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Top NBA free agents of 2021: Kawhi, Chris Paul top list

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 is slated to take 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)

2021 NBA free agents: Kawhi Leonard
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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 (Player option)

2021 NBA free agents: Chris Paul
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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. Look for a return to the Suns to be an extreme likelihood. If not, the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers are seemingly attractive options here.

3. John Collins, forward, Atlanta Hawks (Restricted)

2021 NBA free agents: John Collins
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

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 and has seen his market increase after helping lead Atlanta to the Eastern Conference Finals.

4. DeMar DeRozan, guard, San Antonio Spurs

2021 NBA free agents: DeMar DeRozan
Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

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, having averaged north of 21 points and 6.9 assists on 49% shooting from the field last season. The Los Angeles Lakers are seemingly an option in a sign-and-trade with San Antonio.

5. Kyle Lowry, guard, Toronto Raptors

2021 NBA free agents: Kyle Lowry
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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, 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

2021 NBA free agents: Mike Conley
Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

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)

2021 NBA free agents: Lonzo Ball
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

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 New York Knicks or a return to Los Angeles with the Lakers.

8. Victor Oladipo, guard, Miami Heat

2021 NBA free agents: Victor Oladipo
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

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)

2021 NBA free agents: Jarrett Allen
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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. Of course, that’s dependent on what Cleveland does with the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

10. Lauri Markkanen, forward, Chicago Bulls (Restricted)

2021 NBA free agents: Lauri Markkanen
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

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

2021 NBA free agents: Normal Powell
Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

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

2021 NBA free agents: Kelly Oubre Jr.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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

2021 NBA free agents: Andre Drummond
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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

2021 NBA free agents: Spencer Dinwiddie
NBA: Chicago Bulls at 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)

2021 NBA free agents: Duncan Robinson
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

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)

2021 NBA free agents: Serge Ibaka
NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Clippers

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

2021 NBA free agents: Evan Fournier
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

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)

2021 NBA free agents: Gary Trent Jr.
Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

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

2021 NBA free agents: Dennis Schroder
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

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. It remains to be seen if the point guard will be back with the Lakers next season. That idea is not looking too good right now given Schroder’s reported asking price.

Potential value NBA signings

20. Montrezl Harrell, forward, Los Angeles Lakers (Player option)

2021 NBA free agents: Montrezl Harrell
NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Oklahoma City Thunder

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 hit 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.

21. Goran Dragic, guard, Miami Heat (Team option)

2021 NBA free agents: Goran Dragic
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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 35-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.

22. Will Barton, guard, Denver Nuggets

2021 NBA free agents: Will Barton
NBA: Utah Jazz at 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.

23. Talen Horton-Tucker, guard, Los Angeles Lakers (Restricted)

2021 NBA free agents: Talen Horton-Tucker
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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?

24. Tim Hardaway Jr., guard, Dallas Mavericks

Tim Hardaway Jr NBA free agents
Jan 30, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Tim Hardaway Jr. (11) in action during the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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.

25. Richaun Holmes, center, Sacramento Kings

NBA free agents: Richaun Holmes
Mar 22, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center JaVale McGee (6) knocks the ball away from Sacramento Kings center Richaun Holmes (left) in the first quarter at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Other top NBA free agents by position

NBA free agents: Derrick Rose
Feb 28, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose (4) dribbles the ball during the first quarter against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Point guard

  1. Derrick Rose, New York Knicks
  2. Patrick Mills, San Antonio Spurs
  3. T.J. McConnell, Indiana Pacers
  4. Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets (restricted)
  5. Ish Smith, Washington Wizards

Shooting guard

  1. Lou Williams, Atlanta Hawks
  2. Josh Richardson, Dallas Mavericks (player option)
  3. Danny Green, Philadelphia 76ers
  4. Alex Burks, New York Knicks
  5. Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets
  6. Alex Caruso, Los Angeles Lakers
  7. Josh Hart, New Orleans Pelicans (restricted)

Small forward

  1. Trevor Ariza, Miami Heat
  2. Carmelo Anthony, Portland Trail Blazers
  3. Andre Iguodala, Miami Heat
  4. Otto Porter Jr., Orlando Magic
  5. Kent Bazemore, Golden State Warriors
  6. Derrick Jones Jr., Portland Trail Blazers (player option)

Power forward

  1. Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets
  2. P.J. Tucker, Milwaukee Bucks
  3. Blake Griffin, Brooklyn Nets
  4. Taj Gibson, New York Knicks
  5. Markieff Morris, Los Angeles Lakers

Center

  1. Dwight Howard, Philadelphia 76ers
  2. Zach Collins, Portland Trail Blazers (restricted)
  3. Boban Marjanovic, Dallas Mavericks
  4. Daniel Theis, Chicago Bulls
  5. Hassan Whiteside, Sacramento Kings
  6. DeMarcus Cousins, Los Angeles Clippers
  7. JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets