Updated Predictions and Landing Spots from Latest NBA Free-Agency Rumors
Don't let the avalanche of action during the first two days of 2021 NBA free agency fool you. Plenty of dominoes have yet to fall.
Some of the contract holdouts are formalities. Like, are the Los Angeles Clippers really worried about Kawhi Leonard leaving now, when pretty much the entire cap-space brigade has spent through their flexibility?
Other cases seem like less of a sure thing. And what better way to revel in that ambiguity than by parsing the latest news and rumors and conjuring up predictions of our own for some of the top remaining names?
To the crystal ball!
Reggie Jackson (Early Bird) and Kawhi Leonard
Believe it or not, relative to the shallowness of this year's market, the Los Angeles Clippers entered the offseason with arguably two of the top 10 free agents—both of whom remain unsigned.
Kawhi Leonard's situation remains thoroughly uninteresting, but he's one of the 10 best players alive, so he's here anyway. Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported the two-time Finals MVP might listen to pitches for other teams but is eventually likely to re-up with the Clippers. Based on how nearly every team burned through cap space without waiting on Leonard, that projection hasn't changed.
Reggie Jackson's free agency is more of a puzzle. The Clippers can use Early Bird rights to re-sign him on a deal worth as much as $45-plus million over four years. Maybe they're not willing to go that high. Jackson was mission critical to their postseason push this past year, particularly following Leonard's partially torn right ACL, but he's not that far removed from his rock-bottom stock.
Other teams should be vying for the services of someone who can run steady pick-and-rolls and just averaged 17.8 points while downing 40.8 percent of his threes in the playoffs. But the time for Jackson to sign a bigger-money deal has likely passed unless Charlotte or Oklahoma City enter the chat.
This seems like a situation that'll be resolved in anti-climatic fashion. The Clippers don't have the leverage to get cute. They might escape negotiations without offering Jackson the full four-year boat, but he's even more important to next season's cause now that Kawhi's availability is up in the air.
Prediction: Kawhi re-signs a three- or four-year deal with the Clippers. Jackson re-signs for two or three years.
Lauri Markkanen (Restricted)
Lauri Markkanen's exclusion from the DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade was fairly surprising. The San Antonio Spurs had interest in that exact scenario, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, but instead took back the expiring deals of Al-Farouq Aminu and Thaddeus Young, a 2022 second-rounder (via the Lakers), a 2025 first-rounder and a 2025 second-rounder.
Said package suggests one of two things: Either the Spurs preferred the draft equity in return for DeRozan, or the Chicago Bulls really wanted to keep Markkanen.
The latter is a stretch, though not implausible. Young is the better frontcourt partner next to Nikola Vucevic and a superior small-ball-5 option, but Chicago's defense wasn't exactly inspiring during the minutes he spent beside Vooch. Markkanen does a better job spacing the floor in lineups that will include at least one non-shooter or shaky shooter on the wings in DeRozan or Alex Caruso.
Either way, if the Bulls weren't dead set on keeping Markkanen before, they should be now. They need a third big to sponge up minutes behind Vooch and Patrick Williams. Markkanen does nothing for a defense that is putting a lot of pressure on Caruso and Williams to guard like hell, but he's an NBA rotation player.
Failing a return to Chicago, the Minnesota Timberwolves continue to have interest in every potential power forward under the sun, including Markkanen, according to SKOR North's Darren Wolfson. Any agreement would likely come by way of sign-and-trade, but the Wolves do control a handful of mid-end salaries and have been nothing if not aggressive under team president Gersson Rosas.
Prediction: Markkanen re-signs in Chicago or ends up in Minnesota.
Kelly Oubre Jr.
Kelly Oubre Jr. entered free agency hoping to bag a deal worth "well above" the mid-level exception, according to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson.
So much for that.
Sure, it could still happen. Both Charlotte and the Oklahoma City could come calling. The Golden State Warriors could also attempt to broker a sign-and-trade that pays him more, but that seems like something they'll consider only if they're netting a star or trade exception given their apparent resistance to using their mini mid-level exception. (*Sighs in Stephen Curry's MVP window*)
Remove luxury-tax implications from the equation (I know, I know), and the Warriors should absolutely be intrigued by bringing back Oubre or working with him on a sign-and-trade. He missed the end of last season with a left wrist injury, but he is still only 25 and can be effective running the floor. His defensive intensity wavers, but his size spans multiple positions, and he also canned 35.5 percent of his triples over his final 45 appearances after a disastrously cold start to the season.
Retaining him in hopes of rerouting him at the deadline could be a shrewd move. It's also worth gauging the market for sign-and-trade returns if team governor Joe Lacob can stomach the overall cost.
Maybe the Toronto Raptors ponder a swap for Goran Dragic if they don't mind being hard-capped. The Hornets could use a dash of help on the wings, though they might just have the flexibility to sign Oubre outright and aren't teeming with expendable players that should interest Golden State. Working something out for Joe Ingles would be ideal, but the Utah Jazz's payroll seems too far gone to work within the hard cap.
Prediction: Oubre stays with Golden State or finds his way to Charlotte, Minnesota, New Orleans, New York, San Antonio or Toronto.
Missing time in the league's health and safety protocols to end the regular season only to face a quick ramp-up leading into the playoffs no doubt factors into his, let's say, uneven performance to close the year. But he underwhelmed long before his extended absence.
The Lakers forked over Danny Green and a first-rounder with the hope Schroder would inject some much needed shot-making both beside and independent of LeBron James. He didn't. His shooting percentages at the rim and from deep tumbled off their career-high marks from 2019-20, and Los Angeles' half-court offense rated inside the 25th percentile of efficiency when he ran the show without LeBron.
Laboring through a down year wouldn't be a huge issue for Schroder if the Lakers didn't have anywhere else to turn. They do. Russell Westbrook is in transit, and while his fit alongside LeBron profiles as awkward, he's at minimum better suited to ferry lineups that don't feature another star.
Returning to Los Angeles now projects as an ultra-long shot. The Lakers still have his Bird rights, can pay him whatever and need non-gargantuan salaries they can bake into midseason trades, but they'd have to pony up a king's ransom in luxury-tax fees. That doesn't appear to be in the cards. They let Alex Caruso walk at least in part because of the overarching cost and are now noticeably more than $10 million over the tax line after re-signing Talen Horton-Tucker.
Figuring out where Schroder inevitably lands has become a largely uneducated guessing game. The point guard market has dried up, but so, too, has the need for more expensive options. The New York Knicks could use another option at the 1, but is Schroder taking what amounts to less than the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception given how much cap space they have left? The Washington Wizards loomed as a possible destination until they reached an agreement with Spencer Dinwiddie.
Charlotte and Oklahoma City both have meaningful cap room to burn. Neither feels like a viable Schroder suitor. A sign-and-trade that sends him elsewhere and nets the Lakers a large trade exception or an impact player seems more and more likely, as ESPN's Brian Windhorst noted on The Hoop Collective podcast (h/t Heavy).
And hey, maybe a return to Los Angeles isn't out of the question in the end. The prospect of rebooting Schroder's value on a short-term contract and flipping him for better-fitting help at the trade deadline could outweigh the luxury-tax implications.
Predictions: Schroder inks a short-term deal with the Lakers or gets signed-and-traded elsewhere.