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As we await July 1st for the start of NBA free agency, the free agent class of this summer that is being presented to us is intriguing. Very few marquee players are available that can change a franchise immediately, but many players are capable of being the missing piece to a championship puzzle. Here are the top free agents to keep on your radar during the off-season.
The past two seasons for Pau Gasol has been rough as he has been on a team consisting of disloyalty and lack of trust between a player and a head coach that was Mike D’Antoni. While being put in difficult positions and rumored in various trade talks, he would average 17.4 ppg and 9.7 rpg in an injury riddled season. Gasol is not the go to player he once was in the early stages of his Lakers career and as a member of the Grizzlies, but he is more than capable of being a reliable option for a championship contending team.
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The former last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft has come into the league and surprised many by what he has been able to do for the Sacramento Kings. Averaging career highs with 20.3 points per game and 6.3 assists per game, his numbers have been comparable to the number one pick in his draft who happened to be Kyrie Irving. The 5’9″ point guard is becoming a household name that will receive a lucrative for his talents at his position that is valued.
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Lance Stephenson has made himself a hot commodity for free agency this summer after having a breakout season as he became a focal point of the Indiana Pacers success. Yet, the antics on display during the postseason in the Eastern Conference Finals may have cost him millions of dollars while showing us the immaturity that once hindered his draft position. Stephenson is a unique player who can play and defend multiple positions along with having star potential, but the concern for him is if he can control his emotions on the basketball court.
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It will be interesting to see where Gordon Hayward will land in free agency after Utah decided not to offer a contract extension. On the right team, Hayward can be a difference maker who can elevate his team to the next level with his talents and versatility at the wing position. As a member of the Jazz, he averaged career highs in points, rebounds, and assists. Seeking a lucrative contract, teams may shy away from him for his desire of big dollars wanted. If some team grants him his wish, Utah is set to match their offer.
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As the Los Angeles Lakers season was filled with injuries and disappointment , the one bright spot that kept fans excited was the on and off the court performance of Nick Young. In his return home, Young has arguably had his best season in his seven year career averaging 17.9 ppg. ‘Swaggy P’ will look to return to his hometown team under a long term contract that will keep him in purple and gold for years to come. The idea of bringing him back to the Lakers should be a top priority this offseason as he will become a target for teams looking for instant offense to uplift them.
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In his first season as a starter, Eric Bledsoe found a home in the Phoenix Suns where early success was found during the 2013-14 season. It was a short stint season for Bledsoe as he sidelined with a knee injury. However, he would show promise as he averaged 17.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, and 5.5 apg and is now known for his defense. His return to Phoenix may be slim to none with the recent draft acquisition of TJ Warren in the NBA Draft with no qualifying offer being proposed to him, making him an unrestricted free agent. The success of the Suns without Bledsoe may also be a factor in whether to pay the dynamic point guard. For his talents, teams will be willing to offer him top dollar where the feeling from the Suns is not mutual.
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Kyle Lowry’s breakout season with the Toronto Raptors has led him to being a marquee free agent acquisition during this off-season. With trade rumors swirling around him for majority of the season, he was able to perform at a high level averaging career highs 17.9 ppg and 7.4 apg and becoming Toronto’s leader on the floor with his play and emotionally. Lowry can take his talents elsewhere to elevate a teams chances of fulfilling his championship aspirations.
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After the recent story of the Houston Rockets deciding to decline the option to maintain Chandler Parsons, the market for the small forward has became more attractive for him. Helping Houston lure in Dwight Howard, he would be the glue guy to this team with his play on both ends of the floor while improving his offensive game as he goes forward with a career high 16.6 ppg and 5 rpg. In Parsons case, a team may overpay for Parsons due to a high demand of interest by other teams. Being a 6’10 small forward will also help as teams will look for a wing that can deal with the likes of a Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James, and Kevin Durant.
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Coming off a sub par season to his standards, Chris Bosh has became under appreciated in South Beach. Having catered to Miami’s game plan revolved around LeBron James can be a detriment to the team’s success, more plays should have been called for Bosh during games as he would display his clutch ability in moments. Although, the situation that was brought upon him has also improved Bosh’s overall game by expanding his outside perimeter game that leads to bringing out the opponents best big man into unfamiliar territories. A center in today’s NBA who can play both offense and defense at an exceptional level is rare. Bosh can easily become a second option elsewhere for a team who is looking to get over the hump of being a championship team if Miami is not willing to make him one.
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Greg Monroe’s name has been mentioned with many teams as a potential addition to their roster for next season. While playing for the Detroit, he may be unknown to many outside the Motor City. Monroe continues to remain consistent with his play, but also can be a household name with the right team in a major market with the right supporting cast around him. At 24 years old, he has not reached his ceiling that makes him more attracting to teams moving in a new direction. Monroe’s addition could work out immediately along the likes of the Bobcats signing Al Jefferson last offseason. Monroe is a blue collar player who comes to work with his lunch box ready to go.
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Carmelo Anthony’s journey has been well documented starting with the force trade from Denver to New York all the way until the present where he has chosen to opt out of his final contract to become a free agent. Having to carry a heavy load of the work last season, the same may await Anthony next season with majority of the same players under contract for next season. The chances of Carmelo returning to the Big Apple are slim to none with what is set in place looking forward to destinations such as the Chicago Bulls and the Houston Rockets becoming more appealing for a chance to win a NBA title and cement his legacy as a great during his era.
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LeBron James created headlines by making the choice of opting out of his current contract that has now led to many teams preparing to make a pitch to the best player in the NBA. Does this give any implications of him leaving Miami? Not at all. The Miami Heat will do anything possible to retain James by any means. By opting out of his deal, King James is allowed to re-sign for a max contract that is well deserved while giving the Heat a chance to bolster its roster with talent that can take the pressure off of himself. Miami is has already made a step in the right direction in acquiring Shabazz Napier via trade during the NBA Draft, who LeBron is a huge fan of. Assuming Chris Bosh & Dwyane Wade come back to accept less money, it gives the team a chance to appease James with his needs.
While we await the decision from LeBron James, teams have to remember not to focus on one player, running the risk of missing the opportunity to bring in exceptional players that are available. The free agency season is around the corner with plenty of players who are ready to step in right away and contribute to a new franchise. Other players that could become a factor on teams include Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat, Loul Deng, and Patty Mills as well as possible big trades with players like Rajon Rondo or Kevin Love. Let the July fireworks begin.