This summer could become one of the wildest offseasons the NBA has ever seen.
New TV contracts have provided an influx of cash that is expected to cause the salary cap to jump from $70 million to around $94 million for the 2016-17 season. With that much money on hand, combined with another expected significant cap increase for the 2017-18 season, almost every team in the league can afford to sign at least one player to a maximum value contract.
While this year’s class is not as deep as the 2017 group, there are plenty of big-name free agents who could affect an organization’s fortunes the next few years. To help you find out who could join your favorite team, we will sort out the top free-agent prospects.
We started with the centers and will hit guards later. For now, let’s take a look at the forwards who will be attracting the most attention this summer.
UFA – Unrestricted free agent
RFA – Restricted free agent
PO – Player option
Kevin Durant (OKC), UFA – Durant is one of the few elite scoring options in the NBA. He has won four scoring titles and finished sixth or better every year of his career, except an injury-plagued 2014-15 season. A six-time All-Star and member of the 50/40/90 club, the 27-year-old will be looking for the best situation to immediately win an NBA title. After making it to the Western Conference Finals four times in the past six years but the NBA Finals only once, Durant may be looking to move on from the Thunder.
If winning is his priority, Golden State would present his best opportunity to earn a ring next year. If he wants to move out of the super-competitive West, the Knicks and Wizards are options, albeit both are further away from being title contenders.
The likely scenario is Durant will accept a two-year max contract from the Thunder with an opt-out clause for next season. That gives him the best chance at a title and the ability to cash in next summer as well.
LeBron James (CLE), PO – After a remarkable finals run, King James fulfilled his long-stated promise of bringing a championship back to Cleveland. While his regular season numbers have taken a dip since returning to the Cavs two years ago, LeBron proved to be above and beyond the best player in the association when it comes playoff time. His 29.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists per game average during the Finals this year rank among the greatest performances of all time.
With a player option this summer, James will opt out of his contract so he can take full advantage of the 30-plus percent increase in the salary cap. Don’t expect the 31-year-old to entertain offers from anyone other than Cleveland this summer. He will likely sign a similar short-term deal, like Durant, to cash in again next summer.
Nicolas Batum (CHA), UFA – After a down 2014-15 season, where Batum posted career-low per-36 averages and shooting percentages, the versatile Frenchman was traded to Charlotte as the Blazers went through a roster purge. Taking full advantage of his contract year, the small forward enjoyed a bounce-back season to the tune of a career-high 14.9 points and 5.8 assists per game.
Utilized as the second scoring option and ball handler on the Hornets, behind Kemba Walker, Batum showcased his flexibility playing multiple positions. Sitting in his prime at 27, Batum is ready to cash in this summer. Expect Batum to be one of the more sought-after free agents with Golden State, Dallas and Chicago as possible destinations, along with a return to Charlotte.
Chandler Parsons (DAL), PO – In his two seasons with Dallas, Parsons has, fairly or not, earned a reputation as being injury prone — two consecutive season-ending knee surgeries will do that. To his credit, though, when Parsons has played he has shown the talent and promise that made Dallas sign him to a 3-year, $46M contract in 2014.
The small forward’s averages of 18.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.5 threes per game over his last 30 games of 2016 reinforced the notion that the 27-year-old could blossom into an All-Star soon. Dallas is not expected to offer Parsons a max contract, as they pursue other big name free agents. If they don’t sign Hassan Whiteside or Mike Conley, their intended targets, they risk insulting the Florida native and prompting a possible Orlando homecoming.
Dirk Nowitzki (DAL), PO – In one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2015-16 season, Nowitzki proved to still be a dangerous scoring threat in the NBA after 18 seasons. He became only the fourth player in NBA history to average over 18 points per game by someone 37 or older.
Before the year, many wondered if 2015-16 would be Nowitzki’s last, but after seeing how well he played, the question is how many more years the 7-footer will play. While the face of the Dallas Mavericks has opted out of his contract, it would shock the basketball world if the big German were wearing another uniform next season.
Al Jefferson (CHA), UFA – At age 31, Jefferson is clearly in the waning days of his career. Due to injuries and ineffectiveness, the power forward/center was limited to 47 games and only 23.3 minutes per game in 2015-16. No longer the double-double threat he was from 2006-14, Jefferson can still be a productive power forward, if he can stay healthy.
For what it is worth, the former 2004 first-round pick has said he would accept a limited role, and a pay cut, to end his career in Charlotte. However, with the Hornets rumored as potential big spenders this free agency, Jefferson may find himself finishing his career somewhere else.
Ryan Anderson (NOP), UFA – One of the best sixth men in the league, Anderson averaged more than 20 points per 36 minutes of action last season. His three-point shot is his biggest asset, as half of his shots have come from beyond the arc while making 37.7 percent of his career attempts.
For the first time in his eight-year career, Anderson will get to test the free agent waters. With nearly every team looking for a competent stretch four, like Anderson, the 28-year-old is going to be in high demand with teams like Houston, Washington and Boston being a few of the likely interested teams.
Harrison Barnes (GSW), RFA – Even after a strong regular season with averages of 11.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.2 threes per game, questions abound about Barnes talent. Some see the 6-foot-8 24-year-old as the perfect talent to invest in as a top two scoring option on a club. Others believe his numbers are inflated by the superior talent that surrounds him by the Bay.
Despite his 5-for-32 shooting performance in Games 5, 6, and 7 of NBA Finals, Barnes may still be in line for a big-time contract. If the Warriors are successful in their pursuit of Durant or other big name free agents, Barnes will be elsewhere in 2016-17.
Jared Sullinger (BOS), RFA – Always a bit undersized, and overweight, Sullinger has done well in his career despite being overmatched physically. He has averaged a respectable 12.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game the last three years. However, his atrocious defense has left him the odd man out in Boston.
During the 2016 playoffs, the former Buckeye played only 13 minutes per game. Entering this summer, after such a disappointing end to his season, Sullinger may be best off accepting a one-year contract as a reserve power forward to rebuild his value for the 2017 offseason
Marvin Williams (CHA), UFA – A seasoned 11-year veteran at only 30 years old, Williams returned from obscurity to post his best season since 2009. Transforming himself into a dependable stretch four, Williams nailed over 40 percent of his three-point attempts dropping 1.9 per game. He also averaged a career-high 6.4 rebounds and 1.0 blocks while playing only 29 minutes per game.
Since Williams holds ‘early bird rights‘, returning to Charlotte will bring him the most money. However with Batum, Jefferson, Courtney Lee and Jeremy Lin all free agents as well, Williams may find himself singing a $10-15M per year contract elsewhere.
Other notable free-agent forwards:
Kent Bazemore (ATL)
Allen Crabbe (POR)
Luol Deng (MIA)
Jared Dudley (WAS)
Jeff Green (LAC)
Moe Harkless (POR)
Donatas Montiejunas (HOU)
Mirza Teletovic (PHO)
Evan Turner (BOS)
David West (SAS)