More than $1 billion in contracts were handed out during the first 24 hours of NBA free agency, yet it’s difficult to make the case that any of the top contenders narrowed the gap on the Los Angeles Lakers. Indeed, free agency’s major early theme is that the rich got richer as several major challengers stumbled out of the gates while trying to chase down the defending champions.

The Lakers have performed like chess masters. Guard Rajon Rondo sought more money and found it with a two-year deal from the Atlanta Hawks, so the Lakers traded for Dennis Schroder as his replacement before free agency even opened. Danny Green, a shooter and defensive specialist, had to be sent out in the Schroder deal, and the Lakers quickly landed Wesley Matthews, a plausible replacement at a quarter of Green’s price.

Then Montrezl Harrell encountered a lack of interest after an underwhelming postseason, leading the Lakers to swoop in and poach the energetic center from the Los Angeles Clippers. In one fell swoop orchestrated by Harrell’s agent — Rich Paul, LeBron James’s longtime friend and business partner — the Lakers landed a major upgrade for the outgoing Dwight Howard and robbed the Clippers of a player whose fearlessness had helped define their culture before Kawhi Leonard’s arrival. The Lakers’ gambit left Clippers guard Patrick Beverley with no recourse but to deploy profane emoji on Twitter.

While the Lakers still need to re-sign Anthony Davis, they rewarded Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, another Paul client, for a strong playoff run with a three-year deal worth $40 million. All told, their rotation now looks to be upgraded from last season’s, and they still have a trade chip in Kyle Kuzma. The same can’t be said of the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks, four teams that should figure prominently in the 2021 title chase.

After an impressive run to the Eastern Conference finals, the Celtics watched Saturday as Gordon Hayward departed for the Charlotte Hornets on a four-year, $120 million deal. In 2017, Hayward agreed to join the Celtics and reunite with his former college coach, Brad Stevens, in what was one of that summer’s biggest gets of free agency. Unfortunately, Hayward suffered a gruesome leg injury in his Boston debut, missed the rest of the season and watched as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown ascended, diminishing his offensive role.

The Celtics hoped that Hayward would pick up his player option to remain in Boston and chase a title or that they would be able to work out a sign-and-trade agreement to recoup some assets. Instead, it appears they will lose the all-star wing for nothing after Kyrie Irving and Al Horford departed as free agents last year.

Boston did its best to rally by signing center Tristan Thompson, a veteran center known for his defense and rebounding, to a team-friendly two-year contract worth $19 million after trading backup center Enes Kanter to the Portland Trail Blazers. Thompson will help address the Celtics’ lack of size, which was their biggest deficiency, but his offensive game is limited.

The Nuggets also took a hit to their rotation after their shocking run to the Western Conference finals. Jerami Grant, a versatile forward, left Denver for the Detroit Pistons on a three-year, $60 million contract. Reports indicate the Nuggets weren’t outbid but that Grant simply wanted a larger role.

Denver moved quickly to sign JaMychal Green as a replacement, but he lacks Grant’s athleticism and upside. But with stars in Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray on a roster that appeared on the cusp of challenging the Lakers, the Nuggets can’t afford to let a talent such as Grant walk out the door after dealing away Malik Beasley at last year’s trade deadline.

The Clippers were the NBA’s deepest team on paper last year, but the first 24 hours of free agency put them on the defensive. The losses of Harrell and Green thinned out the frontcourt rotation, and they have limited avenues to acquire difference-makers. New coach Tyronn Lue will need to hope that more help is on the way, and the Clippers are banking on Luke Kennard, a shooting guard who arrived from the Pistons, being an upgrade over Landry Shamet, who was sent to the Brooklyn Nets.

No top contender had a worse week than the Bucks, whose plans to assemble perhaps the league’s best starting five took a major hit when a sign-and-trade with the Sacramento Kings for Bogdan Bogdanovic fell apart amid accusations of tampering. Sign-and-trade deals aren’t allowed until free agency has opened, and the teams reportedly had agreed to send Bogdanovic to Milwaukee on Monday.

The NBA planned to investigate the negotiations for the possibility of tampering, scuttling the deal and leading Bogdanovic to explore other options. The Bucks pivoted to spreading their money around on multiple role players, re-signing Pat Connaughton and adding D.J. Augustin from the Orlando Magic and Bobby Portis from the New York Knicks. They also parted ways with Ersan Ilyasova and watched Matthews leave for the Lakers.

Missing out on Bogdanovic looks like a major hit for Milwaukee, which desperately needed a high-level shooter to step in alongside newly acquired Jrue Holiday in its backcourt and to help pitch Giannis Antetokounmpo on signing a supermax extension. The back-to-back MVP has until Dec. 21 to decide whether he will re-sign on a five-year deal that could be worth close to $250 million.

The Lakers were hardly the only winners. The Miami Heat retained its core pieces, the Toronto Raptors re-signed Fred VanVleet, the Philadelphia 76ers rebalanced their roster, the Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz made some nice pickups, and the Oklahoma City Thunder made an endless series of trades that landed untold draft picks for use in its rebuilding effort. Still, the Lakers have dodged any monumental shifts of power that could threaten their status as the early favorites to repeat.

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See the big moves from day one of free agency below.

November 22, 2020 at 11:13 PM EST
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Marc Gasol agrees to sign with Los Angeles Lakers

By Ben Golliver

Marc Gasol, an unrestricted free agent center, has agreed to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, according to The Athletic. The deal will be for two years, according to ESPN.com.

The agreement comes in conjunction with the Lakers’ decision to trade starting center JaVale McGee to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Gasol was drafted by the Lakers in the second round of the 2007 draft and traded to the Memphis Grizzlies for his older brother, Pau Gasol, in a move that set up the Lakers’ 2009 and 2010 titles.

The 35-year-old Gasol won a title of his own with the 2019 Raptors, and he averaged 7.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists for Toronto last season. A skilled passer and former Defensive Player of the Year, Gasol has slowed down a bit in recent years and evolved into a three-point specialist on offense. However, his size, basketball intelligence and extensive postseason experience will make for a strong pairing with Montrezl Harrell, who arrives from the Los Angeles Clippers as an offensive-minded, high-energy backup center.

Gasol should come in handy for matchups with traditional centers like Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, but Toronto cut his minutes during the 2020 playoffs because his shot wavered and he occasionally struggled to keep up with quicker opponents.

Gasol’s agreement adds to a busy opening weekend for the Lakers, who also added Harrell and guard Wesley Matthews while re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Last week, Los Angeles also acquired guard Dennis Schroder by trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder.

November 22, 2020 at 6:30 PM EST
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Serge Ibaka agrees to sign with Los Angeles Clippers

By Ben Golliver

Serge Ibaka, an unrestricted free agent center, has agreed to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers on a two-year deal worth $19 million, according to ESPN.com.

The agreement will end Ibaka’s three-plus year tenure in Toronto, which included the 2019 title, and reunite him with his former Raptors teammate, Kawhi Leonard.

Ibaka, 31, averaged 15.4 points and 8.2 rebounds last season before shifting into a full-time bench role for the playoffs. An elite shot-blocker and athletic marvel during his prime, Ibaka is now a more controlled back-line defender who has worked hard to evolve into a dependable three-point shooting threat on offense.

The Clippers were fortunate to land Ibaka, who will fill the hole created by Montrezl Harrell’s move to the Los Angeles Lakers. Ibaka will likely back up starting center Ivica Zubac and feature heavily in the Clippers’ closing lineups. His length and experience as a plus defender make him arguably a better fit for the Clippers than Harrell, who was revealed as a defensive liability during the postseason. However, Ibaka has a narrower offensive skill set and isn’t nearly as energetic as his predecessor.

Toronto appears to be retooling its roster slightly with the rising trio of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby providing support for longtime point guard Kyle Lowry. The departure of Ibaka is a setback in the short term, but it was somewhat expected with VanVleet and Marc Gasol also hitting free agency this year. The Raptors re-signed VanVleet, their top priority, to a lucrative four-year contract on Saturday.

November 22, 2020 at 6:17 PM EST
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Donovan Mitchell agrees to extension with Utah Jazz

By Ben Golliver

Donovan Mitchell has agreed to a five-year maximum rookie contract extension with the Utah Jazz worth $163 million, according to ESPN.com. The deal reportedly includes a player option on the final season.

The 24-year-old Mitchell quickly exceeded pre-draft expectations after being selected with the 13th pick in 2017. He has averaged at least 20 points per game and helped lead the Jazz to the playoffs in all three of his NBA seasons, and he earned his first all-star selection in 2020. Last season, he averaged a career-high 24 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game and went on a scoring spree in a first-round series loss to the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs.

A creative and forceful scorer off the dribble, Mitchell’s new contract will theoretically keep him in Utah through at least his age-28 season. During that time, he figures to be a perennial all-star and a dependable franchise player for new owner Ryan Smith.

Mitchell joins Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox and Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum as members of the 2017 draft class to ink max extensions since free agency opened Friday.

November 22, 2020 at 6:06 PM EST
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Jayson Tatum agrees to extension with Boston Celtics

By Ben Golliver

Jayson Tatum has agreed to a five-year maximum rookie contract extension with the Boston Celtics worth a reported $163 million, according to ESPN.com. The deal reportedly includes a player option on the final season.

The 22-year old Tatum has established himself as a potential franchise player and one of the NBA’s top two-way wings during his three seasons with the Celtics. A 2020 all-star, Tatum averaged 23.4 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists per game while helping lead Boston to the Eastern Conference finals.

Tatum has been a central piece in Boston’s long-term planning since he was selected third overall in the 2017 draft. His scoring ability, three-point range, length and defensive activity have translated into immediate playoff success and have provided a base for the Celtics to build around.

This agreement is mostly standard fare for a rising superstar, in that it will lock up Tatum through at least his age-26 season. The inclusion of a player option is a sign of his exceptional value to the Celtics.

Tatum joins Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell as members of the 2017 draft class to ink max extensions since free agency opened Friday.

November 21, 2020 at 9:36 PM EST
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Carmelo Anthony agrees to re-sign with Blazers

By Ben Golliver

Carmelo Anthony, an unrestricted free agent forward, has agree to re-sign with the Portland Trail Blazers on a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum, according to ESPN.com.

The move adds to a big opening week for the Blazers, who also re-signed Rodney Hood, signed Derrick Jones Jr. and traded for Robert Covington and Enes Kanter.

Anthony, 36, revived his career in Portland midway through last season after being out of the NBA for more than a year. He averaged 15.4 points and 6.3 rebounds as a third scoring option for the Blazers, who needed frontcourt help after losing Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins to injury. Anthony played well in the NBA bubble, hitting clutch shots to help Portland climb up and claim the West’s final playoff seed. Along the way, he meshed well with Portland’s star guards, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and was willing to fully buy into a supporting role for the first time in his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

The Blazers’ rotation should be deeper this season with Covington stepping in as a starter and both Nurkic and Collins back from injury. That could cut into Anthony’s role, but he will still be called upon to generate offense and serve as an auxiliary option alongside Lillard and McCollum.

November 21, 2020 at 9:24 PM EST
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Tristan Thompson agrees to sign with Boston Celtics

By Ben Golliver

Tristan Thompson, an unrestricted free agent center, agreed to sign with the Boston Celtics on a two-year deal worth $19 million, according to Yahoo Sports.

The 29-year-old Thompson had spent the first nine years of his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he was a member of the 2016 title team and averaged 12 points and 10.1 rebounds per game last season. Known primarily for his offensive rebounding and defense, Thompson was marooned in Cleveland on bad teams in recent years and was due for a change of scenery, especially after the Cavaliers traded for Andre Drummond at last year’s trade deadline.

With the Celtics, Thompson will get the chance to contribute to a winner again and he will help fill out a front line that was thin last season. Boston traded Enes Kanter to the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday, and it will go forward with Thompson and Daniel Theis in the middle. Thompson’s overall offensive game is limited, but his ability to finish around the basket and extend possessions will make him a nice fit in the Celtics’ perimeter-oriented attack. Landing Thompson with the mid-level exception helped soothe the pain of losing Gordon Hayward to the Charlotte Hornets earlier Saturday.

November 21, 2020 at 9:14 PM EST
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Kentavious Caldwell-Pope agrees to re-sign with Los Angeles Lakers

By Ben Golliver

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, an unrestricted free agent guard, has agreed to re-sign with the Los Angeles Lakers on a three-year contract worth $40 million, according to The Athletic.

The 27-year-old Caldwell-Pope, who averaged 9.3 points per game and shot 38.5 percent on three-pointers last season, played a critical role on the Lakers’ 2020 title run, stepping up in his 3-and-D role throughout the bubble playoffs. After the Lakers traded Danny Green to the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier this week, the path was clear for the Lakers to re-sign Caldwell-Pope and give him a new contract that wound up just shy of Green’s $15 million deal on an annual basis.

While Caldwell-Pope reportedly generated some outside interest, his effective postseason play and the fact that he was represented by Klutch Sports agent Rich Paul, LeBron James’s close friend, made the Lakers strong favorites to retain him. Los Angeles now goes forward in free agency needing to re-sign all-star forward Anthony Davis, another Paul client.

November 21, 2020 at 5:25 PM EST
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Thunder agrees to trade Steven Adams to Pelicans

By Ben Golliver

As part of a complicated trade earlier this week that saw the New Orleans Pelicans agree to send Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Oklahoma City Thunder will trade starting center Steven Adams to the Pelicans in exchange for George Hill, Darius Miller, a first-round pick and a second-round pick, according to ESPN. Hill was included by Milwaukee as part of the return package for Holiday.

Adams, 27, is one of the NBA’s most physical centers and top offensive rebounders. The New Zealand native averaged 10.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game last season, his seventh in Oklahoma City.

In New Orleans, Adams will step into a role vacated by Derrick Favors, who opted to leave the Pelicans Friday for the Utah Jazz in free agency. Adams will likely start next to Zion Williamson, creating the possibility of spacing concerns on offense.

Williamson is probably best utilized as a small ball center, but having a traditional center to handle some of the wear and tear makes sense as 2019′s top overall pick continues to develop. New Orleans has the luxury of seeing how Williamson and Adams fit together under new coach Stan Van Gundy, as Adams enters the final year of his contact and will earn $27.5 million.

A Thunder fan favorite due to his quirky personality, Adams joins a long list of key pieces to leave the franchise since 2016, including Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder and Danilo Gallinari. Thunder GM Sam Presti remains intent on accumulating as many draft assets as possible during his full-scale rebuilding effort.

November 21, 2020 at 4:54 PM EST
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Gordon Hayward agrees to sign with the Hornets

By Ben Golliver

Gordon Hayward, one of this year’s top unrestricted free agents after declining his $34.2 million option with the Boston Celtics, is headed to the Charlotte Hornets on a four-year, $120 million contract, according to ESPN.

The agreement represents one of the largest of the 2020 free agency period and ends Hayward’s injury-filled three-year tenure with the Celtics. Charlotte plans to use the stretch provision on Nicolas Batum’s $27.1 million contract to create the necessary space to officially land Hayward, who also reportedly received interest from the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks.

Hayward, 30, averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists for the Celtics last season but suffered a serious ankle injury that kept him out of much of the playoffs.

In 2017, Hayward agreed to join the Celtics and reunite his former college coach, Brad Stevens, in what was one of that summer’s biggest free agency gets. But Hayward suffered a gruesome leg injury in his Boston debut, missed the rest of the season and watched as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown ascended, diminishing Hayward’s offensive role.

Charlotte, with a young roster that just added LaMelo Ball with the third pick in the draft, will view Hayward as its new franchise player. The Hornets, who lost franchise guard Kemba Walker to the Celtics last summer, haven’t made the playoffs since 2016 and will lean heavily on Hayward’s scoring and playmaking ability.

Losing Hayward is a blow for the Celtics, who lost in the Eastern Conference finals, but it’s not a crippling one. Tatum and Brown established themselves as the franchise’s pillars going forward, and Hayward’s narrowed role behind them in the pecking order didn’t really justify a $30 million per year annual salary.

November 21, 2020 at 4:53 PM EST
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Rajon Rondo agrees to sign with the Hawks

By Ben Golliver

Rajon Rondo, an unrestricted free agent guard, has agreed to sign with the Atlanta Hawks on a two-year contract worth $15 million, according to Yahoo Sports.

The 34-year-old Rondo turned down a $2.6 million option with the Los Angeles Lakers after emerging as a key contributor during their run to the 2020 title, cashing in with a Hawks team seeking to make a postseason push of its own.

Rondo averaged 7.1 points, three rebounds and five assists for the Lakers last season, coming off the bench to run the offense while LeBron James rested. He played some of his best basketball in years during the playoffs, making timely shots and creative passes in big moments while stepping up his defensive effort.

The Hawks, who also agreed to sign Danilo Gallinari on Saturday, will hope that Rondo can serve as a two-way contributor and stabilizing backcourt presence. Rondo’s recent stops on less-talented teams like the 2016 Kings and 2017 Bulls were not as fruitful as his time with the Lakers, and it’s fair to wonder whether he will bring a high level of night-to-night focus on a team that isn’t a leading title favorite.

Atlanta entered the week as one of the few teams with significant cap space, and it hoped to sign at least two well-known veteran free agents to add to its young roster. Inking Gallinari and Rondo accomplished that goal, and franchise guard Trae Young will enter this team with a much-improved rotation. Whether those additions will be enough to lift Atlanta into the East’s playoff picture remains to be seen.

Sensing Rondo was seeking a significant pay raise, the Lakers proactively moved on by trading to acquire Dennis Schroder from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Schroder should step into Rondo’s ballhandling and offense initiation role as a clean fit.

November 21, 2020 at 2:15 PM EST
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D.J. Augustin, Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton agree to sign with Milwaukee Bucks

By Ben Golliver

The Milwaukee Bucks’ attempt to add Bogdan Bogdanovic went up in smoke earlier this week when a sign-and-trade with the Sacramento Kings fell apart, forcing General Manager Jon Horst to pursue backup plans. After successfully landing Jrue Holiday by trade, Milwaukee pivoted to spreading its money around on multiple players rather than one top target like Bogdanovic.

Milwaukee agreed to sign D.J. Augustin to a three-year, $31 million deal and Bobby Portis to a two-year, $7.5 million deal while re-signing Pat Connaughton to a three-year, $16 million deal, according to ESPN.com.

Needless to say, the Bucks and their fans would have preferred to have Bogdanovic, whose size and shooting on the wing appeared to be a perfect fit for their starting lineup. Milwaukee will now wait to see whether its offseason haul was enough to convince franchise centerpiece Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign a supermax contract extension.

Augustin, 33, averaged 10.5 points and 4.6 assists after shifting to a bench role for the Orlando Magic last season. An undersized guard at 5-foot-11 who can score and run an offense, Augustin’s versatility will be helpful as he can lead Milwaukee’s offense when Holiday is off the court or play alongside him.

Portis, 25, averaged 10.1 points and 5.1 rebounds for the New York Knicks last year, mostly making headlines for repeated flagrant fouls and rough play during a lost season. The five-year vet will join his fourth team since 2019 after getting lost in the Knicks’ crowded frontcourt rotation. Milwaukee can use added physicality in its second-unit frontcourt rotation after center Robin Lopez left for the Washington Wizards in free agency, and Portis can step out and capably shoot three-pointers.

Connaughton, a 27-year-old energy guard, averaged 5.4 points and 4.2 rebounds off the bench for the Bucks last season.

November 21, 2020 at 1:23 PM EST
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Fred VanVleet agrees to re-sign with the Toronto Raptors

By Ben Golliver

Fred VanVleet, an unrestricted free agent guard who was perhaps the most coveted backcourt player on this year’s market, has agreed to re-sign with the Toronto Raptors on a four-year, $85 million contract, according to The Athletic.

The 26-year-old VanVleet won a title with the Raptors in 2019 before turning in a career year in 2019-20, averaging 17.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists. A competitive two-way player who can shoot the ball and run the offense, the undrafted VanVleet made it clear in recent weeks that he was seeking a major payday.

Toronto President Masai Ujiri delivered, retaining VanVleet as part of a rising core that includes Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. As the 34-year-old Kyle Lowry enters the final year of his contract, VanVleet is poised to emerge as Toronto’s lead guard of the future.

Ujiri should be pleased with the price given the limited supply of impact guards on this year’s market. For comparison’s sake, VanVleet’s new deal will pay him just slightly more than Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon and Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier.

Teams in need of a new lead guard like the New York Knicks, who had significant cap space and had been linked to interest in VanVleet, Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls now must look elsewhere.

November 21, 2020 at 12:56 PM EST
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What to watch for

By Ben Golliver

The NBA’s condensed free agency period officially opened at 6 p.m. Eastern time on Friday after more than a four-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the first 15 hours, five of The Washington Post’s top 10 free agents went off the board, including Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, Washington Wizards forward Davis Bertans and Montrezl Harrell, who moved from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Los Angeles Lakers.

This year’s free agency class is light on superstar names after Anthony Davis, who is expected to re-sign with the Lakers, but a number of high-profile players are reportedly interested in being traded. Wizards guard John Wall is seeking a trade out of Washington, while Houston Rockets guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook have both been floated in recent rumors. The Oklahoma City Thunder traded Chris Paul to the Phoenix Suns earlier this week.

Here are some of the best available names to keep an eye on as teams firm up their rosters before training camps open on Dec. 1 and the season officially tips off on Dec. 22.

Top free agents

This ranking takes into account health, age, role, versatility, statistical production and upside.

1. Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers), Player Option

After a scintillating postseason run that culminated in a title, Davis has indicated he plans to re-sign with the Lakers.

2. Brandon Ingram (New Orleans Pelicans), Restricted Free Agent

The 2020 Most Improved Player should anticipate a max-level rookie extension following a career year in New Orleans.

3. Gordon Hayward (Boston Celtics), Unrestricted Free Agent

An ankle injury limited Hayward during the 2020 playoffs, but he decided to decline his $34.2 million option with Boston to test his options as one of the bigger names in a weak free agency class.

4. Bogdan Bogdanovic (Sacramento Kings), Restricted Free Agent

Bogdanovic, a 28-year-old gunner, played his way into Sacramento’s starting lineup and represents a clean fit for any team looking for a jolt of perimeter offense.

5. Serge Ibaka (Toronto Raptors), Unrestricted free agent

The 31-year-old Ibaka came off the bench during Toronto’s postseason run, but he could still be a capable starter in the right spot and is likely seeking one final meaningful payday.

Other names of note: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol