1. Marc Gasol (unrestricted)
The 2014 Defensive Player of the Year had an even better 2015 season as he notched First Team All-NBA honors and earned the fans respect by being voted a starter for the Western Conference in the All Star Game. All of this is to say that Gasol’s free agency couldn’t have come at a better time. The Grizzlies ground and pound style has helped showcase Gasol and he’s only ever lived in Memphis since coming to the U.S. (Pau was the Grizz’s star big men when Marc came over in 2001). Gasol is one of the best big men to hit the open market in a long time. His combination of passing, low-post scoring and paint defense would make him a welcomed addition to any NBA team. The New York Knicks loom large as Gasol offers the versatility and basketball IQ to make the triangle offense work. However, the Knicks look more like Gotham City then the City That Never Sleeps at the moment.
2. LaMarcus Aldridge (unrestricted)
Aldridge had an up and down 2015 season. One that seemingly was going to come to an early end until Aldridge shocked everyone by continuing to play through a left thumb injury. His decision to play through the pain looked at first like a sign that the big man was likely to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers for the near future. However, as the year wound down for PDX, word began to spread that LA was "50-50" on remaining with the Blazers. While Portland has an adequate roster surrounding Aldridge, there are questions whether Damian Lillard, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum and Aldridge have reached their potential as a group. Remember Lillard is already about to turn 25 in July, Matthews is also a free agent and Batum hasn’t looked like the player many thought he could potentially be. Aldridge is a Texan and all three teams in his home state could potentially have the cap space to bring him in. The San Antonio Spurs would offer the best chance to win now, while a Harden/Aldridge/Howard big three would be very intriguing.
3. DeAndre Jordan (unrestricted)
The most athletic center in today’s NBA and many analysts’ choice to win Defensive Player of the Year, Jordan had his best year ever as a NBA player. Jordan easily averaged a double-double and made the paint a no fun zone for opposing offenses and defenses. A big stretch for DeAndre came when Blake Griffin went down with an elbow infection and missed about a month of action. All Jordan did in Blake’s absence was produce back-to-back 20 point, 20 rebound performances and almost netted those numbers in five other games. Jordan along with Chris Paul kept the Los Angeles Clippers ship afloat. Jordan’s fatal flaw is obvious however, he finished this season shooting 39% from the free throw line. As long as the "Hack-a" rules exist Jordan will be the main victim. A return to the Clippers seems like his most likely destination, but do not underestimate Mark Cuban’s ability to throw a lot of money his way to replace an aging Tyson Chandler.
4. Draymond Green (restricted)
The heart and soul of the likely soon to be NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Green is in for a definite substantial pay raise this offseason. Green will hit restricted free agency and it looks like the Warriors are going to have to dig deep into their pockets to keep him around. Green doesn’t necessarily have the numbers of others who share this list with him, but his true impact extends farther than a box score. Warriors coach Steve Kerr has compared Green to the Bulls era Dennis Rodman. While none of us hope to see Green’s hair dyed or him strutting about in a wedding dress the comparison holds true. He’s their do everything guy. Need a rebound? Draymond is probably already snatching the ball off the rim. Need a defensive stop? Draymond is glued to the opposing team’s best player. Need energy? Draymond is there to scream and flex his teammates’ and Oracle Arena through the roof. And Green’s feel for the game, passing and ball handling obviously give him added dimensions that Rodman did not possess. Green is a Jack-Of-All-Trades player and his hometown Detroit Pistons are ready and waiting to flush his pockets. It’s unlikely that the Warriors are going to let him go though.
5. Kawhi Leonard (restricted)
After being thrusted into the spotlight by defeating a LeBron James-led Miami Heat team and garnering NBA Finals MVP in 2014, Kawhi Leonard didn’t have the same success in the 2015 postseason. He did manage to bring home his first Defensive Player of the Year awards this year and he had many nights when he showed the flashes of potential super-stardom that many pundits believe awaits him. Yet, the Spurs exited the playoffs after just the first round and it still remains to be seen if Manu Ginobilí and Tim Duncan are ready to hang it up or come back for another rodeo. Tony Parker also wasn’t the same player this season and it seems that San Antonio’s dynasty could finally be coming to a close. Leonard and the Spurs were unable to come to terms before the season and it’s rare that the Spurs let one of their cornerstones hit the open market.
6. Jimmy Butler (restricted)
The 2015 Most Improved Player showed that he can be a team’s best player on both ends of the court. With Derrick Rose again dealing with a knee injury, Butler was able to step up his offensive output while still being the primary defender on the opposing team’s best player. With the exit of Tom Thibodeau, it’s a virtual guarantee that Butler will not lead the league in minutes per game if he remains in the Windy City. Following their second round exit to the the Cleveland Cavaliers, a report came out that Rose and Butler were feuding over who is the Chicago Bulls alpha dog. Butler is the more likely of the two to head elsewhere. Word is Butler would like to leave, so it’s possible Chicago will be forced into a sign and trade. Some Los Angeles Lakers fans believe the bright lights of Hollywood could lure him away, but I don’t think Butler would head to the Lakers in hopes of becoming a number one option.
7. Paul Milsap (unrestricted)
Milsap was the steal of the offseason just two years ago when the Atlanta Hawks snatched him off the market on a two year, 19 million dollar deal. However, the Hawks are now faced with the dilemma of re-upping him at a premium or letting the All-Star forward walk. The Hawks showed this year that they play a style of basketball that isn’t dependent upon just one player for their success. A style of play that got them the number one seed in the East and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, where injuries derailed their chances. Milsap will see an increase level of interest compared to two years ago due to how valuable it is to have a playmaker at the power forward position. Milsap has stretched his range back to the three point line where he shot 35 percent in each season in ATL. Milsap is still a force to be reckoned with in the paint, on offense. He will again be a prized acquisition come July, but this time it won’t be at such a bargain.
8. Goran Dragic (player option)
Dragic had a great thing going in Phoenix. He and Eric Bledsoe were wreaking havoc against the toughest competition the Western Conference had to offer. Then management out thought themselves and tried to turn their dual point guard backcourt into a trio by bringing in Isaiah Thomas. Well Thomas is now in Boston and Dragic found his way to the Miami Heat. When healthy, a squad of Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside is a playoff team in the East. However, down the stretch of last season health was the biggest liability for the Heat. If Pat Riley can keep this group together, they will quickly climb the ladder in the East. Yet, recent reports of dissension between Wade and the front office could mean that Dragic could slip away to one of his other preferred destinations of New York or Los Angeles.
9. Brook Lopez (player option)
One of the best predraft comparisons I’ve heard for Jahlil Okafor is Brook Lopez. While only a small handful of teams have a shot at obtaining Okafor, any other team looking for an offensive pivot point could give Lopez a call. The Brooklyn Nets are a complete mess. With massive amounts of money still to be handed out to Deron Williams (three years $62 million) and Joe Johnson (2 years 47 million) the salary cap is not a friend of Brooklyn. If Brook is comfortable sharing minutes with less talented but more athletic Mason Plumlee a return to the Nets is possible. But maybe a situation like the one in Dallas–a team that’s won a championship and a chance to pair with another offensive power in Dirk Nowitzki–could be enough to entice Lopez to move on.
10. Al Jefferson (player option)
Jefferson is another player that often gets brought up when people discuss Jahlil Okafor. Big Al has discovered himself during his time with the Charlotte Hornets and has fared well as the team’s primary offensive option. However, the Hornets haven’t done the greatest of jobs surrounding him with the shooters necessary to allow them to truly reap the benefits of his post play. Jefferson is one of those players that is very good, but if he’s the best player on your team, it’s unlikely you’ll get further than a playoff appearance. If Jefferson believes in the front office (and with Michael Jordan’s draft history that’s a big if), then he could look to remain with the Hornets and continue to be a 20-10 player–like he was during the 2013-14 season–and possibly sprinkle a couple more All-Star and All-NBA appearances on his resume. However, after 11 years in the league, Al could be looking for a place with title hopes.
Honorable Mention: LeBron James (not leaving Cleveland again, yet). Tim Duncan (it’s either the Spurs or retirement for Old Man River Walk) Kevin Love, Monta Ellis, Rajon Rondo, Kris Middleton, Tobias Harris.