NBA Free Agents 2021: Predictions for Players Who Will Command Most Interest

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMay 4, 2021

NBA Free Agents 2021: Predictions for Players Who Will Command Most Interest

0 of 3

    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Many of the NBA's top stars are signed to contracts that will keep them off the market during the upcoming offseason (and potentially for numerous summers to come). However, there should be some noteworthy names available during free agency after the conclusion of the 2020-21 season.

    Free agency is always one of the most exciting times on the NBA calendar. That's why it's never too early to start looking ahead at possible moves that might take place and the effects they could have on the 2021-22 season and beyond.

    Here's a look at several players who will command interest should they hit the free-agent market this summer, along with predictions for where each will end up.

Kawhi Leonard, SF

1 of 3

    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    It seems unlikely that Leonard will leave the Los Angeles Clippers. But there is a strong chance that the 29-year-old forward will decline his player option for the 2021-22 season and hit free agency this summer. Then, it will be up to the five-time All-Star whether he wants to return or head somewhere else.

    Leonard signed with the Clippers in July 2019, and they're one of the top teams in the Western Conference this season. Los Angeles currently sits in fourth and should be an NBA title contender when the playoffs begin (if it can finally get past the second round for the first time in franchise history).

    With his option being worth $36 million, Leonard would be able to make a higher salary if he opts out and hits the market. However, The Athletic's Sam Amick and John Hollinger reported last month that even when Leonard likely does that, it's widely expected that he'll then re-sign with the Clippers.

    "As it stands, that's the word from Clippers sources and rival executives alike," Amick and Hollinger wrote.

    So, expect Leonard to be back in Los Angeles, where he'll continue to play alongside fellow star Paul George and help to make the Clippers one of the strongest teams in the league.

    Prediction: Leonard opts out, re-signs with Clippers

John Collins, PF

2 of 3

    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Collins is set to be a restricted free agent this summer, so if the Atlanta Hawks want to retain the 23-year-old power forward, they'll be able to do so by matching any offer sheets. But in these types of situations, it's always possible for a team to arrange a sign-and-trade agreement.

    There are going to be interested teams, as Collins has emerged as a strong player over the past few years in Atlanta. This season, he's averaging 17.6 points and 7.6 rebounds in 57 games. And without many other similar top players likely on the free-agent market, he could be nearing a big payday this summer.

    Collins could be receiving max offers. Will the Hawks be willing to match that? It seems likely, because if they didn't consider him part of their long-term plans, they could have dealt him before the March 25 trade deadline. Currently in fifth in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta appears to be in a position to contend, and Collins would help it continue to do so.

    That means Collins' RFA status will help the Hawks retain the big man. And maybe they'll even work out an extension before that point. But either way, expect Collins back in Atlanta next season.

    Prediction: Collins re-signs with Hawks

Kyle Lowry, PG

3 of 3

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Lowry's name was frequently mentioned in trade rumors ahead of the March 25 deadline, but he ended up staying with the Toronto Raptors, who he's played for the past nine seasons. During that time, he's become an integral part of the franchise, helping it win its first NBA title in 2019.

    But Lowry's time with the Raptors could soon be nearing an end. The 35-year-old point guard has proved he can still play at a high level, and there are going to be teams interested in the skills and veteran leadership he brings once he becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

    Toronto is having a tough 2020-21 season, so it may want to get younger rather than spend big to bring back a player like Lowry, who is expected to have a "robust" market, per Amick and Hollinger. And there are some teams that appear likely to be among his suitors.

    "Among the three teams known to be in hot pursuit of Lowry [at the trade deadline]—the Lakers, Miami and Philadelphiaonly the Heat are in a financial position to possibly sign Lowry outright this summer," Amick and Hollinger wrote. "Sources say the Sixers still plan on pursuing him by way of a possible sign-and-trade."

    The Heat could be a great potential fit for Lowry, as they have some talented young players and are going to keep looking to build off their 2020 NBA Finals appearance. The prediction here is that he'll sign with Miami and give it a big boost in the backcourt for next season.

    Prediction: Lowry signs with Heat