2018 Free Agency Primer: We bring you the top five players at each position

LeBron James speaks to the media after Cleveland was swept by Golden State in the NBA Finals. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Free agency starts at 12:01 Sunday. Barring any significant trades that allow them to shed salaries, the Miami Heat lack cap space to become a major player this summer.

More than 125 players are free to sign with any team, although several are restricted. Here is our list of the top players at this time at each position.


Chris Paul, Houston: The Rockets will try to find a way to bring back Paul – he can sign for $205 million over five years – and add LeBron James or Paul George.

Isaiah Thomas, Lakers: Thomas’ timing could not have been worse. He insists he is a max player but he won’t get close to that after a season in which his production fell and questions still persist about his hip.

Rajon Rondo, New Orleans: Rondo is no longer the player he was in Boston but he has rehabilitated his image in Chicago and New Orleans and continues to be a solid floor general.

Elfrid Payton, Phoenix: The Suns acquired Payton from Orlando at the trade deadline hoping he would be their point guard of the future. Not so and they are moving on from Payton.

Fred Van Vleet, Toronto (R): Van Vleet had a breakout year last season, his third in the league and will receive a nice pay raise from the $1.3 million he made in 2017-18.


Zach LaVine, Bulls (R): LaVine returned from ACL surgery and looked good in his half season in Chicago. If teams are not scared off by the injury he could get close to the max.

Tyreke Evans, Memphis: Evans had a solid year averaging 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists. At 28 he is looking at his last big contract.

Will Barton, Denver: An underrated player who has steadily improved the last four seasons had his best season heading into free agency. Mostly a reserve but proved last season he can be productive starting.

JJ Redick, Philadelphia: Redick made the most of his one-year, $23 million deal with the 76ers, averaging 17.1 points. Now, he is on the market again.

Marcus Smart, Boston: Smart has been a valuable reserve for the Celtics the last two years and helped his cause in the playoffs. One of the top defensive guards in the league.


LeBron James, Cleveland: Everything is on hold until James decides where he is headed – he first must decline his player option for $35.6 million. The Lakers appear to be in the lead but the Cavaliers are holding out hope he returns.

Kevin Durant, Golden State: Durant is expected to decline his player option for $26.2 million after signing a two-year deal last summer and re-signing with the Warriors. Durant said he’s ready to ink a long-term deal.

Paul George, Oklahoma City: The Thunder were hoping to retain George after the gamble it took last summer to trade for him and put together a team that could compete for a title. George opted out and will field offers, which doesn’t look good for OKC.

Trevor Ariza, Houston: The Rockets will make an attempt to somehow land James but that will take creativity and certainly would mean losing Ariza. Otherwise, the Rockets are in play.

Rudy Gay, San Antonio: Gay declined his player option for $8.8 million to test free agency for a second consecutive season. He averaged 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in his one year in San Antonio.


Aaron Gordon, Orlando (R): Gordon is going to get paid – he is seeking a max deal – and the Magic have a big decision as to whether they match an offer to keep him, let him go or try to work out a sign-and-trade.

Julius Randle, Lakers (R): Randle’s future is as murky as anybody’s on the market depending on what happens in L.A. The Lakers are trying to land some combination of LeBron, Leonard and Paul George – or even all three – and how it unfolds will determine whether Randle returns.

Derrick Favors, Utah: Favors is an under-the-radar free agent who will be a nice pickup for somebody if he leaves Utah. The Jazz want him back but his future will have everything to do with how much money is left after the big names move.

Jabari Parker, Milwaukee (R): Parker struggled this season playing just 31 games after returning from a torn ACL. Not sure the Bucks are eager to give him a large contract which could limit his offer on the open market.

Montrezl Harrell, Clippers: Another underrated player who played an important role on the Clippers after being acquired last summer in the Chris Paul trade. An explosive player with great energy who is a tough matchup at 6-8. Can also play center.


DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans: Cousins’ torn Achilles came at a bad time. He would have been a max player but likely will have to take less after suffering the injury in late January. The big question is if the Pelicans really want him back?

Clint Capela, Houston (R): The Rockets love Capela and matching an offer would be a no-brainer if it weren’t for their pursuit of LeBron. Ideally, Houston retains Chris Paul and Capela and somehow lands LeBron, but that will be difficult.

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers: Jordan could exercise his player option and be traded to Dallas before free agency kicks off. He is a capable scorer, one of the best rebounders in the league and a huge asset defensively.

Jusuf Nurkic, Portland (R): Nurkic improved during his first full season in Portland but he remains an inconsistent player. The Trail Blazers will have a decision to make when he receives an offer.

Brook Lopez, Lakers: Lopez has expanded his game, making 246 threes on 34.5 percent shooting the last two years. He made just three threes in his first eight seasons. A return to L.A. is unlikely.

2018 Heat Offseason Preview

[Monday’s question: LeBron James could be on the move again, do the Heat have a chance of bringing him back?]

[Tuesday’s question: Will Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem return for a 16th NBA season or retire?]

[Wednesday’s question: Will 3-point specialist Wayne Ellington return to Heat?]

[Thursday’s question: With no cap space, can Heat turn to trades to improve roster?]

[Friday’s question: Does Hassan Whiteside’s contract make him untradeable?]

[Want more Heat news sent directly to your Facebook feed? Make sure to like our Heat Facebook page]


Mailbag: What does Kyrie Irving trade mean for the Heat and rest of the Eastern Conference?

MIAMI — The top two teams in the Eastern Conference swapped star point guards.

The Celtics acquired Kyrie Irving from the Cavaliers for point guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s 2018 unprotected first-round pick. What does this trade mean for the landscape of the Eastern Conference this season?

We answer that question and more in the latest installment of the Heat mailbag. Continue reading “Mailbag: What does Kyrie Irving trade mean for the Heat and rest of the Eastern Conference?”

Kyrie Irving traded to Boston: Celtics offer was too good for Heat to match, too good for Cavaliers to say no

MIAMI — The Heat were part of the Kyrie Irving sweepstakes from the start.

That was because Irving reportedly listed the Heat as one of his preferred trade destinations, along with the Knicks, Spurs and Timberwolves. But really, Miami — even with Pat Riley on its side — didn’t have a chance to land Irving once the Celtics entered the fray. Continue reading “Kyrie Irving traded to Boston: Celtics offer was too good for Heat to match, too good for Cavaliers to say no”

UPDATE: Gordon Hayward’s Free Agency Tour ends Monday; Heat, Celtics, Jazz await decision


All that’s left for Gordon Hayward is The Decision. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

ORLANDO – Free agent Gordon Hayward had his final meeting Monday, sitting down with officials from the only team he has played for during his seven-year NBA career.

Hayward met with the Utah Jazz in San Diego for 3.5 hours, according to ESPN,  and left without a decision as to whether he will return to Utah or sign with the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics. Included in the meeting was new point guard Ricky Rubio, who flew in from Spain.

Reports during the day indicated Hayward still laboring over the decision.

Hayward traveled to Miami and Boston during the weekend, but had the Jazz delegation travel to San Diego, where the Haywards have a home.

Most reports have Hayward making his decision Tuesday or Wednesday.

Utah’s pitch was different from those of Pat Riley and the Heat on Saturday and Danny Ainge and the Celtics on Sunday. The Jazz are attempting to retain a player who is very familiar with the organization, the coaches and players and the city.

     Miami and Boston pulled out stops to welcome the 6-foot-8 swingman, who is coming off his first All-Star season, and familiarize him with the organizations and the cities.

Hayward, 27, was greeted with a banner of his likeness as he and his wife, Robyn, drove up to AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. In Boston, they were taken to an empty Fenway Park where they were welcomed on the video screen and shown a video highlighting the franchise’s rich history.

The Jazz sent owner Gail Miller and her family, GM Dennis Lindsey, coach Quin Snyder, team president Steve Starks and a group of players to meet with Hayward in San Diego.

“We feel good because of the city and the organization, the level of the team, Quin, the development staff, Rudy,” Lindsey, referring to center Rudy Gobert, told the Deseret News prior to the meeting.

“We’re quite confident. We’ll see what that means. We’ll find out if that’s overconfident or appropriately placed.”

The Jazz did not have to convince Hayward that they have made significant strides. He has been a big reason the team went from 25 to 38 to 40 to 51 wins the last four years. Utah was fifth in the Western Conference last season and defeated the Clippers in seven games in the first round before being swept by eventual champions Golden State in the conference semifinals.

    Miami and Boston, meanwhile, spent a good portion of their meetings talking to Hayward about how he is a significant missing piece and how he will fit into their structure.

The Celtics attempted to sell Hayward how joining a 53-win team that advanced to the conference finals before losing in five-games to Cleveland could put them over the hump and into the Finals.

The Heat, meanwhile, had to convince Hayward they are more like the team that had the second-best record (30-11) in the league during the second half of the season – better than Boston – and not the one that started 11-30. Miami could also sell Hayward on the fact that he would be the No. 1 option and play with a point guard like Goran Dragic who is more apt to share the ball than Boston’s shoot-first point guard, Isaiah Thomas.

And both teams can gang up on Utah, pointing out how the West, already a much more powerful conference, got much stronger this summer with All-Stars Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap leaving the East either through trades or free agency.

Utah, with Hayward, could be at best No. 5 on paper in the West and even that could be debated. Put Hayward on Boston or Miami and both could have an argument they are No. 2 in the conference, the Celtics’ case being much stronger.

Hayward would be the lone Western Conference star to go to the Eastern Conference this summer if he joins Boston or Miami.

The wooing of Hayward has been played out in social media. Three star players, one from each team, became involved in an emoji war on Twitter over the weekend, each trying to promote his team.

Gobert kicked it off by suggesting the Heat are garbage, the Celtics are a pile of poop and the Jazz win trophies.

Boston’s Thomas countered by pointing out the Jazz have never won a title, the Heat have won three and Boston has 17 championships.

Miami’s Hassan Whiteside then limited that to titles won this century, of which Miami has three, Boston one and the Jazz none.

But emoji wars and fans’ takes on social media will not determine where Hayward signs. What will is everything he and his wife have heard in the last three days and soon they will share that with the rest of us.

[Miami target of a racist and ignorant taunt from Utah, Boston journalists]

[Could a weakened Eastern Conference push Gordon Hayward away from the Jazz?]

[Mailbag: Could the Miami Heat pull off a sign-and-trade if they land Gordon Hayward?]

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Five reasons to watch the NBA playoffs even though the Miami Heat are not in them

For the first time, both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be playing for teams other than the Miami Heat in the playoffs. (AP Photo)

The NBA playoffs start Saturday and the disappointment of the Miami Heat not being part of the postseason still is fresh in the minds of the South Florida sports fan.

But, the show must go on and the league usually gives us an entertaining two month run of postseason games.

Although many believe this all we come down to a third consecutive meeting between the Cavaliers and Warriors in the Finals, nothing is guaranteed, which is why there still are plenty of reason to watch from the start.

We give you five of those reasons.

Is LeBron’s run over?: The Cavaliers have left themselves no excuses not to get to the Finals. Cleveland conceded the top spot in the East by resting LeBron James and Kyrie Irving the final two games of the season, which means it’s Finals or bust to justify the move. And if Cleveland is in a Game 7 in Boston in the Eastern Conference finals, the pressure to win will be enormous. But for James to get there for a seventh consecutive year and for Cleveland to repeat as champions, the Cavs will have to fix a defense that sprung a leak and was among the worst in the league the final six weeks of the season.

How far will Dwyane Wade and the Bulls go?: Despite finishing with the same regular-season record as Miami, Chicago made it to the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed due to a head-to-head tiebreaker. Wade and the Bulls will take on the top-seeded Celtics in a first-round series that begins with Game 1 on Sunday in Boston. The Celtics are the clear favorites to win the series, but Wade, playing in the postseason for the first time in his 14-year career with a team other than the Heat, isn’t used to an early playoff exit. Wade was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs three times in his 13 seasons with the Heat.

Can the Warriors avenge last season’s Finals loss?: Golden State finished the regular season with the NBA’s best record at 67-15. But the Warriors’ road back to the Finals won’t be easy, as a matchup with the dangerous Spurs could await them in the Western Conference Finals. With Kevin Durant now on the roster to go along with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, Golden State has the most talented roster in the NBA. But will it be enough for the Warriors to make up for last season’s disappointing loss to the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals?

Are the Celtics fraudulent?: Boston finished 53-29, its best record since winning 56 games since 2010-11. Still, the Celtics were gifted the No. 1 seed in the East by the Cavaliers and they have not been the pillar of consistency with a 4-4 stretch in early March, then losing 3-of-5 in late March and early April. And while Isaiah Thomas will receive some MVP love – by that I mean he could be could sneak in to the Top 5 of the voting – can a team led by a 5-foot-9 guard truly be a title contender?

Which MVP candidate will advance?: The MVP race is down to OKC’s Russell Westbrook and Houston’s James Harden and the two will face off in the most entertaining first round matchup of the playoffs. Westbrook led the league in scoring and is the first player to average a triple double in 55 years. Harden led the league in assists and was second in scoring. Between them they averaged 60.7 points, 21.6 assists and 18.8 rebounds and combined for 64 triple doubles. This series will be the ultimate one-on-one battle and it will be fun.

[The captain speaks: Udonis Haslem discusses how special this Heat team was, his future, and Erik Spoelstra]

[Five that got away: Heat can look back at these five games in season that ended one win shy of playoffs]

[Miami Heat: Five burning questions entering the offseason]

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Five takeaways: Miami Heat begin important road trip with painful loss to Boston Celtics

BOSTON — The Heat faced plenty of adversity early in the season. It looks like they will face more late in the year.

For the past two months, Miami has been the NBA’s feel-good story as it overcame an 11-30 start to climb its way back into the playoff picture. But the Heat’s 112-108 loss to the Celtics (48-26) at TD Garden Sunday puts Miami in an uncomfortable spot. Continue reading “Five takeaways: Miami Heat begin important road trip with painful loss to Boston Celtics”

After being torched by two guards this week, Miami Heat looking to limit Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas

Boston’s Isaiah drives against Maimi’s Luke Babbitt and Hassan Whiteside in December. Thomas scored 52 points in the Celtics’s win. (AP Photo)

MIAMI – The Miami Heat became a member of the 40-40 club in the last week. … Surrendering two 40-plus point performances in two losses.

Portland’s Damian Lillard scored 49 on Sunday and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan dropped 40 on Miami four days later. Both games set back the Heat in their quest to grab one of the final playoff spots in the East.

Now, the Heat (35-37) continue that quest Sunday in Boston where they face a player who topped both Lillard and DeRozan this season. The Celtics Isaiah Thomas owns the season opponent high against Miami, totaling his career-high of 52 points – 29 of those coming in the fourth quarter – in late December in Boston, the last time these teams met.

The 5-foot-9 Thomas was 15-of-26, including 9-of-13 on threes, and converted all 13 of his free throws.

“We need to contest his shots,” said Heat guard Goran Dragic, who did not play in the game because of back spasms.

“He’s going to shoot enough shots to score his average but just try to make it tough on him and (defend) the pick-and-roll. He likes to shoot behind the screens. Just stay in front of him. It’s easy to say but as long as we play team defense we can manage.”

Thomas is third in the league with a 29.1 average and has the Celtics (47-26) second in the East, one game behind Cleveland. In 13 career games he is averaging 21.8 points against Miami, tied for second only behind his 23.6 average against Philadelphia. He has 100 points against the Heat in three games this season.

[Heat center Hassan Whiteside misses practice because of ankle but intends to play against Celtics]

[Miami Heat/Eastern Conference playoff contenders have been gaining ground by not playing]

[Miami Heat captain Udonis Haslem gathers team to praise Hassan Whiteside]

Lillard hurt the Heat coming off pick-and-rolls while DeRozan is more of an isolation shooter and one of better players in the league making tough, contested shots.

Thomas is more like Lillard, especially when it comes to shooting 3 pointers.

“You just try not to let him get into a rhythm, you try not to let him get too comfortable,” guard Josh Richardson said. “He likes to shoot threes off ball screens so you got to be up on the ball screen. I don’t think we did a great job of that last time.”

The Celtics, though, have more ways to hurt you than Portland or Toronto did this past week, especially when the Raptors are without Kyle Lowry or Serge Ibaka.

Boston is 3-0 against Miami this season. Jae Crowder had 17 the win in Miami in November, Al Horford scored 20 a few weeks later in Miami and Horford was the only other Celtics player in double figures with 21 when Thomas scored 52.

“They’re not a one man team,” Spoelstra said. “You have to play a lot of different actions, a lot of skill, they move the ball, they space the floor. It’s not as if you can just focus on Isaiah Thomas and that’s the challenge. It’s a different challenge.”

The Heat are catching the Celtics two nights after the Suns’ Devin Booker scored 70 points in a loss at Boston, the most ever against a franchise that has been around since 1946-47.

Booker was 21-of-40 and just 3-of-11 on 3 pointers. He went to the line 26 times, making 24.

The Heat held Booker to 11 points on Tuesday, their lone win of the week and the game between Portland and Toronto.

“Isn’t this the fun time of the year right now?” Spoelstra said. “Crazy stuff happening every single night.”

Dragic, though, was not impressed.

“They still lost,” he said about the Suns. “I don’t care how much I score as long as we win the game.”

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The Miami Heat welcome a day to ‘decompress’ before facing Boston Celtics’ 5-foot-9 ‘lion’


Heat guard Goran Dragic,, in his worst shooting slump of the season, said he welcomed the time Thursday to ‘clear his head.’ (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

MIAMI – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra realizes the value of his players taking a day to decompress and not pick up a basketball.

That is why Friday, a day before Miami was schedule to jet off for a crucial (aren’t they all, now?) three games on the road starting Sunday in Boston, Spoelstra told his players, at least those not requiring treatment, to stay away.

“This is the time of year, everybody is feeling it,” Spoelstra said following Miami’s 101-84 loss to the Raptors Thursday.

“This is the mental toughness that we have to get to. I’m not discounting that guys aren’t feeling it, the weight and the wear and tear of an 82-game basketball season. We’re (72) games into this. But everybody is feeling this way right now. Thankfully, we’ll have a couple days in between. (Friday) is just a rest and relaxation and treatment day. Guys will be able to recharge.”

The Heat (35-37) enter the final 10 games sitting in the eighth – and final playoff – spot in the East, one game ahead of the Pistons and Bulls and 1.5 games behind Milwaukee and Indiana, who are tied for the sixth and seventh spots.

Miami has been in a mental grind for weeks now, ever since turning around its season following an 11-30 start and slowly creeping up in the standings.

[Miami Heat captain Udonis Haslem gathers team to praise Hassan Whiteside]

[Breaking down schedules for Miami Heat and five other contenders for 5th through 8th spots in East]

[Mailbag: Should this Heat season be considered a success with just a playoff appearance?]

Naturally, the Heat would not have it any other way, not after being buried and holding the second-worst record in the league 9 ½ weeks ago and now playing meaningful games into the final few weeks of the season.

“It’s pressure. … but competitors live for this,” guard Josh Richardson said. “We talk about it every day, how thankful we are to be playing basketball, being in the position that we’re in.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way for these last games of the season to have as much meaning as they do.”

Goran Dragic welcomed the rest as much as anybody. The Heat’s leading scorer is in his worst slump of the season, shooting 33.8 percent (24 of 71) in his last four games, 26.3 percent (5 of 19) on 3 pointers.

Dragic was 5-of-18 and scored 13 points in Thursday’s loss.

“I’m that kind of a guy who has a bad game and I’m thinking too much,” he said. “I’m going to clear my head, spend some time with my family and have a fresh start, reboot myself.”

At 33.4 minutes per game, Dragic, 30, is on pace to play 2,439 minutes. His career high is 2,668 in 2014-15, the year he was traded to the Heat from Phoenix in February.

The Celtics (46-26) entered Friday one game behind Cleveland for the best record in the East. “It’s going to be tough, man. We’re going into the lion’s den in Boston dealing with their 5-8 (actually, 5-9) lion,” center Hassan Whiteside said, referring to the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas, who dropped his career high, 52 points, on the Heat Dec, 30, the last time these teams met. He had 29 in the fourth quarter.

The Heat then head to Detroit for the most important game of the season thus far, one that could mean as much as a three-game swing when taking tiebreakers into account.

“These guys want this so bad,” Spoelstra said. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we’ve possibly can to put ourselves in a position to fight for it.

“I want our guys to enjoy this. I don’t feel like we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on and I think we need a day to get away from it, decompress and get back to work on Saturday.”

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Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 117-114 loss to the Boston Celtics

BOSTON — The one thing you can’t criticize the Heat for is their effort.

Even with starting point guard Goran Dragic out with a lingering back injury on the second night of a road back-to-back, Miami kept it competitive in Boston.

But the Heat just couldn’t keep up with Isaiah Thomas. The 5-foot-9 Celtics guard scored a career-high 52 to lead Boston to a 117-114 win over the Heat (10-24) on Friday night at TD Garden. Continue reading “Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 117-114 loss to the Boston Celtics”