2018 NBA Free-Agency Big Board: Top 25 Free Agents Remaining

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 3, 2018

2018 NBA Free-Agency Big Board: Top 25 Free Agents Remaining

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The second day of 2018 NBA free agency reinforced the theme of the first: California rules this summer.

    While the Los Angeles Lakers were busy rebuilding their roster around LeBron James, his longtime Finals nemesis scored the biggest bargain in recent memory. DeMarcus Cousins, a 27-year-old four-time All-Star, joined the Golden State Warriors on a clearance-priced one-year, $5.3 million deal, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    Even with Cousins recovering from a torn Achilles, this adds to Golden State's staggering collection of talent.

    It also further depletes a free-agent crop that wasn't overly deep to begin with. But there's still value to be found in the form of solid starters, high-level role players and capable reserves. We have assembled the top 25 names here, and we'll update the list as more come off the board.

              

    Note: Most of the text throughout this article is repeated from the first installment of the free-agent draft board, though new information has been added in some places.

25. David West

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    If David West isn't lured away by the siren song of retirement, the 37-year-old could continue authoring the fascinating second chapter of his NBA career.

    His All-Star past is a distant memory—selections in 2008 and 2009—and his days as a starter are getting murky after three seasons as a reliable reserve. But he's been a natural since slotting in as a sub, first for the San Antonio Spurs and then the Golden State Warriors.

    His genius-level hoops IQ has helped him maximize possessions as both a passing fulcrum and a sturdy support scorer.

    The best three shooting seasons of his career have been his last three (55.2 percent overall), and he has masterfully molded his skills to meet nearly any situation. He's averaged at least eight rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes each of the last two seasons. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the only other player to do that once in this stretch.

    West hasn't avoided the effects of aging, altogether. His limited mobility made him almost unplayable in the Western Conference Finals, and he shouldn't be asked for more than 15 minutes a night at this point.

    But smarts and skills—West's top two assets—are two of the most effective weapons in the fight against time.

24. Greg Monroe

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Greg Monroe can play, there’s no question about that.

    The question is whether the Moose can play in today’s Association, since he’s neither a shooter, perimeter-switcher nor shot-blocker.

    His per-minute production has held remarkably steady over the last four seasons. He’s averaged between 18.1 and 18.8 points, 10.8 and 12.1 rebounds and 2.4 and 3.9 assists per 36 minutes.

    But the league’s move to a smaller and faster game has decimated his playing time.

    His minutes have fallen each of the last five seasons, to the point he only received 20.4 across three different teams in 2017-18. Come playoff time, the Boston Celtics couldn’t even offer that much. He only appeared in 11 of their 19 postseason tilts and logged just 46 minutes after the opening round.

    Playoff matches might always be tricky to navigate in this small-ball world, but Monroe can play a prominent regular-season role as a second team’s offensive hub. He blends power and finesse on the low block, manifesting in a 70th percentile finish on post ups. He’s also a skilled passer for his size with the sixth-most assists among players 6’11” or taller since 2010-11 (1,330).

23. David Nwaba (Restricted)

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    The eye test treats David Nwaba better than box scores ever will. He's a defensive-minded energizer, and his counting categories reflect that role. Through two NBA seasons, his career averages sit at just 7.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 22.7 minutes.

    But remember, statistics lack nuance. There's no way for them to reflect Nwaba defending multiple positions or plotting his movements to put himself in the right place at the right time more often than not.

    "He just makes winning plays," Chicago Bulls coach Fred Holberg said, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. "… He knows who he is. He doesn't try to play outside of his skill set."

    There's value in that, even if Nwaba's free-throw percentage (65.3) and low perimeter volume (19 makes in 90 games) suggest his offensive arsenal might not grow beyond transition scores, timely cuts and the occasional second-chance bucket.

    While Johnson reported Chicago hopes to keep Nwaba, sources told the Athletic's Michael Scotto negotiations are "at a stalemate" and the Bulls are open to sign-and-trade offers.

22. Tony Parker

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    After a leading charmed existence for most of his 17 NBA seasons, Tony Parker had a rough go in 2017-18.

    A quad injury suffered during last year's conference semifinals delayed his debut. He lost his starting gig to sophomore Dejounte Murray, and Parker averaged only 13.4 minutes during the playoffs—nearly 20 fewer than his career average (34.3).

    Perhaps most relevant to the San Antonio Spurs, Parker's comments on the severity of Kawhi Leonard's injury were reportedly the "last straw" for the disgruntled two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

    That said, Parker's campaign wasn't a total waste. He nearly tripled his 68 turnovers with 195 assists. He also continued finding offensive success inside the arc, tallying his 14.2 points per 36 minutes on 45.9 percent shooting.

    The absence of a reliable long ball (career 0.4 makes on 32.6 percent shooting) hasn't helped with the aging process. The 36-year-old—who was never mistaken for a stone wall—is also seeing Father Time sap whatever defensive ability he had (77th among 99 point guards in ESPN.com's defensive real plus-minus).

    But with four rings in his jewelry collection and 226 postseason outings under his belt, Parker is as experienced as they come. Someone will value that—inside the Alamo City or elsewhere.

21. Alex Len

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    As the 2013 No. 5 pick, it's hard to characterize Alex Len's first five NBA seasons as anything other than a disappointment. But that won't matter to big-man bargain-hunters, who could look at the 25-year-old's quietly productive track record and see a worthwhile investment.

    He's never averaged even 24 minutes per game, which makes the rest of his counting categories appear underwhelming—7.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks. Stretch those same numbers out on the per-36-minute scale, though, and they jump to 13.1, 11.8 and 1.9, respectively.

    He's also produced a positive defensive box plus/minus each of the last four seasons, and his player efficiency spiked to 19.4 this most recent campaign. While he offers zero offensive spacing—his average shot distance in 2017-18 was only 2.7 feet—he can finish plays on post-ups (59th percentile) and pick-and-rolls (77th percentile), and he's not a liability at the charity stripe (career 70.7 percent).

    So far, that hasn't brought his market above faint whispering, which isn't entirely surprising when he had to settle for his qualifying offer last summer. That said, he was mentioned by The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor as a "realistic target" for the Washington Wizards, who might need frontcourt help after losing Marcin Gortat and Mike Scott while only adding Thomas Bryant on a waiver claim.

20. James Ennis

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    James Ennis has worn four different jerseys over four NBA seasons. Will this be the summer he finally finds a long-term home?

    He has an interesting skill set, even if he isn't always as consistent as clubs would like a 28-year-old to be. He has the ideal build and athleticism for a modern wing, plus a serviceable three ball (career 35.9 percent). That sounds an awful lot like the three-and-D player every club could add.

    Ennis' market is unsurprisingly active. The Detroit Pistons have made re-signing him "a priority," per ESPN.com's Ian Begley, who says the Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets are among the other teams with interest.

    Ennis is far more solid than spectacular, and his salary should reflect that. He shouldn't be counted on for shot creation, but he'll guard multiple positions and add offensive value as both a transition finisher and spot-up shooter.

    Provided he gets plugged into the right role with appropriate expectations placed upon him, he should have a chance to stick with his next employer.

19. Michael Beasley

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    Michael Beasley gets buckets. Asking him to do anything more requires ignoring the first 10 years of his career.

    He's instant offense, a microwave, a spark plug—any of the cliches attached to offensive fireballs. He does nothing else consistently, but the self-proclaimed "walking bucket" doesn't need to, not after topping 20 points per 36 minutes and shooting north of 50 percent each of the last three seasons.

    Sources told Marc Berman of the New York Post that at least four clubs could have interest in Beasley, including the champs. The New York Knicks are likely going forward without him after adding scoring forward Mario Hezonja, per Berman.

    Point production aside, Beasley struggles to past most numbers tests.

    Fewer than 13 percent of his career shots are threes, and he spends more time in the mid-range than at the basket. He's topped two assists per game once. Only six players had a higher isolation frequency (20.8 percent of his possessions) last years, even though he's only a mediocre finisher (66th percentile). New York's defense was 4.2 points better per 100 possessions without him.

    But teams that want Beasley probably need buckets, and he can get them in his sleep.

18. Jamal Crawford

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    A lot of teams could use second-team scoring, which means a lot of teams could use Jamal Crawford. The Philadelphia 76ers have interest in the ignitable sub, per Keith Pompey of Philly.com, and he also has fans in the Golden State Warriors locker room, per Marcus Thompson II of the Athletic.

    Age hasn't changed much for the 38-year-old Crawford, who still dances off the dribble, piles up bench points and keeps converting four-point plays.

    He has thrice been named Sixth Man of the Year, and his play hasn't budged far off his award-winning levels. The volume wasn't there last season (second-fewest minutes, third-fewest points of his career), but he still supplied 17.9 points and 4.0 assists per 36 minutes.

    He isn't the most efficient scorer (career 41.0 field-goal percentage), and his defense has gone from bad to worst—literally. No one had a worse defensive real plus-minus than his minus-5.37 last year, per ESPN.com.

    But clubs with an interest in Crawford already know his strengths and weaknesses. They also know he packs enough of an offensive punch to change the outcomes of games, provided he has a longer leash than the Minnesota Timberwolves offered.

    "I think, utilized properly, I can help affect winning," Crawford told Jon Krawczynski of the Athletic.

17. Nemanja Bjelica

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    Nemanja Bjelica is more obtainable now than he was at the start of free agency, since Minnesota withdrew his qualifying offer making him unrestricted, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. The Utah Jazz are interested, per Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune, and plenty of other suitors could be too given Bjelica's skill set.

    "He [fits] the mold of the preferred big man in today's game," Derek James wrote for 1500ESPN.com. "He's got size, range and ball-handling skills. On paper, he looks like he should easily command $15 million or maybe more per season in restricted free agency."

    The 6'10" Bjelica was a jumbo-sized playmaker overseas, where he became EuroLeague MVP in 2015. This side of the Atlantic, he’s more of a stretch big with 50.4 percent of his career shots coming outside the arc.

    He looked like a marksman this past season, tallying 1.1 triples per night and converting 41.5 percent of his long-range looks. If he can hold those numbers steady—inconsistency and injuries have been his biggest NBA issues—he'll demand defensive attention on every perimeter touch, and his playmaking past will help him exploit overzealous closeouts.

    He needs consistent minutes to be most effective, which the Timberwolves didn't always offer. But when he's had prime opportunities, he's usually capitalized. He averaged 12.8 points on 49.4 percent shooting (45.9 from three), 7.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists during the 16 games in which he logged 30-plus minutes last season.

16. Shabazz Napier

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    The market for Shabazz Napier has been short on updates, which makes sense, since it's unclear exactly what happened last season. Did he engineered a full-fledged breakout, or did he merely follow the longest hot streak of his career with a subzero spell that cost him his rotation spot?

    The stat sheet shows obvious progress. He'd never before averaged more points (8.7) or shot a higher percentage from any level (42.0/37.6/84.1). After tallying just 1.2 win shares over his first three NBA seasons, he matched that number on offense alone and topped it on defense (2.0).

    But how many breakout performers end their season by being healthy observers for two of their team's final thee contests? Napier was twice passed over during the Portland Trail Blazers' abbreviated playoff run, a defensible decision given his frigid play down the stretch.

    After rolling into the All-Star break with eye-opening accuracy rates of 45.1 percent from the field and 40.3 from distance, his shot never returned from the in-season vacation. Over his final 23 outings, he converted only 34.6 percent of his field goals and 32.4 percent of his triples.

    Tag that skid to the struggles of his first three seasons, and there are reasons for free-agency shoppers to be skeptical of his hot start. The Blazers opting against extending his qualifying offer was an ominous way for his free agency to start.

15. Dwyane Wade

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    Free agency presents a fork in the road for Dwyane Wade. One way leads to retirement, the other heads back to the Miami Heat.

    Those seem to be the only options for the 36-year-old.

    "If I decide to come back and play the game of basketball, I would love for it, obviously, to be in Miami," Wade told Fox Sports Radio, via Anthony Chiang of the Palm Beach Post.

    Despite Father Time's advancement, Wade's midseason move back to Miami put him right back in a featured offensive role. From the time of his return to the end of the regular season, Wade paced the Heat in shots per 36 minutes (19.0) and usage percentage (29.6).

    Come playoff time, he attempted the second-most field goals (70) despite playing just the fifth-most minutes (127). He also launched four of their nine clutch looks.

    His previous NBA mileage makes him better served for an instant-offense role than a prominent one, as he's coming off the three worst shooting campaigns of his career. But he can still dominate in spurts—two playoff outbursts of 25-plus points attest—and Miami has been more than happy to give him every chance to do that.

14. Kyle O'Quinn

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    Kyle O'Quinn just did the impossible: He flew under the radar while playing for the New York Knicks.

    That's not likely to happen again, since Marc Berman of the New York Post notes that Luke Kornet's return "is a clear indication" O'Quinn won't be back with the 'Bockers. HoopsHype's Alex Kennedy had the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers among O'Quinn's suitors.

    Even if casual fans rarely notice O'Quinn, executives appreciate his subtle skills. It sounds easy to overlook a player with career averages of 5.8 points and 4.9 rebounds in 15.2 minutes. It's harder to be unimpressed upon realizing his per-36-minute marks jump to 13.8 points on 51.8 percent shooting, 11.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.4 blocks.

    At 6'10" and 250 pounds, he's a load around the basket. The (less famous) bearded baller has converted better than 70 percent of his attempts within three feet during three of his last five seasons. But there's also a finesse to match his muscle. He made 46.1 percent of his jump shots, hit 46.8 percent of his attempts between 10 feet and the three-point arc and dropped a personal-best 4.1 dimes per 36 minutes.

13. Brook Lopez

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    The market hasn't exploded for Brook Lopez in the way you'd think it might for a unicorn.

    That's because his profile stops well short of what most associate with that label. But if you boil down the definition to a big man who shoots threes and blocks shots, the 30-year-old qualifies.

    While many of his marks dipped to career-low levels during his first season with the Lakers, the three-ball he debuted the season prior remained in his arsenal. He averaged 1.5 makes per game and shot a good enough percentage (34.5) to function as a stretch 5.

    At the opposite end, he held his blocks average north of one for the sixth consecutive campaign. He also became one of only six players to tally at least 200 triples and 200 rejections since the start of 2016-17.

    With his points (13.0) and rebounds (4.0) either matching or setting new personal lows, he projects as a specialist now more than ever. But when his specialities feature two traits coveted in contemporary centers, he could have an easier time sniffing out decent money than some of his fellow free-agent bigs.

12. Montrezl Harrell (Restricted)

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    You're forgiven if you've miscast Montrezl Harrell as only a defensive-minded energizer. The Clippers pegged him as such when they landed him in last summer's Chris Paul swap, only to be pleasantly surprised by the other elements of his game, as Doc Rivers told Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times in early March:

    "When we got him, we looked at him as an energy guy, a guy that can play defense. That's what he did everywhere he's been.

    "And then every practice he gets in, he keeps scoring. And scoring. And then we started thinking, 'Maybe he can score a little bit.' He's been better than that. He's been great."

    Harrell's activity will always be the first thing observers notice—his sweeping 7'4" wingspan should be a close second—but energy guys don't score like he did last season. His 11 points per game don't jump off the page until you realize he only averaged 17 minutes, at least 3.4 fewer than any other double-digit scorer. After the All-Star break, he squeezed 14.6 points (on 65.8 percent shooting) into just 20.1 minutes per contest.

    His offensive range might not reach far beyond the restricted area, but he's a bulldozer around the basket. He was a 94th percentile finisher as a pick-and-roll screener, a figure with almost universal appeal in today's spread offenses.

    While specific suitors have yet to surface, Yahoo Sports' Jordan Schultz reports there's "a host" of them.

11. Rodney Hood (Restricted)

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    This was hardly the most interesting "What if" question of 2017-18, but what would have happened to Rodney Hood's value if the Jazz never traded him?

    At the time of the exchange, the 25-year-old swingman was averaging 16.8 points and drilling 2.6 triples per night at a 38.9 percent clip. He could manipulate defenders through shrewd pick-and-roll navigating, light the lamp from long distance and ignite at any time. He was only 39 games into his season, and he'd already authored 11 20-point outbursts.

    One could debate whether his ceiling extended to stardom or topped out at high-level role player, but his trajectory seemingly pointed straight up.

    That should matter for his free agency. But it can't erase the fact he was traded and never found traction with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He lost both volume stats and efficiency and then lost his rotation spot altogether. He returned to tally a combined 25 points and 14 rebounds in Games 3 and 4 of the Finals, but his paycheck had likely taken a sizable hit by then.

    He's still generating interest, per Schultz, but logic says the offers probably aren't near what we thought he'd collect. A source told Deveney that Hood could sign his qualifying offer from the Cavaliers to try to restore his value for unrestricted free agency next summer, which might be a sneaky-good strategy if he inherits a lot of the offensive touches vacated by LeBron James.

10. Luc Mbah a Moute

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    For much of last season, Luc Mbah a Moute looked like a bargain find. But with Trevor Ariza taking the money and running away from the Houston Rockets, Mbah a Moute might now be a necessity. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle opined the Rockets "have to" keep Mbah a Moute.

    He gave the Houston Rockets defensive versatility and the highest perimeter volume of his career (one triple per game, 36.4 percent success rate), all for the clearance price of the veteran's minimum. But two shoulder injuries derailed his season—the first requiring a month-long absence, the second rendering him virtually unplayable (25 percent shooting, 2.6 player efficiency rating) in the playoffs.

    It's possible recency bias creates a more muted market than he should otherwise receive.

    His multipositional defense alone makes him valuable in today's Association, and his perimeter development extends his influence to both ends of the court. Houston fared 3.5 points better per 100 possessions when he stepped inside the lines.

9. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

    Dirk Nowitzki is a free agent by title only. The Dallas Mavericks declined his $5 million team option to increase their buying power, maximized it by getting DeAndre Jordan's agreement to finally come and now could circle back to their longtime franchise face with the same money.

    The Mavs are likely to use their remaining $5 million in cap space to re-sign Nowitzki, league sources told Charania.

    It'd be fun to see how teams value the 40-year-old former MVP.

    He lost whatever athleticism he had, but Father Time has had trouble eroding the Diggler's skill set. The 13-time All-Star just set a new personal best with 2.6 threes per 36 minutes, and his 40.9 percent conversion rate was his fourth-highest in 20 NBA seasons.

    He was last a playoff participant in 2016, but Dallas has tried getting him back to the big dance at least once before he walks away. The Mavs were a 58-loss squad last season, but they could be poised to spring forward after adding Jordan, Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson already.

8. Wayne Ellington

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    Wayne Ellington is a specialist with a robust market. Suffice to say, he picked the perfect time to master the craft of long-range sniping.

    Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press reports 23 teams have expressed interest in the veteran sharpshooter. While Ellington has maintained his preference is to stick with the Miami Heat, their contract situation makes it complicated. Without moving other money, they'd probably launch into the luxury tax—for a non-contending roster—by giving Ellington a new deal.

    But no possibilities should be ruled out, since every team in the Association is buying what he's selling.

    He's an elite shooter. He was one of only 14 players to launch at least seven triples per game in 2017-18. In that group, he was also one of five to clear 39-plus percent from three; Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Paul George and Kyle Lowry were the others.

    That's why, despite being average-at-best defensively and limited off the bounce, he was invaluable for the Miami Heat. Among their rotation players, only Kelly Olynyk had a wider on/off split (plus-2.5 with Ellington, minus-1.6 without).

7. Jusuf Nurkic (Restricted)

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    As a 7-foot plodder with zero career three-point makes, Jusuf Nurkic seems in danger of being left behind in the pace-and-space NBA. Then again, the game was already wide open in 2016-17 when he set a nightly fire under the Portland Trail Blazers with 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals.

    Those look like building-block numbers, especially for a squad seeking consistency from somewhere beyond its backcourt.

    Problem is those figures fell across the board for Nurkic's second go-round in Rip City. He could dominate every now and again—nine outings with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, six of them with three-plus blocks—but he was more prone to either disappearing or standing out for the wrong reasons.

    It's easy to talk yourself into or out of Nurkic as a potential target. He's 23 years old, strong as an ox and skilled for his size. He's also a walking whistle (career 5.0 fouls per 36 minutes) and entering a market short on cash and overloaded with interior bigs.

    ESPN's Zach Lowe has mentioned the possibility of Nurkic playing next season on his qualifying offer, via Blazers Edge's Sagar Trika. An executive shared the same idea with John Canzano of the Oregonian.

6. Kyle Anderson (Restricted)

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    Kyle Anderson's market is moving the way his "Slow Mo" nickname says it should. That's not overly surprising given his restricted status, the unsolved Kawhi Leonard situation and Anderson's unique talents.

    He's spent the bulk of his career on the wings, despite possessing less-than-stellar athleticism and avoiding the perimeter arc like he's waging a war on analytics (career 0.6 three-point attempts per game). This might be where you notice we've given him top-15 treatment, so obviously something is working in his favor.

    There are many positive somethings, actually.

    His cerebral approach proves helpful when he's triggering pick-and-rolls or operating as a secondary playmaker. He plays within his limits, which manifests itself through elite field-goal shooting (47.8 percent for his career, 52.7 last season) and expert ball control (0.8 career turnovers per contest).

    Defensively, his length and instincts contribute to a quietly elite package. His 3.20 defensive real plus-minus ranked second among small forwards and 16th overall this past season, per ESPN.com.

5. Zach LaVine (Restricted)

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Unless someone starts Zach LaVine's free-agency clock by inking him to an offer sheet, his situation could take time to resolve.

    The Sacramento Kings are monitoring his negotiations but "less inclined" to extend an offer, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. The Atlanta Hawks are reportedly interested, per NBC Sports Chicago's Vincent Goodwill, but that's the extent of LaVine's market so far.

    The Bulls seem content to let someone else set his price, probably because it looks so difficult to calculate. He has  the size, athleticism and shooting stroke of a high-level combo guard, but his contributions have largely been limited to volume scoring and aerial acrobatics—and the latter came few and far between upon his return from a torn ACL.

    That's the abbreviated version of how a player who anchored the Jimmy Butler trade just last summer can now appear as a possible flight risk. The Bulls, of course, must be willing to let him walk, but maybe at a certain number they will be.

    "From Bulls perspective on LaVine, four years for $60 million has always felt like preferred number to them," ESPN.com's Nick Friedell tweeted. "At 23, nobody is sure what kind of player he'll become."

4. Jabari Parker (Restricted)

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    It's easy to read Jabari Parker's stat sheet as evidence the former No. 2 pick should be a no-doubt keeper for the Milwaukee Bucks. He's 23 years old, a 49 percent career shooter and a contributor of 20.6 points per 36 minutes over the past two seasons.

    But he's also missed 145 of a possible 328 games over his first four seasons, twice tearing the ACL in his left knee. He also doesn't do much damage from distance (career 1.7 attempts per game) and isn't the easiest fit on defense.

    That might explain why we aren't hearing much about his free agency, save for the Kings reportedly calling off their pursuit, per Schultz. But one would think it's a matter of time before someone wants a shot at Parker's offensive firepower and potential.

    "There's going to be interest in Parker, no doubt," a Western Conference coach told Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times. "Everybody knows he can play."

    Putting a price tag on Parker won't be easy, and the fact he's restricted doesn't help. But there are enough questions about his health and his defense to wonder if Milwaukee might opt against matching whatever offer sheet he signs.

3. Isaiah Thomas

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Isaiah Thomas might have the trickiest free agency of all.

    Two seasons back, he compiled max-contract credentials, finishing third in scoring and fifth in MVP voting. His stock has been tail-spinning ever since, plagued by a hip injury that ravaged his stat sheet before prematurely ending his 2017-18 campaign by necessitating surgical attention.

    So, which version is someone about to sign?

    Can Thomas get anywhere close to his 2016-17 levels, when he not only averaged 28.9 points but also did so with an ultra-efficient 46.3/37.9/90.9 shooting slash? Or is he the damaged-goods version we saw last season—an undersized scorer who didn't wow with volume (15.2 points per game) or efficiency (37.3/29.3/89.3)?

    Few players are more obvious candidates for a short-term, prove-it contract.

2. Marcus Smart (Restricted)

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Marcus Smart is a non-shooter who plays shooting guard during an era defined by shooting. But that's not the reason he's still awaiting his free-agency payday.

    The restricted market is barely budging so far, and most clubs with conceivable interest have spent their money elsewhere. Smart is the Boston Celtics' top priority, per Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe, but they're free to see what he fetches elsewhere or possibly even bring him back on his qualifying offer.

    If you can set aside Smart's 36.0/29.3/75.6 career slash, and he intrigues from almost every angle.

    Need a hustler? Smart was top 20 in deflections (2.9 per game, tied for 17th) and charges drawn (0.24, tied for ninth). Need a stopper? He not only defends multiple positions but also shaved 3.8 points off his matchup's field-goal percentage, had the seventh-best defensive real plus-minus at point guard (1.61, per ESPN.com) and improved Boston's league-best defense by 3.6 points per 100 possessions.

    Smart can also create, rebound, get to the free-throw line and play any perimeter position. His lack of shooting is a concern, but it's not one nearly grave enough to outweigh his numerous contributions.

1. Clint Capela (Restricted)

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    Back in November, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said Capela had "near-elite two-way" potential, but the club needed "one more step, at least," from its center, per ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon.

    By year's end, Capela had secured a second-place finish in the Most Improved Player award voting. His 2017-18 stat sheet was predictably loaded with career marks, including 13.9 points on a league-leading 65.2 percent shooting, 10.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and a 24.5 player efficiency rating.

    He's close to the ideal non-shooting big for today's game.

    His sweeping 7'5" wingspan pays off in rim protection, helping him slice 5.1 percentage points from his opponents' shooting rates within six feet. His explosive athleticism makes him a punishing lob finisher (91st percentile pick-and-roll screener) and relentless rebounder (sixth in rebounding percentage). His lateral mobility allows him to survive most perimeter switches.

    He does everything a low-usage center should, and he only recently turned 24. Morey might have the height of Capela's ceiling pegged perfectly.

                     

    Reported signings via NBA.com's free-agency tracker. Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from Basketball Reference or NBA.com.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.