10 Notable NBA Players Most Likely to Change Teams This Offseason
At the beginning of every NBA season, an adjustment period takes center stage.
By now, we understand how we're supposed to feel when looking at Chris Paul in a Houston Rockets uniform. We know what to expect when flipping on the television and witnessing Kyrie Irving breaking down a defender while wearing Boston Celtics threads. Paul George donning the same colors as Russell Westbrook is normal at this point.
But those were strange developments at the beginning of 2017-18. Those changes required us to adapt, just as is the case with significant player movement each and every offseason.
The hottest months of the 2018 calendar will surely follow suit. Will LeBron James ditch the Cleveland Cavaliers for a brighter future? Which names on the trade block will end up changing locations? How many of the top-tier free agents will seek greener pastures?
To be clear, we're only concerned with big-name players. Plenty of low-level contributors will suit up for new teams in 2018-19, but those gentlemen pale in importance when compared to these 10—all of whom are not only likely to hire some movers this summer but also ready to make substantial impacts in their new digs.
Wilson Chandler, SF/PF, Denver Nuggets
Situation: Player Option
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.5 blocks
Though Wilson Chandler's defensive versatility makes him an intriguing fit on a Denver Nuggets roster still searching for a stopping identity, he's likely going to emerge as a cap casualty. Whether he opts out of his $12.8 million deal for 2018-19 or decides to pick up the option, the Mile High City residents will be looking to move on and clear space for a different contract.
Nikola Jokic is about to get paid. We're talking max money for the young stud at the 5, and that means the Nuggets will be pushing closer to the luxury-tax threshold than in previous seasons—a scary situation for a franchise that doesn't like to shoulder those hefty bills and wants to remain competitive without breaking the bank to do so.
Attempting to find a landing spot for Kenneth Faried ($13.8 million in 2018-19) or Mason Plumlee ($12.9 million) would provide the necessary financial flexibility. But the former has seen his role decline, and it's unlikely another organization would be willing to shoulder his albatross salary without significant accompanying compensation. The latter, meanwhile, is a key reserve for the Nuggets with a skill set that's tougher to replace.
Chandler is the best bet to be moved, since Denver could actually recoup something for his services (or just let him walk if he chooses the opt-out course). He hasn't played for a different franchise since the Carmelo Anthony blockbuster in February 2011 sent him away from the New York Knicks, but that's going to change soon enough.
Tyreke Evans, SG/SF, Memphis Grizzlies
Situation: Unrestricted Free Agent
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks
Where are the Memphis Grizzlies going to find the capital to hand Tyreke Evans the long-term contract he deserves and likely covets? Between Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, JaMychal Green and Ben McLemore, this organization is already on the hook for $92.1 million in 2018-19, and that's only five players—not all of whom are guaranteed to populate the starting quintet.
Evans isn't coming at a discount this time around.
After accepting his one-year, $3.3 million deal in last season's free-agency period, the swingman proved himself a dangerous offensive threat with a reliable three-point jumper and an increasingly complete game. He was the closest thing to an All-Star Memphis had in 2017-18, easily emerging as its most consistent option while Gasol began to decline and Conley dealt with injuries.
Now, Evans should be looking for both a substantial payday and an opportunity to join a legitimate contender rather than a rebuilding organization utterly reliant on two veterans in their 30s. The Grizzlies simply don't have the tools to embark on an expeditious climb up the Western Conference standings even if this breakout wing decides to once again grace them with his presence.
Someone will inevitably check all the boxes. Maybe that'll be the Philadelphia 76ers, who still need shot-creators alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. They were already linked to Evans at the trade deadline by ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski, as were the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics.
"Memphis also has its nearly $9 million mid-level exception, which it intends to use to keep free-agent Tyreke Evans," Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal recently reported, but it's still tough to see that emerging as the best offer coming his way.
Derrick Favors, PF, Utah Jazz
Situation: Unrestricted Free Agent
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.1 blocks
"I would love to come back and be a part of this team," Derrick Favors told Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune in early April. "Obviously a lot is going to happen between now and when I have to make a decision. But I love this team, and I love the fans. I definitely have an open mind."
But will the Utah Jazz agree?
Retaining Favors means ponying up a substantial sum to stave off the other inevitable suitors, and that's a tough ask when he doesn't elevate the team's ceiling. The power forward has become a solid two-way contributor who plays an efficient brand of interior offense and holds his own with physicality on defense, but he's the type of player who ensures a lofty floor rather than a star-kissing ceiling.
In fact, the Jazz were actually 2.6 points per 100 possessions worse with Favors on the floor during the regular season, though they still posted a net rating of 3.4 with him trotting up and down the hardwood. He worked well alongside frontcourt stud Rudy Gobert, but he struggled immensely when operating without the team's best player—this playoff squad was actually outscored in that situation, per PBPStats.com.
No one would blame the Jazz for retaining Favors' services. He's still only 26 years old and has been a nice complement to Gobert. But that doesn't mean bringing him back is the right decision when the price tag inevitably rises a bit too high for Utah's liking.
LeBron James, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers
Situation: Player Option
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.9 blocks
What indication has LeBron James given that he wants to remain with the Cleveland Cavaliers?
Maybe this changes if the Cavs somehow do the unthinkable and overcome a season filled with mediocrity by stomping through the Eastern Conference and either dethroning the Golden State Warriors or taking down the Houston Rockets. But that's a long shot this season, given the strength of the Toronto Raptors and the Philadelphia 76ers...if Cleveland even gets by the Indiana Pacers after a Game 1 blowout loss to Victor Oladipo and Co.
And if the Cavaliers did hold up the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the second time in three years, James still wouldn't be a shoo-in to stay. Not with Dan Gilbert still running the show, David Griffin not retroactively retained and the front office still having trouble putting together a cohesive supporting cast around its best player.
Will James join forces with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to form a dynastic triumvirate in the City of Brotherly Love? Could he team up with close friend Chris Paul and James Harden to make the Rockets that much deadlier? Will he throw on a purple-and-gold uniform and attempt to expedite the Los Angeles Lakers' rebuild? Could the New York Knicks have a chance at landing his services?
Right now, your guess is as good as mine. But if you take a trip to Las Vegas and hit one of the innumerable sports books, wager on the field rather than a return to Cleveland.
DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers
Situation: Player Option
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.0 points, 15.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.9 blocks
Sometimes, it's just time for a change.
DeAndre Jordan could either opt into 2018-19 or turn down his player option before re-signing with the Los Angeles Clippers on a long-term deal. It would be the comfortable decision, allowing the big man to keep patrolling his old stomping grounds while serving as an incumbent leader of the fringe playoff contenders.
But he could also seek out a new landing spot, attempting to join a center-hungry squad such as the Milwaukee Bucks or Cleveland Cavaliers in an effort to reinvigorate his career with a fresh start. And if we may endeavor to read the tea leaves, some of his recent comments indicate he might be leaning toward the latter option.
"I think I'm just going to hang out this summer and wait it out. I mean, it'll be a tough decision," he told Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times, who also reported on the season-ending embrace the center and head coach Doc Rivers shared. "I want to think about all my options and do what's best for me and my career and my family. But most important, like I always say, I want to be where I'm wanted. And wherever that is, that's hopefully where I'm going to be."
Might it matter that Jordan has spent his fair share of time in trade rumors during recent seasons? Does the willingness to trade Blake Griffin right after signing him to an extension and making it appear he was going to be the long-term face of the franchise have any bearing on Jordan's future? What about the lack of contract talks?
"None," Jordan succintly stated, per Turner, when asked if he'd been engaged with the Clippers in contract discussions. "Zero. Zero discussions."
Brook Lopez, C, Los Angeles Lakers
Situation: Unrestricted Free Agent
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.3 blocks
Though Brook Lopez only just celebrated his 30th birthday, he has the skill-based game necessary to continue producing for a while longer. Any 7-footer who can knock down three-pointers at a reasonable clip should have shelf life, and this Stanford product has now followed up 2016-17's efforts (34.6 percent on 5.2 three-point attempts per game) by taking 4.4 triples per contest and connecting 34.5 percent of the time.
Those aren't eye-popping numbers, but they're enough. Defenders have to respect Lopez's willingness to fire away and submit a palatable 103.5 offensive rating on those attempts.
Lopez deserves a shot to feature as an offense-first center in a different location, and he should receive that chance upon entering unrestricted free agency this summer. The Los Angeles Lakers only played him 23.4 minutes per game during his lone season in purple and gold, and they'll likely let him walk given how many younger incumbent options they already have.
Sure, Magic Johnson could choose to use Lopez's Bird rights and go over the salary cap to bring him back—an even more intriguing option if the Lakers are looking for veteran leadership after successfully signing a big-name target such as LeBron James or Paul George. But that still feels unlikely when so many of the up-and-comers currently rostered will work best in small-ball settings and get bogged down by Lopez's slow-footed nature.
The center market has proved perilous for non-elite options in previous seasons. But this 30-year-old's pedigree and enduring skill set should allow him to find a home where he'll be more prominently featured than he was with the Lakers.
Jabari Parker, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
Situation: Restricted Free Agent
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks
The signs are there. Well, at least in the regular season.
Upon returning from his second ACL tear, Jabari Parker averaged 18.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.5 blocks per 36 minutes while shooting 48.2 percent from the field, 38.3 percent from downtown and 74.1 percent from the stripe. He looked the part of a star scorer capable of thriving at either the 3 or the 4—a combo forward more than the "tweener" role that carries with it so many negative connotations.
But with Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo already dominating a plethora of possessions, Parker is more a luxury item than a necessity for the Milwaukee Bucks. He played just 24 minutes per game during the regular season (the fewest of his young career) and received only 15 on the floor in his first postseason appearance.
"It's his first playoff game," Middleton said after the overtime loss in Game 1, per ESPN.com's Nick Friedell. "... It's never easy. We don't want him to put a ton of pressure on himself, we just want him to go out there, relax, and be the Jabari we know he can be—the Jabari that we've seen him be since he came back from injury."
How did he follow up that inaugural showing? By going 0-of-2 from the field in 10 minutes of action during a Game 2 loss, further cementing the feeling that he's struggling to find comfort in his current location.
Even if he bounces back in this series moving forward, that doesn't mean his future is in Brewtown. Not when he's a restricted free agent who could command a massive salary thanks to his sheer scoring potential. A team like the Chicago Bulls could envision pairing Parker, a shot-creating forward, with rookie standout Lauri Markkanen.
Per Spotrac.com, Milwaukee will enter the offseason already capped out. While the Bucks could exercise their right of first refusal and retain his services, that wouldn't be a financially sound decision.
Isaiah Thomas, PG, Los Angeles Lakers
Situation: Unrestricted Free Agent
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.2 points, 2.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks
Let's forget about Isaiah Thomas' miserable—and brief—tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers. If we focus only on the portion of his season that came with the Los Angeles Lakers before he was again sidelined for the year with hip trouble, he averaged 15.6 points, 5.0 assists and 2.1 rebounds but shot just 38.3 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from beyond the rainbow.
Thomas is no longer a max-contract candidate. On the contrary, he'll likely need to find a prove-it deal throughout which he can excel and earn a bigger payday during his next venture into free agency. Concerns about his injuries and effectiveness aren't going away after he suffered such a devastating decline from his final days with the Boston Celtics.
"Depends how he finishes the year," an anonymous executive told NBA.com's David Aldridge before Thomas was ruled out for the remainder of the season. "Due to the tight market, would not surprise me to see him at $12-15 million or could be as low as a mid-level deal if one of the space teams does not value him."
An opportunity shouldn't come from the Lakers.
Even if they wanted to retain his services, he needs to go somewhere with a less entrenched option at point guard. Lonzo Ball isn't handing over the reins any time soon, and he shouldn't. Thomas would be a true backup with the Purple and Gold, one likely subjected to a shrinking role under head coach Luke Walton as Ball continues to develop throughout his sophomore season.
Surely, he can do better.
Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Hornets
Situation: Trade Possibility
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 22.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks
Kemba Walker is under contract through 2018-19—at a reasonable rate, no less—and the Charlotte Hornets are under no obligation to deal him away. But as they start brushing up against the luxury-tax threshold and need to find a way to rebuild and dramatically elevate the organizational ceiling, they'll have to consider trading the star point guard.
"There will be no cap flexibility this offseason unless the Hornets are willing to go into the luxury tax (unlikely), or they manage to dump a salary (good luck)," The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor wrote in late March. "Rookie Malik Monk (who has struggled) or their first-round pick (currently No. 11 in the pre-lottery order) has value, but there realistically isn't a player they could get that'd drastically move the needle."
Couple the nearly guaranteed stagnation that stems from accepting the status quo with Walker's stated desire to win, and you start to understand how a blockbuster trade feels inevitable. As the All-Star told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer in late March, "At this point, I want to win. I want to be in the playoffs. I'm tired of not being in the playoffs. ... I hate watching them on TV. I've been there twice in seven years, and it's just not fun [missing out]."
If (when?) the Hornets accept their fate and put Walker on the trade block, they'll be able to recoup serious value. Incoming lottery picks are inevitable, and they'll likely be coupled with some combination of established talent and young up-and-comers. The former allows Charlotte to avoid plunging all the way down the Eastern Conference standings, while the latter grants that necessary upside.
Just as an example, one of O'Connor's suggested trades involves the Milwaukee Bucks: "A sign-and-trade involving Jabari Parker, two future firsts, and Matthew Dellavedova for Walker and one of Charlotte’s long-term salaries."
Trading Walker, even for that type of desirable package, wouldn't be a popular decision in the Queen City. That doesn't mean it would be the wrong move, though.
Hassan Whiteside, C, Miami Heat
Situation: Trade Possibility
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.0 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.7 blocks
"Man, it's annoying. Why we matching up? We got one of the best centers in the league. Why we matching up? A lot of teams don't have a good center. They're going to use their strength," Hassan Whiteside vented, per Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, after he didn't get any run during the fourth quarter or overtime of a regular-season loss to the Brooklyn Nets at the end of March. "It's bulls--t. It's really bulls--t, man. There's a lot of teams that could use a center. S--t. That's bulls--t."
His frustration likely hasn't dissipated over the past few weeks.
During his first two postseason games, the disgruntled center averaged just 3.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks against the Philadelphia 76ers. He's logged just 14 minutes per contest, largely because he's struggling to match up with Ersan Ilyasova. The Miami Heat's net rating has declined by a staggering 23.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor in the playoffs—a stark drop-off for anyone, but particularly for a man who only had a minus-4.4 in the regular season.
Whiteside is a talented 5. He's an imposing defensive presence capable of leading the league in rejections, and his offensive skill set is diverse enough to include thunderous jams and the occasional mid-range bucket. But he's a bad fit for the Heat. The team is clearly better without him, which isn't necessarily a knock on his level of talent.
If a player ever needed a fresh start, Whiteside would be the one. And if the Heat can get a single youngster with upside or a late pick in the first round of an upcoming draft, they should grant him that opportunity to start over while scrubbing the remaining two seasons (assuming he picks up his 2019-20 player option) of his four-year, $98 million contract from the ledgers.