The regular season ends three weeks from tonight, and while the playoffs lie ahead, precious little time remains for the top 2016 NBA free agents to make their cases on the court to front offices around the league. We’ve ranked the best of this year’s free agent class from time to time since last summer’s free agent market died down, and amid a crucial stretch run, it’s time to do so again. Here’s where they stand:
- Kevin Durant — The prize of this year’s free agency is addressing the summer ahead more often now as it approaches, but only in general terms, and while the Warriors and Spurs are threats to land him, the appeal of staying “home” in Oklahoma City still looms large. Last time: No. 1.
- LeBron James (player option) — We can’t accuse LeBron of not having fun with his ability to hit free agency every year. His cryptic messages via social media raise eyebrows, and sometimes he needn’t even say anything to cause a stir, as was the case when he unfollowed the Cavs on Twitter this week. Still, he risks turning his beloved northeast Ohio into a land of antipathy if he dares leave Cleveland again. Last time: No. 2.
- Andre Drummond (restricted) — The outcome of Drummond’s free agency is essentially preordained, since both sides were on board with not doing an extension this past fall and allowing the Pistons greater cap flexibility before an inevitable max-contract signing in the summer. His numbers have dipped after a strong start, but it’s hard to argue with 16.5 points and 14.9 rebounds per game overall. Last time: No. 4.
- DeMar DeRozan (player option) — The 26-year-old shooting guard has been pouring it on in March, averaging 27.6 points per game as he makes the Raptors even more fortunate that he’d like to spend his entire career with the organization. Max offers reportedly await from elsewhere, but Toronto is certain to shell out whatever it takes to hang on to its homegrown star. Last time: No. 7.
- Al Horford — The delineation between Horford and the next man on this list is likely arbitrary and comes down to whether a team is looking for a quiet, consistent inside force to plug in as a complementary star or a polarizing figure with higher upside but more baggage. The Hawks didn’t find the overwhelming trade offer they were reportedly holding out for at the deadline, but that doesn’t mean Horford won’t draw plenty of interest on the open market, with the Magic looming as a threat. Last time: No. 4.
- Dwight Howard (player option) — NBA observers have learned through the years that it’s virtually impossible to predict what Howard will do months in advance. New agent Perry Rogers, who represented Shaquille O’Neal, will help guide Howard through his apparent interest in the Bucks, Knicks and surely others. The prospect of a Rockets return seems unlikely, but you never say never with Howard. Last time: No. 6.
- Mike Conley — The 28-year-old point guard was playing some of his best basketball when he went out with Achilles tendinitis earlier this month, averaging 17.6 points, 6.4 assists and 1.6 turnovers per game in 14 contests since the beginning of February. His relatively low position on this list is probably just a placeholder until he proves his health. Last time: No. 5.
- Bradley Beal (restricted) — An opposing GM said that he’s “scared” of the shooting guard because of his injury history. Beal would rank much more highly if not for that, given his 17.7 points per game this season, 39.9% career 3-point percentage and the fact that his next birthday, in June, will be only his 23rd. Last time: No. 8.
- Nicolas Batum — The Hornets swingman has been clamoring for a place in the top 10 all season, and amid a March in which he’s averaged 18.6 points, his best scoring month of the season, we’ll give him the long overdue honor. He was reportedly likely to receive max offers as of January, and that seems a near-certainty now. The mystery is in where he’ll end up in what promises to be one of the most fascinating free agent pursuits of the summer. Last time: No. 11.
- Hassan Whiteside — The Heat big man probably wouldn’t be here if Chandler Parsons were healthy, but as difficult as it is to put a reserve in the top 10, Whiteside is no average bench player. His performance Tuesday, when he went 10 for 11 for 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, shows the vast potential of the one-time journeyman who’ll turn 27 in June. Last time: No. 10.
We don’t always carry the rankings past the top 10, but we’ll do our next 10 here:
11. Chandler Parsons (player option)
12. Harrison Barnes (restricted)
13. Rajon Rondo
14. Dwyane Wade
15. Pau Gasol (player option)
16. Ryan Anderson
17. Evan Fournier (restricted)
18. Kent Bazemore
19. Jordan Clarkson (Gilbert Arenas Provision)
20. Jared Sullinger (restricted)