The NBA's 5 Most Important Unrestricted Free Agents This Summer
Now that the 2013-2014 NBA season is over, the madness for all 30 teams can now begin. In the next three weeks, we will have the NBA Draft on June 26th, as well as the beginning of free agency on July 1st. Brace yourself.
All eyes will be on LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade as they decide if they want to exercise their early termination options on their contracts, making them free agents. If they do so, that doesn't necessarily mean they are leaving Miami – they could all terminate their contracts in order to renegotiate another deal.
Carmelo Anthony is in the same boat with the New York Knicks, and the rumors out there are saying that he does indeed plan on exercising his early termination option. While the popular rumor is Melo to Miami to make a “Big 4” (although recently copyrighted by Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, and Kawhi Leonard), he will have his share of suitors soon.
Who are the current unrestricted free agents for this summer that will have their pick of where they go? There are many, as usual, but let’s go over the five most interesting for this year.
Lance Stephenson's impending free agency has been discussed at length by NBA analysts in the past couple of months and he's nothing short of divisive. He plays at the worst (or shallowest) position in basketball – shooting guard – and is only 23 years old. Players like that are hugely valuable commodities, no matter how crazy they might be.
Obviously the Pacers will try to re-sign him, but at what cost? This season they paid Paul George $3.82 million and Lance $981,349 - that’s dirt cheap for those two players.
However, George’s salary will be bumped up to $15.8 million next year, and they currently have $65.7 million committed to their cap. And that’s before signing Lance. There are ways to cut down their number, like buy out contracts (Luis Scola, for example) as Zach Lowe suggested. But still, Indiana isn't the biggest TV market, and Lance will demand a double-digit salary. It will be interesting if the Pacers will be willing to exceed the cap by any significant margin if it means keeping him.
After the Raptors traded away Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry was perhaps the biggest reason why the Raps went from sure-fire tanking to the third seed in the Eastern Conference. He should’ve been an All-Star this season, and the Raps will surely do all they can to retain him in Toronto.
His salary was only at $6.2 million this year, and he will command more than that. But how much? Although he's been doing well in Toronto, he’s not that far removed from having “personality conflicts” with other organizations. Although his talent may dictate a large contract on the open market, Toronto might luck out because teams will be scared of him.
The Raptors don’t have a single double-digit salary player, with DeMar DeRozan's $9.5 million next year being their highest salary on the books. Young center Jonas Valanciunas is still on his rookie contract, and Terrence Ross is the same position, being owed a small $2.79 million next year. The Raps could give Lowry his money and still sign a solid free agent. However, if he decides to sign elsewhere, it will likely shift the balance of power in the East.
The Los Angeles Lakers are in the draft lottery for the first time in forever, and they're also in a rebuilding process. It's unlikely at this point that Pau Gasol would get the money he deserves from that franchise, especially when they’re trying to build around younger players, and have already given Kobe Bryant a $48.5 million contract.
There's a rumor floating around about Pau’s return to Memphis to play with his brother, Marc. Pau will be 34 in a couple of weeks, and it will be interesting to see what teams will offer him on the market. And what will he accept? Will he sign the biggest contract with the most guaranteed years, or will he take less money to play with his brother and on a contender?
Pau is only a couple years removed from playing among the world’s greatest in the Olympics for Spain, and frankly, he dominated the post in the tournament. He’s battled some unfortunate injuries, coaching changes, and a Lakers roster devoid of talent. People who think he’s washed up will be amazed at his production if he signs elsewhere next season.
The two best players in the world are LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The player who just won the 2014 Finals MVP is Kawhi Leonard. One of the biggest up-and-coming superstars is Paul George. What do those players have in common?
It’s obviously important to team construction – a stud small forward. While Luol Deng isn't anywhere near the level of those guys, he's one of the better defensive wings in the league and comes at a significantly cheaper price than those other guys. Well, unless you’re the Cleveland Cavaliers and you think he’s worth a first-round draft pick just for him to walk away this summer.
There are several teams that are contenders and in desperate need of just a player like Deng. The Clippers gave Matt Barnes significant minutes and traded for Danny Granger, but Deng would be a more solid, long-term option if the new ownership group is willing to exceed the cap to that excess. The Grizzlies’ weakest position is small forward and played Tayshaun Prince huge minutes. Deng is a good player and he will have a ton of suitors because of how important his position is in modern basketball.
A table for you of the 2013-2014 regular season stats of two starting point guards:
The first player will command a max contract when he hits free agency soon and the other one just made $884,293 and won’t ever come close to the max. Player 1 is Kyrie Irving. Player 2 is Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas is short and not an amazing defender (due to his size). However, we give Kyrie a break on that because of his “upside” and because he was selected first overall in the draft. Thomas has proven to be a starting point guard in the league and there are teams that desperately need a point guard. He won’t command a ton of money and if the right team can maneuver the cap, he would be a great addition. I mean, he has to be better than Mario Chalmers, right?
Bonus Quick Hits
Paul Pierce is an unrestricted free agent and will have his pick of where he wants to go. If his buddy Kevin Garnett chooses retirement over the Nets this summer, will Pierce take his talents elsewhere? Do you remember a team I mentioned that needed a small forward? Perhaps one where he has history with the head coach?
Ray Allen is up there in age, but still looked good for the Heat this year. He’s primarily a spot-up shooter at this point of his career and struggled when he was forced to be a shot creator in the Heat offense against the Spurs. He could be back for the Heat at a discounted rate if LeBron decides to stay in Miami.
Shaun Livingston will be on the market and proved this year to be a valuable asset as a lengthy off-guard who can help defensively as well as create off the dribble if needed. He played a good third banana for Deron Williams and Joe Johnson for the Nets, but will likely get looks from other teams with point guard deficiencies.