This summer’s free agency period will serve as an intriguing appetizer to the giant leaps in the salary cap of the next two offseasons, when the cap will increase to $89 million and $108 million, respectively. 2015 marks the final year under the old TV revenue deal, so this summer’s salary cap will feature a standard rise to $67 million.
We have already seen many players signing calculated, short-term deals that angle to cash in on the some $40 million being infused into team salaries in 2016-17 and 2017-18, and this offseason, those ripple effects will be affecting many players who try to decide between long-term security or the chance to go all “Supermarket Sweep” during the next two offseasons.
There are some players that will affect more than others, and guys gunning for a max contract don’t necessarily have to worry about when to get it, since it’s a percentage-based contract, as much as who to get it with, since incumbent teams can offer more money than outside teams they might sign with via free agency.
All of that is to say, so much money being infused in such a short will already be felt starting this offseason, and it starts at the top. Let’s take a look at some of the top free agents, along with their situations, this summer.
LeBron James – SF, Cleveland Cavaliers, age 30 – unrestricted FA, turned down $21.5M player option
As expected, James opted out of his two-year contract with the Cavs, and unless something goes horribly wrong with the Cavaliers offseason, he’s expected to continue his new reign in Cleveland–at least for next season. LeBron signed his deal with an eye to pull down big time money next season, so once he secures that, he can really evaluate his situation with the Cavaliers.
Marc Gasol – C, Memphis Grizzlies, age 30, unrestricted FA
Gasol is another free agent who is pretty much expected to remain where he’s at, given how the Grizzlies took what seemed like a promising 2-1 lead at the time versus the Golden State Warriors during the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Memphis has already has a relatively successful offseason as well, trading for Matt Barnes and securing the return of Jeff Green, at least for the time being. There’s been speculation that Green could become part of a larger deal to snag Danilo Gallinari from the Denver Nuggets, which would really be a coup for the three-point-starved Grizzlies.
Either way, the Grizzlies’ position as a contender is secure, giving Gasol plenty of reason to return as the established centerpiece of the group. While teams like the Spurs and Lakers will surely make their pitches, word from Mike Bresnahan at LA Times is he’s not interested in LA, so all indications are that he’ll remain in Memphis, especially since they can offer him the biggest max, meaning he’ll automatically capitalize next summer.
Kawhi Leonard – SF, San Antonio Spurs, 23 – restricted FA
At just 23 years old, Leonard would be the ultimate free-agent coup if a team could ever lure him away from the Spurs, but that has never seemed likely and still doesn’t.
Given that San Antonio seems to believe that Tim Duncan will be back next season––which means Manu Ginobli will also return––they will be a contender once again next season, and since they can offer Leonard more money than anyone, those two factors combine to suggest that he’ll remain in San Antonio.
Even if negotiations were to break down, the Spurs ultimately can match any deal another team offered Leonard, since he’s a restricted free agent. San Antonio has an immaculate history of taking care of their guys, though, so that seems like a totally bizarro-world scenario.
Jimmy Butler – SG, Chicago Bulls, 25 – restricted FA
Last summer, Butler decided not to sign the Bulls’ offer, which was reportedly (by Woj at Yahoo! ) to be about $2.5 million lower than he was seeking from the organization. Butler bet right, and as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah recovered from significant injuries, he carried the Bulls’ offense and became a borderline MVP candidate in the process.
This had led to speculation that Butler will not only turn down what will finally be a maximum offer from the Bulls, but he could leave town entirely. Butler has been doing stuff like drinking wine on private jets with Mark Wahlberg far more often in recent seasons, which has only increased the rumblings that he’s ready to go be a star in somewhere that’s not a cold Midwestern city that’s also the hometown of a former MVP.
Still, the Bulls have the ultimate trump card, which is the ability to offer the most money and match any offer sheet that Butler might sign. Given that fact, it will be interesting to see how much of his hand the prized young two-way wing player shows regarding how he plans to balance his interests of money versus team.
Kevin Love – PF, Cleveland Cavaliers, 26 – turned down $16.1M player option, unrestricted FA
Like James, Love also opted out of his deal for next season, although he’s not as much of a lock to return as the star of the team is. Obviously, that could partly be attributed to what has been a cool relationship with James, who is not “recruiting” Love this offseason, whatever that means. Hopefully he’s at least giving him a phone call, because a dialed-in Love would benefit the Cavs far more than anything they could replace him with, which isn’t much given that they’re already into the luxury tax.
Love will definitely get some calls this offseason. The Celtics and Lakers have been mentioned as popular destinations, and if/when LaMarcus Aldridge bolts, the Blazers could be a dark horse since Love played high-school ball there and would be a perfect strategic fit.
He’ll have options, as well as a chance to prove himself outside of James, whom he learned was a dominant player and personality to share team with last season. If Love wants to pursue that path, he’ll lose some money and possibly a chance at a championship in the near future. But he might become more of a centerpiece, and if that’s what he wants, his decision could surprise some people.
Draymond Green – PF, Golden State Warriors, 24 – restricted FA
It’s widely believed the Warriors will re-sign Green without a hitch, but as Tom Ziller over at SB Nation points out, there’s reason to believe the Warriors could pinch pennies with Green. They will already be paying the luxury tax next season, and they also have Harrison Barnes to worry about, who plays the same position as Green with more athleticism and upside at a younger age. They also have simply been a frugal organization, with both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson signed to super team-friendly deals.
Given that Green is already 24 years old, and his stock might never be higher than it now after playing an ideally-suited role on a defending champion, he could decide to play for a one-year qualifying offer in the Bay and cash in on all that money flying around next offseason. He could also choose the security of getting the money now. If he’s intent on a max, though, negotiations could become interesting, as the Warriors didn’t give a true max to Klay Thompson even after refusing to trade him for Kevin Love last offseason.
DeAndre Jordan – C, Los Angeles Clippers, 26
Jordan, depending on how you feel about Brook Lopez and Dwyane Wade, is the last big-name, super-impact guy who’s believed to actually be on the market. He’s just 26 years old, a very good defensive player, and one of the better diving roll-men in pick-and-roll over the last five years in the league. He might be a tad overrated, especially by his coach, but he has steadily improved from season to season, stays insanely healthy for a big man, and is entering his athletic prime.
Belief exists that he and Chris Paul don’t really get along, which wouldn’t necessarily be surprising. Whether that’s enough for him to bolt LA remains to be seen, but it will be interesting, especially considering he’s allegedly also seeking a larger offensive role, something that doesn’t necessarily bode well for whatever team signs him next.
If he leaves, though, it would not only have massive implications for the Clippers, but for the rest of free agency as well, since Jordan is expected to have serious interest from both Los Angeles teams, as well as the Mavericks and Bucks. No matter what Jordan decides, it will leave multiple teams still craving a big man, which means his free agent peers like Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Robin Lopez, Roy Hibbert, etc., could see their markets change quickly depending on the who’s still available.