Though fans and media members have speculated about NBA free agency for months, teams haven't been able to construct concrete offseason game plans until now. With the NBA draft in the rear-view mirror, free agency represents the last big opportunity for organizations to address their personnel concerns this summer.
This year's class won't represent the bonanza we've seen in years like 2010 and 2014, but there should still be several max-contract candidates receiving offers from multiple teams. Moreover, with the exponential rise in the league salary cap, there's an added layer of intrigue to see which players will gamble on short-term deals in the hopes of maximizing their earnings as the cap increases.
Dissecting the latest rumors, let's take a snapshot of the free agency plans involving three of the biggest names who will be available starting July 1.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love have garnered most of the headlines involving free-agent big men, but DeAndre Jordan possesses the most tantalizing combination of youth and production. While the 26-year-old will surely receive a max offer from the Los Angeles Clippers, Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times reports that Jordan's well-publicized rift with Chris Paul has led him to entertain other meetings:
But other NBA officials not authorized to speak publicly on the matter said there indeed is a rift between Jordan and Paul.
The officials said Jordan wants to be more involved in the offense and wants to be an All-Star, and he's not sure whether those things can happen on the Clippers with All-Stars Paul and Blake Griffin.
The officials said four teams will visit Jordan at home — the Clippers, Lakers, Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks.
Of the four teams Turner mentions, the Lakers stand out as the biggest threat to steal Jordan. The Clippers' Staples Center co-tenant will always loom as a catchy destination and would allow Jordan to remain in Los Angeles. Furthermore, with the Lakers having passed on Jahlil Okafor in the draft, Jordan would serve as the centerpiece in the post that L.A.'s last big catch, Dwight Howard, was supposed to represent.
The Milwaukee Bucks don't have traditional free-agent pedigree, but they do hold an attractive young core. In Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Michael Carter-Williams, the Bucks have put themselves on the map, despite being a small market and traditionally unappealing free-agent destination.
For now, the Clippers' city rivals probably deserve a small edge. The Lakers can't sell the promise of immediate contention, but with the Clippers' current core having ostensibly stalled out, Jordan is as good a bet as any to snap the Lakers' free-agent drought.
Prediction: Jordan signs with Lakers
Pierce Sticking Around?
Some former All-Stars don't age gracefully, but Paul Pierce adapted well as a secondary scorer for the Washington Wizards last season. As a 37-year-old, Pierce produced a 58.0 percent true shooting percentage and his highest win shares per 48 minutes rate since 2010-11, per Basketball-Reference.
Having opted out of the final year of his Wizards contract, Pierce is no guarantee to remain in D.C. The Clippers and Boston Celtics loom as natural destinations, given his 15 years in Green and his relationship with Doc Rivers. Nevertheless, CSN Washington's J. Michael reports that the Wizards are confident that Pierce will re-sign:
CSNwashington.com has spoken with several people with knowledge of the situation in the past week, and the Wizards actually expect Pierce, who could still opt out for a bigger payday, to remain here
...There's no plan to recruit Pierce to stay because he doesn't want or need that affirmation. However, the Wizards have paid repeated "homage" to the soon-to-be 38-year-old and given him the respect he craves.
Money hardly seems like a relevant factor for Pierce, who has said that 2015-16 will be his final NBA season. However, with the Wizards and Clippers strapped for cash, the C's could offer their second all-time leading scorer a larger salary as part of a larger plan to vault back into contention:
Even if the Celtics don't land Lopez or Love, there's appeal in Pierce ending his career where it started as a mentor to Boston's young core. Though the Celtics are least likely to offer him a shot at a second ring, Pierce's loyalty to the organization makes a homecoming the likeliest outcome.
Prediction: Pierce signs with Celtics
Harris a Max Player?
Among restricted free agents, Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green have drawn the most attention and are almost certain to draw max offers. But Butler and Green are exceedingly unlikely to leave their current employers, making most of the discussion surrounding them rhetorical at this point.
Tobias Harris, on the other hand, is a max restricted free agent type who could actually leave the Orlando Magic. According to Real GM's Shams Charania, the Celtics and Detroit Pistons loom as the strongest contenders to lure Harris away from the Sunshine State:
As Orlando restricted free agent Tobias Harris will pursue a maximum-level offer sheet on July 1 that the Magic possibly won’t match, the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics have emerged as leading candidates for the talented forward, league sources told RealGM.
Harris, 22, is among the top young players on the available market, and could be the most vulnerable restricted free agent to leave his team. Around the NBA, several teams are believed to be open to preparing a near-max contract for Harris — which could approach $15 million-plus per season, an area the Magic likely elect not to match given the course of extension talks last October and their current team salary structure.
Harris is a diverse offensive threat capable of harming teams with an inside-outside game, making him an ideal stretch forward in today's league. Though the $15 million-per-year max offer might seem out of whack on the surface, Harris is a player who could turn into a long-term bargain under the confines of the new salary cap growth:
Harris has posted remarkably steady per-36 minute numbers on poor Bucks and Magic squads, but he should have an opportunity to wade into the limelight this summer. Though the Celtics and Pistons should make competitive offers, a potential desire to play in a larger market might make the Knicks and Lakers, teams long interested in Harris, the top contenders for his services.
Prediction: Harris signs with Knicks