The upcoming NBA free agency class is more top-heavy in terms of superstar talent available, but there are underrated players on the market as well. Based on past reports and rumors, we now explore which moves could be made around the league.
10. Victor Oladipo
Oladipo has fallen on hard luck over the years. Due to injury, he has not been able to muster up over 36 games played since the 2018-19 season. This may scare off select organizations, especially as it pertains to any long-term commitment.
The conundrum teams will face is that despite his negative relationship with the injury bug, Oladipo has produced at a high level during the games in which he has been healthy. To this point, Oladipo has met or exceeded expectations for each organization he has been a part of prior to this season.
In 33 games played this year, he has averaged 19.7 points while shooting 40% from the field. The Heat don’t have much cap space, but with $28 million to spend, they might be able to convince Oladipo to come back on a team-friendly deal. The 29-year old reportedly purchased a home in Miami, adding to the speculation.
Prediction: Miami Heat signs Oladipo for one-year, $18 million with a mutual option for the 2023 season
9. Jarrett Allen
As mentioned in previous articles, the Cleveland Cavaliers are believed to be signing Allen to an extension worth over $100 million. Given his age and skillset, it sounds like a reasonable assumption.
The 23-year old has averaged a double-double in points and rebounds twice in his young career, which is exactly what every NBA team is hoping to get from their center. Generally, for a bigger market with a more established team, committing $100 million to a non-elite star is less desirable. The Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors, and Washington Wizards are rumored to be among the favorites.
Given the fact that Allen will be a restricted free agent, it gives the Cavaliers the opportunity to match any offer he decides to accept. Cleveland is rebuilding and has built a solid young core led by Collin Sexton, who is still under contract for two more seasons. While the Cavaliers are not likely to have much luck in drawing major free agents, retaining a player such as Allen is important. By the time Sexton will be ready for an extension, the expensive contract of Kevin Love will be expiring.
Prediction: Cleveland Cavaliers match a four-year, $100 million offer to retain Jarrett Allen
8. Mike Conley
Prior to trading Conley two years into his five-year, $152 million deal, the Memphis Grizzlies believed he would be worth every penny. He will certainly take a pay cut from his $34 million owed salary next season, but the criticism has been overwhelming.
Conley finally received some recognition after making the All-Star team as a reserve this season. Despite some inconsistency, he is still an above-average point guard. When it comes to a fit, a team such as the Los Angeles Lakers should express interest. As good of a fit that would be, the Lakers would need to figure out their cap situation.
The Utah Jazz likely have no interest in letting Conley depart in free agency, as their window at potentially winning a championship with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert is getting any bigger. The two sides have mutual interest in an extension, giving Utah the chance to compete for the title in the imminent future.
Prediction: Utah Jazz re-sign Mike Conley to a four-year, $80 million extension
7. DeMar DeRozan
While acquiring DeRozan for a disgruntled Kawhi Leonard was not poor compensation, the marriage never received full commitment from DeRozan. He was visibly taken back by being suddenly dumped by the Toronto Raptors. Still, DeRozan still gave full effort on the court and was able to remain a great teammate with the San Antonio Spurs. At this time, he is rumored to be taking a wide open approach to free agency and would like to return to the Eastern Conference.
Focusing on the East, it’s a shame that the Philadelphia 76ers committed such a large contract to Tobias Harris, because Derozan could potentially close that gap they didn’t know they lost after Jimmy Butler departed. Given their cap space and overall future commitments, that will not be happening.
The Raptors probably would not have been the worst fit, but given the fallout between the two parties, I wouldn’t hold my breath. If DeRozan decides to stay out West, the Dallas Mavericks could pair him alongside Luka Doncic. In all, the Los Angeles Clippers seem to be a fit at this time.
Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers sign DeMar DeRozan to a four-year, $116 million deal
6. Kyle Lowry
Lowry will join his former teammate in free agency this upcoming offseason. DeRozan may still have a few years of being considered one of the better players in the game, as he is just 31-years old. Lowry, 35, is seeking one more lucrative contract. He is reportedly seeking a two-year, $50 million deal, which seems like a plausible ask.
Lowry isn’t elite, but he has played at a high level over the years and brings experience to any locker room he steps in. Leading up to the 2020-21 season, Lowry has been leading the Toronto Raptors to the later stages of the playoffs on an annual basis and was a key part in the team’s 2019 NBA Championship run.
He will certainly have his suitors and while it’s difficult to imagine Lowry leaving the franchise he has been a part of since 2012, the Raptors may decide to go with a younger option such as Fred VanVleet.
Lowry reportedly wants to remain on a competitive team, which could help the case of the Miami Heat. They will be in the running for Kawhi Leonard this summer, but if they fail, they will certainly look to add to their franchise in other manners. He would be an excellent placeholder for the next few years until another opportunity arises. Lowry may prove to do wonders for the younger guards such as Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson.
Prediction: Miami Heat sign Kyle Lowry to a two-year, $50 million deal
5. John Collins (RFA)
As our first restricted free agent, Collins is set to enter free agency and is sure to garner offers around the league. This should be a no-brainer decision for the Hawks. They haven’t had the best luck in free agency in terms of bringing in elite talent and are going to want Trae Young to have a partner in crime during his stay with the franchise.
There are rumors about whether or not the team would want to match Collins on a max contract, but unless Kawhi Leonard is headed their way, the Hawks’ wings are tied. Collins, 23, is already one of the top big men in the league and his career trajectory appears to be going upwards. Rumors will proceed, but it would be a shock to see the Hawks let Collins go. They would be bound to receive offers for the forward if they fall out of love with him later on.
Prediction: Atlanta Hawks sign John Collins to a four-year, $104 million deal
4. Andre Drummond
Drummond is coming off making $28 million this past season as part of his player option he had in place when he signed his 5-year, $127 million contract with the Detroit Piston. While he is unlikely to make that annual total again, he remains an intriguing option for teams to look into this summer.
The Lakers would love to keep the 27-year old center, but his projected salary may force them to look elsewhere. Drummond hasn’t been strongly linked to many suitors to this point, with the rumors suggesting Los Angeles hopes to retain Drummond as part of their long-term future.
Montrezl Harrell can’t be too thrilled with being benched towards the end of the season, especially after playing quality minutes before Drummond arrived. Harrell has a player option worth just $9.7 million next season, which is an amount he may be able to succeed or match if he were to head elsewhere on a multi-year deal.
Dennis Schroder reportedly declined a four-year, $84 million extension to remain with the Lakers. Given the injury history of Anthony Davis, the Lakers may be primed to move some pieces and sign Drummond to that very deal Schroder turned down. Considering he recently turned down their minimum offer, he seems motivated to get a decent payday.
Prediction: Charlotte HORNETS sign Andre Drummond to a three-year, $63 million contract
3. Lonzo Ball (RFA)
Ball will be a restricted free agent for a small market franchise and is bound to seek a lucrative payday. His career is on the upward trajectory and his passing ability allows him to be a fit for just about any team.
Normally, the New Orleans Pelicans wouldn’t be able to afford letting a player of Ball’s caliber walk in free agency. In some ways, they still can’t. However, the cap situation in New Orleans is unique, considering they have other player’s pockets to award in the coming seasons. They already inked Brandon Ingram to a five-year, $158 million deal and they are surely to extend Zion Williamson when the time comes. Signing Ball to a long-term contract could affect their ability to fill out the team’s depth. Before Ball’s strong finish to the 2020-21 season, reports indicated the Pelicans were unwilling to match offers in free agency north of $18 million annually.
Plenty of suitors would love to have at least five years with three players that are bound to be a major part of the NBA going forward. If all three continue to develop the way they have, players will want to go there anyway. Ball has been linked to the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, but the Pelicans aren’t going to let the 23-year old point guard walk. Ball is reportedly set on staying in New Orleans, with both Ingram and Williamson campaigning for his return. They may seek a trade for him in the future, but not until Williamson is due for an extension of his own.
Prediction: New Orleans Pelicans sign Lonzo Ball to a four-year, $100 million deal
2. Chris Paul (Player Option)
Paul is in the final two years of his four-year, $160 million deal that appeared to be a disaster to some not too long ago. Paying over $40 million for an aging veteran seemed to be a steep price for any team to pay. Ultimately, it turned out to be worth every penny for the Phoenix Suns. Paul has proven to be the perfect fit for the team in helping elevate Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton closer to their full potential.
The leadership of Paul guided the Suns to the second-best record in the Western Conference. Turning down a $44 million contract to leave a situation where he has an opportunity to win and be focal point would certainly be a shock.
Prediction: Chris Paul accepts his $44 million player option to remain with the Phoenix Suns
1. Kawhi Leonard
When Leonard arrived in Los Angeles after spurning LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers, instead opting to join the Los Angeles Clippers, he expected to take over the city. Unfortunately for himself and Paul George, the Lakers are one championship richer since that time. Overall, his run with the Clippers has been disappointing, though he should only take minimum blame. It appears the possibility of Leonard departing the team after just two seasons could evolve into a reality.
Due to Leonard’s friendship with Jimmy Butler, the Miami Heat have been a name thrown into the mix prominently. This might have been a possibility prior to the Brooklyn Nets forming a “big three” led by Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. Though the Heat would remain competitive, the addition of Leonard would not make them the clear-cut favorites.
The Knicks are a team that should not be ignored in the race for Leonard. They have done an excellent job at laying the foundation for a star to call Madison Square Garden their home, but they would have an even lower chance of knocking off the Nets in a playoff series en route to winning a championship.
If the goal for Leonard is to take over the league and win titles, he should look no further than the Golden State Warriors. It would certainly take some shuffling of pieces, but if the Warriors want to ensure they are competing for a championship on an annual basis, this will be a necessary move this summer.
Prediction: The Golden State Warriors sign Kawhi Leonard to a three-year, $106 million deal (option after the first season)