2018 NBA Free Agents: Updated Predictions Following the Draft

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2018

New Orleans Pelicans DeMarcus Cousins during the second half of the NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Before we're fully introduced to the 2018 draft class, it's time to discuss where veteran players may land during free agency. After shaking up the selection order, which team plans to make another big splash this summer?

Among the most notable names, DeMarcus Cousins could sign a huge deal close to the max in the prime of his career. He's rehabbing a surgically-repaired torn left Achilles tendon, but the four-time All-Star plans to participate in training camp.

The Los Angeles Lakers may have several moving parts if they land a star player or two this offseason. The roster changes could lead to another club signing restricted free agent Julius Randle on a lucrative offer sheet. Where can he go to expand his role?

How would the San Antonio Spurs fill the small forward spot if Kawhi Leonard left town?

        

C DeMarcus Cousins

Chuck Burton/Associated Press

Despite countless mock drafts slotting Texas product Mohamed Bamba to the Dallas Mavericks, the front office swapped picks with the Atlanta Hawks to land EuroLeague star Luka Doncic.

Head coach Rick Carlisle suggested Doncic could play at the 4 as a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. Still, the Mavericks have a question mark at center. They'll likely pursue several big men to fill the void.

Clint Capela and Jusuf Nurkic will become restricted free agents. DeAndre Jordan could opt out of his contract with the Los Angeles Clippers, per Spotrac. But Cousins stands out as the coveted player capable of stretching the floor at the 5.

According to Michael Scotto of The Athletic, Dallas will go all-in on Cousins once free agency kicks off. "At No. 5 overall, Dallas believes it has a strong chance to land DeMarcus Cousins in free agency, league sources told The Athletic. If the Mavericks pass on Mohamed Bamba, that would signal the team will go all in on trying to sign Cousins or restricted free agent Clint Capela."

Despite tearing his Achilles in January, Cousins should have plenty of suitors due to his versatility. Assuming the Mavericks come to the negotiating table with a stronger offer than the New Orleans Pelicans, who went to the playoffs without the 27-year-old big man, Dallas will acquire an All-Star talent. 

Prediction: DeMarcus Cousins signs with Dallas Mavericks

       

PF Julius Randle 

Brandon Dill/Associated Press

Randle put his talent on full display during the previous season. He averaged 16.1 points—on 56 percent shooting from the field—and 8.2 rebounds per contest through 82 games. As a restricted free agent, the Lakers have the first right of refusal.

However, with all the buzz surrounding the possibilities of LeBron James and Paul George coming to the Lakers, Randle becomes an afterthought in the grand scheme. The 23-year-old's future may hinge upon his fit alongside star players on a playoff-contending squad.

Another club willing to up the ante on an offer sheet for Randle could pry him away from Los Angeles. He doesn't have a reliable three-point shot in his scoring repertoire, but he possesses the ability to create his shot near the basket, per Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal: 

In the long term, the Brooklyn Nets won't have much experience in the frontcourt. DeMarre Carroll will become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will hold the restricted tag after the upcoming campaign. 

Randle could join former teammate D'Angelo Russell and help the Nets win immediately. He'd also have the minutes to fully develop his game. 

Prediction: Julius Randle signs with the Brooklyn Nets

       

SF Mario Hezonja

John Raoux/Associated Press

As the days come and go, there's little hope the Spurs find a way to mend fences with Leonard. According to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne, the organization hasn't entertained any trade offers from the Lakers—for now.

ESPN's Michael C. Wright reported general manager R.C. Buford plans to repair a fractured relationship with the two-time All-Star, who missed all but nine games last season because of a quad injury:

"Kawhi and his family mean a lot to our organization and to the community. While none of us would wish we are where we are, we're going to do what we can to build the best relationship we can with him, and we'll explore all of our options. But the first one would be to do what we can to keep Kawhi as a part of our group." 

For Spurs fans, Buford's words offer some hope, but ESPN's Stephen A. Smith heard a more definitive answer from Leonard's camp:

All indications lead to Leonard moving on to a new destination. Despite his reported wishes, he's still under contract in San Antonio for at least the 2018-19 campaign. He can opt out next offseason, per Spotrac.

Assuming Leonard remains strong on his desire to go elsewhere, the Spurs need assets at the position. Mario Hezonja isn't a versatile two-time All-Star, but perhaps head coach Gregg Popovich can unlock the talent analysts raved about when the 6'8" forward came into the league as the No. 5 pick in the 2015 draft. 

Hezonja flashed as a playmaker when former Orlando Magic head coach Frank Vogel inserted him into the starting lineup due to injuries. He scored double figures in nine of the last 10 games and displayed on-ball defensive ability down the stretch.

It looks as though the Spurs will lose Leonard, but they could gain a fourth-year forward with untapped potential.

Prediction: Mario Hezonja signs with the San Antonio Spurs

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