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 and hit the open market.
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 NBA free agents of 2021 with a positional break down at the end.
When does NBA free agency start?
With the 2021 NBA Draft having taken place on July 29, free agency will open up a few days later on August 2. That doesn’t mean trades and other stuff won’t have beforehand.
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. Unfortunately, Leonard just underwent surgery to repair a torn right ACL. There’s no telling when he’ll be back. With that said, there’s still going to be interest in his services should the two-time NBA Finals MVP opt out. Here’s a guy who averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists on 51% shooting from the field during the regular season.
Leonard has been linked to both the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat since Los Angeles was eliminated in the Western Conference Finals. Should he opt out, pretty much every contending team will show interest one way or another with a sign-and-trade being the most-likely outcome.
2. Chris Paul, guard, Phoenix Suns
In his first season with the Suns, Paul proved he can still play at an All-Star level and joined Devin Booker in leading the team to the NBA Finals. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be any reason the 36-year-old Paul would decline his $44.21 million option for the 2021-22 season.
Given his performance this past season and likely looking for one more multi-year deal, it’s now a foregone conclusion he’ll opt out. Recent reports suggest Paul will return to the Suns on a three-year deal worth $90-plus million.
3. 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 19.2 points and 8.5 rebounds on a resounding 57% 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 after Atlanta extended the restricted free agent a qualifying offer.
4. 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. There’s also a chance he takes a below-market deal to form a super team in Los Angeles. 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, having averaged north of 21 points and 6.9 assists on 49% shooting from the field last season.
5. Kyle Lowry, guard, Toronto Raptors
Bandied about as bait ahead of the NBA 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 averaged 17.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists on 40% shooting from distance this past regular season . If he doesn’t re-sign with Toronto, a sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat could make sense.
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 turned it around in 2020-21, earning his first ever All-Star Game appearance. The veteran shot a resounding 41% from three-point range during the regular season while averaging 16.2 points and 6.0 assists. It won’t add up to the $34.5 million he made last season, but Conley should get another lucrative contract as one of the top NBA free agents this summer.
7. 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 past season, averaging 14.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists on 38% shooting from distance. Some team will pay for that type of upside moving forward. Perhaps, that will be the Chicago Bulls.
8. 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. He went on to play all of four games with Miami before suffering a quadriceps injury. It’s now not known whether the All-Star guard will be available to start the 2021-22 campaign. This could force Oladipo into taking a mid-level exception during NBA free agency. His progress from returning will play a big role here. Look for a potential prove-it, one-year deal with a contending team.
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 averaged 13.2 points and 9.9 rebounds on 61% shooting in 51 games for the Cavaliers. The expectation here is that a rebuilding Cavaliers team will match any offer presented to the pending restricted free agent. Cleveland would love to retain Allen and team him up with rookie No. 3 pick Evan Mobley in the frontcourt.
10. Lauri Markkanen, forward, Chicago Bulls (Restricted)
Underrated. That’s the best way to describe this 24-year-old Finland native. After some struggles a season ago, Markkanen turned it around big time in 2020-21 and could be one of the NBA free agents to draw surprising interest. The stretch four averaged 13.6 points and 5.3 rebounds on a career-best 40% shooting from distance this past season. If the Bulls don’t match an offer presented to him, look for a sign-and-trade to be in the cards.
Top NBA free agents: 11-20
11. Norman Powell, guard, Portland Trail Blazers
Acquired by Portland from the Toronto Raptors, Powell declined 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 — his status as an impending free agent. Powell, 28, has morphed into a starter-caliber two-guard since being selected in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft. He averaged 18.6 points on 41% shooting from distance throughout the 2020-21 season. He’ll be one of the top NBA free agents this summer.
12. Kelly Oubre Jr., forward, Golden State Warriors
A legit three-and-D wing, Oubre plays exceptional defense. He 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 in a potential sign-and-trade.
13. Andre Drummond, center, Los Angeles Lakers
Having joined the Lakers on the NBA buyout market, Drummond performed pretty well in Los Angeles. The two-time NBA All-Star averaged 11.9 points and 10.2 rebounds on 53% shooting in 21 games. He’s not going to be a high-scoring center moving forward. It’s all about defense and rebounding. Right now, the odds don’t seem to favor Drummond returning to the Lakers on a team-friendly deal.
14. Spencer Dinwiddie, guard, Brooklyn Nets
Despite suffering a partially torn ACL and missing the entire 2020-21 season, Dinwiddie declined 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. Dinwiddie is open to returning to Brooklyn, but his asking price might prevent that.
15. Duncan Robinson, guard, Miami Heat (Restricted)
Update: Re-signed with the Miami Heat
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 27, he’s going to get a huge offer once the wing hits the restricted NBA free agent market with the New York Knicks showing initial interest.
16. 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. With that said, Ibaka’s market will be dictated by how he recovers from back surgery that cost him the entire playoffs.
17. Evan Fournier, guard, Boston Celtics
After struggles with the Celtics following a midseason trade from Orlando, 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. It’s not yet known whether new Celtics president Brad Stevens has any urge to re-sign Fournier. Remember, he was acquired by the recently retired Danny Ainge.
18. Gary Trent Jr., guard, Toronto Raptors (Restricted)
Update: Re-signed with the Toronto Raptors
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 averaged 15.3 points on 39% shooting from three-point range last season. If not the Raptors, some team will pay out of the back side to bring in this type of untapped potential.
19. 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 then turned in a miserable performance in Los Angeles first-round playoff exit against the Phoenix Suns, shooting just 40% from the field in six games. Schroder will now be calling another NBA city home after the Lakers’ blockbuster acquisition of Russell Westbrook.
Potential value NBA signings
20. Will Barton, guard, Denver Nuggets
Update: Re-signed with the Denver Nuggets
Barton just recently opted out of his contract for the 2021-22 season, making him a free agent. It’s now an open question what his market would look like. 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.
21. 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 highly of him. Joining the Lakers’ rotation this past season, he averaged 9.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.6 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?
22. Tim Hardaway Jr., guard, Dallas Mavericks
Update: Re-signed with the 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. He averaged 16.6 points on 39% shooting from distance during the regular season before pushing that scoring average to 17 points per during a first-round playoff loss to the Clippers. He’s one of the most-intriguing NBA free agents of the cycle.
23. Richaun Holmes, center, Sacramento Kings
Update: Re-signed with the Sacramento Kings
Holmes is an interesting case study in that he entered the NBA as a second-round pick of the 76ers back in 2015 and took some time to become a rotational player. Since then, he’s turned into one heck of a starting option. Last season alone with the Kings, Holmes averaged 14.2 points and 8.3 rebounds on a jaw-dropping 64% shooting from the field. He’ll have a strong market.
24. Dwight Howard, center, Philadelphia 76ers
While Howard is no longer the player he was years back, he can still provide a veteran service for a contending team. Last season with Philadelphia, the 35-year-old eight-time All-Star averaged 7.0 points and 8.4 rebounds on 59% shooting in a mere 17.3 minutes per game. Look for teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors to come calling.
25. Derrick Rose, guard, New York Knicks
Update: Re-signed with the New York Knicks
What a turnaround it has been for Rose since his injury-plagued latter years in Chicago. The former NBA MVP isn’t the same pre-injury player he was, but he still provides a ton off the bench. After being acquired from the Detroit Pistons in a mid-season trade, Rose went on to average 14.9 points and 4.2 assists on 49% shooting for New York. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Knicks, some contending team will come calling.
Other top NBA free agents by position
- Patrick Mills, San Antonio Spurs (signed with the Brooklyn Nets)
- T.J. McConnell, Indiana Pacers (re-signed with Indiana Pacers)
- Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets (acquired by New Orleans Pelicans)
- Ish Smith, Washington Wizards (signed with the Charlotte Hornets)
- Lou Williams, Atlanta Hawks
- Danny Green, Philadelphia 76ers
- Alec Burks, New York Knicks (Re-signed with New York Knicks)
- Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets (signed with the Los Angeles Lakers)
- Alex Caruso, Los Angeles Lakers (signed with the Chicago Bulls)
- Josh Hart, New Orleans Pelicans (restricted)
- Trevor Ariza, Miami Heat (signed with the Los Angeles Lakers)
- Carmelo Anthony, Portland Trail Blazers (signed with the Los Angeles Lakers)
- Andre Iguodala, Miami Heat
- Otto Porter Jr., Orlando Magic (signed with the Golden State Warriors)
- Kent Bazemore, Golden State Warriors (signed with the Los Angeles Lakers)
- Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets
- P.J. Tucker, Milwaukee Bucks (signed with the Miami Heat)
- Blake Griffin, Brooklyn Nets (re-signed with the Brooklyn Nets)
- Taj Gibson, New York Knicks
- Markieff Morris, Los Angeles Lakers (signed with the Miami Heat)
- Zach Collins, Portland Trail Blazers (signed with the San Antonio Spurs)
- Boban Marjanovic, Dallas Mavericks (re-signed with Dallas Mavericks)
- Daniel Theis, Chicago Bulls (signed with Houston Rockets)
- Hassan Whiteside, Sacramento Kings
- DeMarcus Cousins, Los Angeles Clippers
- JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets (signed with the Phoenix Suns)