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#pounditTuesday, January 18, 2022

10 most intriguing NBA free agents

Kevin Durant

The 2018-2019 NBA season is in the books, and now free agency looms in the coming weeks. The class is absolutely loaded with talented players who could change the league. While there are obvious names, there are also some less visible players that have the opportunity to hit the open market and make a real impact, whether it’s by staying with their current team or seeking a new home. Much will revolve around the stars, but the market is deep, and there are a lot of exciting storylines to follow as teams look to chase down the Toronto Raptors to become the next NBA champion.

Here are ten free agents whose journeys this summer will be among the most intriguing.

10. Khris Middleton, F

Middleton has become an enormous part of the Milwaukee Bucks’ rise to the top of the Eastern Conference, but if they want to keep him, they’re going to have to pony up the cash. Middleton has hinted that he won’t give the Bucks a hometown discount, and his comments all but confirmed his intention to decline his player option. A premier three-and-D forward, he can help many teams, but his best fit may be Milwaukee — if they pay him.

9. Seth Curry, G

The other Curry brother did a lot for himself during the Portland Trail Blazers’ playoff run as he prepares for unrestricted free agency. He shot 40 percent from beyond the arc during the postseason, suggesting that he could be a very valuable cog for a team in need of some perimeter shooting. Curry isn’t a first-division player and he isn’t as elite or well-rounded as his brother, but he can definitely shoot, and in a shooter’s league, that has value.

8. Isaiah Thomas, G

It wasn’t all that long ago that Isaiah Thomas looked set to be a star for years to come. After two years of trouble with his hip, things have changed a lot, and Thomas is simply looking a re-establish himself as a top player as he embarks on unrestricted free agency once more. He was more or less a non-factor for the Denver Nuggets last season, and will be a huge enigma this offseason. What will the team that signs him be getting? There’s a big difference between Thomas the star point guard and Thomas the role player, even if there’s still value in the second one.

7. DeAndre Jordan, C

Jordan just isn’t quite the same player that he was with the Clippers, but there’s value in a guy who’s close to a guaranteed double-double over the course of a season. A sure bet to depart the New York Knicks as an unrestricted free agent, he isn’t the rim protector he once was, but he can still contribute. Jordan isn’t flashy, and this isn’t a signing that will excite fans like it once may have, but there could be some real value here for a team willing to take a shot.

6. Tobias Harris, F

Statistically, Harris wasn’t hugely better last season than he had been before, but it felt like a breakout campaign for the 26-year-old. His scoring numbers took a hit after he was traded to Philadelphia, but he grabbed more rebounds than ever before. As an unrestricted free agent entering his physical prime, he’ll be in very high demand, and he knows it. Is Harris a franchise player? He’ll certainly be paid like one, and the Sixers will want to keep him if at all possible.

5. DeMarcus Cousins, C

Cousins took a one-year deal with the Golden State Warriors in part to contend for a championship and in part to rebuild his value after a devastating injury. On point one, he succeeded. On point two, the jury is out. Cousins only played in 30 regular season games and suffered a quad injury in the opening round of the playoffs. Some may try to pin the “injury prone” label on him, but on the other, he was back much faster than anticipated. He showed weakness on defense but remains a top talent when healthy and the focal point of an offense. Whether he’ll find somewhere he can be the latter remains to be seen. A lot of question marks surround his free agency.

4. Klay Thompson, G

Not too long ago, Thompson probably would not have made this list because he simply would have been expected to re-sign with Golden State, ho hum. But then Thompson suffered a torn ACL in the final game of the season and now is facing the possibility of missing next season. Teams will still want him, but how much will they be willing to invest in a 29-year-old guard coming back from a torn ACL? The type of contract he gets, and from which team, becomes intriguing. There have been previous threats that Thompson could sign elsewhere if the Warriors didn’t offer him max money.

3. Kawhi Leonard, F

It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Leonard will decline his player option for next season and get a big payday in free agency. The question is who will give it to him. His time in Toronto has always felt like a one-year rental, but some Raptors fans will definitely be dreaming that, after a championship run, the city may have endeared itself to him enough that he’d consider staying. There have also been a lot of hints that he sees his future elsewhere, particularly his southern California home. Leonard has made the case during this playoff run that he’s a top-three NBA player. That alone makes his free agency an exciting one.

2. Kyrie Irving, G

A year ago, Irving told Boston Celtics fans not to worry about his future, giving a verbal commitment to stay with the organization. Nobody believes that now. The growing consensus is that Irving is more likely to exercise his player option with the intention of departing after a tumultuous season that saw his leadership capabilities scrutinized from all sides. He faced so many questions that it may be scaring off some suitors. Irving is still an immensely talented point guard, but there are questions about his ability to coexist with others and he has an injury history. He’ll still attract plenty of interest, but the mercurial guard could be likely to spring a surprise in the open market.

1. Kevin Durant, F

Durant was already the most intriguing free agent of the summer, and that was before his torn Achilles tendon added an extra layer to the matter. He has a player option he could exercise but he might not want to do that. For the first time since joining Golden State, it feels like he’s possibly more likely to leave Golden State than he is to stay. The way he rushed to play in Game 5 and had no restrictions before blowing out his Achilles may leave him with a bitter feeling towards the Warriors and like a change is necessary. Even though he’s set to miss all of next season, teams will likely still be willing to give him a max offer.


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