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Seven NBA stars spearheading legendary 2021 free agency class

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency around the NBA was absolutely lit this this summer. Billions of dollars were spent. Multiple champions and MVPs switched teams. Super squads were built in Los Angeles and Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors saw their roster overhauled a great deal.

But if we were to fast forward two years, this summer’s free-agent class would pale in comparison. With record-setting revenue, the NBA will continue to see an increase in salaries.

That’s only going to add to free agency moving forward, including a 2021 class that might end up being the best in Association history. Here are the top-seven players set to hit the market that July.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

This reigning NBA MVP is playing out a mere four-year, $100 million contract he signed with the Milwaukee Bucks back in 2016. Coming off one of the best statistical seasons in recent league history, this is already a major bargain. Though, the Greek Freak will be paid, and paid a whole lot, very soon.

Antetokounmpo, 24, could sign a record-breaking super max extension next summer. He’ll be eligible with just one year remaining on his current deal. Said extension would call for 35 percent of the Bucks salary cap, totaling an estimated $247 million over five seasons. However, Giannis would be smart to let it play out until the following summer. It would increase the value of said contract by a whole lot.

LeBron James

A three-time champion, James inked a four-year, $153.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers last summer. It included a player option of $41 million for the 2021-22 campaign when James will be 36 years old. On the surface, one might think LeBron would exercise that option.

That’s until we realize that the market in 2021 is going to be inundated with options for the game’s best player. This includes a possibility of James returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers to finish out his career. Either way, the super max is expected to be around $45 million in 2021. That could net James one final huge pay day before he retires.

Paul George

The newest member of the Los Angeles Clippers, George returns home after forcing a trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder. That comes a mere year after he signed a max contract with Oklahoma City. At this point, we have no idea what George’s long-term plan is beyond his current contract. He’s not necessarily predictable.

What we do know is that George’s current deal calls for a $37.9 million player option for the 2021-22 campaign. An estimated $7 million more per season with long-term stability could be garnered if the MVP candidate were to opt out of said deal. Expect that to happen.

Kawhi Leonard

Many of the reports leading up to Leonard’s decision to join the Clippers suggested that he was not looking at a short-term deal. When Leonard’s contract was officially announced, it came in the form of a three-year deal with an opt out after two seasons. This puts Leonard squarely on the free-agent market for the summer of 2021.

Given that Leonard’s player option for 2021-22 is just $36 million, there’s a darn good chance he’ll opt out. If so, he could re-sign with the Clippers on a super-max deal assuming that the reigning NBA Finals MVP reaches certain thresholds. He could also earn a lot more than that $36 million from another team should the Clippers surprisingly struggle with Leonard and George teaming up.

C.J. McCollum

Having averaged 20-plus points each of the past four seasons, McCollum remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He’s also playing out a mere four-year, $106 million rookie extension the guard signed with Portland back in 2016.

It goes without saying that McCollum will look to cash in when he hits free agency for the first time in 2021. It’s going to be a dramatic pay raise from his current deal. And in reality, the rising star might decide to depart the Blazers. He’s seen as second fiddle to the face of the franchise, Damian Lillard.

Bradley Beal

The Washington Wizards have offered Beal a three-year, $111 million extension. That would be a dramatic pay raise from the $25.4 million annual salary the two-time All-Star is currently earning. However, Beal could very well decide to bet on himself and play out the final two years of his current deal.

This would enable the star shooting guard to hit free agency at the relatively young age of 28. Assuming Beal continues on his upward trajectory, this would equate to a $8-plus million annual pay raise from Washington’s current offer should Beal become eligible for a super-max deal. That’s also about $20 million more than he’s earning per season right now.

Rudy Gobert

Gobert is an interesting figure in that he’s a throw back to an earlier time in the Association when teams valued defensive-minded big men. They now favor those who can stretch the court on offense. That has not impacted The Stifle Tower as he continues to earn All-NBA and Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Currently playing under a mere four-year, $102 million deal, Gobert could very well decide to sign an extension with the Utah Jazz next summer. Though, his best bet would to be to hold out for a super-max contract in 2021 that would pay him an estimated $250 million over five seasons should Gobert continue to earn the above-mentioned All-NBA honors.