Throughout the season, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents this off-season. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we take a look at players from the Pacific Division:
Kawhi Leonard, Clippers, 29, SF (Up) – Signed to a three-year, $103MM deal in 2019
Until Giannis Antetokounmpo and other All-Stars decided to sign extensions, the summer of 2021 was considered a free agent bonanza. Leonard’s free agent foray two seasons ago, after leading the Raptors to the NBA championship, was one of the big stories of that summer. He chose to go to Los Angeles and the Clippers mortgaged their future by trading for Paul George to give him a superstar sidekick. It could all unravel for the franchise this year if the Clippers lose to the Mavericks in the opening round. Leonard was expected to opt out this summer so that he could maximize his salary with his current team. Now, other contenders might kick the tires to see if Leonard would be willing to jump ship again. If nothing else, the Clippers’ front office will be sweating it out until Leonard signs the bottom line.
Cameron Payne, Suns, 26, PG (Up) – Signed to a two-year, $2.2MM deal in 2019
It’s become an annual and unfortunate occurrence in the NBA postseason – Chris Paul suffers an injury at the worst time. Paul’s shoulder issue has limited his minutes against the Lakers the last two games and those minutes have gone to Payne. Not surprisingly, Phoenix has lost both contests but Payne has posted respectable numbers, averaging 17 PPG, 6.5 APG and 2.5 SPG in 30 MPG. The 2015 lottery pick struggled to find an NBA home until he signed with the Suns for their games in the Orlando bubble. Payne has found his niche as a second-unit point guard and if the Suns don’t re-sign him, some other team will take him for that same role.
Alex Caruso, Lakers, 27, SG (Up) – Signed to a two-year, $5MM deal in 2019
Caruso doesn’t make a big dent in the stat sheet but he’s a pesky defender and energetic spark plug off the bench. He averaged 6.5 PPG, 2.8 APG, 2.3 RPG and 1.1 SPG in 24.3 MPG during the Lakers’ run to the championship last season. He’s averaging 21 MPG through their first three playoff games this season against the Suns. Caruso seems like a nice fit on the Lakers, dutifully playing his role while knocking down the occasional 3-pointer and looking to advantage of opportunities when his defender cheats off him. The unrestricted free agent will likely get a nice bump in salary.
Hassan Whiteside, Kings, 31, C (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $2.3MM deal in 2020
Whiteside was valued so much by the Heat in 2016 he was signed to a four-year, $98.4MM deal. Few teams will covet Whiteside’s services when he reaches free agency again this summer. He had to settle for the veteran’s minimum last offseason and his one season with the Kings was rather forgettable. He was relegated to backup duty, averaging 15.2 MPG in the 36 games that coach Luke Walton used him. Whiteside didn’t play after April 21, supposedly due to lower back tightness. He can still be useful as a rebounder and shot blocker in a reserve role but he’ll have to settle for the veteran’s minimum once again.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.