NBA Free Agents 2014: Breaking Down the Top 5 Players at Every Position
The 2014 NBA playoffs have been so good that they've almost made fans forget that free agency is right around the corner.
General managers, on the other hand, have their eyes set on July as well as the best players available on the free-agent market.
For the purpose of this analysis, we're going to consider anybody with a player option or early-termination option as a free agent. Players with team options won't be considered, as the player has no say on his impending status.
The 2014 class may be overshadowed by 2015 at this juncture, but if the right players opt out of their deals, it could be a shape-shifting summer. There are stars who could be available at every position—stars who could change the course of a franchise with a simple signature.
*Unless otherwise noted, all advanced statistics are courtesy of 82games.
**All salary information is courtesy of HoopsHype.
Point Guard No. 5: Mario Chalmers
2013-14 Stats: 9.8 PPG, 4.9 APG, 2.9 RPG, 38.5 3PT%, 14.06 PER
Mario Chalmers hasn't always been the most appreciated part of the Miami Heat organization. He's taken a clear backseat to the Big Three and other role players on the roster, and he's been the on-court target for verbal lashings over the past few years.
All that said, Chalmers has the ability to spread the floor with his three-point shot, and more importantly, he's proven he can get the stars the ball game in and game out.
At this point, there are a number of points guards you can slide into this No. 5 spot. The market isn't deep with stars, but it does have notable players well past the fifth member of the class.
It all depends on what you're looking for, but when considering starting-caliber players who have proven themselves, Chalmers earns the nod.
Honorable Mentions: Shaun Livingston, Devin Harris, Patty Mills, Mo Williams, Nate Robinson, Rodney Stuckey
Point Guard No. 4: Darren Collison
2013-14 Stats: 11.4 PPG, 3.7 APG, 2.4 RPG, 37.6 3PT%, 16.21 PER
Status: Player Option
Darren Collison has come into his own as a backup for the Los Angeles Clippers. Reunited with Chris Paul, the point guard has accepted an important role behind a superstar, and it's helped him flourish on a championship-caliber team.
Now the question is whether he's content with his current situation, or if he wants to test his value on the market.
Collison is the kind of player who teases you with starting-caliber play. He's never been a truly consistent starter, yet he finds ways to make you believe he deserves more than playing second fiddle.
The 26-year-old gave L.A. something of a hometown discount on his current deal, and if he wants to find more money or more responsibility, he can opt out this summer.
Point Guard No. 3: Isaiah Thomas
2013-14 Stats: 20.3 PPG, 6.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 20.54 PER
Isaiah Thomas may have come out of nowhere to most casual fans, but the point guard showed the beginnings of what he's capable of in 2012 with the Sacramento Kings.
In 2013-14, Thomas' time on the floor rose to 34.7 minutes per game from 26.9 the year before. He boosted his numbers almost completely across the board, and he made a case for a new deal in a contract year.
At 5'9", 185 pounds, it's easy to make Nate Robinson comparisons, but that's not where the similarities stop. The young, quick guard knows how to score in bunches, and while he's not known as the best playmaker, he can make defenses pay with his long-range shooting (although his percentage did drop in 2014).
Thomas is a restricted free agent, and while the Kings would like to keep him, it all comes down to dollars.
Point Guard No. 2: Kyle Lowry
2013-14 Stats: 17.9 PPG, 7.4 APG, 4.7 RPG, 38.0 3PT%, 20.20 PER
Kyle Lowry's long-term future has been in flux for a while. Luckily for fans in Toronto, that narrative will come to a close this summer, and the 28-year-old has said all the right things leading into free agency:
I love my team,” Lowry said. “I’ll tell anybody that firsthand. I really appreciate being [here] every day with these guys. Every day I look forward to talking to them and joking with them and having fun with them because it’s rare that you get a team like this. So you take advantage of the full opportunity that you have. I’m taking advantage of the opportunity that I have this year with these guys.
That paragraph comes courtesy of ESPN.com's James Herbert, and it shows that the point guard feels at home in Toronto. Now the Raptors just need to remind him of that this summer, as he'll be looked at as one of the top players available to teams needing a floor general.
Point Guard No. 1: Eric Bledsoe
2013-14 Stats: 17.7 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.7 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 19.62 PER
GM Ryan McDonough has no intention of losing Eric Bledsoe this summer. As he told Adam Green of ArizonaSports.com:
He's played well enough and is deserving enough of an extension where I think it would be a waste of time for another team to throw an offer at him and tie up their cap space while other free agents are going off the board.
All that said, it's one thing to talk and another thing to shell out cash, and the latter is exactly what he'll have to do if he wants to keep Bledsoe long-term.
Although Bledsoe hasn't proven himself to be as productive as Kyle Lowry this season, his upside is tremendous. He's a freak of an athlete at 24 years old, and he's turning into a stat sheet-stuffer before our eyes.
The question moving forward surrounds his health, as that will be a topic of discussion for any GM looking his way.
Shooting Guard No. 5: Avery Bradley
2013-14 Stats: 14.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 39.5 3PT%, 12.80 PER
Rajon Rondo is the undisputed floor general for the Boston Celtics. In his absence, Avery Bradley was forced to play the 1, but the 23-year-old has traditionally been a shooting guard despite his 6'2", 180-pound frame.
Bradley played 49 percent of the Boston Celtics' minutes at the point, proving his versatility. With the ball in his hands, his offensive game improved and he ended up averaging 22.4 points on 52.9 percent long-range shooting in the month of April.
At this point, Bradley has proven he can shoot the ball, but when defining his value, defense will be the hot topic. He's a pesky player to deal with on the perimeter, and chances are someone will force Boston's hand when it comes to matching an offer this summer.
Honorable Mentions: Jodie Meeks, Thabo Sefolosha, Ray Allen
Shooting Guard No. 4: Nick Young
2013-14 Stats: 17.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 38.6 3PT%, 16.11
Status: Player Option
Nick Young made a name for himself this season. It wasn't always a good name, as his confidence didn't always come at the right times, but he was a shooter and a scorer who made the Los Angeles Lakers worth watching even when they were at their worst.
According to Young himself, via an interview on 710 ESPN Radio (h/t InsideSoCal.com), he plans to opt out of his deal. He wants to return to L.A., but in his own words, "I believe I deserve more."
How much Young deserves is up for debate, but what's non-disputable is his entertainment value. The Lakers need someone who can keep fans intrigued if health is once again a problem. The question is: Will it be Swaggy P?
Shooting Guard: No. 3: Gordon Hayward
2013-14 Stats: 16.2 PPG, 5.2 APG, 5.1 RPG, 16.2 PER
Gordon Hayward may stand 6'8", but he played 65 percent of the Utah Jazz's minutes at shooting guard. He posted career highs in points, rebounds and assists during 2013-14, but a significant drop in shooting percentages keeps him from sneaking into the No. 2 spot on this list.
On the year, Hayward shot a career-worst 41.3 percent from the field and another career low from downtown (30.4 percent). Hopefully these are anomalies and not trends, but with his numbers coinciding with increased responsibilities, there's cause for concern if you're looking for a No. 1 option.
The hope here is that Hayward can find a team that needs him to complement another scorer. At 24 years old, he has time to improve, but it's tough to assume he can become a superstar.
Hayward will get a strong offer from someone this summer, forcing the Jazz into yet another decision regarding a restricted free agent.
Shooting Guard No. 2: Lance Stephenson
2013-14 Stats: 13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 4.6 APG, 49.1 FG%, 14.72 PER
Nobody has ever questioned Lance Stephenson's talent. With an improved offensive game and the ability to become an elite defender, this is a guy who will get a big-time offer this summer—an offer that makes a return to the Indiana Pacers less likely if Indy gets cold feet.
The question surrounding the 23-year-old involves decision-making and maturity. We've seen his emotions get the best of him on multiple occasions, and while he's shown the potential to be great, the hope is that he lets his talent do the talking moving forward.
Regardless of what Stephenson's future holds, someone will take a chance on him. Whether that's the Pacers or someone else, this guy will be locked up long-term come July.
Shooting Guard No. 1: Dwyane Wade
2013-14 Stats: 19.0 PPG, 4.7 APG, 4.5 RPG, 54.5 FG%, 22.06 PER
Status: Early-Termination Option
Unless Dwyane Wade can secure a long-term deal this summer, chances are he'll avoid free agency. At 32 years old, his injuries have been well-documented, and it would behoove him to stick with the contract that's going to pay him more than $40 million over the next two years.
All that said, if Wade exercises his early-termination option, he'll be the best 2-guard on the market without question.
Despite playing behind LeBron James, Wade is still an elite player. He'd be a No. 1 option on numerous teams across the league, and in his 11th season, he shot a career best from the field.
Wade's free agency is in question, but his place on this list is not. He has an opportunity to be the best 2-guard on the market. The question is: Will he take it?
Small Forward No. 5: Paul Pierce
2013-14 Stats: 13.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.4 APG, 37.3 3PT%, 16.81 PER
The small forward position has the potential to be incredibly deep on this summer's free-agent market. There are younger options than Paul Pierce who could fill this spot, but nobody has the same experience when it comes to winning big.
Following his 16th season, Pierce has the chance to experience free agency like never before. Unlike his years with the Boston Celtics, there's a sense he could leave the Brooklyn Nets, and his numbers support the fact that he'd still be coveted for any team seeking a final piece to the puzzle.
Then again, Brooklyn has turned things around significantly, and it's hoping for a long run in the postseason. A chance at a title should be atop Pierce's priority list at this time, giving the Nets at least one selling point when July rolls around.
Notable Omissions: Evan Turner, Trevor Ariza, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Danny Granger
Small Forward No. 4: Luol Deng
2013-14 Stats: 16.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.9 APG, 15.22 PER
Things haven't gone as planned lately for Luol Deng. First, Derrick Rose went down with his second season-ending injury in a row. It was an injury that instantly removed the adjective "elite" from the Chicago Bulls.
Then, following 23 games that saw Deng average 19 points and 6.9 rebounds for Chicago, he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs are an organization in flux, and Deng struggled to help turn things around during his 40 games with the team.
Now, Deng has the opportunity to start over. At 29, he's not the All-Star he once was, but he's a very capable defender who can be a great piece alongside a superstar.
Where Deng will land has yet to be seen, but as long as he can stay healthy, he should be a positive addition to any franchise.
Small Forward No. 3: Rudy Gay
2013-14 Stats: 20.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.9 APG, 18.40 PER
Status: Player Option
Rudy Gay is unsure what he's going to do about the player option in his contract. According to Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher:
But he said the idea of being a free agent for the first time, after being shipped around to a couple of teams, having the chance to decide where he wants to play is very enticing and ultimately could be worth letting go of that $19 million if he has any chance of making it up down the line in some way.
At this point, Gay isn't going to receive the kind of attention he probably hopes he will. His efficient play in Sacramento certainly improved his stock, but finding the right fit has been tough up to this point.
Gay is an incredibly talented swingman, and he just has to decide what his priorities are this far into his career.
Small Forward No. 2: Carmelo Anthony
2013-14 Stats: 27.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 40.2 3PT%, 24.50 PER
Status: Early-Termination Option
Carmelo Anthony played 73 percent of the New York Knicks' minutes at power forward this season. That said, his versatile skill set earns him the title of small forward with one major caveat: He's best utilized in the post.
With the exception of the 27 games Anthony played for New York in 2010-11, he shot his best percentages in 2013-14. He knocked down 45.2 percent from the field, shot a career-best 40.2 from deep and got himself in the paint where he's thrived as of late.
The question here, as it is with many of the league's top free agents, is: Will he opt out? He has one more year remaining with the Knicks if he wants it, but what he wants has been a topic of discussion all year long.
Small Forward No. 1: LeBron James
2013-14 Stats: 27.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.4 APG, 56.7 FG%, 29.40 PER
Status: Early-Termination Option
If LeBron James opts out of his contract, he'll be the most sought-after player to enter free agency since, well, LeBron James.
With the Miami Heat in the mix for another championship, James' potential free-agent status is being overlooked. That's a good thing for all parties involved, but when the year comes to an end, South Beach had better be ready.
Unless James declares his intentions right away, speculation will begin. It will be even worse if the Heat are eliminated at any point in the playoffs, so Pat Riley better be prepared to get James on board quickly.
Power Forward No. 5: DeJuan Blair
2013-14 Stats: 6.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 53.4 FG%, 17.33 PER
The Dallas Mavericks have been known for their one-year contracts the past couple of seasons, but while they finally made a significant offer to someone in Monta Ellis, they couldn't help but give DeJuan Blair the same one-year offer they've given so many in the past.
In his first season with the Mavs—potentially his only season—the big man has shown that he can play physical basketball. He hasn't been given much of a chance to show what he can do in the playoffs, as his minutes have been cut in half, but he tallied decent numbers in 15.6 minutes per game in the regular season.
Now the question is: Will Dallas bring him back? He's worked hard up to this point, but there's always a chance he's absent from the long-term vision of the organization.
Honorable Mentions: Ed Davis, Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani
Power Forward No. 4: Andray Blatche
2013-14 Stats: 11.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 0.5 BPG, 18.85 PER
Status: Player Option
Andray Blatche may not scream to casual fans as a quality free agent, but his value to the Brooklyn Nets was apparent when they were struggling early in the year.
When Brook Lopez went down, things were seemingly going from bad to worse. Then, however, Blatche stepped up his game and became the most efficient player on the roster as the team started to turn things around.
With the playoffs in full swing, Blatche has seen his time on the court as well as his numbers decrease. Kevin Garnett is back in the lineup, and Blatche isn't having the impact he had during the middle of the season.
All that said, he did what he needed to do in a contract year. Now it's time for someone to take a chance on him.
Power Forward No. 3: Jordan Hill
2013-14 Stats: 9.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 54.9 FG%, 19.39 PER
Jordan Hill is a monster on the glass. In his third year with the Los Angeles Lakers, he recorded 7.4 boards in just 20.8 minutes.
Both of those numbers were career highs and so were his averages in points, shooting percentage and blocks (0.9).
The Los Angeles Lakers have a lot of money to fill a lot of roster spots, but there's no telling how many players they'll bring back. L.A. is focused on acquiring a star in 2015, meaning guys like Jordan Hill could be let loose to test their value on the free-agent market.
Power Forward No. 2: Zach Randolph
2013-14 Stats: 17.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 46.7 FG%, 18.37 PER
Status: Player Option
Randolph has been with Memphis since the 2009-10 season, and while it was his fourth organization when he joined, the physical nature of the team fit him perfectly. To this day, the two remain a perfect combination, and that sentiment rings true between Randolph and Marc Gasol as well.
If Randolph opts out, there will be plenty of teams vying for his services. He's a gritty low-post player who can spread the floor with his jumper, and he's not afraid to push someone around at any point in a game.
At 32 years old, Randolph is seeking his last big contract, and while there are a number of teams who would give it to him, Memphis appears to be the most likely.
Power Forward No. 1: Dirk Nowitzki
2013-14 Stats: 21.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 49.7 FG%, 39.8 3PT%, 23.68 PER
Dirk Nowitzki is going to be an unrestricted free agent as soon as the summer hits, but simply put: It would be weird watching him play for anyone other than the Dallas Mavericks.
At 35 years old, Nowitzki has played every game of his NBA career with the Mavs. He was drafted back in 1998, giving him 16 years to establish his legacy.
If Nowitzki ends up somewhere else in the twilight of his career, it will be reminiscent of Patrick Ewing playing for the Seattle Supersonics. Or better yet, Hakeem Olajuwon playing with the Toronto Raptors.
That said, he's still posting ridiculous numbers, giving both parties involved a reason to stick together.
Center No. 5: Marcin Gortat
2013-14 Stats: 13.2 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 54.2 FG%, 17.66 PER
Despite being 30 years old, Marcin Gortat is about to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his seven years in the league. That's an exciting time for any player, but it's especially thrilling for someone having a career year.
In his first season with the Washington Wizards, Gortat showed that he can be an integral piece in a talented rotation. Washington has played well early in the postseason, giving it more incentive to bring back The Polish Hammer for a second go-around.
Unfortunately for the Wizards, Gortat's temptation to test free agency is tough to ignore. That's what the big man will be doing this summer, and Washington can only hope that success in the playoffs will add incentive to return for 2014-15.
Honorable Mentions: Spencer Hawes, Chris Kaman, Emeka Okafor
Center No. 4: Tim Duncan
2013-14 Stats: 15.1, 9.7 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 49.0 FG%, 21.40 PER
Status: Player Option
Tim Duncan is widely considered the greatest power forward of all time. The question is: Is the 7-footer truly a power forward?
We'll leave that debate for another day, but when it comes to the 2013-14 season, the big man played center a majority of his minutes. At power forward, his PER (per 48 minutes) was a solid 18.5, but at the 5 he posted a 24.8 in that same category.
Duncan falls into the Dirk Nowitzki category, which is players who would look weird playing in another uniform. Luckily for San Antonio, the San Antonio Spurs are still championship contenders, meaning we likely won't see him defect before he calls it quits.
Center No. 3: Pau Gasol
2013-14 Stats: 17.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 48.0 FG%, 19.34 PER
Pau Gasol is another player who could fall into the category of natural power forward, but like Tim Duncan, the big man played center during the 2013-14 season.
Gasol's future with the Los Angeles Lakers has been in flux for years now. He's no stranger to the trade block, but for the first time this summer, he'll have 100 percent say over where he lands in 2014-15.
Should Gasol return to Los Angeles, it will be his eighth year with the team. He was traded from Memphis part way through the 2007-08 campaign, and while many believe he'll start anew this offseason, it's always possible he throws us a curveball and returns to the Lakers for one last run.
Center No. 2: Greg Monroe
2013-14 Stats: 15.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 0.6 BPG, 49.7 FG%, 18.16 PER
Greg Monre may play power forward for the currently constructed Detroit Pistons, but that's more an indictment on how confusing the rotation is—not a testament to his ability as a 4.
The Pistons can match any offer that comes Greg Monroe's way this summer. The question is whether or not it's worth it to keep the big man on board, both in a money-sense and a basketball-sense.
According to Monroe's agent, via NBA.com's David Aldridge, the big man will command "a max contract." His agent also states that the Pistons are willing to match any offer, but that brings up the question: Should they?
Monroe has shown he has all-star potential on offense, but he appears to be the odd man out in Detroit's rotation. He, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith haven't gotten it done up to this point, and while trading Smith may be ideal, his massive contract makes that difficult.
At this point, letting Monroe walk makes sense if Detroit can find a shooter and then moves Smith to the 4. There are plenty of teams who will covet Monroe this summer, and it will be fun to watch where he lands in his fifth season.
Center No. 1: Chris Bosh
2013-14 Stats: 16.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.0 BPG, 51.6 FG%, 19.11 PER
Status: Early-Termination Option
Calling Chris Bosh a center still sounds strange considering what we know about his style of play. Then again, the NBA has evolved and so has the 30-year-old big man.
According to The Palm Beach Post's Jason Lieser, Micky Arison believes the Big Three will stay in Miami beyond this season. Fans in South Beach surely feel the same, but as we noted when talking about LeBron James, it's tough to stop speculation once the year comes to an end.
Following his 11th season, Bosh is officially on the wrong side of 30, but his game shouldn't struggle. He's a jump-shooting big, and that style of play isn't conducive to quick declines.
Wherever Bosh lands, he's the epitome of a new-age big man. Teams must place a defensive force beside him, but his ability to spread the floor has been (and will continue to be) his No. 1 selling point.
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