The Top 5 Free Agents
*Photo via USA Today
1̶.̶ ̶F̶ ̶L̶e̶b̶r̶o̶n̶ ̶J̶a̶m̶e̶s̶
̶2̶.̶ ̶C̶ ̶M̶a̶r̶c̶ ̶G̶a̶s̶o̶l̶
̶3̶.̶ ̶S̶F̶ ̶K̶a̶w̶h̶i̶ ̶L̶e̶o̶n̶a̶r̶d̶
4. PF LaMarcus Aldridge
Portland Trail Blazers, (Unrestricted Free Agent)
2015 stats – 23.4 ppg, 1.7 aspg, 10.2 rpg, FG -46%, 3-point FG – 35%, 0.7 stls, 1.0 blks, 1.7 tov
LaMarcus Aldridge is simply one of the best scoring forwards in the NBA. Aldridge can fill it up, operating from 15-feet and in and sports a game that will make fellow All-Stars, Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol proud. He’s the new generation NBA big-man, a shooter opposed to the traditional, low post bruiser, and can score in a variety of ways. At 6’11 weighing 240 pounds, Aldridge can face up, shoot over defenders, fade-away from the basket and beat you off the dribble to finish with authority. And as far as the rest of his game, Aldridge, pretty much does everything else well. During the past four seasons, Aldridge has shot a reliable 82 percent from the line and also is a willing passer. Although he is an isolation based scorer, Aldridge makes the right decision when the opportunity presents itself, giving his teammates open looks. He competes on defense, cleans the glass like a custodian and has a great basketball IQ. Aldridge headlines this year’s free-agent class by far.
There’s not many weaknesses in Aldridge’s game but there is one thing: he definitely favors his right hand. He can make plays with his left on drives to the basket but the bulk of his field goals stems from his right hand, and preferring driving to his right as well. In Portland’s Game 1 defeat in the first round of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at the h̶a̶n̶d̶s̶̶ claws of the Memphis Grizzlies, Aldridge scored 32 points and on drives to the basket, converted six layups with the right hand opposed to one layup with his left. In close quarters, Aldridge also scores using both hands off offensive rebounds. There’s nothing alarming here. Aldridge is a threat to score 30+ a night regardless.
Outside of the Trailblazers, the New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers are all pursuing the Texas native. According to multiple reports, Aldridge is leaning towards joining the Lakers to be the next best big-man for the prestigious franchise and possibly help Kobe Bryant make the postseason and dear I say, make some noise, possibly. The San Antonio Spurs are a very realistic target, pursuing Aldridge’s services to replace Tim Duncan, whose time is running out.
Ultimately, the Spurs are the best fit for Aldridge. This is a franchise committed to winning and Aldridge will be the focal point on a team that seems to be in the running for the Larry O'Brien trophy every season. With the Lakers, Aldridge would join a team in rebuild mode, moving in the right direction, but will have to practice patience with D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, no matter how talented they are. The Knicks can give Aldridge an opportunity to win immediately in a weak Eastern Conference and can form a deadly frontcourt tandem with Carmelo Anthony, who is in his prime.
5. PF Kevin Love
Cleveland Cavaliers, (Unrestricted Free Agent)
2015 stats – 16.4 ppg, 2.2 aspg, 9.7 rpg, FG – 43%, 3-point FG – 36%, 0.7 stls, 0.5 blks, 1.6 tovs
Like Aldridge, Kevin Love is a shooter. He can stretch the floor and hit three’s with consistency, has a stable mid-range game, but does his best work in the low-post. From 0 to 3 feet, Love is shooting 59% for his career. In his first year with the Cavs, Love was mostly used to stretch the floor and connect from deep to give Kyrie Irving and LeBron James the space to drive to the basket and make plays for themselves and others. And it worked for the most part. In Game 3 of Cleveland’s opening round series against the Boston Celtics, Love scored 23 points but his six made treys were the story of the game. It looked like candy. It was too easy and Love feasted. There’s a reason why Love was coveted by the Cavs prior to his arrival. James was coming home and Irving along with Love formed the big three James desired to hopefully bring a title back to his hometown. He is one of the best PF’s in the open market not named Aldridge. Despite being a product of the system and the personnel around him, Love can score inside and out; just ask the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Unlike Aldridge, Love isn’t the strongest perimeter defender. In the land of stretch four’s, Love has trouble guarding himself in opposing players and can be a liability on that end. Defense wins championships and Love needs to attach the same effort he applies on the offensive end to keeping the Aldridge’s of the world in front of him. Love would probably love Mike D’Antoni.
The Cavs are preparing a five-year $110-million dollar deal to retain Love, according to multiple reports. The Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs are all interested in the former UCLA Bruin, sharing some of the same destinations with Aldridge. Love has a golden opportunity to win a ring in Ohio but I can’t help but think that Love still wants be the man regardless of the situation. He definitely doesn’t want to be part of a losing situation, but Love wants to win games and I feel, be the one leading the team in scoring as well.
Obviously the Cavs, Duh!!!!!!! Winning a ring should be Love’s top priority and before he injured his shoulder in the playoffs against the Celtics, Love, was performing well in his playoff debut. I do believe Love still wants to be the numero uno so it’s Love’s best interest to head to LA and inherit all of Hollywood after next season when Kobe leaves or maybe try and repair the relationship with Kelly Olynyk and head to Boston. All in all, it seems like Love will do the right thing and is leaning towards staying in Cleveland.
6. SG Dwyane Wade
Miami Heat, (Unrestricted Free Agent)
2015 stats – 21.5 ppg, 4.8 aspg, 3.5 rpg, FG – 47%, 3 – point FG – 28%, 1.2 stls, 0.3 blks, 3.4 tovs
How about being one of the best two-guards in NBA history? When Dwyane Wades book finally closes, three championships will be attached to that name because, that’s who he is. That’s what he’s done. Wade isn’t ranked third here, but in a class of his own because as good as Aldridge and Love are as PF’s they aren’t better as Wade has been as a wing throughout his illustrious career. Unfortunately, the good heart of Wade has landed him in this situation. He sacrificed the big bucks he could’ve earned the last couple of years to make space for James and Chris Bosh to join him in South Beach. And god bless him, it worked. The trio went 2 out of 4 in the finals losing to the Mavericks and the Spurs. With James gone and Bosh still around for the ride, it’s time for Wade to get paid. But he might be wearing a different jersey. Wade may not be able to lead a team like he was able to in the past, but he’s still an efficient scorer who can finish at the basket, pull up from midrange and can create for his teammates.
There really aren’t any weaknesses with the future Hall-of-Famer despite his efficiency from deep. Wade is a career 28 percent three-point shooter, but when you’ve appeared in every All-Star game since 2005 sporting three championship rings, it doesn’t matter anymore. He does, however, have an injury history. As a 34 year old with failing knees, it’s proven difficult for him to play heavy minutes throughout the season.
It would be very weird to picture Wade not in a Heat jersey but anything is possible. Other than the Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers are interested in Wade and the Cavs are a possible option for Wade to team up with James for another title push. The Heat should pay the man, especially regarding everything Wade has done for the franchise. The problem is he’s 34 and attaching a max-contract to a player near the finish line will only hinder the Heat going forward.
Of course Wade should stay home but the Lakers and Cavs are intriguing situations for Wade to entertain. In LA, Wade will get the chance to play with Kobe and with the Cavs, Wade would reunite with James. I think the NBA would sign up for either of the two just for the theater, the headlines and the ratings.
7. SG/SF Jimmy Butler
Chicago Bulls, (Restricted Free Agent)
2015 stats – 20 ppg, 3.3 aspg, 5.8 rpg, FG – 46%, 3 – point FG – 37%, 1.8 stls, 0.6 blks, 1.4 tovs
Defense. Offense. Jimmy Butler can do it on both ends of the floor and earned his first All-Star appearance this past season. The former Marquette Golden Eagle has improved his offense every year since he’s been in the league and experienced his largest growth spurt this past season, as he went from 13 ppg in 2014 to 20 this year. Butler moves well off the ball, finishes strong at the rim and has developed his shooting touch. He is now more than capable of knocking down shots from mid-range and from three with regularity. He’s become the ideal Robin for Derrick Rose’s Batman, and it’s in Chicago’s best interest to retain the backcourt in the Windy City.
Butler is still growing as a premier offensive threat and could work on a number of things. Ball-handling, three-point percentage, a floater-game and from mid-range are all aspects of Butler’s game that should continue maintenance.
I don’t think Butler can carry a team, offensively as of yet and is still best suited as the number two scorer on a contending team. The Bulls have offered Butler a 5-year, $90 million max qualifying offer, but the word on the street is, Butler wants a short term deal, around two-years so he can take advantage of the salary cap increase. With the Bulls offering a max qualifying offer, Butler is now unable to sign any offer sheet that is less than three years in length. In having to mull over the Bulls offer, Butler has postponed meetings with the likes of: the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks, who are all interested in the Butlers services. Who wouldn’t be?
8. C DeAndre Jordan
Los Angeles Clippers (Unrestricted Free Agent)
2015 stats – 11.5 ppg, 15.0 rpg, 0.7 aspg, FG – 71.0%, FT – 39.7%, 1.0 stls, 2.2 blks, 1.3 tovs
Jordan is a game changing defensive force who came third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2014-15. He is a freak athlete who routinely gets his head at rim level on lobs from Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Jordan is one of the league’s best rim protectors and forces other players into mistakes at the rim. He posted career highs in points, rebounds and field goal percentage this season.
Other than dunking, Jordan hasn’t been much of an offensive player. To make matters worse he is one of the worst free throw shooters which makes him a victim of the hack-a-Jordan strategy and a liability offensively. During Game 4 of the Clippers’ second round showdown against the Houston Rockets, Jordan was intentionally fouled and shot a record 28 free throws in the first half. He made 10.
Los Angeles…Clippers is Jordan’s best fit. He has stated that he is looking for a four year deal with the ability to opt out after the third year in order to take advantage of the cap explosion coming in 2016-17. He has also made it public that he wants a bigger role in the offense to showcase his abilities. The Dallas Mavericks, and the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks, along with the incumbent Clippers will vie for Jordan’s services. Based on the way Jordan has played, I believe he needs an All-NBA caliber point guard to be effective offensively. He currently has that with the Clippers in Chris Paul, while Dallas and New York don’t have stable point guard situations. Incoming number two overall pick, D’Angelo Russell, has the skills to become one of the best passers in the league and along with a need at center, Jordan could find changing locker rooms in the Staples Center intriguing.
Among honorable mentions: Draymond Green, Monta Ellis, Tyson Chandler, Tobias Harris, Wesley Matthews, Greg Monroe, Rajon Rondo, David West, Thaddeus Young, and Aaron Afflalo