2021 NBA Free Agents Who Would Be Foolish to Change Teams

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 28, 2021

2021 NBA Free Agents Who Would Be Foolish to Change Teams

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    NBA free agency is all about options.

    There's the option to make more money, obviously, but also the options to change supporting casts, coaches and markets.

    In most instances, it makes sense (financially and basketball-wise) to explore everything on the table. The following four 2021 hoopers-for-hire are the exception to that rule.

    No exploration is necessary, as they won't find better than their current digs. We'll explain why.

Mike Conley, Utah Jazz (Unrestricted)

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Over a dozen years with the Memphis Grizzlies, Mike Conley made himself synonymous with the franchise. So, when he struggled mightily at the start of his Salt Lake City tenure, it seemed fair to wonder if he could be the same player outside of the grit 'n' grind capital of the world.

    Then, his second season with the Jazz happened, and he is suddenly Mike Conley again. Scratch that—now he's All-Star Mike Conley, an indispensable piece of a Western Conference powerhouse that, in Grizzlies-like fashion, seemingly has a top-to-bottom understanding of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

    "I don't think I can go anywhere else that plays the way we play," Conley told The Athletic's Tony Jones. "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."

    The Jazz are loaded, so Conley never has to carry all the weight on his shoulders. But they aren't so star-heavy that they block his shine or step on his toes. He can play his game within this system, and both will bring the best out of the other.

    If Utah puts anything close to a reasonable offer on the table, Conley should pounce on it and continue chasing championships with this two-way machine.

Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas Mavericks (Unrestricted)

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    There's a chance Tim Hardaway Jr. might sniff out a slightly larger role and a bit more money by leaving the Mavericks. That's hardly guaranteed, though, as most teams with significant cap space are long-term rebuilders and probably not looking to splurge on a 29-year-old scoring specialist.

    What he definitely won't find in free agency is a tailor-made supporting role alongside all-galaxy superstar Luka Doncic and championship-grade sidekick Kristaps Porzingis.

    During Hardaway's two full seasons in Dallas—he arrived near the 2019 deadline—he has posted the best shooting numbers of his career. Those include his top two marks in made threes per game (3.0 this season, 2.9 last), three-point percentage (39.8 last season, 39.1 this year) and true shooting percentage (58.9 this year, 58.1 last). He has also posted his most offensive win shares and highest offensive box plus/minus.

    Doncic is among basketball's best drive-and-dish dimers, and Hardaway takes full advantage of the looks he creates. This season, Hardaway hit 40.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes, which was actually down from last season's 42.1 percent splash rate.

    This offense, which set a historic high mark for efficiency last season, seems to be designed just for him. He should be happy to stick around, provided the perpetually star-searching Mavericks will have him back.

Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns (Player Option)

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    There was a time in the not-so-distant past that Chris Paul's upcoming decision seemed clear-cut. With his 36th birthday behind him and a $44.2 million player option ahead, there's just too much money on the table to pass this up, right?


    "Paul ... has indeed played his way into a world where turning down that massive player option and securing another massive deal now makes all sorts of sense," The Athletic's John Hollinger and Sam Amick wrote.

    Paul just booked his second consecutive All-Star trip by remaining one of the league's premier point guards and using his Midas touch to turn the Suns (of all teams) into a Western Conference elite. If Kawhi Leonard stays put in L.A., Paul might be the preferred target of any win-now shopper in free agency.

    But how does Paul's situation get better than this? He's in the championship race right now and can stay there simply by accepting a $44.2 million payment.

    Basketball-wise, he's in a great shape on a team with ascending talents like Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges. Professionally, he might be as comfortable as ever given his history with coach Monty Williams and other prominent figures in the franchise. Personally, he's only a short flight away from his family in Los Angeles.

    A player of Paul's skill level and stature will never be short on intriguing options, but the grass won't be greener anywhere else.

Derrick Rose, New York Knicks (Unrestricted)

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Basketball is better when Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau are united. They're better for it, too.

    "The synergy we've got, I can't explain it," Rose said, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps. "We're an odd couple, but for some reason, we understand the game. ... Wherever I go, wherever he goes, we're always trying to win."

    This is their third tour of duty together, and each has been defined by success.

    They were playoff regulars and once a conference finalist during their shared time with the Chicago Bulls. They joined forces on the Minnesota Timberwolves and helped snap a 13-year playoff drought. Reunited this February in New York, they have the Knicks in the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

    Rose finding his form under Thibodeau's tutelage on a stage as grand as Madison Square Garden...this just feels right. It also makes basketball sense. The Knicks need his scoring, shot-creating and experience. Rose, now 32 years old, benefits from not having to be the guy but being able to be the guy whenever he has it going.

    A super-sub role is ideal for where Rose is at in his career, and his contributions are magnified by the New York City market. This is the right team and the right coach for him.


    All stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.