September 14, 2019, 12:27 am
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.
You can look at our review of impending RFAs and players with team or player options right 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.
Lowry enters the season in an interesting spot — he’s the best Raptor ever and an NBA Champion, but the team may not wish to continue the relationship beyond this season. Lowry remains a strong contributor even as he heads into his age-33 season but doesn’t fit the timeline of a Toronto team looking to retool around Pascal Siakam.
He faced a surprisingly cool market two seasons ago and doesn’t figure to attract huge money next summer though there is little doubt that he can be a key contributor on a top-level team. Too old to fit with Toronto’s next era and too good to accept a limited role, Lowry could be gunning for a big season to lock in a starting job somewhere, with a contract to match.
Enter Fred VanVleet, who is shaping up as Lowry’s heir apparent if he stays with the Raptors. Perusing the rest of this list, there are a number of teams that could be in line for a PG upgrade, and VanVleet would certainly fit the bill. Toronto would offer a certain level of security and it’s been proven that FVV can excel in that system, so the question could boil down to how much other teams are willing to pay. He’ll be playing to assert himself as a starting-caliber point guard in the league. The Raptors may be choosing between Lowry and VanVleet next summer, making whichever they don’t choose the top guard on the market.
Teams that miss on Lowry and VanVleet will turn to Jeff Teague as the top option on the board, though he may be pricer than VanVleet and offers a lower ceiling than Lowry. The 31-year-old is coming off an injury-plagued season and will be looking to prove that he can stay healthy. Always underrated, Teague might have to settle for less than the three-year, $57 million deal that landed him with Minnesota.
A tier below Teague, also on the wrong side of 30 and coming off an injury-riddled campaign, is 33-year-old Goran Dragic. The Heat nearly traded him to clear salary this offseason and it will take a big season to get him near the $17 million annually he’s earning on his current contract. The recent history of knee troubles is going to limit his earning potential but a healthy Dragic remains a cut above the other fringe starters that are bound for free agency. He’s going to be playing to maintain his status as a mid-tier point guard in the league.
For all the talk of Orlando needing an upgrade at point guard, Augustin helped get the Magic back to the playoffs and was the reason that they took a game from the eventual champions. Though he’s been forced to bounce around the league as a backup who steps up when injuries strike, Augustin could force his way into the starting-PG conversation. The Magic are looking to take another step forward and if Augustin can handle the starting role while they do, he could shed the ‘excellent backup’ tag and become a player that other teams pursue as a starter or timeshare type. In a fairly weak PG class, Augustin could easily stand out.
The ever-confident Jackson is going to be aiming for a starting job somewhere next summer. He isn’t going to sniff the five-year, $80 million mistake that the Pistons handed to him four seasons ago but if he is on the short list of free agent PGs that have proven they can handle a starting role.
At this point it would take a miraculous resurgence for Thomas to get big money, but he could end up with a starting job on a lower-level team or a sixth man role if he can prove that he’s healthy. He was seeking an opportunity to re-prove himself this summer, and the Wizards are an absolutely fantastic landing spot. With plenty to play for, expect IT to have a big chip on his shoulder after getting DNP-CD’d to oblivion in Denver.
Johnson got stuck in a deep Miami rotation but came up for air in Phoenix, turning in a quality run before going down with an injury. A strong season would make him one of the top combo guards on the market, though he’s going to be looking at more reasonable offers after the Heat’s big contract turned him from up-and-comer to albatross.
Clarkson seems destined to be some team’s scoring sixth man, though he could boost his profile if he ends up getting traded to a playoff team and producing down the stretch. It’s not particularly likely that he recaptures a starting job but it’s not impossible if a bad team comes up empty next summer.
Also UFA: Emmanuel Mudiay, Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Knight, Yogi Ferrell, Shabazz Napier, Trey Burke, Raul Neto, Tim Frazier, Matthew Dellavedova
Bazemore has had some minor fluctuations in his stat profile over the course of his big deal from the Hawks, but he’s pretty much been the same player overall. He’s going to have more eyes on him this season as a key wing for a Blazers team that is looking to get over the hump after a surprise appearance in the Western Conference Finals last year. Baze is shaping up as one of the better 3-and-D wings on the open market and could really cash in with a big campaign.
The rest of the league seems to have figured out how good Harris is, and one of the elite 3-point shooters in the game will be getting big offers from all over the place. As long as he stays north of 40 percent from deep we don’t see his market value changing given his steady play on both ends of the floor.
There’s no getting around the fact that Crabbe’s initial contract was a massive overpayment. Even so, he has a chance to reestablish himself as a premier 3-point threat on a Hawks team that should do lots of running and gunning. Crabbe’s skill set is in high demand and if he can stay healthy he’ll be able to find a healthy role somewhere next summer.
At this point we have a fairly good idea of who Turner is. His run under Brad Stevens juiced his reputation and stats, and his run in Portland just cleared up how important a system can be to a player. He has an interesting opportunity ahead of him, however, because the Hawks will let him get some run as the backup point guard. How well Turner takes to the role could have a big say in what his market looks like next summer — in the age of positionless ball, being able to play small-ball four as well as backup point guard certainly holds some appeal.
Derrick Jones Jr.
The stars seem to be aligning for Jones, an uber-athlete that has yet to find consistent minutes despite copious upside. The Heat have chipped away at their depth which leaves Jones looking like a real contributor right as he’s headed for free agency. His versatile game should be in demand on the open market, and if Jones can simply maintain the level he played at during his run with the regulars last season he’ll be headed for a nice paycheck.
Forbes emerged as a steady hand for San Antonio last season, becoming a full-time starter and authoring a quiet breakout campaign. After rising to the top of the league’s 3-point leaderboards, Forbes enters the upcoming season as a player who will need to compete to keep his starting job, though his overall importance shouldn’t change much as a deep threat on a team that’s filled with mid-range operators. Another strong year would make him quite attractive in free agency, as most teams would gladly accept a low-maintenance 3-point shooter with extensive starting experience on a good team who still has room to improve.
Once an elite defender, Roberson has spent over a year on the shelf. He was going to have multiple suitors in free agency prior to his devastating injury despite the fact that he’s a black hole on offense. Roberson has a ton to prove this season and with OKC’s wing group gutted, he’s going to have a big chance to reaffirm his reputation.
Korkmaz looked to be headed back to Europe before a last-second change of course, re-signing with a Sixers team that lost its main floor-spacer. The 3-point gunner role is there for the taking, and if Korkmaz can fill it capably he’ll be entering free agency as a young sharpshooter.
Also UFA: Justin Holiday, Alec Burks, E’Twaun Moore, Gerald Green, Marco Belinelli, Pat Connaughton, Langston Galloway, Courtney Lee, C.J. Miles, Kyle Korver, Troy Daniels, Treveon Graham, Tyrone Wallace, C.J. Wilcox
The question with Gallinari is simple: can he stay healthy? The Rooster is a quality player, he just needs to stay on the floor. If he can repeat last season’s general success then he’ll be in line for a starting spot somewhere in the league. If Gallinari spends all year on the injury report, he might find his starting market limited to bottom-half teams.
If Harkless can put last season’s knee issues behind him, he’ll be in a good position to catch a lot of attention as a key forward reserve for the championship-hopeful Clippers. A strong campaign should land him a starting spot after he held down the role for a good Blazers team prior to his offseason trade.
This article may have been written for Morris and Morris alone after he backed out of a two-year, $20 million deal with the Spurs to join the Knicks for one season at $15 million. Morris was open about his frustrations with this summer’s free agent market, and he’s clearly trying to maximize his earnings — a completely understandable stance. It’s going to be hard to stand out with the way the Knicks have built their roster but Morris is going to try, and he was one of the more consistent Celtics last year, in what was also a contract season.
Crowder has lost steam after getting traded away from a Boston team and system that leveraged his strengths and fit his identity, though he’s coming off a nice rebound year in Utah. He’ll be asked to play a reserve forward role for the rebuilding Grizzlies and is a prime trade candidate. Formerly one of the league’s best value contracts, Crowder looks like he missed his best chance to cash in, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see him try and make up for lost time. He’s a borderline starter and can tilt the scales with a strong year.
Early speculation is that Bertans will be given a chance to start for the Wizards, and if he uses this opportunity to show that he’s more than a one-trick pony then he could find himself dealing with multiple suitors in free agency. Teams are always on the lookout for stretch fours and if Bertans can round out his game his stock will rise quickly.
Hollis-Jefferson lost his starting job and eventually his rotation spot last season. An adductor strain sustained in a summer charity game had him playing catch-up when the season opened and another groin injury during the year saw him get leapfrogged by various teammates as the Nets charged to the playoffs. RHJ will have a year to get back on track with the Raptors, and his length should fit in nicely with the team’s defensive identity. The Nets declining to extend Hollis-Jefferson a qualifying offer would’ve been unthinkable this time a year ago, and he has serious value potential if he can resume his earlier career trajectory.
Caboclo flashed his potential in a run with the tanking Grizzlies, though he’ll still need to make it through the season on a deal that features partial guarantees. He was the sort of rangy perimeter defender and 3-point threat that a lot of teams have time for, and another strong run of play could have Caboclo make the jump from fringe NBA-er to legitimate role player. Fantasy players are undoubtedly keeping tabs on his blend of blocks and threes, too.
Also UFA: Noah Vonleh, Andre Iguodala, Marvin Williams, Juan Hernangomez, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Wilson Chandler, Anthony Tolliver, Jared Dudley, Glenn Robinson III, Patrick Patterson, Jarell Martin, Solomon Hill, Chandler Parsons, Anthony Bennett
The Nuggets could’ve cut the cord here but decided to bring back Millsap for $30 million in what’s likely to be the last big-money season of his career. Though his minutes are on the way down as he continues to decline, Millsap remained a key component of Denver’s defense last year. As long as he can keep that unit together he’ll have a steady role going forward, and for him this season will be about staving off harsh decline.
Gasol made major sacrifices on the Raptors’ run to the championship last season, and his willingness and ability to fit in should make everyone feel good about his game aging gracefully. While there were moments that Gasol looked washed, he was still a huge part of the team and should be able to take back some of the usage he surrendered a year ago. If he does, the contract offers should only increase. Gasol’s smarts will always make him a valued addition to a winning team, but the opportunity in front of him this year should help inflate the contract offers to a certain extent.
The Raptors went out of their way to put Ibaka in his optimal spots last season and the benefits were obvious. He shot better, blocked more shots, grabbed more rebounds and even scored more points as a full-time center. The Raptors turned Ibaka’s three ball into an occasional weapon rather than a featured one, and his move to full-time center saved his balky knees some wear and tear by limiting his time spent guarding in space. He also gets credit for not putting up a fuss after being moved to the bench mid-season. The Gasol-Ibaka duo helps both players look better, which will only help them in free agency with the Raptors likely pivoting after this year.
Favors is in a position similar to Ibaka’s from a year ago in that he’s finally being given an opportunity to play at the spot that will suit him best. David Griffin has already declared Favors to be part of the Pelicans’ nucleus moving forward and the talented big man should be able to thrive as a full-time center after being pushed down a spot while playing alongside Rudy Gobert. On a fast-paced New Orleans team, Favors is in line for a nice bump in production.
Perhaps no player has more to gain in free agency Harrell, who will be a major component in the Clippers’ championship pursuit. He’s going to blow his current two-year, $12 million deal out of the water and the only question is how high he can push that salary. There’s no way Harrell checks in at such a deep discount next season.
Howard is one of the small handful of players with a ton at stake, as he’s more or less fighting to prove that he still belongs in the NBA. He’ll be under a spotlight in Los Angeles on a team with title contention on the mind, which brings both good and bad to the table. It’s a glorious opportunity but it might take a more humble version of Howard to maximize it. The Lakers will be good for the clicks, if nothing else.
After his Miami run was largely defined by knuckleheadedness, Whiteside will simply be out to prove that he can be a big contributor on a good team. The Heat erred in giving him his huge contract but Whiteside can certainly rehab his value if he stays in his lane. Team’s will spend money for a top-flight rebounder and shot-blocker and it’s Whiteside’s market to corner if he can avoid the pitfalls that dogged him over the last couple of years in Miami.
Thompson may have been labeled one of LeBron’s running buddies but he’s a good player in his own right and can defend perimeter pick-and-rolls better than most non-shooting centers. Armed with championship experience, a healthy season from Thompson should result in a number of suitors. The Cavs toyed with the idea of moving him to the bench last season but ultimately kept the status quo, though that’s going to be an interesting subplot to track when TT hits the open market. We don’t see a lot of openings at starting center around the league as things stand right now.
Len’s been in the lab, putting in the hours to become a capable 3-point shooter. He’s going to have the chance to show off his skills as the starter on a Hawks team that looks ready to get in the playoff mix, and there will be plenty of incentive for him to prove his mettle as a real contributor and not just a backup big.
Noel has been stuck in a low-minute role for the Thunder and seems to have been written off after a disastrous stint in Dallas. He’s got more to given than has been shown in Oklahoma City, and with the Thunder on the cusp of a rebuild there’s an outside chance that Noel gets more minutes to work with. Few players in the league bring defense like Noel’s, and he might be able to play his way back into a more prominent role elsewhere.
Hernangomez was once a promising young big man brimming with offensive talent. Another year in bench purgatory, and Willy’s NBA career might be on the ropes. We don’t doubt that the raw skills are still there but we worry about what the last two seasons have meant in terms of lost development time. If Hernangomez is to rehab his value, he’s in a great spot to do it on a rebuilding team with no young players directly competing for minutes.
Wood has proven that he’s too good for the G-League, but he hasn’t found a team that’s willing to give him a real chance at the NBA level outside of silly season deployment. That could change in Detroit, where the only things standing between Wood and a potential breakthrough are Joe Johnson, Markieff Morris and Thon Maker. That’s not a murderer’s row of competitors, and Wood is of deep-league interest should he climb his way up the depth chart.
Also UFA: DeMarcus Cousins, Aron Baynes, Mason Plumlee, Jahlil Okafor, John Henson, Dragan BenderKyle O’Quinn, Tyson Chandler, Nene, Bismack Biyombo, Ian Mahinmi, Miles Plumlee, Pau Gasol, Udonis Haslem