The assumption is that the Wizards are going for Kevin Durant and no one else in free agency, which isn't true. Every summer there's a pecking order. Two years ago it was Trevor Ariza, who left as a free agent instead, and they moved quickly to slot in Paul Pierce. This year, Pierce bolted and adjustments were made to compensate with Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson and Gary Neal.
So let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Durant will opt to stay with the Oklahoma City Thunder or go elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent in 2016. What then?
Pau Gasol, 35, of the Chicago Bulls already put himself on the market when he told CSNchicago.com's Bulls Insider Vince Goodwill this week that he plans to opt out of the final year of a three-year, $22.3 million deal. The salary cap is expected to jump almost $20 million next summer so most players would be smart to opt out and renegotiate or get a better deal elsewhere.
Gasol is averaging 14.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.0 blocks in his 15th season.
While he's no longer the dominant, missing piece to the puzzle that he was to Kobe Bryant, when the Lakers acquired him in a 2007-08 midseason deal and advanced to three consecutive NBA Finals, Gasol is still pretty good. He doesn't rely on athleticism or blazing speed to get to his spots, so he can last longer at an advanced age (see Tim Duncan).
After getting 26 points, 19 rebounds, four blocks and three assists in a win against the Denver Nuggets, Gasol told Goodwill that it is "very likely" that he’ll opt-out of his contract. “As long as I keep playing like this,” Gasol said, “I know I’ll have some options.”
The Wizards only will have John Wall, Marcin Gortat, Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre under contract with the right to match any offer for Bradley Beal as a restricted free agent. Everyone else, and that includes every big behind Gortat and power forwards, are either unrestricted (Nene, Ryan Hollins) or the Wizards hold team options (Drew Gooden, Kris Humphries, DeJuan Blair).
Nene, 33, appears to be at the end with his constant injury setbacks, Blair can't get on the floor even when Gortat is in foul trouble and Humphries is mired in an identity crisis as he tries to expand his game as a "stretch" four. Gooden, who at 6-10 has three-point range, appears the most likely of the bunch to stick if he can get over the injury bug that has slowed his start to this season.
Dudley, Neal and Anderson will be unrestricted as well Ramon Sessions and Garrett Temple.
There will be a lot of money on the table, but a lot of teams will be in a holding pattern until Durant reveals his answer. And when he does, there will be a free-for-all of the best of the rest. With the salary-cap space available, there's an interesting mix of players who could be had
Unrestricted free agents (restricted free agents/player holding options not included):
- Al Horford (Hawks)
- Hassan Whiteside (Heat)
- Al Jefferson (Hornets)
- Joakim Noah (Bulls)
- Mo Speights (Warriors)
- Timofey Mozgov (Cavs)
- Nicolas Batum (Hornets)
- Ryan Anderson (Pelicans)
- Eric Gordon (Pelicans)
- Jeff Green (Grizzlies)
- Dwyane Wade (Heat)
Restricted free agents are tricky because all it takes is one team to sign a player to an offer sheet and it drives up his price-tag considerably and a team risks overpaying (see Enes Kanter).