By Jared Peterman
As the clock ticks from 11:59 PM on Thursday night and strikes midnight, flipping the calendar to July, NBA free agency will officially open. Teams will be racing to make phone calls and meet with players in the wee hours of the night hoping to land their franchise’s next superstar. The 2016 free agency class is star studded as well as deep, so I’ll be ranking the top 10 unrestricted free agents on the open market for every team to sign. My list will not include the following players as I fully anticipate them to return to their teams from the previous season: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, and DeMar DeRozan. Along with ranking the free agents, I’ll also make a prediction where each player will land and add my personal opinion of their perfect fit with a team.
- Kevin Durant, SF
A top five player in the league hitting the open market with this much anticipation of possibly switching teams hasn’t happened since LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers for the Heat. Durant is currently in the process of lining up team meetings, creating the possibility of leaving the Thunder very real. The seven footer has a couple of options at hand: re-sign a one year deal with Oklahoma City and test free agency again next year when the salary cap increases yet again, or simply sign a traditional long-term deal with the Thunder or anyone else. Every team in the league would love to have Durant as he’s a generational talent with incredible shooting skills so well for his size. Durant wants rings and will likely sign wherever he feels he can hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy the quickest.
Perfect Fit: Golden State Warriors- Creates the ultimate lineup of death while becoming title favorites.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder
- Al Horford, C
The crafty big man has played his entire nine-year career in Atlanta after winning two National Championships at the University of Florida. Horford just turned 30 years old and should be ready to cash in a pretty penny as the top big man on the market. Horford does a little bit of everything, averaging 15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in 2015-2016, even extending his game beyond the perimeter shooting 34%. The four-time All-Star will have a large market as he can not only shoot well for a big man, but also has a post-game along with great passing abilities and plays sound defense. Atlanta traded Jeff Teague to clear some cap space in order to resign Horford, who liked his time in Atlanta and apparently wants to resign there. We’ll see if he holds true to his word when winning franchises like San Antonio and Boston come calling for his services.
Perfect Fit: San Antonio Spurs- Possible Duncan retirement, compliments Aldridge and Spurs system.
Prediction: Atlanta Hawks
- Mike Conley, PG
After spending his first nine seasons playing point guard for Memphis, Conley will finally hit the open market and probably upgrade his situation. Conley was stuck in the slow it down, grind on defense style of play in Memphis between coaching tenures of Lionel Hollins and David Joerger. Conley will turn 29 years old during this upcoming season, but would definitely benefit from a more up-tempo system. A much underrated player for his position who has never made an All-Star game averages around 15 points and 6 assists per game and will strongly benefit whichever team he ends up with. One concern is injuries as he’s missed games the past four seasons mainly due to foot issues. According to reports, Dallas is planning to go strong after Conley, with San Antonio possibly in the mix as well as the potential of Conley resigning in Memphis.
Perfect Fit: Houston Rockets- Allow Conley to play in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo system next to a playmaking superstar in James Harden.
Prediction: Dallas Mavericks
- Nicolas Batum, SF
Batum had his best NBA season to date in 2015-2016 after being traded from Portland to Charlotte, and really enjoyed his one season in Charlotte. The senses are he resigns, but there’s a chance a powerhouse team could woo him in a meeting and steal him from Buzz City. The versatile Frenchman will turn 28 in December and receive close to a max contract after posting 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game while shooting 34.8% from downtown in 2015-2016. Batum is someone that catches the attention of almost every organization due to his versatility and could have a long line of suitors if he allows.
Perfect Fit: Los Angeles Clippers- Struggled to find a SF over the years, perfect mix of skills to fit the offense. Clippers may not have the cap space to get him. Paul, Redick, Batum, Griffin, and Jordan starting.
Prediction: Charlotte Hornets
- Hassan Whiteside, C
Whiteside, a late bloomer in the NBA, becomes a free agent after having two very productive seasons in Miami while not even making a million dollars per season. Whiteside will be looking for a lucrative contract to make up for his slow start in the NBA, as he just turned 27 and proved to be a crucial part of the Heat’s success. Whiteside averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks in his first full season during 2015-2016 while leading the league in blocks and defensive rating. These numbers will have teams very intrigued this offseason. In the first half of the season, the center seemed immature and often foul-prone, making Heat fans wary of a potential trade, but something clicked for Whiteside down the stretch and led him to this hefty pay day. Miami will make Whiteside a priority in free agency after the impact he had in the second half and in the playoffs when healthy, but they will be rivaled by big money spending organizations such as the Lakers and Mavericks. Whiteside will look at his market and say, “I like that,” in the voice of his buddy, DJ Khaled.
Perfect Fit: Los Angeles Lakers- Young core in need of a rim protecting center.
Prediction: Miami Heat
- Chandler Parsons, SF
Parsons knows how to play the free agency game, as he already cashed a big deal before from Dallas as a restricted free agent after three solid seasons in Houston and will look to do the same after opting out of his three-year contract a year early. Parsons’ time in Dallas was a bit frustrating as he battled injuries and never played 70 games in a season for the Mavericks while making around $15 million a year. Parsons, a versatile small-forward, excels in shooting three-pointers while doing a little bit of everything else. Parsons will turn 28 in October, so teams will still view him as a valuable asset to have on their roster. Despite the injury concerns, Parsons believes he can get a max contract on the open market. From who? My only guess is a desperate Dallas, but Parsons isn’t set on returning there quite yet. Teams who lose out on Durant may turn to Parsons as their replacement option, but it may not be the max contract he is hoping for. Whatever contract he signs, I doubt it will be as exciting as the last one.
Perfect Fit: Portland Trailblazers- Coming off of a surprising playoff appearance in need of shooters surrounding their backcourt. Lillard, McCollum, Parsons, Aminu, and Plumlee in crunch time.
Prediction: Miami Heat
- Pau Gasol, PF-C
Gasol is the oldest valuable free agent on the market, which will be very appealing to contenders looking to add a veteran who can still produce at a very high level on a shorter contract. Gasol will enter the upcoming season at age 36 and showing no signs of decline as he averaged 16.5 points, 11 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 2.0 blocks per game for Chicago in 2015-2016. The six-time All-Star will most likely only entertain contenders or familiar relationships (Phil Jackson or Marc Gasol). At this moment, there’s no real sense of where Gasol will land and I wouldn’t be surprised if he let the bigger signings land first before committing to a franchise. The only thing I can guess of his free agency at the moment is he signs before playing for Spain in the Olympics on August 5th.
Perfect Fit: Oklahoma City Thunder- Assuming KD returns, OKC is in need of a starting PF with the departure of Ibaka. Add in Gasol and possibly be title favorites.
Prediction: San Antonio Spurs
- Marvin Williams, PF
Marvin Williams provided a magnificent contract year for Charlotte that will have him handsomely paid this offseason as many teams will be aggressive for his services. Williams became the stretch four Charlotte envisioned when signing him two years prior as he shot 40.2% beyond the arc compared to 35.8% from the year before. This improvement alone will make him millions this coming offseason. Stepping into a permanent starting role, Williams averaged 11.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.7 assists. He should have a wide open market as the stretch four is becoming the most popular and essential position in basketball. The former Tar Heel will be entering his age 30 season and should command $12-15 million per year.
Perfect Fit: Toronto Raptors- Perfect stretch four that Toronto desperately needs, keeping Toronto in the top half of the Eastern Conference. Don’t know if they have the cap available to sign him. Lineup of Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll, Williams, and Valanciunas.
Prediction: Charlotte Hornets
- Joakim Noah, PF-C
Joakim Noah is two years removed from the best season of his career winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award, finishing fourth in MVP voting, and landing on the All-NBA’s 1st Team. Since then, there hasn’t been much to write home about as Noah faced injuries the past two seasons that many people blamed on the wear and tear of playing so many minutes season after season under Coach Tom Thibodeau. Over the past two seasons, the former two-time All-Star played a total of 94 games. It’s been a bumpy two seasons and Noah will look to be rejuvenated on a new team, possibly in a bench role. Noah will turn 32 during the 2016-2017 season, making teams believe he still has valuable minutes left in the tank to turn back the clock to a version more similar to 2013-2014. Regardless if the production returns, teams can depend on Noah for energy, defense, rebounding and great passing for a big man.
Perfect Fit: Golden State Warriors- Think of Anderson Varejao and his role for the Warriors on steroids and that’s what Noah could provide for their bench.
Prediction: New York Knicks
- Kent Bazemore, SF
Kent Bazemore flourished during his two seasons in Atlanta after struggling to find traction in the league after two seasons. Bazemore flashed his talent during a late season signing with the Lakers in 2013-2014, playing 23 games with the embarrassing roster. The Lakers let him slip to Atlanta, and after two seasons, Bazemore is in for an incredible pay raise. Mainly a key bench guy during year one in Atlanta, Bazemore became a starter this past season and played 27.8 minutes per game, averaging 11.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. Bazemore will turn 27 years old on the date free agency begins and he will get a great birthday gift with a new contract, probably in Atlanta. He plays hard, fits Atlanta’s system, and does all the little things that will earn him a very nice contract in the rising salary cap era.
Perfect Fit: Atlanta Hawks- Bazemore fits their system and team perfectly already, I don’t think he can go anywhere better than the team that took the chance on him in the first place.
Prediction: Atlanta Hawks
Just Missed: Dwight Howard, Luol Deng, Rajon Rondo, Bismack Bioymbo
*All stats are from Sports Reference