The NBA free agents primed for the biggest raises

The NBA free agents primed for the biggest raises

Free Agency

The NBA free agents primed for the biggest raises

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Every year there are players that overwhelmingly outperform the value of their contracts. When these players hit free agency, the annual rate of their new contract increases from double for veterans to tenfold for minimum players.

We decided to look at a handful of players set to receive big raises from their 2020-21 salaries. Most of them are young players either coming off their rookie-scale contracts or minimum deals. We used ProFitX and their salary projections to get an idea of how much these players can earn next season.

John Collins

John Collins betting on himself for this past season may have earned him a maximum contract. After earning just $11 million in his first four seasons, the starting salary on his next contract should at least double his total career earnings.

John Collins ProFitX Projection 2021

John Collins ProFitX 2021-22 Projection

ProFitX projects Collins with a $22.8 million salary in 2021-22 with a high of $25.8 million, which would give him a five-year salary in the $132-150 million range that the Hawks can offer. A full maximum contract would start him at $28.1 million with the Hawks being allowed to give him as much as a projected $163 million over five years while another team can offer $120.9 million over four years.

Collins previously rejected a four-year, $90 million extension which would translate to a five-year $116.3 million deal. Even if Collins were to get a five-year deal for slightly less than that max, the lower end of ProFitX’s projection for him still has him out-earning the annual rate of the rejected $90 million extension by a significant margin.

Reggie Jackson

After completing an $80 million contract with Detroit where he earned an average of $16 million annually, Reggie Jackson took a massive pay cut all the way down to the minimum with the Clippers.

According to ProFitX, Jackson performed at the level of a $14.4 million player in 2020-21 and project him in that salary range going forward. After completing two seasons with the Clippers, he now has Early Bird rights and is eligible for a four-year deal with them projected at $47 million. The maximum amount would give him a starting salary at around $10.5 million and a fourth-year salary at $13 million.

That should be a baseline for his next contract after his playoff heroics. Interested teams with cap space could outbid his Early Bird maximum amount to steal him from the Clippers.

Lonzo Ball

Lonzo Ball already earned a good amount of money given he’s a former second-overall pick and his next contract should be significantly higher. Ball chose to enter restricted free agency over an extension with New Orleans and there should be plenty of suitors for his services.

Lonzo Ball ProFitX 2021 Projection

Lonzo Ball ProFitX 2021-22 Projection

Ball outperformed his $11 million salary last season by approximately $5 million, according to ProFitX. While the highest end of his salary projection is in the $19 million range, that could actually be his floor in negotiations. There could be enough teams interested in Ball to drive up his annual rate north of $20 million range.

Norman Powell

The Toronto Raptors traded Norman Powell largely in part because they anticipated him getting a big raise on his next contract. Powell declined his $11.6 million player option since his performance last season flew past that valuation.

According to ProFitX, Powell outperformed his $10.9 million salary in 2020-21 by double its amount. He should double his salary on the open market with several cap space teams having a potential role for him. The Trail Blazers have no means to replace him, which could put them in a tough spot in negotiations, especially considering a $20 million starting salary will put them into the luxury tax.

Jarrett Allen

Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers

Like with Norman Powell, Jarrett Allen is also in a favorable situation having been traded to an over-the-cap team like Cleveland heading into free agency. Allen is primed for a massive raise from his $3.9 million salary from last season with valuations on his next contract as high $20 million annually.

ProFitX projects Allen with a $17.3 million salary in 2021-22. That would equate him salary-wise with centers such as Clint Capela and Steven Adams while earning more than veterans such as Jonas Valanciunas and Christian Wood. His status as a restricted free agent could drive his price up to that valuation with cap space teams like Charlotte and Toronto needing a center.

His free agency will be interesting considering the Cavaliers are in a position to potentially draft center Evan Mobley with the third-overall pick. Cleveland could select Mobley and then sign-and-trade Allen for picks, young players, and possibly a trade exception. Although they would be mostly avoiding Allen’s high price tag, it would still be good business considering they only gave up the 24th overall pick in this year’s draft for him.

Richaun Holmes

Richaun Holmes has developed into a very reliable starting center and will likely command double or even triple his previous salary. The type of contract Jarrett Allen receives could set the market for Holmes, especially since both players should have the same suitors.

Richaun Holmes ProFitX 2021-22 Projection

Richaun Holmes ProFitX 2021-22 Projection

According to ProFitX. Holmes outperformed his $5 million salary in 2020-21 with a “real-time contract” equal to Allen’s projection. They also project Holmes with a $20.1 million salary going forward with $23.5 million at the higher end of that range.

The Sacramento Kings are limited to giving Holmes the Early Bird maximum amount projected at $47 million over four years with a $10.5 million starting salary. If they want to re-sign him and offer him a contract in the range of his projection, they will need to generate cap space. For example, if they were to salary-dump Marvin Bagley and $11.3 million salary, they could generate $17 million in cap space they could use to offer Holmes a long-term deal.

Duncan Robinson

Duncan Robinson is set to receive one of the biggest raises among players previously on minimum contracts. ProFitX projects him with a $13.5 million salary for the 2021-22 season, which would equate to a four-year, $60 million deal with full 8 percent raises.

However, that projection may pale in comparison to the offers he may actually receive in free agency. The $72 million and $80 million Joe Harris and Davis Bertans received last offseason, respectively, could serve as a marker for what Robinson will be commanding. All three players shot at least 40 percent from the three-point line in 2020-21.

The Heat are in a great spot in regards to re-signing Robinson since his low cap hold allows them to utilize close to $27 million in cap space. They can re-sign him after spending their cap space for up to the maximum since they have his full Bird rights. The salary cap gymnastics also applies to Kendrick Nunn, who is also set for a significant raise this offseason.

Gary Trent Jr.

Gary Trent Jr

Gary Trent Jr. was eligible for an extension this past season projected at a maximum of $54 million over four years. While it’s unclear if Portland offered him that full amount, he chose to bypass an extension and enter free agency instead.

According to ProFitX, Trent Jr. performed at the level of a $12.3 million player, which is also slightly higher than the starting salary of the $54 million extension he was eligible for. He is projected with a $14.9 million salary moving forward, which would equate to a four-year, $66.5 million deal with full 8 percent raises. It is safe to say that Trent’s bet on himself has earned him more guaranteed money on his next contract.

Like Miami with Robinson and Nunn, the Toronto Raptors can also generate a lot of cap space (projected at $21 million) and re-sign Trent Jr. afterward. Trading Powell for Trent Jr. proved to be very advantageous for them not only because he’s younger, but also because his projected salary is lower than Powell’s.

Josh Hart

Josh Hart should be a heavily sought-after guard in free agency who can fit on just about any team. Offers should start as low as the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (NT-MLE) but he could get offers exceeding that amount.

ProFitX projects Hart with a $10.7 million salary in 2021-22, which is slightly higher than the $9.5 million NT-MLE. He could be a sign-and-trade candidate for over-the-cap teams if his starting salary doesn’t deviate too much higher than his projection.

New Orleans can re-sign both Ball and Hart to contracts meeting their respective projections and still reach the 14 player roster minimum while avoiding the luxury tax. Alternatively, the Pelicans can generate $25 million in cap space following their trade with Memphis and re-sign Hart afterward if they renounce all cap holds except his.

Cameron Payne

Cameron Payne has Early Bird rights and is eligible for the same four-year $47 million contract with the Suns as Reggie Jackson and Richaun Holmes are. Payne has come a long way since Chicago waived him in 2019 and is now positioned to out-earn his average salary from his rookie-scale contract.

Cameron Payne ProFitX 2021-22 Projection

Cameron Payne ProFitX 2021-22 Projection

According to ProFitX, Payne had a “real-time contract” of $12.8 million in 2020-21 and projects with a $10.1 million salary going forward. That projection aligns his value with the Early Bird maximum amount he is eligible for, which would make him one of the highest-paid backup point guards in the league.

The Suns will be in the luxury tax starting in the 2022-23 season after they presumably extend Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, and re-sign Chris Paul. Factoring Payne at his salary projection would further increase their high luxury tax bill. It will be interesting to see how high the Suns are willing to go on Payne’s next contract this offseason.

Devonte' Graham

Devonte’ Graham was eligible for a four-year $54 million maximum extension like Gary Trent Jr. was but will instead become a restricted free agency. Perhaps Charlotte didn’t want to extend him so they could take advantage of his low cap hold and utilize close to $24 million in cap space.

ProFitX projects Graham with a $17.9 million salary, which would make him the highest-paid backup point guard just ahead of Ricky Rubio. An annual rate that high is more justifiable if he were starting but that is unlikely to happen in Charlotte after the emergence of LaMelo Ball. They may want to bring him back at a rate closer to or lower than the $13.5 million annual rate of his maximum extension amount.

Alex Caruso

After three seasons as a two-way player and two more seasons earning close to the minimum, Alex Caruso is set to get a substantial raise this offseason. Like Josh Hart, Caruso could contribute to any team, and offers should start at around the NT-MLE. He will likely be one of the Lakers’ most prioritized free agents this offseason.

Alex Caruso ProFitX 2021-22 Projection

Alex Caruso ProFitX 2021-22 Projection

Caruso projects to perform at the level of a $7.5 million player, according to ProFitX. His performance in 2020-21 was that of an $8.9 million player, which would make a $7.5 million salary very team-friendly for the Lakers. They have his Bird rights so they can match any offer he gets, but his projected salary range makes a lot of sense for the Lakers considering they could have a very high luxury tax bill if they re-sign most of their free agents.

Talen Horton-Tucker

Talen Horton-Tucker, Los Angeles Lakers

After making the minimum salary in his first two years, Talen Horton-Tucker is set to get a big raise. ProFitX projects Horton-Tucker’s production next season to that of a $11.2 million player, which would technically make him a bargain since he can’t earn that amount next season. His starting salary in 2020-21 cannot be greater than either the projected $10.5 million the Lakers can offer him via Early Bird rights, or the $9.5 million NT-MLE other teams are limited to offering him due to the Gilbert Arenas Provision.

Although teams can offer Horton-Tucker offer sheets that significantly backload the last two years of the deal, such a contract is very risky and could easily backfire. Fred VanVleet and Thomas Bryant recently were Early Bird free agents who could’ve gotten such offers but re-signed with their teams for two years, $18 million and three years, $25 million, respectively.

If the rest of the league has cooled down on the idea of offering these types of contracts to eligible free agents, look for Horton-Tucker to re-sign with the Lakers on a short-term deal similar to the ones VanVleet and Bryant got. For example, a two-year, $20 million deal, combined with his minimum earnings from his first two seasons, would still have him earning as much money in his first four seasons as the 8th overall pick in the 2019 draft will.

Note: ProFitX is a dynamic financial and performance index powered by Artificial Intelligence with front-office optics displaying 17 visual and time-series models for 480-plus NBA athletes. The Athledex models historical, dynamic and future performance data to monitor and project insights on contracts, performance, injuries, team fit, development, and potential.


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