It’s decision time.
Each NBA team will make severe tough choices over the 2021 offseason that could determine the direction of the franchise. Some of the decisions are more critical than others, but that’s just the nature of the business.
With a preview of the upcoming free agent frenzy, we have showcased the toughest call for each franchise this summer. From extensions to options to everything in between, here is the toughest free agent call that each front office will need to make.
Atlanta Hawks - John Collins
Colling is going to ask for $100 million money despite not having the kind of year that deserves that kind of results. Last season Collins averaged 21.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, and shot over 40% from the three-point range. This year, Collins is averaging 17.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and shooting slightly above 38% from the three-point range.
The easy decision is that the Hawks should bring Collins back. However, he is an overpay risk. The Hawks should not get tempted to give him more money than what he is worth based on his down season. If the Hawks can bring him back for around $15 million, then that would be fair for both sides.
Boston Celtics - Evan Fournier
The Celtics made a deadline deal to bring in the sharpshooter. After averaging 19.7 points for the Magic, Fournier is averaging nearly 10 points less than what he did in Orlando. That could be the byproduct of playing with better players, but his production would be the lowest in his career since 2013.
Fournier could be a key rotational piece for the team, but could also be a dud. Based on the money, the Celtics are going to have a tough decision on bringing back Fournier.
Brooklyn Nets - Blake Griffin
The Nets will have to deal with Spencer Dinwiddie’s player option or Bruce Brown’s restricted free agency. The toughest decision will be the decision to bring back Griffin or not. The former All-Star is averaging career lows this season and is 32 years old. How much does he have left to give?
The Nets could hope that after a healthy offseason, Griffin could return to a great value version of himself. With that said, his injury history is a scary fact. The Nets could probably do better, but do they fall into the trap of the high ceiling?
Charlotte Hornets - Devonte’ Graham
On the depth chart, the Hornets have Graham, Terry Rozier, and LaMelo Ball. One of those guards will not be here when the Hornets start competing for real. Graham seems like the easy out given that both Rozier and Ball will both be under contract after this season.
Graham is averaging four fewer points and two fewer assists compared to last year. With Rozier and Ball in the mix, using the team’s cap space on another player seems like the right idea.
Chicago Bulls - Lauri Markkanen
Do the Bulls keep the former No. 7 overall draft pick lured away in the Jimmy Butler trade? In Markkanen’s second season, the Bulls saw him average 18.7 points and 9.0 rebounds. Since then, he has fallen off the map and appears to need a new town.
The Bulls have been bringing him off the bench and his play has not been consistent. The team could resign him, but his agent is asking for nearly $15 million a year. Is his upside worth the price? His numbers say no, but we will see what happens.
Cleveland Cavaliers - Jarrett Allen
After acquiring Allen via trade, the team will need to decide if he is in their long-term plans and at what cost. The Cavaliers have loved what Allen brings out the table. He is a younger version of Andre Drummond and is currently averaging a double-double.
Allen could ask for big money, but the Cavaliers will have to decide on what is the right price. Allen is not worth max-money, but he could be worth primetime DeAndre Jordan money.
Dallas Mavericks - Tim Hardaway Jr.
This is one of Hardway’s better seasons in shooting the ball. He is shooting near a career-high in field-goal percentage. After scoring 42 points against the Pistons in late April, the Mavericks saw firsthand what he can do when he is locked in.
The Mavericks won their division, but nobody sees the team as a real threat in the first round. The Mavericks have two young superstars that could bring the team back to 2011 status. Is Hardaway a part of that future march? That all depends on the team’s playoff run.
Denver Nuggets - Austin Rivers
After losing playing time in New York, the Nuggets brought in Rivers for extra scoring. So far, he has produced as a high-level threat coming off the bench. That includes 25 points against his former team in the Knicks.
The Nuggets brought Rivers to the team in part of Jamal Murray’s injury. With Murray back in the fold, the Nuggets will have to determine if Rivers is worth the money. Will Barton’s player option, as well as the future of Paul Millsap, could be impacting variables.
Detroit Pistons - Hamidou Diallo
Since Diallo landed in Detroit, he has helped the team’s defense in several ways. The 22-year old has Patrick Beverley upside. He is an athletic, defense-first swingman that needs to up his shooting game.
Diallo shoots nearly 29% from three and just over 62% from the free-throw line. Assuming that he can take care of that, he can be an effective role player.
Golden State Warriors - Kelly Oubre Jr.
Is Oubre with $20 million a year. The 25-year old is averaging nearly 15 points and six rebounds per game. The Warriors are a .500 team without Klay Thompson. The Warriors could pay Oubre, but the easy answer is that they should let him walk.
While Oubre has played well, his track record says he is a stat stuffer on mediocre teams and does not play well when he is with real talents. The Warriors should sign-and-trade him and land perspective young player and future draft picks.
Houston Rockets - Kelly Olynyk
It goes to show how rough times are in Houston when your biggest decision is Kelly Olynyk. After trading James Harden, the team received Victor Oladipo, who was essentially traded for Olynyk.
The Rockets are about to be in a full rebuild. Olynyk is averaging a career-high 18.8 points and 8.7 rebounds. The team shouldn’t fall for the numbers stats. Olynyk is 30 years old and won’t be here when Houston is back to competing.
Indiana Pacers - TJ McConnell
McConnell was leading the league in steals and would win the league’s Hustle Award if it existed. We have seen role players take advantage of having a great season to cash in. The Pacers are going to have a tough decision on how much his energy alone is worth.
Paying McConnell close to $10 million would not break the bank. We have seen worse players get paid this money, but McConnell actually produces. His 1.8 steals are something to brag about, so a three-year deal would be worth it.
Los Angeles Clippers - Nicolas Batum
Batum bottomed out in Charlotte but has resurrected his career with the Clippers. This is some of the best basketball he has played since 2018. His five-year, 120 million dollar deal is about to expire. What is the 32-year old worth these days?
Batum is nowhere near the previous contract. Heck, his previous contract was not worth his previous play. With that said, he has provided consistent play for his minutes, so it will be interesting to see if the team decides to keep him.
Los Angeles Lakers - Talen Horton-Tucker
There was a report that the Lakers kept Horton-Tucker instead of shipping him as part of a trade package for Kyle Lowry. That means that the Lakers chose to keep a player they believe in towards their future instead of winning now.
This is a bold statement. LeBron James is 36 years old, and Lowry is a championship-caliber player. If Horton-Tucker is so integral to their future, then he should be worth the money. How much money is that going to be?
Memphis Grizzlies - Justise Winslow
Winslow was the main trade trip involved in the Andre Iguodala trade. Ever since joining the Grizzlies, he has been used sparingly.
The team might not have any hard decisions about this year’s free agency class. Instead, the team could be looking at an extension for Jaren Jackson Jr, who will be a free agent after the 2022 season.
Miami Heat - Victor Oladipo
After trading for Oladipo, his injury status has shaken off the team’s plans for contending in the East. Oladipo has played just four games since coming over via trade and is due to be a free agent this offseason.
Oladipo is going to ask for $20 million at least. The Heat haven’t seen that kind of production, which is why his trade value was so low. This is by far the toughest decision for any franchise. When Oladipo is healthy, he is an All-Star. However the last few seasons, he has not been 100%, so that heavily impacts his value.
Milwaukee Bucks - PJ Tucker
PJ Tucker is 36 years old and cannot score. His value is his defense and his ability to be a physical player. Is it worth $5 million to bring back a player that will play 15 minutes a game to play defense?
Tucker is in the same boat as Paul Millsap. Both players are strong, gifted post players, but are not going to provide much on the offensive end at this stage of their career. The defense could be worth something, but it’s not going to be a lot given what else is out there.
Minnesota Timberwolves - Jarred Vanderbilt
The Timberwolves have Ed Davis, Jordan McLaughlin, and Vanderbilt as free agents. There is not a lot to choose from when it comes to this team.
The 5.2 points Vanderbilt is averaging is a career-high and he is just 22 years old. Maybe, he is worth giving another look next season.
New Orleans Pelicans - Lonzo Ball
This is another tough decision. The Chicago Bulls were reportedly so close to acquiring Ball this trade deadline, but the Pelicans backed off last minute. The Pelicans are currently on the outside of the playoff picture, but believe Ball could be a future All-Star point guard.
While Ball’s stats show that he is going to be just a role player, the Pelicans have to decide how much he is worth. This is one of the best shooting seasons for Ball. Both the Knicks and Bulls will be courting his services this offseason, so will New Orleans run the offer up?
New York Knicks - Nerlens Noel
Since Mitchell Robinson sustained an injury, Noel has been a key part of the team’s rotation. His 5.1 points and 6.4 rebounds are not going to impress anyone, but there is not a better play than Noel that fits Tom Thibodeau’s scheme.
The Knicks will have to make a decision on Robinson as well, but Noel could be a key bench piece for the Knicks. With the team's best defense, some parts need to stay in the city.
Oklahoma City Thunder - Mike Muscala
What is Muscala’s worth? His 9.7 points are a career-high this season, but the Thunder are fully rebuilding. The 29-year old could venture off to the contending team and help right away.
The Thunder haven’t seen Muscala play in a while due to injury. Given this is their hardest decision, this will be an easy year for OKC to let players walk.
Orlando Magic - James Ennis
The Magic are years away from contending. Ennis is close to tiring his career-high in points per game. Given the team’s state of rebuilding, bringing back Ennis would not be a bad idea.
Ennis is 30 years old and not in their contention plans. If the team can keep the years down, then the sum won’t be as big of a deal.
Philadelphia 76ers - Dwight Howard
Howard turns 36 years old next season. At this stage in his career, he is a backup center. The decision for Howard is going to rely on how well the team does in the postseason.
When Howard is locked in, he can help a team win a championship. After all, he has played in the NBA Finals with two different teams. If the 76ers fail to make the NBA Finals, then Howard could come back for one more year, or the team could look to rework the bench.
Phoenix Suns - Cameron Payne
Payne remains as an unknown entity. You would think that a 26-year old product that has been in the league since 2015 has been figured out, but yet we don't know what he can fully do.
This season, Payne has played well. He has averaged 7.7 points and 3.5 assists in about 17 minutes of play. Payne could return as a backup for Chris Paul, assuming he exercised his player option. If Paul becomes a free agent, then clearly Payne is an afterthought.
Portland Trail Blazers - Zach Collins
Speaking of unknown entities, Collins has kept Portland in the dark for years. In 2018, Collins averaged 6.6 points and 4.2 rebounds. Last season, Collins played 11 games, and this season he has not appeared in a contest. The former Gonzaga product is a lottery pick and just 23 years old, but Portland could be out of patience.
Collins is not worth big money. Surely, even he knows that. Should Portland trust him next year? Maybe, a one-year deal would be worth a try. Anything over that is a green light to let him walk to another team.
Sacramento Kings - Richaun Holmes
Holmes was mentioned at the deadline, but the Kings decided to keep him around. His 14.4 points and 8.5 rebounds are both career highs. At 27 years old, he could be entering prime seasons, which could yield big results.
As we have seen, the Kings are not ready to compete. Holmes could be a casualty of moving forward. Then again, he could be a part of moving forward with the contention team. This is truly a 50-50 coin flip.
San Antonio Spurs - DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan is 31 years old and wants a championship. He is not going to get a championship with the current makeshift of the Spurs. He could join the Lakers or Clippers, win a championship, and ride off into the sunset in his home state of California. \
DeRozan is the team's greatest scoring threat. The Spurs could keep him around but then fall at risk of being mediocre as they build around an old veteran. The Spurs don’t have a true plan. Are they contending or rebuilding? As long as Gregg Popovich is around with these older veterans, we don’t know.
Toronto Raptors - Kyle Lowry
In football, we saw the New York Giants remain too loyal to Eli Manning. The two-time Super Bowl MVP was way past his prime in his later seasons; however, the team remained loyal. They let him play and the Giants were below average.
The Raptors fall at risk of doing the same thing with Lowry. He wants to retire a Raptor, but it could risk the team’s plans at competing. The team should have traded him but had too much of an attachment to make a move.
Utah Jazz - Mike Conley Jr.
After making his first All-Star appearance, the 33-year old could get a three-year deal with big money. The Jazz could afford that, but it could jeopardize the depth of the team. Conley has been a huge part of the team’s rise towards competing for a No. 1 seed, so he could be worth the money.
Outside of Conley, the Jazz doesn’t have any major players outside of Derrick Favors and Joe Ingles in 2022. The Jazz needs to bring Conley back, but ideally, it would be a two-year deal.
Washington Wizards - Russell Westbrook
The combination of Westbrook and Bradley Beal has been working as of late. The Wizards have thrust themselves into the play-in game. If the Wizards win and make the first round, Washington could look to stretch this partnership at least one more given Beal has two more years left on his contract.
Westbrook also has two more years on his deal, costing the team $44 million and then $47 million in the final year. The Wizards are going to have about $20 million in cap space next season. If the team can find a taker for Davis Bertan’s $16 million or Thomas Bryant’s $8 million contracts, then adding a third piece is realistic. If not, then the team has a tough decision to make.