Some teams will hope to improve this summer by relying heavily on a deep NBA Draft class, while others will look elsewhere to fill the void in their lineup. Every summer, the NBA season always becomes more interesting with the NBA Draft at hand: players get traded, stars opt out of their contracts looking for sweeter deals, or a free agent is simply looking to play somewhere else.
We hear rumors every summer around the trade deadline and into the offseason. It’s never as fun to speculate about restricted free agents because the team can just match the contract, and the player stays. Unrestricted free agents are the real wildcards, able to sign with any and everyone who can afford what they’re looking for.
On the move or not, here are ten of the best unrestricted free agents this summer. These players will officially be on the market for any team to throw their money at starting July 1.
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10. Spencer Hawes
He’s in the lower tier of best centers available this summer between Pau Gasol and Marcin Gortat, but Hawes is still an effective player. He’s a seven-year NBA veteran who can occasionally knock down a three-point shot; he can stretch the floor against an opposing center, but still doesn’t rebound enough which excludes him from any talk of joining the ranks of elite centers. He’s been known to have a history of injuries, but proved this year he can stay healthy and still play around 30 minutes a night. Not bad, but not good. Expect him to be the move this summer looking for a multi-year deal after joining Cleveland at the deadline this past February.
9. Trevor Ariza
We haven’t seen Trevor Ariza this effective since signing with the Houston Rockets in the summer of 2009. That move came after he won an NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. When Ariza became a full-time NBA starter in Houston, he proved to everyone he was worthy. He certainly displayed his missing talent this season since his Houston Rocket days looking rejuvenated with more accuracy from his jumper. He knocked down big shots for the Washington Wizards during their Eastern Conference semifinals run this season as well as playing a big role as a starter in Washington’s success this season. As a 10-year NBA veteran, Ariza’s still got plenty left in the tank, and at the age of 28, he’s actually in his prime years. Except him to probably net a multi-year deal this summer. Who knows if Washington can even afford to keep both him and Marcin Gortat — or if they want to.
8. Shawn Marion
He’s another NBA veteran who’s been around the league since the late 90s. Although Mark Cuban’s main focus will be to retain Dirk Nowitzki, he has a decision to make about the 14-year veteran. The Matrix has been an effective player since coming into the league; his resume speaks for itself. Marion is one of the most versatile players the NBA has had in the last decade with his ability to play both sides of the floor, while doing a little bit of everything. Cuban shouldn’t forget Marion played a big role in helping the Dallas Mavericks capture an NBA championship in 2011, but the question remains if will he pay to keep him at his advanced age? Playing in the last few years of his career, he’ll look to score perhaps the final multi-year contract of his career this summer. After Cuban let Tyson Chandler walk after the 2011 championship, don’t be surprised to see him do the same with Marion.
7. Paul Pierce
At the age of 36, how much does the “Truth” have left in the tank? Unfortunately, it may seem like there’s not much left after playing the worst basketball of his career, statistically speaking, this past season with Brooklyn. Although he averaged 13 points and four rebounds per game in 2013-14, it’s clear Pierce isn’t the same player as he was in Celtic green despite insisting he has 1-2 more years left in him. At this point in his career, I don’t see Truth heading back to Brooklyn this summer unless the Nets prove that they can build a roster to really challenge Miami. If Pierce doesn’t believe playing alongside Deron Williams and Joe Johnson is good enough, expect the 16-year veteran to be on the move. Go ahead, it’s safe to speculate he may return to play for his former coach, Doc Rivers, in his hometown of Los Angeles.
6. Marcin Gortat
We’ve talked about how valuable a center can be to NBA teams, and if it isn’t Pau Gasol this summer, teams may look for a cheaper option in Marcin Gortat coming off a career year. The Polish big man helped the Washington Wizards take the next step this season after reaching the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Gortat averaged nearly a double-double and proved — for the time being — he could stay healthy. Sure, contract year’s always bring out the best in players, but it was particularly important for Gortat to play his best this season to prove what he can do when he remains on the court. He’s only really competing with Pau Gasol this offseason for a big pay day in terms of the center’s available.
5. Kyle Lowry
After freeing themselves from Rudy Gay in the middle of this season, the surprising success of the Toronto Raptors was largely due to the play of point guard Kyle Lowry. He played the best basketball of his career this season, but it could have been motivated — similar to Lance Stephenson and Gortat — his upcoming free agency. As an unrestricted free agent, Lowry will be the best point guard available on the market. This year’s NBA Draft class is considered “weak” at the point guard position, which will help Lowry’s case. Teams in need of a point guard who score and facilitate can trust the veteran Lowry, who’s been around the league for eight years now. He averaged a career best 17 points, seven assists, and four rebounds per game this season. At the age of 28, Lowry is in the midst of his prime years, and will look to score a big pay day this summer.
4. Lance Stephenson
There’s no doubt the success of the Indiana Pacers this season was partly due to the rise of Stephenson’s play. But of course, Stephenson — a mid-second round pick back in 2010 — would wait to shine and realize more of his potential in his contract year. It’s hard to blame a player like him for blooming late when he plays with so much passion. He’s arguably an NBA all-star this season as he led the league in triple-doubles. His pre all-star break numbers this year spoke for themselves after averaging 14 points, seven assists, and five rebounds while shooting over 50 percent from the field.
3. Luol Deng
There are plenty of teams attracted to the prospect of adding Luol Deng for his versatility and the smart way he plays, but making a mistake and not signing on with Chicago in the middle of this season may have hurt Deng’s free agent stock just a bit this summer. As the Cleveland Cavaliers have the No. 1 pick once again in this year’s draft, it may be time for them to move on from Deng without thinking about bringing him back. He made it clear that he’s demanding a big pay day this summer after rejecting Chicago’s 3-year, $30 million extension. It’s probably safe to say Deng won’t be returning to Cleveland when players like Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker become available on June 26. Writing Cleveland off as an option, fans will be waiting this summer to see where the best free agent wing player will sign next. He might even head back to Chicago…
2. Pau Gasol
Kobe Bryant couldn’t have been happier in 2008 when Gasol arrived just in time for L.A’s championship title run against the rival Boston Celtics. Despite the Lakers falling short of a title that season, Bryant must have felt honored just to be there, and knew they couldn’t have done it without the help of the Spanish all-star center. Gasol is probably the most intriguing unrestricted free agent this summer, as it’ll be very interesting to see where he lands next. Since the Lakers refused to trade Gasol during the midst of a losing season, the two-time NBA champion and four-time NBA all-star will have endless options this offseason. Teams in need of center will sell themselves to Gasol as he will probably only sign with a contender at this point in his career. He won’t get paid Dwight Howard max money, but for a power forward/center, there’s no question that he’s the best player on in the unrestricted market this summer.
1. Dirk Nowitzki
Although owner Mark Cuban has been the one making headlines lately for the Dallas Mavericks, he’s got more to think about this summer than probably any other owner. It begins with Dallas’ franchise player Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs currently have five key players who become unrestricted free agents this summer after making a surprising game 7 run in the first round against the San Antonio Spurs. However, it’s really hard to see Nowitzki going anywhere despite understanding he won’t get a Kobe contract this offseason. He understands that at this point in his career, the Mavs won’t get any better if he were to demand max money again this summer. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of new deal he accepts without being disrespected. Regardless, Nowitzki is one of those free agents who will not be going anywhere. It’s safe to say that he’ll forever be a Maverick for life. Then again, we once thought that about Paul Pierce.
What do you think?
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