While we sit around in anticipation of the NBA Finals, I wanted to take an early look at the top 25 free agents available for the 2021-22 season. I won’t get into the fantasy implications for these players just yet, but stay tuned to NBC Sports Edge as we will be pumping out tons of content for the new season as the Finals wrap up. For NBA news and fantasy advice, find me on Twitter here!
It sure would be nice to know the latest on the health of Kawhi Leonard’s knee, but the most recent update is that he’s dealing with a sprain and could’ve possibly returned if the Clippers advanced to the NBA Finals. There’s no word on whether or not he needs offseason surgery, but the 2x NBA champion is undoubtedly the best player that could hit the open market this summer. Now 30 years old, Kawhi hasn’t given any indication on what his future holds, but I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see him jump ship. If he were to leave the Clippers, the Mavericks and Heat are expected to make a “hard push” to pry him away according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, with KOC adding that the Mavs are the “most serious threat” for his signature. Kawhi joining Luka Doncic would instantly catapult the Mavericks to the top of the West, and it’s long overdue for the Dallas front office to bring Luka some real help.
It’s funny that no one seems to be talking about his “bloated” contract these days. Paul has a player option worth a staggering $44M this summer, but he could easily use this season to secure another max deal and he has more than proved that he’s worth it, taking a fringe-playoff team all the way to the NBA Finals where his team is four wins from his first ring. I can’t imagine the Suns letting go of him, but in the unlikely event that happens, the Knicks are rumored to be his most aggressive suitor if the front office can convince Tom Thibodeau that Elfrid Payton isn’t a hall of famer.
Collins’ role diminished in 2020-21 with the Hawks bringing in Clint Capela and Danilo Gallinari, but he was the ultimate professional and formed a formidable frontline with Capela — that combo had a +6.6 net rating. Collins has said that the front office has called him a “vital piece of the rebuild” and expects to come to terms on a new deal, and Chris Kirschner of The Athletic is of the belief that Collins will re-sign for $100M+.
4. Kyle Lowry
The 35-year-old still has plenty of gas left in the tank after the Raptors went on auto-pilot for half the 2020-21 season, tanking their way to the No. 4 overall pick. Lowry was heavily linked to the Heat, 76ers and Lakers at the trade deadline but none of them offered the required assets, something they likely all regret given how the playoffs have played out so far. Still one of the best defenders at his position and one of the most respected veteran leaders in the NBA, Lowry will be in high demand if he decides the Raptors don’t have what it takes to be a contender this season. The same three teams that pursued him at the deadline will be the biggest threats to Toronto this summer.
DeRozan is certainly a dying breed in the modern NBA with his reliance on his mid-range game, but instead of developing a 3-point shot, he has elevated his playmaking ability to an elite level — he ranked in the 84th percentile for pick-and-roll ball-handlers in 2020-21 and in the 90th percentile the year prior. There has been a lot of talk about the Spurs embracing a youth movement, so if DeRozan walks look for the Mavericks to be a potential suitor if they strike out on Kawhi Leonard — Mark Cuban said the Mavs need “a secondary ball handler with some size” and DeRozan certainly fits the bill.
The Pelicans put Lonzo on the block before the trade deadline but ultimately held onto the PG. Whether that was due to a lack of interest or a newfound belief in Lonzo remains to be seen. The franchise will have a new head coach soon after firing Stan Van Gundy, and whoever they bring in will almost certainly have a say on what direction the team will go. He doesn’t come without his risks as he’s had some brutal luck in the injury department, but he was really starting to put it together to close the season — in his last 12 games, Lonzo put up 16.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks and 3.7 triples. The Knicks are loaded with cap space and are expected to make a big push for the young PG, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bulls had him in their sights as well after all the Lonzo for Lauri Markkanen rumors.
7. Mike Conley
His first season in Utah was a bust but he redeemed himself in a big way in 2020-21, helping the Jazz secure the best regular season record in the NBA. He’ll be 34 when the new season begins though and he’s had his fair share of health concerns, but he’ll still have plenty of suitors with the Jazz being in the driver’s seat to keep him in Utah — Shams Charania has reported that Utah’s No. 1 priority this offseason is to bring Conley back.
8. Richaun Holmes
The fantasy community knows all about Holmes after back-to-back seasons of early-round value, establishing himself as a high-end starter in the process. He was strictly a rim runner early in his career, but he has become a monster on the defensive end and now has what ESPN’s Zach Lowe calls “the best floater in the entire league.” The crazy thing about this is that I don’t even think the Kings realize just how good they had it with Holmes, and that’s why I’m expecting several teams to blow Sacramento’s offer out of the water. My two favorite destinations for Holmes in free agency are the Charlotte Hornets and Dallas Mavericks, as pairing him with a high-level playmaker is a ceiling raiser.
9. Norman Powell (Player Option)
Powell broke out in a big way in 2020-21, particularly as a starter, averaging 20.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.6 triples on 49% shooting and 41% from beyond the arc across 58 starts for Toronto and Portland. He’s a lock to decline his $11M player option and may be able to double his current salary. The Blazers will almost certainly do everything they can to re-sign him after trading away the restricted rights of Gary Trent Jr., but they will have some competition with the Knicks and Mavericks lurking — Tom Thibodeau reportedly “covets” Powell and would give the Knicks a big upgrade over Reggie Bullock.
10. Jarrett Allen (Restricted)
There won’t be any drama here unless Evan Mobley is available to the Cavaliers at pick No. 3. The Cavaliers fully expect to re-sign Allen in restricted free agency despite the center hoping for “Clint Capela-type money”. Cavs GM Koby Altman said Allen “has all the intangibles you look for to add to your culture” and said he loves his upside, so it’s been clear since the day he was traded to Cleveland that he would be their long-term center.
11. Gary Trent Jr. (Restricted)
After a mini breakout in the bubble, Trent Jr. kept the momentum going in 2020-21 with a career-high 16.2 points and 2.6 triples. A career 39% shooter from deep with 7.4 attempts per game last season, GTJ had the brightest of green lights in both Portland and Toronto and figures to get a massive offer sheet this summer. It’s hard to imagine the Raptors letting go of him though, especially after letting a player as good as Norman Powell leave.
12. Mitchell Robinson (Restricted)
Robinson’s career hasn’t taken off as fast as many were expecting after his head-turning rookie season when he swatted 2.4 shots per game. The shooting touch we’ve seen in practices and training videos hasn’t translated to the floor just yet with the Knicks mostly limiting him to rim protection and cleanup duty around the rim, but we know he has the tools and there’s plenty of reason for the Knicks to re-sign him for the long run. I can’t imagine a scenario in which they let him walk when they have the power to match any offer that comes his way, but stranger things have happened in New York.
13. Spencer Dinwiddie (Player Option)
After missing most of the 2020-21 season with a partially torn ACL, Dinwiddie has deemed himself fully healthy after only six months on the shelf, a truly incredible turnaround. Dinwiddie played at a borderline All-Star level in his last healthy season, averaging 20.6 points and 6.8 assists. He considers himself the best free agent PG on the market which says a lot about his confidence, and that’s why it’s considered a lock that he’ll decline his $12.3M player option. A return to Brooklyn seems unlikely, as both Los Angeles teams are expected to pursue him.
14. Kelly Oubre Jr.
Oubre had some brutal shooting stretches in 2020-21, but he’s just one season removed from putting up 18.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 dimes, 1.3 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.9 triples on 45% shooting for the Suns. His two-way versatility means he’ll have a strong market for teams eyeing a bounce-back from Oubre. A return to Golden State isn’t out of the question, but there’s a mutual interest between Oubre and the Knicks and it’s no surprise that the Mavericks are linked to him as well.
15. Devonte’ Graham (Restricted)
A breakout player in 2020-21, Graham’s role took a big hit in Charlotte with LaMelo Ball grabbing the keys. A tremendous playmaker and a 38% long range shooter for his career, Graham should be an affordable option for teams that miss out on Lonzo Ball and Spencer Dinwiddie.
16. Evan Fournier
Fournier was having a career year for a injury-ravaged Orlando roster and operated as their lead playmaker, but struggled with COVID-19 after his move to Boston. He still made an impact despite being less than 100 percent though, averaging 13.0 points and 3.1 dimes while shooting 46% from deep for 2.8 makes per game. Still in his prime at age 28, he’ll have a strong market for teams in need of playmaking and shooting.
17. Tim Hardaway Jr.
THJ was Dallas’ second best player in the playoffs, taking some pressure off Luka Doncic while Kristaps Porzingis became a professional spectator. There is no doubt that he earned himself a huge payday, but I would imagine that the Mavericks will be prioritizing a few other players before looking THJ’s way. The 29-year-old sharpshooter hit 23-of-57 (40.4%) from long range in the playoffs for 17.0 points per game. A team to watch in the THJ sweepstakes is the Miami Heat as there is reportedly a mutual interest.
18. Derrick Rose
He’ll be 33 when the new season tips off but Rose has reinvented his game really well and his knees are holding up well thanks to some minutes restrictions. He has even started to become a threat from beyond the arc, shooting 41% from the arc during the regular season and a blistering 47% during the playoffs. He’s probably better suited as a Sixth Man and will undoubtedly be linked to a handful of contenders if the Knicks let him go.
19. Talen Horton-Tucker (Restricted)
THT is an upside play for rebuilding teams and the Lakers are going to have some serious competition for his signature. Despite being 6-4, THT has an outrageous 7-1 wingspan and has shown that he has the tools to become a very good two-way player. He has several admirers around the league too, and one anonymous GM from the Eastern Conference reportedly said that he’d “max him out.”
20. Dennis Schroder
He turned down a 4-year, $84M extension from the Lakers and sees himself as a $100M+ player, but I think he’ll end up regretting not taking that money. Schroder needs the ball in his hands to be most effective, and that simply doesn’t happen much in an offense that revolves around LeBron James and a newfound playmaking mindset from Anthony Davis. To illustrate this, Schroder’s usage fell by 5% since his OKC days, and his shot fell off too — he hit 43% from the field and 33% from deep.
21. Andre Drummond
Drummond was the hardest player to rank on this list. It’s clear that his value has tanked around the league when you consider that teams wouldn’t offer a second-round pick for him at the deadline, and the year before he was traded for John Henson… Yikes. He was very underwhelming for the Lakers too, but he remains one of the best pure rebounders in the league, and it sounds like there is mutual interest from Drummond and the Lakers to “run it back.”
22. Lauri Markkanen (Restricted)
Everything the Bulls have done for the past year has made it clear that Lauri is most likely not in Chicago’s long-term plans. Sure he shot 40% from deep, but he’s a one-dimensional player and was a poor fit in Billy Donovan’s system. Plus, he has become expendable thanks to Patrick Williams and Thaddeus Young.
23. Victor Oladipo
Oladipo’s value has tanked after countless injuries have zapped his athleticism and his jumper has been out of rhythm for years. He got his wish when he was traded to Miami, but only lasted four games before season-ending right quad surgery. He’s most likely going to miss a big chunk of the season, so if the Heat bring him back, it will most likely be on a “low-money deal” according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
24. Will Barton
If not for injuries, Barton would certainly be much higher on this list. Coach Michael Malone has already said that re-signing Barton would be a priority for the Nuggets, though it will be interesting to see what kind of market the two-way wing will have.
25. Bobby Portis (Player Option)
Portis is instant offense off the bench and while the Bucks would love it if he picked up his option, he performed well above his salary and will look to cash in. Portis becoming a stretch big has dramatically increased his ceiling, shooting a blistering 47% from beyond the arc this season.
Duncan Robinson, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Kendrick Nunn, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Kelly Olynyk