Is it weird that we can’t wait for the NBA Finals to be over so we can finally start the circus of the summer in the NBA? Sorry to say it, but this is mostly Kevin Durant’s fault. After all, it was because of his free agency that the NBA “lost its fun” for at least a few years. Thankfully though, it finally seems like the Warriors’ grasp on the league is loosening up as there are teams both East and West that seem to be getting closer and closer to their level. Say what you will, but the Western Conference Finals seemed more like a series that the Houston Rockets lost than a series that the Golden State Warriors won.
But bringing things back to the summer and most specifically to free agency, this is going to be a bumpy one. There are big names like LeBron James and Paul George hitting the market, and those are the names everyone is talking about. However, many people forget there are other players who are going to be on the market who could also help a good team become a great one. With that in mind, we decided to make a list of 15 NBA free agents no one is talking about but could really make a difference in how the next season pans out.
15 J.J. Redick - Philadelphia 76ers
If there was a winner in free agency last season, that guy was J.J. Redick. After all, it is not always that a player averaging 15 points and 1.4 assists per game gets offered the $23 million contract. Yeah, how crazy is it that Redick got $23 million to play just one season for the Philadelphia 76ers? But hey, while it could be a long discussion if whether or not the guy deserved that kind of money, he did play very well and was a key piece in bringing the young 76ers to the playoffs and helping them overachieve all of the expectations that were put on them when the season began. The guy had a career-high 17.1 points per game while shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc in more than six attempts a night.
If anything, for Redick, that at least enough to prove to any other team in the NBA that he is a force to be reckoned with and a player that can help literally any team in the NBA today. The game is played from the three-point line most of the time and having a guy like Redick on your team is monumental if you are looking for a deep playoff run. The thing here is that you can very much expect this guy to take a huge pay cut to re-sign with Philadelphia. He loved playing there, and he knows that his best shot at winning a title is to stay in Philly.
14 Avery Bradley - Houston Rockets
One guy who is not getting enough press but will definitely be one of the most coveted free agents this summer is Avery Bradley. This is the kind of player every team needs in the NBA today. Yeah, we talked about how J.J. Redick could be a monumental addition to any contending franchise, but the same could be said about Bradley.
A 37 percent three-point shooter last season, Bradley has the tools to knock down most open shots and even create his own here and there. But above all else, teams need him because he is a prolific three-and-D player.
While Bradley might not be the tallest guard at 6’2”, he's athletic enough to keep up with most perimeter players as well as some forwards. His athleticism is the real key to his game as he is able to defend taller guys by staying in front of them when they have the ball.
As for possible destinations, he could go pretty much anywhere in the NBA as most teams will try to sign him when the summer rolls around. Nevertheless, two of the most likely landing spots for Bradley would be either the Houston Rockets or the Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC needs a perimeter defender and a three-point shooter to complement Andre Robertson. Meanwhile, Houston will need another good shooter and a defensive presence if they want to take another step forward. If Bradley is looking for a championship, Houston will be the best bet for him.
13 Brook Lopez - Portland Trail Blazers
Brook Lopez saw a big shift in his career this past season. He went from being a franchise player with the Brooklyn Nets, a franchise he has been with since he was drafted in 2008, to becoming the veteran guy in a young Los Angeles Lakers locker room. Some people might say it is not the best move for someone’s career, but after playing all those years with the Nets, you cannot blame the guy for wanting at least one year of sunshine in LA. At least with the Lakers, he had a little hope that his team could go far. Nevertheless, the Lakers did not go too far, and Lopez saw a dramatic diminishment of his stats. It's not like he was always a fantastic rebounder, but the four rebounds a game he pulled in for the Lakers were pretty much a career low for him if we don’t consider the 2011-12 season in which he only played five games and averaged 3.6 rebounds a night. His offensive production also went down as his points averages went from 20.5 with the Nets to 13 with the Lakers.
His free agency could go a couple of ways, but the most likely thing to happen here is for him to re-sign with the Lakers for a lot less money or for a team like the Portland Trail Blazers to take a chance on him. The Blazers need some help for Damian Lillard and they're unlikely to use cap space on a big name, so look for them to try and find a bargain in Lopez.
12 Trevor Ariza - Houston Rockets
We are not really in the business of feeling bad for guys who get paid millions and millions of dollars to play basketball every day. After all, that is a dream job for most of the people writing and reading all about basketball. Nevertheless, it is hard not to feel bad for Trevor Ariza. The guy was without a doubt one of the most important pieces for the Houston Rockets throughout the entire year. He is a great defender, and he is a great three-point shooter. The only problem with Ariza is that he did not show up when they needed him. Many people can say that it is very much his fault that the Houston Rockets did not defeat the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. This guy did not show up, and his shot was simply not going in.
Still, this is something that we find hard to believe will happen again if Ariza gets another shot at taking down the Warriors with the Rockets. While we believe Houston will try to bring him back as he is a vital part of this team regardless of how bad he played in the final few games of that series, this will depend a lot on whether or not the Rockets manage to bring in a guy like LeBron James through some kind of trade magic.
11 Will Barton - Chicago Bulls
One guy who might not be high on the list of many fans but is certainly a name going around every single front office in the NBA is Will Barton. No, Barton does not have the prettiest game in the league, but if there is one thing nobody can deny is that he is one of the most effective players we have in the NBA today. He is a guy who worked very hard to improve his shooting and got to a point where he is a reliable option for many if not all teams.
Playing this last season for the Denver Nuggets, he averaged 15.7 points, five rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game.
All of that while shooting 37 percent from three-point range and 80 percent from the free-throw line. Those are solid numbers that many people are going to be looking at when the summer begins. This is especially true for teams like the Chicago Bulls who are not really gunning to sign a big-time free agent and win now.
The most important factor to consider when talking about Barton is that, at 6’6” and 175 pounds, he is able to guard almost all positions with the exception of the five, which shouldn’t be much of a hindrance anyway since not many teams in the NBA seem to be too keen on playing through their centers.
10 Derrick Favors - Utah Jazz
Another player who did his free agency stock a huge favor during this season and especially throughout the playoffs was Derrick Favors. The Utah Jazz power forward might not have been the big name on the scorer’s sheet, but it is hard to believe that Utah would have been able to get past Oklahoma City in that first round if it wasn’t for Favors. When Rudy Gobert got into foul trouble, which happened very often during that series and the entire season, it was Favors who held it down on the paint for the Jazz. The guy fought for every single rebound, and he was still one of their most reliable options on offense.
People talk a lot about Donovan Mitchell and how he led the way for Utah, but what many people don’t realize is that during their 11 playoff games, Favors shot better than 61 percent from the floor.
He was monumental for that team, and you can bet all your money that Utah will do all they can to bring this guy back next season. The only problem here is that they will have to spend a lot of money to bring Favors back since a lot of teams are going to be throwing cash at the 26-year-old.
9 Tyreke Evans - Miami Heat
A guy who was re-born during this season was Tyreke Evans. It wouldn’t be too crazy a claim to say that most NBA fans who had raved about him when he was a rookie had already forgotten this guy was still in the NBA. Evans is the exact opposite of most players who enter the NBA. Usually, guys join the league, and they improve as time goes on. This guy decided he wanted to be different. He put up a Rookie of the Year campaign in 2009-10 averaging 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. That is a ridiculous stat line for a rookie. The only problem was that it was all downhill from there for Evans. That is until he decided to sign a one-year deal with the Memphis Grizzlies during the last off-season. He agreed to play for a little over $3 million, and that probably turned out to be the best decision of his career.
With almost 31 minutes on the court as an average, Evans put up the best season of his career, with the exception of his rookie year, averaging 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. He is still a big question mark, but it would be no surprise to see a team like Miami or Philadelphia spending a mid-level exception on him this summer.
8 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - San Antonio Spurs
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope knew exactly what he was getting into when he signed a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was one of those guys who was just going to stay there for one year in order for the Lakers to still have a solid team while waiting to clear some salary cap before going into the 2018 free agency. Still, for almost $18 million that was not such a bad deal for a guy who played his entire career in Detroit to take. If anything, KCP did a good job in showing that he could be a good player for most teams.
He is not someone you are going to spend a max contract on, but averaging 13.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.4 steals per game, he proved he is a solid guard to have on your team.
He also showed a lot of improvement in his shooting as he shot better than 38 percent from the three-point line.
Nevertheless, he should know that he is probably not going to get another contract that will earn him the kind of money the Lakers were paying him. Still, with his ability to play defense he is a valuable asset that teams like the San Antonio Spurs are certainly going to take a very good look at. San Antonio could be partying ways with Danny Green, and KCP would be a perfect replacement.
7 Rajon Rondo - Los Angeles Clippers
There were not many things as fun to watch in the NBA this season than the way the New Orleans Pelicans played in the playoffs. Those guys were exciting, and a lot of that had to do with all of the energy the young guys got out of Rajon Rondo. Playoff Rondo is a real thing, and the Pelicans would be insane if they did not do everything in their power to keep this guy playing in Louisiana. Yes, Anthony Davis is going to be one of the best players of all time. Yes, Jrue Holiday might just be one of the best scoring guards in the NBA. And yes, Boogie Cousins should be New Orleans’s number one priority in the summer. Still, the glue that held it all together was Rondo.
We could go in circles for hours talking about why they should try to keep him, but the bottom line is that Rondo is still one of the best playmakers in the NBA and he is the emotional cornerstone of this franchise. At 32 years old, he is already aging, but because of the way he plays, age should not be much of a factor in his production. All that is left to wonder is how much money he’s going to ask for, which will be the deciding factor on whether he stays or goes.
If the Pelicans somehow can't keep Rondo, one team to look for would be the Clippers, now that Doc Rivers has agreed on a contract extension with them. If Rondo were to leave New Orleans, a reunion with Rivers would make sense. There were rumors last offseason of a possible reunion but it didn't work out. After Rondo's strong season, this may be something worth looking at again.
6 Greg Monroe - Boston Celtics
It was not too long ago that many people believed Greg Monroe would become one of the best big men in the NBA. For better or for worse, he did become one of the best post scorers in the league. Monroe has all the tools to score on anyone inside the paint and around it. The only problem is that the game is not played this way anymore. Sometimes, his size and strength could even become a liability as it appeared to be for Boston in the playoffs. Brad Stevens tried to play him as much as he could, but at the end of the day, when the playoffs roll around teams start making that annoying switch at the top of the key to force a big guy to guard a smaller one. When that happened, Monroe was beaten off the dribble every single time.
While those playoff performances certainly served to make a dent on his value as a free agent, it shouldn’t matter much because the Boston Celtics are very likely to try to bring him back for another season.
Brad Stevens loves the group he has, and with the returns of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the Celtics basically become the frontrunners in the Eastern Conference. The only thing that could put rain on that parade would be if Monroe asked for a pay raise, which he probably won’t.
5 Wayne Ellington - Miami Heat
After nearly a decade in the NBA, Wayne Ellington finally found a place where he was really valued as a player. As you have probably heard us talking about before, the thing to remember when talking about the Miami Heat of 2017-18 is that they were a team where everyone knew their role and played it very well. Ellington’s role was to knock down three-pointers when his number was called, and he did it almost to perfection. The former North Carolina great shot an astounding 39 percent from three-point range. But hey, there are players who shoot above that average, aren’t there? Yeah, but not many of those guys are shooting 7.5 three-pointers a night. Yes, Ellington was shooting almost 8 three-pointers per game, and he was knocking down nearly 40 percent of them. If anything, this is the kind of guy LeBron James would want on his team whenever he is facing the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
That being said, Ellington definitely improved his chances of getting a big contract over the summer. Sure, it won’t be a max contract, but there is a good chance Miami will get into the luxury tax to keep him, or another team in desperate need of shooters will splash some cash to bring him into the fold.
4 Michael Beasley - Phoenix Suns
We can never really tell if Michael Beasley is a really good player or not. There are nights when it looks like this guy could be one of the great scorers in the NBA. He has a ridiculous arsenal of moves when attacking the basket and pretty much whenever he has the ball in his hands. The problem is that there are times when he doesn’t even seem to be on the court anymore. With that in mind, Beasley is someone who could be considered a high-risk high-reward pickup for this summer.
There are a lot of teams in need of scoring like the Hawks and the Phoenix Suns, who will probably be looking to add a guy like Beasley to take the scoring load away from whatever talent they will pick up in this year’s draft.
Beasley to the Suns sure would be a good fit, as the Suns will likely have Deandre Ayton in the fold next season and could use a scorer like Beasley to pair with him.
However, one scenario we can't overlook is Beasley possibly agreeing to return to New York for another year. The Knicks will have to use their mid-level exception and pay him about $8 million, but he did seem to work very well with Kristaps Porzingis and is the kind of guy who could thrive under David Fitzdale.
3 Ersan Ilyasova - Philadelphia 76ers
We talked about JJ Reddick, but he was not the only veteran who made the most out of his opportunity to help a young Philadelphia 76ers squad going deep into the playoffs. Another guy who did great service to his own career was Ersan Ilyasova. The Turkish forward fit almost too perfectly within that system. Having Joel Embiid to do the dirty work and get rebounds inside, Ilyasova was free to do what he does best and try to score whenever he was open on the outside. And he did not disappoint as he shot better than 36 percent from three-point range. In 23 games with the Philadelphia 76ers, he averaged 10.8 points and 6.7 rebounds a night. Those are some very solid numbers to have if you are a 31-year-old big man going into free agency.
Ilyasova is not the kind of guy who will demand ridiculous amounts of money, but he is someone who has been used to getting paid more than $6 million a year through a good portion of his career. That being said, he should also be very keen on staying in Philadelphia, and it wouldn’t be too surprising to see him agree to re-sign with the Sixers for a lower salary in order to give them room to maneuver in the market and land some big-time free agents to help out.
2 Dwyane Wade - Miami Heat
It is kind of sad that most people are not talking about where a future Hall of Famer will end up when the summer is all said and done. Dwyane Wade is arguably one of the most skilled players available in free agency this off-season. Unfortunately, this past season proved to everyone that Wade is walking towards the end of his career. He is not as athletic as he used to be, but another thing that Wade proved during the playoffs is that he can still provide a spark off the bench for most teams. Sometimes, he might even be able to win a game on his own as he did for the Miami Heat before they were knocked out of the playoffs.
At 36 years old, Wade might even be considering retirement without telling many people about it. However, if he decides to come back for another season it is hard to imagine him going anywhere but Miami. The guy loves that place, and it really is where he feels most welcome and happy. All we are left to wonder is how much money the Heat are going to be willing to shell out to bring him back for another season. We are not quite sure if he would accept a veteran’s minimum.
1 Julius Randle - Dallas Mavericks
Usually, people don’t talk much about restricted free agents since they are most likely re-signed by the teams that already retain their rights. Nevertheless, when you have a team like the Los Angeles Lakers, who are willing and looking to spend as much money as they seem to be aiming to splash this summer, you get into that weird situation where if you offer a good enough contract, you might be able to get a restricted free agent from them.
The man with the ball in his court is Julius Randle. At just 23 years old, this kid was obviously devastated that despite having a career year with averages of 16.1 points, eight rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game, he was not offered a contract extension. This is a situation where everyone has a good reason.
The Lakers are looking at bigger and better things, and Randle should be mad because he could become one of those bigger and better things in just a couple of years.
But fear not, there are definitely going to be teams throwing some money at this kid to get him out of L.A. during the summer. One of the big suitors should be the Dallas Mavericks who have some money to spend and should be looking to add an inside scorer after air-balling so many of their latest attempts at doing just that.