September 21, 2019, 9:59 pm
After a star-studded free agency that kicked off lots of player movement, the summer of 2020 looks like it could be a letdown. There are plenty of valuable players that look ready to hit the open market, but few that bring franchise-altering star power to the table. Even so, there will be players looking to cash in with the league appearing to enter more of a wide-open era where it can pay to be aggressive. Your shots at a title are extremely limited and you might want to spend whatever is necessary to get over the hump.
The thought is that players find that extra gear when the next check is on the way — that one big season can set them up in the long-term and they’re going to empty the tank to get there. It’s not something that can really be definitively proven but money is a great motivator and we have seen a number of players post big numbers that just so happen to coincide with hitting the open market. If you believe in it, this one’s for you. If not, here’s a list of guys who will/could be free agents next summer.
To check out our look at the UFAs, click here.
Just because the class lacks star power doesn’t mean that it’s empty, as there are around 200 players who will potentially hit the open market. We’ll focus more on the fantasy-relevant players as well as guys who stand to have a lot to gain with good performances. The players who are destined for similar roles around the league regardless of uniform won’t receive as much shine.
Restricted Free Agents
Dunn’s agent must’ve done some heavy lifting to get him selected fifth overall back in 2016. So far we’ve seen little to project that Dunn can carry the load as a franchise point guard, and the Bulls look ready to move on after they added a starting-caliber PG this offseason and drafted a top PG prospect with their top selection in the draft. Add in comments from the front office about Chicago having four of their five positions set, it’s clear that Dunn’s future is unlikely to play out in Chicago. With this year likely serving as an audition for 29 teams, Dunn has quite a bit to play for.
A torn ACL derailed Murray’s ascension but he’s going to be a key part of San Antonio’s defense after the unit took a step backward a year ago. The Spurs figure to make him a core player moving forward but Derrick White’s growth might change the calculus a bit, and either way Murray could make himself more money by displaying an improved offensive game this year.
It’s still unclear as to why the Suns, who have struggled to find a real point guard for years, would give up so quickly on a player with as much talent as Melton. He’ll slot into the Memphis backcourt and should have an opportunity to log minutes at multiple positions because of his defensive instincts. It’s a profile that could have him emerge as one of the better secondary options on the RFA market next season.
Also RFA: Frank Jackson, Jevon Carter, Brad Wanamaker
Brown is set to take on a massive role for the Celtics after being the main player to sacrifice in Boston’s dysfunctional 2018-19 campaign. A rising two-way star, or so we’ve been told, Brown is going to be playing to put himself in the max contract conversation. We’ll see if he gets there.
Hield gets less hype than Brown but for our money he’s clearly the superior player. He too will be playing for the biggest possible contract and it’s hard to envision another team prying him away from Sacramento.
The rise of Hield has really slowed the momentum of Bogdan Bogdanovic, who is now bumped off his true position of shooting guard and is feeling the squeeze thanks to the additions of Harrison Barnes and Trevor Ariza. It’s going to be difficult for Bogdanovic to find substantial minutes with the Kings and other teams may find themselves in a position to outbid Sacramento for a talented player that has a lot of obstacles to playing time.
The same goes for Beasley, who put himself on the map with a strong performance when Will Barton and Gary Harris went down with injuries. Assuming they are both healthy this season, Beasley may have a tough time finding the same consistent playing time he did last year, and the Nuggets might not be willing or able to match big offer sheets next summer. He’ll need to make the most of decreased minutes this season to get those offers up.
Dotson emerged as a bright spot for the Knicks last season and will be in the mix to start at shooting guard. His spacing figures to be key with New York starting three non-shooters, and although Dotson had previously been dangled as trade bait he could also play his way into New York’s long-term plans. It’s unlikely that Dotson becomes a full-time starter on a better team (and the Knicks probably want to bump him down to the bench in a perfect world), but he’ll have a chance to show the league otherwise if he can hold off the likes of Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock and Allonzo Trier.
Trier offers up more pure scoring than Dotson but that’s a skill set that might fit better in the second unit. Even so, there should be no doubts about Trier’s ability to self-start after he made the climb from UDFA to key cog in New York’s rotation last season. Another strong campaign could lead to bigger and better things.
The Grizzlies are said to be big fans of Brooks’ but his career hit a snag after a foot injury kept him out for most of the season. There’s a wide-open battle for the starting shooting guard spot, which figures to be Brooks’, though it’s not a foregone conclusion that he runs away with it. If he does then it should be a fairly straightforward negotiation with Memphis but if he flops then there’s a wide range of outcomes on the table for Brooks.
Also RFA: Torrey Craig, Wes Iwundu, Dwayne Bacon, Shaq Harrison, Denzel Valentine, Sterling Brown, Jordan McRae, Sindarius Thornwell, Ryan Broekhoff, Jemerrio Jones, Max Strus
There is no way that Siakam doesn’t stick with Toronto long-term, the only question will be the size of his contract. He’s going to be playing for a max deal, which is pretty good motivation. Not that he’s the type who needs outside motivators, generally.
The jury’s still out on Ingram, who has been able to function as a scorer who has questionable impact on actually winning games. The upside is there and is sure to lure in some suitors, but the Pelicans could very well plug him in as their long-term small forward if things go right. A change of scenery seems like the best thing that could’ve happened to Ingram, and he’s going to have a chance to put up numbers with a fast-paced Pelicans outfit. Let’s see if he can reel in a contract that matches the hype.
Prince left a nice fantasy spot in Atlanta to an equally-solid one in Brooklyn, where he should be one of the two main candidates to start in Kevin Durant’s vacated power forward spot. In an up-tempo attack, and with the type of defensive versatility that the rest of Brooklyn’s roster is a little light on, Prince is going to have a great opportunity to earn himself some money.
Saric got a little lost in the wilderness last season, struggling to fit in next to two ball-dominant stars with the Sixers and then getting stuck in a timeshare with Taj Gibson after getting traded to Minnesota. He does his best work with the ball in his hands, and although that’s unlikely to happen a ton in Phoenix, he at least has a better shot at it. Saric is still an intriguing young player with a diverse skill set, so there’s plenty for him to play for as he tries to settle into his NBA career.
Bembry quietly became one of Atlanta’s most valuable reserves last season and should continue to fill multiple roles for a team that is hoping to be more than a doormat this season. The shooting and turnovers are Bembry’s weak spots, and if he can keep either of those in order it would do wonders for his market value. Versatility like his would be an asset for a number of teams, and Bembry could shine enough to attract some eyes.
Osman looks like one of the few Cavs on the roster that could be around for the long haul. Expect him to get plenty of run, and if all goes well he’ll firmly slot into Cleveland’s core. A bad season could mean he’s stuck bouncing around as a role player, which sounds like good motivation to us.
McKinnie made the leap from G-Leaguer to rotation player last season, and now he’ll be given the chance to lock down the starting small forward spot for as long as Klay Thompson is out. The young 3-and-D player has a chance to complete an unlikely rise this season and is going to have a great opportunity to turn some heads.
O’Neale is in a similar boat with the Jazz, though he has a longer track record of being a legitimate contributor. He should be one of Utah’s most versatile subs and has an outside chance to start if the Jazz decide they like the looks of Joe Ingles off the bench. O’Neale can do a little bit of everything, which could make him one of the more attractive second-tier RFAs next summer.
One of the bright spots in New Orleans’ late-season, post-AD run was the emergence of Kenrich Williams. The injury to Darius Miller opens up more opportunities for Williams to play this year, and with the way the Pelicans have built up the roster his path to long-term playing time likely flows through another organization. Should Williams play well enough this year to attract offer sheets from elsewhere, he’ll be a name to remember in deep fantasy leagues.
Also RFA: Malcolm Miller
Sabonis has expressed a desire to sign an extension with the Pacers this summer and it’s assumed that it will get done, but the longer it drags out the more likely it is that he’s going to be using this season as an audition. Indiana shouldn’t be 100 percent sold on his fit next to Myles Turner and/or Goga Bitadze, and Sabonis might be able to attract larger offers from teams that have less depth up front. A budding star and one of the league’s best bench players last season, Sabonis could make himself a pretty penny if no extension comes before opening night.
Poeltl’s play steadied out down the stretch last year and he’s the sort of cerebral, low-maintenance, defensive-minded big that will fit with the San Antonio system. His offensive limitations will keep the salary in check but Poeltl is going to have an opportunity to prove that he’s a starting-caliber center over a full season. If he can avoid a repeat of last year’s early struggles, we could see a year full of Yak Attacks.
Bell got NBA Twitter all worked up as soon as he was drafted because the Bulls just gave him away for cash, but all of his athleticism never really translated to anything in Golden State. Despite a handful of chances to carve out a larger role, Bell’s on-court focus lapsed too frequently for him to become a major rotation player. He may get more of a chance with a Wolves team that’s going to be looking for young pieces to add to their core but it’s tough to see him playing a lot unless he soaks up minutes at power forward. Bell should get a longer look this season, though, and he could make himself attractive on the open market by grabbing the bull by the horns.
Maker seemed to settle into a good role as Detroit’s backup big man down the stretch last season and if he can keep improving his 3-point shot he’ll hold some appeal as a rim protector that can space the floor. There have been incredibly interesting flashes throughout Maker’s career, but ultimately nothing that has stood the test of time. If he can make that breakthrough in a year where he could have his largest role yet, it’d do wonders for his future in the league.
Jones’ run as the starting center in Golden State got cut short by a pectoral injury, and we have yet to really see what he can do in extended run. With his only competition for backup minutes coming in the form of Bruno Fernando, and playing behind Alex Len, this could be the year that Jones ends up with a consistent role. An athletic talent like this should fit with the speedy Hawks, but it’s going to be up to Jones to turn that potential into production.
Also RFA: Chris Boucher, Ivan Rabb, Alize Johnson, Skal Labissiere
As long as old school Basketball Men remain employed (and Rondo doesn’t do anything stupid to tarnish his reputation), Rondo will have a job in the league. A guy with such a limited market did well to get a player option this summer, and he’s provided himself an out clause in case the Lakers decide to roll with Alex Caruso as the first PG off the bench. Of course, he’s also given himself some security in case the Lakers figure out that he’s not that good. Rondo’s contributions to the game figure to be the same no matter what uniform he’s wearing, so there shouldn’t be a ton riding on this season.
It’s been rumored that the Spurs have considered offering an extension to DeRozan, so it seems unlikely that they’ll be upset if he decides to opt in for next season. He’s unlikely to get a max deal in free agency, though he should get close, and it’s worth pointing out that he would be one of the premier names on the market should he decide to dip his toes in the water. DeRozan could also get an extra year on his next deal from San Antonio by opting out and re-signing, which could be an attractive option as he enters his age-30 season. Regardless, DeRozan is not the type of player who needs to draw motivation from his contract situation.
Nic Batum is not passing up $27 million next season. He’s opting in, even if the Hornets completely cut him from the rotation.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Hardaway Jr. is caught in the middle. He’s not overpaid enough ($18.975 million) where an opt-in is an automatic decision, but he doesn’t have the same clout as someone like DeRozan where similar money is guaranteed. Mix in potential concerns about last season’s stress reaction and THJ does have plenty to play for and will likely hold a starting job on a Mavs team that will be in the spotlight a bit.
Fournier has a compelling case to make more than Hardaway, though his $17 million option for the 2020-21 season seems fair enough that it would take a crazy performance this year to swing his salary wildly in one direction or another. Inconsistency has dogged him over the last handful of seasons, but Fournier is still only 26 and has shown great potential as a secondary option. Holding that role on a team that’s hoping to take another step forward will only help his free agency case.
Rodney Hood was up to no good in Cleveland but rehabbed his stock with a strong postseason run in Portland. With a player option for $6 million in the 2020-21 season, one has to imagine that a 3-and-D player like Hood will be trying to cash in on a weak class in free agency. Barring a disaster, Hood is likely to hit the open market and could be one of the most interesting wings available. He and Kent Bazemore are in the same boat (Baze is going UFA) so the Blazers’ wing battle will be one to keep an eye on this year as both players are working for their futures.
Matthews was forced into a surprisingly low salary but landed in a great spot as a presumptive starter for the Bucks. Given his run of play since returning from his devastating Achilles injury, Matthews won’t ever break the bank again, but he could be able to lure in a larger deal with a strong season. Whether he’d choose that over a chance at a championship remains to be seen.
Bradley’s stock has tumbled since leaving Boston and persistent injuries have taken the wind from his sails. He had a nice run for a barren Grizzlies squad last season and parlayed that into a two-year deal with the Lakers. If he can stay healthy and look a little like his old self, Bradley should be able to do better than his $5 million option for 2020-21.
KCP returned to the Lakers yet again, but with the additions of Danny Green and Bradley, perhaps he finally heads elsewhere next summer. We’re a long way away from teams considering big offer sheets when he was a Piston, aren’t we? With his player option worth $8.5 million, it’s tough to gauge whether Caldwell-Pope will test a weak market. His last dalliances with free agency have been surprisingly quiet.
Also with Player Options: Austin Rivers, Tony Snell
Hayward won’t be opting out of a max contract.
Porter seems unlikely to opt out of $28 million for 2020-21, though his offensive explosion as a featured player in Chicago could leave the door open a crack. Porter’s 3-and-D game earned him his initial big contract, but if he puts up a full season as a scorer then some teams might consider him worth bigger money. The odds of that aren’t great, but they’re not zero.
The Nuggets didn’t trade for Grant only to have him walk in free agency, especially as Paul Millsap’s deal expires. He’s a safe bet to opt out of his $9.3 million salary in 2020-21 and it’s also a safe bet that Denver pays whatever price it needs to to keep him around.
Parker put up some useful fantasy numbers down the stretch with Washington, though his impact on winning basketball games remains up for debate. The Hawks swooped in with a reasonable two-year deal and a $6.5 million annual salary, leaving Parker with an opportunity to be the lead scorer for the second unit. He likely has eyes on opting out and getting a bigger deal next summer, and he’s a player that could try to secure the proverbial bag given the way that early-career injuries have damaged his earning potential.
A hernia kept Johnson from getting things going last season and it would probably take a big year for him to pass up $15.8 million in 2020-21. Still, because Johnson checks so many boxes in what teams want out of a forward these days, it’s not entirely impossible.
Morris dealt with a neck injury last season and was forced into a minimal role with the Thunder. That led to complaints about his playing time in the offseason, though he didn’t exactly land in a great spot for that with Detroit. Morris’ track record as a quality stretch four should be enough to earn him more than his $3.36 million option for 2020-21, but Morris will have to stay healthy and productive enough to make that a guarantee.
Also with Player Options: Stanley Johnson, James Ennis, Mario Hezonja
Davis has said that he’ll be evaluating the Lakers this season, but given how he forced his way to L.A. it’s going to be a shock if he doesn’t re-sign. Regardless, Davis is getting a max deal.
Although Drummond has made strides as a player, it seems unlikely that he’d opt out of $28.75 million. He’s improved his conditioning, remains an elite source of defensive stats from the frontcourt and is slowly improving his offensive game (as well as free throws), but that’s still a steep price to pay for a player who is ultimately limited in what he can do. We’ll see if he can turn in a career season to make it more of a decision.
Kanter’s strong playoff performance only yielded a two-year, $10 million deal with the Celtics. As the locked-in starter, expect the big man to try and ball out and hit free agency again next summer. A strong season should get him more than $5 million, though it is worth pointing out that center is the position that’s getting squeezed the most in terms of contracts.
McGee turned in a surprisingly effective season with the Lakers as a lob threat and rim protector. Although Los Angeles tried to bump him down the depth chart we’re expecting him to win the battle with Dwight Howard and return as the team’s starter. Even so, coming off a sort of breakout season, it became clear that McGee’s value is capped pretty tightly. With an option that’s worth $4.2 million in 2020-21, it’s a coin flip as to whether McGee opts out.
Cauley-Stein fizzled out in Sacramento after a promising start to his career. His offensive freelancing and defensive lapses became too much to handle and the Kings cut the cord on a former top pick. Still only 26, WCS has a chance to figure it all out with the Warriors, where the hierarchy is clear and he’ll be asked to fill a specific role. Some refocusing on the defensive end would certainly land him a deal richer than his $2.3 million player option, and we would expect that to be a nice motivator from a player who has yet to realize his potential.
Olynyk is another player right on the borderline. We wouldn’t project him making $12.2 million on the open market right now, but the Heat have cleared the frontcourt deck between swapping Hassan Whiteside for Meyers Leonard and Justise Winslow’s desire to play point guard. KO will have a chance to play a larger role for the Heat this season and could elevate his stock around the league with a productive campaign. He can do a little bit of everything, and perhaps he’ll get the opportunity to showcase his full set of skills.
Also with Player Options: Ed Davis, JaMychal Green, Robin Lopez, Mike Muscala
There are a lot of players up for the various options that come with rookie contracts, and the vast majority of them are not real decisions.
Foregone conclusions: De’Aaron Fox, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Zach Collins, Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo, Luke Kennard, John Collins, Harry Giles, OG Anunoby, Kyle Kuzma, Derrick White, Jarett Allen, Terrance Ferguson, Josh Hart, the entire 2018 rookie class.
The Knicks could exercise Ntilikina’s fourth-year option and make him an RFA in 2021 but it’s up for debate at this point. He fell out of the rotation at times last season and the team seemed to give up on him just a few months after he was drafted. A divorce seems inevitable but the Knicks seem intent on trading Ntilikina rather than letting him walk for nothing. With the team adding guard depth this summer, would they really want Ntilikina to hang out on the bench for the next two years or are they comfortable just cutting the cord after 2019-20? If he does hit the market, someone will take a flier on Ntilikina’s physical tools and draft pedigree but the contract will be modest.
Dennis Smith Jr.
Smith, like Ntilikina, could have the Knicks pick up his fourth-year option and set him up for restricted free agency in 2021. He’s got a much better shot at that happening, though it’s still not a guarantee with the way Smith has failed to meet expectations so far in his career. The point guard competition on the roster isn’t all that tough but the Knicks would need to see some definite improvement in order to lock Smith in as a core piece moving forward.
Monk is also up for his fourth-year option and is looking at a make-or-break year with Charlotte. He has struggled to find a consistent role in the league so far but should get the opportunity to be one of the team’s key reserves as they enter a rebuild.
Temple took a backseat after getting traded to the Clippers last season but he’s a capable 3-and-D presence who is also a well-regarded guy to have in the locker room. The team option gives Brooklyn the chance to do right by Temple should the return of Kevin Durant in 2020-21 excise him from the rotation — or more cynically, it’s a nice fallback if the Nets don’t attract better 3-and-D depth pieces when their championship window gets propped wide open.
Jackson could use a fresh start after he never really developed in Phoenix’s basketball anarchy institution. There’s enough versatility to make this a worthwhile gamble for the Grizzlies, but it’s not a lock that they exercise his option. There are a lot of subtle on-court things that Jackson needs to improve, and if he can’t figure it out in a year where he could carve out a role for himself alongside an impressive young core then it might be the end of the line as far as a larger role elsewhere goes. Another bad season and that potential probably gets classified as “wasted.”
The Hornets refused to buy Kaminsky out last season despite leaving him to collect dust, and they ultimately let him walk even after he put up a decent run to close the year. He now joins a crowded, albeit unsettled power forward group in Phoenix. The Suns have a track record of backing the wrong horse but we’d be surprised to see him climb too high on the depth chart barring injury.
Also with Team Options: Justin Jackson, T.J. Leaf, D.J. Wilson, Abdel Nader
Portis’ two-year, $30 million deal features a team option, which is a mild surprise considering the numbers he put up last season and the improvement he made as a 3-point shooter. It’s a nice piece of business for the Knicks, as the lack of commitment makes Portis a little more appealing on the trade market, and if he stays in New York he’ll be a reasonably priced, quality third big in the rotation. Unless the Knicks go big-game hunting next summer we’d expect them to make an easy decision here.
Also with Team Options: Ante Zizic, Cheick Diallo, Tony Bradley, Caleb Swanigan