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It's boon times for the NBA. TV revenues are through the roof, the sport boasts some of the most recognizable names in the world, owners are spending billions of dollars to acquire teams and the league has arguably never been more popular. Business is good.
And now the league’s 30 clubs are about to reap some of those financial rewards, with the league’s salary cap projected to jump from $70 million to around $94 million (dh 345 million).
Luckily for them, this year’s free agent crop is one of the best in years, with Kevin Durant the biggest available prize since LeBron James in 2010.
Kevin Jeffers goes through 13 of the top available players and predicts where they'll sign. And yes, technically James is a free agent again after declining his player option for next year, but that was a mere formality to extract a more lucrative deal, and there's absolutely no way he's leaving Cleveland again. Maybe. Probably. Anyway, we left him out.
Players can begin signing contracts on July 7, following a week-long moratorium during which teams and players can officially meet.
• Potential suitors: Oklahoma City, Golden State, San Antonio, Miami, Boston, L.A. Clippers, New York, Atlanta
• One of the three best players in the world, Durant is about to get paid. In fact, he could maximise his earnings by taking the LeBron route and signing a one year-plus-player-option deal that would make sure he remains his team’s highest-paid player throughout his career.
However, Durant is just two seasons removed from a devastating foot injury, and could opt to cash in a maximum five-year deal now to ensure financial security. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the only team that can provide him all five years, unless they agree to a sign-and-trade with another team.
Incidentally, the only two teams with a real shot to poach him from the Thunder are his two biggest rivals in the West, Golden State and San Antonio. Joining Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in the Bay Area could be devastating for the rest of the league, but Durant honestly has just as good a chance of winning a title with the Thunder.
The smart money is on Durant giving it at least one more year with OKC, who just fortified their depth by trading Serge Ibaka to Orlando for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and highly regarded draft pick Domantas Sabonis. With Russell Westbrook a free agent after next season, we might get to do this all over again soon.
• Prediction: Two-year max deal with Oklahoma City with a player option
• Potential suitors: Atlanta, Boston, Brooklyn, L.A. Lakers, Washington, Houston, Detroit, Orlando
• Horford has spent his entire 9-year career with Atlanta and has helped them to the play-offs every single one of those years. He’s one of the only big men in the league who can stretch the floor from either the 4 or 5 while also providing stout defence. He’s never been a strong rebounder, but has a set of skills few others in the NBA can boast.
If you consider Durant likely to stay, Horford might be the best player that’s actually available, and he’ll have half the league knocking on his door from the second the new league year begins.
Atlanta owns his Bird Rights, meaning they can offer him an extra year (thus more money) than other teams, but he might be looking to join a more proven championship contender, which the Hawks have proven just short of becoming.
If he leaves, I imagine it’d be to join the Warriors should they whiff on Durant. Boston is also a possibility, but his situation in Atlanta is better than it would be with the Celtics, and I see him staying.
• Prediction: Five-year deal with Atlanta
• Potential suitors: Miami, Cleveland, L.A. Clippers, L.A. Lakers
• It’s highly unlikely Wade leaves his home for 13 years. He’s the face of the franchise and the greatest player in team history with three championship rings.
But it took a while for the team to settle on a one-year, $20 million deal last season, and they’ll have to pony up big-time again to keep him. If their offer displeases him or if the team fails to improve its roster around him, he could take a smaller deal to join his buddy LeBron in Cleveland, or one of the other big-market teams that have the money he’s looking for.
Still, he’s the mascot and isn’t leaving Miami. Probably.
• Prediction: One-year, $22 million from Miami
• Potential suitors: Miami, Dallas, L.A. Lakers, Portland
• He’s an intriguing and productive player, and the rare player set to cash in as an unrestricted free agent after only two seasons in the league. So someone might pay him max money based on a much shorter CV than usual.
Miami has the money to keep him, but the Heat haven’t expressed an overt willingness to tie up their cap space with the centre. And as the Heat push hard for Durant and other big names, they might lose Whiteside to a more eager suitor.
The Lakers, desperate to sign someone/anyone, will push Whiteside hard on being the centre of its next inevitable dynasty, but a another team in the West makes more sense – Dallas. The Mavericks infamously lost out on DeAndre Jordan last year and are always the bridesmaids in free agency. That changes if they pair Whiteside with another big signing.
• Prediction: Max deal with Dallas
• Potential suitors: Toronto, L.A. Lakers, New York Knicks
• The limited, but talented, shooting guard probably stays with the franchise that has turned him into one of the best scorers in the league. The backcourt of Derozan and Kyle Lowry are the battery that keeps the Raptors running. In fact, they’re the only team he’s scheduled an interview with. This deal gets done before the Lakers or Knicks even get a chance.
• Prediction: Stays in Toronto on five-year max deal
• Potential suitors: Charlotte, Cleveland, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Indiana, Miami, Orlando
• Look, I’m as shocked as anyone that he put up 7.8 win shares last year. But the veteran, former No 2-overall pick is about to cash in as a proven 3-and-D wing who can defend either the 3 or 4, a highly coveted set of skills.
He’ll have no shortage of suitors, and could get nine figures from a middling team desperate to add veteran shooting and defence – quite a turnaround for the former Hawks player who has long been considered a bust.
The better teams are going to want to sign him to a bargain but likely won’t be able to because of the amount of money available from so many teams. He’d be a great addition a title-ready team like Cleveland, but the allure of big money will probably lead him to a mediocre team. This is one of the tougher ones to forecast because of the sheer amount of similar options, but I’ll pick the option I’d like to see happen: Indiana. They have the money and he fits a need, and Williams would complete a revamped frontcourt with Paul George and newly acquired Thad Young, in addition to new point guard Jeff Teague, it’d be the Pacers’ best offence in years.
• Prediction: Four-year deal with Indiana
• Potential suitors: Detroit, Dallas, New York
• One of the league’s best true centres, the restricted free agent isn’t going anywhere. He’s perfect for Stan Van Gundy’s system, and the Pistons will match any offer.
• Prediction: Stays with Detroit
• Potential suitors: Memphis, New York, Dallas, Houston
• Injuries have slowed down the long-time Grizzlies point guard, and the winning core he’s helped form with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph appears to be in its twilight. But it’d still be an upset if he left Memphis.
If he does, it’d have to be to a contender. The Dallas Mavericks have long coveted a point guard of his calibre, and are reportedly confident they can sign both Conley and Whiteside to give Dirk Nowitzki one last ride on a title-worthy team.
I think he jumps ship and joins Mark Cuban, Whiteside and the Mavs.
• Prediction: Four-year deal with Dallas
• Potential suitors: Atlanta, New York, Brooklyn, Boston
• The reports of him meeting with Atlanta are puzzling, because his limited range doesn’t fit at all with the Hawks’ culture. But he’s long been linked to his hometown team, and could wind up there if he swallows his pride, accepts a bench role and less money.
I don’t think he does that. He’ll do the splashy thing and try to rebuild his star in New York with Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose, though I could also see Boston settling and giving him a lot of money should they fail to find someone else to take it.
• Prediction: Four-year deal with the Knicks
• Potential suitors: Charlotte,
• A young 3-and-D wing, Batum will cash in off a breakout season in Charlotte. The Hornets aren’t likely to add any big names, so they’ll have the money to keep him, and would be smart to make him their top priority.
• Prediction: Max deal with Charlotte
• Potential suitors: Toronto, Boston, Charlotte, Houston, Dallas, Miami, L.A. Lakers, Denver
• The big man played so well for the Raptors in the play-offs that he might have priced himself out of their range. He could be a consolation prize for a team that misses out on Horford or Whiteside, but he’s younger and might provide more value if he takes less than the max.
He’s expressed an interest in staying in Toronto, though with Derozan likely staying it’ll take clearing out some cap space to do so. Coming off their most successful season ever, it’s not hard to imagine the Raptors keeping last season’s core together and hoping for a next step that’ll likely never come.
• Prediction: Stays in Toronto
• Potential suitors: Golden State, Philadelphia
• Barnes was awful in the Finals, and right before his chance to cash in. He’s not the sure bet to sign a max deal that he previously was, but with so many teams with money to spare, he’ll likely still get it.
Look for Philadelphia to offer it to him right away. Since he’s restricted, Golden State will have a chance to match. If they miss out on Durant and Horford, they’ll likely do that (even if they don’t want to) and keep their championship core together. They could also pull off a sign-and-trade with the 76ers for one of their superfluous young bigs, in what might be a best-case scenario for both teams.
• Prediction: Golden State grits teeth, matches max offer sheet from Philadelphia to keep him
• Potential suitors: Golden State, San Antonio, Memphis, Houston, Boston, Washington, Portland, Atlanta
• It doesn’t look like the Hall of Fame-bound Spaniard is ready to retire as the Chicago Bulls start to rebuild without him. He already has two championships, so winning might not be the only thing he seeks as he looks to cash one last NBA paycheck.
That said, I think he signs up with the league’s winningest winner in San Antonio, where he’ll either replace a retiring Tim Duncan or give the Spurs some offensive punch off the bench that they lacked in the play-offs.
• Prediction: One-year deal with Golden State
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