NBA free agency: Wait, who are you?

Bradley Beal and Fred VanVleet are pictured in 2018. Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons

LeBron James to the Lakers. Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers. Fred VanVleet to the Knicks. One of these choices lacks the flair that the other two possess, a level of mediocrity and boredom that is representative of the upcoming free-agent class.

While we have recently been captivated by high-profile player movement, this offseason is shaping up to be one with considerably less excitement. Anthony Davis is the lone superstar who will hit free agency, and it is widely expected that he will immediately re-sign with the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. Restricted free agent Brandon Ingram is probably the next closest thing, and chances are slim that the New Orleans Pelicans allow him to leave.

Even players like DeMar DeRozan of the San Antonio Spurs and Gordon Hayward of the Boston Celtics aren’t expected to decline their player options, leaving a class devoid of max-contract level players. NBA general managers will instead have two distinct groups of players to choose from: veteran role players or intriguing young pieces. 

The youth

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors, unrestricted: VanVleet is this year’s crown jewel and possibly the only player who will earn a max contract and switch teams in the process. Whether or not VanVleet returns to Toronto will likely signal Raptors president Masai Ujiri’s confidence in his roster’s ability to contend for a title. Knowing that Ujiri faces a tough offseason, teams like the New York Knicks or the Phoenix Suns could offer a bloated contract that is impossible for VanVleet to turn down. The 26-year-old guard will be in for an interesting winter as he decides whether or not to find a new home. 

Christian Wood, Detroit Pistons, unrestricted: Casual fans may be shocked to see the contract Christian Wood receives this offseason. The 25-year-old Wood is coming off a breakout year for the Pistons after bouncing around the league, and teams are reportedly eyeing the versatile big man as someone who could improve even more in the coming years. Wood offers hidden potential as a 6-foot-10 athlete who shot 38.6% from deep last season. A team like the Charlotte Hornets could take a stab at finding a gem by throwing a large deal his way. 

Bogdan Bogdanović, Sacramento Kings, restricted: Bogdanović, along with Ingram, is one of two restricted free agents who will be in high demand. The 28-year-old is a prototypical NBA wing who may price the Kings out of the race for his services, but he is also a key piece to Sacramento’s future. Look for him to receive a multi-year deal somewhere in the $14 million to $16 million per year range, with the only question being whether or not the Kings decide to match. 

The vets

Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder, unrestricted: Gallinari might be the most useful player available in this class, depending on your confidence in VanVleet. The 6-foot-10 forward has been vocal about his desire to play for a contender, and no team will turn down a sharpshooting, low-maintenance player like Gallinari for the right price. The Miami Heat, who made a push for him at the trade deadline last year, should be among his chief suitors if Gallinari agrees to a short-term deal. 

Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers, unrestricted: Harrell’s price point will be up for intense debate this offseason because it remains unclear whether or not a non-shooting, non-rim-protecting 6-foot-8 man deserves a large deal. However, what won’t be in question is Harrell’s productivity. The Sixth Man of the Year winner is a high-energy player who was a driving force in the Clippers’ regular season success. Depending on what happens with VanVleet, the Raptors might be in the market for Harrell in an offseason in which both Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, their main forwards, are free agents. 

Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets, unrestricted: Shooting kills in this NBA, and there are few better at finding his shot than Harris. Since joining Brooklyn, Harris has become one of the game’s premier shooting specialists, and there will certainly be many teams looking to add him to their roster. The 29-year-old could fit on all 32 teams, but the driving factor will be whether he prioritizes winning. If so, look for Harris to return to Brooklyn to be part of an already scary offense that will feature Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. 

The verdict

This isn’t the free agency class of 2018 or 2021. There won’t be the big, splashy moves that we are accustomed to seeing from the offseason unless they come in the form of a trade, but that doesn’t mean that this group will be a total bust. Watch for a group of veterans to be on the move across the league, pieces that could be crucial to the making of next year’s NBA champion.





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