NBA PM: The Next-Tier Free Agents – Part 2

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Several days ago, we examined a few of the “next-tier” free agents beyond LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and offered predictions as to where those players could land now that teams can officially agree to terms with players. Not surprisingly, the free agency negotiation period began with a flurry of rumors and speculation.  Here is part two:

Kyle Lowry, PG, UFA

Beyond initial rumors about a proposed deal involving the Miami HEAT and Lowry, it seems as though his name has been mentioned beside just about every team in need of backcourt stability. It isn’t difficult to understand why, as the 28-year-old is coming off the finest season of his career (17.9 PPG, 7.4 APG and 4.7 RPG). He was a major part of Toronto’s surprisingly successful 48-34 season that resulted in a grueling Game 7 loss to the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round.

As a guy who has bounced around the league a bit, the decision where to sign could ultimately come down to whether Lowry determines the apparent comfort and clear fit within Toronto’s system – not to mention a rumored deal that would net a reported salary between $12-14.5 million per season – or if the lure of a contender (presumably at a lower price) might be too much to ignore.

Prediction: Sometimes, you should stick with the proverbial “bird in the hand” rather than looking for that next opportunity. The rumored interest from the HEAT, Lakers and Rockets (among others) would undoubtedly be intriguing to any player, but if the GM Masai Ujiri and the Raptors are truly offering the type of money being rumored, returning to what they’ve got developing in Toronto would seem to make the most sense.

Chris Bosh, PF, UFA

While Bosh is generally referred to as the third wheel to Miami’s core group, the reality is that outside of all that LeBron James brings, the HEAT actually rely upon Bosh’s total package more than anything or anyone else. In a league where stars are often concerned with receiving their fair share of the limelight – let alone their individual numbers – Bosh is a rare player who seems secure in simply being a part of a successful organization, rather than being overly concerned with the glory and legacy talk. That sounds very Spurs-ish, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, considering San Antonio doesn’t have nearly the amount in cap space it would take to sign Bosh.

Beyond being able to spread the court with his wide array of offensive skills, Bosh remains one of the best defensive power forwards in the league. Even though the masses hold little regard for the other end of the court a times, enlightened observers of the game acknowledge just how versatile and vital Bosh has been to Miami’s four-year run.

Prediction: Bosh has already elected to opt out of his contract, but as long as James stays in Miami, it will always make the most sense to stay aboard. He should be expected to re-sign with the HEAT for somewhere around an average of $14-15 million per season, permitting them to pay James the max contract he absolutely deserves while leaving some flexibility for the front office to continue pursuing additional reinforcements.

Gordon Hayward, SG, RFA

Hayward is one of the more versatile free agents on the market, which is why the reported interest from several teams (including the Suns, Celtics and Hornets) isn’t exactly a shock. Although his shooting suffered likely as a result of not having many offensive weapons around him, Hayward did provide career-highs (16.2 PPG, 5.2 APG, 5.1 RPG and 1.4 SPG) in just about every other statistical category for the Jazz in 2013-14.

If the rumors are correct, the Jazz could end all speculation by simply offering him the max extension he is reportedly asking for. Until the offer is actually made, we’ll have to be the enemy of the calm and continue deliberating about his options, as there are plenty that could make sense. Even though the Suns are expected to attempt to re-sign Eric Bledsoe, there is a legitimate belief that Hayward’s size (6’8) and versatility would be a preferred fit alongside point guard Goran Dragic. If they ultimately decided to offer a max contract to Hayward rather than attempting to re-sign Bledsoe, then it could make things very interesting for Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey.

His former college coach Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics are a team that could also make a great deal of sense for the 24-year-old jack of all trades. The Celtics are an intriguing bunch, as they were rumored to be considering the potential of playing newly-drafted Marcus Smart and current PG Rajon Rondo in the same backcourt. While that would obviously give Boston quite the playmaking backcourt, the versatility that Hayward brings could be something of significant appeal to Stevens, especially if the Celtics are finally able to move Rondo, which has seemingly been rumored for the better part of three or four seasons.

Prediction: Hayward could fit nicely with most lineups and teams, but if the Jazz are to be taken at their word – which can be a dangerous thing to do with any front office throughout this process – we should anticipate a max extension offer from Utah. Hayward would not turn that down. Rodney Hood was absolutely a fantastic pick (and possibly even a steal) at No. 23, but even though he isn’t quite as versatile as Hayward, he could very well have been an insurance pick as a viable option to grow alongside Trey Burke and Dante Exum. If Lindsey does truly intend to re-sign Hayward, then Utah has a nice young, reserve core between Alec Burks, Hood, perhaps even Jeremy Evans (feels like a season where it is fair to expect something more than a “dunk crown” from Evans) and Rudy Gobert. This is a team you’ll want to keep an eye on over the next couple seasons.

Marcin Gortat, C, UFA

Gortat had a phenomenal season for the Wizards this year. Far from the days of serving as Dwight Howard’s backup over his first four seasons in Orlando, Gortat has developed into one of the league’s more consistent – albeit far less-heralded – post options in the game. His ability to both defend and be a productive part of the pick-and-roll offensively and willingness to be a rim-protector (tied for ninth in total blocks) could make him a desirable option at center for teams with cap space and a need to upgrade in the post.

As is the case with others, what is ultimately most important to Gortat will determine which direction he decides to go this summer. Likely to receive the largest offer from the Wizards, it will be interesting to see if a team like the HEAT or Mavs could make a play for the 30-year-old’s services. Although Miami has Bosh as a post defender, they’ve needed a legitimate seven-footer to aid in defending the rim and rebounding for years. Even if certain members of the core group in Miami were to take a significant pay cut, that would still likely mean Gortat would have to do the same, which may not be something he’s interested in. The same could be said for the Mavericks, as they’ve made it clear they don’t intend to offer max contracts this summer. Playing devil’s advocate, while they did just trade for Tyson Chandler, the Mavs have to realize Chandler is on the wrong side of 30 (especially for a big man), and has only played in more than 70 games just once (74 games for the Mavericks in 2010-11) since the 2007-08 season. For the record, while Gortat may be a lofty and somewhat unrealistic goal to have split time and duties with Chandler, they would be best served in having someone in place to share post responsibilities.

Prediction: The “Polish Hammer” comes to terms on a max or near-max deal with the Wizards. That core group has been fun to watch as John Wall has continued to develop as a leader and Bradley Beal gets settled into life as one of the better young shooting guards in the league. It would truly be a shame if they were to break up that core before we at least get to see a couple more seasons with them together.

Chandler Parsons, SF, RFA

According to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, the 25-year-old versatile forward should have plenty of interest from around the league if the Rockets ultimately decide to go in a different direction this summer. Per his report, Parsons is expected to be contacted by the Lakers, Bulls, Mavericks and Timberwolves at some point over the next few days.

Clearly, the Rockets could still be in the running to retain Parsons, but as is the case with many teams, they are likely to engage in discussions regarding the highly-coveted Carmelo Anthony prior to considering options with Parsons. The swingman had a very productive year for Houston (16.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.0 APG) in a support role during center Dwight Howard’s first season with the franchise, but it appears the organization is still set on exploring upgrade possibilities nonetheless. Parsons is slightly above-average as a three-point shooter (37 percent), and actually serves his role as a floor-spacer that can do other positive things quite well.

The Mavericks could make a lot of sense for Parsons, as he would be an excellent fit next to Dirk Nowitzki, and would be able to continue capitalizing on Texas’ lack of a state income tax. If teams are offering similar contract terms, then we cannot overlook those potential savings along with Dallas’ strong desire to place another contending roster around Nowitzki before the end of his run. Minnesota remains a legitimate option for Parsons due to their continued search for suitors for Kevin Love, but a sign-and-trade would have to be agreed upon with Love prior to any deal truly making sense for the Rockets. GM Daryl Morey could always take the risk of trading for a player (in Love) that hasn’t directly mentioned them as a desired landing spot, but losing Parsons seems like an awfully steep price to gamble with.

The Lakers were an intriguing addition to the mix, as even though they appear to also be waiting for word on Anthony like the rest of the group, they could be the one team that actually has the available cap space (depending upon what else they do in free agency) to throw a huge offer sheet at Parsons and a featured role to offer him. He genuinely could be a great fit at the right price.

Prediction: Unless the Rockets are able to work out a deal for Love or clear enough cap space for Anthony, re-signing Parsons on a lucrative deal probably remains their best option. He should continue to progress as a player, and seems to revel in the role they’ve carved out for him.

Jordan Hill, C/PF, UFA

Hill expressed displeasure with his role in Los Angeles in 2013-14 despite it actually being his most productive season in the NBA. The 26-year-old career-long reserve played well in spot coverage in a starter’s role (20.8 minutes per game on the year), but lacked consistency at times and failed to fit into former head coach Mike D’Antoni’s preferred offensive style/role throughout. Health issues have been a legitimate concern for the former No. 8 overall pick of the Knicks back in 2009, as Hill has missed time in several recent seasons due to various ailments. The Lakers have reportedly expressed an interest in re-signing Hill this summer, but that could depend upon their negotiations with other players and how much Hill could ultimately garner on the open market.

Beyond the Lakers, Hill should be a consideration for other teams in need of a viable post defender, rim-protector and someone that doesn’t need plays specifically called for them in order to make an occasional impact on the offensive end. His energy, effort and ability to finish at the rim make him the perfect complementary piece for teams with scoring bigs or stretch-fours (e.g. HEAT and Mavs) at the power forward position.

Prediction: If Hill wants his best shot at playing with a contender (and there is true interest from Miami), he could see joining the HEAT the closest thing to a sure-fire path toward likely success and would actually fit very well alongside Bosh. Bear in mind, a return to Los Angeles is always a possibility, but that could also depend upon if the Lakers are able to re-sign Pau Gasol and the price it costs them.

Andray Blatche, C/PF, UFA

Blatche is almost completely removed from all of the well-earned questions regarding the disappointing end to his days in Washington, as the soon to be 28-year-old big man actually had a very good year for the Nets in 2013-14. Once a starter, Blatche has developed into one of the league’s better options as a reserve post player. He may not be a beast on the boards, but Blatche does have the ability to use his body and positioning for rebounds and secondary opportunities on the offensive end.

Perhaps his greatest attribute is his ability to provide a bit of spacing from the pinch-post and mid-range as a big man, which can clear the way for post players and weakside slashing opportunities. Blatche, however, is somewhat limited as he is far from a rim-protector and not the greatest on-ball defender in the post, which could significantly restrict his free agency options.

Prediction: Amid all the uncertainty currently surrounding the Nets, it is somewhat surprising to hear of reports that he may not be in their future plans. If the Nets pass on Blatche, he remains a good alternative (at a relative bargain) to fall back upon in the event of a team striking out with guys like Spencer Hawes or Channing Frye.

Boris Diaw, PF, UFA

From the proverbial scrap-heap as a significantly out-of-shape member of the Charlotte Hornets at one point in 2011-12 to playing a significant role for the Spurs in their championship run, Diaw has found himself being considered one of the league’s better options as a multifaceted forward off the bench.

If Freeman – a trusted Blazers’ beat reporter – is correct, then it will be interesting to see just what the Blazers’ offer would be for the 11-year veteran. The only reason he’d have to leave a team that has gone to back-to-back Finals would be for a significantly larger payday, but the Blazers aren’t currently in a position to do that. They could certainly use Diaw, as they appear to be a perhaps just a couple bench contributors/playmakers away from making some serious noise in a deep Western Conference.

Prediction: Unless a legitimate contender were to offer Diaw a significant raise in pay, it just wouldn’t make sense for him to leave a team that he clearly fits and has experienced success with. The Spurs’ selection of former UCLA Bruin Kyle Anderson seems to suggest they already have a contingency plan in the event that he were to bolt via free agency, but that doesn’t seem as likely as some are speculating unless Diaw is truly chasing the largest available contract.

Patty Mills, PG, UFA

Mills may not have been the topic of household conversations prior to this most recent Finals run (outside of San Antonio and his native Australia, of course), but the five-year NBA veteran really made a name for himself both as a reserve guard off Gregg Popovich’s bench and in splitting responsibilities with point guard Cory Joseph in Tony Parker’s absence. Put simply, he fits perfectly with the Spurs, and was absolutely stellar in whatever role Popovich or the team has needed from him.

While there hasn’t been a ton of reported interest in Mills in the early going of free agency, he is expected to draw an interest from teams in need of a solid backcourt addition. The Knicks seem to always be in the market for another point guard, but their recent acquisition of Jose Calderon could remove them from the running. Depending upon their decision with UFA Devin Harris, the Mavericks could also be a potential landing spot for Mills if he were to seek a larger contract than San Antonio is willing (and able) to offer. The Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors are also reportedly looking for a reserve point guard, according to Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy.

Prediction: While Mills could almost certainly receive a larger deal from another team, the Spurs have generally been able to retain their desired role players. A winning culture and realistic opportunity to continue their recent string of success should make for a difficult decision on both sides. It should really boil down to what is most important to Mills at this point in his career. We couldn’t begrudge a player for seeking the big payday when he has only made a reported $3.6 million in career earnings, but the lure of San Antonio’s overall stability and excellence should be enough unless he were to receive the type of offer he simply could not refuse.

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