NBA Free Agents 2021: Latest Rumors and Predictions for Market's Top Names

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2021

NBA Free Agents 2021: Latest Rumors and Predictions for Market's Top Names

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    While the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns are still battling for 2021 supremacy, 28 other teams in the Association are plotting their offseason moves to still be playing this time next year.

    No league has the ability to see power shift quite as quickly as the NBA. Every year there are moves made that create great changes in the title picture. Last year, it turned out to be the trade that brought Chris Paul to the Suns.

    This year, it could be a surprise signing in free agency or perhaps a sign-and-trade that bolsters a contender.

    The league year might not be officially over, but we are fast approaching full-blown NBA rumors SZN. Here's some of the top buzz surrounding some top free agents right now.

Kawhi Leonard 'Most Likely' to Return to Clippers

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    There's no bigger name in this year's crop of free agents than Kawhi Leonard. A partially torn ACL complicates his situation slightly, but even a damaged Leonard is a player any team would be willing to take a chance on.

    It's looking like teams might be able to make their pitches. NBA Insider Marc Stein reported that league sources believe Leonard opting out of his $36 million player option to re-sign with the Clippers is the "most likely scenario."

    However, it's worth noting that "the notion that Leonard is unattainable seems to be waning a bit." Leaving open the possibility that Leonard spurns the Clips to sign elsewhere.

    Stein mentioned the Dallas Mavericks as a team that would not be afraid to make a run at Leonard despite his ACL injury. The reporter likened it to Kevin Durant's free agency when he got a four-year contract from the Brooklyn Nets despite a torn Achilles.

    This all makes sense for Leonard. He's entering his age-30 season, will likely sit out for a majority of next season while rehabbing and was still playing at an elite level before the injury.

    Leonard's preference for Southern Califonia has been well-documented, and it makes a lot of sense for him to take a longer-term contract before playing on his surgically repaired knee again.

    Prediction: Leonard opts out and re-signs with Clippers for four years.

Timberwolves Surprise Candidate for Lauri Markkanen

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Lauri Markkanen is several cuts below Kawhi Leonard in terms of a game-changing signing. But for young teams looking to add to their core, Markkanen makes a lot of sense. The smooth-shooting 7-footer has shown promise in Chicago, albeit with inconsistency.

    A change of scenery for the 24-year-old may be needed to get the most out of him, and there should be several teams looking to add him.

    He's a restricted free agent, so the Bulls will have the opportunity to match any offer sheet he gets. Given the Bulls' recent additions of Patrick Williams through the draft and Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline, that might not be an issue.

    Multiple teams would make sense for the floor-spacing big. The San Antonio Spurs could use his skills alongside their guard combination of Dejounte Murray and Derrick White. The Dallas Mavericks are a middling three-point-shooting team that has the money to sign him. A reunion with Tom Thibodeau in New York could happen.

    You can add the Minnesota Timberwolves to the list. In a mailbag for The Athletic, Jon Krawczynski was asked for a surprise player the club has an interest in signing, and his response was Markkanen.

    The fit makes sense. Pairing him with Karl-Anthony Towns would give them an athletic frontcourt and another shooting option to play off Anthony Edwards and D'Angelo Russell.

    It would, however, leave the Wolves fundamentally flawed defensively. Towns is not a great rim protector, and Markkanen is little help in that area. Pairing him with Jakob Poeltl in San Antonio could be the best fit.

    Prediction: Markkanen signs with San Antonio.

Spencer Dinwiddie Sign-and-Trade Possible for Nets

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    The Brooklyn Nets superteam came up short of their goal to win a championship in 2020. With Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden on the roster, they will once again be a contender in 2021.

    Improving on the roster that was eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals will be difficult from a financial perspective, though. The Nets already have a ton of money committed to their core of stars and will only have the taxpayer's mid-level exception at their disposal.

    That's important to keep in mind when considering their plan for Spencer Dinwiddie.

    Unfortunately, Dinwiddie's career year in 2020 was followed up by an ACL tear that kept him out of the lineup for all but three games this season. Re-signing him would plunge the Nets even further into the luxury tax.

    The team could have traded Dinwiddie at the trade deadline this season, but Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report reported they opted not to, in part, because they believe they can use him in a sign-and-trade. Fischer wrote:

    "Sources tell B/R part of the reasoning for Brooklyn keeping Spencer Dinwiddie past the trade deadline was the Nets' ability to sign-and-trade their combo guard for another piece in their star-studded rotation. Dinwiddie could also return to the Nets."

    Dinwiddie's scoring and his ability to play both guard spots make him an enticing target even with the injury. That could make it tricky for the Nets to get anything in return on a trade, as there are teams with cap space that could sign him.

    Prediction: Dinwiddie signs with Dallas.