The 2016 NBA offseason could be nearly as exciting as the playoffs, with several All-Stars set to hit free agency. While the odds favor the top free agents staying put, a few big names will be playing elsewhere next season.
Changes to the salary cap will have major implications in free agency. With the cap going from $70 million to an estimated $92 million for the 2016-2017 season, player salaries are set to skyrocket. The cap is expected to rise to approximately $108 million for the 2017-2018 season, and the ramifications will be felt as early as this summer.
The collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the Players Association mandates exactly how much free agents can earn. Players with six seasons or fewer under their belt can earn 25 percent of the salary cap, and that number jumps to 30 percent for those in the league between seven and nine years. Veterans that have at least 10 years in the league can sign a maximum contract that pays them 35 percent of the salary cap each year.
The likes of Mike Conley and Hassan Whiteside will sign big contracts as free agents, and Dwight Howard is likely to opt out of his contract with the Houston Rockets and sign a max deal. Andre Drummond, Harrison Barnes and Bradley Beal are restricted free agents, but they are in for big paydays this summer, as well.
Those names, however, aren’t even the best players that will hit the open market in the summer of 2016.
Durant’s impending free agency has been a topic of discussion for a few years, and the four-time scoring champion is finally able to sign with whatever team has the necessary cap space. But all of the hype might have been premature, since it makes financial sense for Durant to sign a one-year extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder and get his big deal in 2017. A max contract with the Thunder would pay Durant $148.8 million over five years, and he could sign a max contract worth $110.5 million over four years with another team. However, if he signs a one-year $25.8 million contract with Oklahoma City, he could potentially sign a max deal in 2017 worth $205.7 million over five years.
Just about any team that has the necessary cap space will try to sign Durant. Averaging 27.4 points per game for his career, Durant has arguably been the second-best player of the last decade, and he’s at the top of his game at just 27 years old. He’s made the All-Star team in each of the last seven years, and he makes any team a title contender.
Having been drafted one pick behind Durant in the 2007 NBA Draft, Horford is eligible to sign the same contract as the Thunder star. He isn’t an elite superstar like Durant, so he will most likely take a max contract if one is offered to him, instead of waiting another year for the cap to rise. Horford has never put up eye-popping numbers with the Atlanta Hawks, but he remains one of the league’s best big men, and he’s going to cash out in free agency.
Horford has been a model of consistency, and his 2015-2016 averages (15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists) were almost identical to his statistics from the previous season. He's been arguably the best player on a Hawks team that has won 108 regular-season games and three playoff series over the last two seasons, coming up short against LeBron James and the Cavs in both postseasons. Horford is a top notch defender and a four-time All-Star that could be a key addition for someone this summer.
The Toronto Raptors guard is due to get a serious raise from the $9.5 million salary he’s made in each of the last three seasons. DeRozan is sure to opt out of the final year of the four-year, $38 million contract he signed three years ago, making him a free agent. Averaging a career-high 23.5 points to go along with 4.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game, DeRozan has established himself as one of the NBA’s best shooting guards.
DeRozan has said he hopes to stay in Toronto, but it will likely cost the Raptors a five-year, $148.8 million contract to keep their backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeRozan intact. He’ll get a max contract offer elsewhere, and the Los Angeles Lakers have been rumored as a team that’s willing to give him a max contract, hoping to bring him back to L.A., where he grew up and played in college.
James isn’t expected to go anywhere, especially now that he’s reached the NBA Finals for a sixth straight time. Remaining with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference could provide James with an easy path to the NBA Finals for a few more years as he looks to bring Cleveland its first ever championship. But it’s a near certainty that James will opt out of his deal and become a free agent, maximizing his earning potential.
James has a 2016 player option that will pay him just over $24 million for next season. As a free agent, James could sign a five-year contract with Cleveland worth approximately $170 million. But he finds himself in the same situation as Durant, guaranteed to get a max deal for even more money in 2017. He’ll sign a one-year contract worth $30.19 million this offseason that likely includes an option for a second year.
Wade is no longer in the prime of his career, and at 34 years old, he probably can no longer be the best player on a championship team. But he’s still one of the NBA’s best shooting guards, averaging 19.0 points per game in another All-Star season, and he’ll sign another lucrative deal this offseason.
The three-time champion is in a similar position as his former teammate that now plays in Cleveland, though he wouldn’t be as coveted if he chose to play elsewhere. Wade could sign for a max $170 million contract to stay with Miami, but he took a small discount when he played for $20 million last year. If he chose to go to another team, the most Wade could make is $128 million over four years.