Now that LeBron James has returned to Cleveland and the free agent market is no longer in a state of flux, NBA teams must decide whether to pursue the remaining second-tier players this summer or wait until next year’s crop of free agents to bolster their rosters
After James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, there is a steep drop-off in the market now that Marcin Gortat and Kyle Lowry have re-signed with their current teams.
The next tier is populated by mid-career small forwards such as Trevor Ariza (29 years old), Marvin Williams (28) and Luol Deng (29); aging stars such as Dwyane Wade (32) and Pau Gasol (34); and former stars-turned-role-players such as Ray Allen (38), Paul Pierce (36), Vince Carter (37), Elton Brand (35) and Caron Butler (34). There are also intriguing options who would be higher on the list if not for their injury history. That group consists of players such as Emeka Okafor (31), Greg Oden (26) and Andrew Bynum (26).
Lance Stephenson fittingly requires his own separate category, as a 23-year-old with limitless potential for on-court creativity as well as bizarre behavior. Stephenson is reportedly exploring the market after turning down a five-year, $44 million offer from the Indiana Pacers.
Here’s how those players stack up in terms of win shares:
The chart illustrates why Stephenson is holding out for more money as well as why Washington will have a difficult time holding on to Ariza. There are still so many teams with massive amounts of cap space. The question facing NBA front offices is whether the teams should continue to spend big this summer or wait until 2015.
Here’s a look at the unrestricted free agents available in 2015 ranked, again, by win shares:
Before going any further, there are a couple of points worth mentioning. Rajon Rondo is deceptively low on the list, due to an injury-depleted 2013-14 season in which he only played 30 games. In his first six seasons, Rondo’s average win share total was 6.76. Three familiar Spurs — Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker — are near the top of the chart, but will likely finish their careers in San Antonio now that Coach Gregg Popovich has signed a new deal. There are also several notable players who would need to opt out of their current contracts to become free agents, most notably Kevin Love, Arron Afflalo, Monta Ellis, Roy Hibbert, David West, Goran Dragic and Thaddeus Young.
Even with that in mind, the 2015 crop of free agents looks a lot more fertile than this year’s leftovers. The marquee free agents — Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dragic, Rondo, Wesley Mathews, Paul Milsap and Marc Gasol — will still be in their primes, not to mention the deep group of restricted free agents.
(For the sake of clarity, restricted free agents — a group dominated by late-round picks from the 2011 NBA Draft — are not included in the chart above, but some of the better options can be found here.)
A lot can happen in the next 365 days. Many of the aforementioned players could sign extensions with their current teams. However, considering this summer’s pricey market and the fact that the salary cap will be even higher in a year’s time, 2015 should look more appealing with each passing day.