The magic date now behind us saw overpaid role players like Garrett Temple and Enes Kanter  opt into their player option deals, while all stars like Lebron James, Paul George, and DeAndre Jordan have opted to test the free agent waters. The result allows us to now view the free agent buffet as it truly will be when the frenzy starts mere hours from now at midnight when the calendar turns to July.

Shark Frenzy

This summer will be the year of the haves and have nots. You’ll see a handful of players receive max contract money, guys like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George, and Chris Paul. Once that money is gone though, there are not a lot of free agent dollars to be had on the open market. Only a small handful of teams have cap space to sign outside free agents, and even fewer still are actually in a position to try to improve their roster any way but organically. The Hawks and Kings will not be making big splashes with the cap room. They’re much more likely to take on bad contracts with young (ie. draft picks) assets attached from teams looking to shed payroll to avoid the luxury tax.

The “2nd tier” free agents will receive full mid-level exception money (roughly $8.5 million a year), and a lot of players will be left to either sign for the veteran minimum or return to their own team. This is of further advantage to teams like the Rockets or Warriors. Teams with no cap room, and able to offer the chance to compete for a ring.

If you’re a young vet like a Nerlens Noel or Nik Stauskas you may opt to sign on with a team like the Hawks or Grizzlies. Teams where you have a chance to carve out meaningful minutes an establish your value. But if you’re Vince Carter, Nick Young, Trevor Ariza, Jamal Crawford, or Wayne Ellington you’re more likely to sign for a bit less to go for that ring.


We tried this exercise last year. The good news is that the results were so poor, it should be a very reachable goal to step right over that bar without having to break our backs. Last year saw projections for 25 free agents. For the sake of comparing apples to apples, we’ll go with 25 again this year, with one slight difference, this year the list is completely unrestricted free agents. So we toss these projections out with the goal of topping last years mark of 32%, also known as 8/25.

There is a very strong batch of restricted free agents this year, names that include Marcus Smart, Zach LaVine, Nikola Jokic, Clint Capela, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, Fred Van Fleet, and Jusuf Nurkic. For all the reasons previously mentioned, about the lack of cap space around the league leads me to believe that the vast majority of restricted free agents will be back with their teams next year, even if it is by signing the one year qualifying offer, which in many cases will easily exceed what they can get on the open market. You won’t see any offers like the Nets made to Tyler Johnson 2 summers ago. Certainly some teams would love to toss offers to Gordon, or Jokic, or Capela, but there isn’t the cap space to offer than salaries so high that the teams owning their rights wouldn’t match.

That all being said, lets get right into it. Where are 25 of the NBA’s most recognizable free agents going to land.

Trevor Ariza


Where will the lanky 3-D wing end up? There have been reports that he is looking for a contract in the $50-$60 million dollar range. There have also been reports about him settling for a mid-level deal with the Warriors and a chance to be a champion. At the end of the day I think he stays in a system that values him, and with a team that can pay him. PROJECTION: HOUSTON ROCKETS

Will Barton


One of the more underrated, or at least under publicized players in the league. Barton is an instant offense type player. Think Louis Williams before Louis Williams got the fanfare. With Gary Harris ascending, and Malik Beasley waiting in the wings, Barton could look to go elsewhere. The Pacers have the ability to create a bit of cap space in spite of Thaddeus Young opting into his deal. Had he opted out, they may have been in a position to offer Aaron Gordon a deal too rich for Orlando’s blood. As it is, they may have to turn their attention to a player who could provide Oladipo some assistance with scoring. PROJECTION: INDIANA PACERS

Aron Baynes


Part of me wants to say that there is something to be said for continuity. But then I remember that Danny Ainge took a team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals, gutted it to the tune of returning only four players, then saw the team improve and go to a seventh game before Lebron took the Cavs to the Finals. I think Baynes returns, but its at 120% of his 2017-2018 salary. You won’t see them use the mid-level to retain the big fella. PROJECTION: BOSTON CELTICS

Avery Bradley


The defensive savant, contractually has fallen in between the cracks. When he initially signed an extension with the Celtics it befuddled many that he signed for so much. He then saw the free agent landscape explode to where his contract became one of the best in the league. Now he’s arriving at full fledged free agency, and the money well is all dried up. After moving from Boston to Detroit to Los Angeles, I think Bradley will look find a long term home with a franchise that will value him. He seems like a perfect replacement to Danny Green, and a Murray-Bradley backcourt could cause some headaches for opposing backcourts. PROJECTION: SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Kentavious Caldwell Pope


Does anyone else remember the conspiracy theorists positing that KCP got a sweetheart deal from the Lakers because he is represented by the same group that reps Lebron James? That Rob Pelinka was looking to create an air of good will between the two sides of the negotiating table? Doesn’t seem so far fetched now does it? Regardless, KCP got his payday, and will now look for a home. His style, seems like a nice compliment to what Minnesota wants to do on the floor. PROJECTION: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

Houston Rockets v New Orleans Pelicans


Following his injury, I don’t know that he gets the max offer he had been expecting. The advantage the Pelicans have is that I don’t know that there are any other offers to be had out there that are that enticing. Though I can picture how his arrival could accelerate the time line of the young Bulls squad, I think his reputation as a toxic locker room character would scare away younger teams, ya know, the teams with cap space. In the end I think he settles for a smaller 3 year $60 million type deal with the 3rd year being an option year. PROJECTION: NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

Jamal Crawford


I’m convinced that the only reason Jamal Crawford is still in the league is that he’s waiting for Seattle to get a franchise to retire with, and he aint leaving until it happens. Remember when I was talking about older guys signing up to ride the Warriors bench, hoping to get a ring. Well, meet older guy. PROJECTION: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Kevin Durant


Okay, heres the deal, if I’m gonna top 8, I need to make sure I take the gim’mes. Yes Durant is a free agent. No he’s not leaving in spite of the Lebron late night text rumors (yo, you up bro?). Max contract, 2 straight finals MVPs, ’nuff said. PROJECTION: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Wayne Ellington


Theres been talk of Miami wanting to retain Ellington, but honestly that whole roster is just crowded. Crowded salary cap wise, crowded minutes wise, and just overall mediocre. Ellington is one of those quiet vets that when he signs it barely warrants a blip in the local paper, but then he goes out and averages 10 points a game off the bench and provides consistent outside shooting night in, night out. I think he provides an upgrade over E’Twuan Moore for a team that will on the down low have a nice off season, giving it the ol’ college try for the Brow. PROJECTION: NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

Tyreke Evans


There are going to be a lot of Tyreke Evans this year. Meaning, last year Evans signed on with the Grizzlies on a one year, MLE deal after all the chairs had been grabbed in the NBA’s musical chairs off season. All he did was out perform expectations, and provide tremendous value for Memphis’ free agent dollars. This year I think he looks to upgrade his teammates and is a nice piece providing what the Jazz thought they were going to get with Rodney Hood last year. PROJECTION: UTAH JAZZ

Derrick Favors


A market like Salt Lake City is never going to attract the marquee free agents, so the team’s improvement has to occur organically, with good drafting and player development. As such, when the team is starting to ascend, like that started last year, it is in their best interest to retain key components. Favors could certainly command a full MLE contract from someone, and in a different salary cap landscape, much more, but for right here, right now, his best offer will come from home. PROJECTION: UTAH JAZZ

Rudy Gay


Gay is a very talented wing who is now in the “solid veteran” stage of his career. Not a realistic threat to average 20 a game any more, he is still a guy who should average 14-17 ppg for a good team. I think a team like the Rockets would love him. He could also fit with the Wizards, he a glimpse of what the Wizards hope Otto Porter will be. For some reason I think he ends up in New York, or more specifically: PROJECTION: BROOKLYN NETS

Paul George


The chatter recently has George entertaining the idea of returning to OKC. To me, after years of stating he wants to be in L.A. an area he calls home (and lets be clear for those who haven’t been to SoCal, he’s from Palmdale. That’s like saying you’re from Vegas when you live in Pahrump, or saying you’re from New York City when you live in Oneonta) this is all just fluffing his feathers so he doesn’t look too thirsty when going in to negotiate with Lakers management. PROJECTION: LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Mario Hezonja


A hyped foreign prospect who simply has not come remotely close to expectations in Orlando. This kid needs a change of scenery something fierce. How about a place without any real pressure? Surrounded by other foreign players, and front office members? A place with a clear path to playing time? PROJECTION: SACRAMENTO KINGS

Dwight Howard


While Howard isn’t officially a free agent at this very moment, he will be bought out once the league year starts. Its not a matter of if, its a matter of when. I spent a lot of time considering where Howard could land. I mean, I granted it was while sipping an angry orchard in my pool, but I still thought about it. I considered the Mavs and their hole in the middle. I considered the Knicks using him on a one year deal, they love headline type players. I thought about who was around Howard during his best years, in Orlando. That’s when I concluded that the Cavs love taking older vets with not a whole lot left (Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, Kendrick Perkins, Richard Jefferson), and remembered that Ty Lue was a teammate of Howards when they went to the finals. PROJECTION: CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Lebron James


No suspense, he’s gone. If it were up to me, he’d stay in Cleveland, he really would. I’m a fan of teams getting past the teams in front of them, the Pistons making their way past the Celtics, the Bulls making their way past the Pistons, etc. And I’d rather see the Celtics or 76ers dethrone the Cavs instead of the Cavs relinquishing due to Lebron leaving. That all being said, he’s gone. It could be Philly, it could be the Lakers, and it will be. PROJECTION: LOS ANGELES LAKERS

DeAndre Jordan


Jordan waited until the last moment before deciding to opt out of the last year of his deal. He won’t be getting $24 million next year from anyone, but he has a chance to make that up with overall dollars over the life of his next contract. He could get a 4 year, $60 million dollar type deal from a certain billionaire who tried to sign him a few years ago. PROJECTION: DALLAS MAVERICKS

Brook Lopez


Lopez is going to get an exception contract from someone, and it’ll be the best value of the off season. He could re-up with the Lakers as a free agent, for their exception. Maybe he goes for one year to team up with brother Robin in Chicago? I think he stays in Cali, returning to his Silicon Valley collegiate roots and a chance to wing a ring. Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee or Brook Lopez? No brainer to me, and he can play as a stretch 5? PROJECTION: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Chris Paul


The assumption made last year when the Rockets traded for Paul was that he’d be re-upped for the max when he became a free agent. Personally the thought of years 3-5 at about $40 a year going to Paul would make me vomit as a Rockets fan, if I were a Rockets fan. If George stayed in OKC, then a Paul-James pairing in Los Angeles would be in play, but ultimately, I think he stays on the gulf coast. PROJECTION: HOUSTON ROCKETS

JJ Redick


Last year the 76ers grossly overpaid for a couple of veterans, Redick, and Amir Johnson. That was done partially to jump start the development of their youth. But now after a year in which Redick pocketed $23 million, he’s in line for a sharp decline in revenue. If he were to sign for 2 years $13 million total now, then add in the $23 million, then 3 years, $36 seems reasonable for the sharp shooter. I suspect this is the end result. Kawhi or no, a shooter of Redick’s caliber is needed when Simmons couldn’t shoot his way out of a wet paper bag. PROJECTION: PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

Rajon Rondo


According to Uncle Gio, if Rondo were to receive a 51% ownership stake in whatever franchise he graces his presence with, it still wouldn’t be enough. To Gio it goes 1. Jordan, 2. Abdul Jabbar 3. Mikan 4. James, and in his own category above them all is Rajon Rondo. After bouncing around for a few years since leaving Boston it felt like Rondo found a home in the land of Mardi Gras. And after glimpses of success with Rondo and Cousins around, I think New Orleans wants to see what this could be. PROJECTION: NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

Derrick Rose


After struggling with New York, and Cleveland, Rose found a home in North Chicago, otherwise known as Minneapolis. The former MVP is no longer worthy of even being considered a starter, he’ll try to keep the flicker of his career alive by coming off the bench for his old coach. PROJECTION: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

Isaiah Thomas


This is a tough one, there is such a disconnect between what Thomas believes he is, and what he actually should be at this point. Ideally he’d be a Jamal Crawford or JJ Barea. A quick, fearless, scoring option off the bench ready to come in and key the second unit. I think Thomas will look for the best path to a starting job, and while I wouldn’t say its a clear path, the regime change in Mo-Town could provide an opportunity to make his mark. PROJECTION: DETROIT PISTONS

Dwayne Wade


College coaches get what we refer to as “retirement jobs” meaning, jobs where they’re not realistically expected to compete for a national tittle, where they can go, low key compete for the conference and the administrators will be happy as the coach sticks around for as long as he wants before riding off into the sunset. Tubby Smith taking the gig at High Point is a retirement job. Steve Fischer going to San Diego State back in the day was a retirement job. After a year and a half on his rumspringa, Wade returned home ready to embrace his retirement job as the Heat’s elder statesman. Its Miami or retirement for Wade, and I don’t think he’s at retirement just yet. PROJECTION: MIAMI HEAT

Nick Young


Swaggy P went and got himself a ring. Now its time to come back to La La Land. Playing the roll of J.R. Smith for the Los Angeles Lakers will be Nick Young, where every shot is a heat check, and he never thinks he’s cold. Young is the type of catch and shoot veteran that Magic will look to add to the Lakers bench. PROJECTION: LOS ANGELES LAKERS


  • By Jason Sullivan
  • Find us on Twitter at @TopDucker or on Facebook at You’re Ducking Right


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