• We just wrapped up the NBA Draft, a marquee event that introduces the new blood and gives hope to the bottom half of the league. It’s fun and it feels like a big afterparty following the NBA Finals. Outside of a few stars being drafted and a handful of sleepers hitting big, fortunes aren’t changing.

    Fast forward one week and about a third of the league is going to change addresses.

    Championships are determined as much by free agency as they are on the court. Trajectories are set and expectations drive the decisions. Each of the 30 teams has their own unique puzzle to solve.

    Win now or win later, that one final piece, tanking, rebuilding, good owners, bad owners, good franchises and the dysfunctional – it all converges on a week of spending that shapes the next 51 after that.

    While each situation is different, there is one principle that threads each of these scenarios — and that is that a dollar saved is a dollar that you can spend elsewhere.

    That’s what these Hoop Ball Free Agent Ranks seek to distill. We want to know whether the overpay is worth it. We want to know if saving money at a position makes sense. There are 8-9 roster slots that truly matter. If I can find 3-5 players on a discount that stand up well against more expensive players, then I’ve freed myself to go after the big fish.

    So don’t @ me about why your guy is ranked really low and somebody with less talent is higher than them.

    This valuation is baked into the ranks.

    Of if you do @ me, tell me why Player/Cost X is better than Player/Cost Y in those terms.

    One last note before we take off. If cost-to-performance analysis is driving cheap but good players up the ranks, the salary cap is keeping some good, but expensive players from falling too far down. That’s because high-end players are worth way more than the max salaries they are limited by.

    LeBron James is worth 50-60 percent of the cap if I had to take a random guess. There are a significant chunk of above-average players that you can buy and they’re overpriced in relation to other players, but underpriced in relation to the cap.

    What it means is that in order to have the best team or a contending team you can’t just focus on the best values – you do have to accumulate high-end talent.

    That is also baked into the ranks.

    I’ll update this as deals get signed and hand out grades. I probably won’t be updating the ranks too much and there are some players that I’ve left unranked that I might bring into the rankings if I have the time.

    Now try to pace yourself as you’re sprinting through the toy store.

    Also, Control/Command + F is your friend. Links in the listed ranks go to Basketball Reference and big thanks to Keith Smith for his excellent cap work.


    *Availability updated as of Wednesday, July 4 at 11:20 a.m. PT. Some free agents listed as restricted have since been converted to unrestricted free agents. No further updates guaranteed.

    1. LeBron James, SF/PF
    2. Kevin Durant, SF/PF
    3. Paul George, SG/SF
    4. Chris Paul, PG
    5. Joe Harris, SG/SF
    6. Clint Capela (RFA), C – barely available
    7. Marcus Smart (RFA), PG – available
    8. Fred VanVleet (RFA), PG
    9. Aron Baynes, C
    10. David Nwaba (RFA), SG/SF – available
    11. Montrezl Harrell (RFA), PF/C – available
    12. Zach LaVine (RFA), PG/SG – available
    13. Julius Randle (RFA), PF/C
    14. DeMarcus Cousins, C
    15. Dante Exum (RFA), PG
    16. Wayne Ellington, SG – available
    17. Will Barton, SG/SF
    18. Aaron Gordon (RFA), PF/C
    19. Trevor Ariza, SF
    20. Kyle Anderson (RFA), SF – available
    21. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG/SF
    22. Isaiah Thomas, PG – available
    23. Avery Bradley, SG
    24. Thaddeus Young, PF
    25. Enes Kanter, C
    26. J.J. Redick, SG
    27. Rodney Hood (RFA), SG/SF – available
    28. Brook Lopez, C – available
    29. Jusuf Nurkic (RFA), C – available
    30. Nerlens Noel, C
    31. Jerami Grant, SF/PF
    32. Mario Hezonja, SF
    33. JaVale McGee, C
    34. Kevon Looney, C
    35. Rudy Gay, SF/PF
    36. Seth Curry, PG/SG
    37. Tony Parker, PG – available
    38. Tyreke Evans, PG
    39. Dwyane Wade, SG – available
    40. Shane Larkin, PG – available
    41. Shabazz Napier (RFA), PG – available
    42. Gerald Green, SG/SF
    43. Ersan Ilyasova, PF
    44. Amir Johnson, C – available
    45. Kyle O’Quinn, C – available
    46. Quincy Acy, C – available
    47. Rajon Rondo, PG
    48. Alex Len, C – available
    49. Derrick Favors, PF/C
    50. Patrick McCaw (RFA), SG – available
    51. Ersan Ilyasova, PF
    52. Ed Davis, PF
    53. Josh Huestis (RFA), SF – available
    54. Nemanja Bjelica (RFA), SF
    55. Trevor Booker, PF
    56. Salah Mejri (RFA), C
    57. Bryn Forbes (RFA), PG/SG – available
    58. Davis Bertans (RFA), PF – available
    59. Pat Connaughton (RFA), SG/SF – available
    60. Vince Carter, SF/PF – available
    61. Glenn Robinson III, SF
    62. Jeff Green, SF/PF
    63. Jabari Parker (RFA), PF/C – available
    64. Elfrid Payton (RFA), PG
    65. Yogi Ferrell (RFA), PG – available
    66. Doug McDermott (RFA), SF
    67. Lucas Nogueira (RFA), C – available
    68. DeAndre Jordan, C
    69. Noah Vonleh, PF – available
    70. Nik Stauskas (RFA), SG
    71. Jahlil Okafor (RFA), C – available
    72. Raul Neto (RFA), PG
    73. Wade Baldwin (RFA), PG

    – available


    1. Clint Capela, C – available
    2 Marcus Smart, PG – available
    3. Fred VanVleet, PG
    4. David Nwaba, SG/SF – available
    5. Montrezl Harrell, PF/C – available
    6. Zach LaVine, PG/SG – available
    7. Julius Randle, PF/C
    8. Dante Exum, PG
    9. Aaron Gordon, PF/C
    10. Kyle Anderson, SF/PF – available
    11. Rodney Hood, SG/SF – available
    12. Jusuf Nurkic, C – available
    13. Shabazz Napier, PG – available
    14. Patrick McCaw, SG – available
    15. Josh Huestis, SF – available
    16. Nemanja Bjelica, SF – available
    17. Salah Mejri, C
    18. Pat Connaughton, SG/SF – available
    19. Bryn Forbes, PG/SG – available
    20. Davis Bertans, PF – available
    21. Jabari Parker, PF/C – available
    22. Elfrid Payton, PG
    23. Yogi Ferrell, PG – available
    24. Doug McDermott, SF
    25. Lucas Nogueira, C – available
    26. Nik Stauskas, SG
    27. Noah Vonleh, PF – available
    28. Jahlil Okafor, C – available


    1. LeBron James, SF/PF
    2. Kevin Durant, SF/PF
    3. Paul George, SG/SF


    1. Chris Paul, PG
    2. Marcus Smart (RFA), PG – available
    3. Fred VanVleet (RFA), PG
    4. Zach LaVine (RFA), PG/SG – available
    5. Dante Exum (RFA), PG
    6. Isaiah Thomas, PG – available
    7. Seth Curry, PG/SG
    8. Tony Parker, PG – available
    9. Tyreke Evans, PG
    10. Dwyane Wade, SG – available
    11. Shane Larkin, PG – available
    12. Shabazz Napier, PG – available
    13. Rajon Rondo, PG
    14. Patrick McCaw (RFA), SG – available
    15. Bryn Forbes (RFA), PG/SG – available
    16. Elfrid Payton (RFA), PG
    17. Yogi Ferrell (RFA), PG – available
    18. Raul Neto (RFA), PG
    19. Wade Baldwin (RFA), PG – available


    1. Wayne Ellington, SG – available
    2. J.J. Redick, SG
    3. Nemanja Bjelica (RFA), SF – available
    4. Davis Bertans (RFA), PF – available
    5. Pat Connaughton (RFA), SG/SF – available
    6. Doug McDermott (RFA), SF
    7. Nik Stauskas (RFA), SG


    1. Joe Harris, SG/SF
    2. David Nwaba (RFA), SG/SF – available
    3. Will Barton, SG/SF
    4. Trevor Ariza, SF
    5. Kyle Anderson (RFA), SF/PF – available
    6. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG/SF
    7. Avery Bradley, SG
    8. Rodney Hood, SG – available
    9. Jerami Grant, SF/PF
    10. Mario Hezonja, SF
    11. Rudy Gay, SF/PF
    12. Gerald Green, SG/SF
    13. Josh Huestis (RFA), SF – available
    14. Vince Carter, SF/PF – available
    15. Glenn Robinson III, SF
    16. Jeff Green, SF/PF


    1. Clint Capela (RFA), C – available
    2. Aron Baynes, C
    3. Montrezl Harrell, PF/C – available
    4. Julius Randle (RFA), PF/C
    5. DeMarcus Cousins, C
    6. Aaron Gordon (RFA), PF/C
    7. Thaddeus Young, PF
    8. Enes Kanter, C
    9. Brook Lopez, C – available
    10. Jusuf Nurkic (RFA), C – available
    11. Nerlens Noel, C
    12. JaVale McGee, C
    13. Kevon Looney, PF/C
    14. Amir Johnson, C – available
    15. Kyle O’Quinn, C – available
    16. Quincy Acy, C – available
    17. Alex Len, C – available
    18. Derrick Favors, C
    19. Ersan Ilyasova, PF
    20. Ed Davis, PF
    21. Trevor Booker, PF
    22. Salah Mejri (RFA), C
    23. Jabari Parker (RFA), PF/C – available
    24. Lucas Nogueira (RFA), C – available
    25. DeAndre Jordan, C
    26. Noah Vonleh (RFA), PF – available
    27. Jahlil Okafor (RFA), C

    – available


    1. LeBron James, SF/PF

    Max Salary: 4 years, $152 million (5 years, $205 million with Cleveland)

    Salary Notes: James could take less money or years to improve fit and keep max flexibility.

    Situation: Needs to find a team with good players.

    Ranking Notes: You’re not going to find a player with more value as a free agent. This is the first domino that needs to fall and then the rest of the league can set course. The hope for writers hoping to sneak in a vacation is that he figures it out early.

    Result: LeBron agreed to a max deal for four years and $154 million, including a player option for the final year.

    Final Grade: A+

    How well LeBron does in constructing the team could add a few pluses here. Of course he’s not entirely in control of what the Lakers do, but he has an awful lot of feedback that he can leverage. The Lakers are a real threat to the Warriors with or without an addition of Kawhi Leonard, though getting that piece would potentially make them a favorite to some folks (including me).

    2. Kevin Durant, SF/PF

    Max Salary: 4 years, $158 million

    Salary Notes: Durant took a haircut on his last deal and is in a great position to let the market come to him. He can take another short-term deal and wait to strike the big deal once the cap rises or lock in for maximum security right away. He could also take less to make sure the team keeps its Big 4 intact.

    Situation: Durant just needs to watch film of the Houston series throughout the summer. The Warriors sit in the catbird’s seat and Durant’s deal isn’t going to be a problem this year. But they need to re-sign Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and more importantly they need to keep their chemistry.

    They’re uniquely positioned to do that with the intangibles they collectively bring to the table. Durant has two Finals MVPs and brings the financial pressure of an elite, No. 1 player to the mix.

    Moreover, he brings an assertive gravity to the floor that — when the chips were down against Houston — he wasn’t able to modify when things clearly weren’t going his way. This is going to be a subtle transaction but could lead to a more significant transition of power within the Warriors universe.

    Ranking Notes: LeBron is in a different class of player but Durant is the second tier in this free agency.

    Result: 1 + 1 deal to stay in Golden State (two years, $61.5 million)

    Final Grade: A+

    Even though the Warriors don’t get him to sign long-term, and that begs a question of whether he will ever assume a real leadership mantle of this team (despite the two Finals MVPs), when you sign Kevin Durant it’s automatically an A+.

    3. Paul George, SG/SF

    Max Salary: 5 years, $175 million with OKC (4 years, $130 million with another team)

    Salary Notes: George could do a 1 + 1 deal in order to retain flexibility and see if the fit with Russell Westbrook is going to work out. He could also take less in a deal in Los Angeles or elsewhere in order to attract other free agents (hello LeBron).

    Situation: In the second half of his prime and as good of a fit in the role of No. 2 player as you’re going to find. His defensive ability and length alone make him a great foil for the Warriors, and the fact that he can dice you up offensively seems to be a bonus when considering that specific matchup. Look for LeBron to set the market here and George to follow suit shortly after that.

    Ranking Notes: I’m tempted to rank George ahead of Durant because of his ability to slide defensively against the Warriors, but Durant’s ridiculous number of built-in advantages make it impossible. George can’t live up to Durant’s nuclear potential on the offensive side, because unlike Durant he still has to work to get his shots, whereas Durant can just rise and fire over most players.

    Durant’s additional length and shot blocking ability, ease of rebounding and above average mobility on defense are just unfair, even as George locks down the perimeter in a much more difficult way. George isn’t perfect on offense, either, lacking the breakdown and passing ability you’d want in a No. 1 ballhandler. If George truly embraces the No. 2 role next to a guy like LeBron, he is the more optimized asset between the two, and there’s some value to be gleaned from that distinction.

    Result: George agreed to a four-year, $173 million deal with the Thunder.

    Final Grade: A+.

    George might have been forced out of Los Angeles due to external market factors such as whatever is going on with LeBron and Kawhi, or he might have genuinely liked the fit in OKC and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Once one gets past the albatross of a Carmelo Anthony contract the Thunder have a nice core of Russell Westbrook, George and Steven Adams. They’ll need an impact player to find their way to the Thunder in order to truly compete in the West, however.


    1. Chris Paul, PG

    Max Salary: 5 years, $205 million with Houston (4 years, $152 million with anybody else)

    Salary Notes: Paul almost certainly isn’t getting the max, even though early on he’s posturing as he should be. A smaller deal in the 2-3 year range seems more likely.

    Situation: He didn’t give up a similar max deal with the Clippers to take a major haircut on a deal with the Rockets, who are mildly trying to open space for LeBron but need flexibility in general. This will be CP3’s last big deal and anything short of three years would be surprising, and there might be a five percent chance he gets irritated and bolts for another squad.

    Ranking Notes: Anytime you can add a floor general like Paul to your squad you do it. He has lost a step and unsurprisingly it hasn’t really mattered, as his game relies as much on cunning as it does deceptive quickness and brute strength. He showed in the playoffs that while he’s capable of bonehead plays, he can still carry a team at the highest level. The big questions are durability and what the next downgrades in athleticism will look like.

    Result: Paul signed a whopping four-year, $160 million max contract with the Rockets.

    Final Grade: B-

    This is all about Paul getting what was promised to him when he didn’t take the max offer from the Clippers. Make no mistake, this deal is going to hurt and it’s probably why the Rockets couldn’t re-sign Trevor Ariza. Still, you can’t really *not* do this if you’re the Rockets and it’s the prerequisite signing they need to compete with the Warriors. Now they just have to keep Clint Capela and hope they can find a cheap replacement for Ariza later in free agency.

    2. Marcus Smart, PG

    Projected Salary (RFA): 4 years, $52 million ($13 million/year)

    Situation: Money may be tight this year and the point guard position is loaded with talent, somewhat crowding out some good players like Smart. Still, he showed his value in the playoffs yet again and in today’s NBA in which elite scorers and shooters rule, having a multi-positional defender that is a little bit crazy makes a ton of sense.

    Ranking Notes: The market is going to keep the price down on a player who makes winning plays and the exposure is going to be low. There could be concern about Smart not working out as well in lesser organizations because part of the process is reeling him in, but not enough to really tilt the equation for the acquiring team. For teams with primary ballhandlers that aren’t point guards, his value can get extremely well-leveraged.


    Final Grade:

    3. Fred VanVleet, PG

    Projected Salary (RFA): 3 years, $20 million

    Situation: VanVleet had such a good year that he could go a bit higher than this, though the depth at the position, his RFA status and the league’s overall money crunch could work against him, too. On the other hand, he had some high profile fans in the media and the Raptors bench was well recognized for its solid regular season play.

    Ranking Notes: VanVleet has the type of all-around game that makes him difficult to peg. Because he snuck up on folks and there isn’t a huge body of work to push his price upward, GMs are looking at getting a potential starter at a low-end backup price.

    Result: VanVleet was brought back by the Raptors on a two-year, $18 million deal.

    Final Grade: A.

    This should really be an A+ but if you’re VanVleet you might have hoped for more and if you’re the Raptors you wish you could get him for longer. Based on what he has currently shown us, he already exceeds the value of this deal. He’s going to continue getting better and he’ll be ready to take over for Kyle Lowry, or take his talents elsewhere when he has more name value and recognition for a much better deal.

    4. Zach LaVine, PG/SG

    Max Salary (RFA): 4 years, $108 million ($27 million per year)

    Salary Notes: LaVine probably falls well short of the max, and maybe by a decent amount, because he’s an RFA and there’s plenty of ambiguity surrounding his situation. Not to mention money is tight around the league.

    The Bulls have already started putting out the vibe that they’re not 100 percent tied into him. Maybe that’s because of the emergence of Kris Dunn, or maybe it’s their recognition that last year was a lost season, or maybe it’s just posturing.

    Situation: Even with the ACL tear, it just takes one team to latch on to the idea that advances in medical technology — combined with his athleticism — could one day equal a better shooting version of Russell Westbrook. Westbrook-lite, if you will.

    Ranking Notes: We can pick apart LaVine’s game all day if we want to. It’s unclear if he makes other players better. Defensively, like Westbrook, he is more style than substance. He didn’t have his athleticism last season and that’s not uncommon of players recovering from ACL surgery, but that’s the draw here. If he steps back in that department it’s unclear if the skills package and intangibles can keep up with the loss. But he can shoot and (when healthy) get a shot anytime he wants.

    At 23 years old LaVine can still improve in terms of basketball IQ and that could unlock big gains on both sides of the ball – not to mention what any modest skills improvement would do. The decision is not without risk, but his unique athletic ability and shooting stroke can bend a defense.


    Final Grade:

    5. Dante Exum, PG

    Projected Salary (RFA): 3 years, $18 million ($6 million per year)

    Situation: Exum has spent most of his NBA career on the sideline and there have been plenty of struggles, but he has shown a few times now that he can be a near elite defender, most recently against the Rockets in the playoffs. For a 22 year old that hasn’t been able to play much that’s going to pique the interest of folks around the league. But at a loaded position with plenty of talent, the market could easily be bearish.

    Ranking Notes: It’s the price that’s attractive here. To go with those high defensive marks, Exum showed he could punch back a little on the offensive end in the playoffs. He’s not going to be above average or even average on that end anytime soon, but the potential growth could bring him there.

    Exum has just two seasons’ worth of regular season games played (162) and only 20 mpg in those contests. If he improves on offense, the low exposure here is a steal. He’s already capable of playing up to the level of the deal he ends up signing.

    Result: Exum signed a three-year, $33 million deal to stay with the Jazz.

    Final Grade: C+

    I’m going to give them the plus here because I believe in Exum’s ability to defend at a high level and I put a premium on that, with an extra bonus for his length at the point guard position. There’s value in that. The bigger picture issue of the Jazz spending on Derrick Favors and keeping last year’s core intact shouldn’t be overthought in relation to the Exum deal — Favors has a year at big money and he’s probably waived the following year if I had to guess.

    The Jazz are trying to build off of last season’s success with the same core and then add the following season. If Exum can stay healthy and continue to add skills on the offensive side, while letting Donovan Mitchell do all the heavy lifting, they can be a compelling one-two punch, provided they find one more really good offensive piece. Still, with the down market and depth of point guard options, this looks like an overpay and they’re hoping it looks good after this season.

    6. Isaiah Thomas, PG

    Projected Salary: 1-2 years, $13 million for one year or $20 million for two

    Situation: Thomas pushed through a hip injury for Boston and then tried to return early for the Cavs, experiencing one of the most precipitous future value drops we’ve ever seen. He got scapegoated for larger issues within the Cavs and struggled to show prior form in either Cleveland or L.A.

    Ultimately, he was forced to have surgery and one could see why he and his camp would gamble on a big, successful return in a contract year. Add in the difficulty of keeping him off the court and it was all setup for a mess. The gamble didn’t pay off and now he’s in a prove-it year at 29 years old. It’s fair to wonder if the injury is serious and if waiting made it worse. Teams may want to take advantage of his low stock and make him sign on to two years for the lower rate, too.

    Ranking Notes: There are some players that might have an edge in terms of either value or risk vs. reward, and getting a player for just 1-2 seasons isn’t moving the needle in most cases. But with Thomas, if he returns to form you have a player you can build an offense around efficiently. He may not like it but the Sixth Man role he’s (often erroneously) been typecast in could be his best path to his old status.

    Fitting his offensive game into a higher usage, 25 mpg role for a team that really needs it could get him back into the rhythm of running a squad. If he excels, he simply takes over starting duties like he did for Brad Stevens and the Celtics.

    If you’re a team that needs offensive firepower and a hint of upside, the price can’t get better for somebody that tilts the court the way he does and at fairly low risk.


    Final Grade:

    7. Seth Curry, PG/SG

    Projected Salary: 2-3 years, $4-6 million per year

    Situation: Missed all of last year with a stress fracture in his leg. The year before he had a Steph-like shooting stat set with 48.1/42.5/85.0 percent shooting over 70 games and 29 mpg*. His young career has been hampered with injuries and there are both size and defensive concerns. A prove it deal for one year could also be in the works.

    *yeah, I’m totally comparing him to Steph

    Ranking Notes: If Curry doesn’t lose athleticism then he can be a nice option off the bench for any team that’s in need of offense. If he can continue to improve his awareness on the defensive side of the ball, he might keep from being a major liability. For the cost, this is a safe play that can fill a No. 7-8 roster slot at an extreme savings if he stays healthy.

    Result: 1 + 1 contract for $2.75 million per season (player option for Year 2)

    Final Grade: A+

    You can question other decisions the Blazers made in free agency but this isn’t one of them. Even if Curry can’t get his health together, the upside of what he’s going to bring to the table if he stays healthy is well worth the risk. He’ll probably step in for unrestricted free agent Shabazz Napier and bring much needed offense for a bench unit that is often starving for playmakers that can put the ball on the ground and score, too.

    8. Tony Parker, PG

    Projected Salary: 1-2 years, $3-5 million per year

    Situation: Parker seems willing to change teams and that opens the market up a bit, but the high paying mentor jobs are far and few between. And that should be the expectation after a season in which he was limited to 18 mpg and 50 games played. The mileage after 16 seasons is sky high. The Spurs will be thoughtful with their offer and he’s worth more to them than he is to other teams. But if the Spurs go total teardown then he could quickly change course, too.

    Ranking Notes: Parker can probably gear up for the playoffs and give a squad a solid 20 mpg in that setting. That alone should be worth more, but the kid gloves that have to be used to get him there and the overall injury risk keep his number low. And that’s good. Anybody getting Parker at these rates is getting amazing experience and somebody with a higher upside when it counts in the playoffs.


    Final Grade:

    9. Tyreke Evans

    Projected Salary: 2-3 years, $9-11 million per year

    Situation: Tyreke finally developed a dangerous outside shot and he basically tore it up for the Grizz, gobbling up all sorts of usage because their dearth of talent. There’s always going to be a gap between how well Evans is playing and how much he is helping his teammates, but he started to close it and the biggest worry for the acquiring team is his health.

    Evans can’t afford to lose much quickness because he’s still relying on athleticism to a large degree. The backside of his prime could easily start this summer.

    Ranking Notes: When you factor in how much he tilts an offense the fit has to be nice, and the Grizzlies are reportedly interested in using their mid-level exception of $9 million on him. If he’s asked to do more or play within a system not geared toward his strengths, this deal can become inefficient real quick, but there could also be a sweet spot if he truly buys into a limited role on a good team.

    Result: Evans took a one year deal worth $12 million to play in Indy.

    Final Grade: B+

    Indy lacked depth last season but their top 6-7 guys were able to handle bigger workloads so it didn’t really bite them. Now they’ve added Evans and Doug McDermott, though the latter is still a questionable NBA rotation player. They’re still not tremendously deep and that is one reason Evans picked them, because he wants the minutes, and they’re getting a potential impact player now that he has developed an outside shot.

    There is practically no risk in this deal and it’s all upside for the upcoming season in an increasingly wide open Eastern Conference. There isn’t a long-term component to the deal so it’s arguable they could have looked more to the future, but that’s being nitpicky.

    10. Dwyane Wade

    Projected Salary: 1-2 years, $9-12 million per year

    Situation: He is the franchise in Miami and even though his skills have declined he can pretty much call his shot, mostly because he can’t really ask for ridiculous money anymore. I mean, he can, but Pat Riley is only going to be okay with a slight overpay and Wade probably knows that.

    He’s also probably more interested in winning and fit so the numbers are going to remain low. Still, he’s Dwyane Wade and he can still provide a playoff punch, put butts in the seats and bring serious intangibles to the table.

    Ranking Notes: Even if he’s trying to fit in with a contender there’s a certain amount of fitting that any team has to do around Wade. He isn’t chucking at an obscene rate or anything like that, but he immediately assumes leadership roles and in Miami he took immediate control over the team when he returned.

    There’s a certain inefficiency in that which will get accentuated as his athleticism declines and durability worsens. There’s definitely a play to be made by either Miami or a contending team, but there isn’t much of a profit margin.


    Final Grade:

    11. Shane Larkin (1-2 years, $5-7M/yr)
    12. Shabazz Napier (RFA, 2-3 years, QO-8M/yr)

    13. Rajon Rondo (1-2 years, $5-8M/yr)

    Result:Rondo signed a one-year, $9 million deal with the Lakers.

    Final Grade: D+

    This grade could get worse if we find that there was a big opportunity cost to signing him. Rondo can be good in spurts (read: playoffs) if teams aren’t making him pay for his deficiencies, but he’s insanely overrated based on name value and his fit next to LeBron James isn’t good.

    He’s nowhere near worth this money in this marketplace but if you’re the Lakers, the idea is that you’re signing him for the playoffs. Still, there are innumerable ways this money could have been spent better.

    14. Patrick McCaw (RFA, 1-3 years, QO-5M/yr)
    15. Bryn Forbes (RFA, 1-2 years, min-$2M)

    16. Elfrid Payton, PG

    Projected Salary: 2-3 years, $7-10 million per year

    Situation: Orlando wanted to cut ties with choices of the past regime and sent Payton packing to the Suns, who were hilariously bad, and Payton struggled with them. Now they’ve renounced his rights and made him an unrestricted free agent, and nothing says value like the Suns punting on your $10 million option.

    Ranking Notes: Still, there are a lot of GMs (Scott Perry?) that will look at the dysfunctional situations he has been in and consider taking a shot. And it’s fair, if you can lock up a young and athletic point guard with starter potential it seems like a solid move. But he’s so bad defensively in relation to what he could be, and the lack of shooting and decision-making really starts to add up in the wrong column fast.

    At a position with plenty of cheap options, spending on Payton’s name and past production is really only something that a tanking team should consider. Whoever is buying it’s way more likely to be bad money than a profit.

    Result: Payton took $2.7 million over one year to play in New Orleans.

    Final Grade: C+

    I want to give this a better grade because the contract is dirt cheap but the Pelicans only get him for a year at that rate and he’s not a great fit in the halfcourt with combo guard DeMarcus Cousins (jokes!), assuming he comes back. The twin towers of Cousins and Anthony Davis bring good spot-up spacing to the unit, not to mention what Nikola Mirotic does, but they’re still a bit slow to rise and fire on the ball or in quick actions.

    Having a point guard in Payton that also struggles to space might be an issue. We’ll have to see if they bring back Rajon Rondo, who has shown to some degree that a non-shooter can work with the current frontcourt, at least in the playoffs. On the bright side, Payton still profiles as a strong point guard with size and can soak up minutes even if his play doesn’t improve. If the Pellies don’t bring back Rondo, they’ll possibly have a cheap and (if he can improve) solid solution in play.

    17. Yogi Ferrell (RFA, QO-$3M)
    18. Raul Neto (RFA, 1-2 years, QO-$4M)
    19. Wade Baldwin (RFA, 1-2 years, QO-$3M)


    1. Wayne Ellington, SG

    Projected Salary: 2-3 years, $7 million per year

    Situation: Ellington is a proven shooter that hit nearly 40 percent of his looks last year on a healthy 7.2 attempts per game from deep. Erik Spoelstra trusted him with 26 mpg on a deeper Heat squad. He’s coming off a two-year, $12 million deal and at 30 years old, coming off arguably his best season.

    Ranking Notes: His defense has improved to mostly average, and he has put everything together to peak at a late age. He is capable of being the No. 7 or 8 player on a championship team and could even surprise as a key fifth starter – all at a last guy in the rotation price.


    Final Grade:

    2. J.J. Redick

    Projected Salary: 2-3 years, $12-14 million per year

    Situation: Redick was brought into the mix by team Colangelo and handed a $23 million deal. He was as advertised for the most part, though he made more crunch-time bonehead maneuvers than one would think he was capable of.

    Now, the Sixers have a roster crunch. The regime changeover in wake of the Colangelo fiasco means anything is possible. Marco Belinelli was another Colangelo guy and he could be gone, and if that’s the case then the Sixers might be more interested in bringing Redick back.

    Last year’s big number sets the market to some degree and he’s already asking for $18-20 million in the press. Redick might find that his market peaks at $15-16 million and that the good fits offer less.

    Ranking Notes: Redick can still shoot the lights out and he’s going to be bring both gravity and functional offense because of all that experience. Defensively, he’s still instinctive but the athleticism is going to continue to erode. At times it felt like the game was slipping from him last year.

    Redick will be fine if he avoids major injury during this contract, even at age 33 and after 11 season. But because of the higher price tag, he straddles the line between solid role player for a contending squad, and overpaid based on name value and last year’s salary.

    Result: Redick took a one-year deal around $12-13 million to stay in Philly.

    Final Grade: C+

    Redick can bring continuity to the equation and he’ll continue to shoot lights out, but relying on him to be a plus player for a good team is starting to ask too much. The fact that this is a one year deal greatly mitigates any risk, however, and the loss of Marco Belinelli makes Redick’s skill set much more necessary.

    3. Nemanja Bjelica (RFA, 1-3 years, $4-6M/yr)
    4. Davis Bertans (RFA, 1-3 years, QO-$4M)
    5. Pat Connaughton (RFA, 1-2 years, QO-4M/yr)
    6. Doug McDermott (RFA, 1-2 years, QO-$4M/yr)
    7. Nik Stauskas (RFA, 1-2 years, QO-$3M/yr)


    1. Joe Harris, SG/SF

    Projected Salary: 2-3 years, $4-6 million per year

    Situation: Harris said two months ago that he’d like to stay in Brooklyn, sounding a bit stronger than your typical player/home team soundbite, and it’s possible the league doesn’t know how good he is so the market is tepid.

    Ranking Notes: Harris can score, shoot, rebound and make the right plays. His 49.1/41.9/82.7 shooting line on a healthy 4.6 treys attempted per game showed a healthy balance of outside-in play. He grabbed 3.3 boards in 25.3 mpg for the Nets last year and was relied on in key moments.

    He’s not going to have the ceiling of last year’s rankings treasure Joe Ingles, but his overall value could easily eclipse what Ingles brought last year because of the absurd price. If your team has a need at small forward and they don’t figure this out, they shouldn’t be in the business of player evaluation.

    Result: The Nets signed Harris for two years and $8 million per year.

    Final Grade: A+.

    They’re going to get two quality seasons at a bargain price. It was a bit higher than our projections but the amount is negligible in relation to the cap and clearly the word got out at least a little bit.

    2. David Nwaba, SG/SF

    Projected Salary (RFA): 3-4 years, $6 million per year

    Situation: He’s still under the radar around the league. He isn’t proficient on offense, so he’s an easy player for bad front offices to dismiss.

    Ranking Notes: Nwaba has great athleticism and defensively he fits into competitive rosters that need playmakers on that end of the floor. He has the makings of an outside shot and has a sneaky versatility on offense. He’s not going to become a primary offensive option but he has very good upside because he has room for growth over the next few seasons. Teams can’t buy enough of these types of bargains.


    Final Grade:

    3. Will Barton, SG/SF

    Projected Salary: 3-4 years, $9-12 million per year

    Situation: The Nuggets want him back and Barton likes it there, but they’re in a cap crunch and they need to get rid of some contracts. Barton showed he can be a top 4-5 contributor for a good team and there’s a pretty good chance he could continue to improve and do that for a contender, too. Still, the market for good but not great players was soft last year and it could be soft this year, too.

    Ranking Notes: Barton is a good get for any team because the exposure is low and he’s entering his prime. He showed that he can rise to the level of above average defender. His fearlessness on offense, in addition to the playmaking, it all makes for an affordable and effective combo. If he can iron out the wrinkles and become more consistent, it’s an easy win for the acquiring team.

    Result: Barton got four years and $54 million to stay in Denver.

    Final Grade: B+

    Barton just needs to keep doing what he’s doing and this deal is going to look fine throughout the duration. He has enough when he cranks up the defense to be a plus on that end of the equation, and we know he’s going to get his offense — but needs to keep focusing on efficiency. This deal helps keep the Nuggets from taking a step backwards during Michael Porter Jr.’s possible redshirt season, all while Michael Malone absorbs darts from the local media in old Pete D’Alessandro territory.

    4. Trevor Ariza

    Projected Salary: 3-4 years, $11-14 million per year

    Situation: Everybody knows Ariza is necessary and at the same time the Rockets have to make both Chris Paul and Clint Capela happy. The Rockets are probably going to end up paying him and he’ll probably end up taking less than he can get elsewhere, because championship contenders are tough to come by. Elsewhere, he’s not a needle-mover and probably not a wise investment for a lot of teams, despite his clear effectiveness at this rate of pay.

    Ranking Notes: Ariza is on the shortlist of players that always have a place in a championship setting. They’re low-volume, versatile players that defend multiple positions and know how to fit in. At 32 years old and after 13 seasons it’s fair to wonder where his fastball will be at in two years.

    But because of his ability to take (and make) a good volume of threes, he can play above this contract as long as there isn’t a precipitous decline, which would likely only be due to injury. It’s a fine bet to make on a guy with all the intangibles, who can fit well in a series against the Warriors (with or without the Rockets).

    Result: Ariza shocked folks by signing a one-year, $15 million deal with the Suns, who happen to have a bunch of players at his position. How much the Chris Paul deal knocked him out of Houston will be discussed over the next few weeks, and really, all the way up to the Rockets’ playoff run.

    Final Grade: C.

    I want to give this a lower grade because the Suns can’t really waste big salary cap allocations but at one year it’s fine. All the talk about ‘veteran leadership’ is usually BS at this time of year and it’s fair to wonder how long Ariza will be with the team as we approach the deadline. There are obvious logjam issues in Phoenix so maybe there will be a trade soon.

    Still, he can help stabilize a team that was impossible to watch and hopefully he can get through to Devin Booker, who needs to lear how to make other players better now.

    5. Kyle Anderson, SF/PF

    Projected Salary: 2-3 years, $5-7 million per year

    Situation: The Spurs are making a qualifying offer just under $5 million and they’ll see what they’re going to end up matching, at least within reason. His strong play isn’t a secret by any means, but the lack of name value and the relative obscurity of his effectiveness are going to keep him within the wash of the mid-level exception.

    Ranking Notes: Anderson was one of the Spurs’ more consistent players, logging 26 mpg and taking control of tempo of the offense for long stretches. The team was decimated because of the Kawhi Leonard injury, but they still won 47 games and Slo Mo deserves a lot of credit for that.

    He’s rangier and quicker than many people give him credit for, which certainly aided by his basketball IQ and the way he has been deployed. Can he struggle outside of San Antonio where the going isn’t quite so good? Sure. But at this price you’re getting a steal that can fit in with both a rebuild and a contender.


    Final Grade:

    6. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG/SF

    Projected Salary: 3-4 years, $12-13 million per year

    Situation: KCP landed in Los Angeles as a last-ditch place to hang his hat and at $18 million for one season that doesn’t seem that bad in today’s landscape. He struggled to find his role on a team full of young players, including some chuckers, and defensively the switching scheme that Luke Walton employed was different than what he ran in Detroit.

    Still, he put up consistent numbers while dealing with probation and a few days of jail time relating to his DUI, which he admitted was getting him down. All in all he survived the year and with just four years of service and consistent production he’ll be on the radar for teams needing a wing.

    Ranking Notes: KCP would go higher on this list if he had a higher ceiling. He can be a plus defender as he settles into his prime and offensively he is a capable shooter that can make a play in a pinch. He’s not as pedigreed as some of the other wings at a comparable price, and there are lower-cost options that savvy teams can take advantage of this year. He’s still a fine target this season and has a better than coin flip’s chance of outplaying this contract.

    Result: Caldwell-Pope signed a one-year, $12 million deal to stay with the Lakers.

    Final Grade: A-

    This deal looks a lot better now that LeBron James is heading to the Lakers and to the degree it keeps the Lakers from getting Kawhi — we can’t really hold that against this deal from either side. The fit on the floor is great as KCP can get reeled in from whatever bad shots he started taking last season and start focusing on the defensive side, where he can be a very good asset for this Lakers squad.

    If the Lakers can get Kawhi a wing group of KCP, Kawhi and LeBron is ridiculous and will be real threat to the Warriors. Getting KCP on a short-term deal is good for the Lakers and KCP not only did well last season to get a nice deal, but he sets himself up for more of a players’ market next season. That is, if he can handle the pressure of playing with LeBron.

    7. Avery Bradley

    Projected Salary: 3 years, $10-13 million per year

    Situation: Bradley had a mostly lost season, getting traded from Detroit to the Clippers and then opting to have adductor surgery, which was wise since he has had a history of mid-body injuries. The Clippers have a fluid situation as they jostle for free agents and at the same time there is a lot of respect around the league for Bradley’s game. He will have a healthy market for his services but is coming off a year in which he shot 40 percent from the field for Detroit.

    Ranking Notes: Bradley has a fairly extensive injury history. Though last year didn’t make anybody feel great about his upside, he’s certainly capable of being a fine two-way player if he can right the ship. He had been applying himself well on offense during his final season in Boston, and the fit was never great in Detroit for anybody, really.

    It feels like a team could reach here and assume he’s a smaller, younger version of Trevor Ariza with more playmaking skill. If the price stays in this projected range he’s going to bring a solid ROI. But if this shoots up to $16 million based on age, history and the upside two-way players can conjure, then it’s possible he’s just a breakeven play that carries uncomfortable injury risk.

    Result: Bradley signed a two-year, $25 million deal to return to the Clippers.

    Final Grade: C+

    Folks might be tempted to go lower with a grade due to the market being so tight and the lack of teams with cap space. Still, Bradley can easily live up to this deal and there is a mild amount of continuity that he’ll enjoy with nearly a year on the ground in L.A., already. If he stays healthy there’s no way the Clippers will regret this deal and it’ll look better next season when other players are getting bigger dollars after coming off their one-year agreements.

    Update: The second year is partially guaranteed and it’s essentially a team option according to Zach Lowe. I could rate it a C+ or a B- after that information.

    8. Rodney Hood, SG/SF

    Projected Salary: 3-4 years, $10-12 million per year

    Situation: Hood’s value tanked but a brief surge during the Finals reminded people that he couldn’t possibly be as bad as it seemed in Cleveland. With LeBron seemingly headed out, the Cavs look like they might be ready to pay Hood, even though he refused to come off the bench during a playoff game.

    He was once one of the better sorta young players in the league (Age: 25), so GMs might think they’re finding a solid distressed asset, creating some demand in an otherwise dry market. Factor in the injury history and Cleveland’s need to stock a team post-LeBron and he could get paid as projected.

    Ranking Notes: I once thought Hood was heading toward All Star status at the peak of his productivity. He was making defenders look silly but he never progressed into a true No. 2 offensive threat. Inconsistent play, mediocre defense and injuries took their toll. It’s possible a bigger role on a rebuilding team can rekindle his past progression, and with players that can create their own shot there’s always going to be a market for that.


    Final Grade:

    9. Jerami Grant, SF/PF

    Projected Salary: 2-3 years, $5 million per year

    Situation: Grant saw significant minutes for the Thunder (20 mpg) and improved his shooting from both the field and the line. Those have comprised the bulk of the concerns with him and still he’s very raw. But with plenty of athleticism and trending in the right direction, it feels like a multiyear deal is the smart play for the acquiring team.

    Ranking Notes: I’m tempted to rank him higher but the reality is that until he improves on both sides of the ball he’s only a backup level player. If it all comes together for him he could have championship role player upside, but at this cost one only needs him to be a quality backup. With modest improvements he’ll get there.

    Result: The Thunder re-signed Grant for three years and $27 million.

    Final Grade: C+.

    I could go B- here because Grant still has a decent amount of upside he could theoretically step into. But this is a lot of money that the Thunder are gambling will turn into their cheap, but solid option to take over Carmelo Anthony’s workload. One has to wonder if Paul George and Russell Westbrook also threw their $0.02 in the middle to say, we need this guy so don’t mess around and go get him.

    10. Mario Hezonja, SF

    Projected Salary: 3-4 years, $7-12 million per year

    Situation: Hezonja started to figure things out a little bit in Orlando, putting up a torrid stretch in February and March that coincided with Aaron Gordon’s time off . There’s an argument to be made that the Magic were dysfunctional throughout his early career and that it stunted his development. The Magic are seemingly trying to get rid of old regime guys too, since a $5 million qualifying offer would’ve been a cheap way to see their big bet down the river.

    Ranking Notes:Because of his draft status, athleticism and shooting stroke, there will be interest out there. In my neck of the woods in Sacramento, they’ve been telegraphing their interest for about a year. It’s not a terrible move for a small forward needy team to overpay on a young player that might develop into a low-end starter, but it’s not a winning decision either.

    Result: Hezonja signs in New York with former Magic executive Scott Perry running the show on a one-year, $6.5 million deal.

    Final Grade: B+

    It would be interesting to know how Perry pitched against the Kings, for whom he worked prior to going to New York. The Kings really wanted him according to many reports and several team sources, and Hezonja was linked to several teams heading into free agency.

    Getting playing time was a big concern for him and the Knicks can give him that, but the deal is somewhat bitter for both sides. If Hezonja can’t turn the corner on his consistency issues he will have wanted more years, and the Knicks might have wanted to leverage him into more years while the market is tight. Because of the low risk and low number, the Knicks did well to take a stab at some upside at a low cost.

    11. Rudy Gay, SF/PF

    Projected Salary: 2-3 years, $9-12 million per year

    Situation: Gay had a great season for the Spurs, but only saw action in 57 games and played just 21.6 mpg. A right heel injury took the bulk of his missed games after he tore his left Achilles tendon the year before. The Spurs definitely could have used more minutes out of him, but for whatever combination of reasons he leaves this season with questions about how much run he can handle.

    Ranking Notes: Gay just opted out of an $8.8 million player option and that would indicate that he believes he can get more guaranteed money and at a greater clip.

    That seems a bit surprising in this tight market and we assume he’s getting good advice, but teams will pay for offense and the Spurs’ brand isn’t going to hurt. Teams may perceive him to be a switchable, positionless player but that’s not the case. The expected decline in athleticism detracts from an already overpriced package.

    Result: Gay stayed in San Antonio for one year and $10 million.

    Final Grade: B.

    Gay got a good annual number and was undoubtedly helped by the Kawhi Leonard situation. Still, like a lot of free agents he took the money quickly before things dried up and with another good season maybe he can get a 2-3 year deal with mid-level money as a final bigger money deal. The Spurs don’t harm their cap sheet and bring back a guy that did what he needed to do in about 25 mpg. Wins all around.

    12. Gerald Green (1-2 years, min-$5M/yr)
    13. Josh Huestis (RFA, 1-2 years, QO-5M/yr)
    14. Vince Carter (1 year, min-$3)
    15. Glenn Robinson III (1-3 years, $2-4M/yr),
    16. Jeff Green (1-2 years, $3-6M/yr)


    1.Clint Capela, C

    Max Salary (RFA): 4 years, $108 million ($27 million per year)

    Salary Notes: If I had to guess he’ll just miss getting the max. Capela will be coveted even as folks in and out of the league don’t respect his offensive game nearly enough. Because of his youth and athleticism, and the certainty teams can have in what they’re buying, he’s all upside in an already effective package.

    Situation: Capela has a great fit in Houston playing next to two dynamic playmakers in Chris Paul and James Harden. He has a coach that has created a system that happens to perfectly fit his strengths. The Rockets aren’t dummies and know they have to pay him, which is probably why Chris Paul isn’t thrilled during his early contract discussions.

    Ranking Notes: Capela’s offense is improving and it’s not surprising for anybody that has watched his footwork over the years. He now has an efficient and cunning roll game with plenty of baseline counters and 1-2 dribble forays to the hoop. Teams want to pick him as the poison and he’s beating it.

    It’s a great example of a player that knows what his strengths are and plays to them. He can switch against today’s floor spacers, control the glass against small and even medium-sized teams and he can protect the rim. It’s no small bonus that he could improve throughout the duration of this next contract.


    Final Grade:

    2. Aron Baynes, C

    Projected Salary: 2-4 years, $12-14 million per year

    Situation: The Celtics would love to keep him and Baynes genuinely appears to want to stay, but they don’t have his Bird Rights and he’ll eat into their cap space while they’re highly leveraged. Other teams will have the ability to offer more but fit and lack of name value might create a down market while money is tight across the league.

    Ranking Notes: Baynes is a bruiser that’s surprisingly light on his feet. He has put all of his offensive focus into screening and spot-up corner threes, creating an efficient and robust 20 mpg option. He performed well against Joel Embiid and the Sixers during the playoffs, averaging 23 mpg and showing he might be able to creep into the 25 mpg range while his athleticism is peaking.

    Baynes gets the second highest Bigs ranking because the acquiring team knows exactly what they’re getting, and adding this type of good money at the center position is a strong recipe for success in the league. If your ‘big’ Big can be above average on the cheap, that’s more money to spend on multipositional wings or a floor general.

    Result: The Celtics signed Baynes for two years and $11 million.

    Final Grade: A+.

    Baynes clearly likes playing in Boston and they got this deal at a big discount in relation to what he is actually worth on the basketball floor. One would think teams watched film in the playoffs but whether they did or they didn’t, the Celtics came away with a bargain big that leaves a mark and now can shoot the corner three a little bit.

    3. Montrezl Harrell, PF/C

    Projected Salary (RFA): 2-3 years, $5 million per year

    Situation: The Clippers know exactly how good he was last season but they’ll let the market set the cost and hope they can keep him on the cheap. Fortunately for them, the lack of name value and undervaluing of his proficient areas around the league could create a soft market. Still, there should be some organization out there smart enough to challenge them to think, especially if they can win a big name free agent and money gets tight.

    Ranking Notes: Harrell just gets shit done. He had the highest net rating this season among any Clippers player that played in more than 15 games and played more than 15 mpg. His versatility athletically allows him to bang down low against smaller centers and switch out on a lot of perimeter wings. It’s the 50/50 balls and dives to the rim, however, that really start to add up and create the value here.

    He can’t be counted on for 25 mpg without some seriously good teammates to hide his deficiencies, but he’s ready to play 20 mpg for a good team and you can’t beat the value.


    Final Grade:

    4. Julius Randle

    Max Salary (RFA): 4 years, $108 million ($27 million per year)

    Salary Notes: The Lakers have a complicated free agency situation and with odds recently swinging in their favor in the LeBron sweepstakes, guys like Randle will fluctuate in value in the wake. Because Los Angeles is limited in what they can offer him, and there’s a timing element involved with the cap strategy, teams can offer less money to Randle knowing the Lakers can’t match in certain scenarios.

    Situation: There is league wide interest in Randle but because of the lack of high-end upside, it’s possible the market dampens. And due to the lack of money available, it wouldn’t be shocking to see offers check in at the $14-18 million per year range.

    Ranking Notes: Randle showed just enough last season to keep upside hunters interested. He started to dominate in the paint a bit more and he started to round out the rough edges elsewhere. With just a bit more toughness and instinct on defense, he could be a viable smallball five for a winning team, but not a contending team.

    Because the market might keep him in an affordable range, he’s a nice mid-level investment in an above average player. Seen another way, he could be a viable No. 4 player for a contending squad. Those are wins on the value scale, especially if the market really dips.

    Result: Randle signed a two-year deal worth $18 million including a player option.

    Final Grade: B+

    The Pelicans took advantage of the down market and got a player that would have received much more money in a normal season. While he will almost certainly look for a better deal after this season, the Pelicans will have the inside track to convince him to sign an extension. Between the quality of player they’re getting, his relationship with Anthony Davis and the flexibility they’ll have if they want to move him, it’s a solid deal for the Pelicans and we’ll have to see if this means DeMarcus Cousins is heading elsewhere.

    5. DeMarcus Cousins, C

    Max Salary: 5 years, $175 million with New Orleans (4 years, $130 million with anybody else)

    Salary Notes: Cousins isn’t getting that much. The Achilles injury gives the other issues of basketball IQ, effort and intangibles a much greater weight, which incidentally is another issue that could hinder him after that type of an injury.

    Situation: Zach Lowe reported that the Pelicans are looking at a 2-3 year deal short of the max, and if the Mavs or Lakers come calling they might take a stab at a longer-term deal in the $20-25 million range. The market could also shift based on his recovery or get cold for external reasons, which might point Cousins even further toward a short-term deal.

    Ranking Notes: We almost have to assume Cousins has decided to be a perimeter big and that makes the proposition even more dicey for whoever takes the plunge. If he loses any more athleticism those flailing drives to the hoop are going to result in even more turnovers and uneven offensive play.

    He has ceded the paint in the past when he could easily own it, but now he might be forced to rely on his strength if the perimeter struggles quickly rack up. That’s not a great calculus for value but if he gets put into the right situation, with the right expectations and finally matures, it’s a discount rate for that rare player who can bury the needle at center.

    Result: Cousins signs with the Golden State Warriors for $5 million on a one year deal.

    Final Grade: There is no grade because the Internet was broken and we used an old timey telegraph to cobble together this message.

    6. Aaron Gordon, PF/C

    Max Salary (RFA): 4 years, $108 million ($27 million per year)

    Salary Notes: Gordon fits the profile of somebody that would get the max. He’s on all of the highlight reels, destroyed the Dunk Contest, and fits all the buzzy things that owners and GMs love nowadays. He shoots the three, he fancies himself a ballhandler and his physical profile suggests he’s highly switchable on defense.

    There are injury concerns and getting out of Orlando is always a move on the table, though hiring Steve Clifford was a nice insulator against that. Unless the market is seriously depressed, he’s a coin flip chance to get the max and $20 million per year is easily doable.

    Situation: The Magic are somewhat stocked in the frontcourt now with Mo Bamba joining Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo. Jonathan Isaac is getting thrown into the fire this year and Gordon’s best minutes are at the four, so until the Magic trade somebody they’re a bit overstocked. They may decide that Gordon isn’t the right guy to go all-in on and that could attract more offers since teams may believe he’s attainable and commit the money.

    Ranking Notes: Gordon could put it all together and become something similar to Blake Griffin’s best years, but the arc on Griffin’s effectiveness could be instructive, too. Griffin started as an explosive player with a much better post game than Gordon, and morphed into an outside shooter and dribble-drive guy because he became top-heavy and no longer had great lift.

    Griffin ended up being much more skilled than Gordon reasonably projects to be and Gordon is following along on the top heavy route. Like Griffin, he is continuing to pursue a perimeter game that is spotty at best and distracting from what could be a Clint Capela-esque interior attack.

    Throughout last year, Gordon showed decreased lateral quickness that wouldn’t project to be so switchable in a few years. Perhaps that’s the injuries at play but the presence of that doesn’t make him a better bet.

    He’s going to go for a big number here and the downside risk isn’t that bad, so it’s a bet that teams shouldn’t be against making, but with better values on the board the good franchises will opt for the cheaper alternatives elsewhere on this list.

    Result: Gordon gets into a four-year, $84 million deal to stay with the home team.

    Final Grade: B-.

    At $21 million per year it’s expensive but if you’re the Magic, getting somebody with Gordon’s potential is a heavy lift in general. They have to do something about their logjam in the frontcourt and all of the aforementioned issues still apply. If they can keep Gordon from roaming to the perimeter and keep him healthy, he has a low-end chance to be an all All Star in a continually weakened Eastern Conference.

    7. Thaddeus Young, PF

    Projected Salary: 2-3 years, $11-14 million per year

    Situation: Young had a sizeable role for Indiana last season and played about as well as expected, which was average to above average for his position. The Pacers can’t really afford to lose his minutes so they’ll be interested in bringing him back (after he waives his player option), and after he showed well against LeBron James in the playoffs he got a little extra cred as a multi-position defender.

    Young has set a decent market for himself in the past with sizable deals, and he’s one of the few players on this list that might catch a bull market.

    Ranking Notes: Young is a good player at this rate but people forget that at age 30 that he has logged 800 games. The athleticism that makes him a versatile two-way player could easily start faltering toward the end of the deal. If he loses a step he could become ordinary and expensive but early on in the deal he’s somebody to look at, if anything, to defend LeBron in the playoffs.

    Result: Young exercised his player option for $13.7 million.

    Final Grade: Young likes his fit and the market next season. No grade for the Pacers.

    8. Enes Kanter

    Projected Salary: 3-4 years, $11-14 million per year

    Situation: Kanter has a big $18.4 million option to decide on here shortly. He could take that and try next year’s market, which might have normalized a bit post ‘smoothing’ and will have a larger cap. Big Turkey had a big, efficient season and is entering his prime. He’s not going to win awards for his defense but a wide number of teams can use a productive ‘big’ big like Kanter for 20-25 mpg.

    Ranking Notes: Kanter probably balks at the lower end of this spectrum and takes the option, but getting a guaranteed $52 million or more would probably get his attention. If there was more money available one could see Kanter being the recipient of a big overpay, but the soft market should keep his contract in a good place. There’s not a lot of upside but Kanter is entering his prime and should be able to live up to this deal.

    Result: Kanter opted into his $18.4 million player option.

    Final Grade: Kanter knew that was a lot of money to walk away from and like many players, he likes next year’s market much better.

    9. Brook Lopez, C

    Projected Salary: 2-4 years, $10-14 million per year

    Situation: Lopez has expanded his game on offense and he’s getting slower to the ball, which is the natural progression for a skilled, lumbering big with 10 years of experience. At 30 years old he has one more good contract in him and he might choose to go for the money. Or, if he can find the right fit he has indicated he’s open to taking less. Because he can stretch the floor and score in a variety of ways, he’s going to have suitors.

    Ranking Notes: One would think he’d rank higher with an affordable contract like this, but he might get forced into a 20 mpg role quickly with the way teams are running bigs like him off the floor. Lopez isn’t going to kill anybody’s bankroll but unless he’s moving the needle for a contender, the money is better spent on younger options.


    Final Grade:

    10. Jusuf Nurkic, C

    Projected Salary: 1-3 years, $8-13 million per year

    Situation: The Blazers might extend a targeted (larger) qualifying offer in anticipation that Nurkic does not receive any real attention this offseason. If he were an unrestricted free agent teams might be more interested, but committing enough money to scare the Blazers off probably isn’t in the cards.

    Nurkic has enough potential to be worth $10 million per year, even though he was exposed in the playoffs and has shown plenty of downside. His skills package could conceivably make him an above average offensive player, and there might be enough rim protection on defense to cancel out some of the lateral movement issues.

    Ranking Notes: Nurk has taken too many jumpers and he hasn’t refined his interior game as much as one would like. Defensively he’s going to struggle in pick and roll and he can get lost in action really quick. Injuries, attitude and conditioning have all popped up in both Portland and Denver.

    He has had some really nice runs, particularly when he arrived in Portland via trade, but there is a lot of hassle with him in general. If everything clicks he can exceed the value of this deal, but the odds are pointing toward a player that ends up being more trouble than he’s worth, even at this somewhat discounted cost.


    Final Grade:

    11. Nerlens Noel, C

    Projected Salary: 1-3 years, $5-8 million per year

    Situation: Noel was frozen out in Dallas and there are questions about everything from his knee to his mindset and abilities. If he can sniff the upside he showed in Philly, which was flawed no doubt, he can quickly rekindle some value. In the meantime he’s probably going to get paid more than he should right now, but way less than what folks thought was coming his way when times were good.

    Ranking Notes: It’s been a while since Noel has been good and with his offensive deficiencies it’s hard to get on the bandwagon, even at this cost. Even a player like Jusuf Nurkic hasn’t had as bad of a run over the last two years. But if the right team grabs him and nurses him back to health, he still has potential to be paired next to an offensive minded stretch four.

    Result: Noel agreed to a two-year, minimum deal with the Thunder that includes a player option for the second year.

    Final Grade: B+

    The Thunder need a reliable backup and Noel — depending on what version one is getting — fits the bill. The market for him was even softer than expected, but he probably got a guarantee of backup minutes and getting to free agency next season was obviously the goal. The Thunder will have the inside track on the recruiting side if all goes well, but from their perspective one would have liked to tie him up cheap for that second year.

    12. JaVale McGee

    Projected Salary: 1 year, $5 million

    Situation: McGee was effective for the Warriors in 10 mpg last year. The league knows what he can do with the vertical spacing and he has really tightened things up in Golden State. It’s easy to knock him based on reputation. As long as he doesn’t go to a real shit show he should be able to duplicate the effectiveness, but the system has to take advantage of his strengths as the Warriors do.

    Ranking Notes: Finding big men of his size that don’t get run off the court is a real challenge and teams need about 20 true big man minutes per game. McGee is going to give you 10 good ones and at such a low cost, teams can feel better about trending smaller while spending at other positions.

    Result: McGee signed a one-year deal for the minimum with the Lakers.

    Final Grade: B+

    To the extent this caused the Lakers to miss out on DeMarcus Cousins is the only thing we can quibble with here. He’ll be worth the money and play his normal 10-15 mpg.

    13. Kevon Looney (2-3 years, $5-8M/yr)
    14. Amir Johnson (1-2 years, $5-8M/yr)
    15. Kyle O’Quinn (1-2 years, $5-7M/yr)
    16. Quincy Acy (1-2 years, $2-5M)
    17. Alex Len (1-3 years, $5-7M/yr)

    18. Derrick Favors (2-3 years, $7-9M/yr)

    Result: Favors got $18 million per year for two years, but the second year sounds like it’s unguaranteed to some extent (per Salt Lake Tribune at the time of this grade).

    Final Grade: D-

    This is basically a one-year deal if the guarantee is negligible on that second year but still this is a bunch of money for a player that can’t log big regular season minutes and has question marks about durability and effectiveness going forward.

    It feels like the Jazz might have known they didn’t have many other desirable free agency plays and decided to make sure they had their center position addressed. Still, they need help at power forward and any number of the big men on this list could have been better and more affordable gets.

    19. Ersan Ilyasova (1-3 years, $6-9M/yr)
    20. Ed Davis (1-3 years, $3-5M)
    21. Trevor Booker (1-2 years, $3-5M)
    22. Salah Mejri (RFA, 1-2 years, QO-5M/yr)

    23. Jabari Parker, PF/C

    Projected Salary (RFA): 2-4 years, $13-15 million per year

    Situation: Parker returned in the second half of last season after suffering his second catastrophic left knee injury in the prior season. He didn’t play that much, averaging 24 mpg in 31 games and was openly frustrated about it.

    Parker’s lack of mobility on defense made it an easy call for the Bucks to ease him in under the guise of ‘playing it safe.’ Because of his name value and because he has showed real offensive promise when healthy, there will be interest from optimistic GMs hoping to get a needle mover at a low price.

    Ranking Notes: Parker’s offensive game projects as a complementary piece on a good team and it’s fair to question if he can be a high-end No. 2 scorer. Defensively, he is going to have a hard time surviving in today’s NBA and his size and injury history aren’t going to help him. Whatever team decides to ante up is committing bad money because they overvalue offense.


    Final Grade:

    24. Lucas Nogueira (RFA, QO-$4M/yr)

    25. DeAndre Jordan

    Projected Salary: 2-4 years, $13-16 million per year

    Situation: Jordan is deciding on a player option worth $24.1 million and that deadline is Friday, so we’ll soon get a pretty good insight as to what the market bears. A lot of people around the league still think he’s an elite defender, and his lackluster play last season largely went under the radar amidst the various drama in L.A. There are teams around the league expressing interest, even the Mavs, and the Clippers would probably like to get in on the action if the price is right, too.

    Ranking Notes: Jordan rarely misses games and has racked up 750 regular season games in 10 seasons. He looked top-heavy last season and his block totals were basically cut in half. If he sees continued dips as a vertical spacer and as a paint presence, not to mention pick-and-roll defense, his value proposition evaporates real quick.

    This contract, assuming he doesn’t take the option, is going to put a severe dent in somebody’s frontcourt budget and he might become a 20 mpg guy if the effectiveness really starts to wane at the end of the deal.

    Result: Jordan opted out of his deal with the Clippers and got the same exact deal with the Mavs. One year for $24.1 million.

    Final Grade: C+.

    The Mavs dodged a real bullet with this deal knowing what kind of numbers were leaking out of Dallas (that amount with no mention of a single year). Even though this is way too much money for a year of Jordan’s service, it’s not like the Mavs are going anywhere next season and if this helps Dirk Nowitzki’s possible final season along it’s probably a win. That said, the Mavs miss an opportunity to go after DeMarcus Cousins or Clint Capela, assuming they had a chance in the first place.

    26. Noah Vonleh (RFA, QO, $4M)

    27. Jahlil Okafor

    Projected Salary: 1-3 years, $4-7 million per year

    Situation: Okafor’s conditioning, injuries and tumultuous time in Philly are a few reasons his market has been crushed. He didn’t do anything to shake those concerns in Brooklyn but there will always be at least one team that thinks they can make it work where others couldn’t.

    Ranking Notes: Okafor’s offense isn’t bending the defense and it’s not even clear if he can be above average on that side of the floor. He’s deficient in so many areas it’s hard to keep count. Even if he can live up to a small deal like the one projected, he’s taking minutes from somebody else and there are any number of better uses for that cap space.


    Final Grade:


    Ian Clark
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    Shabazz Muhammad
    Ty Lawson
    Julyan Stone
    Joe Johnson
    David West
    Jameer Nelson
    Corey Brewer
    Jamal Crawford
    Nick Young
    Marco Belinelli
    Anthony Tolliver
    Zaza Pachulia
    Dante Cunningham
    Tim Frazier
    Mike Scott
    Derrick Rose
    Greg Monroe
    Devin Harris
    Michael Carter-Williams
    Jarrett Jack
    Jose Calderon
    Raymond Felton
    Aaron Brooks
    Mario Chalmers
    Ramon Sessions
    Lorenzo Brown
    Jason Terry
    Arron Afflalo
    Jordan Crawford
    James Ennis
    Richard Jefferson
    Michael Beasley
    Luke Babbitt
    Channing Frye
    Tarik Black
    Udonis Haslem
    Nick Collison
    Marreese Speights
    Jordan Mickey
    Chris McCullough
    Kendrick Perkins

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