The offseason is coming. It could be later than usual, after some kind of conclusion of the 2019-20 season, but it’s coming. Even if there are no games to discuss, no playoffs to preview, we can still talk about free agency. Trades. The draft, as mediocre as this year’s may be.
This is the first free agency primer I’ve written in April, and it requires a bit of preamble:
- We don’t know what will happen to the salary cap, which is typically calculated based on the previous season’s basketball-related income. If the league and the players do not agree to some form of cap smoothing — or simply decide to keep the cap the same as it was this season, another theoretical solution — then there will be a drastic dip. That means the luxury-tax threshold would be lower, as would the value of the mid-level exception, the biannual exception, rookie-scale contracts, etc. (Sam Quinn wrote about the ramifications of all this stuff.)
- Remember last summer? The hype, the surprises, the CP24 news helicopter following Kawhi Leonard in a SUV in Toronto? This will be nothing like that. Sorry. While stars could be traded, the 2020 free-agent class is far less splashy than 2019’s or 2021’s. Recalibrate your excitement level accordingly. (Colin Ward-Henninger ranked his top 30 potential free agents.)
- As always, there are player options and team options to consider here. Those will be noted, and the following players have not been included because I’m assuming they will not actually be free agents: Mike Conley, Jabari Parker, Kelly Olynyk, Rodney Hood, Garrett Temple, Svi Mykhailiuk, Tony Snell, Nicolas Batum, James Johnson, Stanley Johnson, Mike Muscala, Mario Hezonja. (Ward-Henninger wrote about five players with options.)
And with that, here are 70 upcoming free agents, grouped into categories that make sense, or at least make sense to me.
The starting five
A lineup of difference-making unrestricted free agents who help you win playoff games right now. Getting any of these guys would be a massive win for teams trying to compete immediately, and some of them should interest rebuilding teams, too.
Can I interest you in a 26-year-old guard who can make plays against elite playoff defense, stretch the floor and force turnovers? VanVleet is quietly one of the best defensive guards in the league, making up for his lack of height with a rare combination of basketball IQ, strength and anticipation. He’s also a valued leader in the locker room, and he has shown he’s completely fearless taking big shots on the biggest stage — his suitors have to wonder how close they’d have to get to the max to price the Raptors out.
Harris is exactly the type of player Brooklyn should want next to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. He is not just a lights-out shooter; he is a lights-out shooter who is comfortable shooting on the move, with a ridiculously quick release. He can attack close-outs, too, and he is a solid enough defender. The question here is how much luxury-tax pain the Nets are willing to endure.
Gallinari will be 32 before the start of next season. He has slipped a bit as a defender and is now much more suited to play the 4 than the 3, but set himself up for another payday with a strong season in Oklahoma City. On the offensive end, Gallinari remains one of the more versatile and efficient forwards in the league. After almost getting him at the trade deadline, would Miami sacrifice its 2021 cap space with a multi-year deal?
By not trading Bertans at the deadline, the Wizards telegraphed that they intend to re-sign him. The 27-year-old was a revelation this season, taking advantage of the greenest light any stretch 4 has ever had. He took 10.7 3-pointers per 36 minutes this season, an unprecedented number for a frontcourt player, and made 42.4 percent of them.
Once again a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Harrell somehow upped his usage after the Clippers signed two superstars, showing off a more refined face-up game than just about anyone thought he could develop. Once an energy guy, Harrell is now a refined offensive weapon, and he still does all the wonderful hustle things that got him on the court in the first place. If the Clippers can’t afford to keep him, I humbly request that whoever signs him also trades for Lou Williams.
The sixth man
This dude deserves his own category.
In his last 15 games, the undrafted journeyman averaged 22.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, and about a steal and a block while shooting 56.2 percent and making 41 percent of his 3s. The Pistons were essentially tanking, but that doesn’t make those numbers any less real — after the Andre Drummond trade, Wood was singlehandedly keeping them in games. Detroit should obviously try to keep him, but he’s an unrestricted free agent and every team with money to spend should be throwing it at him. He’s still just 24, an age when players with his skills and physical tools are essentially never available.
The trusty 10
A selection of vets who were either never stars or aren’t anymore, but can help your stars be their best selves. Far more valuable to contenders, but capable of providing structure on a young team, too.
Still extremely important to Denver’s defense. Still reliable, productive, professional. You know exactly what you’re getting, even if you’re not getting it for big minutes. But Millsap is 35, and he’s had knee trouble.
The rebuilding Cavaliers were reportedly interested in extending Thompson’s contract earlier this season, but then they traded for Andre Drummond. It was always hard to see Thompson staying in Cleveland unless the money was too good to pass up; now he can go do the dirty work for a contender again.
Given that the Pelicans were 10 points per 100 possessions better with Favors on the court this season, they should think about re-signing him — and having his Bird rights gives them an advantage. He doesn’t seem like the cleanest offensive fit with Zion Williamson, but New Orleans was dominant on both ends in the minutes they played together.
Dragic was smart to accept a sixth-man role this season, since it let him feast on opposing bench units and run the show when Jimmy Butler was off the court. At 33 he can still start if the right situation presents itself, but I wonder if he’d consider signing up for another season of this with a high salary (and help the Heat preserve their 2021 space).
Baynes was a dependable backup (and sometimes starter) in Boston, but in Phoenix he had something of a breakout. Is there a team in the league that can’t use a stretch 5 who can facilitate, set crushing screens and protect the paint?
It’s unclear how much Morris’ inefficient month with the Clippers harmed his value, if at all. They can re-sign him at a starting salary of $18 million at most, and it’s hard to see any of the teams with cap space going higher unless Miami wants to give him an inflated one-year deal. His skill set makes him a theoretical fit just about anywhere, and I still want to see Los Angeles try closing playoff games with him at center.
Gasol can’t do this forever, but at 35 he still makes everybody around him better on both ends. As long as his body holds up, contenders should be trying to pry him from the defending champs. (Do we still call them the defending champs next season if there are no 2020 champs?)
Ibaka picked a good time to have the best 3-point-shooting season of his career, and he deserves credit for the strides he has made in Nick Nurse’s offensive system. He’s not the intimidating shot-blocker he was in Oklahoma City, but in most other ways he’s better.
No player did more to refurbish his reputation than Howard did in 2019-20. As long as the 34-year-old continues to be satisfied with focusing on the select few things that he does at a high level, he can age gracefully after an awkward few years.
The versatility is what’s appealing: Grant makes open 3s, guards every position and can attack a closeout and dunk on you. His on/off numbers were ugly in Denver, and he could opt out of the $9.3 million he’s owed next season in search of a better fit, but I could also see him opting in and agreeing to an extension.
Nine big (and medium-sized) names probably staying put
For various reasons, these nine potential free agents are widely expected to re-sign, opt in or extend their contracts. They’re too relevant to go unmentioned, though, and in some cases there are variables to consider.
No one expects Davis to leave the Lakers, but no one knows if he’ll be a free agent this year or next year. The smart money was on him opting out and re-signing on a three-year deal, but if the salary cap drops far enough he’ll make more money opting in.
There were valid reasons for the Pelicans to take a wait-and-see approach with Ingram rather than signing him to an extension in October. Now he’s an All-Star and a Most Improved Player candidate and he’ll soon be a max player. His single-season transformation as a shooter is genuinely historic — not even Pascal Siakam improved his free throw percentage, 3-point percentage and 3-point volume that drastically at the same time. You can try to get him to sign an offer sheet, but surely New Orleans will match it.
I guess the 30-year-old Hayward could theoretically turn down his $34.2 million player option, sign a long-term deal elsewhere and play a more featured role. I don’t see a better fit out there, though, and any team assuming he can return to his 2016-17 level would be taking an enormous risk. Besides, he has a good thing going in Boston — why not see what happens next year?
The Kings are unpredictable, but it sure doesn’t seem like they plan to let Bogdanovic go. They didn’t keep him past the trade deadline and bench Buddy Hield so they could lose him for nothing. Sign-and-trade scenarios could still make sense, though, and I’d personally like to see him on a team that has a less ball-dominant point guard.
As efficient as he’s been this season, where is DeRozan getting a payday this summer? Bet on him taking his $27.7 million and hitting free agency in 2021.
Everything is on the table here. Fournier is 27, so it’s not crazy to imagine a young team giving him a long-term deal. He is also one of the few players on the Magic’s roster who can reliably score. He has a player option worth more than $17 million; if he picks it up, Orlando could extend him through 2024.
Drummond would really have to hate Cleveland to opt out. He is owed $28.8 million, and nobody’s giving him anything close to that this offseason.
Same deal: Porter’s option is worth $28.5 million, and he’s coming off a season mostly lost because of a foot injury.
This one is a bit more interesting because Hardaway has had a career year and might see a chance to capitalize on it. He almost certainly won’t do better than the $19 million he can make by opting in, though, and what shooter wouldn’t want to keep playing with Luka Doncic?
Nine restricted free agents of some intrigue
These young players didn’t get their contracts extended, and they’re not secure in their status the way Ingram is.
A heady player who has developed into an excellent defender and always had good feel on offense. The breakout hasn’t happened yet, though, and Poeltl’s game doesn’t scream star potential. I’d be surprised if the Spurs didn’t match a reasonable offer sheet.
Beasley was an awesome buy-low acquisition at the deadline, but now the Wolves have a strange problem: What if he has been too good since the trade? There aren’t many teams with cap space, but the few that do could absolutely use a 23-year-old wing who can fill it up. The price could be high.
Dunn is unique for a guard in 2020: An all-world defender who can be completely ignored behind the 3-point line. There will be teams interested in trying to account for his glaring flaw or help him eliminate it, but how much will they be willing to pay to do so?
I’m a sucker for playmaking 4s, and Saric’s feel for the game and moxie have always stood out. Glue guys, however, are generally expected to shoot spot-up 3s and defend better than he does. It’s not that he’s a bad defender — he’s physical, he’s smart, effort is not an issue — but he’s not quick laterally and isn’t all that switchable. The less rigid the offensive system, the better he will look.
If you’re shocked to learn that Boucher turned 27 in January, know that he is a late bloomer who wasn’t even discovered until after his 19th birthday. His emergence off the Raptors’ bench has been impressive, but how much more will he grow?
Brown’s shooting numbers have dropped everywhere aside from the free throw line this season, but teams might still be interested in seeing what happens if he’s not splitting time with a bunch of similar wings. He defends and rebounds well for his size.
Memphis stole Melton from Phoenix last summer, and giving him consistent minutes changed its season. As long as the price isn’t crazy, the Grizzlies should look past his poor shooting and sign him long-term — he fits well next to Ja Morant and is one of the best young defenders in the league.
Another Grizzlies find and darling of draft nerds everywhere, Konchar went undrafted and spent most of this season with the Memphis Hustle. His recent production, though, is absurd: Per 36 minutes, he averaged 11.9 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.8 blocks with a 72.3 percent true shooting percentage in the nine games since the Grizzlies put him in the rotation. I can’t wait to see the reaction if some team makes a bet that this is real and gives him a hefty offer sheet.
Athletic, a strong defender, doesn’t space the floor. Sounds like a Thunder wing, right? Dort was in an unusual situation for the 21 games before the league pressed pause, in the starting lineup the entire time but not practicing with the team because he was on a two-way contract. You’d think Oklahoma City would want to keep developing him.
The famous four
Three of these guys have signed max deals and the other was on his way to doing that before an injury. Now, they’re just looking for the right opportunity.
Anthony said he wants to end his career in Portland, and his time there has undeniably gone better than his stops in Oklahoma City and Houston (despite his volume of long 2s going up and his accuracy going down). He’ll be 36 at the end of next month, but if he can keep hitting corner 3s like this, he can keep relieving pressure on the Blazers’ guards. In the event that he considers leaving, I am not sure that he has eased contenders’ concerns about his defense. We’ll probably hear more Knicks rumors because of the CAA connection.
Whiteside’s counting stats look great, and he’s not the only one responsible for Portland’s awful defense. He doesn’t fit there if Jusuf Nurkic is healthy, though, and there can’t be many teams who care about his numbers anymore.
Maybe the Lakers give him another shot on a minimum contract and hope he can get healthy. I just can’t fathom him being their first or second priority, considering how well they’ve played with JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard in the middle.
The 31-year-old Thomas made 41.3 percent of his 3s with the Wizards, and that didn’t stop them from dumping him. Sigh. Until he proves he can be effective at the rim again, his defensive limitations will scare teams away.
Five under 25
Only one of these players has any kind of track record when it comes to contributing to a winning team, but they all have upside.
Not many people were paying attention to the Nets after Kyrie Irving was ruled out for the season, but those who did were in for a treat whenever Chiozza was in the game. The 5-foot-11 guard has already drawn VanVleet comparisons — he’s a sturdy defender, a creative passer and, if his hot shooting is sustainable, he’ll never play another minute in the G League.
The Heat love his defensive versatility, as they should. You know how fast he is and how high he jumps, and he has developed into a key part of their rotation. If I were thinking about investing in him, though, I’d want to see what happens when playoff opponents leave him wide open.
Jackson had to start over with the Hustle, and the No. 4 pick in the 2017 draft didn’t make his Grizzlies debut until late January. He’s still a bit wild, but if the season is over, he finished it strong. Still just 23!
The Suns could decline Diallo’s option to maximize cap space, even if they remain open to bringing him back. I like his finishing out of the pick-and-roll, and he shows occasional flashes of adding to his game. There are more polished bigs that will come just as cheap, but if you’re a rebuilding team, Diallo is worth a flier.
Giles has been all over the place since his redshirt rookie season, and I’m still confused about the Kings declining his fourth-year option. If the rest of the season is canceled, I imagine it will help him to have finished the season starting, rather than picking up DNP-CDs like he did a few months ago.
Six reserve guards
Need someone to run a pick-and-roll?
What a time for a breakout season, and what a nice move by the Jazz to pick him up. Trading long 2s for 3s should pay off pretty well for Clarkson, whose scoring off the bench was desperately needed in Utah.
Credit Teague for recognizing when moving to the bench would suit him. I expect he’ll be playing the same role for a playoff team next season.
Augustin would have been much better off if he had been on the market last summer, following the two most efficient seasons of his career. He’s still out there looking like Jameer Nelson for the Magic, though, and the 32-year-old’s shooting percentages would likely be higher if he had some semblance of spacing around him.
Early returns in Philadelphia were not particularly encouraging, but Burks could still be attractive to a team in need of a bucket-getter. The efficiency has never been there, though, and he doesn’t get to the line the way he used to.
I thought the Pistons would capitalize on his career season by trading him before the deadline. They apparently couldn’t get much in return, but if you’re in the market for a combo guard, you could do much worse.
Rivers could stay in Houston, where his game fits perfectly, or he could try his luck at getting more than the minimum somewhere else. Picking up his $2.4 million player option is probably the right call if the Rockets bring most of the bad back, but nobody knows what changes are coming.
Five reserve wings
Everybody wants more wings. Everybody.
Bazemore’s forays into playmaking have diminished since leaving Atlanta, making him more of a 3-and-D guy. You wish the 3s were more consistent, but you’ll still like having him around.
He could take the $8.5 million player option, and that might be his safest bet if the mid-level exception winds up below that number. If the MLE is higher than that, then Caldwell-Pope would at least need to strongly consider opting out — there will be a lot of teams trying to use that money to get a wing.
Matthews’ option is worth $2.7 million, and while he hasn’t been any different with the Bucks than he was with the Mavericks and Pacers, being a starter on a dominant team could get him a raise in this market.
It doesn’t sound like he wants to go anywhere, but I’d be shocked if Milwaukee brought all its wings back. Connaughton is easily the best athlete of the bunch, and he has a superpower.
The man just turned 39, but his 3-point percentage remains higher than that. He has fit as wonderfully as expected next to Giannis Antetokounmpo, and will likely have his pick of contenders again if he doesn’t retire.
Five reserve forwards
A few years ago, most of these guys played small forward. Now a bunch of them spend some of their time at center.
When his shot is falling, Crowder’s such a nice, low-usage role player to have. It has been falling since being traded to Miami, and that seems like the perfect spot for him.
If the season resumes, it’s such a waste that Harkless will finish it as a Knick. He fit just fine in Los Angeles, but we’ve seen opponents ignore him on the perimeter in the playoffs.
Non-shooting forwards are almost extinct, so it’s fitting that Hollis-Jefferson wound up on a team named after a dinosaur. He guards every position, and the Raptors have made up for his lack of range about as well as they could have hoped.
Hernangomez needed the trade to Minnesota just as much as Beasley did, and I suspect he will stick around and space the floor for D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns. If the Wolves go forward with all these guys, though, their defense is going to be a nightmare.
Can’t say he was particularly helpful in Los Angeles. But hey, Morris shot well in Detroit this season, so that’s something.
Five reserve bigs
One of these players signed a four-year, $41 million contract in 2016. Another one turned down a four-year, $70 million contract in 2017. Do not expect anything like that this time.
I could have put this vet in the previous group, but at this point he’s a 4/5 and next year maybe he’ll exclusively be a smallball center. I love how Williams has adapted his game, and if he doesn’t re-sign with the Bucks, other contenders will line up to give him a roster spot.
The 30 year-old makes sense in Denver’s system because he can facilitate from the high post. He has always been good at challenging shots and staying vertical, too. It just seems unlikely that Millsap, Grant and Plumlee will all be back.
Noel shot 68.5 percent in OKC this season, thanks to their more organized offensive system. He turns 26 this month, and on defense he’s still disruptive, even if he’s not always in the right place.
You don’t have to believe that pairing Leonard and Bam Adebayo is a viable medium-term plan to acknowledge that the big man has played his role well in Miami. I just wish he’d shoot more 3s, given how accurate he is.
Len isn’t trying to be a stretch 5 anymore, and he’s looked more comfortable since being traded to Sacramento. It’s the wrong era for him to truly shine, but he’s a fine backup.
And finally, six bigs with options
It’s a scary market for role-playing big men.
Should Kanter pick up his $5 million option? The Celtics are a good place to be and that’s decent enough money for a center who is targeted on pick-and-rolls, doesn’t protect the rim and doesn’t space the floor, but … I don’t know. He’s such a good scorer and rebounder that he might be able to more elsewhere, and Boston’s frontcourt is crowded.
Hmm, $2.3 million catching lobs from Luka or testing the market? This would be an easier decision if Cauley-Stein had been seeing more minutes in Dallas. The argument for opting out is that, while there are plenty of centers available, none of them can switch like him.
Good player, rough 2019-20 season. Walking away from $5 million guaranteed would be dangerous.
The Lakers have his Early Bird rights if he opts out, and McGee been productive enough to do so and ask for a raise.
The stats don’t look like much, but whatever. If we’re assuming the Bucks are going to play the same style of defense next season, this is the perfect situation for him. Would another team pay him more than his $5 million player option and use him the same way? It’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
The Knicks took a shot on Portis, and they can’t possibly want to pay him $15.8 million to give it another go. He’s 25, so there’s still time for him to become more than a shoot-first, shoot-second scorer, but, unlike Kanter, he isn’t efficient enough to justify all the bad defense.