There are typically four different categories that NBA players fall into heading into each off-season. Players are either under contract, restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents, or they have a player option to opt-in or opt-out of their contract.
Players that are under contract have no choice but to stay with their team unless a trade happens some time during the off-season. So, a player like Kevin Love has to remain with the Minnesota Timberwolves, unless the Wolves decide to trade Love before his contract expires. The reason for potentially trading Love is that they might lose him for nothing when he eventually does becomes a free agent the following summer.
Players that are restricted free agents have to remain with their current team, since their current team has the power to match what any of the other teams are offering. So, a player like Eric Bledsoe, for example, has no choice but to remain with the Phoenix Suns if they decide to match what other teams are offering for him. And make no mistake, they will for Eric Bledsoe.
Players that have a player option can decide to opt-in for one more year or opt-out one year early from their contract. For example, Tim Duncan has a player option for next year where he can either decide to retire this year or play another year. There are also players that have an early termination option where they can decide not to opt-in for that final year and explore free agency. LeBron James, for example, has an early termination option with the Miami Heat and could potentially be a free agent this up and coming summer.
However, since it is too difficult to predict what may or may not happen with potential trades, restricted free agents, and player options, we can only look at the players that have the most leverage and power as of right now – namely unrestricted free agents.
These are the Top 10 unrestricted free agents heading into this summer.
10 Patty Mills – Made $1,133,950 This Year
Patty Mills has finally gotten the opportunity to showcase his talents this year and it could not have come at a better time. This season, the Aussie secured his spot as the primary back-up point guard and it has paid dividends for the San Antonio Spurs. Mills has averaged 10.2 points per game, but his greatest strength is his 3-point shot and pesky defense. Patty has hit 42.5% of his 3-pointers and is attempting nearly 4 three-pointers per game. Combine that with his jovial personality and many teams are going to be after his services next year because they know they can get him at a good bargain.
9 Shawn Marion – Made $9,316,796 This Year
The Matrix is turning 36 years-old on May 7th, but there are games where Marion still looks like he is only 26 years-old. Marion may not be the fantasy stud that he used to be, but this season he still averaged 10.4 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game. He is still an elite perimeter defender and can guard up to four different positions on the floor. However, given his age, Marion will not get a lengthy contract and may even take a pay-cut if it means playing for a team that can compete for a championship.
8 Paul Pierce – Made $15,333,334 This Year
The Truth started out a little bit slow this season after leaving the comforts of his home in Boston. However, the newest Brooklyn Net picked it up after the All Star Break. Paul Pierce has averaged 13.5 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game this season, but when the game matters the most, he has still proven to be very clutch. Pierce will be 37 years-old by the start of next pre-season and it is hard to know how much gas he has left in the tank, so it would be interesting to see if he moves on or remains with Brooklyn.
7 Marcin Gortat – Made $7,727,280 This Year
Marcin Gortat has really proven his value this year with the Washington Wizards. This is the first time that the Wizards have made the playoffs in years, and a lot of that has to do with Marcin Gortat. With Nene Hilario absent for a good chunk of the season again with various injuries, Gortat controlled the paint with 9.5 rebounds per game and 1.5 blocks per game. At 6’11” Gortat also has a nice mid range jumper which allows him to stretch out the floor for John Wall to penetrate. Given the rarity of big men in the league and his relative youth (30), look for Gortat to get a hefty contract next season.
6 Spencer Hawes – Made $6,500,000 This Year
Spencer Hawes fled the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, for the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, after he arrived, he realized that the grass was not greener on the other side. The Cavs had a lot of internal conflicts this past season and Hawes may look to find a team that is a bit more mature next year. As far as Spencer’s game, he is 7’1”, but he has a great three-point stroke. The big fella attempted nearly 4 three-pointers per game this year and hit them at a 41.6% clip. That is better than most of the guards in the NBA. Hawes also averaged 1.2 blocks per game. Big men that can hit three-pointers and block shots are almost non-existent in the NBA, so Spencer’s unique skillset is going to get him a nice contract next year.
5 Lance Stephenson – Made $1,005,000 This Year
There may be no player in the league that is going to get as much of a pay upgrade than Lance Stephenson. With his rookie contract about to end, Lance is looking to get paid. If the Pacers have a total implosion in the playoffs, it is conceivable for him to leave for a team where he can gain an even larger role. Stephenson led the league in triple-doubles this season and his all-around game is going to garner a lot of attention from teams this off-season. His wild and clashing personality is well documented, but Stephenson is one of those players that may be worth gambling on under the right head coach.
4 Pau Gasol – Made $19,285,850 This Year
There are only a certain number of jumps that you have in your knees, and Pau Gasol is on his last legs. The big man was unable to finish the rest of this season with vertigo, which caused his vision to be blurry. Nevertheless, the fluid big man still had an affective season. Gasol averaged 17.4 points per game, 9.7 rebounds per game and 1.5 blocks per game in a season that was very up and down for the Los Angeles Lakers. For the past three years, Pau’s name has always been rumored to be on the trading block and Gasol may have had his fill with the Lakers under appreciation of him. Unfortunately, Gasol is not a young pup anymore. He will be turning 34 years-old this summer. However, he still has a good 3 years left in the tank, which may be just enough to get him a decent sized contract.
3 Kyle Lowry – Made $6,210,000 This Year
The Toronto Raptors were getting one of the best bargains in the league with Kyle Lowry over the past couple of years. The bullish point guard established himself as the leader of the Toronto Raptors his year and helped lead them to their first playoff experience in years. Lowry has averaged 17.9 points per game, 7.4 assists per game and 4.7 rebounds per game this season. The Raptors would be wise to keep their floor general, but he is going to come at a hefty price.
2 Luol Deng – Made $14,275,000 This Year
Luol Deng is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, but he is still a system player. When Deng is playing with immature players in a system that no one follows, it is hard to gauge his value. There are some rumors that Deng could return back to the Chicago Bulls, but he will not come cheaply. Deng scored 16.0 points per game and is capable of guarding the best player on the other team, so his two-way game is going to cost a team a decent amount of money.
1 Dirk Nowitzki – Made $22,721,381 This Year
Dirk is going to be one of those few players that plays for the same team his entire career. The Dallas Mavericks are loyal to Dirk and Dirk is loyal to the Mavs. Dirk was never a fast and explosive player, so his game has never been built upon his athleticism. However, it is pretty obvious that Dirk is not at the MVP level that he used to be on. Nevertheless, he still averaged 21.7 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game. Dirk will be turning 36-years-old this June, but as a jump shooting big man, he could still play 2-3 more years without any major decline in his game.
Prediction: 3-Year Deal Worth $16 Million Per Year With a ETO (Early Termination Option)
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