cash in again.

Notable Extension Eligible Players

Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves – $4,660,479 (Qualifying Offer $6,179,795)

The Wolves and Rubio have been talking for most of the summer. As you can imagine Rubio’s camp has some substantial leverage given the Love situation and they are seeking a max deal for Ricky. The Wolves and Rubio have until October 31, as do all of the players and teams listed below, to reach an extension and it seems like the might.

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors – $3,075,880 (Qualifying Offer $4,210,880)

Thompson was talked about a lot this summer as someone the Warriors were unwilling to part with. The question becomes is he someone the Warriors are willing to pay? Both sides have had some contract talks and that discussion is expected to pick up steam as training camps get closer. There has been a lot of talk that Thompson is seeking a near max level extension and that seems unlikely given the $12 million Steph Curry earns. It is likely that Thompson and the Warriors do not reach a deal before the deadline, unless he comes off his asking price. Restricted free agency seems more likely, especially with all the changes the team has made on the coaching front.

Brandon Knight, Milwaukee Bucks – $3,553,917 (Qualifying Offer $4,790,680)

It is unlikely that the Bucks and Knight reach an extension unless it’s a landslide in Milwaukee’s favor. Both sides have talked and the Bucks say they want to keep him so a deal is very possible. It’s going to come down to the math and that may not get decided until this summer.

Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets – $2,249,768 (Qualifying Offer $3,257,664)

Its not out of the question that the Nuggets and Faried reach an extension, it just unlikely. Word is Faried wants a monster contract and while he has shown some moments that might justify it, his body of work is not on par with the near max money his side is said to be seeking. Faried’s situation likely gets resolved in restricted free agency if he is not traded first. His name has been kicked around a lot in trade scenarios.

Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic – $2,380,594 (Qualifying Offer $3,394,727)

Harris’ camp wants a new deal this summer and the Magic have agreed to talk about the subject, but given where Orlando is at in their rebuild committing a huge number to Harris seems unlikely. Although, there is a sense that if the Magic make a reasonable market-based offer, Harris might take it.

Word is Harris is atop a number of team’s wish list, so if the Magic don’t want to pay him this summer, there is a strong chance he gets a sizable offer sheet next summer.

The Magic would be bidding against themselves in a deal now, so it’s unlikely an extension gets reached, but it does seem like Harris’ camp is open to one if the Magic will come with the right kind of offer.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs – $2,894,059 (Qualifying Offer $4,045,894)

Can you say max offer? That’s what it’s going to take to get Kawhi Leonard signed this summer and that number seems a little unlikely considering the only player the Spurs have ever given the max to was Tim Duncan. That’s not to say that the reigning Finals MVP isn’t worth it, especially consider what guys like Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons got.

Both sides seem open to a deal, the question becomes for how much? Even if Leonard gets to free agency in July, its fair more likely that the Spurs match offers than let him go, the question is do the Spurs want that in their locker room this year? The Spurs cap position allows them a lot of room with regards to Leonard and his eventual payday. Do they lock him in now or does it have to play out next summer?

Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic – $2,751,260 (Qualifying Offer $3,865,520)

Like Harris, the Magic are talking extension with Vucevic, and also like Harris the Magic are in essence bidding against themselves. There is a chance that a deal gets reached this summer to start locking in core pieces, but given that Orlando doesn’t have to set a price today, there is a bigger chance that both Vucevic and Harris hit restricted free agency and let the market place set their price after seeing what both contribute in a season that should be about winning games.

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