With the NBA Finals over and the Draft set to take place Thursday night, the league’s focus has begun to shift to this year’s free agency period, which begins June 1st. With the salary cap set to expand by more than $20 million over last year’s cap, multiple players began the process of opting out of their current deals Tuesday, led by Arron Afflalo and Derrick Williams of the New York Knicks, Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, and Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets.

Both Afflalo and Williams signed last season for two-year contracts, with the second year being a player option. Afflalo’s was worth $8 million, while Williams’ was worth $4.6 million. Afflalo, 30, averaged 12.8 points on 44 percent shooting last season. He played primarily as a starter but was relegated to a reserve role late in the season under interim coach Kurt Rambis. He had said in April that he still believed he could be a starter in the NBA and that belief would factor into his free-agency decision. Williams, 25, experienced a bit of a career revival with the Knicks after being bounced around the league since disappointing the Minnesota Timberwolves, who took him with the second overall pick in the 2011 draft. With the opt-outs, the Knicks could have over $30 million in cap space, and may look to resign both players, given their lack of guard and wing depth heading into their first season under new head coach Jeff Hornacek.

Nowitzki, now 38, has been the face of the Mavericks for well over a decade, and is widely expected to resign with the team that drafted him in 1998. The idea behind his opting out is thought to be an attempt to gain a two- or three-year contract, despite rumors that the Golden State Warriors are interested in adding him. Given all he has done for the franchise, Mavs owner Mark Cuban made one thing perfectly clear, “Dirk gets to do what Dirk wants. Period, end of story.”

The least surprising of Tuesday’s opt-outs was Howard, who suffered through arguably the worst statistical season of his career at age 30, and seemingly never meshed with James Harden during his team in Houston. The team’s hiring of Mike D’Antoni as head coach did not appear to help matters, and the oft-injured big man frequently clashed with him when both were with the Lakers, and did not seem like a good fit in what should could continue to be a high-tempo, three-point shooting team that would presumably cause Howard to have even less of a role than he had the past season. Despite this, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey spoke with Howard’s agent Perry Rogers, and team CEO Tad Brown talked to Howard himself in expressing his support as well, to attempt to convince him to stay, as the team values his defensive abilities and what he brings on the offensive end. While he is giving up the $23.2 million he would have been paid, with the league’s increase in the salary cap, Howard could command another three- or four-year deal in excess of $30 million per season.

While these were among the first players opting out of contracts, they should not be the last over the next 10 days, as more and more hope to cash in on what stands to be a very lucrative offseason.

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