The 2017-2018 season has officially concluded, and free agency is now less than a month away. Teams will be able to start contacting available free agents beginning at 12:01 a.m. on July 1st and players can officially sign new contracts on July 6th.
In preparation, we will be rolling out rankings for the top ten players at each position over the next couple of weeks.
First up, we have the point guards:
1. Chris Paul - Houston Rockets:
Heading into the 2017-18 season, there was some concern about how Paul will fit in alongside James Harden in the up-tempo, 3-point heavy Houston offense. Well, those concerns were put to rest early on, as the Paul and the Rockets racked up a league-best 65 wins during the regular season. In fact, Houston was 42-3 when Clint Capela, James Harden, and CP3 played together. Paul averaged at least 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds per game in fewer than 32 minutes for the second straight season. No other player in league history has done that even once. So, it’s a no-brainer for the Rockets to max him out and lock him up long-term, right? Well, here’s where it gets tricky. Paul is eligible to sign a five-year deal $205 million contract with Houston. The starting salary would be $35.4 million. In the final year of the deal (2022-23), Paul would be earning north of $46 million at age 37.
Here's what a full max contract offer to CP3 from Houston would look like:
2018-19: $35.4 million
2019-20: $38.2 million
2020-21: $41.0 million
2021-22: $43.8 million
2022-23: $46.7 million
That’s an enormous financial commitment for a player that has been injury prone and had to watch Games 6 and 7 from the sideline due to a hamstring strain. If Houston offers more than $30 million annually, but for less than five seasons, will that be enough to keep CP3 in H-Town?
2. Isaiah Thomas - Los Angeles Lakers:
Had Thomas hit free agency at the end of the 2016-2017 regular season (when he finished in the top-5 in MVP voting, and joined John Havlicek and Larry Bird as the only players in Celtics Franchise history to average over 28 points and five assists per game) he would have finally cashed in on the monster payday that was long overdue. Instead, IT has seen those visions of a max contract go up in smoke. Thomas’ 2017-18 campaign was an unmitigated nightmare. Despite playing through a debilitating hip injury, IT opted not to have surgery. After Boston GM Danny Ainge dealt him to Cleveland, Thomas missed the first two months of the season and was clearly nowhere close to 100 percent when he finally made his Cavs debut. After a string of underwhelming performances, Cleveland shipped him off to the Lakers. Eventually, it was determined that Thomas did, in fact, need surgery on the torn labrum in his right hip. He’s now recovering and expects to be ready for the start of next season, but his league-wide appeal has been diminished dramatically.
3. Rajon Rondo - New Orleans Pelicans:
Rondo led the NBA in assists (11.7 dimes per game) in 2015-16 during his lone season in Sacramento. It was assumed he’d be able to parlay that production into a fat contract the following summer. Instead, Rondo had to settle for a deal from Chicago that included only one fully-guaranteed season. After some ups and downs with the Bulls early on, he again proved his worth over the second half of that season and into the playoffs. Yet, once again, Rondo surprisingly had to settle for a one-year pact last summer at near the league-minimum with New Orleans. He exceeded expectations in the "Big Easy," as he was one of just five players in the league to average at least eight points, eight assists and four boards in 2017-18. Considering how well he fit in well with the Pels, it’s safe to assume they’d prefer to re-sign him. However, if they end up bringing back DeMarcus Cousins at max (or near-max) money, they may not be able to offer Rondo fair market value.
4. Fred VanVleet - Toronto Raptors (restricted):
VanVleet doesn’t have elite pedigree (he went undrafted out of Wichita State), nor has he posted jaw-dropping numbers, but VanVleet emerged this past season as remarkably reliable and productive point guard, especially in crunch time. Steady Freddy averaged just 20 minutes per game for the Raptors, but logged a total of 667 minutes in the fourth quarter, which lead the team. His 275 fourth-quarter points were second only to DeMar DeRozan, and he led the Raps in fourth-quarter assists. VanVleet is a restricted free agent, which means Toronto can match any offer he receives this summer. He has stated his preference would be to stay put. ("I’m going to be loyal to the organization that gave me a chance and I love the city of Toronto, I love the fans, I love the people here, and I would love to be back." said VanVleet. "So hopefully it can work out.") However, the Raps organization has been very hesitant to exceed the luxury tax threshold in the past, and matching a significant offer to VanVleet might push them over the line.
5. Elfrid Payton - Phoenix Suns (restricted):
When the Magic drafted Payton with the 10th overall pick in the 2014 draft, they knew he was raw offensively, but hoped he would emerge as a top-tier defender. As a junior at Louisiana-Lafayette in 2013-14, Payton won the Lefty Driesell Award, given to the top defensive player in the NCAA. However, Payton’s offensive game is still a work in progress, and he has yet to deliver on his defensive potential. Prior to the trade that sent him to Phoenix at the deadline, Elf had the worst Defensive Rating among all Orlando rotation players, with the Magic allowing 113.6 points per 100 possessions while he was on the floor. Payton does find ways to contribute (he is Orlando’s franchise record-holder in triple-doubles with eight), but is also woefully inefficient. For his career, he has shot just 45.7 percent from the floor, 29.8 percent from 3-point range and 61.9 percent from the free-throw stripe. (It should be noted that Elf cut his hair last month, so his shot will now be shot unencumbered!) If the Suns want to clear cap space this summer, they have the option of renouncing Payton’s rights by not extending a qualifying offer of $4.5 million. That would take his $10 million cap hold off their books.
6. Milos Teodosic - Los Angeles Clippers (player option):
Teodosic’s NBA debut was eagerly anticipated last season, as he had been voted the best international player not in the NBA by the league’s GM’s in 2016. However, he injured the plantar fascia in left foot during his second career game and was hobbled by the nagging injury for the majority of the season. He appeared in 45 games and averaged 9.5 points and 4.6 assists in 25.2 minutes, before re-aggravating the plantar fascia injury in late March, which shut him down for the season. Teodosic has a $6.3 million player option for 2018-19.
7. Cory Joseph - Indiana Pacers (player option):
Joseph has a $7.9 million player option on his contract for the 2018-19 season. Although it has not yet been officially announced, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reported that CoJo will exercise that option. Assuming this is a done deal, we can scratch Joseph off our list, as he’ll remain in Indiana for at least one more season.
8. Dante Exum - Utah Jazz (restricted):
Exum is a hard player to peg, considering his limited body of work. Despite being drafted back in 2014, Exum has appeared in just 162 career games. Over the past three seasons, he’s played in 80 out of a possible 246 contests. Nonetheless, the same qualities that resulted in him being drafted fifth overall as a teenager in 2014, will have plenty of GM’s willing to take a flier on him this summer. After being sidelined for the first five months of the 2017-18 campaign, Exum returned to action in mid-March and showed intermittent flashes of his intriguing combination of length, athleticism and skill. It will be interesting to see if teams are willing to offer multi-year deals.
9. Shabazz Napier - Portland Trail Blazers (restricted):
Napier was finally given an extended opportunity to prove himself as an NBA rotation player this past season, and did just that. He averaged career-highs in points (8.7), rebounds (2.3), steals (1.1), 3-pointers (1.1) and minutes (20.7). Teams looking for a backup point guard with some upside will kick the tires on Napier this offseason.
10. Derrick Rose - Minnesota Timberwolves:
In the middle of last season, it appears Rose was approaching the end of a career that was once incredibly promising. He had fallen out of the rotation in Cleveland before being dealt to the Jazz, who promptly waived him. However, former coach Tom Thibodeau scooped him up in Minnesota and surprisingly played him significant minutes in the postseason. Just as remarkably, Rose rewarded his coach's faith, averaging 14.2 points, while shooting over 50 percent from the floor, for the Wolves in their first-round series vs. Houston. Rose is still a sieve on the defensive end, but he’s shown he can provide an offensive spark off the bench.
Best of the Rest:
* Tony Parker - San Antonio Spurs
* Yogi Ferrell - Dallas Mavericks (restricted)
* Devin Harris - Denver Nuggets
* Ty Lawson - Washington Wizards
* Jarrett Jack - New York Knicks
* Shane Larkin - Boston Celtics