There were a few big names available in the 2016 offseason, but it’s nothing compared to what’s to come next year. The summer of 2017 will feature the best crop of free agents in NBA history.
The 2016-17 season is still months away from starting, but many of the signings over the last few weeks were done with next year’s offseason in mind. The salary cap is expected to jump from $94 million to around $108 million, meaning players’ salaries will increase significantly. As a result, most of the league’s top stars have allowed for themselves to have an opt-out clause in their contracts, even if their deals don’t technically run out until beyond the 2017-18 season.
While switching teams this summer, players like Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade signed what has become known as a “one-and-one” contract—a two year deal that includes a player option to become a free agent after just one season. It’s what LeBron James continues to do in Cleveland, maximizing his earnings as the salary cap continues to rise.
It might be easier to name the All-Stars that won’t be free agents next year than it would be to count all the top players that can test the market in 2017. Kawhi Leonard is the only player that finished in the top six in MVP voting that can’t sign with another team next year. Draymond Green, Damian Lillard and James Harden, who finished seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively, in MVP voting, are all under long-term deals.
Of the 10 best players in the free agency class of 2017, only two have one year left on their contracts. The others have two-year deals that contain opt-out clauses, which all will almost certainly exercise.
LeBron James (Free Agent)
James has yet to officially re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers, though he’s certain to return for the 2016-17 season. He’ll likely sign a one-year contract like he’s done in his previous two seasons with the Cavs. While it’s hard to believe that James would break Cleveland’s heart for a second time, he has already completed his mission of bringing a championship to his hometown. James probably has a few more seasons left with the Cavs, but he might at least explore the opportunity of playing elsewhere with one or two of the free agents on this list.
Stephen Curry (One year, $12.1 million)
He’s been the NBA’s most underpaid player over the last two years, and Curry will most likely sign a five-year, max contract with the Golden State Warriors. Golden State has plenty of money to spend, considering Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are both signed to team-friendly contracts. James left the Cavs when given the opportunity, and Kevin Durant just left Oklahoma City. But it’s hard to believe Golden State will lose the NBA’s first unanimous MVP.
Kevin Durant (Two years, $54.2 million)
Joining forces with Curry, Thompson and Green, Durant is looking to win multiple championships in the next few years with the Warriors, something that appears to be a realistic possibility. Durant left the door open to go elsewhere in 2017 by signing a "one and one," but that was done largely so he could make more money under the new salary cap.
Russell Westbrook (One year, $17.7 million)
It’s hard to believe that Westbrook would re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder, now that Durant has left for Golden State. The most likely scenario might have the Oklahoma City Thunder trading the point guard before the 2016-17 regular season begins, as the team looks to avoid losing another star player for nothing. Many believe Westbrook will ultimately sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, considering he was raised in the L.A. area and went to UCLA.
Blake Griffin (Two years, $41.5 million)
Griffin is another candidate to be traded this year before he becomes a free agent. Doc Rivers admitted a year ago that the Los Angeles Clippers might have to shake up their roster, and the team went on to lose in the first round of the playoffs. Griffin has been linked to the Boston Celtics in trade rumors, and he might be a good fit for Boston, even if he does play out next season in L.A.
Chris Paul (Two years, $47.1 million)
Paul is older than most of the players on this list, and the contract that he signs next year could be his last, big NBA deal. But even after 11 seasons, he’s still at the top of his game, having averaged at least 19 points and 10 assists in three straight years. Paul helped turn the Clippers into a perennial winner when he joined them in 2011, but he’s still never reached the conference finals.
Dwyane Wade (Two years, $47.5 million)
The three-time champion is the only player on this list that’s clearly entered a different phase of his career, averaging 19.0 points a year ago, which was his lowest mark since he was a rookie. He’ll be 35 years old by the time next summer rolls around, looking to get one final lengthy contract.
Kyle Lowry (Two years, $24 million)
Lowry is coming off his best season as a pro, averaging 21.2 points, 6.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game with the Toronto Raptors. He’s formed the NBA’s second-best backcourt with DeMar DeRozan, who just inked a five-year contract to remain north of the border. Lowry will be 31 next summer, though he’s established himself as one of the league’s best point guards.
Gordon Hayward (Two years, $32.8 million)
Hayward has never made an All-Star team in his six years with the Utah Jazz, but he’s quickly becoming one of the league’s best small forwards at just 26 years old. His scoring average has increased every year, going up to 19.7 points in 2015-16. Unless he gets hurt, Hayward is going to get a max contract from somebody next offseason.
Paul Millsap (Two years, $41.5 million)
Millsap was involved in trade rumors when the Atlanta Hawks were trying to re-sign Al Horford, but it appears that the power forward will stay put for the foreseeable future. He put up better numbers than Horford did in recent seasons, averaging 17.1 points and 9.0 rebounds last year in arguably his best season. An All-Star in three straight seasons, Millsap will have a number of suitors in 2017.