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Free Agency primer: Top 25 free agents to watch

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At midnight tonight — as Friday officially flips into Saturday and the calendar flips to July 1 — NBA free agency opens and the floodgates will open. Some of the wild action of the past few weeks, such as Jimmy Butler going to Minnesota or Chris Paul to Houston, will influence what happens next.

There are things we know will happen, some we expect, and with some players we have no idea what is about to go down.

Here are 25 top free agents and what to expect, broken down by category.

ELITE FREE AGENTS NOT LEAVING THEIR TEAM

We feel obligated to mention these guys, but your team isn’t stealing them away.

1) Stephen Curry. The heart and soul (if not the best player anymore) on the Golden State Warriors, he is going to get the richest contract in NBA history — five years, nearly $201 million. He will sign the first “designated veteran” contract in NBA history, then will hit the golf course, relax a little this summer, savor another ring, then show up in the fall ready to humiliate defenders again.

2) Kevin Durant. The Warriors best player and Finals MVP, he opted out of the second year of his contract with the Warriors. However, that was just a formality, one which allows the Warriors a better chance of retaining free agents such as Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston. He will re-sign with the Warriors closer to the end of July, and he said he will take a little less than the max, but on another 1+1 deal so he can opt out next year and get paid even more.

TOP FREE AGENTS WHO COULD BE ON THE MOVE

3) Gordon Hayward. He’s an All-Star, near All-NBA level wing player in a league where some elite teams are looking for one. He will have as many max offers as he wants, but the race appears to be down to Miami, Boston, and Utah. He will meet with all three then decide early next week, but around the league there is a sense Boston may have some momentum (getting him and Paul George, however, is very difficult financially). If he leaves Utah will in part come down to if they move to keep George Hill (keep reading, he’s on this list) and would be a huge setback for one of the West’s up-and-coming teams.

4) Blake Griffin. Chris Paul has left Los Angeles, now the Clippers want to retain Griffin, run the offense through him, put some good shooters around him, and basically put together an interesting, if not contending, team. The question is does Griffin want that? He’s meeting with Phoenix, and we know Boston and Miami are interested (if they strike out on Hayward). Denver wants in the conversation, and there will be others. He has options but if the Clippers come with a five-year max that may be enough to retain him.

5) Paul Millsap. The Hawks seem set to lose LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap in free agency in back-to-back years for nothing (which is why they would like a sign-and-trade, and why Mike Budenholzer wanted to move him at the deadline). If teams give Millsap a four-year max they may regret the last season when he’s 36, but he can rebound, defend well, shoot threes and can help almost any team. Denver, Phoenix, and Sacramento are interested and there will be others.

6) Kyle Lowry. The least likely guy on this part of the list to move on. The Raptors want him back and will pay for him, the question is will they max him out? Do they have to max him out as the market has dried up some — Philly, Sacramento, Brooklyn all were reported targets then all just got young guards around the draft, so they are out of the mix. He’s not going to find a better spot, but he may look around a little.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS ANOTHER TEAM MAY TRY TO STEAL

7) Otto Porter. A lot of teams like the Washington Wizards’ wing and he’s the kind of player a team with cap space — such as Brooklyn or Sacramento — likely try to poach with an oversized offer. While John Wall would rather have Paul George, the Wizards don’t have the space for PG13 (unless Washington and Indy want to so a sign-and-trade, meaning the Pacers lowered their asking price), which means they will pay Porter, or match whatever offer sheet he gets. Porter is about to be a max or near-max guy, and John Wall is going to need to make it up to him.

8) Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Stan Van Gundy has hinted that he will match any offer for KCP — an impressive defensive wing who shot 35 percent from three last year (but has more work to do to be a real offensive threat) — and he should. Still, a team like Brooklyn will take a shot and try to sign him on the chance Detroit decides not to pony up, just expect the Pistons to match. They have to, they can’t lose him, they don’t have the cap space to replace him.

9) Nerlens Noel. Teams are no longer allowed to say “we will match any offer” because it’s seen as trying to dampen the market. So the Mavericks have said everything around that phrase — “he’s a central part of our future” — to hint they will match anything. Dallas traded for him at the deadline last year to see him as part of the future, the only question now is the price, and if they have to match someone else’s offer.

10) Tim Hardaway Jr. He’s developed well under the Hawks tutelage and last year scored 14.5 points a game shooting 35.7 percent from three. That said, he’s not much of a defender, and it’s fair to ask how much a now rebuilding Hawks team (assuming Millsap moves on) is willing to pay for his game. It’s going cost in the eight digits a season to keep him, but how high up into the teens might a team go to steal him? If one guy on this list can be stolen with a big offer, it’s Hardaway Jr.

GOOD PLAYERS WHO ARE/MAY GET PAID HEAD SHAKING AMOUNTS

11) Jrue Holiday. Do you think Holiday is a $30 million a year point guard? He’s about to get paid in that ballpark — and by the Pelicans. New Orleans has no choice, they have gone into a win-now place with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and if they loose Holiday they will have about $12 million to replace him, and they are not going to get anyone near as good for that price. Denver and a few other teams are interested, but he meets with the Pelicans first and they aren’t going to miss this chance.

12) Andre Iguodala. There are a lot of teams interested in Iguodala — Minnesota, San Antonio, Philadelphia, Orlando, Brooklyn and Utah among them. We’ve also heard the Warriors are “concerned” about the tax bill for Iguodala (after they give Curry and Durant massive new deals). All that hints that Iguodala could be on the move, but in the end, can the Warriors really let him go? He’s crucial to Golden State’s small lineups, and with KD taking less to keep him it’s hard to imagine him leaving. The Warriors would like to get him for around $12 million or less. Iguodala has talked to GM Bob Myers about it. But if another team comes in over the top… who knows.

13) J.J. Redick. He’s one of the best pure shooters in the NBA, he hit better than 40 percent from three last season and works very hard off the ball, plus is a solid team defender. The Clippers aren’t expected to keep him, and we know that Brooklyn (where he has a home) and Philadelphia are interested, and other teams will step up. This is Redick’s last big NBA contract and he’s going to want to maximize it, he’s not going to take less to contend.

14) George Hill. Gordon Hayward reportedly wants the Jazz to re-sign Hill, but I’ve heard he’s leaning towards moving on. Obviously, it will come down to who offers the most money, but teams such as San Antonio. Minnesota (if they move Ricky Rubio), and New York reportedly all are interested. Hill is a guy good at everything — good defender, can shoot the three, strong floor general, can attack the rim — and that versatility makes him valuable.

15) Danilo Gallinari. When he’s healthy he puts up numbers: Last season the 6’10” wing scored 18.2 points with 5.3 rebounds a game, shot 38.7 percent from three, he can create shots for himself, and he’s a solid defender. However, last season he played in 63 games, and that’s the most he has played in four seasons. Denver seems to be looking at other options (Paul Millsap, even Kevin Love) but it will come down to money. Gallinari is the kind of guy that GMs talk themselves into after missing their first couple of targets, which means he’s going to get a big payday.

GOOD PLAYERS NOT GOING ANYWHERE

16) Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks didn’t pick up his $25 million option so they could go after some free agents, but there is no way Mark Cuban is letting his talisman player go. And Nowitzki doesn’t want to leave. The two sides will work out a deal at some point, and it could be a two-year deal so Nowitzki has options.

17) Pau Gasol. He opted out of the $16 million he is owed next year and likely will make less per year for that, but will get the security of a longer deal with the Spurs. Gasol did this to help the Spurs chase free agents, we’ll see who they can land with that space (and if LaMarcus Aldridge stays, that’s another discussion). Gasol is still a fundamentally solid big who can score inside, make smart passes, and defend the rim all with a high IQ. He’s past his peak but he’s still good.

PLAYER WHO COULD GET PAID MORE THAN HE SHOULD AT THIS POINT

18) Serge Ibaka. There were reports he’s already basically agreed to a deal to return to the Raptors, although how much they really want to pay for a four who doesn’t stretch the floor terribly well or defend quite like he used to remains to be seen. He’s still good, and if Kyle Lowry returns they need what Ibaka brings to be a threat in the East. He could make more than the $12.3 million he made a year ago.

OTHER FREE AGENTS TO WATCH

19) Dion Waiters. He got in the best shape of his life in Miami at age 25, and when the Heat needed scoring the second half of the season he picked up the slack (not efficiently, but he was getting buckets). Waiters is the kind of player that could get a bigger payday than the ballpark two years, $20 million he should get because when a GM strikes out on better targets he talks himself into the idea that the post-All Star break Waiters is here to stay. Miami may keep him, but other teams will come calling.

20) Kyle Korver. He doesn’t move like he used to, he is a defensive liability, but he shot 45 percent from three last season, he knows how to find open space, and he remains one of the best long-range marksmen in the game. He made $5.2 million last year and I could see a salary in that ballpark (which includes the taxpayer midlevel, so a contender could snap him up).

21) Patty Mills. He has gone to Spurs university and come out the other side as a quality NBA point guard who can knock down threes, work off the ball, defend fairly well, and just be a guy who can be trusted on the big stage. He’s likely too expensive for the Spurs to bring back, and a lot of teams that are targeting Holiday/Lowry could come calling when they strike out.

22) Zach Randolph. It would be strange not to see him in a Memphis uniform next season, but it very well could happen. After spending on restricted free agent JaMychal Green – which the Grizzlies absolutely need to do — there’s not a lot of money left for Randolph or Tony Allen. Randolph says he wants to stay in Memphis, and he’s not getting a long-term deal anywhere at age 36, but another team could offer too much money to pass up.

23) Derrick Rose. He put up average numbers last season, on paper he had an average/solid season, but the Knicks did not click when he was running the show and he’s still a defensive liability. He could help a team if he was willing to play for less than the mid-level and come off the bench, but will he do that?

24) PJ Tucker. He played on the Raptors last season and in the playoffs showed his strengths — physical, versatile defending — and his weaknesses on the offensive end. The Clippers and Knicks reportedly have interest, but other teams will line up once the top end of free agency shakes out and GMs realize they could use a veteran defender like Tucker.

25) Rudy Gay. He’s an old-school volume scorer who was already slowing down before he suffered a ruptured Achilles last January. He should be back around the start of the season, but how much does he have left? A few teams have expressed interest, including the Thunder and Clippers. But at what cost?

PBT Podcast: All things Sixers with Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia

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The Sixers have started the season 0-3, Joel Embiid is frustrated about his lack of post touches, and Markelle Fultz‘s shot has gone funky…

Relax. The Sixers are going to be fine, and they still very well could be a playoff team in the East this season. It’s just three games (against teams expected to finish above the Sixers in the standings anyway).

Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia joins Kurt Helin on the Podcast today to talk all things Sixers. They discuss the things that have gone wrong, but also the culture Brett Brown has built, why the Sixers still have to be thought of as a playoff team, and why the future is bright. Also, there is a little discussion of the mess with the Phoenix Suns, their lack of a process, and how Eric Bledsoe could tilt things in the East.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Stephen Curry fined $50,000 for throwing mouthpiece

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Stephen Curry knew a fine was coming, the only question was how much? The NBA had established this precedent before: When Curry (or any player) threw his mouthpiece he got fined. That he’s done it before and threw it in the direction of an official this time meant the price could go up.

It did — Curry was slapped with a $50,000 fine for throwing his mouthpiece during the ejection from Saturday night’s Warriors loss to the Grizzlies. Curry felt he was fouled on a drive and didn’t get the call, and he lost his cool.

Andre Iguodala was also fined $15,000 for “verbally abusing a game official” during the same incident.

Some fans wanted a suspension for Curry, mostly because it’s trendy to hate on Curry and the Warriors in some circles. Reality is there is a precedent here, and the league office stuck with that. Now, if the mouthpiece had struck the official, Curry would have gotten a suspension. If you want to argue the intent was the same, call up the league. They make the distinction.

Reports: Knicks, Bucks, Nuggets among teams calling about Eric Bledsoe

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Eric Bledsoe is done with the Suns. His excuse that his “I Dont wanna be here” Tweet was about a hair salon is as believable as myself, Bruce Willis, and Andre Agassi Tweeting about our time in hair salons. The Suns have told him to go home, and they will work to trade him. Most likely, the Suns are going to get crushed in this deal — they have no leverage, Bledsoe is a free agent in less than two years (2019), plus most teams are not looking for another point guard. But he is being shopped, and he’d like to go to a winning team.

Where will Bledsoe get traded?

A few names have come up — the Knicks, Bucks, and Nuggets are the ones out in public now. There are more, but let’s take a look at those three.

The Knicks have one of the two worst backcourts in the NBA (the Bulls are in that mix, too) so they certainly could use Bledsoe short term. However, long term he doesn’t fit on the Kristaps Porzingis timeline so how much would New York give up to get him.

That price is too high, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

The Suns have asked about young Knicks such as Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in trade talks about guard Eric Bledsoe, sources confirm. But New York have been opposed to trading either young player, sources told ESPN. Hernangomez has not been in head coach Jeff Hornacek’s regular rotation in the first two games of the season, which has left the second-year center frustrated. But Hernangomez’s lack of playing time isn’t a sign that the club is looking to move him. Ntilikina has dealt with several injuries early in his career but the point guard remains part of the young core New York wants to build around and management, as of Monday afternoon, did not want to move him in a Bledsoe deal.

Then there is Milwaukee.

On the court, this makes some sense. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the point forward who has the ball in his hands, but Bledsoe is adept off the ball and can hit the three. The move would send Malcolm Brogdon back to the bench, which he may not like but is a good thing for a team looking to bolster its depth.

The trade likely would involve Jabari Parker going West, along with salary filler such as Matthew Dellavedova. Parker is coming off multiple injuries, but he still knows how to score inside and in the right system has value. Whether that system is in Phoenix depends on what kind of system they want to run and roster they want to build.

Then there is Denver.

Denver likes Jamal Murray at the point guard spot and is ready to move on from Emmanuel Mudiay, so there could be a point guard swap but with some more salary coming back to Phoenix (Denver likely would want to dump Kenneth Faried but the Suns will want something that helps them out more than that). This makes some sense as it gives the Suns a young point guard with some skills to try out, while the Nuggets get deeper at a spot of need.

Other deals are lurking (yes LeBron James and Bledsoe are tight, but that deal is a long shot), and the Suns rightfully are going to take the best deal they can find, regardless of whether Bledsoe wants to be there or not. The only questions are how fast do they get it done, and what are teams offering?

J.R. Smith replacing Dwyane Wade as Cavaliers’ starting shooting guard

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The Cavaliers are 2-1, but their starting lineups have been outscored by 19 points in 32 minutes. Dwyane Wade has been so bad as the starting shooting guard, his struggles have overshadowed J.R. Smith‘s miserable play as the backup.

But at least Wade volunteered a solution to this predictable problem.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Dwyane Wade is headed for the Cavaliers’ bench at his own request and J.R. Smith is returning to the starting lineup.

Wade, 35, a 12-time All-Star who struggled in his first three games with Cleveland, asked coach Tyronn Lue to make the change, Lue said. But this wasn’t exactly Wade’s idea, either.

Lue told him when he signed with the Cavs Sept. 27 that the second unit may be the best fit for him.

“I just decided, earlier than later, just to get to the unit where I’d be more comfortable in and can probably better with this team in that lineup,” Wade said. “Why wait? Three games in, why wait? Wanted to get in there with those guys.”

Cleveland’s starting lineup needs more shooting and defense around LeBron James – especially with Derrick Rose starting over an injured Isaiah Thomas (though Rose is out a couple games with his own ankle injury). Smith provides that.

Bench-heavy units need more playmaking. Wade provides that.

This was a tricky situation given Wade’s status as a future Hall of Famer and friendship with LeBron. Whether Wade simply suggested the change or Lue is trying to give Wade public credit after coaxing it behind the scenes, the result is the same.

The Cavs can now use their most logical rotation, and they should be better for it.