2015 NBA Free Agency: An Early Primer on Next Year's Class

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2014

2015 NBA Free Agency: An Early Primer on Next Year's Class

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    After watching the NBA's frantic summer of moving and shaking take some dramatic twists and turns, next summer's free-agent signing period has some lofty standards to live up to. 

    Fortunately, the league landscape figures to be shaken up quite a bit come July 1, 2015, for a vast array of stars are set to hit the open market at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season. 

    Whether it's Rajon Rondo exploring his options, LaMarcus Aldridge lining up for a max contract or DeAndre Jordan capitalizing on his soaring stock, there are plenty of intriguing names who could be up for grabs. 

    And with the regular season approaching, here's a comprehensive primer regarding next summer's class of distinguished free agents. 

    From coveted unrestricted commodities to prized restricted free agents and veterans figuring to take pay cuts, we're breaking down everything you need to know about the summer of 2015 with this advanced look at another compelling class of talent. 

    All salary information courtesy of ShamSports.com unless noted otherwise. 

Probable Retirees

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    While prime-time players seek to maximize their value on the open market next summer, a couple of basketball dignitaries may very well write the final chapter of their professional careers this season. 

    After Kevin Garnett and Steve Nash close out their current deals by earning $12 million and $9.7 million, respectively, the seemingly timeless duo may find it's time to hang up their kicks once and for all. 

    For Nash, the list of reasons for retiring is innumerable. 

    Mainly, though, his back is shot. Nerve damage has hindered Nash's ability to slice through defenses the way he once did en route to two MVPs, and he's freely admitted as much. 

    “I think this is my last season,” Nash said in an interview with Sport TV

    For Garnett, the logic is similar. 

    The Big Ticket's 54 appearances last season were his fewest since the lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign, and his 20.5 minutes per night clocked in as the lowest per-game total of his career. 

    With Garnett's basic numbers all dropping and mid-range jumper starting to fail him (43.2 percent between 16 feet and the three-point line), there's no reason for him to soldier on beyond 2014-15. 

Rajon Rondo Hits the Open Market

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    Rajon Rondo figures to be the market's most polarizing unrestricted free agent next summer given his ability to dictate the future of the Boston Celtics. 

    And while sectors of the Boston faithful may be pining for their star point guard to demonstrate his commitment to the franchise, don't bank on it happening in a tangible way anytime soon. 

    According to The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn, Rondo is expected to do as stars before him have and entertain pitches from teams throughout the Association: 

    While the Celtics are trying to figure out ways to clear roster space before training camp, moving Rondo is not a high priority. First off, Rondo will be a free agent next summer and fully intends on taking the LeBron James-Carmelo Anthony tour of teams and extending the negotiation process deep into next summer. It is highly unlikely Rondo would sign an extension this season with an interested team, especially the Sacramento Kings. Second, the Celtics don’t feel pressed to deal Rondo because they are still trying to determine if he’s part of the future and they are intrigued to see him in action a full 18 months following ACL surgery. 

    However, keep in mind Rondo could conceivably force a trade before he hits the open market, according to ESPN's Jackie MacMullan (via MassLive.com), although the point guard's agent has denied that his client is making such demands, according to the Boston Herald's Mark Murphy.  

    It's still too early to pin down potential suitors for one of the league's most compelling and enigmatic floor generals, but his services should be sought after by young teams on the rise. 

Marc Gasol's Unrestricted Free Agency

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    After Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol could be next summer's most glamorous free agent of the unrestricted variety. 

    But don't get your hopes up. Unless you're a Memphis Grizzlies fan. 

    According to Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal, Gasol has already declared his love for Memphis, and in turn, his desire to continue playing in Tennessee: 

    You know my relationship with Memphis and my relationship with the Grizzlies. I've always said Memphis is my home away from home. Robert (Pera, Griz controlling owner) knows that. I know that. My teammates know that and that's all that matters. I live day to day but I don't see myself anywhere else. Only time will time. But I don't see a reason to change right now. Why would I change right now?

    Perhaps previously unforeseen factors will force Gasol to reconsider his seemingly staunch stance, but loyalty has long been one of the Spaniard's endearing traits on and off the court. 

    Hampered by injuries (59 appearances) a year after capturing Defensive Player of the Year honors, look for Gasol to play an even more determined style of ball as he seeks contractual security and the generous payday that accompanies it. 

LaMarcus Aldridge's Presumed Return to Portland

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    Oh, how quickly things change. 

    Just last summer we were pondering the merits of trade rumors involving Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. 

    But following a fruitful 2013-14 season and the team's subsequent playoff run, Aldridge is ready to make the Pacific Northwest his home for another five years. 

    According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Aldridge longs to re-up with the Blazers but would like to do so in a way that will ensure him the most long-term security: 

    With only a remote chance that Aldridge will agree to the three-year, $55.5 million extension afforded him this summer under the collective bargaining agreement, the Blazers are determined to keep Aldridge on a five-year, $108 million extension that he can sign upon reaching free agency next summer.

    Aldridge has publicly and privately expressed a strong desire to stay with the Blazers, and there's believed to be significant momentum toward him ultimately recommitting to Portland. The fact that the owner and GM made the trip to present the offer face-to-face wasn't lost on Aldridge's camp, sources said.

    Aldridge reiterated as much to The Oregonian's Joe Freeman, who tweeted the following from Portland's All-Star centerpiece: "I'm happy to stay (in Portland), happy to be here, happy with the direction the team has gone the last year or 2. But I just want to get a 5-year deal. I feel like that’s the best decision on my part."

    While intrigue could have enveloped Aldridge's future with the Blazers had Terry Stotts' crew stumbled into mediocrity last season, the club's upward trajectory and recent success should be enough to keep Aldridge in Rip City for another half-decade.

Other Prized Unrestricted Free Agents

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    Outside of Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, there's a small collection of unrestricted free agents who figure to be compensated generously thanks to their proven track records. 

    • Omer Asik, C, New Orleans Pelicans
    • Rudy Gay, SF, Sacramento Kings
    • DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers
    • Jeremy Lin, PG, Los Angeles Lakers
    • Robin Lopez, C, Portland Trail Blazers
    • Wesley Matthews, SG, Portland Trail Blazers
    • Paul Millsap, PF, Atlanta Hawks

    For different reasons, each player represents an intriguing unrestricted commodity. 

    It's clear Paul Millsap is due for a raise after the Atlanta Hawks signed him to a two-year, $19 million deal last summer that proved to be one of the offseason's biggest bargains.

    With an All-Star selection under his belt and Mike Budenholzer's system accentuating all of his positive attributes, Millsap should be in line for a raise. Whether it's from Atlanta or another franchise remains to be seen. 

    Then there are Portland's complementary pieces: Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez. Each played inspired ball on both ends of the floor last season, owning the arc and paint, respectively, en route to a second-round playoff exit. 

    The good news: Portland has a maximum of just $34.9 million on the books (with options) entering next summer. However, Matthews and Lopez will likely need to wait until LaMarcus Aldridge is taken care of before their returns are attended to. 

    Or how about DeAndre Jordan in Hollywood? The Clippers are staring at a minimum of $63.4 million in committed salaries for next season, and Jordan is only starting to scrape the surface of his potential as a rim protector and low-post scorer. 

    Fortunately, the Clippers have a new owner in Steve Ballmer who appears ready to spare no expense in order to raise a red, white and blue championship banner to the Staples Center rafters.  

    Then there are some more uncertain situations: The Sacramento Kings have expressed a desire to sign Rudy Gay long-term, according to The Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones, but the 28-year-old swingman seems to be embracing a wait-and-see approach. 

    Factor in the uncertainty that accompanies Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik's upcoming trial runs with the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans, respectively, and this year's class of unrestricted free agents could shake up the league landscape in a big way. 

The Unrestricted Free Agents of Yesteryear

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    Here's a brief rundown of some over-the-hill stars who figure to take substantial pay cuts when next July rolls around (age on July 1, 2015 in parentheses) 

    • Carlos Boozer, PF, Los Angeles Lakers (33)
    • Tyson Chandler, C, Dallas Mavericks (32)
    • Amar'e Stoudemire, PF, New York Knicks (32)
    • Anderson Varejao, C, Cleveland Cavaliers (32)

    As tantalizing as some of the names on the previous slide were, these former studs just aren't going to generate the interest they once did. 

    Carlos Boozer is making $16.8 million this season (although $3.2 million is coming from the Los Angeles Lakers, via amnesty waivers), Tyson Chandler will rake in $14.9 million, Amar'e Stoudemire will procure a massive $23.4 million and Anderson Varejao is due $9.7 million ($4 million guaranteed) in the final years of their deals. 

    With all four of those big men wrapping up contracts that paid each lavishly through their primes, it's time for them to be compensated appropriately given what they have to offer moving forward. 

    Of the four, Chandler and Varejao's two-way skill sets are arguably the most intact (health pending), and their value to Dallas and Cleveland's interior defenses, respectively, could realistically keep them in line for smaller pay cuts. 

    However, there's no question Stoudemire's and Boozer's offerings don't whet the palate like they once did, and their defensive shortcomings should prevent them from making anything close to eight figures in the years ahead.  

Dwyane Wade's and Luol Deng's Player Options

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    At this point, it's clear Dwyane Wade is going to be a member of the Miami Heat for life.

    His selflessness this past summer confirmed as much, as Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb explains: 

    After inking a two-year deal with the Miami Heat this summer, he owns a player option for the 2015-16 season worth a hefty $16,125,000. Whether he accepts that option or again becomes a free agent, chances are he isn't going anywhere.

    Whether Wade opts in or out figures to be largely dependent upon his level of play this coming season. But with LeBron James out of the picture, the stars have aligned for the 32-year-old to put up some big numbers in an offense begging for substantial contributions. 

    Should Wade prosper both statistically and medically, perhaps he'll be rewarded with the contractual security he so deserves at a price commensurate with his past excellence and future offerings. 

    Then there's the newest member of the Heat: Luol Deng

    Signed to a two-year, $20 million deal this summer, Deng possesses a player option worth a shade over $10 million for the 2015-16 season. 

    For a defensive ace and third scoring option, that's fair value. What remains to be seen, according to Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes, is whether Deng will parlay a potentially fruitful season into a bigger payday next summer: 

    The hope from Miami's perspective is probably that Deng plays well as a stopgap this year, opts out and signs with another team on a long-term deal. Realistically, he's not the guy the Heat envision as being a significant part of their future.

    But as Hughes notes, Deng opting out could actually benefit Miami, for it would free up the cap space necessary to chase some of the bigger names we outlined previously.

    As Miami transitions into an uncertain period sans LeBron James, look for Deng and Wade to step up and propel the Heat into the realm of postseason relevancy yet again. 

LeBron James' and Kevin Love's Player Options

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    The most high-profile free agents on next summer's market will both don the gold and wine for the Cleveland Cavaliers this season. 

    And you shouldn't expect either to bolt for greener pastures. 

    Both LeBron James and Kevin Love possess player options for next season, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the franchise cornerstones each opt out of their respective deals in order to put pen to paper on more lucrative long-term pacts. 

    Just consider these words from Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer:

    Remember, Love doesn't just want to play with the Cavs and LeBron James, he also wants the maximum deal. That's why he is forcing a trade. If he had been dealt to Golden State, he'd adopt this same strategy: A) Play out his contract. B) Become a free agent in the summer of 2015. C) Sign a maximum five-year, $120-plus million deal with his new team that had just traded for him.

    "I’m committed to this team, committed long term to the end goal and that’s to win championships," Love said upon joining the Cavaliers, according to the Akron Beacon-Journal's Jason Lloyd

    As for James, it's pretty apparent Northeast Ohio's prodigal son won't be breaking native hearts again anytime soon. 

    Remember, this is a player who's openly admitted leaving Cleveland was mentally exhausting. 

    "My No. 1 goal is to win a championship here; it'd be the greatest achievement in my life," James told ESPN's Brian Windhorst. "I don't plan on going nowhere. I don't have the energy to do it again."

    Sure, it's fun to speculate about one of the two potentially jettisoning the Cavaliers and shaking up the league's grand landscape once again, but the odds are firmly against either making such a foolish decision. 

Player Options Galore

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    You might as well call it the year of the player option. 

    A hefty dose of next summer's moving and shaking will be dependent upon players declining player options, as outlined on the past two slides. 

    And here's a sampling of the noteworthy players we're talking about (dollar amount represents value of 2015-16 player options): 

    • Al Jefferson ($13.5 million)
    • Arron Afflalo ($7.5 million)
    • Brook Lopez ($16.8 million)
    • David West ($12.6 million)
    • Goran Dragic ($7.5 million)
    • Jeff Green ($9.2 million)
    • J.R. Smith ($6.4 million)
    • Monta Ellis ($8.7 million)
    • Paul Pierce ($5.5 million)
    • Roy Hibbert ($15.5 million)
    • Thaddeus Young ($9.9 million)

    Scanning that list, it's hard to find many options that are worthy of decline at this point in time. 

    For instance, it's difficult to envision an erratic performer like J.R. Smith declining such a generous option, and the same goes for a hot-and-cold enforcer like Roy Hibbert. 

    Goran Dragic is undoubtedly worth more than $7.5 annuallyespecially when George Hill and Brandon Jennings are each making $8 million-plus in 2015-16—but he's earned a raise, and the Suns would be foolish not to recognize that before negotiations get contentious. 

    The wild card here is Thaddeus Young, who could conceivably decline his $9.9 million player option with the Minnesota Timberwolves and bolt for a perennial playoff contender. After suffering through so much misery with the Philadelphia 76ers, no one would fault Young for taking a pay cut in lieu of the morale boost that accompanies winning. 

    There's also the matter of player options due to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but we'll explore those situations in-depth just a bit later. 

Kawhi Leonard and the Qualifying-Offer Crew

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    Before we break down which young assets are eligible for qualifying offers and, subsequently, restricted free agency, we must thoroughly define the significance of a qualifying offer.  

    According to the NBA, qualifying offers function like so: 

    For a team to make one of their players a restricted free agent, they must submit a qualifying offer to the player by June 30. This offer must be a one year offer for 125% of the player's previous salary or the player's minimum salary plus $175,000 (whichever is greater). If a player agrees to this offer, they play under a one-year contract and become an unrestricted free agent the following year. If not, he becomes a restricted free agent. 

    The most significant player up for a qualifying offer next summer is reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. However, it would be shocking if the San Antonio Spurs didn't take care of their rising superstar before things get out of hand. 

    According to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News, Leonard is eligible for an extension worth up to $79 million over five years, per the terms of the league's collective bargaining agreement, and like his peers, he has until October 31 to ink a deal before he hits the restricted free-agent market next summer. 

    With Leonard functioning as a perfect case study in terms of working around deadlines for extensions, qualifying offers and the like, here's an extended look at other notable players who face similar situations in the months ahead: 

    • Patrick Beverley, PG, Houston Rockets
    • Alec Burks, SG, Utah Jazz
    • Jimmy Butler, SG, Chicago Bulls
    • Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets
    • Tobias Harris, SF/PF, Orlando Magic
    • Reggie Jackson, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
    • Enes Kanter, C, Utah Jazz
    • Brandon Knight, PG, Milwaukee Bucks
    • Marcus Morris, F, Phoenix Suns
    • Markieff Morris, F, Phoenix Suns
    • Ricky Rubio, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves
    • Iman Shumpert, SG, New York Knicks
    • Tristan Thompson, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers
    • Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic
    • Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Hornets 

What's Klay Thompson Worth?

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    You'll notice we didn't include Klay Thompson's name on the previous slide when discussing qualifying offers. 

    And for good reason. 

    The dialogue regarding Thompson's worth to the Golden State Warriors has been a hot topic throughout the summer, namely due to his club's reluctance to include him in a trade for Kevin Love. 

    As outlined previously, Thompson will be due a qualifying offer worth $4.2 million next summer. That is, if things reach that stage. 

    But should Thompson hit restricted free agency, what's fair value for the evolving three-and-D threat? 

    According to USA Today's Sam Amick, Thompson's camp has its eyes set on a max extension:

    Meanwhile, Thompson's agent, Bill Duffy, has been seeking a max deal in extension talks with the Warriors as well. And while Golden State would surely prefer that the stance eventually softens and leads to a more palatable deal, the fact that he is younger means a max for Thompson would start at $15.7 million and still allow for more flexibility in the Warriors future than a Love deal.

    That sounds like a hefty sum, but considering Gordon Hayward inked a max extension with Utah this offseason as a restricted free agent, it's not inconceivable to think a more potent weapon like Thompson could demand a similar sum. 

San Antonio's Bevy of Free Agents

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    We could have listed a couple of the following players under the "probable retirees" section, but the defending champions deserve their own space. 

    While Tony Parker recently inked a three-year, $43.3 million extension with the San Antonio Spurs, running mates Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan are staring at contracts that expire following the conclusion of the 2014-15 season. 

    Duncan, who turns 39 in April, feels like the safest bet to call it quits after opting into the final year of his contract instead of negotiating a new deal while Ginobili, 37, has some thinking to do.

    Here's what Ginobili told Argentine newspaper La Nacion about his professional future (as translated by PoundingtheRock.com's J. Gomez

    I don't like to speculate as to when it's going to end. I know I'll play the upcoming season. If I feel like I did this past season, I'll keep going for sure. If I feel like I did the season before, I don't know. More than age, what matters the most is my health and the mental aspect. Basketball-wise, I'm in a perfect situation. I'm with a team that takes great care of me, in which I have my role and I'm not asked to do too much. I'm a leader to my teammates. And I feel respected enough to not have to prove myself every day. So if I feel like I did last season, I'll keep playing.

    Outside of the two future Hall of Famers, the Spurs will need to attend to unrestricted free agents Danny Green and Marco Belinelli, each of whom shot better than 41.5 percent from beyond the arc last season. 

    Although Kawhi Leonard looks like a lock to ink an extension, as mentioned previously, the Spurs' dynastic pursuit could feature a modified cast of characters for the 2015-16 campaign. 


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