NBA Insiders See These Under-the-Radar Free Agents Getting Huge Paydays

Jake Fischer@JakeLFischerContributor IMay 18, 2021

Portland Trail Blazers' Norman Powell (24) plays against the Memphis Grizzlies in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Now that the 2020-21 NBA regular season has come to a close, 10 front offices and counting have flipped the calendar to "offseason," shifting their focus onto the draft and free agency. 

However, this summer's free-agent market won't feature nearly as many buzzworthy names that team executives had been preparing for.

Giannis Antetokoumpo and Jrue Holiday both signed extensions with Milwuakee, as did Paul George with the Los Angeles Clippers. Old running mates Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan should still receive lucrative paydays, but the richest contracts tipping the scales around $20 million annually will likely be awarded to a few under-the-radar free agents. 

"Only so many players can take up so much cap room," said one veteran cap expert. "And some guys are going to get left out. But there will be a few guys who get big numbers that make your eyes pop." 

The Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors all have the ability to clear upward of $20-plus million in cap space come August. This summer might not be exactly like the chaotic free-agency frenzy of 2016, but a few players could land a pricey payday.

Richaun Holmes

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Among all of the big men that Sam Hinkie's Process generated, Richaun Holmes might be the player whom executives around the league favor most behind Joel Embiid. 

Holmes emerged as a true starting center in Sacramento this season, averaging career highs in points (14.2), rebounds (8.3) and blocks (1.6). And in a market that has recently rewarded low-usage, rim-rolling centers who protect the basket on the other end, Holmes could find himself netting a deal worth upward of $80 million over four years, according to league personnel polled by Bleacher Report. 

"He's super athletic obviously, really good timing as a roller, does a lot of the little things," said one longtime personnel man. "He's pretty durable. He doesn't need the ball. He can play with really any type of team. He doesn't really stretch the floor, but teams are looking for that level of guy." 

As the Kings build around their young backcourt of De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Halliburton, the above description bills as the optimal pick-and-roll partner for that pair. But Charlotte and Dallas appear to be Holmes' most likely destinations if he were to land elsewhere.

"I think everyone's going to be chasing him," said one team analytics staffer. 

The Hornets pursued Holmes before the trade deadline in a package that centered around swapping guard Malik Monk, sources said, although Charlotte's interest in Myles Turner and Montrezl Harrell also became widely known around the league. The Hornets also made a spirited effort to sign Andre Drummond on the buyout market, sources said, and the current Lakers center is set to reach the open market again this summer. 

Dallas also seems keen to pursue frontcourt reinforcements this offseason. While the Mavericks did quietly gauge trade interest on Kristaps Porzingis before the trade deadline, they are more determined to find a center to pair with their All-Star big man, sources said. That big man could very well become Holmes, although the Mavericks are likely to pursue John Collins this summer as well. 

The Thunder could have as much as $55 million in cap space in August, and you can bet agents around the league are hoping they're amenable to using that room. If OKC does look to lure someone, such as how former Thunder executive Troy Weaver splurged to pay Jerami Grant in Detroit last offseason, Holmes could be the perfect fit alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. 


Tim Hardaway Jr.

Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

As the Mavericks surged into the No. 5 seed out in the West, Tim Hardaway Jr. quietly marched up the list of Sixth Man of the Year candidates. He likely won't take home the award, but he's finishing his second straight campaign above 39 percent shooting from deep—nearly 5 percentage points above likely 6MOY Jordan Clarkson—right in time for free agency. 

"He's one of the best pure scorers in the league," said the personnel evaluator. "He can just move the scoreboard when he gets into the game. I think Dallas is using him in the role that most high-level teams would want to use him, the way that Utah's weaponized Clarkson off the bench. He could start for a lot of teams, but because he's a high-usage guy, he's better off the bench." 

Each front office seems to value bench scoring a bit differently. As Hardaway approaches his 30th birthday, he should have an opportunity to sign another lucrative contract fresh off his current four-year, $71 millon deal. 

"I like him for what he is," said the cap expert. "It wouldn't shock me if he got up to 20." 

After thriving alongside Luka Doncic, Hardaway might score that payday from the Mavericks. But if he does test the open market, keep an eye on the Heat, who have struggled to replace what Jae Crowder brought during their run to the 2020 NBA Finals. Victor Oladipo is no longer a candidate to land such a deal in the wake of his latest injury.


Dennis Schroder

Nick Wass/Associated Press

There may be no free agent whose summer is more dependent on the outcome of this postseason than Dennis Schroder. 

Back in March, ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported Schroder had declined a four-year, $84 million extension offer from the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this season (h/t Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk). The two sides' inability to strike a deal played a factor in the Lakers' pursuit of Lowry at the trade deadline, sources said. 

Multiple league executives who have overlapped with Schroder told B/R they believe the ball-handler is looking to be paid like a top-tier point guard, and his role in Los Angeles may not satisfy his interest in being the leading playmaker for a marquee franchise. 

"He sees himself as a big-market player, and obviously he wants to start," said the veteran personnel man. 

New York could present that opportunity for Schroder, and the Knicks are indeed considering a run at him in free agency, sources said. They appear likely to re-sign Derrick Rose as head coach Tom Thibodeau's reliable reserve floor general, but perhaps Schroder can be the answer for their' hole in their opening lineup on a deal worth north of $90 million.   


Spencer Dinwiddie

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Spencer Dinwiddie was highly mentioned around the trade deadline for the same reason that he could play a key role in the offseason. Signing-and-trading Dinwiddie is one of the few remaining options that the Brooklyn Nets have to upgrade their pricey roster, and the long list of potential trade suitors back in March should forecast a similar group this August. 

The Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic all showed interest in Dinwiddie before the trade deadline, sources said. The sign-and-trade possibility will open up a few more doors beyond the teams that can easily clear cap room, too.

"I'm a big Dinwiddie fan," said the personnel veteran. "He can be a really good third guard off the bench. And someone's gonna get overpaid…"

Dinwiddie appears to be progressing well in his rehab from the ACL and MCL tears he suffered in his right knee. While entering free agency off a serious injury is never ideal, this summer's complicated marketplace may carve an opening for him to reach an average annual value above $15 million. 


Norman Powell

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

The Trail Blazers assuredly did not swap Gary Trent Jr. for Norman Powell at the trade deadline with the intention of letting Powell leave for nothing. But Portland continues to stare at an increasingly expensive luxury-tax bill, and Powell's first trip to the open market could push his salary number far higher than what the Blazers are comfortable paying. 

"I think Norman Powell is gonna get 20-plus easily," said the personnel evaluator. "He's just a guy that can play with anybody. He doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective. He's a good defender, he's a great athlete, he gets to the rim. You can play him at the 3, you can play him at the 2. He's a great character guy." 

New York could pose the biggest threat to lure Powell away from the Pacific Northwest, as Thibodeau is considered a noted fan of the swingman. Even more so than Dinwiddie, a large list of suitors emerged for Powell ahead of the deadline, and he's two years younger than Hardaway. He also fits the mold for what Miami is currently missing on the perimeter. 

League executives also mentioned Bruce Brown, Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker and Nerlens Noel as players who could be in for significant raises averaging above $12 million per season. 

Jake Fischer covers the NBA for Bleacher Report and is the author of Built to Lose: How the NBA's Tanking Era Changed the League Forever.