This is an odd year for free agency in the NBA. For starters, it's not exactly a deep class. Kevin Durant is the player that dominates all discussion - even if he is most likely not to go anywhere. Beyond him, though, there aren't a lot of guys who are going to get your pulse racing if they land on your team. There are some nice and useful players, but we have certainly seen more intriguing groups of available guys.
Then there is the aura of the massive jump in the salary cap due to the injection of new TV money after next season. That has some players making financial decisions and some teams uncertain about what the right steps are. That doesn't mean that all is lost, though. Bettors need to pay attention to free agency to get a head start on what teams will look like next season. As we do so, here are five big storylines to pay attention to:
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Durant: Durant is the most interesting and important player by far. The Thunder came very close to making the Finals this year, and they have already shown that they are aggressive to stay competitive. He could easily stay there. In fact, he likely will - at least for another year - because it could cost him tens of millions to go elsewhere. If he did move, though, the possibilities are incredible. The Warriors would be all but a lock to win with him. The Spurs would win with him, too. Boston would be much improved. Miami would have a small window but could be excellent in the short term. Maybe the Clippers could even compete in the short term. The only non-starter is New York. It would be a much more interesting story if I could convince myself he wasn't staying where he is, but this is still worth plenty of attention.
Overly generous with max contracts: This is not a new story by any means. Every year guys get more money and term than any team should every give them. There are a group of guys who are going to land in that group this year. Toronto seems determined to pay DeMar DeRozan, and I really wish they wouldn't. Al Horford, Nicolas Batum, Mike Conley and others are candidates to get more than they deserve. The temptation for teams to overpay will be higher than usual, too, because they know that next year they will get relief from any cap issues that they currently have. It is very rare that overpaying turns out well, so this will be worth watching.
Overpaying mid-level guys: It's not just the max-level guys who are likely to get overpaid by teams that shouldn't be paying them. There are a huge number of guys who are going to get more money than they probably should because of solid but limited performance. Bismack Biyombo is at the top of this list, but Marvin Williams and Kent Bazemore aren't too far behind. These are the types of guys that you wouldn't mind having on your team, but you almost certainly wish you were paying them $5 million less a year.
Centers: It's an uneasy time to be a big man right now. The success of the Warriors using an undersized Draymond Green at center - among others - has challenged the notion that you need a traditional center to win. The problem, then, is that there are a whole lot of fairly traditional centers on the market. Hassan Whiteside leads the way with an aging Dwight Howard not far behind. Then there are guys like Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Timofey Mozgov and more. Whiteside is going to get paid, but beyond that it's very tough to know what will happen and what it will signal about what teams are thinking going forward. The big men are the bellwether market this year.
Desperate teams: The Washington Wizards were all in on Durant for a couple of years, and they aren't even going to get a meeting with their hometown hero. The Lakers don't have to pay Kobe anymore but are really going to struggle to find anyone else worthwhile to take their money. The Knicks think they have a shot at Durant, but they don't, and they have very little else going for them in a major way. The Clippers have a core, but not a good enough one to contend in the West and they lack flexibility without making a big change. These squads and others need to show patience and strategy, but there is a near certainty that at least one of them won't, and they will make a move that is highly regrettable. Desperate teams do dumb things - especially if they are desperate, dumb teams. More than one on this list fits in that category.
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