NBA free agency 2018: LeBron, Durant lead top wings who could hit the market

LeBron James and Kevin Durant will be in line for even bigger paydays again next summer. (Getty Images)

The first week of NBA free agency in 2017 was insane. Mad. Dizzying. Crazy. Right?

It’s been OK. But it’s nothing compared to what we could have on our hands in 2018.

With the majority of notable 2017 free agents off the board, it’s time to peek ahead to the NBA free agent class of 2018, which could be full of stars and superstars alike. Some will be expected to return to their incumbent teams, or opt into the final years of their contracts. Some are restricted free agents. But many will hit the open market, which could make for the wildest summer of player movement in some time.

Over the coming week, we’ll be taking a look at the prospective 2018 class. Monday was for the point guards; Tuesday is for the wings; Wednesday is for the bigs; and Thursday will be for the top 50 overall. Without further ado …

TOP 22 FREE AGENT WINGS IN 2018

Key: ^ = player option * = restricted free agent ** = team option

1. LeBron James^
Current team: Cleveland Cavaliers | Age on July 1, 2018: 33 | 2017-18 salary: $33.3 million

The best player in the world now looks a legitimate threat to leave Cleveland for the second time. To an outsider, LeBron’s relationship with the Cavs likely seemed healthy through this June’s third-straight trip to the NBA Finals. However, his negative reaction to owner Dan Gilbert’s decision not to retain general manager David Griffin and his decision not to recruit free agents this summer indicate that the franchise still has to win him over if he’s to sign a new deal. Suddenly, the Cavs’ long-term status as the East’s favorite looks in serious doubt.

It’s unclear how many teams will have the cap room to add James on what could be a record contract. The Los Angeles Lakers appear ready to swing for the fences, but rumors and reports do not add up to a legendary talent moving to a team without a star currently on the roster. However, a lot can happen between now and next July. The mere possibility of a potential G.O.A.T. changing teams could cause many executives to move heaven and earth to open up the necessary cap room. A player of this magnitude only becomes available so often. Eric Freeman

2. Kevin Durant^
Current team: Golden State Warriors | Age on July 1, 2018: 29 | 2017-18 salary: $25 million

It would take a vast change of fortune for the reigning NBA Finals MVP to leave the Warriors. KD just changed teams a year ago and has appeared committed to winning as many titles as possible with Golden State. For that matter, his decision to take less money this summer to allow the franchise to bring back Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston and add Nick Young is not something a person does right before switching sides.

Still, Durant’s 2018 offseason will be important to both him and the Warriors. He could decide to take less than his maximum salary again. Or he could opt for a new five-year mega-deal that would push the Warriors well past the luxury tax threshold right when they face the league’s punitive repeater tax. Owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber will pay whatever it takes to keep one of the best players of this generation, but even a team that prints money has limits. The latter option could force the league’s top team into difficult choices in the future. — EF

3. Paul George^
Current team: Oklahoma City Thunder | Age on July 1, 2018: 28 | 2017-18 salary: $19.5 million

No star currently seems as likely to move next offseason as does George. The Indiana Pacers traded the face of their franchise in large part because he told them he intended to leave in 2018, and playing alongside fellow Los Angeles native Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City may not be enough to change his mind. If George wants to play for the Lakers — a desire he now claims has been overstated, but that has been loudly discussed for quite some time — then a year in the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture won’t be enough to change his mind. He’ll leave, and maybe convince one or two of his famous friends to join him.

But Thunder GM Sam Presti traded for George with the knowledge that such plans sometimes change. OKC may seem like a temporary home for George now, but Kevin Love was once said to prefer the Lakers or Knicks and ended up in Cleveland for the long haul. Maybe Westbrook will convince George that Oklahoma living has plenty of positives to offer. Maybe the Lakers will experience another dysfunctional season that turns off top-level talent. Maybe the Thunder will exceed expectations and emerge as the most likely challenger to the Warriors. None of these seems out of the realm of possibility. — EF

Is Carmelo Anthony pointing toward a Madison Square Garden exit? (AP)

4. Carmelo Anthony^
Current team: New York Knicks | Age on July 1, 2018: 34 | 2017-18 salary: $26.2 million

It remains to be seen if Melo and the Knicks can reach an agreement on a deal that convinces him to waive his no-trade clause. That process figures to be easier with the deposed Phil Jackson out of the picture, but Anthony enjoys New York, and his preferred destinations do not necessarily have the assets to offer the Knicks anything but the opportunity to dump salary. A trade makes sense, but it’s by no means assured.

The Knicks had better hope it happens, though, because the Melo situation could get much more complicated next summer. Anthony can opt in for a 2018-19 salary in excess of $29 million, and it’s possible that he’ll consider that more worthwhile than taking significantly less money to join up with a friend on a contender that looks unlikely to beat the Warriors in a seven-game series. Maybe this player and this team are doomed to stay together until the end of time. — EF

5. Andrew Wiggins*
Current team: Minnesota Timberwolves | Age on July 1, 2018: 23 | 2017-18 salary: $7.5 million

The acquisition of Jimmy Butler makes Wiggins the third option in Minnesota, but it’s possible that status will only make him more likely to earn the max contract he’ll almost surely receive next summer. Wiggins has arguably not fulfilled the potential that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, but he could be in for a big season with Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns set to take the bulk of the Wolves’ shots. Less will be asked of Wiggins, and he could thrive because of it.

If that scenario comes to pass, then the Wolves could be set to enter a precarious cap situation over the next few years. Butler (unrestricted, via player option) and Towns (restricted) will both be free agents in the summer of 2019, and both figure to command their own max contracts. The Wolves would have a significant amount of their cap tied up in three players (plus new addition Jeff Teague) and would have limited options to improve the roster. On the other hand, they’d also have three excellent players in their primes at the right time. They’ll just have to hope it works. — EF

6. Avery Bradley
Current team: Detroit Pistons | Age on July 1, 2018: 27 | 2017-18 salary: $8.8 million

Bradley was cast off by the Boston Celtics to create salary cap room for Gordon Hayward, but he retains considerable value as a quality offensive player and excellent defender. He seems unlikely to stick with Detroit, one of roughly eight East teams that could earn a playoff berth by accident, and doesn’t fit everywhere. But some team will find a gem.

It’s possible Bradley could end up a bargain, as well. There’s no guarantee that a market for a non-star, even one entering his prime, will materialize, and Bradley could find a paucity of teams willing to pay him if he wants upward of $20 million per season. This free agent period has served as a cautionary tale for many players of Bradley’s ilk. — EF

7. Jabari Parker*
Current team: Milwaukee Bucks | Age on July 1, 2018: 23 | 2017-18 salary: $6.7 million

Parker is one of the most fascinating players in next year’s restricted class as a serious talent who has suffered two ACL tears in three seasons and may be seen as an injury risk moving forward. He could be a candidate for a relatively cheap extension before the start of the season, but if he stays unsigned, Parker’s deal figures to be determined heavily by what he shows in his return from the most recent season-ending injury. Come back in excellent form and he’s likely to get the max. Show a mixed bag and the Bucks probably wait to see an offer sheet. — EF

8. Gary Harris*
Current team: Denver Nuggets | Age on July 1, 2018: 23 | 2017-18 salary: $2.5 million

Harris has a good case to be named as one of the most underrated players in the league. But the Nuggets know his value, and it’s a good bet he’ll get something at or approaching the max. The NBA is thin at shooting guard right now, and a 17-point-per-game scorer, deadeye shooter, and quality defender with good size will at least see a big-money offer sheet from a team like the Brooklyn Nets. A poor season would change the market for Harris, but he seems like a safe bet to at least match his 2016-17 output. — EF

Zach LaVine gets medical attention on the Timberwolves bench after suffering what we now know was a torn left ACL. (Getty Images)

9. Zach LaVine*
Current team: Chicago Bulls | Age on July 1, 2018: 23 | 2017-18 salary: $3.2 million

The Timberwolves were happy to trade LaVine to Chicago not just because Butler is the better player, but because they now can avoid paying a near-max salary to a largely unproven talent coming off an ACL tear. LaVine made strides before his injury last season and will be given every opportunity to put up big numbers for the Bulls, but he’s still known more as a dunker than as an effective player.

The good news for LaVine is that the Bulls are in rebuilding mode and can afford to pay him a big salary while their still-undrafted future core develops. His extension could come before the season, and if it doesn’t, he’ll still have a chance to score around 20 points a night and make fantasy owners happy. Sometimes the right situation makes for a better financial future than on-court production. — EF

10. Rodney Hood*
Current team: Utah Jazz | Age on July 1, 2018: 25 | 2017-18 salary: $2.4 million

Hood’s production dipped amid injury after a breakout sophomore season, but he will now be asked to serve as Utah’s primary perimeter scorer after the departure of Hayward, and has the potential to reestablish himself as a max-deal candidate. A solid shooter with projectable playmaking skills, Hood could hover near 20 points per game this season if things break right. If he sticks around 16.5, then the Jazz might start to believe he’s already hit his ceiling.

Then again, it might not matter. Like LaVine, Hood could end up benefiting from hitting restricted free agency at a time when his team needs to ensure some level of capable backcourt scoring. — EF

11. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Current team: Los Angeles Lakers | Age on July 1, 2018: 25 | 2017-18 salary: $18 million

Caldwell-Pope is a strong on-ball defender, an improving 3-point shooter and a versatile, even if unspectacular and inconsistent, scorer. There should be demand for that in today’s NBA, right?

Wrong — at least in 2017. The Pistons effectively parted ways with KCP, renouncing his restricted free agent rights so they could trade for Avery Bradley rather than pay their incumbent starting two-guard. And even as an unrestricted free agent, the best deal Caldwell-Pope could get was a one-year gig with the Lakers. By taking the one season in L.A. over more elsewhere, Caldwell-Pope is betting on himself, and on the possibility of the market being more forgiving a year from now. Neither of those wagers, however, comes without risk and downside. – Henry Bushnell

12. J.J. Redick
Current team: Philadelphia 76ers | Age on July 1, 2018: 34 | 2017-18 salary: $23 million

Redick is one of the greatest 3-point marksmen in the history of the NBA, and as long as he retains that one supremely valuable skill, he’ll be coveted by a league that has an insatiable appetite for shooting. Will he be coveted to the tune of $23 million? No. The Sixers paid him an above-market annual salary to keep the length of the contract to one year. But, provided Redick doesn’t fall off a cliff, he should have multiple suitors again in 2018.

Plus, he’s not a completely one-dimensional player. He developed into a plus defender during his prime, and although those days have passed, the former Clippers sharpshooter isn’t yet a liability defensively. He’s also the consummate veteran presence who can help teams young or old, rebuilding or contending, incompetent or competent. His upcoming year in Philly will go a long way toward determining his market, but there will be some sort of market, even if it’s not comparable to the one for Redick in 2017. – HB

13. Danny Green^
Current team: San Antonio Spurs | Age on July 1, 2018: 31 | 2017-18 salary: $10 million

Green’s shooting accuracy has tailed off in each of the two seasons since he inked his four-year deal to stay in San Antonio, and he hasn’t added much to his offensive game after several years of growth since landing in Texas. No matter: he remains a viable 3-point shooter, bouncing back to 38 percent from deep after a dip below league-average in 2015-16, and a smart ball-mover and cutter in Gregg Popovich’s offense. And he’s still one of the best and most versatile perimeter defenders in the sport.

Green’s play the last two seasons probably hasn’t dissuaded execs from around the league who speculated that his rise to NBA Finals record-setting production came largely thanks to the Spurs’ development structure. Even so, if Green decided to hit the market, his combination of high-volume 3-point accuracy and ability to credibly defend multiple positions would draw suitors. Dan Devine

Dwyane Wade has a player option for next season worth $23.8 million. (AP)

14. Dwyane Wade
Current team: Chicago Bulls | Age on July 1, 2018: 36 | 2017-18 salary: $23.8 million

On one hand, there’s a convincing argument to be made that the present-day version of Wade is just a step too slow, a bit too worn down from all the injuries and miles over the years, and a little too inefficient a shooter to be a top-flight NBA wing anymore. The thoroughly mediocre Bulls performed about 4.5 points per 100 possessions better with Wade off the floor than when he was on it, and got smoked by a whopping 9.4-per-100 in minutes where Wade played without Butler.

On the other hand …


That dollar figure might be off by a factor of three — shouts to Dion — but in general, he’s got a point. Wade’s still got enough caginess and craft to get buckets, plus a famous face. Whether he stays put on the rebuilding Bulls and puts up numbers as Chicago’s offensive engine or takes a buyout, joins a contender and plays a role in a playoff push, the bet here is there’ll be a more-robust-than-you-might-think market for his services — one last big score, perhaps, before starting his walk to Springfield. — DD

15. Trevor Ariza
Current team: Houston Rockets | Age on July 1, 2018: 33 | 2017-18 salary: $7.4 million

Ariza’s efficiency and effectiveness have declined a bit from the form he showed during his final year with the Washington Wizards, but the 13-year vet remains tailor-made for good teams. At 6-foot-8, he’s a big, long-armed wing who’s still got enough quickness to guard multiple positions on the perimeter, who’s smart and experienced enough to play his role in a team scheme, who helps out on the defensive glass, and who contributes on offense without needing the ball in his hands by spacing the floor.

The Rockets have been happy to have him alongside James Harden, and will be happy to have him alongside Harden and Chris Paul. Barring injury or Ariza’s play falling off a cliff, if Daryl Morey decides to look elsewhere next summer, it’d be surprising if another contending team didn’t come calling. — DD

16. Robert Covington
Current team: Philadelphia 76ers | Age on July 1, 2018: 27 | 2017-18 salary: $1.6 million

Joel Embiid adopted the catchphrase as his nickname, but Covington’s just as much an embodiment of Sam Hinkie’s Process. Not the part about losing as much as possible to improve your odds at landing a high lottery pick and drafting transformational talent, but the part about churning through second-round picks, undrafted free agents and D-League players in search of future contributors who can outperform their salaries.

Undrafted after four years at Tennessee State, Covington lit it up with the Rockets’ D-League affiliate in 2013, earning Rookie of the Year and all-league honors. Houston waived him just before the start of the 2014-15 season, though, and Philly was ready to pounce, plugging the 6-foot-9 wing into Brett Brown’s system in hopes of developing him into a legitimate NBA role player. The offensive numbers aren’t gaudy; he’s shot just 39.3 percent from the floor and 35.4 percent from 3-point land since joining the Sixers. He’s become an excellent defender, though, ranking third among small forwards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus two seasons ago and No. 1 with a bullet last year, while standing as one of just 10 players in the league to log at least 300 steals and 100 blocks over the past three seasons. (Eight of the other nine are All-Stars; the ninth is fellow Process product Nerlens Noel, another defensive star in the making who now plies his trade in Dallas.)

After signing vets J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson to eight-figure one-year deals, the Sixers’ most likely next step is working out an extension with Covington that keeps him lined up alongside Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz and the rest of Philly’s young core for the next several seasons. Should negotiations sputter, though, don’t be surprised if the league’s smarter teams line up for a shot. — DD

17. Thaddeus Young^
Current team: Indiana Pacers | Age on July 1, 2018: 30 | 2017-18 salary: $12.9 million

For years now, Young has been a pretty good player and positive contributor on teams that have, seemingly through no fault of his own, fallen short of mattering.

He toiled on the late-aughts and early-decade 76ers that chugged through mediocrity before the all-in bust-out on Andrew Bynum set the stage for The Process. He got flipped to the Timberwolves, only to see Minnesota absolutely crater in its first season post-Kevin Love.

He got shipped to Brooklyn, where he formed a pretty potent frontcourt partnership with center Brook Lopez … just as the Nets were about to start truly feeling the pain of the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce trade, and plummet to the bottom of the NBA. He got redirected to Indianapolis, where he spent a season doing Thad Young stuff — finishing at a high percentage, moving his feet defensively, getting his hands on loose balls, generally helping — only to see franchise centerpiece George traded away.

It has always felt like a good, smart team would one day swoop in, scoop Young up on a surprisingly below-market deal, and reap the benefits of unleashing his Store-Brand-Millsap steez. If it’s going to happen, here’s hoping it happens soon. None of us are getting any younger. — DD

Norman Powell (24) reacts after dunking against the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, April 24, 2017. AP)

18. Norman Powell*
Current team: Toronto Raptors | Age on July 1, 2018: 25 | 2017-18 salary: $1.5 million

The trade that brought Powell, a 2015 second-round pick out of UCLA, to Canada in exchange for backup point guard Greivis Vasquez — who played 23 games for the Milwaukee Bucks before they let him go — is already a steal. (It could turn out to be the heist of the century if 2017 first-rounder O.G. Anunoby becomes a difference-maker for the Raps, too.)

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Powell is an explosive athlete with a nearly 6-foot-11 wingspan who can guard multiple positions and get to the rim. He made a major impact in Toronto’s first-round playoff win over the Bucks, showcasing a capacity to knock down shots from the perimeter and play up a position in the lineup that should earn him plenty of opportunities to play big minutes this season for a Raptors team that just bid farewell to DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker and Cory Joseph.

The smart money’s on team president Masai Ujiri trying to lock Powell up before he can hit the restricted free agent market, but a strong season — especially as an outside shooter and a supplementary ball-handler — could make Powell the kind of restricted free agent a team takes a chance on next summer. — DD

19. Wilson Chandler^
Current team: Denver Nuggets | Age on July 1, 2018: 31 | 2017-18 salary: $12 million

Chandler’s had a lot of jobs in the NBA — starting shooting guard on a lottery team in chaos, reserve power forward on a 57-win team that fell before a nascent-stage superpower, re-upped frontcourt focal point on a team in transition, and now, maybe starting small forward and fourth option on a Nuggets team expected to rise back into the West’s playoff picture. He’s rarely had a consistent role, in part because his game has always sort of defied easy categorization — athletic slashing from the wing, but not quite top-flight scoring and finishing skill; enough size to play small-ball four for stretches, but not quite accurate enough from deep to totally lock down the three spot; etc.

Nine years into his NBA career, Chandler has become a player who doesn’t do any one thing excellently, but who does a few things well at a few different positions. That kind of player can be hard to feature, but can be awfully valuable for contenders … which could lead Chandler to decline his $12.8 million player option next summer and take a shot at finding a multi-year deal on a winner where everyone knows going in what to expect. — DD

20. Rudy Gay^
Current team: San Antonio Spurs | Age on July 1, 2018: 31 | 2017-18 salary: $8.4 million

That the Spurs were the team to pull the trigger on a deal for Gay inevitably raised expectations for what he might be able to produce next year. After so many player-evaluation hits over the years, San Antonio has earned the benefit of the doubt. Still, Gay is on the wrong side of 30 and coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, an injury that has devastated so many athletic wings over the years.

Taking San Antonio’s mid-level exception might have been as much about landing a second year as anything else. This way, if Gay’s slow to return to the court this season, or looks like a shell of himself when he does, he’ll have a chance to rebuild his value in 2018-19. If he’s somehow able to come back as a real front-line contributor to a Spurs team with title aspirations, though, Gay can exercise his player option and seek a longer-term deal more commensurate with the credentials of a player who’s averaged 18.4 points per game over 11 NBA seasons. — DD

21. Wesley Matthews^
Current team: Dallas Mavericks | Age on July 1, 2018: 31 | 2017-18 salary: $17.9 million

Now a full two years removed from the Achilles tendon tear that ended his career in Portland, Matthews’ burst and shooting efficiency still haven’t come back, and it’s possible they never will. He’s still a capable team and one-on-one defender — just ask Damian Lillard — who sets a positive tone in the locker room and provides a great example for young players. Barring a sudden return of explosiveness, though, the eight-year vet might not have mass appeal in unrestricted free agency … which might make it more likely that he exercises his $18.6 million player option for 2018-19 and stays with Dallas rather than testing the market. — DD

22. Joe Johnson
Current team: Utah Jazz | Age on July 1, 2018: 37 | 2017-18 salary: $10.5 million

In his first NBA game, Joe Johnson logged 33 minutes against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that started Wesley Person and Michael Doleac.

Joe Johnson started in the Suns’ backcourt with Stephon Marbury two years before the events of “Seven Seconds or Less,” a book that will turn 11 years old in November.

Joe Johnson was brought to Utah last summer to chip in a little bit off the bench. Instead, he won two playoff games.


Remind me when we get here next summer, after he’s averaged 15 points a game as a starter for a Jazz team that somehow makes the second round, that Joe Jesus should’ve been higher on this list. — DD

Other 2018 free agent wings:

Nick Young, Golden State Warriors
Patrick McCaw*, Golden State Warriors
Josh Richardson*, Miami Heat
Iman Shumpert^, Cleveland Cavaliers
Omri Casspi, Golden State Warriors
Marco Belinelli, Atlanta Hawks
Wesley Johnson^, Los Angeles Clippers
Corey Brewer, Los Angeles Lakers
James Ennis, Memphis Grizzlies
Jerami Grant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Nik Stauskas*, Philadelphia 76ers
Kyle Anderson*, San Antonio Spurs
Vince Carter, Sacramento Kings
Jeff Green, Cleveland Cavaliers
Tyreke Evans, Memphis Grizzlies
Will Barton, Denver Nuggets
Glenn Robinson III*, Indiana Pacers
Wayne Ellington, Miami Heat
Doug McDermott*, Oklahoma City Thunder
T.J. Warren*, Phoenix Suns
Lance Stephenson**, Indiana Pacers
Quincy Pondexter, New Orleans Pelicans
Bruno Caboclo*, Toronto Raptors
Mike Miller, Denver Nuggets
DeAndre Liggins, Los Angeles Clippers
Mindaugas Kuzminskas*, New York Knicks
Jordan Crawford, New Orleans Pelicans
Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets
Pat Connaughton*, Portland Trail Blazers
Archie Goodwin, Brooklyn Nets
Sean Kilpatrick, Brooklyn Nets
Alex Toupane*, New Orleans Pelicans
Bryn Forbes*, San Antonio Spurs
Marcus Georges-Hunt*, Orlando Magic
David Nwaba*, Los Angeles Lakers
Treveon Graham*, Charlotte Hornets
Sheldon McLellan*, Washington Wizards
Okaro White*, Miami Heat
Patricio Garino*, Orlando Magic

Still unsigned 2017 free agent wings:

Arron Afflalo
Tony Allen
Alan Anderson
Luke Babbitt
Leandro Barbosa
Matt Barnes
Michael Beasley
Ian Clark
Mike Dunleavy Jr.
Monta Ellis
Randy Foye
Manu Ginobili
Gerald Green
Gerald Henderson
Darrun Hilliard
Dahntay Jones
James Jones
Luc Mbah a Moute
K.J. McDaniels
Jordan McRae
Anthony Morrow
Shabazz Muhammad
Alex Poythress
Brandon Rush
Thabo Sefolosha
Jonathon Simmons*
Rodney Stuckey
C.J. Wilcox
Derrick Williams
Troy Williams
James Young

More BDL 2018 free agency previews: Point Guards | Wings | Bigs | Overall