Unlike last offseason, we’re going to see a ton of top end NBA free agents in 2021. Players like future Hall of Famers Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul will likely opt out of their contracts.
Meanwhile, there’s a large amount of talented youngsters set to become restricted free agents. That list includes Atlanta Hawks big man John Collins and Lonzo Ball of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Below, we look at the top 25 NBA free agents of 2021.
When does NBA free agency start?
We don’t necessarily have a firm grasp on this due to the delayed nature of the 2020-21 season brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. What we do know is that the 2021 NBA Draft is slated to take place on July 29. If that is indeed the case, we can expect NBA free agency to start the week after.
Who are the top-five NBA free agents of 2021?
We’re going to include those set to hit the restricted free agent market as well as individuals who have player options. For the most part, each one of these potential franchise-altering players will find a market this coming summer. Whether via sign-and-trade or teams using room under the 2021 NBA salary cap, expect a lot of movement.
1. Kawhi Leonard, forward, Los Angeles Clippers (Player option)
If Leonard decides to opt out of his $36.02 million salary for next season, he will obviously be the top player set to hit NBA free agency. A lot of this will depend on how the Clippers do in the playoffs after they were prematurely eliminated from the postseason in Leonard’s first season with the team.
To say that the 29-year-old Leonard will have his options on the open market would be an understatement. Here’s a guy who is averaging 26.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists while playing elite-level defense since the start of the 2018-19 season. If he were to look at joining another contending team, a sign-and-trade would likely have to be in the cards.
2. John Collins, forward, Atlanta Hawks (Restricted)
Still only 23 years old, there was talk of Atlanta moving Collins ahead of the in-season NBA trade deadline. That never came to fruition. It should lead to a huge sweepstakes as he becomes one of the top available NBA free agents this coming summer.
A first-round pick from Wake Forest in 2017, Collins is averaging 19.7 points and 9.3 rebounds on a resounding 56% shooting from the field since the start of his sophomore campaign back in 2018-19. He’s likely looking at a rookie-level max contract on the open market. If the Hawks don’t decide to match, they’ll attempt to pull off a sign-and-trade. That’s going to be a theme this summer.
3. Chris Paul, guard, Phoenix Suns (Player option)
At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be any reason the 35-year-old Paul would decline his $44.21 million option for the 2021-22 season. Among expensive NBA contracts, his was seen as an albatross before the Phoenix Suns traded for the future Hall of Famer.
That’s no longer the case. Paul continues to play at an All-Star level and has joined Devin Booker in leading the Suns into legit championship contention. He’s also still averaging 16 points and north of eight assists on 48% shooting from the field. It might make sense for Paul to look for one final long-term deal, a contract that would undoubtedly pay him $30-plus million annually. Perhaps, he will finally join LeBron James with the Los Angeles Lakers. Who knows?
4. Victor Oladipo, guard, Miami Heat
The Oladipo situation is complicated by the fact that he was acquired by Miami from the disastrous Houston Rockets on the cheap at the NBA trade deadline. Heading into the deadline, most figured Houston could get something for a player who acted the part of the centerpiece heading back to Texas in the James Harden blockbuster. It did not happen.
The question here is whether Oladipo will even hit the open market. He has been linked to these Heat for some time now. Pat Riley and Co. did not acquire him as some sort of a rental. However, another Eastern Conference team in the New York Knicks could also be interested. What does this all mean? Well, Oladipo will be highly coveted should he hit NBA free agency.
5. Kyle Lowry, guard, Toronto Raptors
Bandied about as bait ahead of the trade deadline, it was surprising to see Lowry stick with the Raptors. Whether that’s the case this coming summer remains to be seen. What we know is that he’s still a top-flight point guard in the NBA. The six-time All-Star entered April’s action averaging 17.0 points and 7.3 assists on 39% shooting from distance. If he doesn’t re-sign with Toronto, some team will give Lowry roughly $30 million annually on a shorter-term deal. The only hiccup here is his advanced age of 35.
Underrated 2021 NBA free agents
6. Mike Conley, guard, Utah Jazz
Vastly underrated throughout most of his career, Conley struggled in his first season with Utah. He’s turned it around in 2020-21, earning his first ever All-Star Game appearance. The veteran is shooting a resounding 42% from distance while running a team that boasts the best record in the Association. It won’t add up to the $34.5 million he making this season, but Conley should get another lucrative contract once NBA free agency opens this summer.
7. DeMar DeRozan, guard, San Antonio Spurs
NBA free agency rumors will link DeRozan to his hometown Lakers. That’s especially true if the Lakers and Spurs are able to work out a sign-and-trade. In reality, it could be the best for both sides. What we do know is that DeRozan continues to play at a high level. He’s still among the best wings in the game, averaging north of 20 points and seven assists on 49% shooting from the field. If DeRozan were to chase the bucks, a max contract wouldn’t be out of the equation.
8. Lonzo Ball, guard, New Orleans Pelicans (Restricted)
Ball was subjected to numerous rumors leading up to the NBA trade deadline. New Orleans opted to keep him despite the fact that the former No. 2 pick is going to demand north of $20 million annually as a restricted free agent. Whether he returns remains to be seen. The 23-year-old Ball has upped his game this season, averaging 14.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists on 39% shooting from distance. Some team will pay for that type of upside moving forward.
9. Jarrett Allen, center, Cleveland Cavaliers (Restricted)
Potentially one of the most-underrated NBA free agents of the cycle, Allen was acquired from Brooklyn in the four-team James Harden blockbuster. He’s averaging a near double-double with Cleveland since that trade and is a career 61% shooter from the field. Add in plus-level defense and the ability to rim protect, and he could receive a lucrative offer on the restricted market.
Top NBA free agents: 11-20
10. Andre Drummond, center, Los Angeles Lakers
Having just recently joined the Lakers after a buyout from Cleveland, Drummond has an opportunity to up his worth as one of the top NBA free agents this summer. Since the start of the 2018-19 season, he’s averaging 17.5 points and a league-high 15.1 rebounds. Those stats come with some major issues on defense and the lack of a perimeter game on offense. It remains to be seen how much he’ll be valued once the summer comes calling.
11. Lauri Markkanen, forward, Chicago Bulls (Restricted)
Underrated. That’s the best way to describe this 23-year-old Finland native. After some struggles a season ago, Markkanen has turned it around big time and could be one of the NBA free agents to draw surprising interest. The stretch four is averaging 17.2 points and 5.8 rebounds on 39% shooting from three-point range this season. Subjected to trade rumors, it remains to be seen if Chicago will match lucrative offers for him.
12. Norman Powell, guard, Portland Trail Blazers (Player option)
Acquired by Portland from the Toronto Raptors, there’s every reason to believe that Powell will decline the mere $11.62 million option on his contract for next season. It’s one of the reasons Toronto opted to move the ascending wing. Powell, 27, has morphed into a starter-caliber two-guard since being selected in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft. He’s averaging nearly 20 points and shooting 45% from distance this season. He’s going to be among the most highly-sought after NBA free agents in the second tier.
13. Kelly Oubre Jr., forward, Golden State Warriors
A legit three-and-D wing, Oubre plays exceptional defense. He’s stopped the likes of Kawhi Leonard in their tracks throughout his first season with the Warriors. Despite Golden State taking offers for the 25-year-old forward, there’s a chance that he returns to the team once free agency opens. We’re talking about a dude who can average 20 points and six boards per game while shooting 40% from distance. If the Warriors push back against a big contract, other teams will come calling.
14. Spencer Dinwiddie, guard, Brooklyn Nets (Player option)
Despite suffering a partially torn ACL and missing the entire 2020-21 season, Dinwiddie is expected to decline the $12.30 million option on his contract for next season. It’s one of the primary reasons other teams pushed back against dealing for him ahead of the NBA trade deadline. What we do know is that he’ll be coveted on the open market. The 28-year-old point guard averaged 20.6 points and 6.8 assists for the Nets in 2019-20, leading them to the playoffs despite being without Kevin Durant and missing Kyrie Irving for a majority of the campaign.
15. Duncan Robinson, guard, Miami Heat (Restricted)
An undrafted free agent back in 2018, Robinson has morphed into one of the most lethal catch-and-shoot three-point artists in the NBA today. Since the start of the 2019-20 season, the Michigan product is hitting on an astounding 43% from distance while averaging nearly four three-pointers per game. We know how much value that brings in today’s basketball landscape. Still only 26, he’s going to get a huge offer once the wing hits the restricted NBA free agent market.
16. Dennis Schroder, guard, Los Angeles Lakers
Potentially one of the most-overrated NBA free agents set to hit the market, Schroder just turned down a four-year, $84.4 million extension offer from the Lakers after they acquired him in an offseason trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s shooting just 44% from the field and a disastrous 32% from distance. Despite this, some team will come calling with a huge payday for a veteran who is more than capable of averaging 20 from the point guard position.
17. Serge Ibaka, forward, Los Angeles Clippers (Player option)
One of the most-underrated bigs in the game, Ibaka surprised everyone by signing a mere two-year, $18.98 million deal with Los Angeles in free agency last offseason. He’s now more than likely going to opt out of said contract and hit a more robust market for his services this summer. Over the course of the past decade, Ibaka is averaging 13.4 points and 7.5 rebounds. He has also extended his game to the three-point line and has turned into a plus-level defender.
18. Evan Fournier, guard, Boston Celtics
Initial struggles with the Celtics after a midseason trade from Orlando notwithstanding, Fournier still offers a ton of value for teams as one of the most consistent NBA free agents set to hit the market. The 28-year-old wing is averaging 16.8 points on 38% shooting from distance since the start of the 2015-16 season.
19. Gary Trent Jr., guard, Toronto Raptors (Restricted)
It was somewhat surprising to see the Blazers give up Trent Jr. in the Norman Powell deal ahead of the NBA trade deadline. A second-round pick from Duke back in 2018, he’s turned into a starter-caliber wing and a lethal three-point shooter. In fact, the 22-year-old Trent is averaging 14.6 points on 39% shooting this season. If not the Raptors, some team will pay out of the back side to bring in this type of untapped potential.
Potential value NBA signings
20. LaMarcus Aldridge, forward, Brooklyn Nets
Recently signed by Brooklyn after a buyout from the Spurs, there’s no question that Aldridge isn’t the same player as the seven-time All-Star we saw earlier in his career. He can still add some value to contending teams out there. In fact, the big man has expanded his game to the three-point line in recent seasons. That’s no small thing for someone who has seen his overall skillset take a major hit at the ripe age of 35.
21. Montrezl Harrell, forward, Los Angeles Lakers
Defense. Defense. Defense. That’s been the biggest knock on Harrell since he started getting play as an elite-level scoring option off the bench. The NBA Sixth Man of the Year back in 2019-20 will likely opt out of his contract and his free agency during the summer. Averaging 16.9 points and 6.8 rebounds on 61% shooting since the start of the 2018-19 season, some team will be willing to pay him despite those issues on defense.
22. Goran Dragic, guard, Miami Heat (Team option)
How long has Dragic been around? He was teammates with Grant Hill, Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal as a rookie with the Phoenix Suns back in 2008-09. What’s even crazier is the fact that he continues to play at a high level. The 34-year-old guard will likely hit free agency with Miami looking to free up $19.4 million in cap room by declining his 2021-22 option. If so, he could be a solid add for another contending team.
23. Will Barton, guard, Denver Nuggets (Player option)
It’s unknown whether Barton will decline the $12.8 million option on his contract for next season. He’s 30-years-old and might want one more long-term deal to max out his earnings. What we do know is that he is still a solid all-around player at this point in his career. Since the start of the 2015-16 season, the wing is averaging 14.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists while playing solid defense.
24. Talen Horton-Tucker, guard, Los Angeles Lakers (Restricted)
The Lakers are going to be in an interesting position when it comes to this 20-year-old former second-round pick from Iowa State. Horton-Tucker is seen as an ascending talent and a potential starting wing moving forward. In fact, LeBron James continues to speak high of him. Joining the Lakers’ rotation this season, he’s averaging 8.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in limited action. Will some team come calling for the upside? If so, are the Lakers able to match a lucrative offer for one of the most interesting NBA free agents of the cycle?
25. Tim Hardaway Jr., guard, Dallas Mavericks
A former first-round pick out of Michigan, the 29-year-old Hardaway Jr. has morphed into a legit scoring threat from the two-guard position. Thus far this season, he’s averaging 16.6 points on 40% shooting from distance. He can be a stopgap option at the off-ball guard position or an elite Sixth Man option moving forward. However, Hardaway Jr. is not going to earn anywhere near the $18.9 million he’s making on his current deal once NBA free agency opens.