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NBA free agency lacks star power, but that could change

DeMar DeRozan directs the Spurs' offense during a game last season.
DeMar DeRozan directs the Spurs’ offense during a game last season. Could the free-agent guard return to his hometown next season?
(Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

Now that the 2020-21 NBA championship trophy resides in Milwaukee behind the standout performances by Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, the rest of the league is in chase mode to see how they might be able to claim the crown next season.

Aside from a blockbuster trade, one way is for teams to use the free-agent market as a vehicle to seek major roster upgrades. Free agency opens Aug. 2.

The 2021 class of free agents is not considered strong, especially compared with the 2019 group that had Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler, all of whom opted out of the final year of their deals to change teams.

The top unrestricted free agents that teams will be pursuing are Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry, Utah point guard Mike Conley and San Antonio shooting guard DeMar DeRozan.

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DeRozan, who starred at Compton High and USC, has interest in returning home to play for the Lakers, even if it is for less than the $27.7 million he earned last season in San Antonio, according to people not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Though the Lakers didn’t acquire Lowry at the trade deadline, he remains interested in joining them, according to people with knowledge of his situation.

Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul can decline options and join the free-agent frenzy in August. A look at the NBA offseason for the Lakers and Clippers.

“It’s a very average free-agent group for unrestricted free agents,” said one Western Conference executive. “For example, there is no KD or a Giannis. The best guys are DeRozan, Lowry and Conley. But if some guys opt out of their contracts and become unrestricted free agents, then that changes things.”

If the Clippers’ Leonard and the Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul elect to decline their player options and become free agents, they would make things much more interesting.

Leonard, who is due to make $36 million next season, has a deadline of Aug. 1 to let the Clippers know of his decision. Paul, who is due to make $44.2 million next season, also has a deadline of Aug. 1 to let the Suns know of his decision.

“Now, no one expects Paul or Leonard to leave their teams if they opt out, but you never know,” said another West executive. “But there has been enough noise about Paul going to the Knicks. So, one just never knows. And, honestly, that makes this fun. Stressing, but fun.”

For both L.A. teams, they will have some work to do to put a roster together.

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The Lakers essentially have six players under contract for next season — LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Marc Gasol and Alfonzo McKinnie, who the Lakers hold a team option. Center Montrezl Harrell has a player option for next season at $9.7 million, and he has a deadline of July 31 to let the Lakers know.

A report that Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard will ask for a trade has ignited speculation on where he might land. Can the Lakers acquire him?

Dennis Schroder, Wesley Matthews, Alex Caruso, Jared Dudley, Markieff Morris, Andre Drummond and Ben McLemore are unrestricted free agents. Talen Horton-Tucker, who was given a qualifying offer by the Lakers on Thursday, is a restricted free agent.

Clippers center Serge Ibaka holds a player option for next season at $9.7 million. His deadline on a decision is Aug. 1.

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Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum are unrestricted free agents who had good seasons for the Clippers and probably will command higher salaries than what they made last season. Center DeMarcus Cousins is also an unrestricted free agent.

There are some other interesting free agents out there.

Guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who starred at Woodland Hills Taft High and Colorado, declined his player option for $12.3 million with Brooklyn to become an unrestricted free agent. Dinwiddie, who missed most of last season because of an ACL injury, has interest in joining the Lakers.

Blake Griffin, Nerlens Noel and Jeff Green are unrestricted free agents.

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Will NBA superstars Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul join veteran guards like Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Dennis Schroder as free agents?

Lonzo Ball, John Collins, Jarrett Allen, Duncan Robinson and Gary Trent Jr. are restricted free agents.

“It’s a big free-agent class, but only a handful of really good ones,” said an Eastern Conference executive. “There could be some good moves to make for teams.”


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