The first few days of the NBA's 2015 free agency period have proceeded at a breakneck pace, with several teams already having emerged as the biggest winners and losers of the offseason. However, while the San Antonio Spurs' acquisitions of LaMarcus Aldridge and David West and the minor splashes made by the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks will surely continue to stand out months from now, there are several notable players left on the market to set contenders, playoff squads, and lottery participants up for 2015-16.
Here are 13 of the most notable remaining free agents, all of whom could make impacts next season.
LeBron and the LeBron-Adjacent
LeBron James: Yes, the best player in the world is technically a free agent after having opted out of his contract in late June. While no one really expects him to leave the Cavaliers, the mere technical possibility has allowed James to exert a great deal of pressure on the franchise this offseason, and they have responded with several extensions that figure to add up to one of the heftiest luxury tax bills in league history. It's just one of the ways in which LeBron has taken on an unprecedented level of control for an active NBA player. It wouldn't be inaccurate to say he's one of Cleveland's lead decision-makers, even when he's technically not under contract.
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No matter long it takes, James will eventually sign with the Cavaliers on a max-level contract. The biggest question is how many seasons he wants, because it will define whether this same roster-reloading process plays out again and how soon he is able to cash in on the higher salary cap. The smart bet is on a very short deal, perhaps one that allows LeBron to opt out as early as next summer.
Tristan Thompson: It could be that the completion of Thompson's new contract is the only thing holding up the official announcement of LeBron's return. While ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst reported on July 1 that Thompson was set to rejoin the Cavs on a five-year, $80-million deal, negotiations hit an impasse soon after and have yet to been resolved. The offensive-rebounding machine is a restricted free agent and still very likely to come back to Cleveland at something approaching those numbers. Thompson and LeBron share an agent, Rich Paul, and it is almost certain that the franchise will not do anything to upset that relationship.
J.R. Smith: It appears that J.R. could be the odd Cav out. While Cleveland moved quickly to re-sign various role players to lucrative extensions, the inconsistent Smith, who opted out of his contract at the end of June, has not been a subject of many rumors and reports and does not seem to be a priority for the franchise. For all his talent and somewhat regular explosive shooting performances, Smith has never been a dependable player and may not be worth the trouble for a franchise that can add outside shooting via more stable veterans like Monday addition Mo Williams. An NBA Finals in which J.R.'s most valuable contribution involved riding a PhunkeeDuck did little to help his image. Then again, perhaps the Cavs are just assessing other options, such as Joe Johnson, before returning to Smith.
If the Cavs find additional shooting elsewhere, J.R. is most likely to settle for a short-term deal that allows him to prove his value on a playoff squad in need of extra scoring punch. Smith did himself few favors in the finals, but his performances in the conference semifinals and conference finals proved that he can help good teams. We just don't know which franchise will decide that the potential reward outweighs the risk.
Stuck in Restricted Free Agent Purgatory
Enes Kanter: Plenty of young big men have signed lucrative deals in the past week, but the Oklahoma City Thunder's trade-deadline acquisition has yet to see meaningful interest that would force the franchise to budge from a reported starting offer of $15.5 million per season. Frankly, OKC might be wise to adjust that number down if no one comes calling for the 23-year-old Turk. Although Kanter impressed with averages of 18.7 ppg and 11.0 rpg as a Thunderer, he has yet to play with Kevin Durant and might not be quite as valuable when the lineup has its full range of scoring options. For all his skills on the block, Kanter hasn't shown much value as a defender, which is likely to be a more valuable quality for a team structured around Durant and Russell Westbrook.
A long-term commitment to Kanter could hinder OKC more than it helps. They have little to lose by waiting out this process and seeing if Kanter agrees to sign a less lucrative contract.
Jason Terry: Although JET is set to turn 38 in September, the veteran guard looks committed to signing with playoff teams for as long as his body allows him. After a season in which injuries forced him into starting for the Houston Rockets in the West finals, Terry should be able to offer 15 or 20 reasonably effective minutes per night for a team in need of outside shooting. Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News has reported that the Mavericks have reached out to their old star, and that relationship could be a very nice way for Terry to finish out his career. Dallas desperately needs point guard help alongside new additions DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews.
Andre Miller: The Professor turns 40 in March and nonetheless appears primed to contribute some old mans to a team next season. Unlike Terry and other near-retirement vets, Miller has a shown a willingness to play for lottery teams and could benefit a squad looking to develop a young point guard. Few active players know the position as well as Miller, although he does not have much of a reputation as a locker-room positive.
Potentially Valuable 29-Year-Olds
Josh Smith: Smoove continues to be one of the worst shot selectors in the NBA, but he also proved fairly effective as a role player for the Rockets despite an organizational philosophy that encourages even the worst shooters to take three-pointers. With the Detroit Pistons still on the hook to pay serious cash after waiving him last December, Smith could be worth a near-minimum deal for a team who can tolerate frustrations for an infusion of playmaking and occasionally spectacular defense. The smart money says that the Rockets are his most likely employer. After his season-saving performance against the Los Angeles Clippers, they probably owe him as much.
Dorell Wright: Just four years removed from leading the NBA in both three-pointers made and attempted, Wright can help a team as a reserve shooter and wing in lineups that spread the floor. He did not average 15 minutes per game in either of his two seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers, but he shot 38 percent on threes in 2014-15 and should be able to help a team in need of depth.
Gerald Green: The 2013-14 Most Improved Player candidate dipped in form last season and shot just 41.6 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from deep, but he remains a hyperathletic wing and still posted an above-average 15.4 PER. His defense is not very impressive, which could limit his options to teams either in desperate need of willing scorers or fully committed to high-pace, offensive-minded attacks.
Useful Role Players
Jordan Hill: Though a target for mockery as reigning linchpin of the Lakers 29th-ranked defense, Hill can be a quality third big man or emergency center pickup for a crosstown rival in crisis mode. The Lakers probably wouldn't be the most motivated sign-and-trade partner for the Los Angeles Clippers, but Hill would fit as a defensive-minded big man who could keep an ostensible contender from being forced into every possible iteration of a smallball lineup. If it doesn't work out, then Hill should have no trouble catching on with some team, good or not, as a nightly contributor.
Jeremy Lin: The ever-popular Lin remains something of an oddity as a player who often thrives with the ball in his hands but usually struggles to contribute in other ways. Although he is not going to earn anything approaching his post-Linsanity salary with the Rockets, Lin looks set to join the in-need Mavericks on a sign-and-trade deal with the Lakers. Lin is probably best fit to serve as instant offense as off the bench, but he could also work well with DeAndre Jordan in the pick and roll.
Norris Cole: The two-time champion helped the New Orleans Pelicans as a spot-up shooter and backup point guard after coming over in a deadline deal, converting 37.8 of his three-pointers to salvage what looked like a horrible season with the Miami Heat. Cole will catch on somewhere as a reserve and be expected to provide the same. He's a known quantity at this point.
Austin Rivers: The Clippers have not shown much interest in retaining young Rivers, which should lead to some awkward moments at the next family dinner. Yet the mere fact that he contributed in several playoff games should help him latch on somewhere as a second-unit guard, even if his propensity for iffy shots and poor point guard skills limit his potential role.
Wayne Ellington: In a league that prizes three-pointers more than ever, a career 38.2 percent long-range shooter will find a role somewhere. Ellington would be a good fit with a playoff team but has made less than $10 million over his six-year career and may be inclined to take the most lucrative offer.
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