1. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
I’ll grant that this may be cheating a bit, but they both can enter free agency this offseason. After toppling Cleveland in 5 games, they aren’t going anywhere, though. Durant was the Finals MVP in his first year in Golden State and Curry thrived as the team looked scary good for much of the year. These are two of the top players in the entire league, and neither will likely have any suitors this offseason because it appears to be a foregone conclusion that neither is going anywhere. However, it simply seems wrong not to include them on the list since they are both eligible for new contracts.
2. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Griffin is most well known for his dunking, but he has been expanding his game to include more of a ranged attack. Last season he averaged 21, 8, and 5 while shooting 33.6% on a career high 113 three point attempts. It’s no sure thing that he will leave LA, but there will be no shortage of teams looking to sign the athletic forward. Not only will he help improve a team on the court, but he does something that guys like Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap won’t – sell tickets. Fans focus primarily on the on-court production, but teams want a return on investment not only in terms of wins and stats, but also in money coming in from fans, and Griffin will help in both facets of the game. He will certainly be a hot commodity on the market this offseason.
3. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Hayward is coming off an impressive season where he led the Jazz to 51 wins. He averaged just short of 22 points per game to go with 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He can score in bunches and is very consistent. He scored at least 20 points in 47 games last season and was the go-to player for the Jazz on the offensive end. He fits well in Utah and they don’t want to lose him, but the Celtics (led by Hayward’s college head coach, Brad Stevens) and HEAT are among the teams expected to try and pry him away from Utah. He’s a lock to land a max deal and he will have options if he decides he wants a fresh start someplace else. However, expect the Jazz to put up a fight to keep their franchise player.
4. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
There are a couple obvious knocks on Chris Paul that slide him down to number 4 on this list. One is that he has a reputation for not being able to win big in the playoffs. While he has to take some of the blame for that, his teams underachieving in the postseason is only partially on him. The other knock is that he’s 32, and while age shouldn’t have a massive effect on the way he plays late in the contract, some teams (Houston) might be reticent to spend big on a player approaching 30,000 minutes played in his career. The fact remains, however, that Paul is still considered by many as the top true point guard in the league. His stats have stayed remarkably stable throughout his career, from his rookie campaign to last season. He continues to remain a threat to score and a premier passer in the league, even as the point guard position sees a surge in the league as of late. With Houston primed to re-sign Paul, after trading for him, they figure to see an immediate benefit and have two of the top playmakers in the league. Many are skeptical of how their skills will mesh together, but in D’Antoni’s system, there should be plenty of shots to go around for both of them.
5. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Lowry arguably had a better season last year than either Griffin or Hayward but falls behind them on the list by virtue of being a few years older than them, which means that he may well be slowing down by the end of the contract he signs this offseason. He has gone on record saying that he wants to sign someplace where he can win a championship. This stoked excitement in various fan bases due to his comments about LeBron James basically having the Eastern conference on lock saying that “nobody’s closing the gap on him.” However, fans may have made too much of those comments, as Lowry has found more team and individual success in Toronto than in any other place in his career. With DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas on the roster, Toronto might represent his best option in terms of winning. There have been rumors that he would like to leave Toronto, but if he truly wants to win and make as much money as possible, he’ll remain a Raptor, otherwise he’ll almost certainly have to sacrifice either winning or salary.
6. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
Millsap is an interesting case. For a power forward, he doesn’t have ideal size, standing only 6-8. He can shoot the three, but the last two seasons has only made 31% of his attempts. He rebounds, but last season his 7.7 a game put him outside of the top 20 in that category. Ultimately, there isn’t anything that Millsap does exceptionally well. Everyone above him on this list has something that they do extremely well, but Millsap simply does a lot of things well. This balance means that if you need him to carry your team as its best player, the team isn’t likely to go far. But if he’s the second or third best player, the team should be in really good shape. This is where the list shifts from free agents that are franchise players to players that can take a team from good to great. Millsap isn’t going to be a franchise cornerstone for a team with realistic championship aspirations, but if he goes to the right team, it’s not out of the question that he could find himself playing late into the postseason next year.
7. Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets
Gallinari is a 6-10 small forward with a sweet shooting touch, and if that doesn’t fit the direction the NBA is going currently, nothing does. He’ll be 29 at the beginning of next season, so he’s got a few years left in his prime, but his injury history may scare some teams off. Since his first full season in Denver in 2011-2012, he’s played 43, 71, 0, 59, 53, and 63 games each season. However, when he plays, he is a problem for defenses. Last season he shot 38.9% from deep, 53% inside the arc, 90% from the charity stripe, and 44.7% overall. Because of his size, he can shoot over smaller defenders, but is too skilled for teams to feel comfortable putting taller defenders on him in the perimeter in many situations. Like Millsap, he’s not going to be the savior for a franchise, but he could fill a need on a team and become the piece that puts them over the top.
8. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
While Curry and Durant won’t be leaving Golden State, Andre Iguodala’s free agency isn’t so cut and dry. He very well could stay with the reigning champs, but he also could look to sign elsewhere and be a bigger part of a team. He is a big part of what the Warriors have done the past few years, but with Durant and Green, he isn’t going to start for them. Many other teams, on the other hand, would have no problem handing over a starting spot (and a lot of cash) to the talented forward. Minnesota has been getting a lot of traction on the rumor mill, but they are far from the only team expected to gauge Iggy’s interest. Sure, he’d likely be walking away from a chance and continuing a potential dynasty in Oakland, but he would go from super sub to a focal point on a team, and that may, or may not, be something he values at this point in his career.
9. Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans
Holiday is an interesting case. If you just look at his numbers, he looks like a quality starting point guard, but nothing will blow you away about his 15-7-4 line. However, if you dig a bit deeper, you see the impact he can have. In the games that he didn’t play in for the Pelicans last season, they went an underwhelming 2-13. In the games he did play, they went 32-35. While small sample sizes, the team was clearly much better when he was there running the show. Holiday understands how to manage an NBA offense and can score or distribute. In a league with as many good point guards as the NBA, he gets overshadowed, but he could be a player that a team could potentially sign for cheaper than the top tier players on this list but still get a major upgrade. The Pelicans will likely be pulling out all the stops to bring him back, however, especially after trading away his backup, Tim Frazier.
10. JJ Redick, Los Angeles Clippers
JJ Redick is a role player, which may make it seem a bit odd to see him in the top ten on this list. However, his ability to knock down jump shots and be a solid locker room influence could benefit a lot of teams in the association. Redick is also an underrated defender. While he’s not a lock down perimeter defender in the mold of Tony Allen, he works hard and doesn’t get beat often. A team in need of shooting would be foolish to ignore his free agency, as he can fill a need for a team.
1. Otto Porter, Washington Wizards
The Wizards took a step forward this season, and part of that was because of Porter’s growth as a player. He averaged 13.4 points and 6.4 rebounds, which may not sound like exceptional numbers, but he provided the Wizards with an option outside of Wall and Beal. For the first couple seasons of his career, it looked like he may not live up his status as the third overall pick, but Washington was patient with him and now that he’s developed into a player that can help a franchise; he is set to enter restricted free agency. Don’t expect the Wizards to make an early offer, as they’ll let other teams set the market, but with the knowledge that the Wizards likely will match anything he gets offered, most teams probably won’t make Porter a priority despite his status as, quite possibly, the best of the restricted free agents.
2. Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks
Noel won’t blow you away with his numbers. He averaged a lowly 8.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in his 22 games as a Maverick last season. However, it’s his activity level and unique defensive potential that teams like about him. At 6-11, he can block shots, play the passing lanes, defend the pick and roll and use his length to bother offenses. It’s unlikely the Mavericks will be willing to let him sign elsewhere because they traded for him last season, and risked giving up a round one pick for him, and they likely wouldn’t have done that for 22 games, even if it becomes 2 second round picks that isn’t a good deal. With that being said, teams very well may look to offer him a max or near max deal in free agency because as the league transitions to a style where big hulking centers are dying off, having a big man that can step outside and hold his own defensively can pay dividends for a team.
3. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons
While Noel and Porter are less likely to switch teams, Caldwell-Pope very well might. The Pistons have found themselves in cap hell (a bad place for a non-contending team to be in) and may have to choose between the fiscally responsible thing (letting a key but not irreplaceable starter go) and putting themselves in a position they wouldn’t be able to recover from (resigning him on a huge deal). The Pistons were able to add Luke Kennard in the draft, which may signal their willingness to let Caldwell-Pope leave, but it could also just be a backup plan in the event that he asks the team to let him leave to play elsewhere. Caldwell-Pope shoots the ball well and gives just enough in the rebounding and ball movement areas of the game to keep him from being one dimensional. In an offense better suited to his skills, it’s not out of the question that he could put up much more prolific numbers. Ultimately, don’t be surprised if another team offers Caldwell-Pope a Tyler Johnson type contract with a lot of money on the backend to scare the Pistons away from matching the offer. Of all the restricted free agents on the market, Caldwell-Pope looks like the most primed to move zip codes.
4. Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets
Plumlee was traded late last season in an exchange of big men, being sent from Portland in exchange for Jusef Nurkic. His stats had a slight downturn while adjusting to his new team, but the fact that they traded for him makes it likely that the Nuggets will be looking to retain his services. He has a good blend of scoring ability, passing instincts, and rebounding acumen that should fit in especially well in Denver. If he were an unrestricted free agent he would likely get a lot more attention as teams would be lining up to sign a 6-11 center with a multi-faceted game, but as a restricted free agent will likely have to settle for what he can find on a limited market.
5. Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls
Now that the Bulls have chosen a direction (that direction being down faster than a plane without wings) it’s tough to figure out what they’ll do with Mirotic. He seems a bit redundant as a face up power forward now that they’ve drafted Lauri Markkanen. He doesn’t rebound the ball all that well and offensively he is a one dimensional shooter that takes more threes than twos. With that being said, 6-10 shooters are a luxury, and the Bulls will need some talented players on a roster that is about to undergo a transformation as they rebuild. How available he truly is to other teams may very depend on how much they are willing to spend, as the Bulls are unlikely to want to spend a ton to retain him if they were unwilling to hold on to Jimmy Butler and his relatively team friendly contract situation.