The 2020 NBA free-agency period, like everything else in professional basketball in North America, is in a state of flux because of the coronavirus pandemic. Free agency was scheduled to begin June 30, but the 2019-20 season remains unfinished, the draft lottery and combine have been postponed and there are still a handful of teams that have yet to reopen their training facilities.
So instead of a summer of bidding wars and hammering out contract details, the 2020 crop of free agents will presumably have several more months to mull over their futures. How this uncertainty affects the decision-making process for players and teams remains unclear.
It could encourage players with player options to pick up the last year on their contracts and stay put. We could also see front offices desperate to make splashes to get fans excited about the next season, whenever that may be. Teams might also be more inclined to save up for the talent-rich class of 2021.
With all this in mind, here's a handful of predictions on a few of the top centers and power forwards likely to hit the market in a rather lean free-agency period.
Anthony Davis will be the undisputed star of the 2020 class assuming he opts out of his player option and goes on the open market. When the season was suspended in mid-March, he was averaging 26.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game for the Los Angeles Lakers. He's only just entering his prime, having turned 27 in March. This is the year for him to pick up a long-term deal that will carry him into his 30s.
While it's not impossible, it's hard to see any other team offering him what the Lakers can, and not just in terms of dollars. By staying with the Purple and Gold, he gets the Los Angeles limelight, at least one more year of playing an exquisite two-man game with LeBron James (who has a player option in 2021) and the increased likelihood of contending for an NBA championship.
Davis turned down a four-year extension from the Lakers in January, but it was mostly a formality. That deal was worth $146 million, per the Los Angeles Times' Tania Ganguli, but the team can offer him a five-year deal worth $200 million when free agency starts.
He may take a shorter contract than that some have posited, but considering how successful his Lakers run has been, don't expect Davis to put ink to paper anywhere other than L.A.
Prediction: Signs a multiyear deal with the Lakers.
Another big man with a big decision to make in Los Angeles is Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell. The 26-year-old is wrapping up a two-year deal that only paid him $12 million, per Spotrac, one of the best bargains in the NBA. He's been worth much more than that, supplementing the work of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on a Clippers team that was eyeing a championship run when the season was put on hold.
Harrell averaged 18.6 points per game on 58 percent shooting from the floor, along with 7.1 boards per game. His player efficiency rating of 23.17 was 20th-best in the league, per ESPN, despite coming off the bench in nearly every game. Just about everyone around him in the PER category is extremely wealthy, and Harrell will join their ranks this year as an unrestricted free agent.
SB Nation's Michael Pina suggested the Detroit Pistons as a possible fit for Harrell considering they will have plenty of cap space and are looking to revamp their roster. Another suggestion is the Charlotte Hornets, a team that can offer plenty of money and would also bring Harrell to his home state of North Carolina. Neither of those teams is in as strong of a position as the Clippers from a contention standpoint, but a big payday and an opportunity to play as a starter might lure him away from the Southland.
Look for Harrell to cash in big-time thanks to the thin market. His ferocious rebounding, pick-and-roll ability and Carolina roots would make him a smash hit in Charlotte.
Prediction: Signs a long-term deal with the Hornets.
For teams looking to add size and a strong veteran presence in free agency, Serge Ibaka has to be at or near the top of the list. Ibaka, 31, has yet to show signs he is slowing down, averaging 16 points per game (a career high) and 8.3 rebounds with the Toronto Raptors in the unfinished season. He also added another crucial dimension to his game, knocking down 39.8 percent of his three-point attempts. If you look at his numbers year over year, the aspiring chef has been remarkably consistent.
His steadiness and championship credentials will generate plenty of interest, but the unrestricted free agent seems to be enjoying his time in Canada and is not ready to leave, per an April conversation with Sportsnet's Matt Rodrigo:
If Ibaka's heart isn't set on Toronto, one possible option for him is the Golden State Warriors. The team is in the NBA's basement because of injuries but could bounce back quickly if Stephen Curry heals up and the front office drafts well. For a team in desperate need of size, Ibaka would be an excellent fit. His ability to score from beyond the arc also meshes well with the Warriors' style.
However, the Raptors have Ibaka's Bird rights, giving them more flexibility to re-sign him. Combine that with the their ability to remain in contention despite losing Leonard, and it appears it would take something incredible to pry Ibaka from Toronto.
Prediction: Signs with Toronto.