- With NBA free agency right around the corner, it's time to zero in on the best players on the market this summer.
Free agency in the NBA technically begins on July 1, though preparation for this summer began in earnest years ago. Teams have carefully analyzed their finances and scouted personnel throughout the league with specific goals in mind—all while knowing their best-laid plans could be detonated with a single, market-shaking deal. All it takes is one bloated Timofey Mozgov contract for projections to rock completely off their expected values. This is why there is no greater show in sports than what happens away from the court and away from the camera. Before the NBA’s teams ever have a chance to test one another, they’re each tested by the unpredictability of the market.
To set the stage, we’ve ranked the top 50 free agents available and will be tracking the deals all summer. Considerations include: Recent performance, projected performance, age, developmental trajectory, variety of potential fits, versatility, chemistry with previous teammates, relationships with coaches, place in a changing NBA, and more.
1. Kevin Durant
Don’t get too excited. Durant seems to already have an understanding with the Warriors on how his taking a shorter, smaller deal would help keep a championship team intact, and declined his player option with that inevitability in mind. Expect a one-year deal, perhaps with a player option, for around $32 million.
2. Stephen Curry
Try as other teams might (and as Charlotte certainly will) to entice him, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Curry bids for Durant to join the Warriors, sacrifices graciously, wins a title in dominant fashion, and then bolts. He'll no longer be on his sweetheart deal anymore.
3. Chris Paul
Paul is the best plausibly available player in this year’s free agent class. Signing him is an implicit agreement to allow him considerable control; Paul is the sort of point guard who orchestrates, if only because it’s how his brain works. The result—even last season—is MVP-quality performance in running the show and all-league defense at the entry point of the opponent’s offense. A long contract for Paul might not age well considering his age (32, which is getting up there for a smaller point guard) and injury history, though in the immediate he’s simply too good to pass up.
4. Gordon Hayward (player option)
Hayward made this opportunity for himself through years of gradual, hard-earned development. The standing result is a true do-it-all wing: a creative, sweet-shooting, strong-driving scorer who sees the offense beyond himself. Thirty-three players in the NBA scored better than 20 points per game this season. Only 11 did so on higher true shooting. Hayward is also one of the better, more versatile defenders among top scorers, in part due to his strengthening over the last seven years. Budging Hayward is an ordeal, as is baiting him out of sound position. Throw Hayward onto any roster and into any system and his game works.
5. Blake Griffin
The entire league—much less this summer’s free agent class—might look quite different if Griffin didn’t have such a concerning record of injury. Even with some fluke ailments accounted for, the sheer number of games that Griffin has missed over the past three years will force careful consideration of any contract offer. His play itself remains sterling. Griffin is one of the league’s best intermediaries when it comes to running offense, whether making reads on the move, scanning the floor out of the post, or working the dribble hand-off as if he were a play-action quarterback. Some team will surely be pleased with the quality of basketball they get by signing Griffin. What’s in question is whether they’re satisfied with its volume.
6. Kyle Lowry
A dynamo point guard who led one of the NBA’s most efficient offenses last season. The rub with Lowry is timing; to sign a six-foot scoring guard to a long-term deal at age 31 is just asking to get burned on a potential fourth or fifth season. This is the cost of doing business when it comes to veteran free agents, but in Lowry’s case teams are forced to reconcile tremendous seasons of performance with worn-down playoff fizzles and the prospect of a coming decline.
7. Paul Millsap
Millsap will be paid like a star because he is one, no matter how he might be regarded by the most casual NBA fans. What they often fail to see are the things that coaches fret over and teammates appreciate. Millsap is one of the best in the league at making up for his teammates’ mistakes, whether by switching outright, holding his rotation longer than he’d like, or popping up to defend the rim. His hands are ridiculously disruptive for his position. He also lives in that space between positions, where to guard Millsap with a wing leaves a defense vulnerable to post-ups and drives but a more traditional big might not be able to keep up with him. His presence makes a team smarter; teammates understand where to go based on where Millsap sets them up with his interior passes and they grasp the nuances of a team defense from how he executes. A pro’s pro.
8. Otto Porter Jr. (restricted)
Porter has improved his three-point shooting every year, culminating in a top-five standing (43.4%) in the league last season. Those incremental gains are consistent with a well-founded game. From that steady shooting improvement has come gradually more confident work in attacking closeouts. The growth of his in-between game has allowed him to more deeply understand his options. Porter’s size and length should make him dangerous against all but the best-positioned defenders, and he’s getting there, year by year, to complement his already reliable coverage.
9. Serge Ibaka
Keeping both Lowry and Ibaka could be prohibitively pricey for Toronto given their current roster, which effectively opens the market for both (and for several potential money-saving trades). Ibaka is the more curious case. Lowry has played well enough to get paid somewhere, but Ibaka has slipped from his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy and has never had the offensive game to compensate. The floor-spacing shot blocker is such a rare subset that he could prove hyper-valuable to the right team. Whether that sort of team will have cap space to spare and interest in Ibaka, specifically, is another matter entirely.
10. Danilo Gallinari
Gallinari is yet another of this year’s free agents who comes adorned with red flags. Just once in the past six years has Gallinari played more than 63 games. Inevitable injury should come priced in, and yet the pressing need for versatile forwards may well drive up his deal nonetheless. It’s hard to find 6'10" forwards who can guard on the perimeter, much less those who can draw fouls, space the floor, and handle for themselves to attack a closeout. What Gallinari can do as a secondary or tertiary option might be valuable enough for teams to accept his injuries at cost.
11. George Hill
Hill remains the prototype point guard for teams who love to operate through their star wing players. Long reach allows him to guard whoever is needed among perimeter types. His combination of three-point shooting (good for better than 40% over the past two years) and ball handling makes him ideal for balancing the floor. Those superstar-driven teams that seem lopsided are missing players like Hill, while more democratic outfits like the Jazz rely on his well-rounded game to complement everything his teammates do well. Hill brings so much to balance without taking a single thing away from his team.
12. Jrue Holiday
Holiday never found a comfortable rhythm after the Pelicans traded for DeMarcus Cousins, leaving him with a tough call to make this summer. New Orleans could very well make Holiday his richest offer—and might have the most motivation to overpay him, given their extremely limited means to replace him. Dallas is already rumored to be in the running for Holiday’s services, though reportedly in interest to play him out of his natural position and alongside Dennis Smith Jr., their point guard of the future. Holiday should have some decent options, but choosing between them may come down to what factors he can live with.
13. Jeff Teague
A safe, solid point guard who could be a victim of the market. Paul and Lowry will be courted as stars, while Hill and Holiday will draw interest as bigger, two-way players. Teague could see a crunch in a market that just doesn’t have much need for point guards; most of the league’s teams are already set with either a quality starter or an interesting prospect already under contract, leaving players like Teague with little leverage. Teague makes some nice moves, works as a system defender, and keeps an offense executing. This just isn’t the best time to hit free agency as a point guard, no matter how lavish this summer’s deals might otherwise seem.
14. Nerlens Noel (restricted)
One would fully expect the Mavericks to match any offer for Noel after conceding a real prospect (Justin Anderson) and draft picks to acquire him via trade. That was not a deal made without understanding the possibilities of the market. All it takes is a single team to sign Noel to a “max” offer sheet (worth 25% of the salary cap, though, relative to the 30% and 35% maxes that players with more experience would be eligible to sign), a possibility which Dallas is undoubtedly prepared for. The appeal should be obvious. Noel played strong individual defense on some woefully (and purposefully) incomplete Sixers teams over the last three years and projects as the kind of center who could anchor a defense with more structure. Quick feet and quicker hands make him a real catch. Any offense is gravy.
15. Dirk Nowitzki
How does one even begin to rank a 39-year-old living legend who is only a free agent out of formality? Nowitzki is only on this list because Dallas made it so by declining his option, and they only declined his option so they could better work around his salary this summer.
16. Andre Iguodala
How much Iguodala wants to explore his options beyond his prime role with the Warriors remains to be seen. What doesn’t is his esteem throughout the NBA, particularly after folding his game neatly into the hyper-specific role Golden State asked him to fill. He could make sense for a young team looking to grow up, a playoff team ready to take the next step, or a contender angling for greater flexibility. The scope of his appeal is a testament to just how well his game travels; stifling defense and unselfish offense play everywhere, even for a veteran who really doesn’t contribute all that much as a scorer.
17. J.J. Redick
Coaches of teams playing against the Clippers—a team that had two highly skilled stars—have dedicated the top level of their game plan to slowing down Redick. His shooting is that powerful; so long as his teammates allow him time to sprint through his curls, Redick can sprint his way into open threes for Redick or spring leaks in the defense elsewhere through his movement alone. Utah struck a masterful balance of containing Redick in the playoffs, but don’t make the mistake of broadly applying the success of one of the best defensive teams in the league. Most teams can’t stop Redick while also accounting for every screener along the way, locking the defense into a perpetual dilemma.
18. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (restricted)
Caldwell-Pope is one of the most respected defensive prospects in the league—a 6'5" wing who scuttles over screens and sticks with guards of all kind. In a league dominated by the pull-up jumper (or in some cases, the mere threat of it), rangy defenders like KCP have become increasingly valuable. His offensive game is evolving, too; after spending his first few years as a spot-up shooter, Caldwell-Pope has begun dabbling in off-the-dribble works, somehow without falling into turnover trouble. The offense he creates might not be particularly efficient at first, but Caldwell-Pope is an already helpful player on a path toward broadening his game significantly.
19. Pau Gasol
It’s mildly shocking that Gasol, who declined a player option worth $16.2 million for next season, is a free agent at all. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, Gasol’s intention is to re-up with San Antonio on a longer deal—one that would likely allow for more immediate capacity for improvement.
20. Zach Randolph
The league is constantly changing and Randolph, having accepted the role as a reserve that Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said would be essential to the next stage of his career, is still making a living through artful battery. Give the man touches on the second unit and he’ll turn in better than 20 points per 36 minutes while pulling down rebounds left and right. His game is still clear-out pivots and bump-back post-ups, simply established more quickly within the offense than in years past.
21. Taj Gibson
A beloved teammate who endears himself through the grind, Gibson has dedicated his career to the thankless stuff at the heart of basketball: boxing out for team rebounds, screening for uncredited “assists,” and positioning himself defensively to bail out a teammate, among others. That he’s also good for about 15 points worth of mid-range jumpers and bully post-ups every 36 minutes rounds out his role in a variety of lineups. There may not be much spice to Gibson’s game, but the meat and potatoes of it all makes him a helpful member of any rotation.
22. Patty Mills
Mills is at his best when coming off the bench to launch up shots, unencumbered by broader offensive responsibility. It works because he’s damn good at it; that defenders have to scramble to keep up with Mills at every step allows him to leverage all sorts of changes in direction and speed. A moment’s pause can earn a defender’s desperate overcommitment. From there, all it takes is a quick step in from Mills to clear room for one of the quickest pull-up jumpers in the league. Mills can make functional passes and work through most matchups on effort and quickness alone, but his broader appeal will always stem from how swiftly he gets buckets.
23. Patrick Patterson
Patterson is the sort of player who finds niches in real time. He isn’t strictly a space-clearing stretch four or a more involved facilitator, just as he isn’t solely a switch defender or a more typical show-and-recover defender. Where Patterson’s game is valuable is in its malleability. He might not fill one glaring need, but over the course of a game or a playoff series, he’ll change shape to address several.
24. Dion Waiters
The fundamental question in evaluating the 16-point, four-assist, three-rebound quasi-star of the Miami Heat last season: Can you really trust Dion Waiters? Mileage among teams will vary substantially, though I suspect most will err on the side of caution. Executives around the league have been waiting for the moment when everything clicks for Waiters. His skill is understood and appreciated. It’s his approach that is more concerning, in large part because it can be so fickle.
Would be higher on this list if he could be counted on to be available. Nene just isn’t that guy. Houston found good use for him by distilling his minutes down to 17.9 per game—in which he centered the defense and flummoxed opponents with a physical, versatile roll game.
26. Mason Plumlee (restricted)
Plumlee has a lot of the big-picture skills (finishing, shot-blocking, frontcourt playmaking) that teams crave but is missing some of the connective tissue that would elevate his game. Still he’s proficient enough to play a considerable role for the right team. Plumlee, like most, simply needs help. He can’t carry a defense by himself and isn’t a prolific enough rebounder to prop up small-ball lineups on the glass. He sees the floor well but shouldn’t be creating for himself. Put the right infrastructure around him and Plumlee can round out some rough edges.
27. Rudy Gay
A skilled offensive player coming off of one of the most devastating injuries in professional basketball. As is noted whenever the Achilles tendon comes to NBA prominence, its rupturing undercuts careers. Gay can at least play off of his height to make up for any loss in mobility, though this particular ailment can prove taxing in smaller ways across his game. Gay might not be able to launch so much off of his pivot foot. He might not get the same lift on his jumper. Gay was enjoying one of the best seasons of his career before his injury but now has to reestablish his game in its wake. As such, there has never been a dicier time to invest in his future.
28. Andre Roberson (restricted)
Roberson’s appeal is deeply conditional and very much dependent on the players around him. With enough shooting on the floor, Roberson’s own sidewinder jumper becomes much less of a problem. Still he gives opponents cover; his presence alone either protects the other team’s worst defender or offers enough rope for an opposing big tasked to guard him to wander from him unpunished. The reason to accept that cost is that Roberson himself is an all-league defender who works relentlessly to contain perimeter scorers. Competitive playoff games where he’s involved can turn into a high-wire act, but Roberson is already great at what he does and just 25 years old. Time is on his side in figuring out the balance of cutting, shooting, and screening necessary to keep defenses honest.
29. Kelly Olynyk (restricted)
One of the NBA’s more unique talents, Olynyk’s drives off of a pump fake don’t seem like they should work as often as they do. It’s not as if Olynyk is especially quick or even all that coordinated by NBA standards. Yet the seven-footer can shuffle his way into some scoring opportunities simply by paying attention and playing his opponent’s expectations against them. Finding the best ways to incorporate Olynyk takes some creativity, but Brad Stevens and the Celtics’ coaching staff have shown that there are reliable ways to put his ball skills to work.
30. James Johnson
Johnson has been waiting his entire career for an opportunity like the one he found in Miami. The consistent minutes were nice, but what really distinguished Johnson’s time with the Heat was the team’s investment. It was with the help of Miami’s staff that Johnson got into the best shape of his career, pushing his versatile game to new heights. There’s still something a bit rocky in Johnson’s skill set, but the sheer range of things he can do with the ball and players he can guard on the floor makes makes him an intriguing option. Signing Johnson alone would make a team more flexible.
31. Manu Ginobili
Ginobili, even at 39, somehow manages to make so many of the players around him better. Playing him takes more managing (of minutes and of matchups) than it used to, but Manu finds his way onto the floor because he is so completely undaunted by the moment.
32. JaMychal Green
Green has carved out a place for himself as a sturdy big without much damning weakness. The worst that can really be said of him is that his over-fouling still gets in his way. Otherwise, Green can shoot a bit, rebound well enough, defend competently, and contribute without all that many touches.
33. Jonathon Simmons (restricted)
Those glimpses of what Simmons could be—a player who nets 18.6 points per 36 minutes on largely self-created shots in the 2017 playoffs, for example—will get him paid. Teams rely on his kind of shake. When the offense stalls, you need a creator like Simmons to conjure some kind of workable shot from nothing. It is a skill that cannot be hidden or disguised. That Simmons has shown he can deliver something in those moments matters, even if it is caveated by some uneven performance over a longer timeline.
34. Joe Ingles (restricted)
Remarkably well-rounded for an affordable wing, Ingles is the sort of playmaker who makes sure the trains run on time—not to mention help course-correct when a car jumps the track. Post entry is no problem. Secondary pick-and-rolls come naturally. His spot-up three-point shooting, while a bit slow on the release, can help create space enough to keep things moving. Most every team would have a use for a player like Ingles, yet all this catalyzing skill (along with competitive, multipositional defense) may come at a relative bargain due to the fact that he isn’t much of a scorer.
35. Tyreke Evans
On paper, Evans is still the same sort of big, imposing driver who won Rookie of the Year over Curry nearly a decade ago. There just isn’t reason to trust Evans’s health, even for those who still like his game. Fit, too, remains an open question. Evans would be best off sharing the ball with other creators but doesn’t really approach the game with a democratic style. His game is stuck in the space between creator and facilitator when he’s able to stay on the court at all.
36. Tony Snell (restricted)
The Tony Snell Milwaukee saw in the playoffs—a lean, high-return three-and-D player—might slightly overstate the reality. All the same, to have a 25-year-old with Snell’s length shooting 40.6% on threes fulfills what so many teams are looking for in their wings. Snell might not be especially dynamic, but simplicity is a virtue in role players.
37. Derrick Rose
Rose bounced back for the Knicks last season by—if nothing else—getting to the basket consistently. The issue remains that it’s so hard to place him; Rose has to have the ball in his hands to be effective but doesn’t quite justify that investment with his play. His game naturally projects a higher-usage style, but any team that relies on him in that way limits itself. It would be one thing if Rose could defend, shoot from range, or even facilitate (by working off of other playmakers) at even a respectable NBA level. That he can’t locks him into a particular sort of role that he isn’t quite good enough to carry. Rose might need to temper max expectations.
38. Shaun Livingston
Not every team can surround Livingston with as much shooting as Golden State did, but part of what makes him an attractive free agent is the variety of roles he might fill. Some team could sign Livingston as a pure back-up point guard and another as largely an off-ball cutter and defender on the wing. Both would be pleased.
39. David West
He might be worth signing for his edge alone. West is a mature presence, a heady high-post playmaker, and a bruiser at heart with mid-range touch. Keep his minutes down and he’ll do fine.
40. C.J. Miles
Miles might be best known at this point for taking a buzzer-beating shot that Paul George wanted for himself. Beyond that confidence in his shooting stroke, Miles is a team-first role player who can contribute defensively and space the floor from either forward spot.
41. Dewayne Dedmon
A stealthy part of the framework behind best defense in the league last season. Dedmon, a seven-footer in the prime of his career, can change the look of the defensive interior.
42. Ersan Ilyasova
Ilyasova always seems better than he’s given credit for – especially since he was dumped via trade twice last season. Along the way, Ilyasova averaged 15.4 points (including 34.8% from three), 8.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.3 steals per 36 minutes. There’s just enough peskiness to his defense and self-awareness to his offense to make his complete game kind of work.
43. Tim Hardaway Jr. (restricted)
To get by as a one-dimensional player in the NBA demands that one dimension to be incredibly sharp. Hardaway is getting there; after barely playing for the Hawks through much of the 2015-16 season, Hardaway broke through the rotation as a key reserve and sometimes-starter. The commonality of his minutes: burst scoring (19.1 points per 36) on improving efficiency (56.8% true shooting). Settling Hardaway’s game might be the biggest victory yet for Atlanta’s developmental complex.
44. Nikola Mirotic (restricted)
In his three NBA seasons, Mirotic has been more valuable in theory than reality. There’s no question he can help a team when his shot is falling. When it’s not, Mirotic rarely contributes enough as a defender, driver, or playmaker to justify substantial minutes. There’s still time for Mirotic, 26, to turn things around; the relative dysfunction of the Bulls over the last few years offers some hope that his game might play better in a more stable environment.
45. Ben McLemore (restricted)
A potential play here, McLemore has languished in Sacramento through his entire rookie deal. But there’s a reason he’s a regular in the NBA rumor mill: Big, naturally athletic wings are a rare commodity. The skills McLemore has shown in spots (a smooth jumper, some capacity to knife through traffic, flashes of defensive aptitude) are still more promising than his limitations are concerning. With the right role and expectations, McLemore could be a player.
46. Darren Collison
A bit unremarkable but competent enough to hold down minutes as a backup point guard (or start for one of the league’s worst teams, as he did often last season), Collison scores well but tends to frustrate coaches with the things he fails to see on the floor.
47. Kyle Korver
On the one hand: Golden State showed Korver a lot of respect in the NBA Finals, sometimes overcommitting to his curls at the expense of other threats. Forcing that kind of adjustment can be valuable. On the other: The Warriors’ attentions held Korver down to just 4.4 points per game on 31.3% shooting from beyond the arc in the championship series. Useful, but solvable.
48. P.J. Tucker
Tucker is the kind of bully forward that can make a wing scorer’s life miserable. Toronto might not have made it out of the first round alive if not for Tucker, even as his shaky jumper created other problems.
49. Vince Carter
A persistently helpful wing player, even at 40 years old. Any player that age is going to look (and move) better on some nights than others, but Carter’s range of offerings—from perimeter shooting to heads-up passing to leveraging his strength on defense—is impressive for his age.
50. Thabo Sefolosha
A subtle team defender with enough wiry strength to guard across multiple positions, Sefolosha is somewhat smoother on offense than other stopper types, though he’s never going to score all that much—or all that efficiently.