This is probably the biggest group, but it also represents the most danger. Miss on a player making over $10 million a year annually, and it can set your franchise back.
Let’s start in Houston with Chandler Parsons, who could receive a big offer sheet from a team trying to keep the Rockets from maintaining cap space and bringing in a big star. Parsons would have to agree to it first, but if he’s just looking to get paid regardless, perhaps he won’t be so patient. It’s easy to see Parsons at a deal starting right at $11 million a year or so.
Luol Deng is an unrestricted free agent who should be in that range as well. Deng is a solid two-way player who should appeal to multiple teams, even if his mileage and lack of perimeter shooting might hurt his value a bit.
Still, if Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports is correct, it’s hard to see Deng taking any less than $10 million: “Within days of the Chicago Bulls unloading Luol Deng for salary-cap relief and a first-round draft pick, the All-Star forward rejected a three-year, $30 million contact extension, a league source told Yahoo Sports.”
Penciling Deng in for a deal starting around $12 million a year makes sense.
Dwyane Wade should definitely fall into this category as well, especially after turning down a player option worth two years and $42 million. Wade may covet long-term financial security more than anything else, but it’s highly unlikely he takes less than $10 million a season at this point. Even if things fall apart in Miami, plenty of teams will give him that.
Sacramento Kings guard and restricted free agent Isaiah Thomas is a threat to touch $10 million annually, but it seems unlikely given the depth of the position around the league and the lack of suitors. That might be what it takes to ensure Sacramento doesn’t match, though, so there’s a chance he gets it.
Lance Stephenson and Pau Gasol are the last two candidates who could realistically pull down more than $10 million a year. Stephenson probably won’t get that with the Indiana Pacers, however, so a deal around $8-9 million might be more realistic.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph extended for two years and $20 million, so Gasol can likely hunt for a similar amount. He could end up on either side of that line, depending on whether he’s adamant about playing for a contender. That definitely seems like his range, though.
Trevor Ariza could surprise some, especially if the Washington Wizards need to pay extra to keep him around, but $10 million annually is probably too high for him. Something closer to $7-8 million sounds about right.
No other player should approach this amount. Deng, Parsons and Wade seem very likely to be in this group, with Gasol, Thomas and Stephenson all having a decent chance to join.
Versatile players like Josh McRoberts, Shaun Livingston and Spencer Hawes have been good finds for contenders like the Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers, but which other players will join them this offseason?
Teams will hope for Trevor Ariza and Pau Gasol, but they’ll almost certainly be out of price range. Ditto forPaul Pierce, who could probably make double that amount by agreeing to stay with the Brooklyn Nets.
Shawn Marion seems like a strong candidate for the MLE, as that’s a good way to latch on with a competitive team. He’s still a very strong defender and rebounder, so he should have quite a few suitors.
P.J. Tucker is another defensive-minded forward who could draw that kind of deal, although the Phoenix Suns would likely match as long as other pieces were already in place.
Jordan Hill seems like a good bet, as he’s instant energy and rebounding off the bench. He might be worth a little more than this even though he put up good stats on a bad team. Kris Humphries is in the same boat as Hill and provides similar production, so whoever signs first will likely set the market for the other.
Andray Blatche was a big part of Brooklyn’s turnaround last year, and signing skilled big men to the MLE seems to be the popular theme this season. Ed Davis could slot in here as well if a team believes in his potential.
Nick Young is a dark-horse candidate for a team that desperately needs bench scoring, although it’s hard to see any team trusting him beyond two years or so.
Ramon Sessions, Mario Chalmers and Greivis Vasquez are threats to receive the MLE given that Darren Collison received it, but the odds are against them. Same goes for Marvin Williams.
Marion, Tucker, Hill and Humphries should be the favorites to receive the mid-level exception, or perhaps a little more.