Kathy Willens/Associated Press
The 2020 NBA free-agency market is coming clearer into focus, as an opening date of Oct. 18 has finally surfaced.
While this probably won’t be the kind of offseason that changes basketball’s power structure, it does feature several top talents up for grabs.
Below, we’ll examine some of the best players on the market and predict how they’ll handle free agency.
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
It’s hard to build a case for Davis bolting L.A., even if only to play devil’s advocate. He forced his way there last summer then found instant chemistry with LeBron James. When this campaign went into suspension, the Lakers sat atop the Western Conference in winning percentage (.778) and net efficiency rating (plus 7.1 points per 100 possessions).
Tack on the glitz and glamour of hooping in Hollywood and this is probably as good as it can get. But that doesn’t mean Davis’ free agency will be straightforward.
He has options regarding the manner in which he re-ups with the Purple and Gold. He could cash out and take the full five-year max from the Lakers, but it’s in his best financial interest to latch on to a shorter deal now and inflate his annual salary later.
“Davis’ representatives surely know how close they can get to supermax money by cycling through short-term deals until Davis locks in the largest long-term contract—a strategy interested teams expect Davis to follow,” ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported in Dec. 2018.
Davis has eight years of service under his belt, which makes him eligible for 30 percent of the salary cap. Once he gets to 10 seasons, he’ll be eligible for 35 percent.
The smart play, then, is to find an arrangement that gets him back to free agency in that time. Given the fact James is already 35 years old, having that extra flexibility also means Davis has leverage on the Lakers’ front office should he discover he needs more help going forward.
Prediction: Davis signs a three-year contract with a player option with the Lakers.
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
Ingram wasn’t a clear-cut max candidate when he came to the Crescent City in last summer’s Anthony Davis mega-deal.
The second overall pick in 2016, Ingram was having trouble sustaining his flashes of high-level play. His shooting percentages fluctuated, his scoring average lacked consistency and he was more potential than production. He also had his 2018-19 season shortened by a blood clot, which cast a scary cloud of uncertainty over his future.
But a lot can change in one year (as 2020 reminds us over and over again).
At this point, Ingram’s max-contract case looks ironclad. During his first season with the Pelicans, he booked his first All-Star trip and played his way into the Most Improved Player award race. He’s now a nightly supplier of 24.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists, plus a 46.6/38.7/85.8 shooter to boot. Oh, and he’s still just 22 years old, making him a perfect fit for Zion Williamson’s timeline.
Before, New Orleans had a lot of different ways it could handle Ingram’s restricted free agency. Now, putting a full five-year max on the table as soon as the market opens feels like the only move to make.
Prediction: Ingram signs a five-year max contract with the Pelicans.
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
VanVleet’s rise to relevance north of the border has been nothing short of unbelievable.
He wasn’t drafted and didn’t have a rotation spot in 2016-17, but he has rapidly ascended the pecking order ever since. He was a complementary reserve as a sophomore and a featured bench player in his third year, which was punctuated by a championship run in which he logged Toronto’s sixth-most playoff minutes.
Now, he’s a full-time starter and two-way contributor for the second-seeded Raptors. He ranks second on the team in assists (6.6, against 2.3 turnovers) and three-pointers (2.7, converted at a 38.8 percent clip) and sits third in scoring (17.6).
Toronto would surely love to him back, but it’s complicated. The Raptors can only spend so much this summer if they want to make a run at Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021 (and they do). And in addition to VanVleet, they also have Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher reaching free agency.
This could open the door for an outside suitor to swoop in and swipe VanVleet away. The New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons both have money to burn and uncertain futures at point guard. Both are viable destinations, but our crystal ball sees VanVleet reuniting with his old coach, Dwane Casey, in the Motor City.
Prediction: VanVleet signs a four-year contract with the Pistons.