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: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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The Golden State Warriors will enter the season hanging banner number four from this era and passing out their championship rings, but this is a team with more questions than most returning champs.

Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are gone and their minutes will go to a young core — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — who are going to be asked to carry a larger load. Particularly during the regular season.

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to break down this coming Warriors season, what to expect, and if the young core can get the older vets to the playoffs rested and ready to defend their title. There’s also talk of what comes next in Golden State, as some hard contract choices are coming in the next few years.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Khris Middleton says he will miss start of season following wrist surgery

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game Two
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When Khris Middleton first went under the knife this summer to clean up issues with his left wrist, he expected to return in time for the start of the season.

At Bucks media day Sunday, Middleton said he’s not going to make that opening night goal but should be back early in the season, as reported by Jamal Collier of ESPN.

The Bucks open the season on the road Oct. 18 against the Celtics (who have their own set of issues heading into this year).

Middleton’s importance to the Bucks was evident in the playoffs, when not having him as a secondary shot creator was a key aspect of their seven-game loss to the Celtics.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last season. A healthy Bucks team — with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Jrue Holiday as the core — enter the season as serious title contenders. But they need Middleton, so they will not rush him back.

Zion, Nash, Davis: Seven players, coaches who enter NBA season under pressure

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Every NBA season comes with pressure — the pressure to win, the pressure of fan emotions and expectations, and for players the pressure that this is their livelihood. There is real pressure to stick in the NBA and earn that handsome paycheck.

But some players and coaches enter this season under more pressure than others.

Here are seven players and coaches who are under added pressure this season.

Anthony Davis

“This is not going to work without AD. No disrespect to Bron, no disrespect to Russ. They’re going to be who they are… but AD, having AD available…. it’s going to be invaluable. He’s the centerpiece to that championship table we’re trying to build.”

That was new Lakers coach Darvin Ham talking about Anthony Davis — the lynchpin to everything Ham hopes to do in Los Angeles. As he said, LeBron James will be LeBron (read: elite, even at age 37), and Russell Westbrook will be Russell Westbrook (he’s saying all the right things, but…), but if the Lakers are going to be any threat in the West it starts with Davis. Ham needs the Davis from the bubble — healthy, elite defender, playmaker, solid midrange jump shot — because he plans to run the offense through AD.

More than just this season, the Lakers have to come to a decision: Is Davis the No.1 option they can turn the franchise over to after LeBron steps away? Can he physically carry that burden and not break down? Davis can be one of the game’s elites, but is he ready to carry the Lakers franchise? Their future direction depends on that answer.

Zion Williamson

The acquisition of CJ McCollum last season helped bring the Pelicans together. They made a push into the playoffs with a solid core of McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Herbert Jones, Jonas Valanciunas, Larry Nance, Devonte' Graham and others. Watching New Orleans you couldn’t help but think, “If Zion Williamson were healthy…”

Now we get to find out. Williamson is reportedly in the best shape of his life (take all offseason conditioning comments with a shaker of salt) and ready to resume his role as a No.1 offensive option and maybe the best interior scorer in the game. The pressure of getting paid is off Williamson — he got his max extension — but the pressure of living up to it is just starting.

Steve Nash

When your star player says “him or me” during the offseason — even if that ultimatum gets rescinded — you enter the season under a microscope. Nash would have been getting a close look even if Kevin Durant didn’t drag his name into his offseason drama — there are plenty of front office people around the league not convinced Nash is up to the task in Brooklyn. There is enormous pressure on this team to get things right — to avoid a meltdown — and if things go at all sideways in Brooklyn Nash will be the fall guy. His seat is already warm.

Kyrie Irving

While we’re in Brooklyn… Ben Simmons is the logical first name to pop into your head when thinking of players under pressure with the Nets — and with good reason. We haven’t seen him on an NBA court in over a year and his play and fit are critical to the Nets’ hopes of contending. But there is another player who faces real contract pressure in Brooklyn.

Kyrie Irving wanted a trade out of Brooklyn this summer, the Nets said “go ahead and find one,” and Irving found his market was not nearly as deep and strong as he expected (the Lakers were interested, and he reportedly was interested in them, but any trade would have involved Russell Westbrook and got too tricky). Irving is in a contract year now and there is pressure on him to remind everyone that, when focused and committed, he is an All-NBA point guard and game changer. But will he stay focused and committed this season?

Tom Thibodeau

Knicks president Leon Rose came out this week in a softball-filled interview on MSG Network and backed his coach. When asked if Thibodeau was under pressure, Rose said, “I don’t see it that way at all. The way I say it is we’re continuing with the plan.” Nothing went according to plan with the Knicks last season. While not all of that was Thibodeau’s fault — he didn’t cause Julius Randle‘s shooting regression — if things get off to another slow start after spending money on Jalen Brunson this summer, somebody is going to have to pay the price. Thibodeau’s job may not be as secure as Rose tries to paint.

James Harden

James Harden is positioned to have a monster regular season. He’s asked to be more of a playmaker, get the ball to MVP candidate Joel Embiid, put Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris in positions to thrive, and score a few points in there as well. Harden could be poised for an All-NBA level regular season — and then the playoffs start. That’s where the pressure is. Harden’s long history of playoff foibles (including some flat outings against the Heat last year) will be under a microscope this season because Daryl Morey has built a team of solid role players — this team is good enough. It’s up to Harden (and Embiid) to prove he can also be an elite player in the postseason.

Kawhi Leonard

Steve Ballmer has paid an enormous… well, it’s chump change to him, but it’s still an enormous amount of money to turn the Clippers from league laughing stock into a respected franchise (sorry, it’s true Lakers fans). These Clippers are contenders. But that title contention rests on the shoulders of Kawhi Leonard. He has to both be healthy and play like the guy who helped lift the Raptors to a title. If Leonard and Paul George are healthy and playing like their All-NBA selves come the postseason the Clippers are a massive threat — two-way wings win playoff series and the Clippers would have two of them. It’s just on Leonard (and Paul) to be that guy.

Westbrook says he’s ‘all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win’

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers
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Welcome to NBA media day, when optimism overflows and everyone swears there are no chemistry problems, no fit questions, it’s all puppies and rainbows with their team.

The night before Lakers media day, Russell Westbrook got a head start on saying the right thing in an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Trade? Not worried about it. Fit? Not going to be a problem. Everyone is good now if you ask Westbrook, and he was in trade talks all summer is irrelevant.

“I need to just do my job. Whether I’m wanted [by the Lakers] or not doesn’t really matter. I think the most important thing is that I show up for work and I do the job like I’ve always done it: Be professional and go out and play my ass off and compete…

Maybe [he is] as a starter or maybe it’s off the bench. “I’m all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win,” Westbrook said. “I’m prepared for whatever comes my way.”

Words are nice, but actions are what will matter. Westbrook reportedly said all the right things to LeBron James and Anthony Davis a year ago before getting traded to the team, but his not wanting to play a role and fit in was a big issue. Westbrook swears it won’t be this time, whatever Ham wants Westbrook will execute.

“There’s so much optimism on how we can be great, how AD, LeBron, myself — can be unstoppable in my opinion,” Westbrook said.

That’s optimism. Even if Westbrook fits in, Davis stays healthy all season, and LeBron continues to defy father time, these Lakers are not title contenders. A playoff team for sure, but not contenders.

These Lakers will face adversity — maybe early, Los Angeles has a rough first couple of weeks — and how the Lakers, under new coach Darvin Ham, respond to those challenges will define their season. Last season’s response from the Lakers was… not good. They rolled over. Ham has promised not to let that happen, but there will be things out of his control.

Last season Westbrook was one of those things for Frank Vogel, we’ll see how he responds this season.