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12 best unrestricted NBA free agents still available

The best NBA free agents left have strings attached. More precisely, the best NBA free agents left — including Clint Capela, Zach LaVine, Jusuf Nurkic, and Marcus Smart — are all restricted free agents, meaning their teams can match any offers they sign. The market for restricted free agents is developing quite slowly, and those RFAs are the most likely candidates for offseason uncertainty that stretches into August and sometimes beyond.

So while those situations develop further, let’s focus our attention on the best unrestricted free agents left. The biggest names have left the board as the few teams with cap space raced out to lock up stars, and teams without cap space grabbed role players as necessary. (Of course the Warriors didn’t have cap space, but still locked up a star. Light years ahead.)

Here’s our list of the top 13 unrestricted free agents on the board as of Thursday morning. Most of these should be snapped up before the weekend is over, as few are potential targets for the teams likely to leverage cap space to mess around with restricted free agents.

1. Isaiah Thomas

Thomas is the most electric and argument-inducing name still out there. He has reportedly talked to the Orlando Magic, who could use a lightning bolt to shake things up.

Another option for Isaiah as he seeks to recover his value, likely on a one-year deal or a two-year commitment that allows him to re-enter free agency in 2019, is to take a Boogian mid-level exception on an excellent team, if any of those excellent teams will have him. The Sixers actually seem like a decent option given their playoff struggles in terms of shot creation at times last spring. Isaiah Thomas has no trouble creating shots.

2. Brook Lopez

Lopez seems a much better option at center alongside LeBron James than JaVale McGee, so it’s curious that the Lakers went the direction they did. Perhaps Lopez is looking for a multi-year commitment as he reaches the twilight of his career. Lopez, who has developed a fairly convincing outside jumper, could be a nice pick-up for a playoff team looking for frontcourt depth. He might also serve as an insurance policy if any of the restricted free agent centers (Clint Capela, Jusuf Nurkic) go sideways.

3. Dwyane Wade

Wade, we assume, is not signing anywhere but Miami. He was as good for the Heat as he was bad for the Cavaliers last season. He’s still got enough to be accounted for as free agency lilts on.

4. Tony Parker

Parker ended up playing 55 games last season, most off the bench. The Spurs do not appear to be making his return any sort of priority, which is to be expected considering commitments to Patty Mills and Dejounte Murray, plus the unsettled Kawhi Leonard matter. Parker hasn’t been able to develop a three-point shot in his 30s, which is a problem, and he’s slowed down on defense. But among the solid veteran point guards (a relatively deep field, to be honest) out there, he’s the best option until he proves otherwise.

5. Luc Ricard Mbah a Moute

It seems like a lock that the Rockets will retain Mbah a Moute for his defensive versatility and three-point shooting. That’s even more the case after Trevor Ariza’s flight to Phoenix. You wonder if Houston will end up having to pay above the veteran’s minimum.

6. Wayne Ellington

Ellington has fully joined the three-point revolution over the past two years: fully 77 percent of his field goal attempts have come behind the arc in that period. He shoots them efficiently, as well, which makes him valuable. He’d be a brilliant edition to the Lakers if the price is right and he’s willing to take a low commitment deal. Anyone who needs shooting should be beating down his door.

7. Nemanja Bjelica

The Timberwolves walked away from Bjelica to bring in veteran Anthony Tolliver. The Serbian wing played a substantial role for Minnesota last season as an efficient, but low-usage offensive option off the bench. His defense is decent enough (it’s hard to tell much about Minnesota’s defense beyond Jimmy Butler’s excellence) and he’s not a black hole. He could be a real nice pick-up for the right team.

UPDATE: Bjelica will sign with the 76ers.

8. Dante Cunningham

Cunningham was one of the few Pelicans offering depth last season. While not much of a shooter, he can help keep defenses somewhat honest and he plays hard with good size on the wing. That he is this high is more a clue of where we’re at in free agency than Cunningham’s prowess.

9. Jahlil Okafor

If a team wants to take a swing at a young prospect who could still develop into something or who could be out of the league in a year, you could hardly do better than Okafor, who is unrestricted and hasn’t been locked up by the Nets just yet. Okafor barely played for the Nets after being traded there, and failing on two franchises is often a bad sign. But Okafor is just 22 years old and averaged 17 points per game as a rookie. There is a role for him in the NBA … with the right coach.

10. Greg Monroe

The Celtics don’t appear interested in retaining Monroe, who gave Boston good minutes down the stretch. Monroe’s a good insurance policy who can rebound well and score in the paint. Any number of playoff teams could get good use out of him, supposing he isn’t holding out for a multi-year commitment. The Wizards might be a fit.

(Greg Monroe, if you aren’t spending the summer finding a three-point shot, what are you doing? Monroe’s 0-12 for his career from behind the arc. If Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, and DeMarcus Cousins can develop a three-pointer, Monroe can.)

11. Jamal Crawford

Crawford is one of the best locker room guys in the league, and a veteran presence worth seeking on his own merits, provided expectations for playing time are set appropriately. That said, he is solely a scorer on the court, and he’s really quite inefficient. Like I said: set reasonable expectations here.

12. Kyle O’Quinn

O’Quinn is an advanced stats darling who struggles to get off the bench as more than a seventh or eighth man. He’s had wildly unstable coaching situations throughout his career in Orlando and New York — six coaches in six years, counting interims — and that matters. Also, big men are outré. Some people would have him in the top three, but he’s nothing like a sure thing.

13. Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira

Speaking of untapped potential: BEBE IS A FREE AGENT. His playing time plummeted in 2018-19, and Dwane Casey is such a good coach that there’s almost assuredly a reason. Frankly, the numbers aren’t great, but I don’t care. Free Bebe.

Others in the mix

In alphabetical order: Arron Afflalo, Corey Brewer, Bruno Caboclo (who Fran Fraschilla said was “two years away from being two years away” four years ago!), The Eternal Vince Carter, Mario Chalmers, Ian Clark, Jordan Crawford, James Ennis III, Tim Frazier, Devin Harris, Jarrett Jack, Richard Jefferson, Joe Johnson, Shane Larkin, Ty Lawson, Alex Len, Damion Lee, Shelvin Mack, The Shabazzes (Muhammad and Napier), Jameer Nelson, Swaggy P, Zaza Pachulia, Ramon Sessions, Jason Terry, Noah Vonleh, David West.

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