As we approach the end of June, the start of free agency in the NBA begins July 1. Here’s a look at the top 10 players that are free agents entering would could be a very active offseason for some top NBA teams.
1. Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant is one of the big names on this list. As he failed in his bid to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder this past season, many questions remain as to if he will return to Oklahoma City. Rumors have been swirling that if Durant does decide to leave, his first target is the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder would be the easiest destination for Durant, however, would he leave Oklahoma City and Russell Westbrook in his rearview after all he has done for the franchise? Granted, the Thunder haven’t made an NBA Finals since the 2011-12 season, but they made progress this past season with first year head coach Billy Donovan. Their collapse in the Western Conference Finals had more to do with depth than coaching. Could Durant stay in Oklahoma City or leave for the west coast sharp shooting Oklahoma City Thunder? This summer will be an interesting one to say the least.
2. Hassan Whiteside, C, Miami Heat
Hassan Whiteside was a walking double-double and defensive stopper that shined bright in the 2014-15 season for the Miami Heat before spraining his MCL in the NBA Playoffs. Whiteside averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per game to earn All-NBA Defensive 1st team honors and 3rd place in Defensive Player of the Year voting. At 27, Whiteside possesses a load of talent, although his focus sometimes is a question. While he could return to Miami, top destinations for Whiteside include the Mavericks and Lakers as well. Money could play a factor as well, as Miami may be reluctant to offer Whiteside a max deal while other teams are able to offer more. With Dwayne Wade on the decline and after Miami’s early playoff exit this past season, we could see Whiteside moving on.
3. Mike Conley, G, Memphis Grizzlies
Mike Conley has been with the Memphis Grizzlies for 8 seasons. With 5 playoff appearances under his belt, it may be time for the veteran to move on to a championship contender. The Grizzlies front office has seen its fair share of front office turmoil these past few seasons. Head coach Dave Joerger was fired after just 3 seasons with the team, citing mutual animosity in May. Head coach Lionel Hollins was fired in 2012-13 after posting a 56-26 record and leading the team to the Western Conference Finals. Winning and success looks to be limited for Conley as he posted the lowest field goal percentage of his career this past season, only making 42.2% of his shots from the field. At 28, Conley may want to look to brighter pastures. His best destination? The San Antonio Spurs.
4. Al Horford, C, Atlanta Hawks
Al Horford has been a staple in the NBA Playoffs for the Atlanta Hawks these past few seasons. At 30, however, his time is limited in terms of what he’s playing for now: money or wins. After being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, it’s clear the Hawks need to retool. With Jeff Teague traded away for the #12 pick, its clear the Hawks have decided on Dennis Schroeder as their point guard going forward. The Hawks hope to trade away their 12th pick in order to keep Al Horford in free agency. Horford has also said he loves the city of Atlanta and the Hawks organization would do whatever it takes to keep Horford.
5. Kent Bazemore, F, Atlanta Hawks
Kent Bazemore made the most of his first full season as a starter for the Atlanta Hawks, posting career high numbers with the increase in minutes. Bazemore moved around quite a bit in his first few seasons with the Golden State Warriors and LA Lakers but in Atlanta, he stood out, replacing the loss of Demare Carroll with his sharp shooting and defensive prowess. Its worth noting, Danny Ferry, a key executive in bringing Bazemore to Atlanta is now an executive in New Orleans, a team in desperate need of adding help around Anthony Davis. Bazemore, however, should stay put, as Atlanta has a very young but experience core, why change what’s working?
6. Rajan Rondo, G, Sacramento Kings
Rajan Rondo has seen better seasons in his 10 year career as a player. His tenure in Sacramento wasn’t all that bad, as he made a few strides with up and coming bigman Demarcus Cousins, however, chemistry remains to be the biggest issue for the Kings going forward. George Karl was fired after just 1 season with the team. Honestly, Karl’s tenure was marred from the start when it was rumored he wanted to trade Demarcus Cousins on his arrival but the Kings owner would not allow it. Now the Kings have a new coach in Dave Joerger, but will that be enough to keep Rondo around? At 30, Rondo has to be looking towards winning now, do the Kings have enough pieces in Cousins, Cauley-Stein, and the other Curry brother, Seth, to become a playoff contender in the West? It remains to be seen, but wherever Rondo ends up, it will be to win and succeed.
7. Nicolas Batum, F, Charlotte Hornets
Nicolas Batum fared well in Charlotte this past season, leading them to the playoffs with Kemba Walker in his first season with the team. After 7 seasons with Portland, a change of scenery was good for Batum this past season. Batum missed the contributions of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist all season long as well after MKG was sidelined at the beginning of the season with a re-torn labrum. It could be the beginning of something special if Batum signs long term in Charlotte. They’ve got the 22nd pick in the NBA Draft, Kemba Walker coming off a career season as well as Jeremy Lamb to round out a very young backcourt and Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller in the frontcourt. While Batum could listen to other offers, particularly from the Knicks and Rockets basketball, he may stay put in Charlotte this offseason.
8. Joakim Noah, C, Chicago Bulls
Joakim Noah still has game at 31 years of age and he hopes to take that with him as he departs Chicago. Noah only appeared in 29 games this past season for the Bulls, battling a shoulder injury for much of the season. His season was pretty lackluster in Fred Hoiberg’s new system and it looks like Noah could be reuniting with Tom Thibodeau this offseason in Minnesota after 9 seasons with the Bulls. Noah never really got going in Hoiberg’s new system and it seems Hoiberg could be headed in a different direction as more minutes were given to Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, and Pau Gasol. Young big man Bobby Portis also appeared in 62 games for the Bulls this season as well. Lost in the shuffle, look for Noah to join a championship contender this offseason.
9. Ryan Anderson, F, New Orleans Pelicans
Ryan Anderson is the best shooter on this free agent list and that could carry him to any team that is in need of a solid shooting forward on the perimeter that can stretch the floor. In 2015, Anderson averaged 17 points and 6 rebounds per game while shooting 36.6% from the 3-point line for the Pelicans. He made 131 three pointers on the season as well. If Anderson leaves the Pelicans, expect him to land well on his feet, adding depth to a playoff team in a reserve role. With the 6th overall pick in the NBA Draft, one has to expect the Pelicans are headed in the opposite direction, looking to add a big man like Jakob Poeltl or Domantas Sabonis around stellar defensive big man Anthony Davis. With Anderson’s asking price probably being a bit steep, expect him to be in a different uniform next season.
10. Dwight Howard, C, Houston Rockets
Dwight Howard in Houston is officially over as Howard has opted out of his contract, making him a coveted free agent to round out the top 10. Howard isn’t too far removed from being the most dominant big man in the NBA but his tenure in Houston was marred by the firing of Kevin McHale and chemistry issues with James Harden. One blamed the other, but if you ask me, both could have used a bit of a reality check when it came to their role on the team. Howard still can play in the NBA as evidenced by the teams most interested in him: Milwaukee, Portland, and Charlotte, all teams with solid talent on the roster and playoff contenders. Each team could use Howard as their rim protector and defensive stopper and Howard isn’t too bad on offense either, after all. Last season, Howard averaged 13.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game for the Rockets in 71 games.