Six Key Free Agents in the Eastern Conference

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Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

An unrestricted free agent due to an early termination option in his contract, Kyle Lowry takes the top spot on this list because of the hole he would leave in the Toronto Raptors starting lineup if his 22.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and seven assists per game were to head for greener pastures.

As the roster is currently constructed, Corey Joseph, Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet sit behind Lowry at the point guard position—not exactly the greatest replacement options—and Lowry leaving could lead to a major shift in the team’s philosophy. Does General Manager Masai Ujiri resign Serge Ibaka if Lowry leaves? Does he bring in another free agent point guard like Patty Mills, Jeff Teague or George Hill to try and fill Lowry’s shoes? Does he bank on Corey Joseph—who has shown flashes but is anything but a sure bet—or another backup option? Or does he simply blow it up and start building for a LeBron James-less NBA future? Lowry’s decision could, to some degree, change the Eastern Conference hierarchy and possibly lead to a sooner-than-expected rebuild for the Raptors.

Lowry is not a lock to return to Toronto, especially after Ujiri claimed the team needed a “culture reset” after being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And he won’t lack suitors. The Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks, his hometown Philadelphia 76ers and others could and should look to add a guard of Lowry’s caliber. While the Raptors can offer Lowry more money and an extra year compared to other teams, don’t bet on the talented guard staying put.

Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks

A team with no true star, the Atlanta Hawks have leaned heavily on Paul Millsap for the better part of the last four years. The 2016-17 season was no different, with Millsap posting a career high in points per game at 18.1 per, in addition to 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 44.2 percent shooting. However, with the Hawks’ wins slipping each of the past two seasons, in addition to poor performances from big money players Dwight Howard and Kent Bazemore, how likely is it that Millsap, an unrestricted free agent, stays in Atlanta?

After the Hawks loss to the Wizards in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Millsap claimed that he wanted to remain in Atlanta. He has since opted out of the final year of his contract. However, at 32 years old, Millsap is most likely staring down his last big pay-day and, with the Hawks owning his bird rights, the most likely scenario is that Millsap stays in Atlanta on a max deal.

Jeff Teague, Indiana Pacers

Acquired in a three-team trade with the Hawks and the Utah Jazz last offseason, Jeff Teague was one of the few bright spots for the Indiana Pacers this year. Averaging career highs in assists and rebounds per game with 7.8 and four, respectively, in addition to 15.3 points per game, Teague has put himself in the position to receive a great contract. But will that contract come from the Pacers?

With rumors of Paul George’s dissatisfaction with the team swirling, Kevin Pritchard, the Pacers GM and President of Basketball Operations, will do anything to make his superstar happy. Re-signing Teague is a big step in that direction, so don’t be surprised to see him remain in Indiana on a lucrative deal.

Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards

A career year from Otto Porter Jr. should lead to an interesting offseason for the Washington Wizards’ versatile forward, one in which he is a restricted free agent. Porter Jr. averaged career highs in points and rebounds per game with 13.4 and 6.4, respectively. His shooting percentages were up across the board as well, ranking fourth in the league in three-point field goal percentage at 43.4 percent and ranking fifth in effective field goal percentage at 60.8 percent, highest among all non-centers in the league this season.

Porter Jr. should field numerous offers from other teams, but as a restricted free agent, the Wizards have the right to – and likely will – match any offer he receives. Ideally, for Washington, an extension can be worked out with Porter Jr. quickly, but a situation where the Wizards get stuck matching a deal in the $100 million range seems unavoidable at this point.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons

Like Porter Jr., Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also heads into the offseason a restricted free agent. The Detroit Pistons shooting guard has shown promise since his rookie season in 2013 and looks to be in line for a big payday this offseason, even after an up and down season with the Pistons in which he averaged 13.8 rebounds, 3.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.

Detroit has been adamant on their intent to re-sign Caldwell-Pope, even if he’s signed to a max offer sheet. While teams like the Brooklyn Nets will inevitably come calling, don’t expect the shooting guard to be playing anywhere other than the Motor City next season.

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics

Another restricted free agent, Kelly Olynyk has flashed potential during his four seasons in the league, but overall has been an inconsistent contributor during his Boston Celtics tenure. A solid bench option for head coach Brad Stevens’ squad, Olynyk posted averages of nine points, 4.8 rebounds and two assists per game this season.

The Celtics are expected to make a run at unrestricted free agent Gordon Hayward and with extensions for guards Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart looming, Olynyk doesn’t seem to fit into the club’s future plans. While a return is definitely possible, don’t expect to see Olynyk playing in green next season.