This year’s National Basketball Association (NBA) offseason is unlike any other year (for obvious reasons). After players approved a Dec. 22 start date for the 2020-21 season, only 71 days exist between the last game of this past year’s Finals and the season opener.
Teams have even less time to make offseason moves, as free agency has been proposed to begin on Nov. 20. As rushed as free agency will be and as little hype as this cycle of free agency is getting, there are some key contributors who could be on the move. Here I will list five low-key but valuable free agents and speculate whether they will be in a new uniform next season.
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
Undrafted after playing four years at Wichita State, VanVleet made his presence felt in the league when he drilled seven three-pointers in a critical Game Five with the series tied against the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals.
VanVleet went on to perform well in the Finals against the Golden State Warriors, scoring 22 points on five made threes in the final game of the series and even earning himself a Finals Most Valuable Player vote.
Whatever magic VanVleet had in the biggest series of his life stuck with him, as this season proved to be a breakout year for him. He averaged 17.6 points and 6.6 assists per game while shooting an efficient 39% from behind the arc. Despite his size, VanVleet can hold his ground on the defensive end, as he averages 1.9 steals per game.
He leveled up again for this past season’s playoffs, putting up 19.6 points and 6.9 assists per game on a Raptors squad that was one game away from making the Conference Finals for the second year in a row.
VanVleet is due for a massive payday, as there aren’t too many ball handlers that can shoot and defend at his level. For the long term, VanVleet is in a situation with the Raptors where he and All-Star forward Pascal Siakam could be the future of the franchise. At the same time, teams like the Chicago Bulls or Detroit Pistons would not hesitate in giving him the money and an opportunity to be the man on an albeit weaker team.
Already with a championship ring, VanVleet could very well be on a new team next season, ready to be the focal point of an offense.
Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets
The three-point craze is no fad. As more teams are shooting more threes, shooters have high value on the market. Luckily for Harris, he is one of the best in the league at making this shot.
This past season, he averaged 14.5 points per game on 42% from the three-point line, a notch below his 47% mark from the season prior. Still, by taking about six threes a game and making two to three each game, Harris could be a piece that turns a team into a contender.
With his 6-foot-6-inch frame, Harris is a better defender than the stats show and creates spacing on offense. The question is whether or not the Nets want to pay the luxury tax by giving him a contract that matches his importance to the team.
Given the words by Nets general manager Sean Marks, it seems likely that the Nets would be willing to go over the league’s cap to keep Harris. As superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving should return at full health next season, Harris would be the perfect complement as a floor spacer and solid defender. He will likely stay a Net.
Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors
Like VanVleet, Ibaka has provided valuable minutes for the Raptors the past two seasons. Whether starting or coming off the bench, Ibaka can space the floor with his shooting, defend other bigs and grab boards.
This past season he averaged 15.4 points and 8.2 rebounds a game while shooting 38.5% from three on three attempts per game. At age 31, Ibaka knows how to contribute meaningfully to winning basketball, as shown in his time on the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Raptors.
Expect Ibaka to be pursued by top tier teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors, who both are looking to add a trusty veteran for another deep playoff run.
Jerami Grant, Denver Nuggets
Grant is a prototype of what the league is trending towards when it comes to wings. Standing at 6 feet 8 inches with a 7-foot-3-inch wingspan, Grant can guard multiple positions while also being a reliable shooter from distance.
This past season he averaged 12 points a game on 38.9% from the three-point line. Not unlike some of the other names on this list, Grant caught the attention of the league with his performance in this past season’s playoffs.
Although his efficiency dipped, Grant was a key player for a Nuggets squad that overcame not one but two 3-1 series deficits and pushed the eventual champion Lakers to six games in the Conference Finals. He defended big names throughout this run, such as Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James, and put up career offensive performances, like his 26 points against the Lakers in Game Three.
Grant is likely to opt out of his $9.3 million for the final year of his contract and test the market. Whether or not the Nuggets give him more money is the question, as they will have names like Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokić on the books. But if the Nuggets can find a way to make it work financially, Grant should run it back with Denver.
Rajon Rondo, Los Angeles Lakers
“Playoff Rondo” is no joke. In his championship run with the Lakers, Rondo put up 8.9 points, 6.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game. Reputed as an inconsistent shooter, he silenced critics by shooting 40% from deep on about three attempts a game.
While a bit removed from his prime, Rondo has shown that he is a positive asset off the bench. If he can find the right culture and fit like he has with the Lakers, he can muster a couple more years of high-level play on a contending team.
With the Los Angeles Clippers reportedly interested in Rondo, I can see him ditching the Lakers to play with the team they share an arena with. As a high-IQ point guard with loads of playoff experience, Rondo will get paid regardless of where he goes.
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