This summer, the NBA is set for the league to shake up a little bit. The Oklahoma City Thunder have already made some power-shifting moves in the NBA Draft and the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks finished trades that made a little bit of noise leading up to the draft. However, the big changes that could be made involve the multitude of skilled free agents on the market. The top unrestricted free agents in NBA will surely make a big impact on whatever team they end up with.
Top NBA Unrestricted Free Agents
Kevin Durant – Small Forward – 6’9” 240 lbs
Without question, Kevin Durant is the biggest prize in NBA free agency. Since being drafted number two overall by the Seattle SuperSonics (now the Thunder) in 2007, Durant has been a force on offense and constantly improving on all sides of the court. He’s listed at 6’9” but really seems to be just an inch shy of seven feet tall. Kevin Durant can handle the ball with the best of them and is deadly from anywhere on the court offensively. He’s had some of the best seasons of anyone offensively all time and his resume keeps piling up as he begins to enter his prime. Something that’s gotten overlooked is his defense that has improved over the years. Last season, his matchups shot 38.7% on him during the year and 33.3% when he contested the shots, ranked 6th and 1st in the league. Only 27 years old, he has plenty of time to overcome his final obstacle of winning a championship. Whether he continues to pursue that with the Thunder, or decides to start a new path with a different team is the biggest question of this year’s free agency period.
LeBron James – Small Forward – 6’8” 250 lbs
LeBron James isn’t going anywhere, but he is still an unrestricted free agent which means he needs to be on this list. The only reason that James comes behind Kevin Durant is because of their ages. Durant is the best free agent prospect of 2016 because he is a top five player in the league and 27 years old. LeBron James, 31, still has a good chunk of his career ahead of him, but his best days are behind him. That doesn’t eliminate the fact that James is still the best basketball player in the world and did just erase the biggest burden that’s been on his shoulders since he was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Mentally, James might be the most relaxed and at peace he’s ever been, which could be better for him, or worse. That remains to be seen, but what is known right now is that he’s going back to Cleveland, just on a bigger salary, because he deserves it.
Mike Conley – Point Guard – 6’1” 175 lbs
When healthy, Mike Conley, is a top ten point guard in the league and arguably the best defensive point guard in the game. The most important part of that first sentence was the key words: when healthy. Conley has struggled to stay healthy while playing with the Memphis Grizzlies but always bounces back well after the injury. On offense, Conley is a great game manager and general on the court, doing what a traditional point guard is meant to do. He’s always done well at setting up his teammates and has improved his jump shot throughout the years. He’s not a go-to scorer, but is a reliable option and can provide points with his three point shot and driving to the basket. The best part about Conley’s free agency journey this summer is the fact that there are no doubts that he is the best point guard on the free agent market. This should give him some leverage that will get him a very nice contract, either a max contract or close to one. He’s already been rumored to be talking to the Dallas Mavericks, but staying with the Grizzlies still seems to be the most likely scenario as of now.
Al Horford – Center – 6’10” 245 lbs
The bad news should always come first. Al Horford has just turned 30 years old, and has had a few injury problems in the past, which have caused him to miss a lot of games. The good news is that he played a full 82 game season for the first time in his NBA career. However, as he continues to age, he will most likely become more susceptible to injury. All negativity aside, Horford is still one of the the best centers in the league and has plenty left in him to compete on a high level for the majority of his next contract. He may not be completely dominant on either side of the ball, but he’s a good defender, and improved his offensive game by expanding his shooting range to the three point line. He shot an average of 3.1 three pointers a game, a career high, and made 34% of them. His scoring and rebounding averages haven’t wavered and he’s still one of the best passing big men in the game. Horford is the best free agent big man this summer and will get his last big payday
Nicolas Batum – Small Forward – 6’8” 200 lbs
The best part about Nicolas Batum is that he has no weaknesses. He does everything well, but nothing exceptional. He’s good at handling the ball, shooting from anywhere, distributing the ball to his teammates and of course defending both on and off the ball. He’s one of the most reliable players in the game and with the salary cap spiking, he might get paid more than what he’s really worth, but at the same time, it could be a fair based on all the contracts that have been handed out to lesser skilled players. Batum has had some injury concerns in the past but should continue to be on the court more often than not. At the age of 27, he’s just entering his prime and could actually get better and become more of a go-to superstar. For now, any team will be satisfied with what he brings to the table now. His playmaking ability and great defense is welcome on any team, which is why he will be sought after by many teams during free agency.
Hassan Whiteside – Center – 7’0” 265 lbs
The Miami Heat free agent center is probably the most intriguing player in free agency. The only team that knows the most on what they’re getting out of Hassan Whiteside is the Heat. When Hassan broke out, he displayed signs of immaturity and stat padding. It was a new experience for Whiteside when he started becoming a national story, so it’s easy to forgive him for being a little overwhelmed by the spotlight and making some mistakes early on. However, as this last season progressed, Whiteside transformed from a stat padding shot blocker to a legit defender, learning how to defend the right way as well as building up blocks and rebounds. He learned how to defend the pick and roll pretty quickly after struggling for a while. He was a defensive liability at first, despite the shot blocking he was providing, but eventually became an asset and the Heat were far better defensively with Whiteside on the court. Offensively, Whiteside is dangerous in pick and roll situations, ending a lot of those situations with an athletic two handed jam. He sounds a lot like Deandre Jordan right now, but what separates them is the fact that Whiteside has shown that he has a well-rounded offensive game that continues to get better. He has demonstrated a decent jump shot, hook, faceup game and a small variety of other post moves. He’s not a reliable number one option, but he is a class above the Deandre Jordan-type players because he can be relied on to score at times. Whiteside will get superstar money, but the question is, can he be a superstar?
DeMar DeRozan – Shooting Guard – 6’7” 220 lbs
A great comparison for DeMar DeRozan is another shooting guard by the name of Joe Johnson. DeRozan plays a lot like a younger Joe Johnson, except he doesn’t have as good of a jump shot. He is a playmaker, but not efficient all the time. He’s also a bit of a liability on the defensive end, like Johnson has been all his career. Both are 6’7” shooting guards which is really good size and is an advantage over the smaller shooting guards. DeRozan is put into isolation situations a lot, which isn’t very efficient at all, but it worked for the Toronto Raptors more often than not, and they do want to keep him. DeRozan cannot be a number one option on a championship team, but it might work for him to be a second option and if he’s the third option on the team, that would be ideal. Of course that only is true if the team wants to be a championship contending team. DeRozan will most likely get overpaid, maybe even get a max deal. There was talk of him going to the Los Angeles Lakers but now it seems like he is going to go back to the Raptors on a long term deal. He does have offensive skill, but really needs to improve his jump shot if he is going to last in the NBA and stay valuable.
Dwyane Wade – Shooting Guard – 6’4” 220 lbs
Speaking of jump shots, here’s a true legend that has all but abandoned the three point shot. Dwyane Wade has never been a good three point shooter, and his career hasn’t suffered for that fact, but, he’s Dwyane Wade. He has never needed a great three point shot to be effective on the court. Wade is getting up there in age and his numbers were the lowest he’s ever had since his rookie year. But, at the age of 34, Wade has still played really well and still shows burst of that old Wade explosiveness we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. Wade stepped his game up in the playoffs against the Charlotte Hornets and the Raptors, but he always has done that. Right now, it’s unclear what Wade wants exactly. Based on his career and competitive mentality, one would think that Wade wants to compete for and win another championship, preferably with the Heat. The problem with that conclusion is the fact that Wade seems to be courting other teams and reports say that he wants more money after taking a lot of pay cuts throughout his career for the benefit of the team. The Heat have a lot of decision making to do in regards to possibly re-signing Hassan Whiteside, bringing back Wade for another run, and attempting to capture Kevin Durant as their biggest free agent splash since getting LeBron James in 2011. It looks like Wade has one last good year left in the tank, maybe two. Whether he wants to win another championship or just get the money owed to him is another topic. He’s still a top player in the NBA and one of the best free agents available.
Chandler Parsons – Small Forward – 6’9” 227 lbs
Chandler Parsons is very similar to Nicolas Batum in the fact that he’s good at everything and bad at nothing. The only difference is that Parsons just isn’t as good as Batum at those certain skills. Parsons is a good defender and shooter, and is able to hold his own off the dribble and drive, but shouldn’t be relied on as a playmaker like Batum. Parsons also dealt with some injuries in his two years with the Mavericks, and it’s interesting to see him opt out of his deal that he signed with them. It would be surprising to see him get more money with a different team after not living up to the deal that he signed with Dallas in the 2014 off-season. He is a great 3-and-D option and would be a great piece on a team that is already contending for a title. He might have lost some of that old athleticism that he displayed before signing with the Mavericks, and at 28, probably doesn’t have the same spring, but he did become a better shooter and that keeps his value high. After Kevin Durant, he might be the best shooter on the market. Parsons is a great option at the small forward position for a team that is ready to win now and a great third or fourth option on a championship-caliber team.
Pau Gasol – Power Forward/Center – 7’0” 250 lbs
He may be 35 years old, but Pau Gasol still has at least one more year to give to a team. Even though he was playing less minutes with the Chicago Bulls than he did with the Lakers, Gasol posted the two best rebounding numbers of his career, averaging 11.8 rebounds in year one with the Bulls, and then 11.0 in year two. His field goal percentage has dropped which is something to keep an eye on, but with the right team, that percentage can go right back up. Despite what he may think, playing 35 minutes a night would not be the best idea if he wants to win another championship. His legs will need to be conserved for the playoffs, and signing with a contender such as the San Antonio Spurs, Thunder, or the Golden State Warriors would allow him to play on a deep team where he can start, but not have to play too much. His rebounding, passing ability, and mid range jump shot will be valuable and welcome on all three of those teams. How much money Gasol is commanding on the market isn’t clear right now, but if he really wants to win a championship, taking a pay cut is the smartest decision for him to make. There are other big men on the market, such as Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Howard, but Gasol is the better option because of his combined ability to score inside and out of the post, rebound with the best of them, and is considered an elite passing big man. Dirk can score but still struggles to defend and rebound, and Dwight is still offensively challenged and not mature, still. After Horford and Hassan, Pau Gasol is the big man in free agency.