2017 NBA Free-Agent Rankings: Post Trade-Deadline Edition
Compared to the rest of this summer's class, though, those names may be no better than backup plans for teams hoping to snag a big fish out of an unusually deep pond. Sure, LeBron James is off the market, but seemingly every other superstar will be up for an eye-popping payday.
The Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers have four such studs between them—five, if you consider J.J. Redick anywhere near as key to L.A.'s fortunes as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are. The New Orleans Pelicans will be pining to keep one of their own around to help Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. The Boston Celtics should have plenty of cash to splash at whoever wants a change of scenery.
Keep in mind, this is all with a historically weak 2013 draft class hitting restricted free agency.
We're still more than four months shy of knowing who will wind up where and for how much. But that mystery needn't stop us from sussing out and ranking the top 20 according to potential individual production and team impact in the years to come.
16-20: The Third-Tier Free Agents
20. Nerlens Noel, Center, Dallas Mavericks (Restricted)
The Mavericks didn't give up much to nab Noel from the Philadelphia 76ers. Odds are, though, they wouldn't have done the deal at all if they didn't think he'd be a long-term solution at a position of need—especially after getting burned by Rajon Rondo a few years ago.
The 22-year-old has become a more efficient offensive player (60.1 percent shooting) and a sneakier defender (2.7 steals per 36 minutes) during each of his three active seasons. As The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks noted, the market should reward someone of Noel's size, skills and youth rather handsomely:
The Mavs may be able to suppress the market for him by threatening to match any offer — something the 76ers couldn’t do given their full stock of big men — but if Timofey Mozgov can get four years and $64 million from the Lakers and the corpse of Joakim Noah can get four years and $72 million from the Knicks, Noel will no doubt be a well-compensated man in a few months.
19. Mason Plumlee, Center, Denver Nuggets (Restricted)
The Nuggets debuted Plumlee as a starter next to Nikola Jokic but have since slid him into a supporting role off the bench. That figures to be the arrangement from here on out, since Denver sees Plumlee as "more of a backup who plays with Nikola every once in a while. That’s basically the plan," as a source familiar with the team's thinking told Bleacher Report.
That could put the Nuggets in a tough spot with Plumlee this summer. They gave up a lot (i.e. Jusuf Nurkic and Memphis' 2017 first-round pick) to get him and might have to pay him a pretty penny to be a second-stringer going forward. The upside is that Plumlee is one of the few bigs in the league who can approximate Jokic's passing at center (3.9 assists per game this season), thereby keeping the style of play continuous between the first and second units in the Mile High City.
18. Andre Iguodala, Small Forward, Golden State Warriors (Unrestricted)
Iguodala's free agency will be a test of how much winning matters. His age (33) and career lows in points (6.4), rebounds (3.9), steals (0.9) and minutes (25.7) would suggest a significant pay cut. So might the Warriors' inability to offer much approaching the $11.1 million Iguodala makes this season as they aim to retain Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.
But Iguodala is a Finals MVP and could have two rings on his resume come summer. Those credentials could earn him a contract at the upgraded midlevel exception on a contender—or perhaps something substantially more for a rebuilding squad in search of a culture changer.
17. Pau Gasol, Center, San Antonio Spurs (Player Option)
Gasol is not getting any younger (he turns 37 in early July), but his arms aren't getting any shorter, either. And while age may be a concern, he's not about to forget how to play the game any time soon.
The same attributes that have allowed him to average 16.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes will still be there next season, whether he's with the Spurs or another squad. But no team knows how to care for near-retirees better than San Antonio.
16. J.J. Redick, Shooting Guard, Los Angeles Clippers (Unrestricted)
Redick looks like he could make a pretty penny, whether he stays in L.A. or seeks a new landing spot for his three-point shot. According to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler, the Duke product is likely to stick with the Clippers, so long as they're ready to pony up:
Several league sources labeled Redick as a non-starter for Rivers and company and there is a belief that Redick already has committed to re-sign in July. Like Griffin and Paul, Redick is viewed as a core piece, and while his $7.3 million price tag is likely going way up, there is a belief that Rivers and the Clippers are ready to pay it.
Whether L.A. or any other team should invest so heavily on Redick is a trickier proposition. He turns 33 in June, and though he's still shooting better than 40 percent from three, his stroke hasn't been nearly as sharp as it was last season, when he led the league in long-range accuracy (47.5 percent from three).
11-15: The Second-Tier Free Agents
15. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Shooting Guard, Detroit Pistons (Restricted)
Caldwell-Pope doesn't sound like he's at all caught up with what he might make as a restricted free agent this summer.
“I gotta just go out and prove myself and just show like what I can do on the court, be a great teammate, give great energy each and every night and let them decide if I’m a max player or not," he told the Detroit Free Press' Vince Ellis.
Caldwell-Pope is doing his part to prove he's worth such a hefty investment. He's shooting a career-best 37.7 percent from three on one end while operating as the Pistons' most reliable perimeter defender on the other.
14. Jeff Teague, Point Guard, Indiana Pacers (Unrestricted)
It's fair to say that Teague's game has slipped somewhat this season. It's also reasonable to recommend that the Pacers might've been better off sticking with George Hill at the point.
All that being said, any team in search of a point guard this summer could do much worse than Teague. The 28-year-old is averaging career highs in assists (8.1) and rebounds (4.1) to go with 15.3 points and a respectable 34.5 percent mark from three.
13. Dwyane Wade, Shooting Guard, Chicago Bulls (Player Option)
Wade can't be all that enthused about where the Bulls stand after sending out Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to get even younger at the trade deadline.
"I would be a liar to say that I want to play on a team with all 21-year-olds," he told ESPN.com's Nick Friedell in January. "You know what I mean? And be a part of the future building. I would be a fool to say that. But you also want to be in the best position for what you think is for you at that time, too."
If Chicago pulls the trigger on a Jimmy Butler trade before July, look for Wade to exercise his opt-out and chase a ring elsewhere.
12. Danilo Gallinari, Small Forward, Denver Nuggets (Player Option)
There was some scuttle around Gallinari and the Boston Celtics at the trade deadline, but the Nuggets decided to stand pat.
Gallinari should have ample opportunity to strut his stuff for potential suitors on a Denver team angling for the West's No. 8 seed this season. By some measures, the 28-year-old Italian has put together the second-best campaign of his NBA career; his 17.4 points and 37.6 percent shooting from three would both be runners-up to his personal bests in both categories for a full season.
11. Serge Ibaka, Power Forward, Toronto Raptors (Unrestricted)
The Raptors sunk a young player on a good contract (Terrence Ross) and a first-round pick into Ibaka at the trade deadline. They may have to sink quite a bit more into him this summer if they're going to keep him in Canada. With his rare combination of shot blocking and long-distance shooting, Ibaka could fetch around $20 million per season for his services.
That is, if he decides to stay in Toronto. His strong relationship with Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri could keep him in a Raptors uniform for years to come.
10. George Hill, Point Guard, Utah Jazz (Unrestricted)
Health hasn't been George Hill's strong suit in Salt Lake City, to say the least. He's already missed 25 games this season, including three stretches with at least three DNPs.
To his credit, Hill hasn't shied away from the discomfort, and isn't likely to do so down the stretch for the Utah Jazz.
"It's mind over matter at this point," he said, per the Salt Lake Tribune's Tony Jones. "It's time to just go out there and grind it out. Yes, it takes a lot of energy to do some things, but I can't cry about it. I'm sure that I'm not the only player in the NBA who's hurting."
When fit to play, Hill has been fantastic at the point for the Utah Jazz. He's poured in a career-high 17.7 points while shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from three while checking in as one of the league's best defensive floor generals, according to ESPN's Real Plus-Minus.
Injuries will be a concern for any squad courting Hill. At 30, he's not likely to become any sturdier from here on out.
But for any team seeking a top-notch defender at the point who can play off the ball, Hill will be hard to top.
9. Jrue Holiday, Point Guard, New Orleans Pelicans (Unrestricted)
Has any NBA player seen a more dramatic shift in his fortunes this season, both on and off the floor, than Jrue Holiday?
He missed all of the New Orleans Pelicans' training camp and preseason along with their first 12 games of the regular season while tending to his pregnant wife, who was battling a brain tumor. His wife and child fortunately emerged from their predicament in good shape.
Holiday, though, returned to a Pelicans squad that had won just twice without him. Since then, he's stabilized the squad with 15.9 points on a career-best 45.8 percent from the field to go with 7.4 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
Now, he's running the show next to Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Holiday's debut in that role wasn't pretty (six points on 3-of-12 shooting with seven turnovers), but he was far more effective in the follow-up before registering nearly as many turnovers (five) as points (six) against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. If he can not only shine next to New Orleans' premier bigs, but make himself an indispensable accomplice, he could squeeze mega-millions out of the Pelicans' pockets this summer.
8. Otto Porter Jr., Small Forward, Washington Wizards (Restricted)
Guess who's leading the NBA in three-point percentage. Don't check the stats, either.
Kyle Korver? He's close, especially since catching fire in Cleveland, but he's not on top.
J.J. Redick? Last year's leader in accuracy from deep has dropped out of the top 10. Same for Stephen Curry and (nearly) Klay Thompson.
The answer, surprisingly enough, is Otto Porter Jr. The former No. 3 pick, who'd never sniffed 40 percent from beyond the arc, has torched the nets at a 45.8-percent clip.
There's much more to Porter's game than just draining threes. According to NBA.com, he ranks among the league's upper quartile in scoring efficiency on cuts, in transition and on putbacks—all while making a positive impact on defense, per ESPN.
That package makes Porter the perfect complement to John Wall and Bradley Beal with the Washington Wizards. With the campaign he's putting together, Porter could wind up in a similar tax bracket, too.
7. Paul Millsap, Power Forward, Atlanta Hawks (Player Option)
After all the waves of trade rumors, the Atlanta Hawks insist they want to bring back Paul Millsap for the long haul.
We’ve communicated that to Paul, his team, and we feel great about our position there. We also don’t want to hide from the fact that, yeah, we took a long, hard look at it earlier in the season, during a period of time where our team was struggling, and ultimately decided that Paul is far too valuable to us. And through that period of time and that exercise, we made that decision to absolutely keep Paul. And he is certainly our priority.
As well he should be. Millsap has been an All-Star during each of his four seasons in Atlanta, with career highs in points (17.9), assists (3.7) and free-throw attempts (5.6) to propel him to New Orleans this year.
Paying Millsap, though, will be anything but a slam dunk. At 32, he's nearing his twilight, and if the Hawks aren't convinced that they can compete with the beasts of the East with him as their centerpiece, it may behoove them to move on.
6. Kyle Lowry, Point Guard, Toronto Raptors (Player Option)
Kyle Lowry's signature toughness makes him one of the more attractive point guards on a loaded free-agent market, but could also cost him if he's not careful. He sat out the Toronto Raptors' post-All-Star opener against the Boston Celtics and will miss more time than that with a wrist injury.
“Honestly, I thought I’d slept on it wrong — I thought it would go away," Lowry said, per Sportsnet's Arden Zwelling."“It was a little sore, but I paid no attention to it."
That setback would have to sap Lowry's production considerably for the 30-year-old to see his impending payday shrink. His 22.8 points on 46.3 percent from the field (41.7 percent from three) and 4.7 rebounds would all qualify as career highs. His 6.9 assists are the second-most he's ever posted.
But will he keep piling up stats in T-Dot? Or will one of the parties get cold feet when it comes to signing time? A decline in the playoffs, combined with the money needed to keep Serge Ibaka, could create a crunch for Lowry and the Raptors.
5. Gordon Hayward, Small Forward, Utah Jazz (Player Option)
All signs point to Gordon Hayward making a boatload of money this summer.
If he lands on an All-NBA team at season's end, he can re-up with the Utah Jazz on a mega-max deal known in the new collective bargaining agreement as the designated player exception.
So far, Hayward's production on a playoff team portends a potential spot on one of those superlative squads. The 26-year-old has posted career bests in points (22.5), rebounds (5.6) and free-throw attempts (6.7) on a Utah team that's poised to snag a top-four seed in the West.
If Hayward doesn't get the votes, that could be bad news for the Jazz. They'll still have a leg-up on the competition as far as how much they can offer him, but the gap won't be so cavernous as to dissuade him from looking around.
Should it come to that, all bets are off on Hayward staying in Salt Lake City. The Boston Celtics, for one, figure to come calling. After coming away from the trade deadline without an All-Star swingman, they'll head into the summer armed with max-level cap space, a readymade title contender and a coach, in Brad Stevens, who knows Hayward well from their days together at Butler.
Either way, he's in about as plum a position as one could hope for—that is, in line to make beaucoup bucks with his pick of postseason participants.
4. Chris Paul, Point Guard, Los Angeles Clippers (Player Option)
There's ample reason for Los Angeles Clippers fans to be worried about their team re-signing Chris Paul for upwards of $200 million this summer.
For one, he'd be 37 by the end of a five-year deal. He's seemingly beset by injuries every year, with setbacks to his hamstring and thumb costing him 21 games this season.
There's also the inescapable concern about putting a ceiling on a team that has yet to advance past the second round of the playoffs, and might not if the seeding doesn't play out in the Clippers' favor.
But L.A. won't find any better options at the point on the market. Doc Rivers certainly wouldn't be looking to rebuild in Paul's wake, not after escaping Boston ahead of that team's ongoing project.
And for all his faults and foibles in some on-court situations, there's no discounting what a clear command Paul has of the NBA game or what he's done to help transform the Clippers from league laughingstock to a world-class organization at every level.
Any lingering protestations might not matter anyway. According to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler, Paul and the Clippers have already "verbally agreed" to a new deal.
3. Blake Griffin, Power Forward, Los Angeles Clippers (Player Option)
Like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin's next deal with the Los Angeles Clippers is all but signed, sealed and delivered, per Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler:
Griffin has some media ventures in Los Angeles that he’s involved with and has expressed a desire to stay near them. While there was some talk of him heading to Oklahoma City, sources near Griffin said he finds the couple of games he plays there as a Clipper to be draining because of all the family and friends commitments. The idea of playing there full time is not desirable, especially considering how much the Clippers are prepared to pay him to stay in L.A.
That doesn't mean other teams won't come at Griffin. After all, it's not every day that a hulking, high-flying power forward who can dribble, pass and shoot—with a career line of 21.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists, no less—comes available in free agency.
Nor is Griffin a lock to decline those overtures, even less so if the Clippers fall short in the postseason yet again. L.A. can offer him more money than anyone, but barring an outside shot at landing on one of the All-NBA teams, it won't be such an overwhelming advantage.
The bigger issue for whichever team inks Griffin is his health. He can still get up from time to time, though he no longer looks like the same soaring beast he was during the Clippers' Lob City days. And with injuries taking their toll—he's missed at least 15 games during each of the last three seasons—Griffin is a serious risk to sit out significant time during each of his remaining pro campaigns.
2. Stephen Curry, Point Guard, Golden State Warriors (Player Option)
Can anyone make a credible case for Stephen Curry leaving the Golden State Warriors? Anyone?
He's won a title with them. He's been a two-time league MVP with them. He can pretty much win forever with them, so long as Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green stick around.
And only Golden State can sign Curry to a contract worth more than $200 million this summer.
There are some dangers to that deal, aside from the sheer dollars involved. He's battled through ankle issues, including during the Warriors' run to the 2016 Finals.
But few players take greater pains to improve their bodies and minds than Curry does. Just check out Brandon Sneed's breakdown of Steph's offseason training regimen.
Beyond all that, Curry is the face of a franchise, and would seem foolish to take less money to start over with a lesser squad elsewhere.
1. Kevin Durant, Small Forward, Golden State Warriors (Player Option)
Had Kevin Durant won a championship with the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, chances are, he'd still live and work in the Sooner State. Heck, had the Golden State Warriors not blown their own 3-1 lead in the Finals, Durant would probably still be pals with Russell Westbrook.
But neither scenario came to pass. And so, Durant took his talents to the Bay Area in search of a ring.
So far, he's well on his way to finding that coveted bit of jewelry. His Warriors are a league-best 49-9 behind an historic scoring margin propelled by top-two units on both ends of the court.
Durant's doing his part to propel that effort into the stratosphere. His scoring is down slightly (25.7 points per game), but he's piling up points more efficiently than ever (a career-high 59.6-percent effective field goal percentage). That sleeker offensive role has allowed Durant to expand his impact on defense, where he's posted personal bests in rebounds (8.4) and blocks (1.7).
Assuming all goes according to plan, Durant will be back with the Dubs next season. He hasn't said outright that he'll stick around, though he seems to be enjoying his time in Northern California.
“I’m liking it here,” Durant said, per USA Today's Sam Amick. “I’m liking everything that’s going on. I know what my contract says, but I didn’t plan on coming here for just a year. I’m in it right now, and I’m also just focusing on day by day.
Fitting him in will be tricky for Golden State, since they'll have to find the cap space. But where there's a will, there's a way, and there should be no shortage of desire among the Warriors to keep Durant in the fold for as long as possible.