Most Notable NBA Players Likely to Change Teams This Offseason
It's tough to predict where the top members of the NBA's 2019 free-agent class will go, if anywhere.
While it's fun for everyone outside the Bay Area to imagine Kevin Durant leaving the Golden State Warriors, his departure isn't guaranteed. Los Angeles Clippers fans can dream all they want about Kawhi Leonard coming to Hollywood, but the Toronto Raptors are making quite the case to keep him. No one really knows what Kyrie Irving is thinking on any given day.
But just below those stars, a collection of players emerges for whom change seems inevitable.
Forming a group that contains All-Stars, starters and some key rotation pieces, the following seven players are almost guaranteed to sign with different teams or be traded away from their current employers for a variety of reasons. All players have been ranked, starting from "might have something left in the tank" all the way to "franchise star."
7. JR Smith, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers
Though he hasn't played since Nov. 19, 2018, JR Smith remains on the Cleveland Cavaliers roster and is still collecting checks for his $14.7 million salary.
While the Cavs could have looked to trade Smith or buy out his contract last season, general manager Koby Altman realized the value of holding onto the 33-year-old shooting guard, no matter how awkward his dismissal from the team was at the time.
Cleveland now has two options with Smith. Neither one would see him play for the team again.
The Cavaliers can release Smith before the end of June and only have to pay $3.9 million of his $15.7 million 2019-20 salary, which would free up $11.8 million in cap space. That's Option B.
Option A is to target cap-hungry teams and try to turn Smith's deal into a trade asset. The Cavaliers will be over the $109 million salary cap no matter what they do with him, so trading his contract to a team that can actually use the savings to sign a big free agent or avoid the luxury tax is the goal.
"We are actually the only team in the NBA that can provide guaranteed cap relief until July 1," Altman said in April, per Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor. "We can guarantee that right now and we actually had a phone call [April 11] 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."
Per Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Miami Heat have expressed interest in a trade for Smith, likely looking to offload one of their bloated contracts such as Dion Waiters, Ryan Anderson or James Johnson.
Whatever the Cavs end up doing with Smith, he won't be on the roster by next season.
The question now becomes: Will he be on any?
6. Jabari Parker, PF, Washington Wizards
Last season was a massive disappointment for Jabari Parker, who went from signing a two-year, $40 million deal with his hometown Chicago Bulls to eventually being benched and later traded to the Washington Wizards.
As it stands, Parker will likely only collect half that contract, as he has a team option that would pay him $20 million in 2019-20. For the hapless Wizards, who brought Parker off the bench in each of his 25 games for the franchise, this should be an easy call.
Parker should find himself back on the free-agent market, and he would have to take a significant pay cut to remain in Washington.
The Wizards will already have about $90 million in committed salary even after they decline Parker's team option, and that's without counting restricted free agent Bobby Portis. He played a far bigger role after coming over in the same midseason trade with the Bulls, starting 22 of his 28 games while averaging 14.3 points and 8.6 rebounds on 40.3 percent shooting from three. He certainly seemed like more of a priority in Washington's rotation.
Teams that chase Parker in free agency should have a need for a bench scorer around whom they can place defenders and three-point scorers. Parker has size (6'8", 245 lbs) and enough versatility to bring the ball up the floor and score in transition, but no team should expect $20 million worth of production like Chicago did last year.
Given the easy decision to decline his team option and the presence of another power forward who's more likely to get paid, Parker's career in the nation's capital will be short-lived.
5. Ricky Rubio, PG, Utah Jazz
While Ricky Rubio has helped guide the Utah Jazz to the last two postseasons, he's apparently not a priority in free agency.
That's a pretty strong sign that Rubio's time with the Jazz should be up after he averaged 12.9 points, 5.7 assists and 1.5 steals over the past two years.
This could mean Utah plans to use shooting guard Donovan Mitchell in more of playmaking role, as he's spent 31 percent of his career minutes at the 1. The only other true point guards on the roster are Dante Exum and Raul Neto, neither of whom averaged more than 15.8 minutes last season. Exum was the fifth overall pick of the 2014 draft, but his career has been plagued by injury and inconsistent play.
Utah is also showing interest in Brooklyn Nets All-Star point guard D'Angelo Russell, per Shams Charania of The Athletic. Russell is a restricted free agent, however, so the Nets could match any offer made by the Jazz—or any other team.
Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker headline the free-agent point guard class, but neither has been linked to Utah. Other options include Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick Rose, Terry Rozier, Darren Collison and Rajon Rondo.
Whoever the Jazz settle on as their new starting point guard for the 2019-20 season, it almost certainly won't be Rubio.
4. Nikola Mirotic, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
Even after they gave up four second-round picks for Nikola Mirotic at the trade deadline, don't expect the Milwaukee Bucks to re-sign the 28-year-old sharpshooter.
What began as a perfect partnership quickly went south, as Mirotic averaged only 9.5 points on 28.9 percent shooting from deep in the postseason and was cut from the rotation completely in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors.
With so many other mouths to feed in free agency, the Bucks' money would be better spent elsewhere. Mirotic, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and George Hill could all hit free agency this summer.
Middleton, an All-Star in 2019, should be the first priority. Brogdon is restricted, which means another team may force Milwaukee to match a significant deal. Lopez should absolutely be brought back thanks to his three-point shooting and shot-blocking skill, and Hill played well off the bench in the playoffs (11.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 41.7 percent from three).
If Mirotic is looking for a big payday, he won't find it here.
3. Julius Randle, PF, New Orleans Pelicans
After he played on an $8.6 million contract in 2018-19, it's time for Julius Randle to get paid.
He can choose to pick up his $9.1 million player option and stay with the New Orleans Pelicans, but he'll almost certainly look to test the market while coming off a career year at age 24.
Overshadowed by the Anthony Davis trade drama last season, Randle quietly put up 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game while shooting a career-high 34.4 percent from three on 2.7 attempts per contest. While he's not a great defender, his athleticism, developing outside game and playmaking skills should warrant a new contract that doubles his previous salary in annual value.
The problem with a return to New Orleans? Zion Williamson.
After landing the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft, the Pelicans will almost assuredly take Williamson, who projects as a power forward in the NBA. Randle did spend 26 percent of his court time at center last season, but his 6'9", 250-pound frame is better suited at power forward, as well.
If he were to return to the Pelicans on a long-term deal, Randle would eventually be relegated to a bench role behind Williamson. Given the other teams that could look to sign a young and athletic power forward to a starting role in free agency (Phoenix Suns, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks), he should instead seek a new home and a big deal elsewhere.
2. DeMarcus Cousins, C, Golden State Warriors
This was always going to be a casual commitment with no strings attached between DeMarcus Cousins and the Golden State Warriors.
"We made no bones about it when we signed him. This is a one-year deal and we're not going to have money to sign him next year so we'd like to help him win a championship and sign a great contract somewhere else. That's the reality," head coach Steve Kerr said back in November, per Logan Murdock of the Bay Area News Group.
That's a pretty bold statement, especially considering the Warriors will have cap space if Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson both decide to sign elsewhere. Still, given the likelihood that at least Thompson will return, Kerr is probably right.
Cousins' next contract is anybody's guess.
He could sign another one-year "prove it" deal after playing in just 30 games during the regular season before rupturing a quad that caused him to miss 14 playoff contests. Then again, his return to the Finals and his big Game 2 performance (11 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two blocks in 28 minutes) could lead to a multi-year mega-offer should he finish the series strong.
If the Warriors end up winning a title and Cousins ends the year healthy and productive, then everything has gone according to plan.
1. Anthony Davis, PF/C, New Orleans Pelicans
The most notable name on this list, Anthony Davis was penciled in even before Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported the New Orleans Pelicans were officially listening to offers for the six-time All-Star.
Even if New Orleans wanted to try convincing Davis to stay by letting him play with presumptive top draft pick Zion Williamson for a few months, the potential would always remain for him to walk out the door and bring back nothing in return next summer. Such a move would devastate any team, especially a small-market franchise such as the Pelicans.
Instead, executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin is doing the smart thing by shopping Davis. He'll only have to decide if he wants to stay competitive and look for a high-level starter or if New Orleans should enter a rebuild since it already owns the No. 1 overall pick.
Although he only has one guaranteed year left on his deal, Davis should have plenty of suitors.
He ended his first seven years with career averages of 23.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.4 blocks. He's one of only five players in NBA history to post those averages or better in his first seven seasons, and he's the first since Shaquille O'Neal.
No matter which trade route Griffin chooses, Davis has likely played his last game as a Pelican.