2021 NBA Free Agents: Predicting Top Players Who Could Switch Teams Next Year

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 29, 2020

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo runs the offense against the Charlotte Hornets in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, March 1, 2020. Milwaukee won 93-85. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
Nell Redmond/Associated Press

The 2020 NBA offseason isn't here yet, and all eyes are already on the 2021 free agency class.

That's how loaded the latter is.

But will that market reshape the basketball world, or does it have a lot of household names who will just circle back to their current employers? Recent history says to expect some of Column A and some of Column B.

Assuming Anthony Davis re-signs with the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason, it's hard to imagine anyone presenting a more compelling pitch to LeBron James next summer. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George similarly have no obvious reasons to relocate, as the California natives have been wildly successful together during their first season back in their home state.

There are some All-Star flight risks, though, so let's take a closer look at three marquee talents who could be in need of change-of-address forms.


Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

While this is far from a one player class, 2021 is still known as the Summer of Giannis for a reason. Everyone wants a shot at the reigning MVP, and right or wrong, he has been viewed as more obtainable than other superstars.

Maybe that's wishful thinking on the part of franchises located beyond the Badger State borders. He's 25 years old, and if he takes home this season's MVP, he'll join LeBron James and Stephen Curry as the award's only repeat winners since 2010. Oh, Antetokounmpo might win Defensive Player of the Year, too, and if he captures both in the same season, he'll join Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only ones to pull that off.

So, yeah, his free agency is a massive, potentially landscape-altering deal. If he doesn't ink the supermax offer the Bucks have already said is coming, teams will start placing aggressive trade offers and working to improve their free-agency pitches.

Time only knows if Antetokounmpo really has a wandering eye, or if the Bucks would greatly improve their chances of keeping him with a ring. But one thing that is certain, if he gets anywhere near the open market, he could have all 30 teams in hot pursuit.


Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder

Paul has played the starring role in one of this season's most pleasant surprises.

Oklahoma City was supposed to be going nowhere. Paul George and Russell Westbrook flew the coop last summer, and Paul effectively arrived as a salary dump in a deal for the latter that brought back two future first-round picks and two pick swaps to the Sooner State. The Thunder and the point god figured to tread water together until either one could drum up an escape plan.

But the basketball gods had other plans. Paul proved he had a lot left in the tank and secured his first All-Star appearance since 2016. Thunder coach Billy Donovan went outside the box in deploying Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder—all point guards by trade—with one another and created one of the most potent trios in basketball.

It's been fun to watch, but it shouldn't have changed the temporary nature of this relationship. In the grand scheme, the Thunder are still rebuilding, and Paul, who turned 35 in May, isn't a part of that project. They're making the most of their time together, but there will be better options for both come 2021.


Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

In Gobert's rookie season with the Jazz, he was a lightly used reserve and they were a 57-loss disaster. So much has changed in the six years since.

He's now the Association's ultimate anchor, having won a pair of Defensive Player of the Year awards and booked two All-NBA spots and one All-Star trip on the strength of his stopping skills. The Jazz have hovered around 50 wins each of the last three seasons, and this was looking like their best before the stoppage in play.

Speaking of which, Gobert was the first NBA player to test positive for the coronavirus, and his admittedly "careless" behavior caused some tension in the locker room. The Athletic's Shams Charania, Sam Amick and Tony Jones reported that Gobert's relationship with Donovan Mitchell "doesn't appear salvageable."

The reported rift with Mitchell only complicates what was already going to be a tricky free agency situation. As dominant as Gobert can be defensively, he's still an interior-bound big man on offense, and teams are hesitant to pay for that play style in the modern game. He'll also be 29 before the 2021 market opens. Is that the kind of player Utah will break the bank for without a second thought?

That seems like a stretch, especially since a small-market squad like the Jazz only get so many cracks at making a major deal. If they're at all hesitant about paying Gobert for any of the aforementioned reasons, there could be a defense-needy suitor that's more than ready to splurge.