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It’s never too early to look ahead to the NBA offseason, especially for teams that are in danger of losing key players to free agency.
Flight risks aren’t limited just to upcoming free agents, either. As we saw with Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, guys under contract can request a trade and be sent out as well.
Teams should be most concerned with losing the following players this summer via unrestricted free agency, getting overpaid by another team in restricted free agency or being dealt after a trade demand.
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Atlanta shouldn’t have to worry about losing any key pieces this summer.
Vince Carter will finally be retiring, but Trae Young, John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish are all still on rookie contracts.
Jeff Teague is the only rotation member that realistically could bolt this summer that the Hawks would miss, as he’s averaged 7.2 points, 2.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 20.9 minutes a game behind Young.
Even his departure wouldn’t be a major blow, however, as his 41.2 effective field-goal percentage is the worst among all 14 Hawks players who have appeared in 20 games or more.
While Atlanta needs veterans to balance out its young roster, having to replace Teague in free agency shouldn’t be a big deal.
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Gordon Hayward is the best player on the Celtics with the potential to hit free agency, but there’s no way he’s getting the $34.2 million he’d be giving up via a player option from any other team.
Assuming Hayward is staying put and extension negotiations between the Celtics and Jayson Tatum don’t get ugly, this leaves Kanter as the most likely player to skip town.
While his time in Boston has been plagued by injuries, Kanter probably envisioned a bigger role when he did suit up. Only starting six of his 48 games, Kanter is averaging just 18.6 minutes a night behind starter Daniel Theis, the lowest number since his sophomore season in 2012-13.
Still one of the best rebounders in the NBA (23.5 total rebound percentage), Kanter might feel he can get more than his scheduled $5 million player option and thus opt for free agency.
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After signing a modest two-year, $16 million contract with the Nets in 2018, Harris should cash in this offseason.
The reigning NBA three-point percentage leader is having another strong season in Brooklyn, averaging 13.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists in 60 games (all starts) while drilling 41.0 percent of his threes.
In a season where Kevin Durant has been rehabbing an Achilles injury, Kyrie Irving was limited to just 20 games and the Nets are fighting for their playoff lives, Harris has been one of the few constants on the team.
Every team with cap space this summer should have interest in a 6’6″ wing that can come off screens, stretch the defense and fight for the league title in three-point accuracy.
With $143 million already on the books for next season, the Nets will have to dip into the luxury to bring Harris back.
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As much as Charlotte probably wishes Nicolas Batum would turn into a flight risk, it’s unlikely that the 31-year-old wing is passing up his $27.1 million player option.
This leaves Bismack Biyombo, Willy Hernangomez and Dwayne Bacon as the only upcoming free agents on the Hornets, none of whom have moved the needle for Charlotte this season.
Biyombo has served the largest role, starting 29 of his 51 games while ranking second on the team in rebounding (5.9 per game) and first in field goal percentage (53.9 percent).
He’s played well enough to get a contract as a backup center somewhere, although at a fraction of the four-year, $70 million deal he’s under.
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It seems highly unlikely that Otto Porter Jr. won’t pick up his $28.5 million player option for next season, as much as Bulls management may encourage him to.
This leaves Kris Dunn, who could probably use a change of scenery after three disappointing, injury-plagued seasons in Chicago.
Acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with hopes of becoming a franchise point guard, Dunn has the defensive skill set to be a star, but his offense has often taken a step back.
Chicago can give him a qualifying offer and make Dunn a restricted free agent, thus having the power to match any deal he receives. Already with Tomas Satoransky and Coby White (28.0 points over his last six games) at point guard, Dunn is probably ready to find a home outside of Chicago.
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If Andre Drummond picks up his $28.8 million player option, it’s unlikely Tristan Thompson agrees to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers as a backup. Plenty of teams should have interest in the 28-year-old center, who’s having a career year with 12.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 0.9 blocks and is shooting 51.5 percent overall.
While Love has not formally requested a trade, it’s no secret around the team that he wants to be moved. As a former NBA general manager told Bleacher Report after the trade deadline:
“Kevin and [agent] Jeff [Schwartz] wanted a trade, but I think both knew it probably wasn’t going to happen. It’s something they’ll push for again in the summer. I think he’ll be traded this summer since the free agent market is so bare and the draft doesn’t look like anything special. Teams need to add talent somehow.”
With Drummond likely returning on his option and Larry Nance Jr. still under contract, the Cavs could lose their other rotation bigs this summer.
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The Mavericks shouldn’t mind if Courtney Lee and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist leave this summer. Tim Hardaway Jr. can test free agency as well, but a near $19 million player option means he’s likely staying put.
Coming over via trade from the Golden State Warriors, Willie Cauley-Stein has been extremely productive when he’s been on the court. The 26-year-old center is averaging per-36 minute stats of 14.9 points, 13.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.9 blocks while shooting 68.6 percent from the floor in Dallas.
This was always supposed to be a stock inflation year for Cauley-Stein when he originally agreed to a two-year, $4.4 million deal with the Warriors last summer. He can, and should, opt out of the $2.3 million player option for next season, even if it means signing a higher one-year deal with Dallas or another team.
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The Nuggets could see a trio of big men leave this summer, with Paul Millsap, Jerami Grant (player option) and Mason Plumlee all likely to become free agents.
Grant can stay for his player option at $9.3 million, but his solid two-way production this season (11.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 39.6 percent from three in 26.4 minutes) has probably earned a bump in pay.
Denver could choose to hand its starting power forward job to Michael Porter Jr., thus making Millsap search for one last starting gig somewhere else.
Now 35, Millsap is shooting a career-high 43.8 percent from three this season on 2.4 attempts a game while still playing high-level defense.
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With Blake Griffin hurt, Andre Drummond traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Reggie Jackson waived, the Pistons have finally found a positive this season in Christian Wood.
Unfortunately, the 24-year-old power forward/center may leave Detroit this summer as well.
An unrestricted free agent, Wood should be looking to cash in after playing for his fifth team in four NBA seasons. In eight games as a starter he’s averaging 18.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and knocking down 36.7 percent of his threes.
While Detroit could also lose John Henson, Brandon Knight, Langston Galloway, Thon Maker (potential RFA) and Tony Snell ($12.2 million player option), Wood is the one that should draw the most interest on the free-agent market.
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Golden State is the only team with no players under guaranteed contracts that are eligible for free agency in 2020.
Stephen Curry ($43.0 million in 2020-21), Klay Thompson ($35.4 million), Andrew Wiggins ($29.5 million) and Draymond Green ($22.2 million) dominate a payroll that’s already that’s already pushing $150 million for next year, and that’s not including what they’ll have to pay a high first-round pick. If Golden State lands the first overall pick, that’s another $8.6 million (per RealGM, if the prospect signs for 100 percent of scale).
There should be no fear of any players requesting a trade, as the Warriors could return to title contenders next season with a healthy backcourt. There certainly shouldn’t be any complaints about contracts on the players’ side, either.
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The top six players on the Rockets roster in minutes played are under contract for next season, meaning this is a core that has some sustainability as long as general manager Daryl Morey stays off the trade machine.
James Harden, Russell Westbrook, P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon, Robert Covington and Danuel House Jr. will all be back, although Austin Rivers, Tyson Chandler, DeMarre Carroll and Jeff Green can all become free agents.
Rivers is the most intriguing, after taking a veteran’s minimum salary of $2.2 million to stay in Houston and try to win a championship. He has the potential to be one of the best combo guards in this weak free-agent class, so turning down a $2.4 million player option now would be wise.
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No, Myles Turner isn’t a free agent this summer nor will he be until 2023.
While no trade request has come, the 23-year-old center seems like a prime candidate for a change of scenery, however.
Turner has sunk all the way down to sixth on the Pacers in shot attempts per game (9.3) and scoring (11.6 points), the lowest numbers since his rookie season in 2015-16. His usage rate (17.5 percent) is the lowest of his five-year career and below that of backup rookie center Goga Bitadze.
With no high-impact player on the roster hitting free agency, the Pacers should worry about Turner’s happiness with his role within the team first.
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Although Marcus Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson have become nice midseason pickups, losing either in free agency wouldn’t nearly be as damaging as if Montrezl Harrell walks.
The free-agent center class is pretty deep with Andre Drummond (player option), Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Tristan Thompson, Hassan Whiteside, Derrick Favors and Dwight Howard, but it’s the 26-year-old Harrell that should draw the most interest.
Averaging 18.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 27.9 minutes off the Clippers bench, Harrell brings a toughness and offensive presence that any team would be happy to have.
The Clippers may have to throw a sizable contract at Harrell to convince him to stay, and with $114 million already committed to next season’s roster (if JaMychal Green opts in to his option), it could be a tough pill to swallow.
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Anthony Davis is definitely staying with the Los Angeles Lakers, right?
While Davis has been smart to turn down all extensions at this point with the goal of maximizing his money this summer, there has to be at least a tiny bit of doubt inside the Lakers front office until they officially get the seven-time All-Star under contract.
While there’s few other destinations with cap space that would even come close to enticing him (New York Knicks? Chicago Bulls? Miami Heat?), the early success of the Lakers and encouraging signs that LeBron James isn’t slowing down anytime soon should be enough to make this an easy decision for Davis.
While Los Angeles could also lose Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (player option), Avery Bradley (PO), Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee (PO) and Rajon Rondo (PO) in free agency, the only thing that truly matters is signing Davis.
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The surprisingly good Grizzlies are playing with house money, both this season and into free agency.
No key players are hitting free agency, Dillion Brooks already signed a three-year, $35 million extension, and Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke are still on rookie contracts.
The biggest flight risk for Memphis is 21-year-old combo guard De’Anthony Melton. While he’s a restricted free agent, the Grizzlies aren’t going to match just any deal for a backup, no matter how encouraging his play has been.
Rebuilding teams that have needs at guard should have heavy interest in Melton, making his future in Memphis unclear.
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Miami can see a handful of role players leave this summer, from bigs Meyers Leonard, Kelly Olynyk ($13.2 million player option) and Udonis Haslem to wings Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill and Derrick Jones Jr.
While the Heat should have at least some interest in bringing all back, no potential free agent is more valuable than Goran Dragic.
Even a move to the bench hasn’t quieted his production this season, as the 33-year-old is averaging 16.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and shooting 38.9 percent from three.
The Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks could all offer a starting role for Dragic, something he may never get again by staying in Miami.
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The summer of 2019 brought new contracts for key players like Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and George Hill. This year will be far less eventful for the Bucks, and that’s a good thing.
With Giannis Antetokounmpo under contract for another season and surrounded by Middleton, Lopez, Hill, Eric Bledsoe and Donte DiVincenzo, Milwaukee is deep and talented enough to lose a role player or two in free agency.
Robin Lopez has a $5 million player option, but that seems like a fair salary for a backup center of his caliber. Kyle Korver, 38, could retire, and Pat Connaughton could seek a bigger role elsewhere.
Newcomer Marvin Williams could improve his free-agent stock with a strong playoff showing as a floor-spacer next to Antetokounmpo, with the 33-year-old hoping to cash in wherever he can one last time.
While an early playoff exit may leave Antetokounmpo frustrated, it seems extremely unlikely he would ask out with just one year left on his deal.
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Has anyone improved his free-agency value more since the trade deadline than Malik Beasley?
Averaging just 7.9 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists as a backup with the Denver Nuggets, Beasley has averaged 21.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and improved to 43.9 percent from three in 11 starts since being traded to the Timberwolves.
The 23-year-old will now become one of the hottest names on the free-agent market, although the Wolves have the right to match any offer he receives.
On a team desperate for talent outside of Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, Minnesota needs to keep Beasley in uniform no matter the price.
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While Brandon Ingram will be a restricted free agent this offseason, any questions of him not getting a max deal should be put to rest.
The 22-year-old forward is up to 24.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game while splitting at .471/.392/.861, meaning he’ll be in line for a max contract from a number of teams this summer. The Pelicans’ decision to match should be an easy one.
This leaves center Derrick Favors as the only other starter without a contract for next season. Outside of Zion Williamson, Favors has the highest on/off rating of any Pelicans player (plus-9.2), leads the team in rebounding (10.0) and plays his role perfectly with few mistakes.
At 28, Favors is in the prime of his career and could look for another starting job where he doesn’t have to rank eighth on a team in shot attempts per game. The Pelicans shouldn’t let him go, even if they only need truly him for one more year to give Jaxson Hayes more time to develop.
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Maurice Harkless seems likely to sign elsewhere in free agency.
While a buyout seemed likely for Harkless following a trade over from the Los Angeles Clippers, the Knicks elected to keep the 26-year-old small forward. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer, the only one on New York’s entire roster.
Assuming Brandon Ingram gets maxed out by the New Orleans Pelicans and Gordon Hayward picks up his player option, Harkless is arguably the best free-agent small forward outside of DeMar DeRozan on the market.
Plenty of teams can use a defensive-minded wing, meaning Harkless’ time in New York could be short-lived.
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Gallinari is one of the best unrestricted free agents this summer, and plenty of teams should have interest in his scoring and floor-stretching abilities.
He could end up as the Thunder’s leading scorer this season (19.2 points per game to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s 19.3), and his three-point makes (3.0), attempts (7.4) and accuracy (41.0 percent) all rank first among OKC players.
We’ll see how loyal he’ll remain to the Thunder after being floated in trade talks with the Miami Heat before the deadline. The Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns and Heat should all pursue Gallinari as a starting power forward this summer.
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Already thin in the backcourt, the Magic could see both Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin walk this summer, leaving an unbalanced roster even more in flux.
Fournier carries a $17.2 million player option, which may be a higher annual value than he could get on the open market. With so many big free agents looking for homes next summer, however, Fournier could opt to sign a longer deal now at a lower annual rate.
Enjoying a career year with 18.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals and a 40.6 percent accuracy rate from three, Fournier has once again put himself in a great position to get paid.
The Magic are 24th in three-point makes this season (10.9) and 26th in percentage (33.9 percent). The best three-point shooter on Orlando’s roster this season outside of Fournier is backup center Mo Bamba at 35.7 percent, so it’s safe to say the Magic can’t afford to lose the 27-year old shooting guard.
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It’s becoming more and more clear that the Al Horford signing in Philadelphia has become a mistake for all parties involved.
The 33-year-old power forward/center has three years and $81 million remaining on his contract after this season and has battled declining production with a poor on-court fit in Philly’s supersized lineups.
Horford should be a flight risk, if the Sixers can find someone to take him.
One former NBA general manager told Bleacher Report that the Cleveland Cavaliers could have traded Kevin Love and the three years and $91.5 million remaining on his deal for Horford at the deadline, a move they chose to pass on.
While Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III leaving may hurt, choosing what to do with Horford will be the Sixers’ most important offseason decision. That’s assuming a poor showing in the playoffs doesn’t force either Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid to ask out, of course.
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One of the biggest reasons for the Suns’ hot start without Deandre Ayton was the play of Aron Baynes as the starting center.
A tough, versatile big that can fill the stat sheet in a number of ways, Baynes has averaged 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 25.2 minutes over 25 starts, knocking down 50.2 percent of his overall shots including 35.4 percent from three.
Fellow backup big Frank Kaminsky could also leave if the Suns don’t pick up his $5 million team option, but it’s Baynes that carries the higher value in Phoenix and on the free-agent market.
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The biggest flight risk for the Blazers may depend on the return of Jusuf Nurkic.
Still with no timetable for his return to the court, Nurkic’s status could make bringing back unrestricted free-agent center Hassan Whiteside the bigger priority for Portland. If Nurkic’s recovery has him ready for the start of next year, then keeping Carmelo Anthony should be the primary concern.
Despite the impressive raw numbers (16.1 points, 14.2 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, 61.2 percent shooting overall), Whiteside isn’t going to get anything close to his last contract (four years, $98 million), as his numbers traditionally haven’t led to wins.
Anthony has a bit of a redemption tour after being out for most of the season last year, with his 15.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 36.6 percent shooting from three. If he’ll agree to another veteran’s minimum contract, there should be plenty of contenders pursuing him now.
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Even with Kent Bazemore, Jabari Parker (player option), Alex Len and Harry Giles all likely becoming free agents, it’s Bogdan Bogdanovic who the Sacramento Kings should be most worried about losing.
The 27-year-old wing can play shooting guard or small forward, is a talented scorer and ball-handler and should thrive if given a bigger role.
The Kings already offered him a four-year, $51.4 million contract extension before the start of the season, one Bogdanovic turned down knowing a bigger payday could come in restricted free agency now.
Having already handed out big contracts to Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield, the Kings better be prepared to match another hefty deal for Bogdanovic or watch him walk for nothing.
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A $27.8 million player option is currently keeping DeMar DeRozan from becoming one of the best free agents available.
The Spurs may be his best bet to get paid on a new deal, but San Antonio’s future looks bleak, as it has slipped to four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for eighth in the West standings. An end to Gregg Popovich’s coaching career could be in the near future, as the 71-year-old’s roster looks nowhere close to being championship-ready.
Keeping DeRozan is critical for staying in the playoff hunt for years to come, but the lack of star power in free agency means he would get some strong offers from contending teams if he opts out.
Bryn Forbes, Marco Belinelli and Jakob Poeltl (restricted) could all be on the outs in San Antonio as well.
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Toronto represents the home of three key free agents this summer, with Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol all likely to draw significant interest.
The Detroit Pistons and former Raptors head coach Dwane Casey should court VanVleet, although staying in his current starting shooting guard role in Toronto may be too good to pass up if a fair contract is offered.
Instead, it’s unlikely the Raptors will retain both of their star centers, having to make a choice who they feel is more valuable to the team.
Gasol has been the full-time starter when healthy ever since he was traded north of the border last season, but Ibaka is five years younger and has been the more productive of the two.
Since both will naturally want to start, expect only one back with the Raptors next season.
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Free agency is about to become Jordan Clarkson time.
Assuming Mike Conley Jr. doesn’t decide to forfeit his $34.5 million player option (he won’t), Clarkson is Utah’s most important free agent this summer.
Ranking third on the team in scoring despite not starting in any of his 35 games, Clarkson has become one of the league’s best microwave offensive weapons off the bench.
His 15.8 points on 48.3 percent shooting overall and 38.2 percent from three would attract plenty of contenders, especially if Clarkson would agree to a deal in the non-taxpayer mid-level range ($9.8 million).
After bouncing around the Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers and now Utah Jazz the past three seasons, Clarkson may be ready to settle down on a long-term deal somewhere that’s offering enough shot attempts to satisfy him.
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Not trading Davis Bertans to a contender at the deadline could come back to haunt the Washington Wizards, as their sharpshooting power forward will soon hit the market.
The value on Bertans (15.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 42.4 percent shooting from three) should be quite high, given his ability to stretch the floor from both the power forward and center positions. As Bleacher Report’s Michael Scotto wrote before the trade deadline:
“Although Bertans will become an unrestricted free agent this summer, Washington—or a team that trades for him—will hold his Bird rights. That means he can be re-signed while exceeding the salary cap for any amount up to the maximum salary. He is expected to command a $15-17 million average annual salary, according to several NBA executives who spoke with Bleacher Report.“
Signing Bertans for that much money would put Washington over the salary cap and severely limit any other moves they could make. Still, that’s probably the more attractive option than having him leave in free agency.