Ten most interesting players to watch in NBA free agency
NBA free agency — and this entire offseason — is going to be a frenzy. It will be a short offseason — possibly just more than 70 days between the end of the Finals and the start of the next season, about half a regular offseason — and everything will be a sprint, not a marathon.
Free agency is going to be a blur. Some players may have already agreed to deals.
With that, here is our list of the 10 most interesting NBA free agents to follow this offseason. This is not the 10 best players — Anthony Davis (once he opts out) and Brandon Ingram are the best players, but both will be maxed out and re-signed by their teams (the Lakers and Pelicans). That’s not interesting. The players on this list may switch teams, have options in the market, or just have a unique situation.
1) Fred VanVleet
Let’s start with the best player available who could switch teams, the rock-solid two-way point guard who helped Toronto win a title. VanVleet averaged 17.6 points and 6.6 assists per game last season for the Raptors, plus he is a quality defender who specializes in deflecting passes and getting steals. After betting on himself again and again over the years, VanVleet is about to cash in. He could get up to $20 million in the first year, or maybe $85 million over four years.
Will a team with cap space that needs a quality backcourt presence — Charlotte, Atlanta, New York — come in a little higher and poach VanVleet away from Toronto? Nick Nurse has said VanVleet is part of Toronto’s core and they want to keep him, but if the contract gets above $20 million it becomes hard for Toronto to maintain max cap space for the 2021 offseason (a priority for a team that thinks it has a shot at Giannis Antetokounmpo if he leaves Milwaukee).
2) Montrezl Harrell
Before the pandemic hit — in reality, before the playoffs started — it would have been a lock that Sixth Man of the Year Harrell would have multiple suitors and was in for a big payday in NBA free agency. Then came the playoffs, when he missed time in the bubble (due to the death of his grandmother), he struggled on the court (especially defensively), and the Clippers were -11.6 per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. It hurt Harrell’s free-agent stock.
He still will get a healthy raise — probably from the Clippers — but at the top end he’s likely going to land in the mid-teens ($14 million-$17 million) a season, which is below what he hoped. If a team looking for help up front tries to poach him, it’s up for debate how hard the Clippers would fight to keep him.
3) Danilo Gallinari
Oklahoma City is starting a rebuild — as evidenced by moving on from Billy Donovan as coach — and Gallinari is not part of OKC’s future. He is a stretch four who averaged 18.7 points a game and shot 40.5% from three, a skill set a lot of teams could use. What is interesting about him is he should get paid in the mid-teens ($14 million to $17 million a year), but the teams with the cap space to do that are not going to spend that money on a 32-year-old with an injury history. Gallinari would fit beautifully on a few contenders, but they can only offer the mid-level exception ($9.3 million). Is he willing to take that much less to go to a contender? Is there a sign-and-trade in his future?
4) Davis Bertans
Bertans knew his payday was coming and skipped playing in the bubble so he didn’t risk injury (it’s not like the Wizards were suddenly going to win a lot with him). Bertans is a stretch four who averaged 15.4 points a game for the Wizards, shot 42.3% from three last season, and is a catch-and-shoot specialist who could help many teams. The Wizards want (and need) to re-sign him if they have playoff dreams with John Wall and Bradley Beal in the lineup. He would fit beautifully on a number of contenders (the Sixers kicked the tires on trading for him at the deadline), but Washington can pay him in the low-teens ($13 million or so a year) while contending teams just have the mid-level exception (or the taxpayer MLE). Bigs who can shoot always have options in NBA free agency.
5) Joe Harris
The best shooter in NBA free agency, Harris averaged 14.5 points a game, shooting 42.4% from three last season. He is a fantastic fit next to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, GM Sean Marks has said re-signing him is the team’s top offseason priority, and Harris has said he wants to stay, but he will have options. Every team needs more shooting. Harris is going to make in the mid-teens ($14 million to $17 million a year), and there will be multiple suitors for his services.
6) Christian Wood
He’s not a household name, but the 25-year-old center out of UNLV has drawn a lot of interest in NBA front offices. He is coming off a breakout season where he averaged 13.1 points a game. Wood has to be respected from three (38.9%), is a strong rim-runner and finisher around the basket, has good handles for a big man, and his defense is improving. He was fourth in Sixth Man of the Year voting and is going to get paid more like a starter (more than the mid-level exception of $9.3 million a year, maybe a few million more), even if he’s in a sixth-man role. Detroit has the cap space to re-sign him (and traded Andre Drummond to create space for him at center). Are they willing to bet he will put in the work to keep making strides (work ethic was the concern about Wood at the draft in 2015)? Other teams with cap space and a need in the paint (Charlotte, for one) could try to poach him.
7) Serge Ibaka
An 11-year NBA veteran, he is a strong shot blocker on defense who averaged 15.4 points a game last season, scoring inside and shooting 38.5% from three. He was a key part of Toronto winning the title in 2019, and a lot of other contenders could use him. Ibaka could make starter money (more than the mid-level, likely around $11 million a year), but would he take that MLE to play for a contender? He’s not part of Toronto’s long-term future, but they may pay up to retain him (especially if Marc Gasol leaves). At age 31, how long a contract will teams offer Ibaka?
8) Carmelo Anthony
‘Melo revived his career in Portland last season, averaging 15.4 points a night, shooting 38.5% from three (on almost four attempts a game), and accepting and playing solidly in a role for the Trail Blazers. He said he thinks he found a home in Portland. The thing is, that home is changing: Zach Collins and Rodney Hood will be healthy and back in the rotation, and Trevor Ariza — who chose to skip the bubble — also will be in the mix. All of them are better than Anthony at age 36 and will take minutes that ‘Melo got last season. Anthony has a role as a reserve, but he was not as efficient as a scorer and still is a defensive problem. Will he accept a smaller role in Portland or seek a bigger one elsewhere? A Knicks reunion is not out of the question.
9) Goran Dragic
He was Miami’s leading scorer in the playoffs and a critical reason for their run to the Finals, but he tore his plantar fascia in Game 1 and did not get his star turn on the big stage. He averaged 16.2 points a game last season, but he will turn 35 next playoffs and has a long injury history. Expect Miami to come with a big one-year offer (more than $15 million a year, maybe up to $20 million), but would Dragic listen to a contender in need of a scoring point guard — like the Clippers — if they offered three or four guaranteed years at the mid-level exception ($9.3 million)? Dragic will have options among playoff and contending teams during NBA free agency.
10) Bogdan Bogdanovic
Bogdanovic is the kind of quality player and starter the Sacramento Kings should want to keep on their roster — except he plays the same position as Buddy Hield, whose $88 million extension kicks in this season. Bogdanovic averaged 15.1 points a game for the Kings last season, can create his own shot, hit the three (37.2% last season), and is a guy teams should give the green light to from the midrange because he is deadly from there.
Bogdanovic should make quality starter money ($15 million a year or so) but does new Sacramento general manager Monte McNair want to pay him that, and Hield, and have to give De’Aaron Fox his extension? That’s a lot of backcourt money, and Bogdanovic will have other suitors. As an aside, the Kings could be a surprisingly active team in the next year as McNair remakes this roster.
Just missing the cut: Marcus Morris, Jordan Clarkson, Dwight Howard, Jae Crowder.