NBA Free Agency 2017: Latest Rumors and Predictions for Gordon Hayward and More

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJune 24, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MAY 6: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz looks on against the Golden State Warriors in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Vivint Smart Home Arena on May 6, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

When it comes to an expected wild summer in the NBA, Jimmy Butler's exit from Chicago was only the beginning. 

The NBA might need to swipe the "madness" moniker the NCAA is so fond of. Nothing comes close to the three-month stretch starting in June that reshapes the league in a way that would stretch even video game boundaries.

Speculation surrounding names such as Paul George won't go away, to name the biggest fish. As for free agency, Gordon Hayward headlines the expected class, with other potential notables such as Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin and more filling out the docket.

In the wake of the draft, let's peek ahead to the upcoming free-agent frenzy by looking at some of the most notable recent rumblings.

       

The Hayward Sweepstakes

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MAY 6: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz passes in the second half of their 102-91 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Vivint Smart Home Arena on May 6
Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

It's odd to think Hayward is the face of free agency.

It helps that names like Curry don't figure to leave their teams. But it speaks to the job the 27-year-old forward has done adapting to the pro game in becoming an undisputed star.

Hayward is the reason the Utah Jazz were competitive in the Western Conference a year ago, and they figure to be even better next season if he stays with the team. That's a big "if," though, thanks to the bidding war about to unfold for his services, as he's widely expected to opt out of the final year of his deal to become an unrestricted free agent.

The Boston Celtics are one potential suitor, as ESPN.com's Chris Forsberg mentioned after the team's front office failed to land Butler on draft day.

And there's zero chance the Celtics are alone in this pursuit. ESPN's Marc Stein noted earlier this month the Miami Heat have an eye on Hayward as well.

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In other words, Hayward won't have an easy decision. Provided the team also brings back unrestricted free agent George Hill, there's nothing wrong with Hayward's sticking in Utah and playing alongside a noteworthy core that includes top-five center Rudy Gobert.

His decision won't come down to cash—he didn't earn a spot on an All-NBA team, meaning the Jazz can't offer him a super-max contract. So if he wants to play in sunny Miami next to Hassan Whiteside and trust Pat Riley to build a contender, he can. If he wants to play next to Isaiah Thomas and top-three pick Jayson Tatum, the money is equal.

The smart money might suggest the Heat. Utah is a quality team mired in a wild conference, and Boston has a logjam at small forward, Hayward's position. Miami has the weather, Whiteside and Riley going for it, with the team a star arrival away from becoming a serious contender in the Eastern Conference again.

Prediction: Hayward signs with the Heat

               

Griffin's Trip to Market

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Sources told ESPN.com on Friday that Griffin will opt out of his deal with the Los Angeles Clippers alongside point guard Chris Paul.

This could be a dire situation for the Clippers.

Griffin seems like the biggest flight risk of the two, especially after his name surfaced as a Houston Rockets target, as Stein reported:

Houston will be far from alone in its potential pursuit of the high-flying forward based on a note earlier this month by Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: "The Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder are two teams that will make a bid for Griffin, according to several executives."

If one had to guess which free agent leaves the Clippers, it's Griffin in a landslide. Paul hits free agency after one of the best years of his career and plays the game's most important position. Griffin is 28 years old, and his athleticism-based game might fade sooner than later, not to mention he hasn't appeared in more than 67 contests since 2013-14.

This doesn't mean Griffin won't be a priority for other teams. Teams outside of Los Angeles will pay $40 million less when inking him to a max deal, which translates to at least a few years of his prime at a respectable price.

Given the teams potentially involved, Griffin fits best in Boston. Houston has James Harden, but Griffin might want to escape the Western Conference. Running the court with Thomas and Tatum and playing alongside Al Horford in the Eastern Conference has a lot of appeal.

Prediction: Griffin signs with the Celtics

          

Chris Paul Joins the Fray

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Paul's situation is slightly more complicated.

Italics indicate sarcasm here, folks.

Paul, 32, is coming off a season in which he averaged 18.1 points, 9.2 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game on 47.6 percent shooting.

And as mentioned in the ESPN.com writeup above, the Clippers have a few concerns: "The Clippers, knowing the free-agent threat posed by San Antonio and Houston is real, hired NBA front-office legend Jerry West away from the reigning champion Golden State Warriors in the first of a series of moves they are hoping will help persuade Paul to stay put."

Is it enough? Turner notes Paul has plans to talk to the Rockets and Denver Nuggets, while he also has interest in meeting with the San Antonio Spurs. And Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype recently noted the Spurs are a realistic option.

In fact, none of these destinations outside of the Clippers are unrealistic from an on-court perspective. Paul would team with Harden, who would shift back to the 2, in Houston. He'd help an upstart Denver roster led by breakout star Nikola Jokic. And in San Antonio, he'd play in a Gregg Popovich system and with MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, though it would take some creative cap maneuvering.

But the almighty dollar will come into play. Thanks to the new super-max contract, it's difficult to see Paul leaving the Clippers. Here's the disparity, as ESPN's Arash Markazi illustrated:

Maybe Griffin leaves, but Paul will still reside in Los Angeles next to DeAndre Jordan, with an interesting amount of free cap space around him that the Clips could use in recruiting major names.

And if all else fails, he'll still be sitting on a super-max around the ripe age of 37. The money and arrival of West, hinting at a possible culture shift, might override repeated playoff letdowns over the years.

Prediction: Paul re-signs with the Clippers

         

All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

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