The Top 5 Small Forwards in Free Agency
*Photo via AP
In today's NBA, it seems like the free agent market gets bigger each summer. The massive rise in the salary cap is coming in 2016. This has contributed to shorter contracts as players shuffle their feet to align with potential money in 2016 they may not receive at any other point in their careers.
This year’s class features an excellent group of small forwards, which we will focus on here. There are a number of elite restricted swing men who are expected to stay with their current team, but very strange things happen in the NBA in the month of July.
At the head of the class, we have the best player in the world, not a bad place to start, huh?
Let’s dig in.
1. LeBron James
-Player Option - Cleveland Cavaliers
2015 stats: 25.3 ppg, 7.4 apg, 6.0 rpg
Universally recognized as the best player in the game, LeBron James as the number one free agent despite position is a very easy decision. However, James is number one with an asterisk. Despite technically being a free agent, the games most dominant player is not going anywhere. There is virtually no chance King James leaves Cleveland again, after just returning from his college-like Miami hiatus this time last year. Cleveland’s greatest son has the freedom of a player option. This means he can become a free agent thanks to a smart short term deal. Since he can hit the free market if he chooses, he has to be on the list and no doubt has to be number one.
2. Kawhi Leonard
-Restricted - San Antonio Spurs
2015 Stats: 16.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.3 spg
It is assumed the San Antonio Spurs will offer Kawhi the max amount of money available, an estimated $90 million over 5 years. Leonard, the 2014 Finals MVP and reigning Defensive Player of the Year is clearly worth it. Those in basketball circles know, the Spurs have a long standing history of convincing players to take less money in order to afford roster development and management. It's not just any players that have taken discounts to create a championship environment, it's stars. Tim Duncan, number one on my list of all time power forwards, took several payouts through his career. All-Stars, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili also took less money than they could have received on an open market to create space for solid rotation players.
Kawhi had a chance to add his name to the list of great players to take less money for the betterment of the team in 2014 when he was available for an early extension. He did not seem as willing as the ones before him. Neither side gave in. Leonard is now a restricted free agent, meaning the Spurs can match any offer sheet signed with another team. If San Antonio does not offer the max straight out, Leonard will most likely explore his options.
3. Draymond Green
- Restricted Free Agent - Golden State Warriors
2015 stats: 11.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.7 apg
Another boring name on the list, Green openly said after the NBA Finals he will be back in a Warriors uniform again next season. As a huge cog in the Warriors’ epic season, Green showed he deserves max money. As he excelled in his breakout season, he rendered David Lee, a former All-Star, almost irrelevant and was my personal choice for Defensive Player of the Year.
Green is a restricted free agent, leaving little chance the Warriors would let the triple-double threat just walk away. Golden State does have a recent history of playing tough with their up and coming stars. Stephen Curry signed an early extension on an unbelievable discount because the front office expressed injury concerns (hard to believe the MVP makes under $10 million per year). The Warriors almost traded Klay Thompson then waited till the last second (the week of the season opener) to give him his deal. With Harrison Barnes being due for a new deal next year. As well as Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala on the books the year after that, Golden State could try to convince Green to take a discount. No one knows how well this could go over with Green and may lead him to test the market.
4. DeMarre Carroll
- Unrestricted Free Agent - Atlanta Hawks
2015 stats: 12.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg
Carroll has proven himself in the league as a strong defensive presence. But Carroll stepped up on the offensive end in the playoffs, being the most consistent player for the Atlanta Hawks on their Conference Finals run. He is unrestricted, which could lead to a massive payday after his playoff performance. LeBron dominated him in the Eastern Conference Finals, but Carroll may have proved more by playing through an injury. It is hard to hold LeBron’s performance against Carroll. His intangibles alone move him up several spots on this list. He has worked extremely hard to become an offensive threat to pair with those intangibles and his solid defense.
5. Tobias Harris
- Restricted Free Agent- Orlando Magic
2015 Stats: 17.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg
Tobias Harris probably felt very good about being in an Orlando Magic uniform again next season, until they hired his former coach, Scott Skiles. Skiles and Tobias Harris openly did not get along in Milwaukee. I have been been on the Harris bandwagon for some time now. However, I do accept that his intangibles could be better. I envision him as a poor man's Carmelo Anthony. He was a solid second option in Orlando, but may have to take a lesser role of he wants to join a winning team.
Just missed the cut:
Jeff Green, Memphis
Luol Deng, Miami
Paul Pierce, Washington
Jae Crowder, Bostom
Corey Brewer, Houston
Mike Dunleavy, Chicago
Jeff Taylor, Charlotte