I know the 2016 NBA free agency period is still a while away, but rumors are heating up about certain players and their potential futures (or lack there of) with their current teams. The 2016 free agency period will be a steady one. It’s not the best we’ve ever seen, but it’s still solid nonetheless. In this article I’ll be breaking down the top five players in the upcoming free agency position by position.
1. Mike Conley: Conley is by far the best point guard available in the upcoming free agency period, but I have some serious trouble picturing him leaving the friendly confines of FedEx Forum. However, the Memphis Grizzlies are sliding down the list of the best teams out west, and the future doesn’t look all too good. The core in Memphis is aging, and Conley could see this as an opportunity for a fresh start. I could see Conley leaving Memphis and returning home to play for the Indiana Pacers. Even though the Pacers aren’t in need of a point guard, Conley would be an upgrade to run the show.
2. Brandon Jennings: At different times, Jennings can be the best or the worst player on the floor. His volatility is noticeable, and beyond that, more pronounced than most players in the league. I could see the gunslinging lefty go to the Knicks. That would make for comedy gold. It might also help the Knicks win more games, but then again, there’s only one basketball, and Jennings has to share it at some point. Will he? It’s an open question.
3. Jordan Clarkson: Clarkson will be a restricted free agent, so take caution before reading too much into this. He’s only 23, so he’s got time to develop (but he’s good enough to start for most teams right now). He doesn’t make many mistakes, and is a good guy to have on your team. Realistically, the Lakers will probably keep him and play him at the 2-guard spot next to D’Angelo Russell. Anything else would be a surprise to me.
4. Rajon Rondo: Rondo appears to be back to his old self again, which is fantastic for his market value. However, the pass-first point guard probably won’t have as many suitors as his on-court skills would suggest. Due to his locker room problems and fiery temper on the court, Rondo will be lucky to get a large contract. Odds are he will stay in Sacramento and continue to coexist with DeMarcus Cousins.
5. Matthew Dellavedova: Delly is my kind of player. He has the grit, toughness, and heart not found in every player. In the playoffs last year, he proved he can handle a starting role, showing that he was more than just a defensive stopper. Due to the fact that he’s a restricted free agent this year, I see him signing a 1-year deal to stay in Cleveland, then going out in the 2017 free agent market as a unrestricted point guard trying to pick up a starting role somewhere.
1. DeMar DeRozan: An elite shooting guard, DeRozan should get a max deal in this upcoming period of free agency. DeRozan is a breath of fresh air these days because of his style of play. He doesn’t bomb away from three-point land like most shooting guards do. DeRozan attacks the rim without restraint, and has a silky-smooth mid-range pull-up game that will make any coach take notice. DeRozan might be a fool to leave the good situation he has in Toronto, but I’d be shocked if he doesn’t exercise his options. Remember, he’s from Los Angeles. He might be the perfect star to replace Kobe Bryant for the Lakers.
2. Dwyane Wade: Wade has a chance to leave Miami, but let’s be honest, there’s no way he is. Sure, we can speculate about old man Dwyane leaving to take on a different role in his career. However, he’s been a part of the Miami Heat organization his entire career, and the smart money suggests it will stay that way.
Dwyane Wade is a lifer. That’s rare nowadays, and quite frankly Heat fans should cherish every moment they see him on the court, because Wade can’t shoot worth a damn and will eventually lose that quickness, which in turn will bring an end to his fantastic NBA career. Let’s say he wants to leave Miami. Where would he go? The most reasonable answer is a destination where he would be a sixth man. Boston comes to mind as an option. Wade could mentor and help develop all the young guns for the Celtics, and help them win in the process. Don’t get me wrong, D-Wade can still ball.
3. Bradley Beal: Beal has been stricken with injuries throughout his young NBA career, and that could be the reason for things to get dicey in D.C. Beal could become an elite two-guard if he can stay on the court, and the Wizards recognize this. They also recognize that he will want a lot of money, but will they pay up for such an injury-prone player? I believe they will. They can’t afford to let Beal walk at this point. The Wizards need to keep their core together, not break it up.
4. Eric Gordon: The Eric Gordon sweepstakes will be a crapshoot. It is hard to gauge the league’s interest level in Gordon due to his longstanding injury issues. Gordon’s time in New Orleans seems to be over, but I’m not sure how many teams will be able to spend big bucks for a guy who may not play 60 games a season. Gordon is a very good shooting guard, but due to his injury problems he will probably not sign until relatively late in the free-agency signing period. A team in desperate need of a two-guard will throw some cash at him when the time is right.
5. Evan Fournier: The 23-year old Frenchman can shoot, but the Magic might not keep him because of the deep young backcourt they have. Fournier will probably get a decent deal somewhere else this summer — maybe enough to land a starting role, but also as a sixth man asked to provide instant offense. I could see a team like the Charlotte Hornets bringing in Fournier. The Hornets don’t really have an established starting shooting guard, and Fournier could bring that to the table.
1. Kevin Durant: The star of the show. The reason for the season. Kevin Durant is the star attraction of the 2016 free-agency period. All eyes will be on his this summer. He’s the first domino that will fall, unleashing a chain reaction of other events around the league. If Durant stays in Oklahoma City, other teams have to either re-sign their guys, or bring in new players to fill the void.
Durant has been fantastic this year. Last season’s foot injuries sidelined him, but they haven’t really carried over into this season. KD has been an exceptionally strong scorer, a solid rebounder, and an efficient shooter from the floor and the free throw line. The Thunder will be lead the Durant sweepstakes, but the Washington Wizards could be the number-two option. There have also been recent reports of Durant considering a move to the Golden State Warriors. (How insane would that be?) Whether he stays in OKC or goes, Durant will profoundly affect the composition of the NBA and its balance of power in 2017 and beyond.
2. LeBron James: It’s a no-brainer that he’s staying in Cleveland. There’s really nothing to see here. The only thing we can speculate about LeBron is how long his contract will be. I bet he’ll sign a 2-year player option deal, continuing a trend he’s been setting for a while now.
3. Nicolas Batum: Keep an eye on him this summer. Assuming LeBron is staying in Cleveland, Batum is the second-best option in a relatively weak crop of free-agent small forwards. Batum has been fantastic in Charlotte, and has helped the Hornets become relevant again in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets lack a solid shooting guard, and starting small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has not been able to remain healthy. Batum has done a great job helping the team fill those voids on both ends of the floor. Charlotte will probably try to do everything in its power to resign him, but it’s definitely not a done deal. The valuable small forward will have chances to go to contenders, and odds are he’ll probably take one of those potential paths. The key to keeping Batum for the Hornets is money. They need to give him a big contract or else Batum will walk.
4. Chandler Parsons: Parsons hasn’t been great this year, but he’s been better as of late. He will likely stay in Dallas, but there’s a solid chance Parsons will explore different avenues. He has a $16 million player option, so it’s reasonable to think he’ll stay put.
5. Harrison Barnes: The North Carolina product has surprised many people so far with his early success in the NBA. He will be a restricted free agent, but this could get dicey for the Warriors. In order to stay in Golden State, Barnes will have to take a pay cut. Whether he does that or not will show us something very important about him. Is he about winning or getting the most money possible?
1. Tim Duncan: Ol’ Timmy isn’t going anywhere. The longtime Spur will stay just that: a Spur. At age 39, Duncan is still one of the best players in the league. His offensive game has slowed down along with his body, but he remains one of the best defensive big men in the NBA. How is this possible? How can a slow 39-year-old who can’t leave the ground be one of the top defensive players in the league? Duncan uses his head. He’s smart. He positions himself and boxes out anyone around him, and slows down any opponent trying to score on him but moving his feet and knowing what they’re going to do. It’s incredible what he’s accomplished over his career. You can make the argument that Timmy D is a top 10 player of all time, but that’s for another day. The bottom line is that the Big Fundamental will stay put for the end of his career.
2. Dirk Nowitzki: Like Duncan, Dirk isn’t going anywhere. Father Time has taken away some of Dirk’s physical abilities, but the old man can still knock down that beautiful fadeaway jumper, and drain threes from anywhere on the court. He’s going to stay in Dallas for one more contract, and hopefully end his career before he becomes a shadow of his former self.
3. Pau Gasol: Pau has a $7.8 million player option, so he will probably take the money and stay. At 35 years old he probably has only two to four quality years left in his career (and that’s really pushing it). He’s still the best big man for the Bulls, and with Joakim Noah being likely to leave, Pau will get the ball even more.
4. Ryan Anderson: In all likelihood the Pelicans will ship Anderson by the trade deadline. If they don’t, he will be a hot commodity this summer. He’s a deadly three-point shooter, and a guy who can log starter-level minutes at the power forward position. He’s a weak defender and a decent rebounder, but you don’t have him for those things. He’s a pure shooter. There will probably be close to ten teams in talks with him this offseason. My strongest suitors for Anderson are the Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat, and Houston Rockets, in that order.
5. Amir Johnson: Johnson is a good defender but lacks a quality offensive game. His body is slowly giving way, so it’ll be hard to lean on him for a full season. He’ll most likely stay with the Boston Celtics, but don’t be absolutely certain of any scenario.
1. Andre Drummond: He is a restricted free agent, and I don’t think he’s going anywhere. He’s one of the best big men in the NBA despite his glaring weakness at the free throw line. The Pistons should give him a max deal, and they shouldn’t be disappointed about that. If you want top player, you have to pay up. The Pistons should be excited they’re going to keep one of the best defenders in all of basketball.
2. Al Horford: As I mentioned earlier, there’s a possibility Al Horford will be traded away by the deadline. If not, he could end up in a place like Miami. I think Horford would fit extremely well there and make the Heat a real contender (they already are, but he will take them to the next level — they will be a real contender with Horford). He’s a stud center, and he makes everyone around him better. He will be a valuable asset for any team that lands him.
3. Dwight Howard: Howard has a $23.3 million player option; the odds suggest he will take it. If he doesn’t, he could end up going somewhere that will give him his last long-term big-money contract. Howard’s offensive game is slowly declining, but his defensive game remains fantastic and effective. Howard is still a very good center and will continue to be a very good player for years to come. Recently, I wrote an article about possible trade destinations for Howard.
4. Joakim Noah: A very good defender and passer, Noah has lost his shooting ability. He will probably leave Chicago as an unrestricted free agent. If Al Horford leaves Atlanta, the Hawks may try to sign Noah to replace him.
5. Festus Ezeli: Ezeli might be just as good as Andrew Bogut. The only problem for the Warriors is that Ezeli wants to get paid, but Bogut still has another year on his contract. Should the Warriors re-sign Ezeli now to lock him up as their future starting center, or should they let him go because of their financial issues and just re-sign Bogut next year? Bogut is 31 and has had his fair share of injury problems. Ezeli is a young athletic center with tremendous upside. The Warriors should be able to make the right choice.