10 NBA Free Agents Who Need a Change of Scenery

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 26, 2021

10 NBA Free Agents Who Need a Change of Scenery

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    Noah K. Murray/Associated Press

    Every NBA free agent wrestles with the same decision each summer.

    Should I stay, or should I go?

    For some, they could spend all season pondering the inquiry and still fail to find a clear response. For others, it's a lot more obvious.

    The following 10 players should all be in the market for a scenery change this offseason. Their reasoning might be different—bigger role, more money, better chance at winning—but they should be united by a desire (or at least an openness) to take their talents elsewhere.

DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs (Unrestricted)

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    While DeMar DeRozan joined the Spurs as a four-time All-Star and never earned a selection over three seasons in San Antonio, he is a more complete player for passing through the program. No, they couldn't work their magic with his three-ball—and didn't try; he took fewer threes for them than he did for the Toronto Raptors—but they still leveled him up as an efficient scorer and table-setter.

    But some suitor far closer to contending than San Antonio should reap the rewards of this new and improved DeRozan. They'll likely pay a fortune to do it, too, since he's the best wing on this market not named Kawhi Leonard.

    This offseason affords a clean break into a new era for the Alamo City, as DeRozan is one of several high-priced vets heading to the open market. As such, the Spurs should be ready to fully lean into their youth movement, while DeRozan should be seeking greener pastures with better win-now chances.

    The veteran swingman plans to take a "wide open" approach to free agency, per The Athletic's Sam Amick and John Hollinger, as he should. DeRozan can send the Spurs a "thank you" note for their developmental work with him, but that should be the extent of his offseason involvement with the franchise.

Rudy Gay, San Antonio Spurs (Unrestricted)

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    We told you a new Spurs era was on the horizon, right?

    Like DeRozan, a fellow mid-range master who previously hooped up north, Rudy Gay made the most of his three-year tenure in San Antonio. His highest-ever field-goal percentage came in a Spurs uniform. Ditto for his personal-best rates from three, from two, in effective field-goal percentage and at the stripe.

    But, again, he should take those lessons learned and apply them to a team in closer proximity to success. The Spurs might have been the Association's gold standard for consistent greatness, but it's now back-to-back seasons without a playoff trip after securing a spot in each of the previous 22 campaigns.

    Gay shouldn't have trouble attracting win-now suitors. He can help steer a second-team attack and complement stars as a reliable three-point threat (38-plus percent in two of the past three seasons) and workable flexibility on defense. He can assist in a championship chase—just not in San Antonio.

Devonte' Graham, Charlotte Hornets (Restricted)

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Five players have averaged 16 points, six assists and three triples since the start of last season, according to Stathead. Normally, that kind of statistical exclusivity would be attached to an organizational centerpiece, but that's not the case for Devonte' Graham in Charlotte.

    Despite a fifth-place finish in Most Improved Player voting last season, Graham's role and numbers were slashed in 2020-21 to make room for rookie sensation LaMelo Ball. With the latter locked into a starting (and featured) role for as long as he calls Buzz City home, the former should be looking for a new team, even if the North Carolina native would prefer to stay put.

    "I'm at home," Graham told SI.com's Roderick Boone. "So I definitely wouldn't want to go anywhere else."

    However, Graham's statistical decline won't reverse in Charlotte. He's not just behind Ball for chances; Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier eat first, too. Plus, the Hornets will have other priorities in free agency, including upgrading at center and perhaps bringing back Malik Monk.

    Graham, who was believed to be available at the trade deadline, per Amick, should look elsewhere for a bigger opportunity. As a reliable ball-handler, playmaker and outside shooter, Graham could sniff out a starting gig as long as he's willing to look outside his home state.

Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Lakers (Player Option)

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Of the million different ways Montrezl Harrell might have imagined his first season with the Lakers playing out, the actual events may have never crossed his mind. Between the club sinking to seventh in the West to Harrell seeing major reductions in opportunities and production, if this isn't a worst-case scenario, it's at least in the same zip code.

    Still a per-36-minutes star, his actual floor time collapsed amid overcrowding in the frontcourt. Competing with Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol, Harrell averaged 17.4 minutes between April and May and was even passed over by Lakers coach Frank Vogel entirely on a few occasions.

    "Every night I feel like I can always be out there to help the team, but on some nights coach don't see a fit for me to be whether it's rotations or matchups," Harrell said, per Lakers Nation's Ron Gutterman.

    Harrell, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, can find a bigger role (and more than his $9.7 million player option) somewhere else. He has his limitations defensively, but he is so good at the other end (career 21.7 points per 36 minutes on 61.6 percent shooting) that teams with holes in the middle might see him as a starter and be willing to pay him accordingly.

Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors (Unrestricted)

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Kyle Lowry might have icon status in Raptors world, but the team still nearly cut ties with him at the trade deadline. They were close enough for the longtime floor general to have a pseudo-farewell press conference the night before and for president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri to later tell reporters the club was "comfortable with any direction that it went."

    Lowry should grab the scissors and do the cord-cutting himself.

    At 35 years old, he only has so much time to expand his jewelry collection. The Raptors are almost certainly not winning the 2022 title with or without him. They had their first sub-.400 winning percentage since 2011-12. Even if they recovered and returned to full strength, they're still at least one tier beneath the East's true elites: the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks.

    Lowry told reporters he'll look out for his family (personally and economically) in free agency while also putting a premium on contending sooner rather than later. Potential suitors can scratch those itches better than the Raptors, who might covet youth for a mini-reset this offseason.

    Lowry, meanwhile, could opt for the highest bidder among win-now shoppers. With potential doors open to the Heat, New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers (in a sign-and-trade), it makes the most sense to continue his career south of the border.

Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat (Restricted)

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Kendrick Nunn may not be a household name, but he deserves to be a priority target for someone this summer.

    All he's done through his first two NBA seasons is: snagged an All-Rookie first-team spot, received Rookie of the Year votes and been one of 36 players to average 15 points, three assists and two triples since the start of last season, per Stathead. His shooting rates all spiked this season (.485/.381/.933) to the point that a touch more success could grant him 50/40/90 enshrinement.

    But he won't be prioritized by the Heat. Not in free agency, where they're already reportedly dreaming about Kawhi Leonard, and if that falls flat could turn their attention to Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, while saving enough money to shower sharpshooter Duncan Robinson with cash. If Nunn ran it back in Miami, he wouldn't be prioritized next season either, as the Heat have already entrusted Tyler Herro and Goran Dragic with higher usage rates.

    Nunn has played his way off the back-burner, but he will need to skip out of South Beach to be treated as such.

Kelly Olynyk, Houston Rockets (Unrestricted)

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Kelly Olynyk might have enjoyed his late-March move to Houston. Those who rostered him in fantasy leagues sure did.

    On a team with zero expectations and a plethora of minutes and offensive opportunities available to him, the skilled big man feasted. It was a buffet-style bounty, as he savored samplings from nearly every stat category. When the final buzzer sounded on his 27th game with the team, he had amassed per-game averages of 19.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 31.1 minutes, plus a pristine 54.5/39.2/84.4 slash line.

    He probably had fun, but it was "fun" in the same way as a pre-pandemic trip to the buffet was. It seemed enjoyable enough in the moment, but it's a bunch of empty calories with no substance behind them. You can't (or at least shouldn't) sustain that for long.

    Olynyk, who turned 30 in April, has yet to win a title and missed out on the playoffs twice in the last three years. It doesn't make much sense for him or the James Harden-less, rebuilding Rockets to stay together in free agency. His combo of size, shooting and playmaking will entice some win-now shoppers, and even if he never pigs out again like he did those two months in Space City, he'll likely be more fulfilled by the substance of his contributions.

Kelly Oubre Jr., Golden State Warriors (Unrestricted)

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    In mid-March, right in the heart of an up-and-down season for Kelly Oubre Jr., the San Francisco Chronicle's Connor Letourneau brought word that Oubre could command a salary "north of $20 million annually" this offseason.

    The takeaways from that report were twofold. For starters, it indicated a willingness to look past this disappointing season and instead buy into the 25-year-old's athleticism, defensive versatility and outside shot. Then, it pointed to Oubre probably getting that pay raise somewhere other than Golden State, as the over-the-tax Warriors likely have no interest in giving that kind of coin to a player who couldn't fit into their offensive system.

    If that money is on the table—and this isn't a strong class of wing free agents, so it could be—Oubre should take it and run. It would not only bring in vast wealth to him and his family, but it would also almost assuredly come with a much cleaner path to the starting lineup than he would have with the Warriors.

    He's a better player than he showed in Golden State. The 2019-20 campaign, in which he gave the Phoenix Suns 18.7 points per game on 45.2/35.2/78.0 shooting, says as much. For whatever reason, the Warriors offense never clicked with Oubre. This summer, he should find one that will and collect all the cartoon money bags sure to come along with it.

Otto Porter Jr., Orlando Magic (Unrestricted)

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    An overdue overhaul is happening in Orlando.

    Otto Porter Jr., who turns 28 in June and suffered through another injury-riddled season, should want no part of it.

    His three-and-D game is best served on a winning roster with other offensive threats around him. He had some strong moments on the Washington Wizards playing off Bradley Beal and John Wall. Had the latter avoided catastrophic injury, Porter may well still be hooping in the District. Porter even had some excellent flashes for the Chicago Bulls, who, while not good, had an offensive alpha in Zach LaVine.

    Porter won't have offensive support in Orlando. The Magic tied their future to Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz, a pair of defense-first players coming off major knee injuries. Spark plug Terrence Ross paced the team in points this season with 15.6 per night. Rookie Cole Anthony ranked second at 12.9 despite shooting below 40 percent from the field.

    Unless Porter's injury history scares off suitors to the point he needs to take a one-year, prove-it pact, it's hard to see why he'd sign up for another season in Orlando. It's even harder to tell why a Magic team so focused on the future would want him back.

Denzel Valentine, Chicago Bulls (Unrestricted)

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    The Bulls were once big believers in Denzel Valentine. They made him the final pick of the 2016 draft lottery and gave him 37 starts and nearly 28 minutes per game in his sophomore season.

    But his numbers have back-tracked since. He averaged just 16.7 minutes and 6.7 shots this season, and those were improvements over the previous one. To be fair, he hasn't done a ton to warrant more. He has a 10.7 career player efficiency rating; the metric's league-average mark is 15.

    Maybe this is just who he will be in the NBA, but he should want a shot somewhere other than Chicago to find out.

    His shooting decline—41.7 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from deep as a sophomore; 38.6 and 33.2, respectively, since—suggests something isn't working with the Bulls. It could be the offense, the developmental program, the supporting cast, the coaching or some combination of all four. Either way, this looks like it has reached the point where a scenery change is the only hope for getting his stalled career back on track.


    All stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.

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