NBA Free Agents 2014: Updated Rankings of Top 5 Players at Every Position
The 2014 NBA free-agent market has the potential to reshape the entire Association.
Four of the Eastern Conference All-Star starters from 2013—LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—could all become unrestricted free agents this summer, if so desired. If the Miami Heat have their way, all four will be taking their talents to South Beach this fall, per Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com.
Incredibly, those aren't the only top prizes who might be available this summer. Multiple-time All-Stars such as Tim Duncan and Zach Randolph could decline their player options and hit the market, while Dirk Nowitzki is already set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Throw in a loaded restricted free-agent market, including the likes of Utah Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward, Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe and Phoenix Suns combo guard Eric Bledsoe—not to mention Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski—and the league could look radically different once the dominoes begin to fall.
Back at the end of April, Bleacher Report's Bryant Knox ranked the top five potential free agents at every position. Here's an updated look at that list, based on the future value the players could provide to whichever franchise they sign with this summer.
Note: These rankings include unrestricted free agents (UFA), restricted free agents (RFA), players with early termination options (ETO) and players with player options (PO). Each player's position is determined by where they played most during the 2013-14 season, per Basketball-Reference's play-by-play data.
5. Shaun Livingston, UFA
2013-14 Stats: 8.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.2 APG, 48.3 FG%, 14.5 PER
Shaun Livingston was a revelation for the Brooklyn Nets in 2013-14, helping the squad turn itself around after a dismal start to the season. Despite playing 103 fewer minutes than Deron Williams in the playoffs, Livingston finished with the same number of win shares (0.5) and a significantly higher effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage.
As Livingston told Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling in April, his comeback from a career-threatening knee injury "was only half the story." He wants to "push [himself] to see how far [he] can go," and as The Brooklyn Game's Devin Kharpertian noted, he'll likely have no shortage of potential free-agent destinations to do so.
4. Mario Chalmers, UFA
2013-14 Stats: 9.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 4.9 APG, 45.4 FG%, 14.0 PER
Don't let Mario Chalmers' dismal performance in the 2014 NBA Finals deter you from thinking he'll be one of the top available point guards in the free-agent market. He's unlikely to ever become a Stephen Curry-esque scorer, but teams could do far worse in terms of a game-managing floor general.
Chalmers works best when surrounded by stars, as he's capable of managing egos, making the right play and willing to take the brunt of said players' frustration. Though most star-laden teams won't be able to offer more than a taxpayer's mid-level exception this summer, a point guard-needy team like the Los Angeles Lakers could throw a short-term, big-money offer his way if they strike out elsewhere.
3. Isaiah Thomas, RFA
2013-14 Stats: 20.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 6.3 APG, 45.3 FG%, 20.5 PER
There's only one thing holding Isaiah Thomas back from moving higher on the list of the top free-agent point guards: his diminutive 5'9" stature. Though he held opposing point guards to a player efficiency rating of 14.5 this past season, per 82games.com, his small frame severely limits his defensive ceiling.
Offensively, Thomas exploded for Sacramento this past year, averaging over 20 points per game after only scoring 12.8 per contest his first two years in the league. He'd ideally be a microwave scorer off the bench similar to Nate Robinson, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see a team overpay and make him a starter this summer.
2. Kyle Lowry, UFA
2013-14 Stats: 17.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 7.4 APG, 42.3 FG%, 20.1 PER
Coincidence or not, Kyle Lowry smashed a number of his personal bests in 2013-14, which just so happened to be the final year of his current contract. He finished the season with career highs in points (17.9) and assists (7.4) per game, three-point shooting percentage (.380), win shares (11.7) and PER (20.1).
As the top point guard on the unrestricted free-agent market, he's likely to command upward of $10 million per year, similar to what Ty Lawson (four years, $48 million) and Jrue Holiday (four years, $41 million) have received in recent years. Back in February, however, NBA.com's David Aldridge reported that the Toronto Raptors "[did] not want to give Lowry a big-money contract."
Winning the Atlantic Division title for only the second time in franchise history may have helped change Toronto's mind, it seems. "The Raptors want him back and he wants to be back," Basketball Insiders' Bill Ingram wrote in a recent online chat.
1. Eric Bledsoe, RFA
2013-14 Stats: 17.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.5 APG, 47.7 FG%, 19.6 PER
Any team interested in signing combo guard Eric Bledsoe this summer essentially needs to hand him a blank check. According to Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears, "NBA sources say it will take [a] full max deal" to corral Bledsoe, who's set to become a restricted free agent on July 1.
It's not difficult to see why he'll command that type of money. He missed over two full months with a torn meniscus in his right knee, but in the 43 games he did play, the Phoenix Suns went 28-15. Extrapolate that to a full season's worth of play and Phoenix would have been around the 55-win mark.
The Suns have repeatedly sworn they'll match any offer Bledsoe receives this summer, but his free-agency process still bears watching. A team like the Lakers, rife with cap space and desperate for a second star, will likely put the screws to the Suns by offering Bledsoe a four-year max deal and attempting to call their bluff.
Honorable Mentions: Avery Bradley, RFA; Patty Mills, UFA; Darren Collison, PO
5. Ray Allen, UFA
2013-14 Stats: 9.6 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 44.2 FG%, 12.8 PER
Considering the dearth of free-agent talent at the 2-guard position, it seems heinous to have the NBA's all-time best three-point shooter featured this low. If Ray Allen weren't set to turn 39 in July, he'd be ranked much higher.
However, since Father Time remains undefeated in professional sports, Allen's career clock appears to be rapidly approaching midnight. He's likely to latch on with a contender at a below-market rate this summer—a reunion with Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers in Los Angeles, perhaps?—but 2014-15 could well be his final year.
4. Jodie Meeks, UFA
2013-14 Stats: 15.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.8 APG, 46.3 FG%, 14.7 PER
At this stage in their respective careers, as crazy as it might sound, Jodie Meeks offers more long-term value than Ray Allen. After languishing in relative obscurity with the Philadelphia 76ers for two seasons and change, he latched on with the Lakers in 2012-13 and especially thrived this past season in Kobe Bryant's absence.
Meeks drilled a career-high 40.1 percent of his 404 attempts from three-point range in 2013-14, and, believe it or not, he led the Lakers in total points (1,209) and win shares (4.5). He's not to be confused with an Allen-esque star, but teams could do far worse than Meeks as a complementary sharpshooting option at their starting 2-guard spot.
3. Greivis Vasquez, RFA
2013-14 Stats: 9.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 4.1 APG, 42.1 FG%, 14.1 PER
Of all the free-agent shooting guards featured here, Greivis Vasquez is the only one who can legitimately be dubbed a combo guard. Over his four-year career, he's spent 52 percent of his floor time at the point and 40 percent at 2-guard, but he largely worked as a shooting guard in Toronto (61 percent of the time), which pushed him just slightly over into the realm of 2s.
If the Toronto Raptors re-sign Kyle Lowry, Vasquez is likely a goner, as they'll need to reserve money for the impending extensions of Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross (after the 2014-15 season). The luxury of a backup combo guard isn't worth sacrificing one of those two players.
He "often offers up the resistance of a saloon door on defense," as CBS Sports' Zach Harper noted, but Toronto managed to hide his deficiencies on that end of the court by pairing him with other plus defenders. Whichever team Vasquez ends up with needs to employ a similar strategy to maximize his impact.
2. Lance Stephenson, UFA
2013-14 Stats: 13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 4.6 APG, 49.1 FG%, 14. PER
Lance Stephenson took a sledgehammer to his free-agent value during the Eastern Conference Finals, seemingly becoming more wrapped up in shenanigans and dirty plays than the actual outcome of the series. Those antics "inflamed the perception of him as a rogue loon whose 'personality' will nearly cancel out all the good he might do on the floor," Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote.
When Stephenson doesn't succumb to his lesser instincts, however, he's quickly becoming one of the top 2-guards in the league. He led all players in triple-doubles this past season (five) and posted career highs in points (13.8), rebounds (7.2), assists (4.6) and minutes (35.3) per game, not to mention field-goal percentage (.491), three-point shooting percentage (.352), PER (14.7) and win shares (7.4).
Outside of the top-tier free agents, Stephenson could wind up being the most interesting player to watch this offseason. Despite his playoff antics, it's almost certain that some team will wind up overpaying him this summer.
1. Dwyane Wade, ETO
2013-14 Stats: 19.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.7 APG, 54.5 FG%, 22.0 PER
All the dreams of Miami turning its "Big Three" into a "Big Four" ignores one crucial point: Dwyane Wade needs to forgo a great sum of money to make it happen. And with Wade falling apart at the seams in the 2014 NBA Finals, that's asking a lot of a 32-year-old with bum knees.
When healthy, Wade remains one of the game's top 2-guards. He shot a career-high 54.5 percent from the floor in 2013-14, leading all guards. However, "when healthy" is becoming a more ominous qualifier by the day, which could explain why Wade told ESPN.com's Michael Wallace that he's in no rush to take less money from here on out:
We all think I worked very hard over my career to earn what I've earned and put myself in that position. So I will never feel like I have to take less after this, or have to do this. It's not my job. It's the job of others around to figure out how to make it work.
If I want to be a part of that, then I'll be a part of that. But if I don't, I won't. It's simple as that. I don't feel that pressure at all.
If any of Miami's Big Three decides not to opt out this summer, it's almost certainly going to be Wade. There's little incentive for him to pass up the roughly $42 million he's owed over the next two seasons, even if it comes at the expense of additional championships.
Honorable Mentions: Thabo Sefolosha, UFA; Jordan Crawford, RFA; Anthony Morrow, PO
5. Trevor Ariza, UFA
2013-14 Stats: 14.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.5 APG, 45.6 FG%, 15.8 PER
Trevor Ariza may be one of the most polarizing free agents on the market this summer. Was his career year with the Washington Wizards in 2013-14 replicable, or was it the dreaded "contract year" phenomenon in effect?
Ariza knocked down a career-high 40.7 percent of his triples—before coming to Washington in 2012-13, he had never been above 33.4 percent—and helped the Wizards eviscerate the Chicago Bulls during the opening round of the 2014 playoffs. Without John Wall and Bradley Beal around to draw away attention from defenders, however, Ariza could disappoint if he departs Washington this summer.
4. Luol Deng, UFA
2013-14 Stats: 16.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.9 APG, 43.1 FG%, 15.2 PER
At the moment, Luol Deng appears to be the most enticing small forward on the unrestricted free-agent market this summer. ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported in February that there was "little-to-no chance" Deng would re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers once free agency commences, and the Cavs "haven't expressed much interest in bringing him back, per Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal.
He reportedly turned down a three-year, $30 million contract extension from the Chicago Bulls in January, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, so he likely won't come cheaply this summer.
Teams in need of a two-way option at the 3 should be in hot pursuit of Deng in free agency, although it'd be difficult to justify signing him to a long-term deal worth more than $10 million per year given his age (29).
3. Rudy Gay, Player Option
2013-14 Stats: 20.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.9 APG, 45.5 FG%, 18.3 PER
Move over, Patrick Ewing; there's a new namesake for Bill Simmons' "Ewing Theory," and his name is Rudy Carlton Gay Jr. Both the Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors made substantial strides in recent seasons immediately after trading away Gay, which didn't help his already battered public perception.
As SB Nation's Tom Ziller noted, however, Gay also performed better than ever upon arriving in Sacramento, shooting a career-high 48.2 percent from the floor and finishing the year with a career-best PER of 18.3.
He's worth nowhere near the $19.3 million he's owed in 2014-15, but if he declines his player option in favor of signing a longer-term contract, a number of teams could attempt to woo him away.
2. Gordon Hayward, RFA
2013-14 Stats: 16.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 5.2 APG, 41.3 FG%, 16.2 PER
Gordon Hayward had a golden opportunity in front of him during the 2013-14 season. After letting Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson walk in free agency, the Utah Jazz attempted to install Hayward as their No. 1 offensive option, but he crumbled under the defensive pressure opponents threw his way.
Hayward's per-game averages of 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists look great on the surface, but his career-low shooting percentages of .413 from the field and .304 from three-point range speak to his relative ineffectiveness this past season.
After reportedly seeking a deal in the four-year, $50 million-plus range, per Wojnarowski, he did himself no favors by struggling so plainly as Utah's No. 1 option.
Because the salary cap is expected to rise significantly this summer, according to salary-cap guru Larry Coon, Hayward may still find a suitor who's willing to hand him that type of money to be a second or third option. Any team expecting him to become a game-changer on offense, however, will likely end up disappointed.
1. Chandler Parsons, RFA
2013-14 Stats: 16.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.0 APG, 47.2 FG%, 15.9 PER
In early June, Wojnarowski broke the news that the Houston Rockets reportedly planned on declining their team option on Chandler Parsons' contract, which would make him a restricted free agent this summer. If they decide to pick up his option, contrastingly, he'd become an unrestricted free agent in 2015, so they'd lose their right to match any offer sheet he signs.
Assuming the Rockets do allow him to hit the restricted free-agent market this summer, other teams could make life difficult for Houston general manager Daryl Morey. Though Parsons is best suited as a complementary piece (like Hayward), he proved to be a lethal third option alongside James Harden and Dwight Howard in 2013-14.
Parsons could receive a deal in the $12 million- to $13 million-per-year neighborhood, league executives told Wojnarowski, which should make him one of the highest-paid small forward free agents out there. With only three years in the league, it's not difficult to imagine the 25-year-old Parsons soon ascending the small forward ranks and becoming one of the better 3s in the game.
Honorable Mentions: Paul Pierce, UFA; Nick Young, PO; Shawn Marion, UFA
5. Jordan Hill, UFA
2013-14 Stats: 9.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 0.8 APG, 54.9 FG%, 19.3 PER
Jordan Hill won't be the sexiest name on the free-agent market this summer, but don't let his lack of press deter you from acknowledging his value. He's coming fresh off a career year with the moribund Los Angeles Lakers in which he averaged 16.7 points and 12.8 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Hill isn't a stretch 4 by any means—he's gone 0-of-10 from three-point range over his five-year career—but he did knock down 39 percent of his tries from 16-24 feet this past season (23-of-59). For teams that don't have the cap space to pursue a top-tier free-agent power forward, Hill could be a reasonable compromise.
4. Zach Randolph, Player Option
2013-14 Stats: 17.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 46.7 FG%, 18.3 PER
Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies have already begun discussions on a long-term extension, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, so the odds of him leaving The Bluff City appear slim at the moment. Back in November, Randolph told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that he'd like to retire a Grizzly and would "make some sacrifices" to stay in Memphis.
If the two sides can't agree, however, and Randolph declines his player option to secure a longer-term contract, he'd immediately become one of the best big men available on the free-agent market. Z-Bo has averaged a double-double in four of his five seasons with Memphis, and despite being 32 years old, he has shown minimal signs of slowing down.
3. Dirk Nowitzki, UFA
2013-14 Stats: 21.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.7 APG, 49.7 FG%, 23.6 PER
Dirk Nowitzki will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but he doesn't expect to be available for long. "Usually, we get it over quick," Nowitzki told Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. "Four years ago, I met with Mark [Cuban] on July 2nd. I don't like the period of not knowing what's going on. I don't like the unknown. Mark and I will hopefully find a good deal for both parties."
The Big German told reporters last spring that he plans to take a "significant pay cut" this summer to help his Dallas Mavericks attract other top-tier free agents. Given Nowitzki's willingness to be flexible with his next contract, it's difficult envisioning a scenario in which he leaves for another team.
However, if Cuban and Dirk can't reach a deal at the beginning of free agency, other teams will pounce on any opening they see. After struggling through his worst season in a decade last year, Nowitzki bounced back with a big season in 2013-14, erasing any doubt about his ability to destroy opponents' dreams with one-legged fadeaways until his late 30s.
2. Carmelo Anthony, ETO
2013-14 Stats: 27.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 45.2 FG%, 24.4 PER
Despite Phil Jackson's pleas, Anthony reportedly "hasn't wavered from his year-long intent to become a free agent this summer," according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News. A source told Sean Deveney of Sporting News that Anthony wants "the Dwight Howard treatment"—i.e., teams lining up at his doorstep on July 1 with free-agent pitches about why they're the best fit for him.
Depending on which other teams join the fray, the New York Knicks may have a difficult time convincing him to stick around. Their major draw is having copious amounts of cap space following the 2014-15 season, but Anthony's camp "[doesn't] want to hear about 2015," per Isola. They're "interested only in the summer of 2014."
A number of teams reportedly plan on pursuing the lethal scorer this summer, including the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and even the Miami Heat, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst. If a squad can convince Anthony to sign for less than max money, he could be one of the biggest steals in free agency.
1. LeBron James, ETO
2013-14 Stats: 27.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.3 APG, 56.7 FG%, 29.3 PER
Fresh off an embarrassing meltdown against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals, LeBron's future with the Miami Heat suddenly appears to be on shaky ground. He, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all possess early termination options in their contracts, which allow them to become unrestricted free agents this summer.
"The Heat's success or failure in these Finals will not affect [James'] decision on whether to opt out of his contract by the end of this month," a source told ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne. That shouldn't have Heat fans feeling secure, though; what if James had already decided to opt out before the Finals started?
If James does opt out and become an unrestricted free agent, he's going to spawn even more of a feeding frenzy than he did back in 2010. That's what winning two championships, two Finals MVP awards and an additional two regular-season MVP awards will do for a guy.
With all due respect to the league's reigning MVP, Kevin Durant, LeBron remains the best basketball player on the planet until further notice. There isn't a single team in the NBA that wouldn't love to add him to their roster, and thus, he'd easily be the most attractive free agent on the market this summer if he does decide to opt out.
Honorable Mentions: Ed Davis, RFA; Boris Diaw, UFA; DeJuan Blair, UFA
5. Marcin Gortat, UFA
2013-14 Stats: 13.2 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 54.2 FG%, 17.6 PER
The Washington Wizards could lose two-fifths of their starting lineup in free agency this summer between center Marcin Gortat and swingman Trevor Ariza. The two are expected to command somewhere between $15 million and $20 million per year, likely on three- or four-year deals, per Grantland's Zach Lowe.
Both should have multiple suitors pursuing them, but Gortat is clearly the more irreplaceable of the two. Gortat is an expert screener, which is crucial for Washington's pick-and-roll heavy attack with John Wall and Bradley Beal, and while he's not a stretch 5 like Chris Bosh or Pero Antic, he's not completely lost offensively when drawn away from the rim.
4. Pau Gasol, UFA
2013-14 Stats: 17.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 3.4 APG, 48.0 FG%, 19.3 PER
Pau Gasol is almost the polar opposite of Gortat in the free-agent market. He's nowhere near the defender Gortat is, but he's much more of a versatile offensive threat, both in terms of shooting range and floor vision.
Gasol has long been an expert passer, as evidenced by his career rate of 3.3 assists per game, and having a big man who can help run the offense makes life especially complicated for opposing defenses.
He's not a strong three-point shooter by any means (24.7 percent over his 13-year career), but he drilled 44.7 percent of his attempts from 10-16 feet this past season, helping provide invaluable floor spacing.
3. Tim Duncan, Player Option
2013-14 Stats: 15.1 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 49.0 FG%, 21.3 PER
Without regard to age, Tim Duncan would be challenging Bosh for the No. 1 spot in the free-agent center rankings. The timeless 38-year-old posted per-36-minute averages right in line with his career marks (18.7 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.3 blocks) this past season, proving once and for all that he is indeed an automaton.
Fresh off his fifth NBA championship, it may be tempting for Duncan to end his illustrious career on a high note. However, the San Antonio Spurs are "quietly operating under the assumption that Duncan and [head coach Gregg] Popovich will indeed be back next season," according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
With "one for the thumb" now secure, Duncan can finally set his sights on tying Michael Jordan's championship count. But because he's unlikely to play for more than another year or two (and there's zero chance of him leaving the Spurs if he doesn't retire), he takes a slight tumble in the free-agent center rankings.
2. Greg Monroe, RFA
2013-14 Stats: 15.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 49.7 FG%, 18.1 PER
The Detroit Pistons are damned if they do, damned if they don't when it comes to Greg Monroe's impending free agency. Letting an offensively gifted 24-year-old big man walk for nothing could be devastating for Detroit's ongoing rebuild, but overpaying him to stay might be even worse, especially if the Pistons can't find a taker for Josh Smith on the trade market.
Smith, Monroe and Andre Drummond failed to develop chemistry in 2013-14—the trio had the third-worst plus-minus rating of any three-man lineup that played at least 1,200 minutes—but that's not necessarily a condemnation of Monroe.
He and Drummond worked well alongside one another the previous season; the addition of a third non-floor-spacer is what caused Detroit's offense to sputter so badly.
Teams with an elite shot-blocker—hello, New Orleans—would be wise to pursue Monroe this summer. He's not going to become a three-point sniper overnight, but he can provide floor spacing, as he knocked down a career-high 41.0 percent of his attempts from 10-16 feet this past season.
1. Chris Bosh, ETO
2013-14 Stats: 16.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 51.6 FG%, 19.0 PER
Like his fellow Big Three members, Bosh possesses an early termination option in his contract that would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, if he so desires. He seems to be in no hurry to leave the Miami Heat, however.
"I don't want to go anywhere," Bosh told Dan Le Batard during a radio interview in late May, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst. "I like it here. It's Miami. Everybody wants to come here."
When asked if he'd be willing to take a pay cut to keep the Big Three together—or even to add another high-profile member to the mix—Bosh simply replied, "If that's what it takes." For a man who's sacrificed so much since joining Miami—from his shot selection to his defensive positioning—Bosh sounds willing to keep making concessions in exchange for annual chances to compete for championships.
If the oft-criticized big man decides to opt out, he'll have no shortage of suitors on the free-agent market. His ability to space the floor offensively—he drilled 74 three-pointers this year, 24 more than his first seven seasons combined—and defensive foot speed makes him one of the most valuable two-way big men in the league, despite what his critics might otherwise believe.
Honorable Mentions: Andray Blatche, UFA; Spencer Hawes, UFA; Emeka Okafor, UFA
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