Beyond these headliners, though, there are several second-tier players whose summer decisions could shape the 2020 title picture. Here’s a look at five such targets, listed in alphabetical order:
1. Bojan Bogdanovic, Pacers
Bogdanovic is in the running for the NBA’s “most underrated player” title. There are some obvious reasons: The 6-foot-8 Croatian forward didn’t arrive stateside until three years after he was drafted, he played for the small-market Pacers, and his career year came at age 29 during a season in which Victor Oladipo’s injury overshadowed any and all positive developments in Indiana.
Pacers adjust to the trap to start 2H. Now pulling Bogdonavic up, opposite wing, instead of having screener simply roll to middle of floor. Bogdan able to attack scrambling D + create wide open look for Turner. pic.twitter.com/DHtj0aNTzD
— Spencer Percy (@QCHspencer) April 21, 2018
Nevertheless, Bogdanovic averaged 18 points and 4.1 rebounds while shooting 43% on 3-pointers, easily playing himself into a substantial raise after signing a two-year, $21 million contract two summers ago. Indiana must make some choices this summer with five key players hitting free agency, and Bogdanovic probably will prove to be the most coveted of the group. Was the Pacers’ draft night deal for scoring forward T.J. Warren a preemptive strike to prepare for Bogdanovic’s exit?
2. Malcolm Brogdon, Bucks
Bucks general manager Jon Horst began laying the groundwork for an expensive summer by trading away a first-round pick to dump Tony Snell’s contract on the Pistons. His next steps will be to do everything in his power to retain three key pieces that helped make possible Milwaukee’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals: Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Brogdon, a 26-year-old combo guard coming off his rookie deal and looking for the first big payday of his career in restricted free agency.
Although point guard Eric Bledsoe signed a four-year, $70 million extension in March, Brogdon proved to be a more valuable and reliable playoff performer. In his third NBA season, Brogdon turned in a strong shooting season while playing solid defense and functioning well on and off the ball. Considering his relative youth, high IQ and positional versatility, multiple teams should be angling to poach him. The stakes are massive: Brogdon’s decision could determine whether Milwaukee enters next season as the East favorite.
3. Kevon Looney, Warriors
The Warriors probably have the NBA’s most complicated summer, given that four of their major free agents dealt with injuries during the postseason: Klay Thompson, Durant, Cousins and Looney. The 23-year-old Looney is the only nonstar of the bunch, but Warriors coach Steve Kerr praised him as a “foundational piece” during the playoffs because of his steady defense and reliable finishing.
— NBA (@NBA) May 17, 2019
While Looney averaged a modest 6.3 points and 5.2 rebounds during his fourth year, he proved to be an excellent fit alongside Stephen Curry and Draymond Green – the two Warriors stars who are healthy and already under contract for next year. Golden State re-signed him to a bargain one-year deal last summer, but his impressive pick-and-roll defense and his valiant effort to play through a chest injury during the Finals should earn him a nice bump. With so many other changes potentially coming, Golden State can’t afford to lose him.
4. Austin Rivers, Rockets
Nothing but negative buzz has emanated from Houston in recent weeks, with reports questioning owner Tilman Fertitta’s financial commitment and hinting at a rift between James Harden and Chris Paul. Rivers’ free agency should be a telling litmus test on both fronts. The 6-4 guard was a splendid midseason pickup for Houston, and he played crucial minutes throughout the playoffs. Will the Rockets pay up to keep him? Perhaps more important, does he want to stick around?
This Austin Rivers shot gave the Rockets a new single-game record with 27 3-pointers 🚀 pic.twitter.com/syYvlwigpv
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 8, 2019
The last time Rivers was a free agent, he pulled down a three-year, $35 million deal in 2016. After the Suns bought him out last season, the Rockets nabbed him for roughly $1 million – a steal. The check is now coming due. There should be a healthy outside market for Rivers’ tenacious two-way play, and retaining him could help push Houston into the luxury tax.
5. Ricky Rubio, Jazz
Utah’s trade for Mike Conley last week was a clean match between a solid, defensive-minded point guard and a solid, defensive-minded organization. For Jazz fans eager to make a deep postseason run, it’s a long-awaited gambit that adds offensive pop to the backcourt alongside Donovan Mitchell.
The deal almost certainly seals Rubio’s fate in Utah, where he spent two years alternating between being a fan favorite and a point of frustration. On a roster lacking secondary playmakers, the Spaniard’s below-the-rim style and lack of outside shooting often outweighed his superb vision, plus defense and team-first mentality. There are plenty of teams in need of a point guard this summer, and Rubio could make sense as a budget rental for a playoff team or as a placeholder starter on a rebuilding outfit.