1 Free-Agency Prediction for Every NBA Team
With all due respect to the NBA Finals, the most exhilarating part of the NBA calendar doesn't start until July.
The landscape of the league is about to change. The Golden State Warriors can lose 60 percent of their starting lineup. Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard will decide how to shape the top of the Eastern Conference.
Fellow franchise players Kemba Walker, D'Angelo Russell and Nikola Vucevic will all hit the market, while veterans Marc Gasol, Al Horford and Goran Dragic have tough decisions to make on their player options and whether they want to enter free agency at all.
Ranging from mild and expected to surprisingly piquant, here are 30 free-agency predictions that could spice up the league.
Washington Wizards: Decline Jabari Parker's $20 Million Option
Here we have it. The easiest decision any team will make in free agency this year.
While Parker wasn't bad following a trade to the Wizards, his production (15.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.7 APG) doesn't warrant a $20 million option, much less when defense and outside shooting (29.6% 3PT) is factored in.
By letting Parker hit free agency, the Wizards gain enough cap room to find someone who actually complements Bradley Beal next season.
New Orleans Pelicans: Julius Randle Gone, Jahlil Okafor Back for New Orleans
Randle can choose to play for the Pelicans under his $9 million player option next season. But after putting up 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists this past year, he'll want to hit the market in search of a bigger deal.
Okafor, conversely, is under a team option for just $1.7 million, an easy call for a 23-year-old former No. 3 overall pick. He averaged 18.6 points and 10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes in New Orleans last season and should get even more opportunities with Randle gone and Anthony Davis likely traded away.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Bargain Hunting for a Shooter
The Thunder roster is inching closer to $150 million in salary next season as is. There won't be any big name free-agent signings here.
JJ Redick would be a dream but will probably cost too much following a career year (18.1 PPG) on a $12.25 million contract. The same goes for Danny Green (10.3 PPG, 45.5% 3PT) and even Jeremy Lamb (15.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG).
Instead, look for the Thunder to bring in a guy like Seth Curry or Reggie Bullock, who may agree to play on a veteran's minimum deal for a chance at a significant role on a playoff team. Oklahoma City is nearing a financial crisis for a team that can't get out of the first round and has no real way of upgrading the team in free agency.
Memphis Grizzlies: Jonas Valanciunas Picks Up $17.6 Million Option
This is a tough call, as Valanciunas' value should be fairly high after his dominant 17-game run in Memphis.
Following a trade from the Toronto Raptors, the 26-year-old center put up 19.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in just 27.7 minutes a night. That translates to 25.9 points, 13.9 rebounds and 2.0 blocks over 36 minutes—numbers that we haven't seen since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975-76.
For now, Valanciunas will opt for the safe money and bank on a full season of heavy production only increasing his value.
Miami Heat: Waive Ryan Anderson, Still Pay Him $15.6 Million
The Heat can keep Anderson this season and pay him a full $21.2 million or waive him by July 10 and end up footing a $15.6 million bill.
If either Hassan Whiteside ($27 million) or Goran Dragic ($19.2 million) choose not to pick up their player option, Miami might keep Anderson (and hope their trainers can help him regain his 2015-16 form). Since there's no way either is passing on that kind of money, the Heat need to save every penny they can.
The Heat's projected payroll of over $140 million next season is $8 million into the luxury tax, a high price to pay for a team that didn't even make the playoffs. By waiving Anderson, they save nearly $6 million and creep ever closer to avoiding the luxury tax.
More Than Likely to Happen
Indiana Pacers: Get the Band Back Together
The Pacers will have max cap space this summer, are coached by the continually underrated Nate McMillan and already have one star in Victor Oladipo.
While this sounds like an attractive destination, the biggest names the Pacers will sign this July are their own.
Sure, they may flirt with Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler or others in negotiations, but only those who have already been in the locker room will realize that playing and living in Indiana really isn't that bad.
With Darren Collison, Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic all becoming free agents, the Pacers will bring back two of the three and try to make another run in the East next season with a healthy Oladipo. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it'll eventually mean another early playoff exit for these Pacers—barring substantial improvement by 22-year-old Domantas Sabonis and 23-year-old Myles Turner.
Utah Jazz: Look For Upgrades, Bring Back Ricky Rubio Instead
The Jazz will shoot their shot with Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and D'Angelo Russell this summer before ultimately getting rejected and turning back to Rubio.
Over the past two seasons, Rubio has averaged 12.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists while starting 144 out of 145 total games. He still can't shoot, and Utah needs a secondary scorer next to Donovan Mitchell, but Rubio and the Jazz will be intertwined for yet another year.
That is, until they trade him at February's deadline in a deal for Mike Conley Jr.
Toronto Raptors: Marc Gasol Picks Up $25.6 Million Player Option No Matter What
Whether he believes Kawhi Leonard is coming back or not, there's no way Gasol is passing on $25.6 million.
Yes, he could theoretically elect to become an unrestricted free agent and look to sign a longer deal for more total money, but with whom? At 34 and with centers his size (7'1", 255 pounds) becoming less and less prevalent, it's hard to imagine Gasol landing any more huge contracts.
He'll collect one last year of big checks on a (hopefully) stacked Raptors team and worry about what future deals may come next summer.
Portland Trail Blazers: Al-Farouq Aminu Seeks a Raise Elsewhere
Coming off a four-year, $30 million team-friendly contract, Aminu needs to get paid.
At 28, he's turned into one of the better two-way forwards in the NBA, and his three-point shooting jumped to 35.3 percent over the last four years in Portland.
The Blazers would love to keep Aminu, but doing so would likely land them in the luxury tax.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Don't Match Offer Sheet For Tyus Jones
A restricted free agent, Jones should draw up some interest from teams this summer after posting an NBA-record 6.9-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Already over the cap with $111 million in committed salary for next season, the Wolves won't match any sizable deals for Jones that may come from the Phoenix Suns, Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic or anyone else on the hunt for a point guard.
With Jeff Teague still under contract for another season and Derrick Rose still mulling over his options, Jones has played his last game with the Wolves.
Things Are Getting Interesting
Los Angeles Lakers: No Superstar Help Comes
The Lakers made sure they'd have a max cap space slot this summer, but who's going to fill it?
Kevin Durant has had enough of an image hit from signing with the Golden State Warriors to join LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard is doing just fine running his own team and Kyrie Irving desperately wanted to escape James' shadow just two short years ago.
Trade talks with the New Orleans Pelicans for Anthony Davis may be back on following the hiring of David Griffin, but the Lakers' free-agent cupboard will be bare. Look for a DeAndre Jordan or JJ Redick signing and nothing more.
Denver Nuggets: Decline Team Option on Paul Millsap
At 34, Millsap is still playing at a high level and was a crucial part of Denver's strong defense this season. His three-point shooting continues to improve (36.5% on 2.3 attempts per game), and he registered his highest rebound rate (14.4%) and player efficiency rating (17.9) since the 2015-16 season.
So why would Denver choose not to bring him back? At $30 million, Millsap has become way too expensive.
Declining the team option on Millsap and searching for a team to take on Mason Plumlee's expiring $14 million deal would open up a max salary cap spot for one of the premier free agents this summer—likely Denver's last chance with Jamal Murray becoming a restricted free agent in 2020.
Brooklyn Nets: D'Angelo Russell Re-Signs on a Five-Year Max
The Nets have the cap space to make some noise in free agency, but their first priority should be to re-sign Russell.
According to Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus, a five-year max deal will pay Russell a total of $158.1 million, compared to the four-year, $117.2 million he could sign with anyone else.
This won't be a complicated process. Russell is the face of an upstart Brooklyn team as a first-time All-Star who averaged 21.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists. While Brooklyn would love to lock up his services for less, both sides will ultimately agree on the max.
Detroit Pistons: Tyreke Evans Lands One-Year, $9.2 Million Deal
Detroit needs help everywhere outside of power forward and center. The problem? There's no cap space to address any of it.
The Pistons will have the mid-level exception of $9.2 million at their disposal and need to be on the lookout for guards and wings who can score and create.
While Evans was somewhat underwhelming with the Indiana Pacers last season (10.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.4 APG, 38.9% FG), he's just a year removed from a 19/5/5 campaign for the Memphis Grizzlies. Evans can be a sixth man or start at either shooting guard or small forward, giving the Pistons an offensive spark.
Houston Rockets: Strike Out in Free Agency, Forced to Wait for Buyout Market
With no cap space to be found, the Rockets will be forced to upgrade via trade this summer.
Sure, they'll try like hell to get Trevor Ariza to come back on a cheap deal. Offers could be made to players like Jeff Green, Wilson Chandler and DeMarre Carroll as well to bring in some wing help. All will pass while looking for a little extra cash and a bigger role.
Not all hope is lost, however, as the Rockets will once again be at the front of the buyout market next spring. Patience might not be Houston's forte, but it'll have no choice but to exercise it this summer.
Bold, but Reasonable
San Antonio Spurs: Brook Lopez Brings Spurs Offense into 21st Century
Evolution is inevitable, even for these Spurs.
San Antonio needs more shooting to win with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, especially with Dejounte Murray back next season.
Enter Lopez, who's quickly become one of the best three-point shooting centers in the league. He nailed 2.3 shots from deep for the Bucks this season at a 36.5 percent clip, mixing in 12.5 points and a career-high 2.2 blocks for good measure.
A Murray, Derrick White, DeRozan, Aldridge, Lopez starting lineup may be good enough to get a top-four seed in the West and convince Gregg Popovich not to retire any time soon.
Milwaukee Bucks: Try for Durant and Kawhi, Settle for Khris Middleton on a Max
The good news? Thanks to George Hill's $18 million salary being guaranteed for just $1 million next season, the Bucks can open up a max salary spot to find Giannis Antetokounmpo a second superstar.
The bad news? None of the top guys are coming to Milwaukee.
While the Bucks may hurt Khris Middleton's feelings by trying to wine and dine Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard first, the failure to sign those two in a quickly deteriorating market will eventually reunite Middleton and Milwaukee.
While it may doom their future cap space, look for the Bucks to re-sign Middleton on a five-year, $190 million deal.
Atlanta Hawks: Punt on 2019 Free Agency, Become Go-To Destination in 2020
The Hawks have the money to be big spenders this summer, with over $49 million in cap space.
While the money is right, no big stars are heading to Atlanta. At least, not yet.
Trae Young should be on the recruiting trail next summer when the Hawks will see another $32 million come off their books as Kent Bazemore and Miles Plumlee become free agents. If Atlanta stays away from any dumb signings this summer, it'll have two max salary spots in 2020 with some extra change to spare.
By that time, Young and John Collins should be borderline All-Stars and will make Atlanta one of the hottest free-agent landing spots in the NBA.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Trade JR Smith for 1st-Round Pick Day Before Free Agency Opens
The Cavs won't be major players in free agency this summer, but they can offer a helping hand to a team that wishes to be.
"We have a trade chip in JR Smith, and his contract, where we can take on some money that other teams are trying to get some cap relief from," general manager Koby Altman told Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor. "We are actually the only team in the NBA that can provide guaranteed cap relief until July 1. We can guarantee that right now and we actually had a phone call (Thursday) on that trade chip, so, we're going to keep on being aggressive adding those assets because we do eventually want to consolidate and be really good at some point."
Cleveland will trade Smith and his $15.7 million salary on June 30 to a team that needs to clear space, letting them waive the 33-year-old shooting guard and only pay him his guaranteed $3.87 million. That could be the difference in getting enough cap space to land a superstar for some teams, enough for them to part with a future first.
Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb Leave, Hornets Become NBA's Worst Team
The Hornets should have traded Walker when they had the chance.
Not making the playoffs in this Eastern Conference will all but seal Walker's departure from the only franchise he's ever known. He'll get paid anywhere. We need playoff Kemba.
To make matters worse, Lamb, Charlotte's second-leading scorer, will be out the door as well. To make matters worse still, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ($13 million) and Marvin Williams ($15 million) will both pick up their player options, meaning Charlotte will only have about $7 million in cap space, even with Walker and Lamb gone.
Things are going to have to get worse before they get better for Michael Jordan's squad, and that means another year or two of shedding bloated contracts and collecting high picks.
Takes Are Getting Hotter
Dallas Mavericks: Kemba Walker Signs Four-Year, $140 Million Deal
The Hornets are in financial hell with no significant way to upgrade the team. As much as Walker would want to continue building his legacy there (especially if he's offered the super-max), winning (on a max deal) should be his top priority.
Enter the Mavericks, where he can form a big three alongside Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. That's a ton of scoring, playmaking and mismatches on a nightly basis that no one else beside Walker could provide in Charlotte.
After signing Walker to a four-year, $140 million max deal, the Mavericks will return to the playoffs in 2020.
Chicago Bulls: Kris Dunn Gets Extension, Still Loses Starting Job to Patrick Beverley
Chicago has a tough decision to make with Dunn, who's shown flashes of being a solid playmaker and overall point guard yet hasn't earned a star's payday.
Soon to be eligible for an extension, Dunn can pull the "Hey, I'll get better!" Andrew Wiggins card and trick the Bulls into overpaying him, even if future growth is limited.
As insurance, the Bulls will bring in Chicago native Beverley to push their newly paid young point guard. While it may be fun to see Beverley wreak havoc defensively on Dunn in practice at first, the former's better overall game will end up sending Dunn to the bench with John Paxson and Gar Forman ultimately regretting his new deal.
Los Angeles Clippers: Kawhi Leonard Signs, but Only for One Year
The dots are pretty easy to connect here.
Leonard is from California, played high school basketball in California, was named California Mr. Basketball and attended college at San Diego State. Also, he bought a $13.3 million home this year in, you guessed it, California.
The Clippers are the far superior team in L.A. already and have the cap space to bring in additional help alongside Leonard. Look for him to sign a one-and-one deal a la LeBron James in Cleveland and Kevin Durant with Golden State, all with the idea to ink a five-year max with the Clippers next summer.
Philadelphia 76ers: Tobias Harris Gets the Max, Jimmy Butler is Offered One and Says No
Philly wants to see their big midseason acquisitions return on generous offers, but only one of Butler and Harris will oblige.
Harris, tired of bouncing around the league when he's had no business doing so, takes the max contract offer immediately after averaging 18.2 points and 7.9 rebounds with the Sixers this past season.
Butler also gets a max offer but is tired of being a third or fourth option some nights and will leave Philly for a bigger role.
Orlando Magic: Re-sign Nikola Vucevic to Five-Year Deal, Trade Mo Bamba
The Magic presumably drafted Bamba sixth overall last year to be their center of the future. Problem is, Vucevic is just too good to let go now.
After registering career highs in points (20.8), rebounds (12.0) and assists (3.8), Vucevic made his first All-Star team and led Orlando to the postseason.
As a reward, he'll get a five-year, $120 million deal to return to the Magic. With Bamba's future as the starting center all but over in Orlando, look for the Magic to dangle him in trade talks for help at guard or on the wing.
Not Going to Happen...Right?
New York Knicks: Convince Kyrie Irving, but Not Kevin Durant, to Sign
Irving, a New Jersey native, had the Knicks on his list of four teams he wanted the Cavs to trade him to in 2017.
Now, he finally has the freedom to join them.
"It's pretty easy, man. They were on my list for a reason, I think you guys know that," Irving told Knicks reporters in 2017, per Marc Berman of The New York Post. "Close to home, that's about it. I'm not going to go into detail about all that extra stuff because I know where this is going to lead."
Irving is a showman, a magician with the ball who's not afraid of a challenge. New York offers the chance to demonstrate his skill set in a venue unlike any other in the world, on a roster that will indeed prove challenging.
While the Knicks' dream of pairing Irving and Durant will die, landing half of the duo will still make for a successful summer.
Boston Celtics: Terry Rozier Returns on Four-Year, $80 million Contract
With Kyrie Irving leaving for the New York Knicks, the Celtics will scramble to fill his shoes by throwing the bag at Rozier.
After putting up 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists as a starter in the playoffs last year, Rozier was going to get paid somewhere. Even with his poor showing this postseason (8.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists on 35.7 percent shooting), the Celtics don't have many other options with Irving gone.
If Irving were to return, Rozier's asking price wouldn't be justifiable. With the six-time All-Star gone and not enough cap space to land Kemba Walker, D'Angelo Russell or any other star guard, Rozier will have to do.
There's no way he's accepting less than the four-year, $70 million deal Eric Bledsoe got from the Milwaukee Bucks either.
Golden State Warriors: Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins All Return
With speculation swirling about Durant joining the New York Knicks, Thompson looking to lead his own team and the Cousins experiment coming to an end—all three could actually make a return.
Durant is in too good of a situation to leave. He could enter free agency with three rings and three Finals MVPs in three seasons and a five-year, $200-plus million offer ready to sign. Why leave that for anyone, even Irving and the Knicks?
Thompson will also sign a max deal, and Cousins a likely one-year pact similar to this year while he returns to full strength following a torn quad.
In other words, the Warriors aren't going anywhere.
Phoenix Suns: No Free Agents Come, Trade for Kevin Love Instead
Continuous losing and watching the Trevor Ariza experiment crash and burn last year will keep players and their agents away from the Suns this summer.
Love is the Plan B here, as Phoenix has tried repeatedly in the past to get a big-name power forward in both LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin.
Why Love? General manager James Jones and Love were extremely close during their time together in Cleveland, and Jones would like to put a productive veteran with championship experience in his young locker room.
Sacramento Kings: Jimmy Butler Signs Four-Year, $140 million Deal
Despite the Sixers' best effort to keep him, Butler wants a place where he can be the No. 1 offensive option on most nights.
While the Kings already possess a nice collection of young scorers, none are going to tell Butler no when he wants the ball.
A lineup of De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Butler, Harrison Barnes and Marvin Bagley would be a lot of fun to watch, so long as Butler doesn't take too many shots away from Sacramento's impressive young core.