NBA Stars Most Likely to Change Teams This Offseason
Allow the NBA's 2020 offseason to apologize in advance. It will not be living up to the frantic pace and turnover of 2019.
Fewer teams have salary-cap space. Fewer stars are on the trade block. Even fewer are entering free agency. Toss in the inherent uncertainty that will follow the league's current hiatus, and this year's circumstances are not conducive to a deluge of marquee movement.
But there will be some. There is always some.
At least one megasplashy deal will go off-book. The NBA is usually good for an unexpected signing or trade we didn't see coming by the end of the regular season. Most of the bigger-name possibilities are more knowable—not the impending destinations, but the players themselves.
Spotting this year's likeliest candidates almost solely comes down to forecasting the trade market. A handful of players are on teams that don't jibe with their windows. Others seem destined to become collateral damage of iffy fits, rising costs and general uncertainty.
What follows is not a set of predictions. I'm not saying these players will be on different squads to start next season. I'm just saying that, given the option, I wouldn't bet on them staying put.
B/R co-founder and former CEO, Dave Finocchio, joins The Full 48 with Howard Beck to discuss and analyze the NBA's share of voice, ratings decline, changing audience, and what sweeping format changes, including regular-season and postseason overhauls, and calendar shifts, might do for the league.
Andre Drummond, Cleveland Cavaliers (Player Option)
Whether Andre Drummond belongs on the Cavaliers doesn't particularly matter. They made the decision to trade for him. That infers a desire to keep him, even if he opts out of his contract.
Related: He probably isn't opting out of his contract.
Barley anyone in the league is slated to have major cap space. Among the few teams with serious spending power, maybe one has any business spending money on a big.
Not that it matters. Nobody is offering superstar money to a non-shooting 5 who isn't Rudy Gobert. Drummond is not Rudy Gobert. It makes more sense for him to pick up his $28.8 million player option and see where the market takes him in 2021.
Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder
Did the Thunder really hold on to Danilo Gallinari past the trade deadline just to let him walk away for nothing over the summer? Probably not.
Gallinari can always force the Thunder's hand by finding a pricey contract they're not prepared to match. Good luck to him if that's the plan. There might be five or six teams with the cap space to pay him a number Oklahoma City isn't comfortable doling out.
Sign-and-trade scenarios are in play, but they're more of a wild card this side of Feb. 6. The Thunder are contending for a top-four playoff spot. They might want to see if they can get another transition-year push from this core and look to deal Gallinari later.
Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics (Player Option)
Gordon Hayward will have long-term options available to him outside Boston if he's worried about losing leverage in next year's market. He shouldn't need to explore them.
All the focus on 2021 free agency is quickly becoming misplaced. Giannis Antetokounmpo might sign a supermax with the Milwaukee Bucks before then, and Paul George (player option), LeBron James (player option) and Kawhi Leonard (player option) are all on teams they chose to join.
Next summer's pool of available names drops off after them. Gobert, Jrue Holiday (player option) and Kyle Lowry are stars, but they're not wings. The market doesn't offer a ton beyond them. Hayward should actually have more luck in 2021, if only because there will be more buyers with cap space.
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans
Jrue Holiday's name would be worth more discussion if he were growing wary of playing for the Pelicans following Anthony Davis' exit. He's not.
He told CBS Sports' Jasmyn Wimbish in February:
"I honestly feel like I'm built for this team, and the way that we've been able to come together has really been cool. I feel like I'm committed to this team and the players. I know for me personally, I try not to let my teammates down, so every time I come out here I feel like I try to put on my hard hat and my armor and go out there and fight for them."
It helps that the Pelicans aren't on the most gradual timeline. They're slaughtering opponents with Zion Williamson on the floor, and FiveThirtyEight favored them over the Memphis Grizzlies to snag the Western Conference's final playoff spot before the season was suspended.
Things could always change during the offseason. New Orleans might get blown away by an offer (possible) or decide to slow-play its rebuild (much less likely). For now, it feels like Holiday will be in town until at least next year's trade deadline when the Pelicans have a larger sample off which to judge themselves.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Free agency could force Toronto into an overhaul despite staging a genuine title defense. Chris Boucher (early Bird restricted), Marc Gasol, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet are all set to hit the open market, and it's not yet clear whether team president Masai Ujiri is prepared to lock himself into this group.
Stingy market conditions may give way to opportunity. So few teams have cap space that the Raptors might get away with running it back and preserving their powder for 2021. But it gets much harder to buy into their commitment over the shorter term if one of their main free agents leaves—specifically VanVleet. (They might even have to worry about Ujiri being whisked off his feet by another team, though it helps that the New York Knicks already went a different direction.)
In the event Toronto starts pivoting away from its core, a 34-year-old Kyle Lowry on an expiring contract becomes fair game. His $30 million price point is problematic but not unworkable. He's an instant two-way boost for any contender.
To assume the Raptors' dissolution, though, is outlandish. Even if every one of their free agents goes elsewhere, they're not without an asset base. Lowry, OG Anunoby, Terence Davis, Norman Powell and Pascal Siakam is the framework of a playoff team, and in this scenario, Toronto would be working with cap space.
Moving the best player in franchise history is more of a last resort than a likely offseason outcome.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal's inclusion in this type of exercise is implicit for some. It wasn't here.
The extension he signed this past October buys the Washington Wizards time—not a lot, but some. They can see what John Wall looks like following his recovery from a torn left Achilles and then reevaluate their situation closer to the 2021 trade deadline, by which point Beal will still have a season-and-a-half left on his contract.
Going that route is a sensible play. The Eastern Conference remains forgiving. A fully healthy Wizards squad can enter the running for one of the, say, bottom-five playoff seeds.
Will they be fully healthy, though? Wall's return is more than an early-season question mark. Players need time to get their bearings after coming back from an Achilles injury, and he's now missed at least half of Washington's games in each of the past three years.
Expecting to get even 80 percent of the previous Wall in his first season back is overly ambitious. That also might be too high of a bar for him to clear over the long term. The Wizards don't know.
That's the problem. Washington's future is so ambiguous. Having a seminormal Wall doesn't even guarantee anything. Committing $70 million-plus per year between him and Beal promises a playoff berth under the most ideal circumstances. It doesn't give the Wizards a clear path to title contention.
Holding on to Beal over the offseason could amount to delaying the inevitable, in which case: Why wait? He would fetch a premium at the trade deadline, but his value will never be higher than it is now with two full years (and a player option) left on his deal.
This summer's crummy free-agent market only adds to Washington's leverage now, as opposed to later. With so little available cap space and so few available stars, teams will be hard-pressed to make substantial upgrades.
Such thirst should be reflected in offers the Wizards field. Even if they plan to keep him, their hazy future demands an open mind. At least a handful of suitors will, inevitably, be desperate enough to put together a package worth their consideration.
Teams to Watch: Denver, Miami, Philadelphia
DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs (Player Option)
DeMar DeRozan most likely isn't leaving the San Antonio Spurs via free agency. They're better off letting him walk if he opts out of his contract, but he's not in a position to turn down next season's $27.7 million salary.
This year's free-agency market isn't conducive to anyone other than Anthony Davis (player option) brokering a lucrative long-term contract. More than two-thirds of the league will be working with the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception or less, and most of the squads projected to have an offseason slush fund don't need DeRozan.
Potentially bleaker cap projections only complicate matters. The NBA's suspended season is going to adversely impact the bottom line. That will invariably factor into the salary cap. It's just a matter of how much money the league loses, depending on when or if it reopens this year and whether that deficit is baked fully into the 2020 offseason or dispersed among future ones.
"The mid-level exception is going to be like the priority exception. With so few teams with cap space, these numbers might go down a little bit further. Teams that have that $9.8 million exception... you might be able to go get a guy that's looking for $15 million to $16 million. Or you might be able to split that up among two guys getting $10 million each."
Opting in and joining the 2021 free-agency class is DeRozan's best bet. More teams will have cap space at their disposal, and it gives him another year to reestablish his value. This unofficial "hey, I'm still really good!" campaign just might come on another team.
The Spurs are not usually movers and shakers on the trade market, but their situation is begging for a reset. FiveThirtyEight gave them just a 2 percent chance of making the postseason prior to the league's suspension of play.
They might be able to land a quality free agent with the MLE, get some minijumps from the youngsters and rejoin the postseason fray next year, but to what end? They're a lower-seeded steppingstone as currently constructed.
Some of San Antonio's other players will find their names in the rumor mill. LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills are about to be on expiring contracts as well. Any one of them could be dealt if the Spurs prioritize the bigger picture.
But DeRozan is both the oddest fit and the highest-ceiling trade asset. His absence of three-point shooting is an inconvenience. He needs to be surrounded by three or four shooters to maximize his scoring and playmaking. That's not an unreasonable ask for certain teams. Russell Westbrook has been liberated in the Houston Rockets' four-out arrangements. The same could happen for DeRozan.
Select offenses might just need a from-scratch jolt, spacing implications be damned. DeRozan ranks second in points scored off unassisted two-pointers, according to PBP Stats, and is in the 91st percentile of pick-and-roll efficiency. His brand of offense is complicated, not useless.
Teams to Watch: Charlotte, Detroit, Orlando
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Kevin Love isn't supposed to be on this list. He's supposed to have already been traded.
Pretty much everyone assumed he signed his four-year extension last summer under the guise that he'd be moved elsewhere. He carried himself, at times, as if the Cleveland Cavaliers went back on the promise of rerouting him to a contender and were holding him hostage.
The departure of head coach John Beilein has helped smooth things over, according to Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor. These good vibes feel...temporary. Love turns 32 in September. He doesn't make much sense on a team playing the long game.
Maybe the Cavaliers plan to accelerate their timeline. We can't be sure. Their acquisition of Andre Drummond at the trade deadline sends mixed signals. It implies they want him back even if he declines his $28.8 million player option. But they already have Love and Larry Nance Jr. and won't rule out re-signing Tristan Thompson.
Cleveland has explored three-big lineups. Seriously. That still isn't a license to bring everyone back. And while Love is more of a universal fit than the other three, he's also the one who reportedly preferred a change of scenery prior to the trade deadline. His position may have softened, but it's unlikely to fully change.
Nothing the Cavs can feasibly do between now and the start of next season, whenever that is, fast-tracks them to playoff contention. Love will only be a distraction to their bigger picture, even if he's not the one spearheading the speculation.
Moving him feels unavoidable. That's not to be confused with easy. Love has three years and $91.5 million left on his contract. Teams won't be knocking down the door to take on that money while also giving up value in return.
The Cavaliers will have to adjust their expectations accordingly. They turned down an expiring contracts-for-Love offer from the Portland Trail Blazers before February's deadline, according to The Athletic's Jason Lloyd. Perhaps they'll find a more desperate suitor over the offseason, but long-term cap relief and a small-time asset is probably the best they're going to do.
Teams to Watch: Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio
Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder
Trading him still isn't an effortless undertaking. He turns 35 in May and has two years and $85.6 million left on his deal. He has a stake in this season's All-NBA discussion, but the aging curve for undersized point guards, as much as it doesn't yet apply to him, is bound to prevent prospective admirers from giving up real value.
Still, teams are inherently more flexible over the summer. The Thunder will have more options at their disposal, whatever they are, than they did in the middle of last July and leading into February's deadline. Paul has also played well enough for them to be more selective. They can hang up on anyone who wants a sweetener in exchange for swallowing his money.
Oklahoma City might even be bullish on keeping Paul. It doesn't have anyone else capable of running the offense on his own—Shai Gilgeous-Alexander isn't that player yet—and is contending for a top-four playoff spot. Re-signing Danilo Gallinari and running it back, at least until next year's trade deadline, is absolutely on the table.
If push comes to shove, though, the Thunder aren't making Paul off-limits.
Three of their five best players—Gallinari, Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder—are hitting free agency over the next two summers. Keeping the band together beyond next season will be difficult, and Paul's value won't necessarily improve when he enters the final year of his contract. That's his age-36 campaign, and he'll be taking home $44.2 million.
Striking this summer, when the Thunder might actually be able to get back assets, doesn't have to be the call, but it's certainly worth their due diligence. The New York Knicks have kicked around the idea of making a run at Paul, according to The Athletic's Frank Isola. You never know what they might be willing to fork over.
Other teams will come out of the woodwork as the offseason progresses. Free-agency options are wearing thin, and few squads will need to preserve flexibility for 2021 if Giannis Antetokounmpo signs a supermax extension and Anthony Davis doesn't ink a short-term contract that allows him to hit the open market with LeBron James (2021-22 player option) next summer.
Teams to Watch: Miami, Phoenix, Utah
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Tired of hearing about how the Indiana Pacers are eventually going to choose between Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner? You're not alone.
That doesn't make this issue seem any less inevitable. Their offensive fit is still imperfect. The Pacers rank inside the 21st percentile of points scored per 100 possessions with both the floor. They've been even worse in the minutes Victor Oladipo has spent with them (14th percentile).
A little small-sample mystery is at play here. Indiana has yet to field a fully healthy offense. Oladipo, Sabonis, Turner, Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. Warren have tallied just 173 possessions together, through which the Pacers have a net rating of 11.6 (97th percentile).
But even that group has turned in mediocre results at the more glamorous end. More than that, this isn't an isolated problem. Indiana's offensive rating with Sabonis and Turner in the lineup has never finished higher than the 35th percentile over the past three years.
The Pacers can try floating the partnership for another half-season or so until they get a fuller sense of how their two bigs fare alongside the new perimeter regime. And, in theory, Sabonis/Turner minutes aren't unnavigable.
Coaxing Turner into taking even more threes—like, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kristaps Porzingis volume—would be a start. That at the very least lets him spend more time beside Sabonis without junking up the floor balance around some of his post touches.
Laboring through these warts is fine when one or both of them are on rookie-scale deals. That cushion goes out the window next season. Sabonis and Turner will earn a combined $35.2 million. That's a ton of money to shell out for two players best suited at center, particularly after signing Brogdon last summer and with Oladipo's next contract on the horizon.
Choosing between Sabonis and Turner, if it comes to that, isn't a non-decision. Sabonis is the All-Star, but Turner is more universally translatable as a floor-spacing 5 with coveted defensive mobility.
For the Pacers' purposes, though, Sabonis is easier to keep. He is a niche offensive hub, a blend of traditional brute force and non-traditional vision and craft. Finding a team that values him as much as they do verges on impossible. Turner is more likely to net a better return.
Teams to Watch: Boston, Golden State, New Orleans