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2021 NBA free agency: 45 players who will be available, including Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul

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The 2021 free-agent class could have been flashier. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George signed contract extensions before the season, Chris Paul still seems unlikely to leave the Western Conference champions and Kawhi Leonard never seemed like a real free agent, even before his ACL injury. To the degree that there’s a buzz about superstars changing teams, it’s about the trade market, not free agency. 

This class remains interesting, though, because of the veteran All-Stars and better-than-usual restricted free agents involved. The New York Knicks, New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs have the cap space to play the free-agency game, and it’s possible that the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls could join them. This list of 45 free agents is not a ranking, but the players have been grouped into categories that (hopefully) make it easier to digest. 

Free agents can officially begin negotiating with teams on Monday, Aug. 2, at 6 p.m. ET, and they can sign contracts on Friday, Aug. 6, at 12:01 p.m. ET.  

Looking for an All-Star caliber creator?

Conley was a crucial part of the Jazz‘s spectacular regular season, and he can’t reasonably be blamed for their exit in the playoffs. He’s one of their few above-average defenders, and he finally made his first All-Star team on the strength of his best offensive season since 2016-17. Utah might have reservations about committing long-term money to a 33-year-old point guard, but it doesn’t have much choice unless it is OK with taking a step back. The Jazz are expected to try to retain Conley and address the roster’s lack of defensive versatility on the margins. 

Lowry arrived in Toronto in 2012, was almost traded in 2014, re-signed for a second time in 2017, won a championship in 2019 and was almost traded again this March. He’s 35 years old, seeking a chance to compete for another title and what might be his last big payday. There’s a case for him returning to the Raptors, but they’ll have competition from win-now teams that think he can be their missing piece. New York has a hole at point guard, and the Pelicans and Mavericks are also reportedly interested. Lowry is close with Miami’s Jimmy Butler and has long been linked to his hometown Sixers, but these destinations would likely require a sign-and-trade. He can play on and off the ball and remains one of the league’s best help defenders. 

DeRozan, 31, is coming off the best playmaking season of his career, in which he averaged 7.4 assists and 2.1 turnovers per 36 minutes, to go with the refined midrange scoring and elite free throw rate he’s known for. If his time is up in San Antonio — and it’s not clear that this is the case — then the offense-starved Knicks are a compelling theoretical landing spot. He’d hardly solve their spacing problem, though, and he’s not the cleanest fit next to R.J. Barrett — any team interested in DeRozan needs to be able to put shooters around him and put the ball in his hands.   

Leonard is the best player on this list, and he doesn’t really belong here — while he declined his player option worth $36 million next season, he is widely expected to re-sign with the Clippers. By opting out, he is eligible for a new contract starting at $39.3 million, which would pay him $176.2 million over four years. It is unclear how, if at all, the partially torn ACL he suffered in the playoffs has affected his plans, and it likely will not affect his value. 

Paul had a $44.2 million player option on the table, but, like Leonard, reportedly declined it on Sunday. Assuming that he does not shock the league by ditching the Suns right after leading them to the Finals, Paul can try to maximize his earnings on a three-year contract worth up to $144 million in Phoenix or he can take a pay cut so the front office can stay below the tax and use its full MLE. 

RFAs of intrigue

Collins could tell you why he deserves a max or near-max extension, but his playoff performance speaks for itself. Despite being out of his offensive comfort zone next to Clint Capela, Collins found all sorts of ways to help the Hawks, answering questions about his ability to affect winning. Collins’ counting stats don’t show it, but he improved this past season, mainly on defense, and there’s now a two-year sample of 40-percent shooting from deep. Twenty-three-year-old players this talented usually sign rookie extensions, and every team that can put itself in a position to issue him an offer sheet should at least discuss it. Hard to imagine Atlanta not matching, though. 

Ball improved his 3-point volume and free throw shooting again, but his main strengths are still his main strengths: Passing, particularly in transition; defense, particularly off the ball; rebounding and top-tier basketball IQ. There will be a limit on how effective he is in the halfcourt until he becomes a scoring threat inside the arc, but he’s just 23 and brings so much to the table in every other facet of the game. While he pairs well with Zion Williamson, it appears that Ball is not long for in New Orleans — Chicago tried to trade for him months ago, and is reportedly likely to land him in the coming days.

Brown reinvented himself as a do-everything role player in Brooklyn, setting screens for stars and then hitting floaters and finding 3s and layups for teammates in the short roll. He has surely earned himself some suitors, but the Nets have his Bird rights and a deep-pocketed owner. It’s not necessarily impossible for another team to pry him away, but it won’t be cheap. 

In an era where specialists are almost extinct, Robinson is an exception to the rule. Sure, he’s “just a shooter,” but he’s a 6-foot-7 shooter who can make contested, on-the-move 3s at high volume. His accuracy dropped from 44.6 percent in 2019-20 to a still-extraordinary 40.8 percent this season, and, if the contracts Joe Harris and Davis Bertans signed last offseason are any indication, his salary is about to rise from $1.7 million to more than 10 times that. The Heat have all sorts of options this summer, and Robinson’s relatively low cap hold means that they should be in a position to re-sign him. 

A second-round success story, Graham’s cap hold is only $4.7 million, which gives Charlotte some flexibility. The Hornets have a lot of guards in the mix, but coach James Borrego turned that into a strength this past season. Small-market teams tend to hang onto players like Graham, and I’m curious to see whether or not he can get starter-level money. Graham can make plays out of the pick-and-roll, but he didn’t expand his offensive repertoire this past season: 67 percent of his shot attempts were from 3-point range. And his 3-point percentage was virtually identical to his breakout year, his accuracy on pull-up 3s fell beneath 30 percent. 

On the surface, Markkanen’s 2020-21 season seems impressive — he averaged 19 points per 36 minutes on 61.9 percent true shooting, finally cracking the 40-percent mark from 3-point range after three years of inefficiency. His free throw rate, usage rate and assist rate were all career lows, though, and a career-high 85 percent of his made shots were assisted. He doesn’t fit next to Nikola Vucevic, and if he’s going to make good on the promise he has shown since his rookie season, he can’t be reduced to a spot-up shooter. A sign-and-trade is probably best for both sides, but could be complicated to execute. 

Horton-Tucker’s emergence was one of the few unequivocal positives to come out of the Lakers‘ 2020-21 season. A second-round pick in 2019, he earned his spot with a mix of shifty playmaking, defensive versatility and an appetite for getting into the paint. Horton-Tucker is only 20 years old, with one year of experience in an NBA rotation, and anyone trying to steal him from the Lakers will be betting on him turning into a shooter (or perhaps taking on a Brown-like role when off the ball) — he made just 28.2 percent of his 3s last season and only attempted 3.6 per 36 minutes. The Lakers can use early Bird rights to sign him to a multi-year contract starting at up to $11 million.  

A couple of weeks after joining the Raptors, the former No. 37 pick scored a career-high 44 points, a particularly remarkable performance because Trent did it on 17-for-19 shooting. His overall efficiency actually declined after the trade, though, and while his usage increased, it was all based on playmaking for himself, not others. Trent is 22 years old and he’s shot 39.7 percent from 3-point range over the past two seasons, with some memorable flashes of high-level perimeter defense. Teams generally don’t acquire restricted free agents with the intention of trading them, so the safe bet is that he’s not going anywhere.

The Cavs did well to swoop in and steal Allen as part of the James Harden trade, but now they have a decision to make: Are they willing to pay whatever it takes to retain him? His re-signing felt more like a fait accompli before Cleveland wound up with the No. 3 pick in the draft, which the team used to select big man Evan Mobley. Allen, 23, has proven to be a reliable screen setter, finisher and team defender, but it’s up for debate whether or not he and Mobley are complementary.  

Hart fits everywhere, including New Orleans. One of the few Pelicans you can’t blame for their poor defense the last couple of seasons, there’s a strong case for bringing him back. He’s not a great outside shooter, nor is he the ideal defender to put on supersized star wings, but he brings smarts, versatility and awesome rebounding for his size. If they let him go, it’s probably because they had to choose between keeping him and signing a free agent like Lowry. 

Others to consider: Kendrick Nunn (R), Hamidou Diallo (R), Saben Lee (R), Jordan McLaughlin (R), Jarred Vanderbilt (R), Frank Ntilikina (R), Terence Davis (R), Garrison Mathews (R), Svi Mykhailiuk (R), Tony Bradley (R)

UFAs of intrigue

His spot-up shooting complements Luka Doncic extremely well, but, if the Mavs want to have real cap space before Doncic becomes a max player, they’d essentially have to renounce Hardaway. If they choose to let him walk, though, they’d also sacrifice their full mid-level exception (MLE), so they’d have to be confident they were adding a real difference-maker with that cap space. If Hardaway returns at an eye-popping number, it’s because his ability to make contested shots has proven indispensable in the playoffs. 

Dinwiddie suffered a partial tear of his ACL two weeks into the season, so we barely got to see him play with Kevin Durant, never mind seeing him play with James Harden. Now that Harden is in the mix, Dinwiddie seems overqualified for whatever role the Nets can give him, but, then again, they sure could have used another playmaker in the second round of the playoffs. If they can’t bring him back, it would behoove them to work out a sign-and-trade, like the rumored deal that would send him to Washington. The 28-year-old played the best basketball of his career when he had a chance to run the show in 2019-20, and it might finally be his time to be that guy on a full-time basis.

Powell was less efficient and less prolific in Portland than in Toronto, but still fit in extremely well offensively. If the Blazers don’t pivot to rebuild mode, expect them to try to re-sign him — when they acquired him at the deadline, it was as much for his Bird rights as it was for the stretch run. Should they hesitate, at 28 he’s just young enough that every cap-space team should at least be interested. In his first season as a full-time starter, Powell got buckets in every which way. 

Easily the best unrestricted center on the market, Holmes has developed into the kind of player that could help the Kings get back to the playoffs. They’re in a tricky spot, though, because they only have early Bird rights on him, which means they can only offer up to $10.5 million in the first year of a new deal. It’s unclear if they traded for Tristan Thompson as a potential replacement or as Holmes’ backup.  

When the Suns signed Payne out of the G League before the NBA bubble, nobody knew he was going to become one of the better backup point guards in the league. He’s playing a key role on a Finals team, and he could handle more minutes on a team that doesn’t have two stars in the backcourt. The speed has always been there, but the shooting — from 3 and from floater range — has changed everything. Phoenix has his early Bird rights. 

Another ex-Thunder guard on a minimum contract, Jackson played some of the best basketball of his life in this year’s playoffs. He has found a home in Los Angeles, having transformed from a pick-and-roll playmaker to a deadeye shooter who can still create in a pinch. If he wants to return, though, he’ll have to accept a contract starting at $10.3 million. Like the previous two players on this list, the Clippers only have Jackson’s early Bird rights, so they could theoretically get priced out. 

Schroder reportedly turned down a two-year, $34 million extension before the season and a four-year, $84 million extension before the trade deadline. He was not a perfect fit in Los Angeles, since the career-best shooting he showcased in 2019-20 didn’t hold up, and he’s probably headed elsewhere now that Russell Westbrook has replaced him in the “take some playmaking pressure off of LeBron James” role. 

At the trade deadline, it seemed pretty simple: The rest of the season would be an audition of sorts for Oladipo in Miami. He wasn’t expected to play at the All-NBA level he reached in 2018; he just had to fit in and give the offense some off-the-dribble juice. Unfortunately, Oladipo only appeared in four games before needing season-ending quad surgery. Whether he re-signs or goes elsewhere, at this point he probably needs to sign a short-term deal to prove he deserves a longer, more lucrative one. The Miami Herald reported that he could remain sidelined until as late as next February.  

This is complicated. Players like Oubre are always in high demand, but his first season with the Warriors was a mixed bag. He’s not a natural fit in their offense, they were much less effective with him on the court and he took offense to Steve Kerr’s comments about moving him to the bench when Klay Thompson is healthy. Since Golden State should not be in the business of letting anybody walk, a sign-and-trade is a possibility. 

Like Payne and Jackson, Caruso has been one of the biggest bargains in the NBA for the last couple of seasons. Rather than changing games as a scorer, though, he has been a defensive sparkplug for the Lakers. They have his full Bird rights, which gives them a good chance to retain him even if there is a long line of teams offering him the MLE. Re-signing him should be an even bigger priority than it was a few days ago, given that Los Angeles just traded away much of its depth for Westbrook. 

The vets: Point guards and combo guards

Williams will turn 35 in October, and he indicated on Instagram that he thinks he’ll return to Atlanta. You know what his strengths and weaknesses are by now, so it’s just a matter of whether or not he and the Hawks can find a sensible deal for him to run the second unit. Even if he walks, the team can take a victory lap on the trade that brought him home, since two second-round picks came with him. 

No one stole the ball like McConnell last season. And while his defense deservedly attracted attention, he also had the most efficient offensive season of his career, shooting a career-high 58.6 percent inside the arc — the man loves his short jumpers. The 29-year-old clearly played well enough to warrant a raise, but the Pacers can’t give him one comfortably. They’re close to the luxury tax, with another key free agent reserve and all sorts of questions about how their pieces fit. 

If he’s happy with the role he had in New York, it would make sense to come back on a deal starting at $13.4 million, the most the team can offer with his early Bird rights. Rose, who turns 33 in October, shot 42 percent from deep and 50 percent from midrange in 35 games with the Knicks, per Cleaning The Glass, both of which would easily be career highs if maintained for a full season. He elevated the team offensively as soon as he arrived, but, as he said at the end of the season, New York has “big plans” for the offseason. If the dominos fall a certain way, he could end up back in Chicago.       

Mills has spent the last decade in San Antonio, and now the front office must weigh his corporate knowledge against the opportunity to give its young playmakers more responsibility. If the Spurs do choose to let Mills go, they’ll miss his shooting — Mills’ overall efficiency dipped a bit last season, but he still made 41.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s on 3.9 attempts per game. He turns 33 five days after free agency starts. 

After a rocky first few years, Monk’s fourth season was by far his best. This is a feat in itself, given that he got COVID-19 just before training camp started and wasn’t in the Hornets’ rotation until late January. He shot a career-high 40.1 percent from deep and seemed to find his place as an instant-offense sixth man, a role that was particularly important when Charlotte was without Gordon Hayward, in need of a credible threat off the bounce. There is upside here given that he’s just 23 years old, but the Hornets’ effectively replaced him when they drafted James Bouknight and did not tender him a qualifying offer. 

Others to consider: Alec Burks, Garrett Temple, Austin Rivers, Brad Wanamaker, Cory Joseph, Avery Bradley, Elfrid Payton, Ish Smith, Raul Neto, E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway, Bryn Forbes

The vets: Wings

While the soon-to-be 29-year-old wing looked like a good bet to return to Boston after the Kemba Walker trade, it’s less clear where he stands now that Josh Richardson is in the mix. Fournier had a tumultuous couple of months with the Celtics, but he gave them another big wing who can score and make the occasional play. Is Boston willing to go deep into the luxury tax to re-sign him?     

Barton has declined his $14.7 million player option, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he and the Nuggets are headed for a divorce. He became an even more crucial part of their rotation when they traded Gary Harris and R.J. Hampton at the deadline, and they’ll be without Jamal Murray for most of next season if not all of it. 

McDermott was a bright spot in a confusing and dramatic Pacers, season, reinventing himself as not just a movement shooter but an extremely efficient at-rim scorer — 47 percent of his shot attempts came at the rim, per CTG, and he made 69 percent of those attempts, a result of his smarts cuts, ability to attack close-outs and good touch as a finisher. Like McConnell, the 29-year-old McDermott is due for a significant raise. The Pacers might have to pick between them.  

It didn’t carry over to the playoffs as well as the Knicks hoped, but Bullock was a crucial part of their shockingly successful regular season. He almost always drew the most difficult defensive assignment and seemed to relish the role. Offensively, he made 41 percent of his 3s at a pretty good volume, and he was the only player on the roster who could shoot on the move. Bullock’s cap hold is only $5.5 million, which could help the Knicks if they’re trying to play the cap-space game, but keeping him will be much more expensive than that, given how many teams are looking for 3-and-D wings. 

The prototypical 3-and-D wing, Green’s absence was felt when he went out with a calf injury in the Sixers’ second-round series against the Hawks. Green made 40.5 percent of his 3s in Philly and is exactly the kind of smart, low-usage role player that helps teams win championships. Expect him to re-sign or work out a sign-and-trade, unless he is willing to accept a below-market contract to choose his next destination. 

Miami declined Iguodala’s player option, and he might be headed toward a Warriors reunion. He will turn 38 next season and shouldn’t be expected to give his next team the same kind of minutes he gave Golden State when it was going to the Finals every season, but he remains one of the smartest defensive players in the league.

Others to considerJustise Winslow (team option), Kent BazemoreWayne Ellington, JJ Redick, Andre IguodalaDenzel Valentine, Sterling Brown, David Nwaba, Wesley Matthews, Otto Porter Jr., Furkan Korkmaz, Rodney Hood (non-guaranteed), DeAndre’ Bembry (non-guaranteed), Isaac Bonga

The vets: Frontcourt/bigs

Green joined Mike D’Antoni in Brooklyn to reprise the stretch-5 role he played in Houston, and eventually James Harden followed them there. It was an ideal fit for player and team, with Green shooting a career-high 41.2 percent on 3s, many of them wide open, and switching like crazy on defense. He’ll turn 35 in August, but he played well enough to fairly seek more than another minimum contract — and that’s where this gets complicated. The Nets can offer him a $3.1 million salary with non-Bird rights, or they can dip into their taxpayer MLE, and they’re in the same position with the next player on this list. 

It’s hard to imagine a better stint for a buyout guy. Griffin went from the scrap heap to the starting lineup in Brooklyn, outperforming every expectation on the defensive end and proving that he still has some athleticism to go with his high-post passing and spot-up shooting. It wasn’t the same kind of prove-it season that 2018-19 was, but if there were questions about whether or not he could adapt to a complementary role, he answered them forcefully. Is this the kind of role he wants to play again, though? 

It is a wonder that Tucker, at 36 years old, is still doing this. He’s still logging big minutes in the NBA Finals, playing the exact same relentless, exhausting style of defense that defines him. Sure, the Bucks‘ opponents have hidden smaller defenders on him and played off of him in the halfcourt, but they’re often paid the price when Tucker has crashed the offensive glass. Whether he returns to Milwaukee or latches on to another contender, expect him to be pestering superstars in next year’s playoffs. 

Noel turned out to be one of the better signings of the 2020 offseason, stepping into a starting role for most of the season because of Mitchell Robinson‘s injury issues. He is a perfect match for Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system, and at 27 years old he should still be a vertical threat for the life of his next contract. It’s typically tough for non-shooting bigs to hit it big in free agency, but Noel sets himself apart from some of his peers with his quick hands and feet. 

There’s nothing particularly exciting about Theis, and he’ll likely end up underpaid because of it. He’s a physical presence despite standing only 6-foot-8, and any winning team can use role players who play smart positional defense and set great screens. There are avenues toward him staying in Chicago, but the team needs to figure out what it’s doing with Markkanen, whether or not it’s going to renegotiate Zach LaVine‘s contract and how it’s going to handle the three key players who are on partially guaranteed deals. 

It’s hard to overstate how important the Batum renaissance was to the Los Angeles Clippers, even before he began playing small ball 5 in the playoffs. At 32 years old he’s not the same point-forward type he used to be, but he’s still a plus defender with positional flexibility and real gravity on the perimeter. He could try to find a new team that can pay him more than the $3.1 million the Clippers can offer with non-Bird rights, but it’s worth noting that he’s still getting paid by the Hornets for another two seasons. 

The box-score stats are nothing special, but Green gave the Nuggets a lot of the glue-guy stuff they were getting from Jerami Grant. Nikola Jokic said he wants to play with him forever, so if Green decides to opt-out of his $7.6 million salary, Denver would be wise to re-sign him on another one-plus-one deal.

Every “Bobby! Bobby!” chant in the playoffs made it more likely that he would decline his $3.8 million player option. Milwaukee has non-Bird rights on Portis, meaning it can offer him a contract starting at $5.9 million at most. He obviously loved his championship-winning season with the Bucks, but he can likely get more money elsewhere.  

Collins has had a thoroughly cursed couple of years and underwent his third ankle surgery in late June. Once seen as part of the Blazers’ core, they allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent, making him an interesting second-draft candidate for teams that are willing to be patient. 

Others to consider: Kelly OlynykPaul Millsap, Cody Zeller, Khem Birch, JaVale McGee, Boban Marjanovic, D.J. Wilson (R), DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Nemanja Bjelica, Isaiah HartensteinDewayne Dedmon, Taj Gibson, Moe Wagner, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Frank Kaminsky, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Enes Kanter, Hassan Whiteside, Gorgui Dieng, Trey Lyles, Rudy Gay, Trevor Ariza, Torrey Craig, Stanley Johnson, Aron Baynes (non-guaranteed), Georges Niang, Robin Lopez, Alex Len


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