The popularity and growth of the NBA has been achieving great success over the last few seasons. Unlike the NFL and MLB, the NBA is more star driven and teams become contenders due to star power. The branding of the stars makes the league more marketable to new fans and it adds to the overall success of the sport. Merchandise numbers and global viewers are stronger for the NBA than other sports because of the star power and outreach by the league. The NBA recently signed new television deals with ABC/ESPN and Turner Sports to the tune of a whopping a nine-year, $24 billion agreement.
With the league prospering and making ridiculous money, the pay for players is going to see new highs. The salary cap is expected to rise by more than $35 million. This means the financial value of players will be hitting new highs in the form of big contracts. Any NBA talent entering the upcoming offseason is meeting extreme luck with the huge payouts that will be offered this summer. The league has made great strides in paying players well but this is a whole new game. Teams will be forced to put their money where their mouth is. You’ll know what teams want to compete and which are looking to budget.
Another interesting tidbit about free agency is how riveting it has become to keep track of. Following the NBA season and playoffs, the league has bonus excitement with the free agent period in July and August. Players being wooed by various teams and making decisions of where they go is fascinating for fans of any organization. Only sixteen teams get the joy of postseason basketball but every fan base has offseason moves going down. This summer will see it reach a new level with the salary cap rising. The power is in the hand of the players and these are the twenty NBA free agents that will cash in this offseason.
20 Jeremy Lin
The point guard position has become pivotal in the NBA and a team will need a respectable point guard to contend for a championship. Jeremy Lin once was met with fanfare and excitement on the free agent market but his value has diminished over the last few years. Currently on the Charlotte Hornets, Lin has looked impressive and will likely use his player option to get a bigger contract this summer. Lin is the perfect backup guard that can give you 30+ minutes if needed. A few teams like the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks are desperate for a point guard and Lin could find his way back in NY while getting paid the big bucks.
19 Timofey Mozgov
The Cleveland Cavaliers struck gold when trading for Timofey Mozgov last season. Mozgov stepped up into their starting center spot and played a big role in their overall success in getting to the NBA Finals. While his physical problems this season has limited him, it shouldn’t hurt his value too much. Mozgov was put on display last season on the league’s most high-profile team and it will lead to very handsome offers from teams trying to acquire a new center. Cleveland will likely let him walk due to putting money into Tristan Thompson as the long-term big man but Mozgov won’t have to worry about options or pay.
18 Brandon Jennings
Brandon Jennings was playing the best basketball of his career last season before he ruptured his left Achilles tendon. The point guard has played limited minutes since returning this season and the Detroit Pistons have made Reggie Jackson their point guard of the future. Jennings should still be able to take advantage of the market and get a great deal. NBA teams are looking to have two or three good point guards on the roster with the potential of starting two as the league evolves. The Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns are rumored to have trade desires for Jennings before this year’s deadline. Any team acquiring Jennings is likely willing to give him a big contract in the summer, if he plays well.
17 Zaza Pachulia
Following the heartbreak of DeAndre Jordan breaking his verbal agreement with the Dallas Mavericks, the team struggled to make moves and were forced to add less impressive free agents in hopes of striking gold. Zaza Pachulia ended up being the best addition to the team as a surprise success. The veteran center is currently averaging a double-double and has played a large role in the overachieving by the Mavericks. Pachulia is going to get his first big contract in the offseason. Mark Cuban will likely reward his team’s new fan favorite but there will be definitely be other teams willing to pay him. Pachulia can defend and rebound like a traditional big man but he can hit free throws and isn’t painfully slow which makes him more valuable in today’s NBA.
16 Jordan Clarkson
The Los Angeles Lakers have been undergoing another terrible season with Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour carrying their sole relevance. While things are bleak, the team does have hope with various young stars on the roster showing promise. Jordan Clarkson has been one of the better players on the team and will likely get some of the big money opening up with Bryant’s pay leaving the salary cap. The play of Clarkson has been impressive because he’s been quite consistent in one of the NBA’s least stable environments. D’Angelo Russell and Clarkson will likely be the team’s starting guards for years to come but Clarkson will be the one to see a big pay increase this upcoming summer as an RFA.
15 Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol is in the midst of another successful season with the Chicago Bulls. Last season, Gasol returned to All Star form and has become an important key to Chicago’s playoff hopes. Gasol has a player option for next year and will likely fetch more than $7.7 million on the open market, so he's likely to test it. Some older players like Dirk Nowitzki or Tim Duncan will sacrifice money because the situation is too great and there’s loyalty to the franchise. Gasol has only been with the Bulls for two seasons and he’ll be loyal to the best scenario, which factors in money. The extra money for many teams will mean bigger offers for a reliable star like Gasol.
14 Nicolas Batum
Following a poor season with the Portland Trail Blazers, Nicolas Batum was traded to the Charlotte Hornets and is having a career year. Batum has been the biggest addition in having the Hornets compete for a playoff spot in the surprisingly stacked Eastern Conference. The forward is playing impressive on both the offensive and defensive sides. As a wing player with the ability to contribute in all facets of the game, Batum will likely get a contract that makes fans shake their heads. The term "sell high" will come into play with Batum cashing in this summer to get a big deal.
13 Ryan Anderson
The New Orleans Pelicans have been the most disappointing team in the NBA this season but one player to step up for them is Ryan Anderson. The stretch four is one of the best three-point shooters in the league and will be a huge offensive help to any team he signs with. Anderson has been an underrated asset in the league for years and the great luck of the new television deal will lead to him finally getting a big contract. New Orleans may look to hold onto him but some teams desperate for talent, like the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers, may reach with an overpay for the great outside shooter.
12 Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is an interesting predicament with the Golden State Warriors. The situation is wonderful, as he's on a legendary team that has the potential of making history with a dynasty but he doesn’t play the biggest role in their success. Barnes is safely behind Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala in the pecking order. The talented forward could raise his star power if takes a bigger role on a worse team. It’s unknown if the Warriors will match the contract offers he might receive, considering they likely would be title favorites without him. Barnes is one of the most likely options to leave Golden State for a big contract from another squad.
11 Dwyane Wade
The future of Dwyane Wade is hard to predict due to his injury concerns and age. While Wade is no longer an elite superstar you can build the team around, he is pivotal to the Miami Heat franchise. Wade has taken smaller deals for years to help acquire LeBron James and Chris Bosh, but last summer saw him want to finally cash in on his body of work. The rumors are he will take a smaller deal if Kevin Durant comes to Miami, but any other situation will see him wanting a max contract. Durant heading to the Heat is highly unlikely and Pat Riley will reward Wade for his loyalty.
10 Dwight Howard
Many would proclaim Dwight Howard the most hated man in the NBA but he still has a lot to offer to the game. Howard has been dealing with various injury issues and is no longer a top tier caliber player in the league but he’s still a great center. The big man preserves his game and has stepped up in the postseason over the last two years. Even in his regular season “mediocrity,” Howard still averaged a double-double and plays a huge role on the defense. There are rumors he wants out of Houston and has a player option next year to allow that, but regardless of where he signs, Howard will obviously get a monster contract.
9 Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo’s disaster season with the Dallas Mavericks destroyed his value heading into last summer and he failed to get a big contract because of it. The maligned point guard was forced to take a moderate one-year deal with the Sacramento Kings but it has led to his game getting back to form. Rondo currently leads the NBA in assists with two more assists per game than the player in second place. With the market being wide open next summer and Rondo’s successful rebirth, teams will have more incentive to take a gamble on him. There are very few players that will benefit from the NBA situation in 2016 more than Rajon Rondo.
8 Mike Conley
The Memphis Grizzlies point guard has become one of the most underrated players in the league due to his quiet demeanor. Mike Conley does not boast as much as his peers but his game can rival almost any other point guard. Memphis has been successful for years due to the inside presence of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, but it's Conley’s facilitating that has made them an effective offense. Conley is a good scorer but he also plays in a way that benefits the role players on the team such as Courtney Lee and Jeff Green. Given the point guard importance and the lack of top free agents at the position, Conley is in for a massive contract and will have offers from many teams if the Grizzlies choose to get cheap.
7 Bradley Beal
The Washington Wizards have been very disappointing and part of the reason for that is the injury issues of Bradley Beal. John Wall and Beal are the only two dynamic players in Washington and have developed great chemistry together as one of the NBA’s best backcourt duos. The Wizards are hoping to tempt Kevin Durant into coming home and joining a core with Wall and Beal. For that to happen, they will have to lock up Beal to a long term contract and he will get huge money out of this. Beal is one of the more promising shooting guards in the league and his value is enough to get a big deal but Washington’s desire for a big offseason will make them secure him quickly.
6 Hassan Whiteside
One player you have to feel great for is Hassan Whiteside. After years of injury issues and playing in the D-League, Whiteside has become one of the better centers in the NBA with the Miami Heat. Pat Riley’s scouting was on the money and Whiteside is currently a double-double machine who brings tremendous intensity to every play. Whiteside has never sniffed the larger NBA contracts and you better believe he is going to cash-in this offseason. Every team would love a player of Whiteside’s caliber. The big man is versatile and works his hardest on every possession. A well-deserving Whiteside is going to get one of the better contracts this summer.
5 Al Horford
The Atlanta Hawks have been one of the best teams in the league over the last two seasons. The biggest change was Al Horford returning after missing the majority of the 2013-2014 season. Following his return, Horford has been one of the top two-way centers in the NBA and should command a lot of attention on the open market. Atlanta didn’t re-sign DeMarre Carroll last summer partly due to wanting to have enough flexibility to re-sign Horford this season. The Hawks are well aware of how expensive Horford’s services will be this summer and he is looking to cash in in a big way. Every team wants an All Star that steps up on both sides of the court.
4 Andre Drummond
The Eastern Conference has been shockingly better than the West in terms of depth. One of the teams to make great strides is the Detroit Pistons. They look playoff bound and that would be thanks to the stellar play of Andre Drummond. With Greg Monroe and Josh Smith finally out of Detroit, Drummond finally has the paint all to himself and is dominating his opponents. Drummond is currently averaging 18.0 points and 15.4 rebounds per game, and is actually ahead of Carmelo Anthony in All Star voting for a starting spot. The dream season for Drummond comes at the perfect time and he will get a hefty pay raise because of it.
3 DeMar DeRozan
2016’s free agent core is quite deep and interesting on many fronts but most players will realistically stay with their team. One stud that is going to be sought after strongly will be DeMar DeRozan. Along with Kyle Lowry, DeRozan has helped lead the Toronto Raptors back to relevancy and will probably lean towards staying on a team he helped build. That being said, there are already rumors of the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets putting together massive contracts and pitches for him in free agency. It will be fascinating to see if Toronto matches all offers, but the only certainty is that he will be in a position to get one of the richest contracts of the offseason. Don't underestimate how far some of the desperate franchises will go for a player of DeRozan's caliber.
2 Kevin Durant
The hottest topic in the NBA this summer will be where Kevin Durant will sign in free agency. The Oklahoma City Thunder star is beloved in his current surroundings but the Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and even the Golden State Warriors will be in the equation. As a former MVP and a premiere superstar in the NBA, Durant may get one of the richest contracts in league history. The salary cap rising due to the new television deal is raising the market and Durant is one of the few elite players. While the story will be where he goes, the only assured thing is he will have enough money to swim in, giving us shades of a more athletic Scrooge McDuck.
1 LeBron James
Many fans don’t understand why LeBron James has taken one-year contracts in back-to-back seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers rather than going for long term stability. James is one of the most intelligent business men in sports history and he was well aware of the landscape in the NBA changing to the point where it is today with the cap raising. As the best player in the NBA and one of the most valuable assets in the history of sports, James is ready to cash in and it will be surprising if he doesn’t get the richest deal in NBA history. In all fairness, there’s probably not a ceiling on what James deserves for the amount of money he brings into the sport and into the economy of Cleveland.