Jrue Holiday's four-year maximum contract extension with the Milwaukee Bucks was the latest hit to the depth of the 2021 NBA free-agent market. The deal, which could be worth up to $160 million, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, removed yet another top-flight star from the list of available talents.
A class that once might have been headlined by LeBron James, Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert may still include Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. But the free-agent frenzy that was supposed to happen this summer is getting shorter on big names by the day.
The twist: That's terrific news for anyone still on the market. Teams still have cash to spend, and they're going to use it on somebody.
Just a heads-up that we excluded Chris Paul. He has a player option for 2021-22 that could get him into free agency, but it's hard to imagine his walking away from $44.2 million ahead of his age-36 season.
Other than that, everyone—veterans to up-and-comers, unrestricted and restricted alike—was fair game.
These are the free agents with the highest earning potential this offseason.
Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers (Player Option)
Kawhi Leonard has plans, and the next step is to opt out of the $36 million the Los Angeles Clippers owe him for 2021-22.
That's not speculation. That's straight from the man himself.
In December, Leonard told the Los Angeles Times' Andrew Greif, "Obviously, if I'm healthy, the best decision is to decline the player option, but that doesn't mean I'm leaving or staying."
The 2021 offseason will mark the first time Leonard is eligible to sign a max deal as a 10-year vet. That comes with a salary bump to around $39.3 million for 2021-22, plus annual raises of up to 8 percent—if he sticks with the Clippers. Were Leonard to choose another team, he'd have to "settle" for a maximum of four years and 5 percent raises.
The five-time All-Star can commit to a long-term deal with the Clips for up to five seasons, and considering he chose L.A. in free agency, it seems reasonable to assume a five-year max at the highest pay rate was the plan all along.
Leonard could opt for a shorter term to preserve flexibility; even in situations in which a player hand-picked their team, you never know what things might look like in two or three years.
Either way, no potential free agent has the earning power of the 29-year-old superstar wing.
John Collins, Atlanta Hawks (Restricted)
We know how much money John Collins isn't willing to accept on a new contract, as The Athletic's Chris Kirschner and Sam Amick reported the soon-to-be restricted free agent in December "left a deal worth more than $90 million on the table with the hopes that he would prove worthy of much more this offseason."
The deal Collins reportedly turned down was less than the max he believes he's worth. Though there aren't many teams with the cap space to push a bowl-you-over offer sheet across the table, it only takes one to put the Atlanta Hawks in a tough decision.