Ranking the NBA's top 25 free agents
Unlike a draft class, which is defined by its biggest names, a free-agent crop is remembered for its biggest movers. The 2010 group will go down in history not because LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were all free agents, but because the trio of perennial All-Stars decided to consolidate their star power in Miami, thereby reshaping the NBA's landscape for years to come. Had James and Bosh simply re-upped in Cleveland and Toronto, respectively, 2010 is downgraded from seismic to blip status.
That brings us to 2014, when the NBA could be facing either: 1) the largest redistribution of power since 2010, or 2) a relatively ho-hum free agency period defined by re-signings rather than roster reconstructions. The same names that turned the league upside down four years ago -- James, Wade and Bosh -- are front and center this summer, even if the relative power balance between the threesome has shifted somewhat during their time together. Everyone else in the league -- even stars like Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki -- will take their cues, directly or indirectly, from the Heat's Big Three.
Below is an all-encompassing ranking of this year's free agency class. Statistical production (including advanced numbers such as Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares), individual honors, team role, contributions to team success, postseason play, age and health were all considered in forming this ranking of the top-25 free agents.
1. LeBron James | Heat | F | Age: 29
'13-14 stats: 37.7 MPG, 27.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.3 APG, 29.3 PER, 15.9 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- used early termination option (ETO) after fourth year of six-year, $110 million contract
Humbled by the Spurs in the NBA Finals, James at least enters July as the league's undisputed King of free agency. Kevin Durant won MVP, surpassing James in PER and Win Shares, but the Thunder forward has yet to supplant LeBron as the league's best and most dominant all-around player. A premier playmaker, thinker and physical specimen, James was named All-NBA first team and All-Defensive second team, and he guided the Heat to a 12-3 run through the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Miami is the clear front-runner to sign James, who surely understands that the Heat would be strongly favored to make a fifth straight Finals trip if they simply bring back a similar cast. That said, "How much will James cost?" and "Will he leave money on the table to help Heat president Pat Riley build out a deeper roster?" remain open questions. Wade, Bosh and longtime Heat power forward Udonis Haslem all joined James by opting out, which makes for some real intrigue. Given that San Antonio isn't going anywhere next season, a little financial sacrifice from Miami's stars -- James included -- could be key to their 2015 title hopes.
2. Carmelo Anthony | Knicks | F | Age: 30
'13-14 stats: 38.7 MPG, 27.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 24.4 PER, 10.7 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- used ETO after second year of three-year, $64 million contract extension
No A-list free agent has as much motivation to seek out new digs as Anthony. In 3½ seasons with the Knicks, the 2013 scoring champion has just one playoff-series victory. One of his best individual years was overlooked because of his team's nightmare 37-win season, and he has had to keep himself busy by shark fishing while his fellow 2003 draft classmates -- James, Wade and Bosh -- have made deep run after deep run in the playoffs.
Now, Anthony is confronted by a regime change in New York, where first-time president Phil Jackson and first-time coach Derek Fisher prepare to set a new course. Jackson has mentioned the possibility of Anthony's taking a pay cut for the sake of the organization, and yet he also traded starting center Tyson Chandler, a sign that he's heading toward rebuilding rather than aiming for contention. Meanwhile, Chicago and Houston, among others, have positioned themselves as possible destinations if the allure of the Big Apple has waned for Anthony.
3. Chris Bosh | Heat | F/C | Age: 30
'13-14 stats: 32.0 MPG, 16.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 19 PER, 8 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- used ETO after fourth year of six-year, $110 million contract
Bosh's numbers have taken a hit because of his role in Miami, but he's still one of the league's best two-way big men. A key piece in the Heat's preferred small ball approach, Bosh has become a bigger three-point threat, hitting 40 percent on nearly four attempts per game during the playoffs.
Though he might lack the bulk to guard traditional centers, he is a quick and intelligent team defender who can check power forwards and switch out onto wings. With Wade in and out of the lineup last season, Bosh played the second-most minutes on the Heat, and coach Erik Spoelstra often refers to the nine-time All-Star as Miami's "most important" player because of his versatility. Of the Heat's three stars, Bosh has been the most vocal about wanting to stay put, and Miami's mass opt-outs set him well to do just that.
4. Dirk Nowitzki | Mavericks | F | Age: 36
'13-14 stats: 32.9 MPG, 21.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.7 APG, 23.6 PER, 10.9 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- completed four-year, $80M contract
A knee injury slowed Nowitzki in 2012-13, but last season he reestablished himself as a lethal No. 1 scoring option on one of the league's most efficient attacks. All indications are that Nowitzki will remain in Dallas, his only home during his 16-year career. The contract negotiations are expected to be tidy.
The Mavericks flew under the national radar last season because they lacked the depth and defense to compete for a title, and that fact might have kept Nowitzki from getting sufficient recognition for his late-career scoring prowess. Indeed, Nowitzki moved past Oscar Robertson into the top 10 on the all-time scoring list, with 26,786 points, and he joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Alex English, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone as the only players to average 21 points during or after their age-35 seasons. One would think that, based on his 2013-14 play, Nowitzki has at least two more seasons of high-level scoring left in the tank. The only question is whether owner Mark Cuban can surround his franchise player with enough talent to give Nowitzki another shot at a deep postseason run.
5. Dwyane Wade | Heat | G | Age: 32
'13-14 stats: 32.9 MPG, 19.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.7 APG, 22.0 PER, 5.5 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- Used ETO after fourth year of six-year, $108 million contract
Wade is perhaps the toughest player to rank. He can still get maximum velocity on his fastball, just not every night. His integral role for a championship contender, however, helps keeps him among his fellow perennial All-Stars on this list.
The Heat rested Wade for a third of the season, a strategy that paid dividends throughout the East playoffs, as he burned the Bobcats (now Hornets), Nets and Pacers. The smooth explosiveness that has defined him as a player gave way to choppy helplessness in the Finals, though, as Wade struggled to create space and finish around the basket. That Wade ended the year on a low note -- outscored by Patty Mills in Games 4 and 5 of the Finals -- shouldn't completely erase his accomplishments, but he is a diminished player who averaged fewer than 20 points for the first time since his rookie season while playing a career-low 32.9 minutes.
Wade's decision to opt out of a $20.2 million salary for next season is promising for the Heat, as a lower cap number for Wade could be crucial not only in keeping the "Big 3" together but also adding a fourth impact player. Wade will be synonymous with Miami no matter what, as it's the only team he's known during his 11-year career, but his legacy will certainly be enhanced if he does take a pay cut and that decision subsequently leads to additional postseason success for the Heat.
6. Eric Bledsoe | Suns | G | Age: 24
'13-14 stats: 32.9 MPG, 17.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.5 APG, 19.6 PER, 4.1 Win Shares
Status: Restricted -- completed four years of rookie-scale contract worth $7.4 million
Which under-25 player in this free-agent class has the greatest potential to develop into a superstar? The surest answer looks to be Bledsoe, who showed more than just flashes before knee surgery derailed his season. A fast, strong, big-leaping guard, the 6-1 Bledsoe is a load to handle off the dribble and in transition. Phoenix (48-34) went 28-15 with Bledsoe in the lineup -- a 53-win season over 82 games -- and he teamed with backcourt mate Goran Dragic to pressure defenses relentlessly. His physical tools translate to the defensive end, where he hawks ball-handlers and crashes the glass well for a player of his size.
Even though he missed nearly half the season, chances are good that Bledsoe receives a max offer, or something very close to it, in restricted free agency. Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough has masterfully handled the team's cap, putting the Suns in position to match any offer for Bledsoe while still pursuing other plans. If everything comes off without a hitch, Bledsoe will get a shot to grow into a franchise player in Phoenix.
7. Greg Monroe | Pistons | F/C | Age: 24
'13-14 stats: 32.8 MPG, 15.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 18.1 PER, 5.9 Win Shares
Status: Restricted -- completed four-year, $13 million rookie-scale contract
This summer couldn't be setting up any better for Monroe, the only young big man of note among restricted free agents. Last season was yet another disaster for the Pistons, but Monroe did his job despite some lineup chaos, proving again that he is a reliable scorer and offensive rebounder. Stan Van Gundy's arrival works to Monroe's advantage, as Detroit's new coach/president isn't exactly in a position to let quality players walk, especially a 6-11 big man who has missed just three games combined over the last four years.
Monroe's rim-protecting and general mobility on defense leave something to be desired. Still, he should expect a max or near max contract offer, whether because of demand for his services or because of his unique place on the market. Van Gundy has some major molding to do with his roster, but retaining Monroe must be a top priority.
8. Kyle Lowry | Raptors | G | Age: 28
'13-14 stats: 36.2 MPG, 17.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 7.4 APG, 20.1 PER, 11.7 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- completed four-year, $23 million contract
Now that is how you pull off a contract year. Lowry has spent much of his eight-year career battling for a starting role and fighting his reputation as a malcontent. Then 2013-14 arrived, and he exploded to career highs in points and assists while leading the Raptors to their first postseason appearance since 2008. A strong-minded point guard capable of creating for himself and others, Lowry played well enough to be in the "snubs" conversation for both All-Star and All-NBA honors.
This summer marks Lowry's first chance at a major payday, and Toronto seems highly motivated to retain him. At the same time, the Heat, Lakers and others have been linked to Lowry, the best unrestricted free-agent point guard. It's worth noting that Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has never been shy about spending to keep his players, as he gave large deals to Nene, JaVale McGee, Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo, among others, while in Denver.
9. Chandler Parsons | Rockets | F | Age: 25
'13-14 stats: 37.6 MPG, 16.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.0 APG, 15.9 PER, 7.6 Win Shares
Status: Restricted -- completed three years of four-year, $3.6 million deal as second-round pick
It's finally time for one of the NBA's best values to get paid. Parsons has been one of the most productive second-round picks in recent memory, putting up career numbers as a perfect fit alongside stars Dwight Howard and James Harden in Houston. A solid shooter with a nice all-around game, Parsons possesses the rare ability to play with stars without getting in the way or disappearing.
The Rockets, looking to make a summer splash as always, allowed Parsons to enter restricted free agency. Houston is reportedly targeting James and Anthony, but Parsons is far more than a good backup plan if those stars go elsewhere. He joined James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Gordon Hayward and Michael Carter-Williams as the only players to average 16 points, five rebounds and four assists last season. Going the RFA route allows Houston to better control his future and perhaps limit the damage on his next contract, as he otherwise would have become an unrestricted free agent in July 2015.
10. Gordon Hayward | Jazz | F | Age: 24
'13-14 stats: 36.4 MPG, 16.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 5.2 APG, 16.2 PER, 3.6 Win Shares
Status: Restricted -- completed four-year, $11 million rookie-scale contract
Hayward's season is a perfect example of what happens when a complementary player is asked to do too much. After spending his first three seasons getting up to speed while Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap did the heavy lifting, Hayward was left to shoulder a lot of responsibility when both veteran big men departed as free agents last summer. The result was a predictable spike in turnovers and a decline in his shooting numbers. Point guard Trey Burke's early-season absence didn't help either.
Free-agent suitors will be eyeing Hayward as a No. 2 or a No. 3 option, with the understanding that the rebuilding Jazz will be highly motivated to retain him using their matching rights. Utah has more or less cleared its financial decks and committed to a youth movement, so it would qualify as a true shock if Hayward didn't return next season.
11. Lance Stephenson | Pacers | G | Age: 23
'13-14 stats: 35.4 MPG, 13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 4.6 APG, 14.7 PER, 7.4 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- completed four-year, $3.4 million contract as second-round pick
Stephenson might as well change his middle name to "polarizing." His advocates will point to his breakout season with career-high numbers across the board, an offensive game that mixes opportunistic scoring and playmaking, and a grind-hard approach to defense. His detractors will question his maturity, decision-making, motives (the "selfish" tag was thrown out by teammate Roy Hibbert), ability as a one-on-one scorer, limited effectiveness as a three-point shooter and why the heck he felt it was necessary to talk trash to and blow into the ear of LeBron during the East finals.
Despite the forehead-slapping moments, Stephenson was a key piece for the Pacers, who invested years into developing him from a 2010 second-round pick into a 2014 All-Star candidate. After back-to-back trips to the conference finals and no obvious alternatives for replacing what Stephenson supplies, Indiana will surely do its best to re-sign him at a reasonable number.
12. Marcin Gortat | Wizards | C | Age: 30
'13-14 stats: 32.8 MPG, 13.2 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 17.6 PER, 8.1 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- completed five-year, $34 million contract
Chandler and Omer Asik were traded last week, a timely reminder that this year's free-agent crop of centers isn't particularly deep. That's good news for Gortat, who leads the way among traditional, bruising low-post types. Gortat hits free agency in his prime after nearly averaging a double-double while playing 81 games for the Wizards, who advanced in the postseason for the first time since 2005.
Washington, which dealt a first-round pick for Gortat last October, is invested in keeping the Polish center, who paired with Nene to form an imposing front line. Gortat is likely in line for a raise from his $7.7 million salary, perhaps a substantial one, after performing reliably in the postseason. The Wizards are well positioned to bring him back, though it could come at the expense of some of their other free agents.
13. Luol Deng | Cavaliers | F | Age: 29
'13-14 stats: 35.1 MPG, 16 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.9 APG, 15.2 PER, 4.5 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- completed six-year, $71 million contract
Nearly a decade of service in Chicago went poof in January, when the Bulls sent Deng to the Cavaliers. Shortly after the move, reports indicated that Deng had rejected a three-year, $30 million contract extension from Chicago, where he had become known for playing elite perimeter defense and logging heavy minutes for coach Tom Thibodeau.
Cleveland used the No. 1 pick in last Thursday's draft on Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins, somewhat alleviating the pressure to keep Deng despite surrendering three draft picks to acquire him. His fit with the young, up-and-down Cavaliers just never seemed quite right. Ideally, Deng lands on a veteran-dominated roster looking to make noise in the postseason immediately, though his recent injury history and struggles with his outside shooting could give potential suitors pause.
14. Isaiah Thomas | Kings | G | Age: 25
'13-14 stats: 34.7 MPG, 20.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 6.3 APG, 20.5 PER, 7.7 Win Shares
Status: Restricted -- completed three-year, $2.1 million contract as second-round pick
It's easy to be overlooked when you're a 5-9 guard in a league dominated by giants. Thomas, the last player taken in the 2011 draft, hasn't generated the free-agent buzz you would expect for a player with his numbers. His height, and the problems it poses for him defensively, are the most obvious explanations. A fearless scorer who has worked to show that he can run a team over the last two years, Thomas was one of just six players (along with James, Harden, Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving) to average 20 points and six assists in 2013-14. He also ranked No. 4 among point guards in PER.
Those numbers do require a bit of an inflation asterisk given Sacramento's poor record (28-54), but Thomas deserves credit for establishing himself as a scoring threat capable of beating defenses in multiple ways. Sacramento has no proven point guards returning from last season's roster and didn't use its lottery pick to address the position. The assumption, then, is that the Kings will pay up for Thomas.
15. Pau Gasol | Lakers | F/C | Age: 33
'13-14 stats: 31.4 MPG, 17.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 3.4 APG, 19.3 PER, 3.0 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- completed three-year, $57 million extension
One of the most gifted and decorated international players in NBA history is now years removed from his All-Star heyday. Poor fits with coach Mike D'Antoni and Howard, along with nagging injuries, have hampered Gasol, though he did resuscitate his stats a bit after Howard's departure for Houston a year ago.
This summer could very well represent a crossroads for Gasol, that junction many aging players face where the best fits involve taking a steep pay cut while the best financial deals require joining lackluster rosters. Plug Gasol into a contender that can make use of his high IQ and passing skills, and we could all be in for a treat. Let him languish with the Lakers, Knicks or some other rebuilding situation, and his defensive limitations and declining mobility will be all the more glaring.
16. Boris Diaw | Spurs | F | Age: 32
'13-14 stats: 25.0 MPG, 9.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.8 APG, 14.1 PER, 4.9 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- completed two-year, $9.2 million contract
Now that Tim Duncan has opted in for the 2014-15 season, San Antonio faces a gloriously simple offseason: re-sign Diaw (and perhaps Mills) and enter next season as favorites to repeat (barring Miami's pulling off some ludicrous Superteam master plan). The French forward has always been an acquired taste, but his virtuoso performance in the playoffs exposed his entertaining, pass-first game to millions of new admirers while putting him in the running for Finals MVP. The Spurs' series with Miami swung dramatically in their favor when coach Gregg Popovich moved Diaw into the starting lineup for Game 3, as the Heat simply couldn't handle the extra ball movement and versatility that resulted.
It's no secret that Diaw is close friends with fellow Frenchman Tony Parker, or that he owes the Spurs for breathing new life into his career after he ballooned on a historically terrible Charlotte team in 2011-12. The smart money says Diaw returns to San Antonio on a sweetheart, discounted deal that makes the Spurs' rivals jealous all over again.
17. Trevor Ariza | Wizards | F | Age: 29
'13-14 stats: 35.4 MPG, 14.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.5 APG, 15.8 PER, 8 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- completed five-year, $34 million contract
Ariza is nothing if not a remarkable testament to the power of player development. During his first four seasons, Ariza sank just 70 three-pointers combined, and he even went the entire 2006-07 season without making one in nearly 1,300 minutes. In 2013-14, Ariza made the most out of his contract year and a nice pairing with Washington's dynamic backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal by converting a career-high 180 three-pointers (at an excellent 40.7 percent clip). Rather than settling for life as a defensive specialist, then, Ariza has blossomed into an ideal complementary wing who is hitting free agency in his prime (he turned 29 on Monday).
That growth, along with Gortat's free agency, could make for some tough financial decisions for Washington, which committed $22 million to small forward Martell Webster last summer and drafted another small forward, Otto Porter, with the third pick in 2013. If another team backs up the Brinks truck for Ariza's three-and-D game, the Wizards could be forced to decide that the negotiations are too rich for their blood.
18. Avery Bradley | Celtics | G | Age: 23
'13-14 stats: 30.9 MPG, 14.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 12.7 PER, 1.8 Win Shares
Status: Restricted -- completed four-year, $7.1 million rookie-scale contract
Bradley deserves a little love for making steady progress despite Boston's hairpin turns in recent years. Coaches constantly preach that players should try to "control what they can control," and clearly Bradley had no voice when it came to the selection of Boston's new coach, or Rajon Rondo's knee injury, or the blockbuster Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade.
Yet none of those developments has stopped Bradley from growing. In posting career highs across the board last season, Bradley added a more consistent outside shot to go with the tenacious on-ball defense that made him a 2012-13 All-Defensive second-team selection. Drafting point guard Marcus Smart last week would seem to suggest that a Rondo trade could be looming, and the uber-competitive Smart/Bradley backcourt duo has some real promise. Bradley's tweener status and limited one-on-one game will likely limit the size and scope of his offers, putting Boston in the driver's seat.
19. Paul Pierce | Nets | F | Age: 36
'13-14 stats: 28.0 MPG, 13.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.4 APG, 16.8 PER, 5.2 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- completed four-year, $61 million contract
A late-career move to Brooklyn produced a new Paul Pierce. The future Hall of Famer averaged fewer than 30 minutes and 10 shots for the first time in his 16 seasons, which led to a career-low scoring average. Some things didn't change -- namely, Pierce's love for the moment and his ability to deliver in the postseason. The highlight of Brooklyn's season was probably Pierce's "That's why they got me here" jumper during his fourth-quarter flurry in Game 1 against Toronto. Another strong candidate: Pierce's series-clinching block of Kyle Lowry to eliminate the Raptors in Game 7. He might be moving slowly and he might not have had that same iconic role that he had in Boston, but one wonders where Brooklyn would have been without him.
Pierce is fading, to be sure, but he's still flickering. It's unclear what he makes of coach Jason Kidd's exit after a failed power play, and whether he will feel bound to Brooklyn because longtime teammate Kevin Garnett is expected back. Brooklyn hardly looks like a serious contender, regardless of its choice to replace Kidd. Could the Nets' standing, coupled with the shadow of Father Time, motivate Pierce to take a stab at ring chasing, perhaps with Doc Rivers' Clippers or some team with fewer question marks than Brooklyn?
20. Shaun Livingston | Nets | G | Age: 28
'13-14 stats: 26.0 MPG, 8.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.2 APG, 14.5 PER, 4.4 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- completed one-year, $884,000 contract
Referring to Livingston as a "jack of all trades" wouldn't quite be accurate; his shaky jumper has produced only 10 three-pointers during a nine-year career with eight teams. Not that Brooklyn was complaining last season, when Livingston created on offense and sparked the defense with his length and versatility. The former No. 4 pick, whose career was stalled by a vicious knee injury, enjoyed his most complete season, playing a personal-best 76 games and helping fuel the Nets' strong second-half push.
Nets GM Billy King called re-signing Livingston "priority No. 1" this summer, though finding a new coach has probably moved to the top of the list. Regardless, re-signing the high-energy Livingston is crucial for the Nets, who struggled to find an identity before promoting him to the starting lineup in January. It wouldn't be surprising if a number of teams, armed with their mid-level exceptions, tried to pick off Livingston from the Nets' insane payroll.
21. Vince Carter | Mavericks | G | Age: 37
'13-14 stats: 24.4 MPG, 11.9 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.6 APG, 15.9 PER, 4.3 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- completed three-year, $9.3 million contract
It's incredibly difficult to find glory in longevity. Let's face it: "Half-geezer, Half-amazing" just doesn't have a good ring to it. Carter is still out there doing his thing, even if he doesn't get the same love for his old-age production as Duncan or Ray Allen, in part because the Mavericks have been non-factors in the postseason. Why yes, that was Carter drilling a game-winning jumper in the playoffs against the Spurs, a full 16 years after he was a lottery pick and seven years after he made his last All-Star Game.
That play served as a reminder that Carter has successfully reinvented himself as a reliable complementary player after years as an alpha dog. He has missed just seven games over the last three seasons, and he's shot around 40 percent from deep for each of the last two years. The fit in Dallas isn't broken, and a return is a possibility if the Mavericks strike out again on big-name wings. If a contender comes calling, Carter should consider hopping along for the ride, much like his cousin Tracy McGrady tried to do with the Spurs in 2013. A first ring would be the perfect way to cap an impressive career.
22. Josh McRoberts | Hornets | F | Age: 27
'13-14 stats: 30.3 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.3 APG, 13.8 PER, 6.5 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- used player option after first year of two-year, $5.4 million contract
Charlotte has the cap flexibility to re-sign McRoberts and the younger power forwards -- 2013 lottery pick Cody Zeller and 2014 lottery pick Noah Vonleh -- to replace him if he finds a better offer. After six stops in seven seasons, McRoberts has played himself into a larger, long-term contract.
23. Shawn Marion | Mavericks | F | Age: 36
'13-14 stats: 31.7 MPG, 10.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 13.7 PER, 4.3 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- completed five-year, $39.9 million contract
The end is approaching for Marion, but it's not quite here yet. Marion's game is all subtlety now, as the Matrix's jaw-dropping athleticism has given way to headiness and opportunism. The defense-first small forward held down a full-time starter's role for three straight years in Dallas, and he continues to showcase the ability to guard multiple positions while scoring in a safety-valve role.
Marion's numbers slipped a touch last season, and it's possible that he's reached the stage where his team would be best served if his minutes were cut down considerably. That's no slam on Marion, as he and teammate Nowitzki were the only players 35 and older to average at least 30 minutes last year. One would assume, given his comfort level with coach Rick Carlisle, Nowitzki and Chandler, that Marion will be back next season. If not, one has to believe that Marion would only consider joining a contender.
24. Nick Young | Lakers | G | Age: 29
'13-14 stats: 28.3 MPG, 17.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 16 PER, 2.5 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- used player option after first year of two-year, $2.3 million contract
Many players need structure to excel. Nick Young is not "many players." No one thrived in the Lakers' chaotic mess last season quite like Young, who produced a career-high scoring mark, connected on 38.6 percent from beyond the arc and attempted nearly six free throws per 36 minutes as a one-trick pony known for looking for his own offense. Not too shabby, especially considering the revolving door lineups around him.
After Young landed in Los Angeles on a hometown discount, it's hard to envision his leaving. The Lakers should show restraint in negotiations, but they also have good reason to retain his point production. After all, Kobe Bryant is returning from back-to-back major injuries, and Gasol could be departing via free agency.
25. Spencer Hawes | Cavaliers | C | Age: 26
'13-14 stats: 29.8 MPG, 13.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 16.6 PER, 1.9 Win Shares
Status: Unrestricted -- completed two-year, $13 million contract
Hawes joins Gortat and Gasol as the only 7-footers on this list, but the similarities mostly stop at the tape measure. Hawes does a huge chunk of his offensive damage from long range, sinking a career-high 41.6 percent of his threes on nearly four attempts per game last season. That range helps make up for a lack of athleticism and low-post finishing ability, and it could be useful if paired with a ball-dominant power forward who lives in the paint. Hawes lived through the nightmare in Philadelphia before a midseason trade to Cleveland, where he was unable to help the Cavaliers sneak into the playoffs. His underwhelming defense was a contributing factor to teamwide struggles on that end at both stops.
Suitors looking to plug a hole in the interior are bound to kick the tires on Hawes, if only because there are so few other alternatives. Two years ago, he pulled down better than mid-level money from the Sixers, and a similar offer this summer shouldn't come as a surprise. Assuming Deng signs elsewhere, the Cavaliers are in position to compete financially for Hawes. That said, Hawes should consider accepting a discount for the right to play on a really good team for once.
Notable omissions: Emeka Okafor (sat out 2013-14 season with a neck injury), Ray Allen, Channing Frye, Evan Turner, Mario Chalmers, Patty Mills and Greivis Vasquez.