B/R Staff Makes 2021 NBA Free-Agency and Trade-Market Predictions

Bleacher Report NBA StaffFeatured ColumnistAugust 1, 2021

B/R Staff Makes 2021 NBA Free-Agency and Trade-Market Predictions

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    With the flip of the calendar from July to August comes the start of the NBA's new calendar year.

    Beginning Monday, Aug. 2, at 6 p.m. ET, teams can officially negotiate contracts with free agents. Players can then sign their new deals Friday, Aug. 6, at 12:01 p.m. ET. All the while, the trade market remains open and ready for business.

    Ahead of the start of free agency, we asked our NBA experts to share how they see things playing out.

    Hit the comments in the B/R app to share where you see your favorite stars landing.

Banana Boat Reunion in L.A.

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    Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

    After the Russell Westbrook blockbuster, the possibility of Chris Paul to the Lakers is dead. But the other active member of the Banana Boat crew, Carmelo Anthony, will be a free agent, and the Lakers need scoring depth.

    Anthony and LeBron James have always wanted to play together, and Anthony showed in the last two seasons in Portland that he can still contribute off the bench. According to ESPN's Jordan Schultz, the Los Angeles Lakers are interested in Melo.

    Don't be surprised if the partnership finally happens this summer.

    Sean Highkin

Lonzo Ball Back in New Orleans After All

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    According to ESPN's Andrew Lopez, the Pelicans have extended a qualifying offers to Lonzo Ball. But Ball is a restricted free agent, and teams like the Bulls and Knicks have been linked to him as possible destinations.

    In an ideal world for both Ball and the Pelicans, one of those teams would be his next destination, and New Orleans is widely reported to be focused on Kyle Lowry's free agency. But Lowry will have plenty of options in free agency (Miami, Philadelphia and Dallas among them), so it's no guarantee the Pelicans will get him.

    In that case, their move might be to match whatever offer sheet another team throws at Ball, either to keep him to continue to grow with Zion Williamson or to trade him down the line. It's not a bad fallback plan.


Spencer Dinwiddie Sign-and-Trade to the Wizards

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The Washington Wizards need a starting point guard next to Bradley Beal after agreeing to trade Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and, from the Indiana Pacers, Aaron Holiday, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    Prediction: The Wizards expand the deal to include Spencer Dinwiddie via sign-and-trade (above $20 million a season) from the Brooklyn Nets. Another team may be needed to take on players like Davis Bertans, Kuzma and/or Harrell, given the Nets are hesitant to add payroll with a hefty luxury-tax bill. One coveted piece on the Wizards roster is Daniel Gafford.

    Eric Pincus

Chris Paul Returns to Suns

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Phoenix Suns governor Robert Sarver seemed wishy-washy about Chris Paul on local radio, casting doubt that the All-Star point guard would return next season after taking the team to the NBA Finals. In June, Bleacher Report tabbed Paul to opt out of his last season at $44.4 million to look for $100 million over the next three. The most likely team to go after Paul? The New York Knicks.

    Prediction: The Suns get Paul back at $90 million over three years. The luxury tax will be an issue for Phoenix for the 2022-23 season, but that's not today's issue.


Kyle Lowry Lands in Miami

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Miami Heat are one of the few teams with major money to spend and legitimate win-now intentions for next season. They're in the market for a perimeter shot-creator, and of course, they're always cognizant of the #Culture fit.

    Kyle Lowry would be perfect for what Miami needs, and the Heat could be ideal for him too.

    They can lavish him with cash through his twilight, should have enough to compete for the Eastern Conference crown and roster one of his closest friends in All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler.

    This marriage makes too much sense not to happen.

    Zach Buckley

Kawhi Leonard Opts In, Extends with Clippers

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Kawhi Leonard is still viewed as the top potential free agent, even if he'll miss a large chunk of next season while recovering from a partially torn ACL.

    While he's expected to return to the Los Angeles Clippers, Leonard's next contract can go in a number of different ways, according to ESPN.com's Bobby Marks. The 30-year-old forward has a $36 million player option for next season, one he can pick up or turn down before agreeing to a new four-year, max deal.

    Signing a four-year max would net Leonard $176.2 million, although it's not the most money the five-time All-Star can guarantee himself.

    Instead, look for Leonard to maximize his value by opting into his $36 million player option and then signing a four-year, $181.5 million extension, pushing the total value of the next five years to $217.5 million.

    By opting in and then extending, Leonard guarantees himself $50.2 million during the 2025-26 season.

    Greg Swartz

John Collins Signs a Max Contract (Via Offer Sheet)

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    John Collins was smart to turn down a four-year, $90 million offer from the Atlanta Hawks last offseason, as he's about to earn far more.

    Although he's yet to make an All-Star game in his four seasons, Collins should get the max in a free-agent market that lacks superstars.

    The 23-year-old power forward can sign a four-year, $125 million max deal, and a number of teams possess the cap space to sign Collins to such an offer sheet for the Hawks to match.

    The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks all have the space to offer Collins a max deal, and a Spurs team that lacks frontcourt talent is the most likely to pursue him.

    Atlanta was willing to go to restricted free agency with Collins and will have to max him out to keep him.


Portland Pays Norman Powell Major Money

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    Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

    In March, the Portland Trail Blazers gave up promising young swingman Gary Trent Jr. for the opportunity to add Norman Powell. The real cost of that swap is about to come due.

    Powell predictably turned down his $11.6 million player option, and the pressure is on Portland to cover his next contract.

    It could be enormous. He'll have no shortage of suitors after pumping in 18.6 points on 47.7/41.1/87.1 shooting and defending across multiple positions. Portland must outbid them all, perhaps landing at or north of a $20 million salary.

    That's steep, but the price of possibly angering an antsy Damian Lillard—for not paying Powell and lacking the flexibility to sign a suitable replacement—would be far greater.


Evan Fournier Priced Out of Boston to the Knicks

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The Boston Celtics seemed a lock to retain Evan Fournier, but with so few quality wings available in free agency, the New York Knicks outspend the Celtics to add some needed shooting.

    In his 16 games with the Celtics during the 2020-21 season, Fournier averaged 13 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 44.8 percent from the field and 46.3 percent from deep.

    Prediction: Fournier to the Knicks on a three-year, $55 million contract. That's too rich for Boston's blood and why it made a trade with the Dallas Mavericks to pick up Josh Richardson (for Moses Brown) on Saturday.