NBA

Looking Ahead to the Stacked 2021 NBA Free Agent Class

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) scored 45 points as the Toronto Raptors play the Philadelphia 76ers at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. April 27, 2019.
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The 2019 NBA offseason was indeed one to remember. Huge names like Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving signed with a team of their choice. The 2021 free agent class features multiple superstars as well as bright emerging young players. The decisions these players make during the 2021 offseason will dictate the direction of the league for years to come.

Lebron James:

Lebron James has a player option for the 2021/22 season that would pay him $41 million. If he declines this option, he will enter free agency and would likely sign a long contract. James has been clear that he intends to stay in the NBA long enough to play with his son, Bronny James. Securing a long-term deal may give James the security he desires, especially as he ages and begins to slow down.

Giannis Antetokounmpo:

Giannis’s looming free agency decision has been a prominent talking point for a year now. He will be able to sign the supermax extension with the Bucks this summer, but no one is quite sure if he will commit to them yet. It was shaping up to be the largest contract in NBA history, but with the salary cap effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no guarantee on player earnings. All signs point to Giannis being happy in Milwaukee. He’s coming off an MVP year and even led the Bucks to the best record in the NBA before the shutdown. If they can keep their team together for next season (or whenever this season continues), they certainly are a contender for which Giannis would want to stay with.

Kawhi Leonard:

Kawhi Leonard made a series of power moves in 2019. After winning the championship in Toronto, he got the Clippers to trade for Paul George before signing with them. Leonard also only signed for three years, with a player option in the third year. This gives him the ability to opt-out at the same time as George. He’ll be able to sign a new deal in 2021 essentially wherever he wants. No team in their right mind would turn down the addition of Kawhi Leonard.

Paul George:

Paul George will be able to opt-out at the same time as Leonard. Even after the Clippers gave up so much for the two stars, there exists a chance one or both could leave next summer. George has shown his growth and star power in the regular season but is constantly criticized for his decreased production in the playoffs. Will teams still be willing to pay him in 2021?

Victor Oladipo:

Victor Oladpio’s contract situation became widely discussed in recent weeks. ESPN reported that the Pacers and Oladipo had talked about his contract, but in the end, nothing came out of it. Oladipo turned down a four-year, $80 million extension at the beginning of the season. It will be interesting to see how much teams are willing to offer him, given his slow return from injury and question marks if he will ever be the same.

Jayson Tatum:

The 22-year-old star of the Boston Celtics will be a restricted free agent in 2021, giving the Celtics the upper hand in their battle to keep him. There’s no doubt that other teams will be interested in Tatum, but as a restricted free agent the Celtics have the power to match any offer. He should have no reason to want to leave, as Danny Ainge has built a capable team around him thus far.

Donovan Mitchell:

The Utah Jazz were the subject of much drama after reports of tension between their two best players, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Mitchell will be a restricted free agent in 2021. It is still unknown whether Utah will try and trade one of these two and try an accelerated rebuild. If they do, Gobert would likely be the one to go; Mitchell is their franchise player. If they keep the French big-man, it potentially could give Mitchell a motive for signing elsewhere. Much is dependent on how their relationship develops.

Andre Drummond, Steven Adams, and Rudy Gobert:

We’ve grouped these three centers because of their similarities in what they bring to a team. All of them are elite defenders, rebounders, and finishers above the rim. Despite none of them possessing reliable jump shots, all three display near All-Star level productivity. The question for them is if they can continue that production past 2021. As the NBA further transitions into a shooters league, will teams be willing to take a chance on someone who can’t stretch the floor?

Anthony Davis*

Anthony Davis could potentially be a free agent in 2021 if he picks up his player option for the 20/21 season. He was projected to decline his player option this summer and then sign a more substantial deal with the Lakers. However, due to the current situation, there is a chance that he will pick up his player option for next year ($28 million) and observes the salary cap situation. That would make him a free agent in 2021, just like his teammate LeBron James.

Others:

Chris Paul is extremely unlikely to decline his $44.2 million player option for the 2021/22 season. Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley will also be unrestricted free agents in 2021 but will both be above the age of 34. Gordon Hayward will likely pick up his player option for the 2020/21 season, making him unrestricted in 2021. There are also declining stars such as DeRozan, Griffin, and Aldrige that may be available. The entire 2017 draft class will be restricted free agents as well which. This includes De’Aaron Fox, Lonzo Ball, Bam Adebayo, and Kyle Kuzma. Luka Dončić, TraeYoung, Zion Williamson, and Ja Morant have team options in 2021 that will no doubt be picked up.

All decisions will be affected by the fact that the salary cap will change. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NBA teams won’t be able to pay their players as much as they usually could. Regardless of what the final salary cap projection is, there will be an abundance of stars on the move once more.

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