Hawks’ DeMarre Carroll will be coveted free agent

DeMarre Carroll said the best is yet to come.

Just wait and see.

The small forward had his two best NBA seasons by far after landing in Atlanta. Until signing here, Carroll had a career marked by inconsistent playing time in Memphis, Houston, Denver and Utah.

The Hawks gave Carroll a chance and he made the most of it. The next stop — be it here or in another city — remains to be seen as Carroll is an unrestricted free agent this summer. There will be plenty of interest in his services.

“I think I have a lot more to come,” Carroll told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday. “I think I can be an All-Star player, like Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard. I see myself as one of those guys, but in order for me to get to being on the elite level, like Paul George, you have to be consistent. People got a glimpse of it this year.

“I still feel like there is work to be done. I still feel I can get better on the pick-and-rolls. I’m shooting the ball well, but I feel like I can shoot it even better. I can finish better. I can do the little things to help my teammates.”

Carroll said a teammate told him he thought he might get between $8-9 million, but now could get between $14-15 million in free agency after the season he just completed. Carroll will certainly get far more than the bargain two-year, $5 million deal he signed with the Hawks.

Carroll averaged a career-best 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists this season. He averaged 13.9 points after the All-Star break and 14.6 points in the Hawks’ playoff run that ended in the Eastern Conference finals.

Carroll is at the top of the list of unrestricted-free-agent small forwards. LeBron James, Loul Deng, Paul Pierce and Corey Brewer are some with player options. Leonard, Draymond Green, Jeff Green and Tobias Harris are among the restricted free agents. However, among the unrestricted free agents, Carroll stands out in a class that includes Mike Dunleavy, Tayshaun Prince and Richard Jefferson.

The NBA salary cap is projected to be $67.1 million next season. However, it could jump near $90 million the following season when the new TV deal takes effect. Signing Carroll now could be attractive to many teams.

“A player has few opportunities to hit the free-agent market and get a contract to take care of his family,” said Mark Bartelstein, Carroll’s agent. “However, there are a lot of elements to consider other than pure economics. The Hawks have been sensational with DeMarre’s development in so many ways. They deserve a lot of credit. At the same time, DeMarre’s work ethic and his relentless pursuit of greatness is why he continues to get better every single year, and I know it will just continue.

“We will weigh everything in making a great decision for DeMarre.”

Carroll said he dedicated himself to improving his offensive game this season. He didn’t want to be known only as a defensive specialist.

Carroll watched video, on his own, of Leonard, who won the NBA Finals MVP last season with the Spurs. He watched how Leonard was able to get points within the Spurs’ offensive system. Carroll found ways he fit into the Hawks’ similar system. Carroll also worked with assistant coach Kenny Atkinson on his offense, sometimes to the wondering eye of coach Mike Budenholzer.

“I told myself, I would never sell myself short,” Carroll said. “I know I’m way better than just a defensive guy. I can contribute on the offensive end. This year, I just touched the surface. … My biggest motivation is I feel like I’m one of the top two-way players in the league. I always get overlooked by guys like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and Jimmy Butler. That’s when I went into the playoffs, the biggest stage, and I wanted to shine on it. I had to do it in the playoffs.”

Carroll averaged 17.5 points in the quarterfinals series against Brooklyn. He averaged 16.7 points in the semifinals series against Washington. His average dropped to 7.0 points in the finals against Cleveland. He scored 20-plus points in seven of the Hawks’ 16 playoff games, including six consecutive, and had a career postseason best of 25 points in the series-clinching win over Washington.

Carroll acknowledges being nervous about this free agency. In the past, he had to approach teams and wait on an offer. This summer, teams will approach him. The visits and calls probably will begin at midnight July 1.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.