Projecting Most Likely Destinations for 15 NBA Players Who Could Be on the Move
Will the 2014 NBA free-agent class be an oasis for teams thirsty for talent, or will it simply be a mirage?
That's the big question heading into the offseason, as no one is quite sure which players will be available. One would think guys like Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan will stay put where they've been their whole careers, and with the way the Big Three in Miami have dominated, perhaps they'll ride it out at least one more year as well.
Truthfully, this free -agent period might not feature a whole lot of player movement, especially since so many of the top talents are restricted free agents or franchise fixtures.
That being said, we could see a few big talents like Carmelo Anthony change addresses this summer, and in the process, change the landscape of the NBA.
Here are the projected landing spots for 15 of the top NBA players who could be on the move this summer.
Lance Stephenson: UFA
Projected Team: Indiana Pacers
Predicting Lance Stephenson's next step off the court is about as tough as it is on the court. You just never know which way he is really going, and that has to make Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird and company uneasy heading into the offseason.
Stephenson is an unrestricted free agent, so if he wants to follow the money, he certainly can. Indiana will be able to sign him over the cap because they own his Bird rights, but for a substantial offer over $10 million per season, Indiana might have to dip into the luxury tux, which isn't something to be taken lightly.
Indiana making it to the Eastern Conference Finals should probably put most concerns of Stephenson bolting elsewhere to bed, even if the team's emotional roller-coaster ride this season was a little problematic.
Ultimately, he is going to have a tough time finding a team that is as ready to compete as Indiana is, as the teams that are close with projected cap space probably don't have the explosive young guard at the very top of their free-agent big boards.
Stephenson played well this year at times, and Indiana isn't in a position where it can afford to replace him with someone else. It would be a surprise if he slipped through the Pacers' fingers at this point.
Marcin Gortat: UFA
Projected Team: Dallas Mavericks
This is a tough one. The Washington Wizards have both Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza hitting unrestricted free agency, and it would be a disappointment if only one came back.
Here's what David Aldridge of NBA.com had to say about the upcoming Gortat/Ariza situation in free agency:
They've already committed $80 million to Wall in a new extension, and Beal will be in line for his in a couple of years. And they can't let unrestricted free-agent center Marcin Gortat walk. Gortat, acquired from Phoenix after Okafor suffered a season-ending neck injury, has infused the locker room with his goofiness and tough play inside.
But they can't pay Ariza, who also pines to return to the West coast, what he'll likely ask for as a free agent.
Unfortunately for Washington, it's possible that both bolt elsewhere. Ariza is a West Coast guy, and this will really be the first time of Gortat's career that he'll get to choose where he wants to play.
While pairing with the backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal for the next three or four years isn't a bad way to go, here's guessing Gortat gets wooed hard by Dallas this offseason. The Mavs are still in desperate need of a solid, dependable center, and Gortat is a double-double guy who can defend post players and take pressure off Dirk Nowitzki without killing the spacing on the other end.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has shown in the past that he's willing to spend for free-agent big men (except, of course, for the one he should of kept in Tyson Chandler), and if Dallas misses out on a few of the bigger names, Gortat could get a lot of cash thrown his way to change conferences.
For Washington, heading into the 2015 offseason with max cap space might be more appealing than paying Gortat upward of $10-11 million a season and limiting the team's ceiling.
As for Gortat, playing for a better organization and coach while teaming with one of the greatest power forwards ever might not be such a bad idea. If the money being offered is close, keep in mind that Texas has no state income tax.
Isaiah Thomas: RFA
Projected Team: Sacramento Kings
In a different NBA, Isaiah Thomas would be hotly pursued in free agency as a dynamic scoring guard who can hurt defenses in a variety of ways.
But in today's point guard-heavy league? He might only get a few nibbles.
Of course, as a restricted free agent, one offer sheet is all he really needs. From there, it will be up to the Sacramento Kings to decide if they want to keep their small-stature scorer or let him go.
More likely than not, the Kings will hold onto Thomas. The former second-round pick has developed a great rapport in the pick-and-roll with DeMarcus Cousins, and his efficient scoring shouldn't be taken for granted on a team that features Rudy Gay.
The only potential problem is if Thomas gets a big deal that takes Sacramento deep into the luxury tax. In that scenario, perhaps the Kings would be willing to let Ray McCallum Jr. or whatever they can trade their first-round pick for take over at point guard and keep below that tax line, or they might even try to sign-and-trade Thomas to a team that's hot for him.
There are options here, but with few starting point guard positions open around the league, here's guessing Thomas is retained by the Kings, who would be making a big mistake by letting him walk in free agency.
Zach Randolph: Player Option
Projected Team: Memphis Grizzlies
Will Zach Randolph pass up a player option worth $16.5 million at age 32 in order to secure more long-term financial security?
That's a tough decision to make, particularly since there are no guarantees that the market will be very friendly. Now more than ever, teams are looking for a "stretch" player at the power forward spot, and while Randolph is a good mid-range shooter, he's at his best playing bully ball around the basket.
It's also unclear if Memphis is ready to commit to a declining asset going forward. Randolph's best days are behind him, and with Marc Gasol hitting unrestricted free agency next year, the Grizzlies may be hesitant to tie up too much cash into Randolph.
With all that in mind, he might be better off opting in and collecting his big salary this year before joining the 2015 free-agency class, where more teams should have cap space available. Either way, it would be a surprise if he wasn't in a Grizzlies uniform to start next year. He's too important to the city and franchise to let walk for nothing.
Luol Deng: UFA
Projected Team: Charlotte Hornets
Will the Cleveland Cavaliers selecting first again in this year's draft impact Luol Deng's decision on whether or not to stay with the team? It's possible.
If the Cavs draft Andrew Wiggins, you would think that Deng would be out of the picture, as both are lanky small forwards. Then again, perhaps Deng will view Cleveland as a legitimate contender with the addition of someone like Joel Embiid in the paint.
More likely than not, though, Deng will head elsewhere in free agency to wherever there's money, ample playing time and a good culture in place.
And while it may seem strange to say the Charlotte Hornets have all those things, great strides were made under head coach Steve Clifford, and the Hornets can provide everything Deng may want, short of immediate title contention.
With plenty of cap space to throw a deal at Deng similar to the one Al Jefferson secured last offseason, Charlotte could surprise everyone again by bringing in a veteran in his late 20s with a long history of being a solid contributor.
With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist moving to an energy sixth-man role and Deng adding his smart cutting and defense, the Bobcats could instantly become a sneaky playoff team with this signing.
Kyle Lowry: UFA
Projected Team: Toronto Raptors
Pretty much no one would have predicted that Kyle Lowry would make it to this point after the Toronto Raptors traded Rudy Gay, but after an incredible season where he was one of the best point guards and players in the league, Lowry won't be given up on so easily as an unrestricted free agent.
While it may be dangerous to put too much stock into a first-round playoff exit, Toronto appears to be on the right path, thanks in large part to Lowry's strong play and leadership. Losing him now would take the team in a different direction, and that doesn't seem to be Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri's style.
As was the case with Arron Afflalo and Nene in Denver, Ujiri should probably retain Lowry, hope it works out and, if not, trade him fairly early in his deal.
With so few starting gigs available and so much goodwill established in Toronto, it would be a surprise if Lowry went elsewhere this offseason, even if he's the top point guard available on the market. If Toronto wants him back, he should be back, even if he won't come cheap.
Gordon Hayward: RFA
Projected Team: Boston Celtics
Are the Utah Jazz prepared to match a max offer on Gordon Hayward this offseason?
We might find out the answer, or perhaps, Utah might not let it get that far. If it becomes clear that teams are willing to sign him to a max offer sheet, perhaps the Jazz will negotiate a sign-and-trade that allows him to land in a good spot while bringing back assets in return.
The Boston Celtics have some trade assets to play with, and it seems feasible that head coach Brad Stevens will want to reunite with his former Butler star at the pro level.
Armed with Jeff Green and a future first-round pick, Boston could make a serious play for Hayward with a sign-and-trade that could benefit both teams if Utah really isn't prepared to invest that much into Hayward going forward.
We'll see if Boston wants to cash in on its cupboard full of draft picks this early, but Hayward might be too good of a talent not to pursue.
Greg Monroe: RFA
Projected Team: San Antonio Spurs
I've always liked the idea of Greg Monroe taking over for Tim Duncan in San Antonio, should Duncan and Manu Ginobili retire, which would clear the cap space for such a move to take place.
While it might be unlikely that Detroit simply lets Monroe sign an offer sheet elsewhere and then refuses to match, a sign-and-trade could work for both teams. Under new coach and team president Stan Van Gundy, Detroit will need perimeter shooters, and the Spurs have them in spades.
Even if it's just acquiring Danny Green and a draft pick, the Pistons would be well served to get something for Monroe and avoid a potentially messy situation where he publicly refuses to play for Detroit, which might not be out of the realm of possibility.
In Monroe, San Antonio would get a solid rebounder and great passer, two of Duncan's biggest contributions over the years. While he can't fill Duncan's shoes, San Antonio would be wise to chase the only young franchise big man who might be attainable this offseason, should Duncan retire.
As for Monroe, is there any other franchise a quiet, intelligent big man would rather play for? San Antonio is perfect for him.
Eric Bledsoe: RFA
Projected Team: Phoenix Suns
We can probably put a pin in any ideas of Eric Bledsoe playing in a new uniform (again) next season, as he performed well enough to establish himself as a franchise building block in Phoenix.
Even if a max offer sheet comes before the Suns can negotiate for less, it would be shocking if they didn't match to retain the explosive young guard. Although there are a few injury concerns, his potential is off the charts, and his chemistry with Goran Dragic was much better than anyone could have expected.
It's rare to find players who can dominate on both ends, and Bledsoe falls in that category.
Suns general manager Ryan McDonough traded for Bledsoe this offseason knowing his free-agency time would come, and so it would be foolish to let him go elsewhere after giving up assets (albeit small ones) to obtain him.
Here's what McDonough told ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne earlier this year:
"Obviously we don't have a whole lot of money committed for the future, we don't have a lot of long-term contracts on our books. So we'll have no problem stepping up and paying Eric whatever it takes to keep him."
Ultimately, no matter the size of the deal, Bledsoe should be in Phoenix for the long haul.
Dwyane Wade: ETO
Projected Team: Miami Heat
And now, to the first of the Big Three in Miami. Would Dwyane Wade really leave South Beach, the place where he's won NBA championships and spent his entire career?
Almost certainly not.
If you're looking for someone to start the chain of events that leads to Miami's superteam breaking up, don't look at Wade. Although his injury issues are a concern, the chances he bolts Miami to play elsewhere are slim to none, so Chris Bosh or LeBron James will have to jump ship first.
At least this year, it's hard to see that happening. Miami has blown through the Eastern Conference with relative ease, and if the goal is winning championships, it's hard to say Wade or any other members of the Heat would be better served elsewhere.
He is an icon in Miami. If he exercised his early termination option and didn't re-sign, it would be one of the most stunning decisions in NBA history. He's not going anywhere.
Dirk Nowitzki: UFA
Projected Team: Dallas Mavericks
Let's continue down the list of veteran players who are staying put.
Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, like Wade, has spent his entire career with one team. While Nowitzki would have a better case to leave, given that he's not playing alongside LeBron James, it seems equally doubtful that he'll leave Dallas after all the years of loyalty and the success he's had there.
While anything is possible, as Kevin Garnett taught us, Nowitzki is in the final stages of his career and will likely be more amenable to taking less money to stay where he's comfortable while attracting stars to him. At this stage in his career, he doesn't need to go hunting for a ring. He already has one, and with a strong support system in place, he can win another one before it is all said and done.
Again, it would be a shock if he operated like a true unrestricted free agent and played the field. He should be a Mav for life.
Tim Duncan: Player Option
Projected Team: Retire
Let's assume that the San Antonio Spurs win the title this season.
In that scenario, it would seem most likely that Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and probably Gregg Popovich would all retire, right? With another championship ring won, there might not be a huge reason to keep slogging through the grind of a regular season.
That's something to keep in mind in regard to Duncan's player option next season. If he wins a title, it seems likely he'll retire.
If he doesn't win a title, though, it's still completely unrealistic to expect he'll be playing in another uniform anytime soon. Like Wade and Nowitzki, he's spent his entire career in one spot.
Duncan will either retire or lace them up once again for the Spurs. Teams won't be planning on trying to steal him away from San Antonio.
Chris Bosh: ETO
Projected Team: Miami Heat
While it's possible that another team could swoop in and lure Chris Bosh away, wouldn't he be a fool to willingly leave LeBron James and hurt his chances of winning championships for the foreseeable future?
That's the problem with the theories that have the Heat breaking up a year before their true free-agent year. If anything, it's probably LeBron who has to leave first, and he doesn't need any better sidekicks than Bosh and Wade to get the job done. There's just a lack of incentive here.
While Bosh will be courted by teams in his home state of Texas like the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets, jumping off the Miami championship wagon a year early probably isn't the best decision, even if he could turn a team like Houston into a true powerhouse.
Maybe he will have the foresight to know that Wade is on his last legs and that LeBron may go elsewhere, but that's quite the risk to take a year early. There will be teams with cap space again in 2015, so it seems unlikely that Bosh will go anywhere else this offseason. He's winning, comfortable and playing with the best basketball player on the planet.
Carmelo Anthony: Player Option
Projected Team: New York Knicks
Like many others, I've gone back and forth on this one. One week I'm pretty certain that Carmelo Anthony will leave for a team like the Chicago Bulls or Houston Rockets, and the next I'm convinced he'll stay put in New York and take the bigger payday.
It's not hard to see him having the same struggle with his decision. There will be better teams for him to go to right now, as well as teams that are better prepared for the future.
Still, there are things New York offers that others can't. The first is the extra year and $30 million on his deal, which isn't exactly chump change. The next is New York's media market, which is the biggest in the NBA. Melo is a star there, and he's beloved by the fans for his New York roots.
There's also Phil Jackson, who should be able to wrestle some control away from James Dolan and maybe right the ship. New York will have close to a clean slate for the 2015 offseason, where Anthony can play recruiter and try to establish a future powerhouse.
With no coach currently signed, Anthony could potentially have a lot of say in all kinds of staff and personnel decisions, which is a type of power he might not be afforded elsewhere.
Simply put, it's not hard to see him sacrificing a year of his prime for more money, more power, more long-term financial security, the spoils of New York and the hope that talent will flock to him.
Despite all their troubles this year, this still feels like the Knicks' race to lose. Some positive steps have been made this offseason, and so it's not hard to picture Anthony making the Knicks "his team" once again instead of joining established stars elsewhere.
LeBron James: ETO
Projected Team: Miami Heat
LeBron James could turn the basketball world on its head by exercising his early termination option and becoming a free agent.
Just don't expect that to happen. While there's still an NBA Finals to be played, it is hard to see why James would opt out a year early, isn't it?
Miami has given him everything he could possibly want. He's won titles. He's been surrounded by star players and excellent role players. He has a great support system with Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra. What else does a player need?
Maybe a new challenge is the answer to that question, but it's going to be awfully hard for LeBron to justify leaving Miami when he's cementing his legacy as one of the very best players in the league and winning rings in the process.
It may not be exciting or fresh, but he has all the reason in the world to stay in Miami next year.
Note: UFA stands for unrestricted free agent, RFA stands for restricted free agent and ETO stands for early termination option. Any stats are accurate as of 5/28.