Securing the bag: 5 players vying for a big free-agent deal next summer

Securing the bag: 5 players vying for a big free-agent deal next summer

The upcoming NBA campaign is a chance for many pending free agents to solidify their value ahead of next summer.

Some of these players are nearing the end of their rookie deal, while others are looking for a payday that’ll take them into the prime of their career.

Here are five players looking to secure the bag.

Josh Green, Dallas Mavericks

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Current salary: $4.8 million; RFA at end of season

Dallas has resisted including Green in any trade packages amid mounting pressure to build a winning squad around Luka Doncic. The 6-foot-5 guard showed promise in the second half of the previous campaign as he took on a bigger role following a 20-game injury absence. He started 20 of the Mavs’ final 32 regular season contests, averaging 10.7 points, 3.7 boards, and 2.2 assists to go along with a 38% clip from deep.

Green has developed into an efficient three-level scorer. The Aussie made 72% of his attempts at the rim and 51% from the mid-range. His 45% clip on non-corner threes ranked in the 99th percentile among wings, per Cleaning the Glass. He drilled 41.2% of his catch-and-shoot triples as well, providing Doncic and Kyrie Irving with a reliable outside threat off the drive-and-kick.

Green also helps the star duo as a secondary ball-handler and facilitator. He’s been an impact defender for the club with his athleticism, active hands, and hustle plays. Dallas allowed 3.6 more points per 100 possessions last season when Green wasn’t on the floor.

Tyus Jones, Washington Wizards

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Current salary: $14 million; UFA at end of season

Jones has been among the Association’s top backup point guards throughout most of his NBA career. While the Duke product’s raw numbers have never jumped off the charts, he’s been a steady presence on the second unit for both the Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies.

For five straight campaigns, Jones has registered the top assist-to-turnover ratio, including a single-season league record of 7.04 in 2021-22. The Wizards’ guard has recorded no fewer than 3.7 assists per game during that span in just over 21 minutes of action.

Jones will finally get a chance to start this upcoming season, and he isn’t entirely unfamiliar with the role. When Ja Morant was out of the lineup, the Minnesota native stepped in and looked more than capable of leading a team, averaging 14.5 points, 7.3 assists, and 1.4 steals across 45 starts over the last two seasons. He also shot 40.6% from downtown and 47.6% overall.

Jones, 28, is entering the prime of his career and could secure a lucrative multi-year contract with a solid showing in the nation’s capital.

Nicolas Claxton, Brooklyn Nets

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Current salary: $8.8 million; UFA at end of season

Claxton is looking to prove that last season was no fluke. The big man had a breakout 2022-23 campaign in his first year as the Nets’ full-time starter, averaging 12.6 points, 9.2 boards, 2.5 blocks, and 1.9 assists over 76 appearances. He led all players with a scorching 70.5% field-goal percentage and trailed only Brook Lopez in total swats (189).

Claxton earned some Defensive Player of the Year buzz, finishing 10th with seven third-place votes. Opponents shot 50.4% against Claxton on attempts within 10 feet of the basket, which was the sixth-best mark among players who defended at least 275 field goals in that range. In terms of centers, the 24-year-old was second in both contested twos (700) and deflections (173), and he tallied the fourth-most contested threes (219).

Claxton fits the timeline of Brooklyn’s young core, and the club should do everything within its power to bring him back. However, he’ll certainly have no shortage of suitors and should command a hefty price tag as arguably the top center on the market next summer.

Markelle Fultz, Orlando Magic

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Current salary: $17.7 million; UFA at end of season

Everybody loves a comeback story. It’s pretty incredible that Fultz is even in a position to cash in considering how his NBA career started. While he’ll probably never live up to the label of being a No. 1 overall pick, he’s resurrected his career with Orlando.

Fultz averaged personal bests in multiple categories last season, including points (14), assists (5.7), and steals (1.5), to go with a career-best field-goal percentage (51.4%). The Washington product’s assist percentage of 29% was in the 96th percentile among combo guards, per Cleaning the Glass.

Fultz was at his best whenever he attacked downhill, displaying some of the explosiveness and crafty finishing that made him a collegiate star. The 25-year-old registered 5.8 points and 1.5 assists per contest off drives to the basket. The threat of Fultz knifing into the paint opened up opportunities for him to pull up in the mid-range.

On the defensive end, Fultz pressured ball-handlers, deflected passes, and used his frame to prevent opposing guards from blowing by him. He’s also been a calming influence on a young Magic team, recognizing when it’s appropriate to push the pace or slow down.

Orlando’s backcourt is flushed with budding guards, so the Magic will likely allow Fultz to walk if he’s offered something out of their price range. Should he replicate or improve upon his numbers from the previous campaign, there will surely be a team willing to reward him.

Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks

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Current salary: $8.1 million; RFA at end of season

Okongwu will be a starter in the NBA next season. The question is where he’ll get that opportunity. Okongwu spent his first three campaigns backing up Clint Capela, but the USC standout’s efficient production has shown he’s ready for a bigger role.

Okongwu averaged 15.4 points, 11.2 boards, and 2.1 blocks per 36 minutes last season. The 22-year-old finished 10th league-wide in total blocks (107) and 14th in offensive rebounds (217) despite playing roughly 23 minutes per game. He was 15th among centers with 649 contested shots.

Okongwu brings a lot to the table on both ends. His screen-setting was an important component of Atlanta’s seventh-ranked offense. He runs the floor in transition, switches one through five on the defensive end, and is a better passer than his numbers indicate.

Most of Okongwu’s offense comes off cuts and rolls to the rim, but he began to expand his range last season after operating almost exclusively within the paint for his first two seasons. The former All-Pac-12 first-team selection shot 48.2% from the mid-range and hit 57.1% of his right corner threes in a limited sample.

Okongwu’s two-way potential is certainly worth betting on, especially at his age. The Hawks will need to decide if they’ll be the ones making that investment.

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