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Next challenge for LeBron James: Preventing Warriors from taking throne
0:43 | NBA
Next challenge for LeBron James: Preventing Warriors from taking throne
Friday October 14th, 2016

The NBA season is almost here... which means it’s a perfect time to look ahead to next summer’s Free Agency Big Money Bonanza Vol. 2. Seriously, if you thought 2016 was a wild year for free agency, wait until the salary cap reaches a new record-high in 2017 and guys like Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant (again), Blake Griffin and Chris Paul can all enter free agency.

Of course, the rising cap has meant less heralded stars (or non-stars) have also reeled in huge contracts—looking at you, Evan Turner. With that in mind, here are five players to keep an eye on this season, so you can prepare yourself for the next eight months before the money starts flowing for a second year in a row.

Note: We’re only going to look at unrestricted free agents here, just in case some new CBA quirk affects any decisions for restricted free agents or player options. Also, the hilariously underpaid Curry is obviously getting a full max next summer.

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Serge Ibaka, Magic

2016–17 salary: $12.25 million

Ibaka will have one year in Orlando to earn a huge raise next summer. After his trade from the Thunder, Ibaka will go from being third-wheel in Oklahoma City to part of a crowded frontcourt with the Magic. How will Frank Vogel find the appropriate playing time for Ibaka, Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo and Aaron Gordon? If Ibaka can navigate through the frontcourt flotsam, he has a chance to at least double his salary.

Say Ibaka takes his game to a new level, with his already stellar defense coupling with more points in a larger offensive role, is it possible Ibaka can score a max offer? Max contracts will start in excess of $30 million next off-season, and Ibaka is a modern NBA big who has Finals experience. Ibaka has an improving three-point shot, is valuable in small-ball lineups and he can anchor your defense. A massive financial gain is in play for Ibaka next off-season if all goes well in Orlando, but he’ll have to make sure his own team doesn’t get in the way first.

Jeff Teague, Pacers

2016–17 salary: $8 million

Similar to Ibaka, Teague also finds himself on a new team in the final year of his contract. The longtime Atlanta Hawk and former All-Star was sent to the Pacers this off-season, where he will pair with Monta Ellis in the backcourt. Last year, Teague has virtually the same numbers as his 2015 All-Star campaign, but drew less attention because the Hawks weren’t winning as much.

Teague is a solid player at the NBA’s most talented position, which makes him less valuable than many, but valuable in the sense that he can matchup well against his counterpart on any given night. Teague could be looking at a contract of upwards of $20 million next summer, particularly if he keeps shooting threes at a high rate. Teague shot 40% from deep last season, and is a career 36% shooter from beyond the arc. The former Wake Forest star has also already proven he can play well within a team’s defensive concept. What could hurt Teague in Indiana are his ball-dominant teammates on the perimeter—Ellis and Paul George, who will command most of the shots. But Teague’s counting stats compare favorably to recent max extendee Mike Conley, and one more year of similar production could have him in line to potentially triple his earnings.

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Andre Iguodala, Warriors

2016–17 salary: $11.7 million

This is a tough one, because Iguodala will undoubtedly be hard pressed to leave a team that has dynastic potential. Iguodala is a key cog in the Warriors machine, serving as the Dubs’ go-to perimeter defender against the league’s best players while selflessly coming off the bench. Golden State will definitely try to bring Iggy back next season, but the Warriors will be hampered by next summer’s cap, which is coming in $6 million lower than expected. If Durant opts out for the higher max, someone on Golden State will be asked to take a paycut, or the team will have to lose another valuable contributor.

It’s possible Igoudala could get poached by a desperate team looking to add caché through the shine of the Warriors. What if someone offers Iguodala a two-year deal at the max? Would he be willing to sacrifice $60 million and a larger role somewhere else? Iguodala used to be the guy during his time in Philly, even if he was a little underqualified for that role. But Iggy is also overqualified for his current one, and it’s almost certain he gets offered some big contracts next summer.

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Patrick Patterson, Raptors

2016–17 salary: $6.26 million

Patterson has long been a favorite of mine since his days at Kentucky, when he looked roughly 12 years older than everyone else on the court. Now entering his seventh season, Patterson has carved out a nice niche with the Raptors as a sharpshooting big who can thrive at the four and play spot minutes at center. When you look at some of the deals handed out earlier this year to guys like Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov and Bismack Biyombo, it’s hard to imagine Patterson not reaching an entirely new tier of salary. I’d be shocked if he signed for less than $15 million next season, and he could go as high as $20 million. Patterson was 15th in real plus-minus among power forwards last season, ahead of guys like Ibaka, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. Patterson is not the best defender, but he makes up for his shortcomings on that end with his three-point shooting, converting on 37% of his shots from long distance in his career.

J.J. Redick, Clippers

2016–17 salary: $7.1 million

Redick will be 33 next season, which could hamper some of his earning potential, but the former Duke star is currently criminally underpaid. Though advanced stats don’t paint a great picture for Redick defensively, his shooting is still so fantastic that he’s an overall gain on the court. Redick has only refined has craft with age, and had the best shooting season of his career last year, connecting on an absurd 48% of his threes.

Of course, it helps to play with guys like Paul and Griffin, who command so much attention away from everyone else on the court. Still, guys who can space the floor like Redick are at their most valuable in NBA history, and his game shouldn’t change dramatically as he grows older. If this is the last ride for the current construction of the Clippers, Redick could look elsewhere and try to cash in on a big deal before hitting the backside of his 30s. Redick should at least double his salary in the off-season, and will likely get a raise beyond that considering nearly every team could use a player with his skill set. 

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