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Predicting where the 11 best NBA free agents will sign in 2021

Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul headline the 2021 free agency class.

Los Angeles Clippers v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

NBA free agency is finally here. Players will be able to negotiate with teams on Aug. 2 at 6 p.m. ET. Deals can’t become official until the free agency moratorium ends on Aug. 6 at 12:01 p.m. ET.

The biggest free agent in this year’s class never hit the open market. Giannis Antetokounmpo signed a five-year, $228 million extension with the Milwaukee Bucks just before the start of the season, and then led the franchise to its first NBA championship since 1972. Antetokounmpo would have been one of the biggest free agents in the history of sports if he hit the open market. Instead, this year’s class feels a little underwhelming at the top.

Kawhi Leonard is the biggest name on the free agent market, but it would be a shock to see him leave the Los Angeles Clippers. The same goes for Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns. It feels likely Kyle Lowry is the top free agent to actually change teams this summer. Of course, there will be plenty of movement from mid-tier free agents. This list doesn’t include players like Duncan Robinson, Dennis Schröder, Richaun Holmes, Kelly Oubre, and Will Barton, who should all sign big money deals and will be each be a possibility to change teams.

Before free agency opens, here are our predictions on where the biggest names sign.

Update: You can find every signing at our free agency tracker here.

1. Kawhi Leonard

Leonard is the top free agent in the class even with a partially torn ACL. While we don’t’ know when or if Leonard will play next season, the injury won’t preclude him from locking up as big of a contract as he wants. Remember: Kevin Durant signed a four-year, $164 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets months after tearing his Achilles in the NBA Finals.

The recent rumors are that Leonard will sign a ‘1+1’ deal with the Clippers, which means he’ll have a player option on the second season. The Clippers have already reshaped their entire franchise to accommodate Kawhi since he signed as a free agent in 2019, and there shouldn’t be any hesitation to do it again. He’s the only top-10 player in the league available this summer.

Prediction: Two-year max contract with Clippers, player option on the second year

2. Chris Paul

Paul remains one of the best point guards in the NBA even at 36 years old. For all the concern that he wouldn’t live up to the most recent max contract he signed in 2018, Paul ended up being worth every penny and more. He is of course coming off an inspired season with the Phoenix Suns, where he helped lead them on an unlikely run to the NBA Finals. He’s about to get one more big pay day.

There’s always some concern that Phoenix’s historically penny-pinching owner Robert Starver could stop short of giving Paul all the money he wants, but it’s unlikely after the Finals run. Paul has already earned $300 million in career earnings on NBA deals, and he might be set to add about $90 million more.

  • Prediction: 3 years, $90 million with Suns. UPDATE: Chris Paul agrees to a four-year deal worth up to $120 million with the Suns, per multiple reports.

3. Mike Conley

The Jazz made a bold move to trade for Conley two years ago, and they saw how good he could be this past season. Conley made the first All-Star team of his career at age-33 and helped lead the Jazz to the best record in the NBA during the regular season. Unfortunately, he suffered a hamstring injury in the NBA playoffs, and only played one game in Utah’s second round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA playoffs.

Whether or not the Jazz want to fully run it back next season, Conley figures to be in their plans. There’s a rumored three-year, $75 million deal for him to return to Utah.

  • Prediction: 3 years, $75 million with Jazz. UPDATE: Conley is returning to Utah on a three-year, $72.5 million deal, per Woj.

4. John Collins

The Hawks and Collins failed to come to an agreement on a rookie extension, so now he enters the market as a restricted free agent. Atlanta already has some big salaries on the books, but it would feel foolish to let Collins slip away. The springy 6’9 forward certainly made himself some more money after a great run in the NBA Playoffs as the Hawks reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Spurs, Pelicans, and Thunder are all rumors to have interest in Collins, but the Hawks can match any contract since he’s a restricted free agent. Expect him to sign something close to a max deal.

Prediction: 5 years, $120 million with Hawks

5. Jarrett Allen

The Cavs just drafted Evan Mobley at No. 3 overall, but there’s still plenty of room for Allen. Mobley is skilled enough to play the four, and his lack of bulk makes him a nice fit next to a more traditional center early in his career. Allen fits the bill as a super long (7’6 wingspan) and bouncy center who can protect the paint and catch lobs. The Cavs made a sharp move to acquire the 23-year-old as part of the trade that sent James Harden to Brooklyn.

Allen is also a restricted free agent, so he’s all but certain to return to Cleveland. He’s another player who should get around $100 million on this deal.

Prediction: 5 years, $90 million with Cavs. UPDATE: Allen back to the Cavs on a five-year, $100 million deal, per Woj.

6. Kyle Lowry

Lowry is still very good at 35 years old. He was almost moved at the trade deadline, but no team wanted to meet the Raptors’ asking price. Now he’s possibly the biggest name on the free agent market expected to change teams.

There are plenty of teams who need a point guard this offseason. The Miami Heat and New Orleans Pelicans both covet Lowry, and there may or may not be a deal already in place with the Heat. Lowry should send CP3 a thank you after he inks his next deal for showing the value of veteran point guards during the playoffs.

  • Prediction: Sign-and-trade to Heat for 3 years, $85 million. UPDATE: Lowry gets his sign-and-trade to Miami on a three year deal worth $90 million, per Woj.

7. Lonzo Ball

Ball hasn’t fully lived up to the hype after becoming the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but he’s gotten better every season of his career and seems to have fully fixed his three-point shot. On the brink of his 24th birthday, Ball feels like one of the oddest players in the NBA: he’s a point guard in name only with an inability to attack the basket or get to the foul line, but he’s a credible floor spacer, quick ball mover, and capable team defender.

The Chicago Bulls have been rumored to like Ball for the last eight months or so. The Pelicans can still match any contract offer he gets since he’s a restricted free agent. New Orleans appears to have its sights set on other guards, but things can change quickly if they fail to land Lowry (reportedly their top option). If Ball wants to be in Chicago, a sign-and-trade between the two sides is likely. Expect Ball to get a deal around five years and $80 million.

Prediction: Sign-and-trade to Bulls for 4 years, $80 million. UPDATE: Ball to Chicago in a sign-and-trade worth four-year, $85 million, according to Woj.

8. Spencer Dinwiddie

Dinwiddie’s market should be fascinating. He’s a big 6’5 guard who averaged 20 points per game for the Brooklyn Nets and showed serious creation ability while Kevin Durant was out during the 2019-2020 season. Dinwiddie suffered a partially torn ACL in late December, but has been cleared to return to basketball activities. He’s almost certainly not coming back to Brooklyn.

Dinwiddie’s rough three-point shooting —he’s a 31.8 percent shooter behind the arc for his career — limits his impact off the ball, but he still should have plenty of options for point guard hungry teams. The Pelicans, Knicks, and Mavericks all feel like possible options.

Prediction: Sign-and-trade with Wizards for 4 years, $80 million

9. DeMar DeRozan

Lowry’s old running mate with the Raptors is on the open market too after spending the last three seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. While a return to San Antonio is possible, it feels likely DeRozan will change teams.

There has been buzz connecting DeRozan to the Los Angeles Lakers, but that would likely require him taking a pay cut. A team like the New York Knicks, flushed with cap space, seems like it could be an option on a two- or three-year deal.

Prediction: 2 years, $40 million with Knicks

10. Norman Powell

Powell is coming off a breakout season in his sixth year in the league that saw him set career marks in scoring (18.6 points per game) and three-point shooting (41.1 percent on six attempts per game). He was traded from the Raptors to the Portland Trail Blazers midseason, and looks primed to get a fat contract this summer from the Blazers or another suitor.

A return to Portland is the most likely option, but this also feels like a case where a surprise team could snatch him away with a huge offer. Damian Lillard’s unhappiness with the Blazers will feel more urgent than ever if Powell isn’t re-signed.

Prediction: 4 years, $90 million with Trail Blazers. UPDATE: Powell back to the Blazers for five years, $90 million, per Woj.

11. Tim Hardaway Jr.

Hardaway was thought to be overpaid after the Knicks originally signed him to a four-year, $70 million deal, but he’s probably been Luka Doncic’s best teammate since he got traded to the Mavericks. Hardaway does something every NBA team covets: he shoots threes at a high volume at nearly a 40 percent clip.

A return to the Mavericks is possible and maybe likely, but Hardaway should have plenty of suitors. The Pelicans and Spurs feel like they should also be options.

Prediction: 4 years, $65 million with Pelicans. UPDATE: Tim Hardaway Jr. is returning to the Mavs on a four-year, $74 million deal, per Woj.