Complete the 2020-21 NBA season? Check. Complete the 2021 NBA Draft? Check. Free agency, you’re up next.
The league’s annual spending spree is set to kick off Monday night with teams and players officially permitted to begin negotiations at 6 p.m. ET. (“Officially” being the key word, as discussions have undoubtedly already happened.) The biggest stars in this year’s class, Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul, may not truly be available, but there will be plenty of other useful players searching for new deals.
Let’s take a look at the top targets and what makes them so attractive to general managers hoping to improve their rosters.
MORE: Biggest winners and losers from the 2021 NBA Draft
NBA free agency 2021: Ranking the top 20 players
1. Kawhi Leonard, Clippers (Player option)
Despite suffering a partially torn ACL during the 2021 NBA playoffs, Leonard will command max money. Prior to his injury, he averaged 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.1 steals in 11 postseason games while shooting 57.3 percent from the field and 39.3 percent on 3-pointers. He is one of the top all-around players in the league and still in his prime.
It’s impossible to know exactly what Leonard is thinking ahead of free agency, but the most likely scenario here is the two-time NBA Finals MVP sticking with the Clippers on a new deal.
2. Chris Paul, Suns (Player option)
Remember when Paul’s contract was once considered toxic, with that $44.2 million player option hanging over the 2021-22 season? Doesn’t look so bad now, huh?
The 11-time All-Star was fantastic in his first season with the Suns, leading them to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and coming up just two wins short of the NBA championship. Paul is “all but destined” to stay in Phoenix, according to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer.
3. Kyle Lowry, Raptors (Unrestricted)
Here’s where it gets interesting. It seems as though Lowry is on his way out of Toronto, and he won’t have a shortage of suitors. Plenty of teams would love to add the veteran point guard, who averaged 17.2 points, 7.3 assists and 5.4 rebounds last season.
The Heat, Mavericks, Pelicans and others will be jumping into the Lowry sweepstakes. This dude is going to get paid.
4. John Collins, Hawks (Restricted)
Collins has been a popular name in trade rumors over the past year, but the Hawks have been hesitant to let him go. That was a good call by Atlanta, as the 23-year-old emerged as a key member of Atlanta’s run to the 2021 Eastern Conference finals, averaging 13.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game in the playoffs.
That’s why it’s not shocking to hear that outside teams are “increasingly operating under the premise that Collins can’t be lured away from the Hawks,” according to Marc Stein.
5. Mike Conley, Jazz (Unrestricted)
Coming off the first All-Star campaign of his career, Conley has all of the leverage on his side in talks with the Jazz. If Conley did leave the negotiating table, his phone would immediately start blowing up with messages, but Utah wouldn’t have a path to find a suitable replacement given its financial limitations.
The Jazz have unsurprisingly made re-signing Conley their “top priority,” per Stein, and plan to offer him a three-year deal in the “$75 million range.”
6. DeMar DeRozan, Spurs (Unrestricted)
Concerns about DeRozan’s efficiency and shot selection are fair, but he knows how to get buckets (21.6 points per game in 2020-21) and is an underrated passer (career-high 6.9 assists per game). He could make a major impact in the right situation.
DeRozan was rumored to be a potential Lakers target, but Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes recently reported that the Russell Westbrook trade “eliminated that option because it would have required a sign-and-trade scenario and a (Kyle) Kuzma inclusion.” It’s unclear if DeRozan would be willing to take a sizable pay cut in order to join a true contender.
7. Lonzo Ball, Pelicans (Restricted)
The oldest Ball brother is entering restricted free agency after the best season of his career. The 23-year-old posted averages of 14.6 points, 5.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game while hitting 37.8 percent of his 3-points on high volume.
There is “believed to be mutual interest” between Ball and the Bulls on a four-year, $80 million deal, per Fischer, though it’s worth noting the Pelicans will have the opportunity to match any offer sheet thrown Ball’s way.
8. Jarrett Allen, Cavaliers (Restricted)
After being sent from Brooklyn to Cleveland as part of the James Harden trade, Allen quickly emerged as the Cavaliers’ center of the future. He is a strong roll man offensively and rim protector defensively.
While it is expected that Allen will eventually sign a new deal with Cleveland, multiple reports have pegged the Raptors as a team that could pursue him.
9. Dennis Schroder, Lakers (Unrestricted)
Schroder didn’t exactly excel in the playoffs (14.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 40 percent shooting), but that postseason performance won’t define him as a player. If Paul and Conley are off the board early, there could be a bidding war for his services.
It’s possible the Lakers figure out some sort of sign-and-trade scenario involving Schroder, but it’s hard to see why a team would go that route instead of just signing him into cap space.
10. Duncan Robinson, Heat (Restricted)
Robinson is the best pure shooter on the market, as he has drained 42.7 percent of his 3-point attempts over the past two seasons. He creates clean looks in a variety of ways — cuts, handoffs, pindowns, transition — making him more valuable than a typical spot-up guy.
If another team tosses out a massive number, will the Heat be willing to match?
11. Norman Powell (Player option)
12. Spencer Dinwiddie (Unrestricted)
13. Richaun Holmes (Unrestricted)
14. Tim Hardway Jr. (Unrestricted)
15. Evan Fournier (Unrestricted)
16. Gary Trent Jr. (Unrestricted)
17. Kelly Oubre Jr. (Unrestricted)
18. Reggie Jackson (Unrestricted)
19. Will Barton (Player option)
20. Lauri Markkanen (Restricted)