NBA free agency starts at midnight tonight. Almost all of the free agent talk so far has been focused on LeBron and Carmelo. Where will LeBron end up? Will he take a pay cut? (No.) Will Carmelo join or create a Big 3? Is he headed to Miami? (Just stop.) Chicago? (Hmmm.) Rockets? (They certainly want him.) New York? (Sorry Knicks fans.) Let’s put aside the LeBron and Carmelo talk for just a second, and rate the rest of the free agents. This free agent class is by no means loaded once you get past LeBron and Carmelo, but there are still some very attractive free agents this summer that could alter the NBA landscape.
A Few that Didn’t Make the Cut
A couple guys didn’t make this list, but will be targeted by several teams. Patty Mills had a stellar run in the Finals and is bound to be overpaid by someone in the league. Plenty of teams will only remember how well he shot the ball in the Finals and be willing to offer Mills the starting job and a salary raise. His speed and pace gave the Heat fits. Speaking of the Heat, they will have to figure out what to do with the Big 3. Obviously, the Heat will do all they can to keep the Big 3 together and make another run at the Finals. There’s no way they’ll let Dwyane Wade go. He’ll probably play his entire career in Miami, and the Heat will offer him a Kobe-like extension, based on what he did for the franchise in the past, not what he will do in the future. Wade could be in this list based on previous ability and his name, but in terms of ability, he doesn’t belong on the list. He looked finished in the Finals. The Heat breezed through the weak East, beginning with their first round sweep of the upstart Hornets. The Hornets look like an up-and-coming team in the East and are trying to keep their point-forward Josh McRoberts, one of the best passing big men in the league. Michael Jordan loves McRoberts and calls him a “connector”, basically meaning Jordan would’ve loved playing with him since McRoberts only passes the ball. A connector is just another word for a glue-guy, and McRoberts is that.
15. Boris Diaw
The best point-forward in the league. Diaw is invaluable to the Spurs, and speaking of ‘connectors,’ Diaw is the ultimate connector. He had been more well-known for getting fat off croissants, but now he’s an integral part of San Antonio’s success. It’s hard to see him leaving, considering he’s best friends with Tony Parker and coming off a title.
14. Avery Bradley
Everyone assumes Rajon Rondo is the odd man out with the Celtics picking Marcus Smart in the draft, and that’s probably right. Bradley is one of the best defensive point guards in the league. He’s improved his offense, namely his outside shooting, but he still needs to take another giant leap to be in the third or fourth tier of starting point guards. He’s only 23 years old so some team might give him a crazy offer, but the Celtics will have the chance to re-sign it since he’s restricted.
13. Pau Gasol
Another great passing big man. Gasol has said he wouldn’t mind re-signing in LA. That could only be due to loyalty, to Kobe first and Lakers second, or lifestyle, with LA being one of the nicest NBA cities. Sure, Gasol is 33, but he still has plenty of talent to contribute. His game is not one predicated on athleticism either. His passing and rebounding could be of help to a team trying to win now.
12. Trevor Ariza
Ariza is bound to be overpaid. More and more, it seems like the Wizards might let Ariza walk, and instead focus their efforts on re-signing Marcin Gortat. Ariza had a career year for the Wizards, helping them reach the second round of the playoffs. Is he worth $10 million a year? That might very well be the price tag to keep him. He has length on defense and can space the floor with his shooting, so he’ll have plenty of suitors.
11. Luol Deng
Poor Deng was exiled to Cleveland midway through last season, after an entire career in Chicago. Deng is still only 29 years old and one of the best teammates in the league. He’ll fit into any locker room and is a good two-way player. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a team like Dallas, looking to spend money, but not the max, make a push for Deng this summer.
10. Marcin Gortat
Gortat, like Wizard teammate Trevor Ariza, had a career year in Washington last season. He’s 30 years old and squarely in his prime right now. Center being such a weak position throughout the league, Gortat is sure to get attention from whomever has space and a need down low. The Wizards have made re-signing him their top priority, but that is no guarantee that he’ll be wearing a Wizards uniform next season. A team like the Heat could greatly use Gortat’s services, and also provide a better chance at winning.
9. Gordon Hayward
Maybe Utah is sucking the life out of Gordon Hayward. He shot only 41% from the field and 30% from 3. That’s not good from a player whose best attribute is his shooting. Utah doesn’t have much to build on, and Hayward is one of Utah’s only real building blocks, so it’ll probably he hard to pry Hayward away. He’s only 24 and a restricted free agent. That usually means for another team to get him, without Utah matching the deal, it’s necessary to overpay him.
8. Chandler Parsons
The Rockets declined Parsons’ option, so that he’d be a restricted free agent this summer. That means they’ll have the opportunity to match any offer made to Parsons by another team. If they hadn’t declined his option, Parsons would be unrestricted next season, and harder to retain, given that someone would wildly overpay him. Parsons is older than he seems, being 25 years old already, despite only playing three seasons. He’s a foundational piece to the Rockets and will be wearing a Rockets uniform next season without question. He’s a deadly shooter and lets Houston stretch the floor with their ‘3’s and layups only’ offense. Parsons is also a surprisingly good playmaker and can be a point-forward at times.
7. Isaiah Thomas
If we were only looking at statistics, Thomas might be the top player on this list! He averages over 20 points and six assists per game. Unfortunately for Thomas, we have to look at more than just individual stats, and take into account that Thomas’ Kings won just 28 games. It’s not Thomas’ fault. The former Mr. Irrelevant has been better than anyone ever could have guessed, but at just 5’9″, he is very susceptible to matchup problems defensively, struggling to guard opposing guards, who have such a height advantage.
6. Lance Stephenson
One of the hardest players to gauge, Stephenson may just be the most talented free agent not named LeBron or Carmelo. He is more physically talented than almost anyone else, maybe in the entire league. It’s very possible that a team will offer him a max deal. That’s obviously a big risk and could get a GM fired. His talent is undeniable. Indiana was a team dominated by veterans, and they still had trouble reigning in his antics. As a 23 year old with All-Star talent though, Stephenson will be one of the hottest names in free agency.
5. Chris Bosh
There’s no doubt Chris Bosh takes an unfair amount of criticism. He’s not the superstar some people thought he was in Toronto, and he’s also not the role player many people want to peg him as now. In reality, he’s somewhere in between those two extremes. He’s a very good NBA starter that should command a near-max deal this summer. To stay in Miami, he’ll probably need to take a pay cut, and that might be difficult if his hometown Dallas Mavericks come calling.
4. Greg Monroe
24 year old centers that just about average a double-double (fine, 15 and 9) are rare commodities. Those kinds of players don’t exactly grow on trees in the NBA. That’s why Monroe will get paid a lot this summer. I’m not sure I’d want to build my team around him making anything close to a max deal, but that is what he’ll get this summer. And who knows, maybe the situation in Detroit was just toxic. You know, the situation where management thought pairing Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, and Josh Smith together would be a good idea.
3. Kyle Lowry
It seems that Kyle Lowry is finally not underrated anymore. After years of being pegged as a good, but not great point guard, Lowry is finally recognized as one of the best point guards in the league. He still didn’t make the All-Star game last season, but he got the Raptors into the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Lowry was the leader of the 48-win Raptors, and he elevated himself into the 2nd tier point guard conversation with guys like Mike Conley and Kyrie Irving. Here’s to hoping the Heat don’t get him.
2. Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe is not better than Lowry. Bledsoe is younger though at just 24 years old, and in his first year starting, averaged 18-6-5. He underwent knee surgery last season, but returned late in the season and looked fine. Bledsoe looks like an All-Star in the making. Like Hayward and Parsons, Bledsoe is restricted, so getting him would require a drastic overpay. Even so, the Suns won 48 games behind a Bledsoe-Dragic backcourt and are unlikely to let him walk.
1. Dirk Nowitzki
Who cares if Dirk is 36? He still averaged 22 points and 6 rebounds last season, and nearly upset the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. Dirk is still one of the best players in the league, and his skill set will allow him to be productive for the next few years. Dallas showed last year that you can still build around Dirk and be a really good team in the NBA. No other player on this list could be built around as the number one option and lead his team to the playoffs in the West. He’d never leave Dallas.