2021 NBA Free Agents: Updated Predictions Following the Draft

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 31, 2021

2021 NBA Free Agents: Updated Predictions Following the Draft

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    The 2021 edition of the annual thrill ride known as the NBA draft is in the books.

    Cade Cunningham is a Detroit Piston, Jalen Green is a Houston Rocket and, incredibly, Russell Westbrook is the newest member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Hopefully, you've already committed the 60 picks and many trades to your memory bank, because the offseason's accelerated calendar leaves little time for more draft discussion. The free-agent market opens on Monday, so the wave of roster changes is just beginning.

    Let's break out the old, reliable crystal ball, then, and predict where some of the top available players will sign.

Kawhi Leonard Stays with Clippers

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Had Kawhi Leonard stayed healthy, there's a chance the Los Angeles Clippers could have had the last laugh this season and a championship banner-raising ceremony to plan at the start of the next one.

    That's one of several reasons to assume the superstar swingman will stay put this offseason—either by exercising his $36 million player option or opting out and inking a new pact.

    The Clippers have won three playoff series in Leonard's two seasons with the team. He knows he can win big with them, and that might be reason enough to tie his future with theirs.

    If not, there's also the fact the L.A. native chose the Clippers in 2019 free agency and handpicked Paul George as his costar. Leonard, who's rehabbing from a right ACL injury but still the top star on the market, should find everything he wants right where he's already at.

Bulls Land Lonzo Ball

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    The Chicago Bulls were smart to snatch up Windy City native Ayo Dosunmu with the 38th overall pick on Thursday. But the incoming combo guard hardly scratches the organization's itch for a floor general.

    The Bulls could go several different directions in their point guard search, with Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul (player option) all potentially up for grabs. Chicago skipper Billy Donovan also is reportedly "believed to be interested in a possible reunion" with Dennis Schroder, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst.

    But for my money—and perhaps for Chicago's—Lonzo Ball looks like the best option. He's a gifted passer but isn't ball-dominant, meaning he can help enhance the output of Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic without stepping on their toes. Ball's massive strides as a shooter (31.5 percent from three his first two seasons, 37.6 the last two) gives him value off the ball, and he offers some versatility at the defensive end.

    The 23-year-old can impact winning now and should still have his best basketball ahead of him. That makes him a worthwhile investment for the Bulls, who reportedly pursued him at the trade deadline, per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.

Jazz Find Money to Pay Mike Conley

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    The Utah Jazz were trending up before trading for Mike Conley in 2019, but that deal sent a message to the Association that they thought they were ready to compete for an NBA title. They haven't probed deeper than the second round of the playoffs yet, but they did post a league-best 52 wins this season before losing to the Clippers (and injuries) in the conference semis.

    Utah is an elite team, and Conley is part of the reason why. That's perhaps why "league executives believe Conley is most likely to stay in Utah," per Windhorst, though the Jazz might need to cut payroll to come up with the coin needed to keep Conley.

    They started that process Friday by unloading Derrick Favors' salary (at the expense of a future first-round pick) to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Depending on Utah's willingness to foot a significant luxury tax bill, the Jazz could look to shed more salary to clear up space for Conley, perhaps by moving one (or both) of Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles.

    With Rudy Gobert and Dononvan Mitchell in the heart of their primes, the Jazz need to put themselves in the best position to win right now. Keeping Conley accomplishes that.

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