NBA free agency 2018: The top point guards who could hit the market

Russell Westbrook could be a free agent come July 2018. (Getty)

The first week of NBA free agency in 2017 was insane. Mad. Dizzying. Crazy. Right?

It’s been OK. But it’s nothing compared to what we could have on our hands in 2018.

With the majority of notable 2017 free agents off the board, it’s time to peek ahead to the NBA free agent class of 2018, which could be full of stars and superstars alike. Some will be expected to return to their incumbent teams, or opt into the final years of their contracts. Some are restricted free agents. But many will hit the open market, which could make for the wildest summer of player movement in some time.

Over the coming week, we’ll be taking a look at the prospective 2018 class. Monday is for the point guards; Tuesday is for the wings; Wednesday is for the bigs; and Thursday will be for the top 50 overall. Without further ado …

TOP 10 FREE AGENT POINT GUARDS IN 2018

Key: ^ = player option * = restricted free agent ** = team option

1. Russell Westbrook^
Current team: Oklahoma City Thunder | Age on July 1, 2018: 29 | 2017-18 salary: $28.5 million

Westbrook can sign the richest contract extension in NBA history whenever he wants to. Pen and paper are waiting patiently for him in Oklahoma City. But he hasn’t yet touched them, and appears to be ruminating on the decision before committing his long-term future to the Thunder.

Still, the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player could re-up with OKC anytime between now and next summer. But if he and newly acquired running buddy Paul George don’t gel, or if he simply decides to explore other opportunities, Westbrook could opt out of his contract and become next summer’s top free agent point guard. — Henry Bushnell

2. Chris Paul
Current team: Houston Rockets | Age on July 1, 2018: 33 | 2017-18 salary: $24.6 million

Paul unexpectedly opted in to the final year of his Clippers deal, enabling him to engineer a sign-and-trade to Houston. There, he’ll join forces with James Harden, and will likely spend more time off the ball than he has in his 12-year NBA career. Regardless of how the two amplify or mute each other’s strengths, though, Paul, even at 32 going on 33, should command the max when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. Paul could also sign an extension in Houston, but he’d be eligible for a bigger contract if he waits until next July. — HB

3. Isaiah Thomas
Current team: Boston Celtics | Age on July 1, 2018: 29 | 2017-18 salary: $6.3 million

Last July, after averaging a career-high 22.2 points and 6.2 assists per game en route to his first-ever All-Star and playoff appearances, Thomas described his future contract talks with the Celtics by saying, “They better bring out the Brinks truck. They’re paying everybody else. I gotta get something.” Last week, after bumping that scoring average by nearly seven points per game on the most efficient shooting of his career en route to his first All-NBA selection, a fifth-place finish in MVP voting and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals, Thomas sang the same rich refrain: “My time is coming. They know they’ve got to bring the Brinks truck.”

There’s no denying that the 5-foot-9 game-breaker and fourth-quarter killer has earned a mammoth raise over the four-year, $27 million deal he inked with the Phoenix Suns three years ago. But in a league landscape in which the salary cap has flattened out after last summer’s sticker-shock-inducing spike, and in which few teams figure to have massive amounts of money to spend, will Thomas find multiple suitors willing to offer a max deal starting at about $30.6 million for the 2018-19 season?

If not, will a Celtics team that’s already committed nearly 60 percent of the ’18-’19 cap to center Al Horford and newly acquired forward Gordon Hayward try to squeeze Thomas a bit, believing that an external reluctance to pay the undersized scorer max money through his mid-30s might help Boston retain him at a (slightly) discounted rate? That might be the right roster-management play for a club looking to stay in title contention now without strip-mining its future, but I wouldn’t blame Danny Ainge for getting a little bit of indigestion every time he hears that “Brinks truck” talk. (Although maybe that’s just all the Chipotle.) — Dan Devine

Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas could both be free agents in 2018. Will the Celtics pay both of them? (Getty)

4. Marcus Smart*
Current team: Boston Celtics | Age on July 1, 2018: 24 | 2017-18 salary: $4.5 million

Smart’s been one of Boston’s key reserves ever since entering the league out of Oklahoma State, and figures to see his role increased now that the Celtics have bid a fond farewell to longtime pitbull Avery Bradley. He’s an ace defender, ranking in the top 10 among point guards who played half the season in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus last year — and in the top 10 with no caveats necessary in the two seasons prior — while showing the capacity and tenacity to credibly check bigger (and sometimes much bigger) players, too.

The concerns remains on the other end. Smart’s an advancing ball-mover and playmaker, averaging a career-best 5.5 assists per 36 minutes of floor time last year, but he’s yet to shoot better than 37 percent from the field or 34 percent from 3-point range through three pro seasons. If his accuracy doesn’t make a leap this season, he could see a cool restricted free agent market that lands his payday in Andre Roberson territory. If the needle ticks north, though, his versatility and the prospect of continued improvement through his prime years could lead a team in need of backcourt help to view him as a building block worth betting on. — DD

5. Tony Parker
Current team: San Antonio Spurs | Age on July 1, 2018: 36 | 2017-18 salary: $15.5 million

Parker ruptured his quad tendon late in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets, and will be sidelined for around eight months, likely until January. His post-injury effectiveness will determine whether there’s a market for him next summer. His performance has declined as he’s dipped deeper into his 30s, but, if healthy, he should still have a role to play in San Antonio. — HB

Jeremy Lin was productive when healthy for the Nets. (AP)

6. Jeremy Lin^
Current team: Brooklyn Nets | Age on July 1, 2018: 29 | 2017-18 salary: $12 million

When Lin agreed to terms with the Nets last summer, I wondered whether unquestioned status as a team’s top point guard presaged a return to stardom for Knicks fans’ favorite pick-and-roll comet. “Stardom” might be too strong a word, but amid a season-scuttling raft of injuries, Lin did produce when he was on the court. He averaged 21.3 points, 7.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, and assisted on a share of his teammates’ buckets that would’ve ranked just outside the league’s top 10. The Nets performed 4.2 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor than off it, going 13-23 with him in the lineup (.361 win percentage, a 30-win pace) compared to 7-39 with him sidelined (.152 win percentage, a 12-win pace).

After Brooklyn added former No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell just before the 2017 NBA draft, Lin will enter next season in a familiar situation: expected to share touches and opportunities with another lead ball-handler and playmaker. He says he’s excited for the partnership, but if they don’t quite mesh, or if Lin again looks to have more potential to pop as a solo artist than he does in a tandem, he could become an intriguing option for a team looking for a big name at the point who might still have some as-yet-untapped production after several years of sharing and false starts. — DD

7. Lou Williams
Current team: Los Angeles Clippers | Age on July 1, 2018: 31 | 2017-18 salary: $7 million

Williams has now gone 10 straight seasons with a scoring average in double figures, and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. In fact, his age 30 campaign was his best yet. He put up 17.5 points per game, the top mark of his 12-year career, and was deemed worthy of a first-round pick when Rockets GM Daryl Morey acquired him via trade in February. His lack of size makes him a liability on defense, and he’s never been an overly willing passer, but he has made and will continue to make a living as an instant-offense power-up off the bench. If he doesn’t fall off a cliff during his second Los Angeles stint, this one with the Clippers, Williams could receive the highest annual salary of his career next summer. — HB

8. Austin Rivers^
Current team: Los Angeles Clippers | Age on July 1, 2018: 25 | 2017-18 salary: $11.8 million

Rivers will vie with Williams, Patrick Beverley and just-added Serbian magician Milos Teodosic for minutes and looks in a Clippers backcourt that will be wholly reoriented in the absence of Paul and departed shooting guards J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford. Jokes about his favored son status — and reporting about how it might’ve rankled some in the L.A. locker room — aside, the Duke product has earned a spot in the NBA as a reserve scorer who can get to the basket, who’s got a credible enough jumper, and who works hard defensively at either guard spot. It’s unlikely he’ll land a starting job next summer, but if he hits the market, he could draw interest from teams looking for instant offense off the bench … including, perhaps, the one his dad runs. — DD

9. Cory Joseph^
Current team: Indiana Pacers | Age on July 1, 2018: 26 | 2017-18 salary: $7.6 million

After spending six seasons as a backup, first behind Parker in San Antonio and then behind Kyle Lowry in Toronto, Joseph’s contract year should at least offer him a chance to compete for starter’s minutes. He’ll be traded to Indiana, where he’ll split the point guard gig with Darren Collison. Even if he doesn’t eventually win the job outright, Joseph should be given the opportunity to shoulder more of an offensive and leadership burden — and, by extension, an opportunity to make some money when he hits the market next summer, provided he declines his player option. — HB

10. Seth Curry
Current team: Dallas Mavericks | Age on July 1, 2018: 27 | 2017-18 salary: $3.0 million

You can’t really say that Seth escaped his brother’s shadow last season, but that’s only because a second title in three years and (briefly) the richest contract in NBA history tends to block out quite a bit of earned spotlight. After showing he belonged in the NBA during a stint in Sacramento, though, Seth did his part to emerge, going to Dallas, earning Rick Carlisle’s trust, earning a place on the floor, and earning the right to stay there.

He averaged 12.8 points, 2.7 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game on very strong 48/42.5/85 shooting splits during his first season in Dallas, and was more efficient in a larger role in the starting lineup, too. Now, he’s earned consideration as part of the Mavericks’ core alongside Harrison Barnes, 2017 first-round pick Dennis Smith Jr. and presumably-getting-re-signed-at-some-point center Nerlens Noel. If he produces like that again as a lethal spot-up option and capable backcourt defender, the rebuilding Mavs could face competition for the right to hang on to their own sharpshooting Curry. — DD

Other 2018 free agent point guards:

Elfrid Payton*, Orlando Magic
Yogi Ferrell*, Dallas Mavericks
Dante Exum*, Utah Jazz
Garrett Temple^, Sacramento Kings
Michael Carter-Williams, Charlotte Hornets
Malcolm Delaney*, Atlanta Hawks
Jameer Nelson, Denver Nuggets
Raymond Felton, Oklahoma City Thunder
Devin Harris, Dallas Mavericks
C.J. Watson, Orlando Magic
Shabazz Napier*, Portland Trail Blazers
Raul Neto*, Utah Jazz
Tim Frazier, Washington Wizards
Fred VanVleet*, Toronto Raptors
Chasson Randle*, New York Knicks
Tim Quarterman*, Houston Rockets
Quinn Cook*, New Orleans Pelicans
Gary Payton II*, Milwaukee Bucks
Briante Weber*, Charlotte Hornets

Top still-unsigned 2017 free agent point guards:

Derrick Rose
Rajon Rondo
Brandon Jennings
Ty Lawson
Deron Williams
Trey Burke
Randy Foye
Norris Cole
Tyler Ennis
Isaiah Canaan
Aaron Brooks
Ramon Sessions
Sergio Rodriguez
Beno Udrih
Nando de Colo

More BDL 2018 free agency previews: Point Guards | Wings | Bigs | Overall