Hayward to Boston? Blake Staying Put? B/R Staff Predictions for NBA Free Agency
Attention, NBA fans.
The regular season didn't do it for you? The 2017 playoffs weren't exciting?
The 2017 NBA offseason is officially LIT!
D'Angelo Russell has been traded to the Brooklyn Nets. Paul George has made his intentions clear to eventually join the Los Angeles Lakers. Markelle Fultz has become part of The Process. Phil Jackson's time in New York is old news.
All of this, and we haven't even hit free agency.
With free agency beginning July 1 at 12 a.m. ET, it's crunch time as far as predictions go. That's why we've compiled projections from some of Bleacher Report's top roundball scribes to give us a look into the future as far as free agents go, as well as the league's top trade targets.
Which top free agent will be taking his talents to South Beach? Will the Boston Celtics finally land their star? Will we officially be able to put all the PG-13 drama behind us?
You've got questions; we've got answers.
Believe it or not, the NBA offseason is just getting started.
Gordon Hayward Is Boston-Bound
Even if you ignore the Brad Stevens angle in Boston, the easier path to contention in the East and the uncertainty of the Utah Jazz's point guard situation, you can still find signs Gordon Hayward is leaving.
Maybe the best one? That he tried to when he was a free agent last time.
Hayward signed a "three-plus-one" deal for $63 million with the Charlotte Hornets in 2014, which the Jazz matched to keep him. But Hayward wouldn't have ever been in that situation (and probably wouldn't be a free agent now, after opting out of that fourth year) if Utah had ponied up an extension to keep him off the restricted market back then. The Jazz would be foolish not to offer the full max now, but it's hard to avoid thinking the damage has already been done.
Expect Hayward in Boston next year, and expect the Jazz to regret not showing full commitment to him from the start.
Jrue Holiday Says Bye-Bye to the Bayou
Now's not a great time to be a free-agent point guard, which is rough news for anyone hoping Jrue Holiday might get out of New Orleans.
Markelle Fultz filled a vacancy in Philly, Dennis Smith Jr. is on board in Dallas, Sacramento has De'Aaron Fox, and somebody's going to trade for Ricky Rubio. Kyle Lowry, Jeff Teague, George Hill, Patty Mills and Derrick Rose are also on the market. There's a lot of supply and less demand than anticipated out there, and that's going to trim Holiday's options and pare down his price.
If the Pelicans put forth a four- or five-year offer that'll pay him close to $30 million per season toward its back end, that'll be almost impossible to resist. But I still think he'll brave the market and work his way free of the Pelicans, even if it means taking a little less or signing a shorter deal with designs on re-entering free agency soon.
Who wouldn't want to see Holiday slot in as Rubio's replacement in Minnesota?
Paul Millsap Moves to the Mile High City
The Denver Nuggets are still searching for a legitimate star to pair with Nikola Jokic, and no one on the open market is a better fit than Paul Millsap. Throwing heaps of money at him (and possibly offering Wilson Chandler's contract to the Atlanta Hawks in a sign-and-trade scenario) might come back to bite the up-and-coming organization as the power forward moves deeper into his 30s, but it's worth doing to vault the Nuggets firmly into playoff contention.
Alongside Jokic, Denver needs someone who can protect the rim. Enter Millsap, whose long arms and enduring athleticism make him a versatile contributor who can function in any defensive situation. Not only can he help prevent dribble penetration in the first place, but opponents shot 51.7 percent against him on 7.5 attempts per game at the rim, per NBA.com's SportVU data. That's by no means an elite mark, but the level of involvement is a strong sign.
Floor-spacing is always needed, and Millsap can again fill the hole. He's not the league's most proficient stretch 4, but he's able to step to the perimeter and either knock down a timely triple or put the ball on the floor to create for himself.
He'll have plenty of prominent suitors this offseason, but none present a better fit—without skimping on the money involved—than Denver.
Gallo Takes His Talents to South Beach
The Miami Heat functioned best in 2016-17 when using a drive-and-kick offense. Now, that's the vision they can use to sell Danilo Gallinari on his South Beach fit.
Head coach Erik Spoelstra needs to have a plethora of ball-handlers at his disposal. The Heat hummed when they were probing a defense from multiple spots, essentially using James Johnson and Dion Waiters to complement Goran Dragic as everyone burst toward the hoop and looked for shooters on the perimeter. It only makes sense to take that strategy to its logical endpoint.
Whether Johnson departs or returns, Gallinari's ability to create his own offense and function as a point forward for short stretches would fit in perfectly alongside the incumbent options and Hassan Whiteside. Moreover, he'd be freed up to play more minutes at the 4, which he's slowly been shifting toward throughout his time with the Denver Nuggets.
Gallinari could still return to the Mile High City. The Boston Celtics are another intriguing option. But at this point, Miami is the best fit for his playing style, and the two sides should share mutual interest as soon as July begins.
Paul George Is Going Going, Back Back, to Cali Cali
The Lakers have been playing it coy with regard to Paul George, as they should considering the likelihood they land him outright in 2018 free agency. But Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka knows the financial benefits to George if he comes to the Lakers in trade instead of free agency. And Lakers president Magic Johnson knows the sooner the Lakers reach legitimacy with George on the court, the better for LeBron James to see what he might be joining a year from now.
Even though plenty of contending teams remain in the bidding for George as a one-year rental, the fact that no one has struck a deal yet means no club is determined to make it happen. Boston is the one club with the obvious assets to get it done, but the Celtics haven't tipped their hand yet. Therefore, expect the Lakers ultimately to wind up being the ones with a George trade this summer, likely including future picks and combo guard Jordan Clarkson.
The Lakers have prioritized adding shooting both in the draft and in upcoming free agency. As they need to preserve salary-cap space for next summer, the Lakers will have to settle for what they can get in one-year players or under-the-radar guys in 2017 free agency. Quality shooting options such as Jodie Meeks, who impressed with his character in a prior stint with the Lakers, or Brandon Rush could be buy-low candidates for a roster overloaded currently toward the frontcourt.
Serge Ibaka Re-Signs with Toronto at 12:01 A.M. ET Saturday
Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri didn't give up Terrence Ross and a first-round pick to rent Serge Ibaka. That's what we must keep coming back to.
As for whether Ibaka is a good fit on the Raptors, this is a different story. He is their only floor-spacing shot-blocker, but he's no longer an anomaly at the 4 or 5. He cannot do much when putting the ball the floor, he can't switch pick-and-rolls, and his rim protection has suffered amid the rise of small-ball units that transcend his suddenly shallow well of versatility.
Again: This isn't enough for the Raptors to let him go. Sources told Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler in May the two parties have unofficially agreed on a new deal, and there's no reason to second-guess that development now.
Because for all Ibaka doesn't do, he does more than the capped-out Raptors can afford to replace.
Derrick Rose Reunites with Thibs, Jimmy Butler
This isn't about the Minnesota Timberwolves playing host to a Chicago Bulls reunion tour. Well, it's about that a little bit.
Mostly, though, Timberwolves coach/president Tom Thibodeau hasn't committed to a direction at point guard. He sent Kris Dunn, last year's fifth overall pick, to Chicago as part of the Jimmy Butler trade, and word on the street is he's still looking to dump Ricky Rubio, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
Derrick Rose is a viable stopgap until the Timberwolves figure things out. He's another ball-dominator in a sea of them—Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins—but he shouldn't cost too much after underperforming with the New York Knicks, and he gets to play the familiarity card with Thibs.
And need I remind you the Timberwolves were interested in Rose long before now? Didn't think so.
Rockets Strike Again
Daryl Morey is not done. That much, I guarantee you.
The Rockets outfoxed the league in landing Chris Paul on Wednesday in exchange for Patrick Beverly, a first-round pick and a batch of spare parts. But the general manager kept some spare parts in reserve, and he plans to strike again.
Paul George will be the primary target, though the competition will be stiff and the price might be too high. Carmelo Anthony would come more cheaply—but only if he and head coach Mike D'Antoni could put aside their tense past with the Knicks (the bet here: unlikely). Or maybe the Rockets snare a slightly-below-the-radar star.
Any deal will take some creativity. The Rockets' best trade assets now are sixth man Eric Gordon (possibly expendable) and blossoming center Clint Capela (not as expendable). They still have picks to deal, cheap ancillary players and Ryan Anderson's bloated contract for salary-matching purposes.
All that might not sound like the basis for a major trade —but then look at the package the Rockets sent out to get Paul.
Under Morey, the Rockets have chased just about every star who's hit the trade or free-agency market. We don't know yet who else might shake loose in this already-wild NBA summer. But whoever it is, you can bet Morey will be in pursuit.
Blake Griffin Will Stay Put and Recruit Another Star in 2018
The easy thing for Blake Griffin to do, now that his longtime lob man Chris Paul has departed for Houston, would be to flee.
Head to South Beach, and play the lob/dunk game with Goran Dragic. Head to Boston, and run pick-and-rolls 'til dawn with Isaiah Thomas. Take your chances against LeBron in the East, and run as far as possible from the Death Star in Oakland.
And perhaps the Clippers be wise to let Griffin walk, rather than hand the oft-injured star a $175 million contract. With Paul gone, the Clippers' window to contend is virtually shut. Maybe everyone should move on.
The guess here is they won't. Griffin loves the Hollywood spotlight and all it affords him. Without Paul, his star will shine that much brighter. (And the locker room might be a little less tense.)
The Clippers can rebuild around Griffin's scoring and playmaking. They can run the offense through him. He's a gifted passer, as he consistently showed in recent seasons when Paul was injured.
In the short term, the Clippers can stay competitive behind Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and the feisty defense of Patrick Beverley (acquired in the Paul deal). By next summer, they could clear salary-cap room to chase another star: Paul George, perhaps, or Russell Westbrook. With Griffin still in the fold, the Clippers can make a compelling pitch.
Maybe Lob City isn't dead, but merely—in the immortal words of Miracle Max—mostly dead. Blake Griffin can revive it.
Carmelo Anthony Waives His No-Trade Clause
Now that Phil Jackson is gone, Kristaps Porzingis won't be going anywhere. But what about the rest of the mess left behind for general manager Steve Mills, the man tasked by MSG owner James Dolan to lead the team during free agency until a new president is brought in?
From a personnel standpoint, everything in "Knicks land" right now still revolves around what the team would like to do with Carmelo Anthony. The prediction here is that Anthony, having defeated and outlasted Jackson, becomes more open to waiving his no-trade clause. That's the easy part, though. The hard part is finding a fit.
Would Mike D'Antoni and Anthony be up for a reunion in Houston, given how poorly the two got along when working together in New York? Seems unlikely. The Los Angeles Clippers? It's possible, but with Chris Paul gone and Blake Griffin possibly on the way out, it's hard to see the appeal for Carmelo.
The answer is and always was the Cleveland Cavaliers. The prediction here is the Knicks and Cavs rope in a third team and figure out some sort of deal that allows Carmelo to link up with his buddy LeBron James and chase a ring.
Kyle Lowry Stays Loyal to The 6
Kyle Lowry isn't going anywhere. It doesn't matter if he wants to move on from Toronto. It's just not happening.
There aren't enough starting point guard openings to fill following the NBA draft. Possible big spenders at the position like the Dallas Mavericks (Dennis Smith Jr.), Los Angeles Lakers (Lonzo Ball), Philadelphia 76ers (Markelle Fultz) and Sacramento Kings (De'Aaron Fox) selected cornerstone prospects. The Brooklyn Nets rounded out their backcourt by acquiring D'Angelo Russell. The Chicago Bulls added Kris Dunn to their overcrowded floor-general rotation.
The Houston Rockets, another potential destination, brokered a surprise trade for Chris Paul. The Denver Nuggets would be an option if they weren't more likely to try signing a do-everything power forward before getting a point guard. The New York Knicks could try dummying up some extra cap space, but they drafted Frank Ntilikina at No. 8, and, well, they're the New York Knicks.
Lowry's suitors are dwindling in number, just as they have for other free-agent pilots. So not only is he a lock to remain with the Raptors, but his price tag should fall noticeably short of a max salary given the league's current point guard landscape.
J.J. Redick Trusts The Process
Chris Paul isn't the only player packing up for a move out of Lob City this summer. All signs point to J.J. Redick taking his talents elsewhere, albeit not to Houston.
According to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets are expected to go hard after the Los Angeles Clippers' soon-to-be-ex-sharpshooter. Brooklyn would seem to have the upper hand, if Redick's residence in Brooklyn has any bearing on his free-agent future.
But if the 33-year-old Duke grad wants to win prior to retirement, he'd be better served joining The Process in Philly. For all the talent contained between Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and incoming rookie Markelle Fultz, none of the Sixers' young stars is anything close to a proven floor-spacer. Even Robert Covington, touted as a potential three-and-D prototype, has seen his three-point percentage decline over the last two seasons.
For Philly's bevy of playmakers to fit well together and form the foundation of a competitive club, they'll need marksmen to draw defenders and veterans to show the youngsters how to win. Redick just so happens to check both boxes.