Staff 2017 NBA Free-Agency Predictions
NBA fans are beyond lucky. Whether diehard or casual, all fans have a few stretches they can circle on the calendar as the most wonderful time of the year.
Christmas Day? Sure, that's a given. Opening night and Game 1 of the playoffs? Absolutely. The draft and trade deadline? You betcha. Training camp and All-Star Weekend? The former may be for the stauncher of the group, but we'll include both nonetheless.
There's one time of year, however, that Association enthusiasts of all ranks can count on to potentially shift the landscape of the league in a matter of days.
NBA free agency!
Bleacher Report has gathered its roundball scribes and collected their predictions for this summer's annual talent migration. No, we're not projecting Kevin Durant takes his talents to South Beach or an epic emoji war breaks out. But we do have the best of the best giving you early insight as to what could happen this July.
B/R's hoops seers are on the case.
George Hill, Jazz Give It Another Go
Health was hard for George Hill to come by during his first season with the Utah Jazz. He missed 33 games during the 2016-17 campaign—the second-most of his career.
When fit, Hill was among the biggest difference-makers for Utah. According to NBA.com, the Jazz were 6.4 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor compared to off. Only Rudy Gobert (plus-11.0) and Gordon Hayward (plus-6.7) made a bigger difference for the Jazz.
Hill's ability to pester opposing point guards and be a threat off the ball (40.3 percent from three this season) make him a perfect fit for Utah's slow-and-steady style of play on both ends. Hill, for his part, professed great comfort with this club back in December.
"I'm not the type of guy that likes to move around and go from team to team," Hill told ESPN's Tim MacMahon. "I really like it here. My family likes it here. I've got some friends here. The city's been great for me so far, and it's a nice place to raise a family, so hopefully I get an opportunity to re-sign here if they would love me to be here."
That was before Hill and the Jazz failed to come to terms on a contract extension midseason. Now that he'll hit the open market, Utah will have to pony up to keep him and Hayward.
Should the Jazz retain their All-Star wing, they won't have enough cap space to sign a free-agent point guard anywhere near Hill's stratosphere. Shooting into the luxury tax to retain the 30-year-old may be their best option to remain relevant out West.
Jrue Holiday Bounces from Bourbon Street
In this, the golden age of point guards, there aren't many teams in search of help at the 1. Couple that fact with the draw of feeding both DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, and there's a viable case to be made that Jrue Holiday will stick with the New Orleans Pelicans.
But Holiday may also be tired of toiling for a franchise that has whiffed on every attempt to build intelligently around Davis, and he might take note of how his own numbers dipped after Cousins came aboard in February. He needs the ball in his hands to be his best, and with Cousins gobbling up possessions, there are fewer for the point guard to utilize.
Holiday's injury history and the flooded market make it unlikely he'll command a max deal, but he'll sign that sub-max contract someplace besides New Orleans.
Paul Millsap, Hawks Decide They Belong Together
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Millsap will opt out of his contract this summer, though his affinity for the ATL could bring him back. The Hawks can offer him more money over more years than any other team, and without quite so many franchises hoarding cap space as last summer, the 32-year-old may have a tough time finding anything better elsewhere.
That's not to say Atlanta will jump at the chance to bring him back. The rumor mill has had the Hawks shopping Millsap around recent trade deadlines.
Still, would Atlanta risk its decade-long playoff streak, in a football market, to save some scratch? Chances are the Hawks and Millsap will see the value in staying together, even if championship contention remains a pipe dream.
Serge Ibaka Remains in Toronto
So clear it was attached to one of the first Woj bombs reporting the deal.
Ibaka came cheap (Terrence Ross and a first-rounder), but keeping him won't be. Though there have been casual rumblings about his actual age, Ibaka is ostensibly 27 years old—still prime territory. Add to that he's the prototypical floor-stretching big man who also defends the rim, and you have the recipe for a max contract.
Ibaka's Bird rights came with him to Toronto, so the Raptors can exceed the salary cap to retain him. They'll do that, and they'll also max out Kyle Lowry on a massive deal, plunging deep into luxury-tax territory unless significant roster trimming happens elsewhere.
The Raps are primed to stick among the East's elite for the next few years, and Ibaka will help them stay there. They're not letting him go.
Andre Roberson Laughs All the Way to the Bank
Restricted free agents are often candidates to get overpaid. Interested suitors not only have to compensate them for what they could become, but they must shell out a "We triple-double dare his incumbent team to match this!" tax.
Andre Roberson figures to be a prime benefactor of this logic, in large part because his market value is so undefined. Fellow restricted free agents Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Otto Porter are max-contract locks. Neither the Detroit Pistons nor Washington Wizards, respectively, are in position to let one of their two best players leave for nothing. They will match, and teams will be left scrambling for contingency options on the wings.
Roberson will dominate that secondary discussion. He won't get max money, but the right team (Brooklyn, Philly, Minnesota) will have the scratch and motivation to offer something close to it. And while Roberson is an All-Defense talent, his offense is a disaster. He shot under 25 percent on wide-open threes during the regular season, can't create shots for himself off the bounce and passes up open looks with abnormal frequency.
Betting on improvement is fine, but a four-year, $80-plus million offer sheet feels inevitable and has the potential to backfire in a big way.
Kyle Lowry Suitors Recruit to No Avail
How many teams in the NBA would want to sign a relatively small, aging point guard with a track record of postseason inconsistency for anything close to a max salary?
In Kyle Lowry's case, enough to drum up a competition.
His hometown Philadelphia 76ers could use a veteran floor general to fuel their rebuild and fill their cap space. Perhaps the Denver Nuggets would prefer to pay Lowry over waiting for Emmanuel Mudiay to fashion something resembling a workable jump shot. If you're the Brooklyn Nets or Sacramento Kings, mired in basketball no-man's land, what's the harm in bending Lowry's ear?
As enticing as all those appeals may be, it's tough to see Lowry leaving the Toronto Raptors. He's led the franchise to its longest postseason streak (four in a row) and its deepest playoff run (last year's Eastern Conference Finals) since the Houston Rockets traded him to Toronto during the summer of 2012. His decision to re-up with the Raptors in 2014 was a landmark moment for an organization that had known only high-profile defections over its sordid history.
His roots with the franchise have only deepened since then. So has his bromance with fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan.
There's no telling how appealing a return to the City of Brotherly Love may be for Lowry. But winning there will require a wait that he, at his age, might not want to afford—especially with more wins (and more money) awaiting him north of the border.
Clippers Fates Connected to Postseason Success
The Los Angeles Clippers' success (or failure) in retaining their own free agents figures to hang on the team's postseason push.
If L.A. rides a stroke of dark-horse lightning to the title, the trio of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick would all seem set to re-sign. If the Clippers crash and burn in the first round, they could all bolt.
In all likelihood, reality will land somewhere in between. Paul, who helped raise the age limit for late-career max contracts in the new collective bargaining as head of the players' union, figures to cash in for upward of $200 million with the Clippers. Redick, who was most vocal about L.A.'s disarray late in the season, may be the best bet to bolt, perhaps to pursue a ring in Boston or San Antonio.
Griffin could emerge as the biggest wild card of all. He's built a successful life for himself both on and off the court in L.A. But if he wants to find a more comfortable basketball home without sacrificing his options in the entertainment works, a move to the New York Knicks—perhaps as part of a sign-and-trade for Carmelo Anthony—could be the way to go.
Knicks Got 99 Problems and a PG (Still) One
The New York Knicks need a point guard and can grind out more than $20 million in cap space by renouncing most of their own free agents and non-guaranteed deals. That's enough to get them in a room with George Hill, Jrue Holiday, Patty Mills and Jeff Teague. But it won't matter.
High-profile free agents won't want to play for the Knicks. Team president Phil Jackson has somehow made a mockery of a franchise that was mired in ruin when he arrived. His greatest hits include trashing Carmelo Anthony's trade value and driving Kristaps Porzingis into passive-aggressive mutiny.
If the Knicks do get their hands on a second-tier point guard, it's because they overpaid. And to dole out above-market deals, they'll need to dump other guaranteed contracts. Not even Jackson is that impulsive. Nor is he ignorant enough to bring back Derrick Rose.
The Knicks are more likely to draft a point guard, hand him the reins immediately and spend their money on other positions—assuming they get anyone worthwhile to take their money.
Lakers Stand Pat (But Not by Choice)
The Los Angeles Lakers can manufacture a ton of cap space if Nick Young opts out of his contract (fairly likely) and they waive Tarik Black's non-guaranteed salary (less likely). Team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka will be on the lookout for another star, but it'll take too much finagling for the Lakers to enter the fray for $30-plus-million-a-year maxes demanded from this summer's top prizes.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a more realistic option. The Lakers will have minutes to fill on the perimeter with Young and Lou Williams both gone, and Caldwell-Pope is a scrappy defender who can run some pick-and-roll without burning through too many possessions.
The problem for L.A. is the Detroit Pistons will match whatever Los Angeles offers. Brooklyn and Philly might even beat Johnson and Pelinka to the punch. And that's fine. The Lakers must maintain cap flexibility for Paul George's free agency in 2018 (player option), even if the plan is to try trading for him sooner.
Deals for Luol Deng and Tomofey Mozgov hamstring them considerably, so if they're going to add another financial obstacle to the George equation, it should be in an attempt to woo young complementary wings with high upside.
Fail, as expected, and nothing changes. Get lucky, and you're more appealing to George should you still be able to conjure the necessary cap space or trade packages.
Chicago Runs (it Back) with the Bulls
My first thought when it came to the Chicago Bulls was they'd find a way to overpay Joe Ingles (restricted) to leave the Utah Jazz. But recent events cannot be ignored.
The Bulls own a 2-0 first-round series lead over the top-seeded Boston Celtics as of this writing. Unless they implode by losing four out of the next (potential) five tilts, the postseason synergy between Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade will be enough to convince the brass this core deserves another crack at meeting unreasonably high in-house expectations.
Chicago can carve out a bunch of cap space if Wade opts out of his deal or by waiving Rondo's non-guaranteed salary. Neither scenario feels likely anymore. It'll take Wade multiple years to recoup the $23.8 million he's owed next season, and the ever-spendthrift Bulls probably won't want to eat the $3 million owed to Rondo if he's released.
Any potential teardown will be delayed until at least February's trade deadline, if not into summer 2018.
Warriors Also Run It Back
KD will sacrifice, signing another one-and-one deal for around $32 million per season, then hitting free agency again next year—at which point the Dubs could max him out.
If Durant goes this route, the Warriors won't have to renounce Iguodala or Livingston, and that'll allow for the use of Bird rights to exceed the cap in retaining both.
Basically, if Durant doesn't demand a full $36 million AAV salary this summer, the whole gang stays together.
Oh, and you can book this one for certain: Stephen Curry will sign a five-year, super-max deal worth over $200 million. No element of the Warriors offseason will feature less drama than that.
Gordon Hayward Takes His Talents Elsewhere
The Utah Jazz have such obvious appeal for Gordon Hayward. He gets to be the top option on offense, has Rudy Gobert to clean up messes on defense, and few clubs have enjoyed a more consistent rise. It's not hard to imagine Hayward leading the Jazz on several deep playoff runs—if he stays.
But Hayward has a player option he'll surely decline this summer, and he's tried to leave before. The Jazz matched when he signed an offer sheet with the Charlotte Hornets in 2014.
There's an outside chance Hayward qualifies for the Designated Player Exception if he makes an All-NBA team this year, in which case the Jazz could offer him far more than any other franchise. Maybe that would convince him to stay.
The Steal of Free Agency Will Be...
Omri Casspi functioned as one of the league's most underrated commodities during the 2015-16 campaign, but the Sacramento Kings—ever a bastion of sensible roster decisions—buried him on the depth chart to start the follow-up season.
That was only the beginning of a topsy-turvy journey, as he was traded along with DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans, waived after fracturing his thumb during his first appearance for the new squad and then snatched up by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Now an unrestricted free agent, the 28-year-old small forward did enough in 13 games with the 'Wolves to remind the world of his two-way value. His mistake-free play on defense and finishing ability around the hoop helped counteract his missing three-point stroke, which should come back during a larger sample of games in 2017-18.
He did not, however, do enough to earn himself a large payday. Some contender in need of additional spacing will inevitably snatch Casspi up on the cheap, paying only slightly more than the minimum with a prove-yourself deal, then watch as his understated all-around play makes him a more valuable rotation piece than originally anticipated.
Remember, it was only a year ago that Casspi landed at No. 102 in the 2016 edition of B/R's NBA 200, and Sacramento couldn't have tanked his game that badly in half a season, even if it did depress his free-agency stock.