All the money entering the NBA over the next few years will greatly enrich franchise owners and stakeholders, allowing them to drive garbage trucks full of money to the doorsteps of the finest ballers in the association. Compared to the other major leagues in the United States, the free agent market for basketball promises fascinating change as teams and players adjust to the new financial reality of the NBA.
The staff at Canada Sports Betting wants to be clear: Steph Curry isn’t going anywhere, so this list of elite free agents focuses on players with a much higher probability of jumping ship. The top five NBA free agents in 2017 will undoubtedly alter the competitive landscape over the next half-decade.
Blake Griffin – Agent: Sam Goldfeder
Perhaps the least predictable of all the elite NBA free agents, Blake Griffin has been a source of controversy and frustration for the Clippers, overshadowing his elite athleticism and skills. The only knock against Griffin’s play would be his inability to extend his range a few feet out to the three-point arc. At his best, Blake is nearly unguardable, combining scoring and facilitation with the physicality of a power forward. At his worst, his decision-making turns destructive, affecting the Clippers on and off the court.
A recent rash of injuries may dull the polish for some GMs kicking his tires, but the fact remains that he’s only 27, so he’s likely to contribute at an elite level for a few more years. The new TV deal will allow more teams to throw max cash at Griffin, and franchises which consider themselves close to the top will take a long look at his services. If the Clippers don’t keep their core together, Griffin might even head home to Oklahoma, filling the considerable vacancy left by Durant’s departure.
Kevin Durant – Agent: Rich Kleiman
Could it happen again? Kevin Durant jumping to the Warriors was the most significant free agent defection since The Decision and The Return, and it’s hard to see that he’ll become a Prodigal Son for the Thunder. Barring catastrophe, Durant will look to cash in on a new max deal, similar to other stars who want to leverage TV contract money flooding into the association. Considering that he painfully parted with Oklahoma City, there’s no doubt that he’ll carefully weigh all his options before committing to a big deal.
Coach Kerr, the Splash Brothers and Draymond Green have done well to integrate Durant’s offensive skills into the Warrior’s already overwhelming attack, and the numbers show. It appears that Kevin will flirt with a 50/40/90 shooting line during the 2016-2017 regular season, without disrupting the production of the ring-winning original big three. Difficult to imagine, but if Kevin wins a championship with the Dubs, he might want to replicate this success as a leader for another squad close to grasping an NBA ring. Salary cap or chemistry issues might also force a relocation after the 2016-2017 season.
Gordon Hayward – Agent: Mark Bartelstein
Tucked away in Salt Lake City, a location which repels sports media scrutiny, Gordon Hayward has quietly become one of the best small forwards in the league. As the focal point for the Utah Jazz offense, he’s paired with George Hill to create a surprisingly effective backcourt combo, reviving Hill’s career in the process. Without Hayward’s wizardry, the young nucleus of the Jazz would be hard-pressed to scrape together the points necessary to take advantage of Rudy Gobert’s talents and the defensive schemes implemented by coach Quin Snyder.
One of the most logical landing spots for Gordon would be the Boston Celtics. Brad Stevens coached Hayward at Butler, and rumors insist that Ainge and Stevens have set their sights on Hayward. On paper, it looks like he’d be a good fit along with Horford, Thomas and Crowder, giving the Celts another elite scorer and ball handler. There’s no doubt the Jazz will do their best to keep Gordon, but it’s tough for small market teams to compete with marquee franchises, even if Utah does appear to have a bright future.
Chris Paul – Agent: Leon Rose
Chris Paul is often considered the finest “pure” point guard of the current era, and with good reason: his vision, creativity and leadership on the court have produced the pinnacle of Clippers basketball. Despite Paul’s excellence, he’s gotten deeper into the playoffs with State Farm than he has with Los Angeles. He managed to drag the Clips to their finest result when they upset the Spurs, willing the series-winner over Tim Duncan on one good leg to seal a brutal seven-game, first-round slugfest in 2015. It was arguably the finest moment in his career, which isn’t enough to satiate Paul’s relentless desire to win.
Nobody in the association would blame Paul for fleeing the Clippers and landing with a more competitive club. However, the NBA has never been deeper at point guard, and current contenders already have all-stars manning the point. Nonetheless, a quick glace at Chris Paul’s career reveals incredible consistency, and most teams could use a hall-of-fame, double-double point guard with great shooting splits. It’s fun to imagine Paul landing with a young, talented team that could use strong leadership at the point, like the Minnesota Timberwolves. However, at this point in his career, he’s more likely to end up with a team like the Spurs, who need to replace the dwindling contributions of Tony Parker.
Kyle Lowry – Agent: Andy Miller
There was once a time when backcourt duos such as Wall-Beal and Lillard-McCollum were considered alongside Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan as the top in the NBA. Over the past two years, Lowry has transformed his game to the next level, rising alongside DeMar DeRozan. In his contract year, he’s proving to be more efficient than ever, torching the association with career-high shooting splits. Discounting LeBron due to his unique “point four” playstyle, Lowry and DeRozan are second only to the Splash Brothers in terms of elite backcourts in the NBA.
Similar to Paul, Lowry’s on the wrong side of thirty in a league full of superb guards. Unlike CP4, Lowry was exiled to Canada before finding his all-star form, potentially reducing his prestige in the review of suitors. Lowry’s created a strong bond with DeRozan and other members of Raptors leadership, and the team has literally never been better, so there’s a good chance he’ll be OK with a max deal in the north. This doesn’t mean that he won’t keep his eyes open, especially if Toronto experiences a significant setback during the playoffs. Toronto’s close to competing with the elites of the association, but if they don’t add a high-quality big man or two, Lowry might be enticed to win elsewhere.