Everything You Need to Know About the 2018 NBA Free-Agent Class

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2017

Everything You Need to Know About the 2018 NBA Free-Agent Class

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    Imagine thinking it's too early to discuss 2018 NBA free agency.

    Plenty of 2017 dominoes still need to fall (howdy, Nerlens Noel), but next year's available names are already beckoning—and they want us to know they wish it were 2016.

    The era of endless cap space, universally good contracts and infinite possibilities is over. Reality is beginning to settle in. The cap seems to have leveled off. Over-the-top deals are no longer the standard. Fewer teams will have money to burn next July, and the value of remaining flexible has increased as a result.

    This shift in the market demands we get out in front of next year's crop right now, if only so we can begin to understand what types of twists and turns and superstar exits might be coming our way.

    Think of this as your free-agency filing cabinet. It sorts every household name, and then some, expected to reach the open market into a category that best describes his situation. From flight risks and trade candidates to possible ring-chasers and redemption-seekers, this is your one-stop shop for tackling 2018 free agency long before it's here.

Will They Even Be Free Agents?

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    Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks (Early Termination Option)

    Carmelo Anthony isn't getting the $27.9 million he's owed in 2018-19 on the open market. And his no-trade clause ensures he'll end next year with the team of his choice, giving him little incentive to opt out.

    Still, Anthony will be 34 next May. Maybe he'll prioritize long-term money over a windfall. Or perhaps the New York Knicks refuse to move him in hopes their rebuilding situation forces him to provide organic cap relief. Heck, maybe he'll end up with the Houston Rockets and opt out so that he and Chris Paul can take the pay cuts necessary to woo LeBron James

                                     

    Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (Team Option/Restricted)

    The Denver Nuggets have a tough, albeit envious, decision on their hands.

    Nikola Jokic is slated to earn around $1.6 million in 2018-19, basically guaranteeing he will remain their cheapest player (seriously). Picking up his option allows them to work with a cheap cap hit both this summer and next, as they look to beef up their budding postseason hopeful. But it also throws Jokic in unrestricted free agency during the 2019 offseason, whereas declining his option makes him a restricted free agent and protects their right to match any rival offers.

    Bet on the Nuggets' going through restricted free agency with Jokic. It opens them up to quirkily structured pitches from other suitors, but it beats the hell out of sending a top-three center to the open market without any strings attached.

                                            

    DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (Player Option)

    Next summer should be the perfect time for DeAndre Jordan to re-enter free agency. He is one of the few bigs who can still anchor a defense on his own, and that shouldn't change over the next year. He switches better than most realize on the less glamorous end; it's like he has the spindly mobility of Nerlens Noel and the raw, overpowering explosion of Andre Drummond.

    Pushing 30, with his reputation as the NBA's Iron Man intact, next July should be his chance to cash in one last time. But the market for bigs who don't shoot threes or bring the ball up the floor is weird—and nonexistent for some. Though Jordan won't fall into the sad-sack category, the $24.1 million he's supposed to make in 2018-19 might not be money he finds on the open market. 

                                                                    

    Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder (Player Option)

    No one is matching the $18.6 million Enes Kanter will make in 2018-19. He'd be lucky to get even half that per year in the post-boom cap climate. 

    At the same time, if he spends 2017-18 getting more residual Sixth Man of the Year love, he might consider chasing a multiyear payday as a precautionary measure against the market for non-unicorns nosediving even further. Then again, it could take him two, if not three, years to recoup his full 2018-19 salary. 

    Here's to talking in circles.

                                                

    Jeremy Lin, Brooklyn Nets (Player Option)

    Jeremy Lin probably isn't turning down his $12.5 million player option no matter how well he plays next season. There is a dearth of starting point guard vacancies across the league, and with his 30th birthday around corner, he won't fit the mold for a long-term flier.

    Granted, next year's shallow well of available floor generals might tempt him to test the waters. After Paul, Isaiah Thomas and Russell Westbrook (player option), there's...Marcus Smart. Lin won't want for suitors unless a couple of those guys suddenly register as patented flight risks.

                                                  

    Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks (Player Option)

    Wesley Matthews has rebounded from his Achilles injury more favorably than most others, but the final season of his four-year deal is worth $18.6 million. There's value in pursuing the big-picture payday, but he'll turn 32 before 2018-19 tips off. And aging wings didn't exactly make a killing this summer.

    Combine all this with a 2018 market expected to be short on cap-rich buyers, and the tables are set for Matthews to play out the life of his deal.

                                                

    Austin Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers (Player Option)

    Losing Paul and Jamal Crawford might be the best thing that ever happened to Austin Rivers' bank account. Blake Griffin is now the only player who will eat into his touches. Lou Williams might, but he's more accustomed to playing off the rock than Crawford or Paul.

    Clearing 15 points and four assists per game is not out of the question for Rivers as the second lead ball-handler. And incidentally, that may be all Los Angeles Clippers head coach-president Doc Rivers/Austin's dad needs to give him another multiyear deal worth noticeably more than the $12.7 million he's in line to earn for 2018-19.

                                                                                 

    Other Noteworthy Question Marks (All Player Options): Darrell Arthur (Denver Nuggets); Jamal Crawford (Minnesota Timberwolves); Dewayne Dedmon (Atlanta Hawks); Rudy Gay (San Antonio Spurs); Kosta Koufos (Sacramento Kings); Kyle O'Quinn (New York Knicks); Iman Shumpert (Cleveland Cavaliers); Jason Smith (Washington Wizards); Milos Teodosic (Los Angeles Clippers)

Interest Is Futile: Restricted Free Agents Unlikely to Switch Teams

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    Associated Press

    Clint Capela, Houston Rockets

    Clint Capela wrapped 2016-17 holding opponents to under 50 percent shooting at the rim while placing in the 72nd percentile of pick-and-roll efficiency at the other end. The Rockets aren't taking him away from Paul and James Harden

    Don't take the (likely) absence of an extension to mean otherwise. General manager Daryl Morey has already acquired one member of the banana-boat crew in Paul. He might get another in Anthony, per ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski. Keeping Capela's cap hold under $7.1 million entering next summer will be a crucial part of Morey's inevitable attempt to add a third banana-boat buddy in LeBron James.

                                        

    Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

    Joel Embiid has just 31 NBA games under his belt, but he's already extension-eligible. That's such a weird thing to write. It's also a tough reality to navigate. 

    Team president Bryan Colangelo has said the Philadelphia 76ers will talk numbers with Embiid before the extension deadline, per GateHouse Media's Tom Moore, but there's no rush to hammer out a deal unless the Cameroonian high-rise is shaving a healthy chunk off next summer's $18.3 million cap hold.

    Waiting maximizes the Sixers' flexibility while giving them a chance to see whether Embiid can make it through an entire season. Enemy suitors will tender max-contract offers if he does, but that's fine. Embiid is a max player when healthy. If he's subject to those overtures, it's because he's healthy; and if he's healthy, there's no way the Sixers let him leave.

                                         

    Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets

    "I still don't think the league appreciates how good he is and how young he is," Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said of Gary Harris in April, per Altitude Sports' Christopher Dempsey

    "... Gary's going to be here for a long, long time."

    Well, this settles it. Harris, 22, isn't going anywhere. And it makes sense that Denver wouldn't let him. He has a telepathic chemistry with Jokic, shot 46.6 percent on spot-up threes last season and works his tail off on defense.

    Don't be surprised if the Nuggets lock him down on a lucrative extension rather than doing the restricted free-agency dance.

                                         

    Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls

    Zach LaVine's price tag hinges on his recovery from a torn ACL. His future with the Chicago Bulls doesn't.

    For their purposes, it can't. They have a jillion guards on the roster, but LaVine remains the headliner from their underwhelming return in the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night June 22. Cutting ties with him one summer after getting him would be a special kind of terrible—the type that could even cost the forever-secure Gar Forman and John Paxson their jobs as general manager and vice president of basketball operations, respectively.

                                     

    Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers

    The Portland Trail Blazers will begin 2017-18 with one of the league's two highest payrolls, and their outlook doesn't get better leading into 2018-19. They have more than $125 million in guaranteed commitments before factoring in a new deal for Jusuf Nurkic (and Noah Vonleh).

    Adding another eight-figure salary doesn't help the Blazers' retooling process, but they have no choice. They can't replace the 22-year-old without shedding two to four contracts, and he proved too important to cut loose during his 20-game stay. In the 584 minutes Nurkic logged after arriving, the Blazers outscored opponents by 9.6 points per 100 possessions.

                                                                

    Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

    Both Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas will be up for new deals in 2018, which creates a headache for the Boston Celtics. It'll be virtually impossible for them to skirt the luxury tax without losing one of them.

    The solution: pay the tax. 

    Boston saved itself some future money by flipping Avery Bradley, also a free agent in 2018, for Marcus Morris. Smart will be the cheaper of the two, and his defense against opposing point guards is more pivotal than ever without Bradley in the fold. The Celtics would be unwise to let him leave, even with an army of switchable wings at their disposal.        

                                            

    Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Andrew Wiggins isn't going anywhere. Restricted free agents seldom do when they don't play for the Detroit Pistons, but his situation is especially airtight.

    There's no easy way for the Minnesota Timberwolves to carve out cap space after trading for Butler and signing Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague. They need to hope Wiggins, 22, becomes addition-by-continuity since they can't do anything else—hence them opening extension talks now, per ESPN.com

Get Your Checkbooks: Restricted Free Agents Who Could Leave

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    Kyle Anderson, San Antonio Spurs

    Kyle Anderson is mostly here to prove a point: The San Antonio Spurs are going to be free-agency players next season.

    Renouncing LaMarcus Aldridge (player option) would give them a clear path to $30 million in room, and ditching Anderson's $6.5 million place holder is the most efficient way to approaching the $35 million threshold—or $40 million mark if Danny Green (player option) returns at an identical or slightly lower price point ($10 million).

    Maybe 2017-18 is the season Anderson turns a corner, but this hedging has been the prevailing mode of hope since 2015-16, when he was a sophomore. He is entering Year 4 and has yet to crack the 1,500-minute plateau in a season. He'll need to make a leap just to avoid collateral-damage status.

                                                    

    Dante Exum and Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz

    There is no grace period for the Utah Jazz in the wake of Gordon Hayward's departure. They have the depth to compete for a playoff spot, but they won't have more than a year to figure out whether this core is worth keeping together.

    Dante Exum and Rodney Hood are up for new contracts next July, and re-signing both tethers the Jazz to a specific group—one that won't have the curb appeal of last year's squad. Letting one walk for flexibility purposes may be non-negotiable, even if they each ball out. And if they don't, Utah won't have a reason to pay everyone. 

    Either way, failing a transcendent breakout from both Exum and Hood, at least one should wind up inside the pack of gettable free agents.

                                                 

    Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic

    Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton are like the Dante Exum and Rodney Hood of the Eastern Conference: The Orlando Magic need to use next season to decide how much they're worth. 

    This situation is more delicate than Utah's dilemma. Gordon and Payton aren't being measured against the backdrop of a playoff team or even a proven building block like Rudy Gobert. The Magic have no clear building block.

    How much are they supposed to pay Gordon or Payton if neither finally develops into one? What's the other worth if one of them does? What happens if they're both still portrayed as sources of untapped potential this time next year? 

    Orlando cannot afford to set its cap sheet back by paying role players, however strong, like bona fide alphas. Without simultaneous breakouts, there's a good chance one of Gordon or Payton is calling another team home for 2018-19.

                                                     

    Patrick McCaw, Golden State Warriors

    "One name that NBA teams have circled for next summer is the Warriors' Patrick McCaw," ESPN.com's Bobby Marks wrote. "Could come at a high cost for GSW to retain next July."

    Makes sense. The rest of the league apparently couldn't pay Shaun Livingston or Andre Iguodala enough to get them off Golden State. McCaw is different. He won't turn 23 until October 2018 and will have made less than $2 million by the time he reaches restricted free agency. 

    Tossing him an overpriced offer sheet is a good way to ever so slightly eat into the Warriors' depth. They can always match, but their tax bill isn't getting any lower. McCaw may be the first real loss they suffer under the weight of their soaring expenses.

               

    Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks

    Jabari Parker's NBA resume is all sorts of confusing.

    He averaged more than 20 points per game last season, but he's working his way back from a second ACL injury. He expanded his offensive range beyond the three-point line—he shot 43.6 percent from the corners last year—but he shouldn't be left to defend wings. At 6'8", is he perhaps a super-small 5? A playmaking 4? Can he be a defensive plus or even wash at either slot?

    And most importantly: How much is he worth to the Milwaukee Bucks? 

    Parker's cap hold will sneak past $20 million before he signs a new deal. He's not getting that much from Milwaukee for the same reason he won't be among this fall's extendees: For all he's done, the Bucks still don't know what they have—and his latest recovery process isn't conducive to them finding out before next summer.

                                                            

    Norman Powell, Toronto Raptors

    Trading DeMarre Carroll and Terrence Ross should render Norman Powell indispensable, but the Toronto Raptors are realists. They've done everything they can to shirk the luxury tax this year, and re-upping Powell almost certainly drags them past the line for 2018-19.

    Jettisoning Jonas Valanciunas without accepting any long-term money in return would position the Raptors to keep chugging along under the tax, but no one's biting on the 25-year-old Lithuanian just yet, according to Sporting News' Sean Deveney. And let's not forget Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira and Fred VanVleet are restricted free agents themselves. Keeping any combination of them cuts into Toronto's wiggle room.

    Diving into the tax will be an option if the Raptors make measurable progress in the wide-open Eastern Conference. Another production spike from Powell might have the same effect. But if treading water is all the Raptors can do between now and next summer, they need to cut costs elsewhere for Powell's return to become a nonissue.

                                        

    Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers

    Julius Randle's foray into restricted free agency would make for interesting Twitter-stalking even if the Los Angeles Lakers weren't trying to remain lean. After all, what are you supposed to give a high-energy playmaker and finisher who isn't a three-point threat (27.3 percent for his career) and shouldn't be defending 3s or 4s? 

    That the Lakers have a superstar coup on the brain only complicates matters. They can dredge up one max slot with his $12.4 million hold on the books, but two? Not so much. Dumping Luol Deng's contract alone doesn't get them there, and Randle is one of the sweeteners Los Angeles might need to move him.

    Any interest in retaining Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Brook Lopez also comes into play. Keeping one of them without dealing Deng means the Lakers must renounce Randle to even chisel out one max slot.

    A lot can happen over the next year, and there are no assurances Paul George and/or another big name land in Tinseltown. But Randle's future will remain up in the air until the Lakers sort out their free-agent pipe dreams.

                                                        

    Other Noteworthy Flight Risks: Davis Bertans (San Antonio Spurs); Nemanja Bjelica (Minnesota Timberwolves); Bruno Caboclo (Toronto Raptors); Yogi Ferrell (Dallas Mavericks); Bryn Forbes (San Antonio Spurs); Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Clippers); Mindaugas Kuzminskas (New York Knicks); Doug McDermott (Oklahoma City Thunder); Raul Neto (Utah Jazz); Lucas Nogueira (Toronto Raptors); Josh Richardson (Miami Heat); Nik Stauskas (Philadelphia 76ers); Fred VanVleet (Toronto Raptors); Noah Vonleh (Portland Trail Blazers); TJ Warren (Phoenix Suns); Okaro White (Miami Heat)

Maybe Next Time: Unrestricted Free Agents Who Are Unlikely to Shop Around

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    Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets

    Trevor Ariza isn't your typical untouchable. And he's not actually off-limits. The Rockets won't pay obscene money for a 33-year-old wing, and abandoning Ariza's $12.9 million cap hold would be part of an all-out dalliance with James.

    Houston doesn't have to worry about the former threat. Ariza isn't getting All-Star money. Last summer was an anomaly. Not even the LeBron factor matters all that much. The Rockets won't have the cash to sign him unless they get a few salary dumps and prospective pay cuts to align. They're only mentioned in the same breath with James because Morey pulls cap space out of thin air. 

    Assuming they don't aim for another superstar, the Rockets need Ariza. He's a versatile defender, and his 34.4 percent success rate from deep in 2016-17 will spike alongside both Paul and James Harden. Plus, he played a role in convincing Paul to leave the Clippers, according to ESPN.com's Zach Lowe. Showing him the door isn't the smartest move when your second top-10 player is also free agent.

    And in the wildly implausible event Houston wedges its way into the James sweepstakes, let's be real: Ariza instantly becomes someone who ponders returning at the veteran's minimum.

                                                     

    Robert Covington, Philadelphia 76ers

    Consider this a bet that the Sixers and Robert Covington iron out an extension—which, as Kyle Neubeck of SB Nation's wrote, feels like a safe wager:

    "The real work on his contract is still yet to be done. Bryan Colangelo can work on an extension with Covington starting in July, or a renegotiation of his deal in November. Despite his name surfacing in larger trade packages—like their trade deadline offer for Paul George—team sources have indicated to Liberty Ballers that working something out to solidify Covington’s future is a major priority for the franchise."

    Riding out Covington's contract situation into next summer does give the Sixers more flexibility, but they don't need it after getting Amir Johnson and JJ Redick on one-year deals. Philly can probably recoup whatever it gives him by renouncing Nik Stauskas' $11.4 million hold, and there's no point sending its best perimeter defender into the free-for-all that is unrestricted free agency.

                           

    Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors (Player Option)

    Forget about Kevin Durant leaving the Warriors; he almost made the "Will they even be free agents?" cut.

    Opting out of his contract is the smart financial decision. Golden State can re-sign him using Early Bird rights, which would bring his 2018-19 salary from $26.3 million to $35.7 million—a difference of nearly $10 million. This should be a "duh" move.

    But Durant already accepted less once to help the Warriors keep the band together and add Nick Young. Might he opt into the second year of his deal to aide, say, McCaw's return? No way. Well, probably not. Maybe. 

    OK, fine—who the heck knows? But it doesn't matter for our purposes. Nothing Durant does will involve leaving Golden State.

                                                                        

    Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs (Player Option)

    You know how this is going to play out. 

    We'll spend the year talking about how Green could price himself out of San Antonio or become collateral damage in the Spurs' pursuit of a bigger name. Then the offseason will come, and we'll be wrong. Green will sign a super-reasonable, potentially below-market deal because the Spurs are the Spurs, and this is what happens when you're Spurs.

    So let's skip the part where we try manufacturing drama and just pencil Green in for another go-round with San Antonio now.

                                    

    Chris Paul, Houston Rockets

    Spoiler: Paul didn't pass up a four- or five-year max this summer to play in Houston for one season. He isn't going anywhere. 

                                                                               

    Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics

    Thomas' future in Boston is no longer in real doubt after what's happened this summer. The Celtics passed on drafting Markelle Fultz and traded away another upcoming free-agent guard in Bradley. Neither one of those moves gets made without Thomas in mind.

    Price will still be an issue. Thomas fancies himself a max player, via CSN New England, but the Celtics aren't going that high. Point guards don't have that much leverage with so few starting gigs available elsewhere, and Thomas is an MVP candidate on one side of the floor. Only two players added more offensive value last season (Harden and Russell Westbrook), according to NBA Math, but he also finished dead last in defensive points saved. 

    None of this should be enough to derail a new agreement. There will be a handsomely priced common ground—in large part because the Celtics' approach to this summer demands they find one.

                                         

    Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (Player Option)

    Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti has made it clear that there is an extension for Westbrook to sign if he wants it, per ESPN.com's Royce Young. This is me unapologetically assuming he wants it.

    The reigning NBA MVP can wait without issue. He'll get his money either way, and holding off prevents him from recommitting to Oklahoma City before knowing George's next move.

    And yet, George's status, for better or worse, is part of the Thunder's sales pitch. They've now shown Westbrook they're ready to take bold risks and, for the moment, pay the luxury tax. That message can outlast George's stay if it has to, and Westbrook's fierce loyalty to the organization thus far suggests the willingness to try is enough to keep him around.

Speculate Freely: Unrestricted Free Agents Who Should Be on the Prowl

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    LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs (Player Option)

    Serious question: Does anyone expect Aldridge to be with the Spurs beyond next season?

    Sources told USA Today's Sam Amick in June that Aldridge was unhappy in San Antonio, and the 32-year-old made a cameo on the chopping block ahead of free agency, according to ESPN.com's Chris Haynes. Knowing the Spurs' most direct path to max cap space is through his departure, the end feels near.

    Aldridge can throw everyone for a loop by opting into his contract, but he'll be pushing 33 after next year. If he passes up his last chance to get paid, something's gone terribly wrong.

                                                

    Avery Bradley, Detroit Pistons

    Avery Bradley might not need to shop around when he reaches free agency. The Detroit Pistons can't spin letting him walk for nothing after doing the same with Caldwell-Pope and trading Marcus Morris to Boston. They're married to Bradley for the long haul.

    But the Pistons' cap situation still isn't great. They have around $95.9 million in guaranteed money on the books for 2019-20. Re-signing Bradley vaults them over the cap if they haven't cut salary in a Reggie Jackson or Jon Leuer trade.

    That's not a horrible place to sit—especially in the East, where easy-come playoff berths can talk teams into steeper price tags. But the Pistons would run into luxury-tax concerns with Stanley Johnson due for a new deal in 2019. Bringing back Bradley consigns them to making a major move or two.

    And what happens if he fields an over-the-top offer from an aggressive suitor? Cap space has dried up, but teams are suckers for good shooters who cut hard and fight on defense. Bradley will have spent the past four years on a clearance-rack deal ($32 million). Turning down $15-plus million per year will be hard—about as difficult as it'd be for Detroit match.

                                                                                        

    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Los Angeles Lakers

    Caldwell-Pope is a default flight risk. The Lakers are in the market for superstars, and he'll need to have an All-NBA season for them to begin viewing him in that light. His one-year, $17.7 million deal is meant to be a rental—an opportunity for him to drum up his value as a three-and-D playmaker and broker the long-term agreement he couldn't this year.

    Extracting that contract from the Lakers won't be easy, if it's at all possible. Whiffing on George, James, Westbrook, et al. won't necessarily prompt them to allocate cap space elsewhere. They're more likely to continue grooming the kiddies, piece together a makeshift supporting cast and fire up the pipe-dream machine once again in 2019.

    Of course, there's always the more extreme scenario: Renouncing Randle and Brook Lopez while finding new digs for both Deng and Jordan Clarkson. That enables the Lakers to re-sign Caldwell-Pope via the non-Bird exception and dig up more than $50 million in space.  

                                           

    DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans

    DeMarcus Cousins falls into flight-risk territory because he has to, but the New Orleans Pelicans cannot afford for him to stay here. If it becomes clear his partnership with Anthony Davis isnt working, they need to flip him at February's trade deadline for whatever they can grab. Losing a top-20 player for nothing should never be an option—not even if you picked him up for pennies on the dollar.

    Getting hold on this situation, though, isn't simple. The Pelicans will be trying to read the tea leaves and demeanor of a player they won't have for a full year by the trade deadline. If they're on the fence, and their record isn't flat-out terrible, they may just count on a fifth year and larger annual raises keeping Cousins in The Big Easy.

    Everything could work out in the end. Or this could blow up in the Pelicans' face. We don't know. Nor do they. It all depends on how this experiment pans out. And until it's a patented success or failure, Cousins' future remains in limbo.

                                                            

    Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder (Player Option)

    Good news, Thunder fans: George is totally down to remain in Oklahoma City—you know, so long as he and Westbrook make a Western Conference Finals run and/or a superstar party isn't being thrown in Los Angeles.

    Here's what he told SI.com's Lee Jenkins

    "It's too early for L.A. It would have to be a situation where the ball gets rolling and guys are hopping on. This guy commits, that guy commits. 'Oh s--t, now there's a team forming.' It has to be like that. ... I'm in OKC, so hopefully me and Russ do a good enough job and make it to the conference finals and love the situation, why not recruit someone to come build it with us? I'm open in this whole process."

    George could stay in Oklahoma City. The Thunder look as strong on paper as any team outside Oakland, and George, as the more frequent off-ball shooter, is a better complement to Westbrook than Durant.

    But his infatuation with the Lakers cannot be discarded. He pushed his way off the Indiana Pacers as a courtesy to the franchise, not so he could immediately latch on to a new squad without first shopping around.

                                                        

    LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (Player Option)

    Another serious question: Should we be asking the same one we posed for Aldridge? Like, does anyone believe James will be with the Cavaliers past next season?

    Rumblings about his interest in leaving started trickling out before the end of the 2017 NBA Finals. He is reportedly "frustrated and concerned" over how Cleveland's offseason has unfolded, from its absence of splashes to a lack of front-office stability, per USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt.

    Now, on top of all that, Kyrie Irving has asked for a trade because—get this—he "no longer wants to play alongside" James, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst.

    So, um, yeah. The Cavaliers are a mess. They don't need Irving to reach the Finals for a fourth consecutive year, but they damn sure need James to play for anything meaningful beyond next year. And right now, considering all that's happened, there are not nearly enough good vibes to support the lingering, if ebbing, hope they'll have him for that long.

                                        

    JJ Redick, Philadelphia 76ers

    Redick's stay in Philly doesn't have to be temporary. He signed a one-year pact worth $23 million because, well, that's a lot of money. But the Sixers are also an intriguing long-term fit. They'll have more cap space next summer, and if Embiid, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons all perform up to snuff, other big-time players should be amenable to joining the cause.

    The catch: The Sixers' interest in younger, splashier names would make it harder to afford Redick. Giving him a cheaper deal still worth eight figures per year isn't malpractice, but it knives into their breathing room when combined with new covenants for Covington and Embiid. And if they're not worried about meeting his contract demands, it's probably because they remain miles away from contention.

    Such is the nature of single-season deals. They're stopgaps. Most of them aren't meant to represent permanent solutions. Redick's case is no different. Philly may be a place he wants to be, but it's equally likely this year winds up being a rest stop on his way to a ready-made championship hopeful or team that's prepared to bankroll his last long-term payday.

                                                                                      

    Other Notable Flight Risks: Aron Baynes (Boston Celtics); Trevor Booker (Brooklyn Nets); Omri Casspi (Golden State Warriors); Seth Curry (Dallas Mavericks); Ed Davis (Portland Trail Blazers); Wayne Ellington (Miami Heat); Tim Frazier (Washington Wizards); Jerami Grant (Oklahoma City Thunder); Ersan Ilyasova (Atlanta Hawks); Cory Joseph (Indiana Pacers); Sean Kilpatrick (Brooklyn Nets); Brook Lopez (Los Angeles Lakers); Luc Mbah a Moute (Houston Rockets); Zaza Pachulia (Golden State Warriors); Lou Williams (Los Angeles Clippers); Nick Young (Golden State Warriors)

Fire Up the Trade Machine: Free Agents Most Likely to Be Dealt Next Season

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    Will Barton, Denver Nuggets

    Will Barton finished 2016-17 as one of just 12 players averaging 17 points and four assists per 36 minutes while shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc. His company reads like a who's who of All-Star participants: Durant, Irving, Paul, Thomas, Mike Conley, Stephen Curry, Goran Dragic, Marc Gasol, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry and Kemba Walker.

    It's no wonder Barton turned down an extension from the Nuggets, according to Haynes. They could have given him around four years and $39 million, and he's in line for more if his production holds through 2017-18. 

    Denver could wait around to gauge his market, but with Chandler and Harris also up for pay increases, Barton may be most valuable as a trade sweetener—a blockbuster add-on that, given his $3.5 million salary, other teams will view as a high-end first-round prospect nearing the end of his rookie-scale deal.

                                        

    Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets (Player Option)

    Chandler is more likely to be dealt than Barton if it's a matter of the Nuggets picking one. At 30, he doesn't fit the team's timeline as well, and his $12 million salary in 2017-18 can be the anchor for a larger return.

    Dealing both Barton and Chandler isn't outside the realm of possibility. Both become expendable if the Nuggets are bringing back a wing, but if they're trading for a point guard (Eric Bledsoe, please and thank you), it makes more sense to pair one with Kenneth Faried or another one of their many forwards.

                                  

    Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz

    Derrick Favors' standing within Utah can be viewed one of two ways: Either Hayward's departure makes it more likely the Jazz pony up to keep him, or it's turned them off from making substantial commitments to what's left of the roster at all.

    Favors' performance will go a long way toward deciding his fate. Splitting up him and Rudy Gobert won't sit well if they're swallowing other frontcourts whole—particularly when the Jazz aren't as small-ball friendly after losing Hayward and Trey Lyles.

    But Utah will have to pinch purse strings somewhere. Exum and Hood are speeding toward restricted free agency, and twin-tower pairings border on obsolete these days. Should the Jazz's season go sideways or Favors play his way toward a contract worth more per year than the $12 million he's making now, he's someone they can try parlaying into a first-round pick.

                                          

    Garrett Temple, Sacramento Kings (Player Option)

    Viva la tank!

    Holding on to Garrett Temple is pointless for the Sacramento Kings. He's too good—a scrappy defender, solid shooter and quality playmaker who, at 6'6", can switch across three positions. (He's also 31. Raise your hand if you realized that because I sure didn't.)

    Anyway, get him off the Kings. They have a one-year window in which to tank before their 2019 pick gets sent to Philly (or Boston). Adding Vince Carter and George Hill is risky enough. The Kings are one De'Aaron Fox Rookie of the Year or Buddy Hield Sophomore Surge of the Year away from being not terrible. Temple only makes them better, so he needs to go.

                                                                                      

    Thaddeus Young, Indiana Pacers (Player Option)

    Everything about the Indiana Pacers' response to George's exit implies that they won't move Thaddeus Young.

    From taking on Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in exchange for George to signing Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison, they have gone out of their way to stay in the middle of the Eastern Conference. Shopping Young tilts them further toward what they're trying to avoid: a full-fledged rebuild.

    Something has to give, though. And maybe it's Young. The Pacers have to know they shouldn't be shelling out dough for anyone who will be 30 when he hits free agency, let alone someone who needs time at power forward and will thus be cutting into the minutes of Sabonis and T.J. Leaf.

Redemption-Seekers

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    Tyreke Evans, Memphis Grizzlies

    Knee and ankle injuries limited Tyreke Evans to 65 total appearances over the last two seasons, so 2017-18 is all about staying healthy. Finish the season on the court, and he's automatically improved his value in time for another free-agency tour.

    Continue to put down 43.8 percent of his threes, as he did through 14 appearances in Sacramento last season, and he'll earn himself a multiyear contract from a team in the market for wings with the flexibility to make plays on and off the ball.

                                     

    Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

    Tony Parker expects to rejoin the Spurs sometime in January following his season-ending left leg injury, and there's almost no telling what he'll return as—a starter, backup, stringently monitored situational contributor, etc.

    Ruptured left quads are no joke, and Parker is 35. Dejounte Murray will get plenty of reps in his absence, and San Antonio just re-signed Patty Mills to a four-year, $50 million deal. This could mark a permanent turning point for the team's point guard pecking order.

    That's not to say the Spurs would leave Parker high and dry. He didn't play exceptionally well during the regular season but was on the mark at the time of injury, averaging 15.9 points and 3.1 assists through eight playoff appearances while downing 57.9 percent of his long balls (11-of-19).

    For Parker, next season is more about proving he can return relatively close to form. We know he won't be going anywhere as a free agent in 2018, but will his next contract in San Antonio come almost solely from his relationship with the franchise? Or is he someone who can still help in a meaningful, if limited, capacity?

                       

    Greg Monroe, Milwaukee Bucks

    Greg Monroe doesn't have much to redeem at an individual level. He restored some of his value last season, reinventing himself as a screener, rim-runner and quick-hands defender. He averaged 1.23 points per possession finishing out of the pick-and-roll (88th percentile) and ranked seventh among 101 qualified centers in deflections. He also notched a career-high clip between 10 feet and the three-point line.

    Including him is more about what he represents: one of the primary hopes for bigs who don't excel at protecting the rim or stepping out beyond the arc. If he can move the needle in his role off the bench without using post-ups as his only crutch, it bodes well for other back-to-the-basket talents—not to mention Monroe's bank account.

                       

    Rajon Rondo, New Orleans Pelicans

    Joining the Pelicans will be the ultimate barometer for the rest of Rondo's career.

    Head coach Alvin Gentry confirmed on the Dunc and Holder podcast (h/t Bourbon Street Shots' Mason Ginsberg) that he'll be starting Rondo alongside $126 million man Jrue Holiday—a curious decision to say the least. Though the latter has shown he can play away from the ball in the past, he struggled operating off Cousins and Davis last season. He connected on less than 32 percent of his spot-up threes overall and was even worse after the All-Star break (23.7 percent).

    Holiday has been better off the rock in years past, so it's fair to assume his catch-and-shoot efficiency climbs. Rondo is a different story. He's never been a reliable sniper—until, apparently, now.

    Rondo is shooting 112-of-303 (37 percent) from long range over the past two seasons. And he's been even more lethal off the catch, swishing 83-of-212 standstill threebies (39.2 percent). Many of the ball-dominant knocks remain, but if he keeps this up in New Orleans as part of a dual-point guard backcourt, he should finally get another guaranteed multiyear deal.

                                                                                 

    Derrick Rose, Team Unknown

    Derrick Rose doesn't have a new team, but that's inconsequential. The Cavaliers or Lakers, starter or backup—it doesn't matter. Wherever he goes, he'll have to prove he's more than a below-average point guard who doesn't make his teammates better, shoot threes, draw enough fouls on drives or play an iota of defense.

    Then, and only then, will he put himself in line for another multiyear deal. 

                                         

    Other Notable Redemption-Seekers: Michael Carter-Williams (Charlotte Hornets); Jeff Green (Cleveland Cavaliers); Devin Harris (Dallas Mavericks); Josh McRoberts (Dallas Mavericks); Quincy Pondexter (New Orleans Pelicans); Brandan Wright (Memphis Grizzlies) 

Ring-Chasing Watch

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    Vince Carter, Sacramento Kings

    Is slotting Carter among potential ring-chasers instead of retirement candidates my thinly veiled attempt at ignoring the fact that he'll turn 41 in January and can't play forever? 

    Maybe.

    But also: It'd be nice if he spent a season with the Warriors or Raptors.

                            

    Channing Frye, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Channing Frye shouldn't have to contend with the common ring-chasers. He's already on a reigning conference champion.

    Sadly, though, the Cavaliers appear to be in disarray. And if the rumors pertaining to the futures of Irving and James don't do them in, the Warriors will. 

    Speaking of which, they're the perfect fit for Frye (and basically everyone ever). They'll get him even more wide-open threes, and he would only have to leave the restricted area on defense to avoid three-second violations. And as luck would have it, they always seem to be in the market for cut-rate bigs.

                                     

    Amir Johnson, Philadelphia 76ers

    Effective pick-and-roll finishers who promise rim protection and some defensive switchability don't typically ride the coattails of a juggernaut before their 32nd birthday. 

    Then again, most of those guys, unlike Amir Johnson, haven't put together a $35 million nest egg over the previous three years that'll let them David West the heck out of their next trip into free agency.

                              

    Joe Johnson, Utah Jazz

    Joe Johnson. Mike D'Antoni. Reunion. In Houston. With Harden and Paul.

    Who says no?

                                                                        

    Dwyane Wade, Chicago Bulls

    Dwyane Wade will get to choose his fate earlier than everyone else if the Bulls eventually move off their refusal to buy him out, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. Whenever he's available, he needn't spend time mulling over pretend secondary options. Just go join James, wherever he is.

    If it's during the 2017-18 crusade, that's Cleveland. If we're talking next summer, Wade should follow him to Los Angeles. Or San Antonio. Or—wait for it—Philadelphia. 

                                                            

    Other Potential Ring-Chasers: Marco Belinelli (Atlanta Hawks); Corey Brewer (Los Angeles Lakers); Spencer Hawes (Milwaukee Bucks); Jameer Nelson (Denver Nuggets)

Retirement Watch

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    Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs

    Get ready to tear up: Manu Ginobili is returning for 2017-18 almost solely because of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.

    "He told me that he wanted me to continue and he needed me on the team," Ginobili wrote for Argentine publication La Nacion (via Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio-Express News). "If he did not want me, it would have been easier for me."

    This is amazing. And sad. It doesn't sound like Ginobili will play beyond next year, which is soul-crushing. But maybe he won't retire. Maybe he'll Eurostep all over the NBA forever and ever and ever until the end of time. 

                           

    Udonis Haslem, Miami Heat 

    Udonis Haslem is set to begin his 15th season with the Heat, which is awesome. But the ride has to end some time.

    Haslem is a glorified coach/babysitter at this point. He's tallied 2,038 minutes through the past four seasons. More than 105 players eclipsed that total in 2016-17 alone. The Heat will eventually have to give his roster spot to someone who might play, and at 37, going on 38, he probably has other stuff he wants to do—though, raking in $2.3 million to monitor Hassan Whiteside's Snapchat isn't a bad gig.

                                   

    Richard Jefferson, Cleveland Cavaliers (Non-Guaranteed)

    With the Cavaliers' title window threatening to slam shut after next season, Richard Jefferson is running out of reasons to stave off retirement. Pretty soon all he could have is his Road Trippin' podcast with Frye and Fox Sports' Allie Clifton—and that's only if Frye doesn't seek more stable pastures in free agency. 

                                                                

    Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks (Team Option)

    Dirk Nowitzki told German outlet Sport Bild (h/t Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News) in December his plan is to retire in 2018, but he's returning to Dallas on a two-year pact (team option for 2018-19), so let's all agree that he's a liar. 

    It's easier to convince ourselves he'll never ever leave us this way.

                      

    David West, Golden State Warriors

    David West is most likely going to retire after next season because the Warriors are most likely going to win another championship, and walking away with two titles is most likely good enough for the soon-to-be 37-year-old.

    On the off chance West feels like pulling a reverse Mo Williams, though, he's more than welcome to stick around these parts. He averaged a career-high 6.4 assists per 36 minutes during his inaugural season with Golden State. That, plus his post-Finals speeches, essentially buys him another two to three years of roster spots.

                                                

    Others on Retirement Watch: Jose Calderon (Cleveland Cavaliers); Nick Collison (Oklahoma City Thunder/confirmed, per Shams Charania of The Vertical)

                                        

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.

    Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference or NBA.com. Other salary information via Basketball Insiders and RealGM.