1. LeBron James (Unrestricted)
LeBron James is coming off an NBA Finals win and has been a yearly fixture in the Finals. However, being at the top of this list doesn’t mean a whole lot for him as he won’t even be considering offers from teams other than Cleveland, who will max him out on a short deal so that he can capitalize when the cap raises yet again. Now, some might question how James tops Durant on the list despite KD being younger. The bottom line is that if Durant joins your team, it makes headlines and ups the odds of winning a championship. If your team signs LeBron, they instantly become the center of the NBA universe.
2. Kevin Durant (Unrestricted)
Kevin Durant, while considered somewhat unlikely, may actually leave his team, unlike LeBron. Durant is the epitome of an elite player in this league. He’s tall, super long, and extremely skilled. He is one of the top scorers in the league and is the type of player that a franchise can build around. The interesting thing in all of this is that there are really only a couple of options that most people see as viable: staying with the Thunder, joining the Warriors, or heading to Miami. If he stays in OKC he will have a chance at winning a championship playing alongside Russell Westbrook, but Westbrook could bolt after the season and Durant would be left in an awkward place. KD could instead join the Warriors and create one of the best teams of all-time. The Warriors losing the championship could actually help them sign Durant as he will look less like somebody riding the coattails of a stud team and more like him being the piece that puts them back over the top. Sure, it would just be perception, but Durant has shown over the years that he cares deeply about how he is perceived.
3. Andre Drummond (Restricted)
Andre Drummond has quickly become one of the top big men in the league. Last season he averaged 16.2 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. He is limited in what he can do offensively, as the vast majority of his points come at the rim, and when fouled he might as well just try to kick the ball in because he only shoots 38% from the stripe for his career. Even with those limitations and the league’s shift towards small ball, his superior rebounding and defensive capabilities make him a huge asset. Drummond was obviously underrated coming into the league, with eight teams passing on him after a rather non-descript season at UConn, but he has become a beast on the interior for the Pistons. The best thing for Detroit is that Drummond is a restricted free agent, granting them the right to match any offer. In short, this simply means don’t expect Drummond to be anywhere but Detroit next season.
4. Mike Conley Jr. (Unrestricted)
This may seem a bit high for Conley, but free agency is set up this year for him to get paid. Sure, guys like Hassan Whiteside and DeMar DeRozan have more upside, but if a team needs a point guard and they miss out on Conley, the next best options are Jeremy Lin and Rajon Rondo. In short, this free agent class is weak at the point guard position and that works in Conley’s favor. His stats don’t jump off the page, but he is an elite game manager, able to put his teammates in the perfect position each trip down. Despite the fact he has yet to make an all-star team, he is that caliber of player. The Grizzlies will make a hard push to resign him and are the favorites to retain his services.
5. Al Horford (Unrestricted)
Al Horford is a veteran big man that doesn’t get as much credit as he probably deserves. He has been a huge cog in the Hawks success over the past 9 seasons and despite not being flashy, has never averaged less than 11 points and 7 rebounds per game. He’s had some injuries over his career, but started all 82 games last year and 76 the year before, meaning he’s played the vast majority of the games the last two seasons. Last season he even added a three point shot to his arsenal, shooting 256 of his career 321 attempts last season while knocking down 34% of his attempts. Being able to play either power forward or center and able to operate on the block or knock down jumpers, he will be able to seamlessly fit into just about any team. He isn’t the type of player that teams are going to want to build their franchise around, but he is the type that can put a team over the top as a piece on a contending team.
6. Hassan Whiteside (Unrestricted)
Whiteside is the biggest enigma in this free agent class. He fell out of the league shortly after a standout career at Marshall, leading him to play in the D-league, China, and even Lebanon. However, after signing with the Miami Heat, he exploded onto the scene and has become a top tier center, and even got his 2k rating up in the process. Because of the way his contract was structured the Heat are unable to go over the cap to sign him, and thus, it will be much easier for other teams to poach the center. He has averaged a double-double each of the last two seasons while blocking shots at a high clip (3.7 per game last year). His strengths are evident, but his weaknesses will also give teams pause. He is a black hole inside with a historically low assist rate. He simply doesn’t pass out of the post and isn’t concerned with keeping teammates involved, which will concern suitors. Because of this, Whiteside will fit in some schemes and not in others, and teams will have to take that in to consideration before offering him a big contract.
7. DeMar DeRozan (Unrestricted)
DeRozan has been Toronto’s best player and he is a skilled scorer that puts pressure on opposing defenses. He will be repping the United States at the Olympics and is one of the top targets on the free agent market. The biggest reason he’s down to number 7 on this list is because I simply have a hard time trusting wing scorers that struggle from the perimeter. He’s a volume scorer that relies a little more on his athleticism than what is ideal, but the bottom line is he gets results. He averaged 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4 assists per game last season. He will command a huge deal on the open market, but it remains highly likely that he sticks with the Raptors. However, if he decides to leave town, the Lakers seem to be the most logical option as he would be returning home.
8. Nic Batum (Unrestricted)
Batum is the classic jack of all trades. He does everything for a team and made a huge impact for the Hornets this past season. He scores efficiently, shoots a solid percentage, rebounds the basketball, finds the open man, and plays solid defense. He won’t be a splashy signing in free agency, but he may end up having one of the biggest impacts. His ability to do the little things for a team can be the difference in winning and losing a number of games throughout the course of the season. Because he isn’t viewed as a big time player, he will likely be a good value pickup for somebody this offseason, at least relative to what some players will get. Batum could end up getting superstar money, even though he’s not viewed as a superstar, as reports have surfaced that the Knicks will make a big push to sign him.
9. Bradley Beal (Restricted)
Bradley Beal is a player that we keep looking at and thinking, this is the year he finally breaks out, only to feel let down at the end of the season. He has all the tools you look for in a shooting guard and if he could put it all together could take his place as one of the top two-guards in the league. However, four years into his career he has missed nearly a full season’s worth of games. His durability has become a very real issue that has to have the Wizards very concerned. His absence in the lineup was a big reason the Wizards regressed so dramatically this past year. There will be teams out there that would be willing to take a chance on the oft-injured guard in hopes that he can fulfill the promise of stardom. He is still only 23 and can stretch the floor on the offensive end. As a restricted free agent, it’s likely the Wizards will match any offer Beal receives.
10. Dwight Howard (Unrestricted)
A few years ago, Howard being the tenth best free agent available would be unfathomable. Yet, in 2016, here we are. Howard still puts up numbers, but he’s had a difficult time finding synergy with teammates on his last couple of teams. He simply didn’t fit in LA. In Houston he wasn’t happy with his role as James Harden became the face of the franchise and the focus of the offense. Much of Howard’s discontent stems from the fact he believes he is best utilized as a back-to-the-basket low post scorer, when in reality it’s a relative weakness for him. He is much better off being put in pick and rolls and operating in space created by his guards. Despite this disconnect between his perception and reality and the injuries that have stripped him of some of his athleticism, he still finds himself capable of producing and teams such as the Celtics, Nets, Knicks, and Hawks will be lining up to sign him. Boston is considered the favorite, and he is not expected to be back in Houston.
11. Dwyane Wade (Unrestricted)
If it was hard to believe Howard being the tenth best free agent, it would have been beyond unfathomable to see Wade as the eleventh best. Wade slips on this list for a couple of reasons. For one, his age is catching up to him, as he’s 34 and over the past four seasons he has played in 74, 62, 54, and 69 games. He also gets dinged for the same reasons DeRozan did above – he’s a perimeter scorer that lacks a three point shot (he shot a career low 15.9 percent from deep this season). He has been a Heat lifer and even though there have been rumors of his representation reaching out to other teams, it appears as though it is just to put pressure on Pat Riley and company. In the end, it is extremely likely he stays in Miami, probably for the duration of his career.
12. Chandler Parsons (Unrestricted)
Parsons has had some trouble with injuries since signing his big deal with the Mavericks. However, he opted out and is in line for another big pay day. He’s a player that can do a little bit of everything. At 6-9 he can shoot the ball, put it on the deck and drive to the rim, rebound, and facilitate. He isn’t elite at anything, but he’s very good at a number of facets of the game. He is a solid locker room presence and can fit into just about any scheme seamlessly. The major concern with him will be regarding his ability to stay healthy. He isn’t the type that will be the top player on a good team, but could be a solid starter for a contender.
13. Pau Gasol (Unrestricted)
Another former Bull, Pau Gasol, will be entering the free agent market as one of the most skilled post players available. However, he’s 36 and for that reason won’t command a huge deal. However, he is still playing at a high level and because his game is not predicated on athleticism as much as it is his extremely high skill level and veteran savvy, he will likely have a sizeable impact on the team he chooses to sign with. His list of potential destinations will only consist of contenders as he looks to cap off his career with another ring or two. He is capable of averaging a double-double and averaged 4 assists per game last season as well. For the amount he will likely be paid, he may be the steal of free agency, but falls on the list due to the fact that his impact will likely only last for a season or two as his career comes to a close.
14. Joakim Noah (Unrestricted)
The common perception is that Noah is just a loud mouthed energy player. The reality is that he is a skilled player that actually does a good job of moving the basketball offensively. He doesn’t score he ball particularly well, but don’t forget that he finished fourth in MVP voting just a couple years ago. It appears as though there is a very real chance that he joins former teammate Derrick Rose in New York, where he could be a big part of their team. Regardless of where he ends up, he is a player that will play hardnosed defense, rebound, and find the open man on offense as opposed to forcing offense the way some post players do. He gives teams the ability to play through him in the high post for stretches as well. He will be a big pickup in free agency, even though Whiteside, Horford, and Howard will get most of the headlines.
15. Harrison Barnes (Restricted)
Barnes played a role in the Warriors success the last two years as they had back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals. He does bring extra value to the team due to his ability to play both the small forward role and space the floor, but also can slide over to the power forward role when they go small. He rebounds the ball well enough to take some pressure off his teammates inside while providing a solid outside shot. He struggled mightily in the Finals, but that shouldn’t really cost him in free agency. He’s only 24 and has excellent size for his position. He is one of the rare restricted free agents that could switch teams. The Warriors appear to be going after a big time free agent, primarily Durant, and in order for them to have the room to sign a max player, would have to renounce his rights. Even if they don’t, there is a very real chance that a team with cap space but no chance at one of the top free agents could offer him a large deal early in free agency hoping that the Warriors opt not to match, in order to chase a top tier player. Barnes will likely end up getting a bigger deal than some of the players above him on this list, however, teams may be paying more for potential than production. Barnes may have lost the faith of teammates with what some view as a meltdown in the finals, so team management may be faced with a difficult decision of letting him walk, or overspending to keep him.