With free agency looming, the game’s biggest names—Melo, the Big Three—are dominating offseason speculation but once those dominos fall the real fun begins. Beyond those stars there are a ton of guys who could strongarm some cash out of talent-starved teams…or rock the boat and stay put. We took a look at 10 players whose offseason decisions could have the biggest impact on next season.
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Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers — $1.2 million Player Option
What do you do when your nickname is Swaggy P, you’re coming off the best statistical year of your career and you’re dating the girl with the #1 song in the country—soak up the LA lifestyle or chase more bucks? Nick Young was the biggest beneficiary Kobe’s injuries this year, leading the Lakers in scoring on 17.9 ppg in a little under 30 minutes per game, minutes he’d never had seen if Mamba was mobile. The Lakers have noted that signing Young is a top priority this offseason, especially if they foresee issues with Kobe getting back on the hardwood. The feeling’s mutual; Young says he’d take less to stay put.
Suitors: Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans1 of 10
Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers — Unrestricted FA
Where to begin with the Brooklyn native? Lance, might be the most unpredictable free agent in this 2014 class. His act reportedly wore thin in the Pacers locker room but he’s always had the support of President of Basketball Ops, Larry Bird. The other four starters are all under contract and if the Pacers are sticking to their word on not paying the luxury tax they’ll have between $8 and $12 mil to offer to for all new contracts this summer (Stephenson is expected to command around $10M per.) Never has this song been more appropriate.
Suitors: Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets
Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat – Unrestricted FA
Chalmers had a dreadful series against the Spurs, but he has been the Miami Heat’s starting point guard on the Heat team that made it to four consecutive Finals in a row, lest we forget. Over his six-year career with the Heat, he has averaged 8.6 points, 3.8 assists and 1.8 turnovers. In that time he’s hit some clutch shots and made his teammates crazy, a point that even POTUS clowned him for. Chalmers is divisive and his stats don’t really scream “f— you, pay me!” He might be headed for a walk.
Suitor: Cleveland Cavaliers3 of 10
Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies — $16.5 million player option
Z-Bo has a tough decision in front of him. Does he take his $16 million and hit free agency next year or does he opt out and gamble his future? At the tender age of 32, it might be too much of a dare for the power forward to move elsewhere and find a similarly fitting role. The market for the big man is rumored to be in the $30 million range, though, and what heavyweight with a four-inch vertical (give or take) could resist trying to nab that payday?
Suitor: Phoenix Suns
Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs — Unrestricted free agent
If Mario Chalmers’s stock took the biggest hit during the NBA finals, then Patty Mills’ got the biggest bump. The Australia native with the vaunted towel-waving ability is a coveted prospect who, at 25 years-old, showed that he hasn’t yet reached his ceiling. Rumors have it that the Knicks are extremely interested in him, but they’d have to get him on a mid-level deal and Mills might have just played himself to a higher rate. The Spurs will look at signing him as a top priority, of course, and a championship core will be hard to walk away from.
Suitors: Boston Celtics, New York Knicks
Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings — $19.3 million player option
From the wooing that’s going on out West it’s hard to tell whether the Sacramento Kings think they are going after Rudy Gay or LeBron James. Kings officials are courting him with Hall of Famers and rolling out the red carpet in hopes of convincing Gay to exercise the option in his contract for next season. Gay’s played for three different teams in the last two years because of his whopper contract and it’ll be hard to find another locale that will treat him like royalty.
Suitors: Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets6 of 10
Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards — Unrestricted FA
Decisions, decisions. What should the Washington Wizards do with their money? They were possibly the most surprising team in the NBA this year and the young cast that team execs had previously invested in lived up to their billings. The glue for young guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, though, were long-tenured vets like Nene and the hard-nosed Polish big man Gortat, who averaged 13.2 ppg and 9.5 rpg, his second-best season in a seven-year career. Teammates have pushed for the team to re-sign Gortat though it would mean Washington will most likely have to let Trevor Ariza go and hope Otto Porter or Garrett Temple can fill the void.
Suitors: Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns, Boston Celtics7 of 10
Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns — Restricted Free Agent
Coming off the best season of his young career, Eric Bledsoe has proven his worth in Phoenix. Suns execs have already said they don’t want to see the 24-year-old on the open market and could offer him rather than waiting to match another team. They’d be smart to lock him up quick. The athletic PG flourished, averaging nearly 18 ppg and 5.5 apg which would surely draw loot from any of several teams with cap space.
Suitors: Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz or Milwaukee Bucks8 of 10
Boris Diaw, San Antonio Spurs — Unrestricted FA
The 6’8″ point forward played a crucial role in the Spurs’ run under Gregg Popovich’s watch. Remember this is the overweight, undersized player who got waived by the miserable Charlotte Bobcats in early 2012. The 32 year-old is at the end of a two-year deal that paid him $4.7 million this year. He might get offers above the MLE but given his relationship with Tony Parker, the possibility that Tim Duncan returns next year and his apt role on this squad Diaw could very well stay put for less than he’s worth.
Suitors: Orlando Magic
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors — Unrestricted FA
Lowry has to wait his turn in order to figure out what team he should sign with. It’s extremely plausible Miami could make a strong attempt at signing the 28-year-old guard. Lowry is coming off the best season of his career and was seventh in the league in player efficiency rating amongst all point guards. It remains to be seen whether Lowry will go after more money or continue the rebuild in Toronto but the Raptors have said they are making it a priority to keep him. OK, cool. But there will definitely be a team that doesn’t land any of the top free agents and have cash on hand to chase Lowry with a deal in the $10-12 million per year range.
Suitors: Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers10 of 10