2021 NBA Free Agency begins on Monday, Aug. 2 at 6:00 p.m., which is when teams can begin negotiations with free agents.
While this free agent class might not necessarily be star-studded from top to bottom like classes in years past, there are still a number of high-profile players that are set to command big money on the market this offseason.
In fact, of these high-profile players, arguably four of the most important are figures that are near and dear to the fans of the Toronto Raptors.
Of course, it starts with Kyle Lowry, who enters unrestricted free agency after wrapping his ninth season with the Raptors. Also entering unrestricted free agency is DeMar DeRozan, who spent nine seasons with the Raptors before an offseason trade sent him to the San Antonio Spurs in July 2018.
The other piece of that trade, Kawhi Leonard, has a player option with the LA Clippers for the 2021-22 season and the same holds true for Norman Powell, who decides his fate with a player option for what would be his first full season with the Portland Trail Blazers after the Raptors executed a trade deadline deal.
A coincidence, maybe, but it's impossible to ignore that among the top free agents in 2021, three won an NBA title together in Toronto, while the other happens to be the franchise's all-time leading scorer. It's a thread that ties them together.
In other words, the free agent market in 2021 oozes with Raptors culture.
Lowry, who, at 35, is set to enter his 16th NBA season, is expected to have his sights set on an opportunity to win one more NBA title before calling it a career. In averaging 17.2 points, 7.3 assists and 5.4 rebounds over 46 games this past season, Lowry has shown that he's still capable of being a key piece to a championship contender.
MORE: Where could Lowry land in free agency?
Could it be with the Raptors? Despite coming off a down season, Toronto returns a strong core in OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet and currently owns the No. 4 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
Lowry will be pursued heavily this offseason, but there's no doubt that staying home with Toronto is an attractive option.
As big as Lowry's stature is within the Raptors franchise, it is Leonard that will undoubtedly be considered the best free agent on the market this offseason. Could it be much ado about nothing? It could very well be a foregone conclusion that the two-time Finals MVP re-signs with the Clippers or, at the very least, picks up his player option for the 2021-22 season.
It's worth noting that Leonard underwent surgery to repair a partially torn ACL, likely keeping him off of the court until at least the second half of the upcoming season, but that shouldn't negatively impact the market for a player that was performing at an MVP level before going down.
In the event that Leonard does truly enter free agency, I expect that any team with the ability to free a max slot will do so if he indicates interest. While some teams have more flexibility than others, oddsmakers seem to like the chances of a reunion between Kawhi and the Raptors.
Whether or not that reunion is realistic remains to be seen, but it's worth mentioning. And wherever Leonard lands - even if it's staying home in Southern California - he forever carries the magic from Toronto's title run in 2019 with him.
With respect to shooting guards on the free agent market, DeRozan reigns supreme. After he averaged 21.6 points, a career-high 6.9 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game last season, I ranked DeRozan first among all two guards entering free agency this offseason.
Soon to be 32, DeRozan will be coveted on the free agent market and is in line for a substantial payday.
NBA.com's Scott Rafferty recently outlined a number of intriguing potential destinations for DeRozan, who will be entering his 13th NBA season in 2021. Having been a part of establishing the winning culture that now exists in Toronto, DeRozan will be able to lift whichever franchise he lands with to a higher level.
Just one spot back of DeRozan on my ranking of free agent two guards is his former rookie, Powell.
Powell is expected to decline the option for the final year of his contract, worth north of $11 million. As a 28-year-old that's coming off of a season of averaging an efficient 18.6 points per game, it's more than fair to assume that a very large payday is imminent.
Teams in need of a scoring punch will certainly look to Powell, who has proven he can do it when the stakes are high, evidenced by his role on a championship team. Anywhere you go, that championship DNA comes with you.
With Lowry (No. 2), Leonard (No. 1), DeRozan and Powell (Nos. 1 and 2) each ranking among the top free agents at their respective positions, they are each in line for lucrative negotiations when 6 o'clock strikes on Aug. 2.
The combined contract figure of the above four alone will be both awe-inspiring and well-deserved, again reminding us of the thread that ties them all together.
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