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PostSubject: ESPN Insider, NBA: 2018 NBA free agent rankings    Fri Aug 11, 2017 9:04 pm

2018 NBA free agent rankings - Kevin Pelton on LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid and more

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2018 NBA free agent rankings - Kevin Pelton on LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid and more

by Kevin Pelton on 2017-07-24 05:12:00 UTC (original: http://www.espn.com/nba/insider/story/_/id/20152999/2018-nba-free-agent-rankings-kevin-pelton-lebron-james-kevin-durant-joel-embiid-more)

Who will be the top NBA free agents available next July?

While this year's free agency is still wrapping up, teams have already started to plan ahead for the summer of 2018. In the case of the Los Angeles Lakers, who expect to be active in pursuing star talent, that process started before this year's draft with the trade sending D'Angelo Russell and high-salaried center Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets to clear additional 2018 cap space.

So who will the Lakers and everyone else be pursuing? Here are my top 30 2018 free agents, including players who are eligible for extensions this summer that could take them out of free agency.

1. LeBron James

Cleveland Cavaliers
Forward
Age: 33
Player option

James was previously a free agent in the summers of 2015 and 2016 as he sought to maximize his earnings as the salary cap rose rapidly, but next summer -- when James has a 2018-19 player option -- could be the first time he takes a round of meetings since leaving Miami to return to Cleveland in 2014.

Even heading into his age-34 season, James would still surely be the most coveted player on the market. James' arrival has turned also-rans into champions twice in the past decade. Could it happen a third time? We'll find out next summer.
2. Kevin Durant

Golden State Warriors
Forward
Age: 29
Player option

Like James, Durant has played year-to-year since changing teams in free agency. Unlike James, Durant took significantly less than his maximum salary this summer in order to allow Warriors ownership to keep the team's luxury-tax bill manageable while re-signing Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston and using their taxpayer midlevel exception to add Nick Young.

Whether Durant will be so generous again next summer, when he could re-sign for the maximum salary for at least two years and up to four using early Bird rights, remains to be seen.
3. Russell Westbrook

Oklahoma City Thunder
Guard
Age: 29
Player option

Because of a clause in the NBA's new designated veteran rule, Westbrook is eligible to sign the same max extension James Harden did with the Houston Rockets earlier this summer, which would take him off the market. However, extending now would have no financial benefit for Westbrook besides security, so he may prefer to pass on the extension and keep his options open.
4. Nikola Jokic

Denver Nuggets
Center
Age: 23
Team option

Why would Denver consider declining a $1.6 million option on Jokic, who is likely to get max offers whenever he hits free agency? Because it allows them to make Jokic a restricted free agent. As a second-round pick, Jokic would be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019 if he plays out his entire four-year contract.

Declining the option would cost the Nuggets far more in 2018-19 but allow them to match any offer to Jokic, ensuring he stays in Denver long term. (The Nuggets could also consider exercising Jokic's option, then renegotiating and extending his contract to give him a raise, but such a deal would require using cap space.)

Having averaged 17.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists as a starter last season at age 22, Jokic should be considered a more valuable free agent than current All-Stars at or past their peak because his next contract will take him into his prime years.
5. Paul George

Oklahoma City Thunder
Forward
Age: 28
Player option

After acquiring George in a stunning trade with the Indiana Pacers, the Thunder have one season to try to convince him to re-sign as a free agent next summer. George said all the right things when he was introduced in Oklahoma City, but the possibility of returning home to play for the Lakers looms large over his free agency.
6. Chris Paul

Houston Rockets
Guard
Age: 33
Unrestricted

In terms of present value, Paul would rank much higher on this list, but he'll be 33 by the time he hits the market next summer after exercising his 2017-18 player option to facilitate a trade to the Rockets. Still, expect Houston to offer Paul a five-year max deal unless his backcourt partnership with James Harden goes poorly.
7. Joel Embiid

Philadelphia 76ers
Center
Age: 24
Restricted

Given his combination of prodigious production (28.7 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per 36 minutes as a rookie) and injury history (just 31 games in three NBA seasons), Embiid is perhaps the most challenging free agent to rank. If healthy, Embiid probably belongs ahead of Jokic because of his superior rim protection. But there's no way of telling whether Embiid can handle a heavy workload over a full season, so for now he belongs here. The Sixers can take Embiid off the market by signing him to an extension before opening night.
8. DeMarcus Cousins

New Orleans Pelicans
Center
Age: 27
Unrestricted

This is an important season for Cousins to demonstrate he can translate his skills to winning basketball outside a chaotic situation with the Sacramento Kings. Even if he doesn't, someone will probably be interested in paying Cousins the max, but the better he and the Pelicans perform the more options he will have.
9. DeAndre Jordan

LA Clippers
Center
Age: 29
Player option

Barely two years after reversing course and re-signing with the Clippers after originally committing to the Dallas Mavericks, Jordan is entering a contract year. The final season of the four-year deal Jordan signed with the Clippers in 2015 is a player option, enabling him to get back on the market for a third time before age 30.
10. Isaiah Thomas

Boston Celtics
Guard
Age: 29
Unrestricted

The four-year, $27 million deal Thomas signed with the Phoenix Suns as part of a sign-and-trade in the summer of 2014 has been one of the league's best values since he was traded to the Celtics and emerged as an All-Star.

Thomas will cash in next summer, though teams might be wary of paying him big money into his 30s. How well you expect Thomas to age depends whether you put more weight on his height -- sub-6-foot point guards have rarely excelled beyond age 31 -- or his skills. Other point guards who have developed the pull-up 3 like Thomas have been able to extend their prime.
11. Avery Bradley

Detroit Pistons
Guard
Age: 27
Unrestricted

Thomas' former teammate figures to be coveted as an unrestricted free agent for his 3-and-D skills. A career 36.6 percent 3-point shooter, Bradley shot 39.0 percent last season and was an All-Defensive first-team pick in 2015-16.

An emphasis on individual defense instead of help defense may mean Bradley's defensive impact is somewhat overrated, but he's certainly the type of well-rounded contributor elite teams need deep in the playoffs. And at 27, Bradley will be relatively young for an unrestricted free agent with his skill set.
12. Aaron Gordon

Orlando Magic
Forward
Age: 22
Restricted

Gordon won't turn 22 until this September, making him six months younger than Sacramento Kings first-round pick Justin Jackson. Yet Gordon already has 117 NBA starts to his credit and averaged 16.4 points and 6.2 rebounds with a .581 true shooting percentage after the All-Star break when allowed to play his natural power forward position. This could be a breakout season for Gordon, just in time for him to hit restricted free agency unless he agrees to a contract extension this summer.
13. Clint Capela

Houston Rockets
Center
Age: 24
Restricted

Capela's breakthrough came last season, when he started 59 of the 65 games he played for the Rockets and averaged 19.0 points and 12.2 rebounds per 36 minutes on 64.3 percent shooting. Capela is in an ideal system for his skills as a roll man in the pick-and-roll game and may have a tough time extending much beyond the 23.9 minutes per game he averaged last season, but he has still become a valuable role player.
14. Jusuf Nurkic

Portland Trail Blazers
Center
Age: 23
Restricted

If he plays a full season like his first two months in Portland -- which saw him average 18.7 points, 12.8 rebounds and a surprising 3.9 blocks per 36 minutes -- Nurkic could jump ahead of the other 2014 first-round picks, save Embiid. Given how poorly he responded in Denver when asked to back up Jokic, Nurkic still needs to prove he can be a good team player for a full season to maximize his value.
15. Andrew Wiggins

Minnesota Timberwolves
Guard
Age: 23
Restricted

Timberwolves coach and director of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau told reporters last week that the team is working on an extension for Wiggins, which could pay him an estimated $148 million over five years as one of Minnesota's two designated players. So far, Wiggins hasn't been worth that kind of investment. While he has excelled at creating offense, ranking just outside the league's top 20 last season by using 29.0 percent of the Timberwolves' plays, he has done so with below-average efficiency and few other statistical contributions.

Wiggins' defensive rebounding has been poor even by the standards of guards, and he struggles to make an impact as a help defender. As a result, ESPN's real plus-minus (RPM) rated Wiggins among the league's bottom 10 players in defensive impact last season. Still just 22, Wiggins has time to turn his skills into winning production, but for now he doesn't belong ahead of players who have done more at young ages to help their teams win.
16. Jabari Parker

Milwaukee Bucks
Forward
Age: 23
Restricted

As compared to Wiggins, who went No. 1 ahead of him in the 2014 draft, Parker has been a more efficient scorer (his .563 true shooting percentage last season was better than league average) and superior rebounder and passer. Yet Parker's defense has also limited his value -- RPM rated him 1.6 points per 100 possessions worse than league average on defense -- and that was before a second ACL tear ended his 2016-17 campaign midseason. Unless Parker is willing to extend at a discount in the name of security, he might have to prove his health next season to command top dollar as a restricted free agent.
17. Robert Covington

Philadelphia 76ers
Forward
Age: 27
Unrestricted

The all-time success story of the so-called "Hinkie specials" -- multi-year, minimum-salary deals for unproven players -- Covington quickly emerged as a starter and last season developed into an elite wing defender. If he can pair that with quality 3-point shooting, having shot 33.3 percent last season but 35.3 percent career, Covington will be one of the league's better 3-and-D contributors. The Sixers may take Covington out of free agency by renegotiating and extending his contract once he becomes eligible on Nov. 15, getting Covington a higher salary now and saving Philadelphia some money in future seasons.
18. Gary Harris

Denver Nuggets
Guard
Age: 23
Restricted

Harris has also been tagged with the 3-and-D label. There's little doubt about his value on the offensive end after Harris shot a career-best 42.0 percent on 3s and 55.8 percent inside the arc last season, averaging 17.2 points per 36 minutes. However, his strong defensive reputation hasn't translated into the Nuggets defending better with him on the court. As a result, he ranked in RPM's bottom 25 defensively. Harris will be a useful role player no matter the truth about his defense, but an elite one if he can live up to his rep on D.
19. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Los Angeles Lakers
Guard
Age: 25
Unrestricted

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Even after the Pistons traded for Bradley and pulled his qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent, Caldwell-Pope found the market for his services surprisingly cool. He ended up settling for a one-year deal with the Lakers worth nearly $18 million and will take his chances at a long-term contract next summer. Teams may be skeptical Caldwell-Pope can maintain last season's career-best 35.0 percent 3-point shooting, but Caldwell-Pope is a quality defender at either guard spot.
20. Danny Green

San Antonio Spurs
Guard
Age: 31
Unrestricted

Because he didn't stick in San Antonio until age 24, Green is older than he might seem. His next contract will take Green through his mid-30s. Given Green relies more on quickness than strength, teams can't necessarily count on him continuing to defend at an All-Defensive level (he was a second team pick last season). Green could also help his market by getting back to shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range, as he did every season from 2011-12 through 2014-15 before slipping to 33.2 percent in 2015-16 and 37.9 percent last season.
21. Trevor Ariza

Houston Rockets
Forward
Age: 33
Unrestricted

Ariza has been one of the league's most reliable role players, playing at least 77 games and 2,700 minutes each of the past four seasons. While his 3-point percentage has fluctuated -- the 34.4 percent Ariza shot last season was his worst mark since 2011-12 -- his high volume of attempts forces defenders to stay close. And Ariza is a fine, versatile defender who has been asked to cover for liabilities elsewhere in the Houston starting five. The only question is how long Ariza can keep it up. Having entered the league at 19, he already ranks 39th among active players in career minutes played.
22. Carmelo Anthony

New York Knicks
Forward
Age: 34
Early termination option

Perhaps he'll be more effective in a smaller role, but Anthony is no longer capable of carrying such a heavy offensive load and scoring with average efficiency. Add in his declining defense, particularly against small forwards, and Anthony no longer merits All-Star consideration despite being chosen as an injury replacement last season.
23. LaMarcus Aldridge

San Antonio Spurs
Forward
Age: 33
Unrestricted

Though it's possible conventional wisdom has overcorrected based on Aldridge's uneven postseason, his ability to generate a high volume of average-value midrange shots was probably overrated before that. Unless he's willing to transition to a smaller role like David West, Aldridge may struggle to score efficiently as he ages, making him a tough fit for contending teams.
24. Elfrid Payton

Orlando Magic
Guard
Age: 24
Restricted

As the mayor and tourism director for Elfrid Payton peninsula, I'm here to note he averaged 13.5 points, 8.4 assists and 7.0 rebounds per 36 minutes after the All-Star break and recorded five triple-doubles. Payton benefited from the improved floor spacing with Gordon at power forward and continues to develop as a point guard at age 23. A breakthrough campaign is a possibility.
25. Marcus Smart

Boston Celtics
Guard
Age: 24
Restricted

Put Smart in the category of players whose value is difficult to determine. Because of his ability to defend multiple positions and contribute as a help defender and rebounder, as well as his tendency to make key hustle plays late in close games, Smart ranked 20th among point guards in RPM. However, his inability to make 3s (28.3 percent last season, 29.1 percent career) hurts spacing. We'll have a better handle on how those strengths and weaknesses offset after this season.
26. Brook Lopez

Los Angeles Lakers
Center
Age: 30
Unrestricted

This summer's free agency was particularly unkind to centers. Before Pau Gasol got $48 million over three years from the San Antonio Spurs (with the final season partially guaranteed), the biggest deal in terms of total salary for a full-time center had been Cristiano Felicio getting $32 million over four years from the Chicago Bulls. (Combo bigs Serge Ibaka and Kelly Olynyk did get much larger deals.) That could spell trouble for Lopez, despite his unexpected development into a 3-point threat last season.
27. Greg Monroe

Milwaukee Bucks
Center
Age: 28
Unrestricted

Monroe and agent David Falk accurately read the market this summer and decided to pick up his $17.9 million player option rather than test free agency. Monroe may not find conditions much more favorable next year, particularly given the Bucks will be limited in what they can offer by luxury-tax concerns.
28. Derrick Favors

Utah Jazz
Forward
Age: 26
Unrestricted

Believe it or not, this time a year ago there was a debate over whether Favors -- not Rudy Gobert or Gordon Hayward -- was the most valuable Jazz player. While the other two Utah stars enjoyed breakout seasons, Favors was limited to 50 games by injuries and ineffective by his standards when he did play. Amazingly, Favors just turned 26, so he should be producing at peak levels if he can overcome injuries in time to hit the market next summer.
29. JJ Redick

Philadelphia 76ers
Guard
Age: 34
Unrestricted

After taking a one-year, $23 million deal from the Sixers, Redick will be back on the market again next summer. While Redick has expressed his hope to stay in Philadelphia long-term, the Sixers might be in the market for one of the younger 3-and-D wings available in 2018, sending Redick elsewhere.
30. Rodney Hood

Utah Jazz
Guard
Age: 25
Restricted

Like Favors, Hood took a back seat last season in Utah largely because of injuries. Hayward's departure leaves a void in terms of shot creation on the wing, and Hood could be first in line to take on those extra shots. Still, Hood hasn't yet proven capable of scoring with average efficiency in a smaller role, so he'll need to be a more consistent 3-point shooter and get to the free throw line more often to take advantage of the opportunity.

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