2021 NBA Free Agency: Predictions for Top Stars Expected to Hit the Market

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2021

2021 NBA Free Agency: Predictions for Top Stars Expected to Hit the Market

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    As the 2020-21 NBA season winds down, the buzz for free agency has already started with rumors and comments from players who have initial thoughts on future plans.

    Of course, a player's intention can change between now and the open negotiating period, which starts August 2. For now, we can grasp a feel for what could happen in a few months.

    Who has their eyes set on testing free agency? How much does a certain marquee player want on a new deal? Which veteran would like to sign an extension with his current team? 

    Let's take a look at three of the top players with expiring contracts. We'll predict what's next for their careers.

Mike Conley, Utah Jazz

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Status: Unrestricted 

    After 12 seasons, the Memphis Grizzlies traded Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz in June 2019, and the change of scenery has served him well.

    This season, Conley earned his first All-Star nod, and he's averaging 16.3 points and six assists on a team with the best record in the NBA.

    In February, the 33-year-old talked about his upcoming free-agent bid, but he seems happy in Utah, per Tony Jones of The Athletic:

    "Utah's got me. I was talking about this to my wife recently. We love it here. I don't think I can go anywhere else that plays the way we play. We'll see this offseason, because when that time comes there will definitely be a lot of chatter. But, from where I sit right now, this team is so unique, in the way we play. And everyone has bought into what we want to do on both ends of the floor."

    As of Tuesday, the Jazz rank fourth in offensive rating (117.4) and second in defensive rating (108.1), which underscores Conley's statement about his teammates buying into the system.

    Despite a rough first year with the Jazz, averaging 14.4 points and 4.4 assists on 40.9 percent shooting from the floor, Conley found his groove on a squad that's built to compete in the Western Conference.

    Barring a lucrative offer from another contender, Conley will re-sign with the Jazz as the club continues to contend for a title. 

    Prediction: Conley signs a two-year extension with the Jazz

DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Status: Unrestricted

    Through 12 years as a pro, DeMar DeRozan hasn't tested the open market. He re-signed with the Toronto Raptors twice. In July 2018, the team traded him to the San Antonio Spurs in a deal that involved Kawhi Leonard.

    Since the transaction, the 31-year-old has slightly upped his scoring from 19.7 points per outing with the Raptors to averaging 21.5 points with the Spurs. He's also more efficient, improving from 44.8 to 50 percent shooting from the floor.

    In San Antonio, DeRozan expanded his game. He averages a season-high 7.2 assists this season. As a playmaker who can create his own shot and open up the floor for others, he should have a robust market this summer.

    After 22 consecutive playoff appearances under head coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have settled into mediocrity. Last year, they missed the postseason and now sit ninth in the West at 31-29.

    DeRozan has to choose where to play his next few optimal years, which is a crucial decision. He may leave San Antonio for new opportunities.

    According to The Athletic's Sam Amick and John Hollinger, the USC alum will approach free agency with a "wide open" perspective, signaling a willingness to explore his options. 

    Per Spotrac, the Miami Heat will have $28.2 million in practical cap space in the offseason. Team executive Pat Riley can attempt to sell the nucleus of his squad to DeRozan. 

    Coming off an NBA Finals appearance, the Heat have an appealing duo in All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. DeRozan could take some scoring pressure off of the pair and immediately help a team that ranks 27th in points per game. 

    Prediction: DeRozan signs a three-year deal with the Miami Heat

Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Status: Restricted

    Lonzo Ball will head into free agency with the restricted tag, but he could sign an offer sheet and land elsewhere if the New Orleans Pelicans choose not to match the proposal. 

    Before this year's trade deadline, the 23-year-old had been connected to multiple teams, and those clubs could make another attempt to acquire him in the summer, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Andrew Lopez:

    "Ball was involved in trade discussions with several teams before last month's trade deadline, with the LA Clippers, Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets and Atlanta Hawks among the teams showing interest, sources said. Some executives came away from those talks with the belief that Ball might be available in a sign-and-trade in the offseason as a restricted free agent."

    Ball has improved his shooting efficiency while suiting up for the Pelicans. He's converted on 37.8 percent of his three-point attempts over the last two terms, which is up from 31.5 percent in his first two campaigns with the Los Angeles Lakers. This year, he is shooting 79.2 percent from the free-throw line, by far his highest rate in four seasons. 

    While his shooting efficiency shows growth, he will draw suitors for his ability to run the floor and distribute the ball on the move. He can certainly push the tempo for a team that wants to go up and down the court. Every year, he has averaged at least 5.4 assists.

    According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, Ball will set his asking price at about $20 million annually, which is a little steep for a player who's missed at least 14 games in three out of four campaigns. 

    Nevertheless, the Chicago Bulls may be willing to pay the price. They experimented with their backcourt this season, benching Coby White for several games before Zach LaVine went into the league's health and safety protocol. Tomas Satoransky has logged 18 starts, and he's second on the team in assists per outing behind LaVine.

    If the Pelicans are open to sign-and-trade scenarios as Windhorst and Lopez suggest, Chicago could land its floor general with a blockbuster transaction. 

    Prediction: Ball signs a four-year deal with the Pelicans who trade him to the Bulls