NBA Free Agency Primer: The Stars

This year’s free agent class doesn’t do a lot to blow you away, but it does have four players who can make a splash on new teams. Here we will get a real test on that fifth year only the current team can offer. Is it enough of a an incentive for players to stick around?

The Stars

  1. Al Horford
  2. Mike Conley
  3. Nicolas Batum
  4. Dwight Howard

After those two stars, this year’s class of free agents is a divisive one. Those four stand as the biggest names left and none of them is good enough to vault a team into the top tier of championship contenders.

Still, in the current economic climate of the NBA , it’s more likely than not that all four of those players receive max contracts.

Of the four, Batum is the player most likely to return to his former team. He unlocked a lot of successful things in Charlotte with his shooting and the Hornets definitely want him back. Charlotte also probably wouldn’t have traded for him in the first place if they didn’t think they would be able to retain him. It may take that fifth year, but I’d bet Batum is again playing in a Hornets uniform next season.

If Batum is most likely to be back, Dwight Howard is the free agent who assuredly bolt for greener pastures. Howard didn’t exactly get along with Mike D’Antoni in Los Angeles and he’ll likely be even less excited about the thought of playing for him in Houston.

Howard’s free agency will be fascinating to watch. He has not aged gracefully, in part due to various injuries, and is not the same player he used to be. Will any team want to play ball with him if he demands a four-year contract?

Howard can still do things on a basketball court that can help a team win. He’s a phenomenal rebounder and can still cover for a ton of his team’s mistakes on defense. He can’t anchor a defense the way he used to, but he’s still much better than most of the centers in the league. I’d be very wary of signing him to a long-term deal, but making a short-term bet on a Howard who’s out to prove people wrong might be a very smart play.

Conley and Horford are definitely the best players in this group and they face the toughest decisions. Both have only played for one team in their respective careers and have built up legacies in Memphis and Atlanta. But neither can really be faulted for trying to win more elsewhere.

Conley is far and away the best point guard on the market and will have his choice of suitors. Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, as well point-guard desperate teams like Brooklyn, New York and Philadelphia will chase him, but I’m not sure any of those situations offers a stronger team than Memphis. Conley taking that fifth year only the Grizzlies can offer, even if it’s only partially guaranteed, feels like the most likely outcome.

Horford’s situation is similar, but he seems more likely to leave. Atlanta’s trade of Jeff Teague was the first step in preparing for a new iteration of the Hawks. The fifth year may be enough, but other teams can offer plenty of attractive options. The Celtics seem like a natural fit and need a player of Horford’s caliber to take the next step. Houston, Dallas, Washington, Chicago- there’s a lot out there for Horford. Neither Horford or Conley are likely to age particularly well, but both are great players and will be the first dominoes to fall this crazy offseason.

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