Should they stay or should they go?
Let’s face it—the conference finals were boring. Golden State swept San Antonio without really trying. Cleveland may not have swept Boston, but nobody really thought the Celtics had a real chance. Sure, there was a moment or two when it appeared that the Spurs and Celtics were going to put a fight. Those hopes of an entertaining series, however, proved to be in vain. The conference finals blew right by, leaving us nearly a week of no basketball. With 28 teams being entirely out of the conversation now, many fan bases are more interested in the moves their squads will make in the coming months than the Finals.
In just a little over a month, free agency will be in full swing. When names like Chris Paul and Jimmy Butler are on the market, some very big shakeups in the NBA are almost certain. There likely won’t be any huge moves like when Kevin Durant bounced out of OKC or when LeBron James took his talents to Miami. But there will definitely be some big winners and some big losers once July arrives.
So, which big names will likely stay put? Which big names will likely leave? Which teams will improve? Which teams will be forced to start rebuilding?
Here are the NBA free agents to keep your eye on this summer.
Jimmy Butler is often the subject of Chicago’s trade rumors. Despite the integral role he played in a few playoff runs during recent seasons, the small forward finds himself in the middle of talks that would send him to places like Boston and Minnesota. But can you really blame Chicago? The Bulls have built their team around Butler, and he hasn’t necessarily delivered. Granted, surrounding him around younger guys as opposed old-timers like Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo would have helped Chicago go further in the playoffs. Nevertheless, the Bulls have put themselves in a corner that will only allow mediocrity. They likely are ready to just hit the reset button, and Jimmy Butler has to know that he won’t be a part of that rebuilding process.
Boston, however, could greatly benefit from a guy like Butler. His game would complement Isaiah Thomas. Add to that the likely addition of Markelle Fultz in the draft, and the Celtics are suddenly a serious contender in the Eastern Conference. Plus, they’re interested in Butler. It all seems to be a match made in basketball heaven.
Likely destination: Boston Celtics
If things don’t change for him soon, Chris Paul could go down in history as one of the greatest players to never win a championship. The worst part? It’s not really his fault. The Clippers are a disaster. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a dysfunctional playoff team with so much talent. Blake Griffin looks unhappy. Doc Rivers looks unhappy. Deandre Jordan can’t make a free throw to save his life. All of this has to be frustrating for Chris Paul, a 32-year-old superstar that still balls like he’s in his prime. It should surprise no one that Paul is expected to opt out of the last year of his contract and test the waters. After all, he wants to win a championships to seal his legacy.
And what better place is there to do that than San Antonio? With an aging Tony Parker, the Spurs need a point guard. Patty Mills is good, but he’s no starter. Chris Paul would be great for San Antonio, and both parties are reportedly interested. Don’t expect to see Paul in a Clippers uniform next season. He’ll be much happier with Kawhi and Aldridge.
Likely destination: San Antonio Spurs
Whichever team picks up Gordon Hayward will be signing one of the most valuable free agents this summer, and the only team that really understands that is Utah. The reason why Utah knows his value? Well, they had to build their squad around him. The result speaks for itself as the Jazz went from being a team regularly in the lottery to a contender advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals. While it is true that the Jazz rely heavily on Rudy Gobert, their leader is Gordon Hayward. Don’t buy into the media narrative that Hayward can’t be a guy you build a championship team around. Hayward is superstar material, and he’s just entering his prime.
Though he has ties to Indiana, the Pacers would be a step down from Utah. However, Boston is a contender, and they’re a contender that Hayward would be interested in. He played for Celtics head coach Brad Stevens in college and GM Danny Ainge plans to go after Hayward hard once July hits. Hayward fits into the system perfectly and is exactly what the Celtics would need to get over the hump that is the Cleveland Cavaliers.
That being said, Hayward really likes Utah. While he did say that he plans to explore his options this summer, Gordon started his career and his family in Salt Lake City. And, if he wants to win, Utah will be the team to beat in the next couple of years. It’s really a toss-up between Boston and Utah for the small forward, and I really can see him going to both.
Likely destination: Utah Jazz or Boston Celtics
If Blake Griffin didn’t get hurt so often these days, he could be on track to become an all-time great power forward—and I’m not exaggerating. Griffin’s athleticism in insane and he’s recently added decent outside shooting to his repertoire. When he is healthy with Paul and Jordan, the Clippers win. But Griffin has had a hard time staying healthy, and it seems to have caused some turmoil in the Clippers organization. Griffin wants a new fresh start. As an unrestricted free agent, Griffin’s likely out of LA.
Though he brushed off rumors of going to the Thunder back in November, OKC still seems to be the most obvious destination for the star power forward. He and Russell Westbrook would take the Thunder back to the Western Conference Finals and possibly the Finals. Another possible destination is New York, as all the Knicks need to do is get rid of Carmelo Anthony—something that Anthony would be completely fine with—in order to make cap space for Griffin.
Likely destination: Oklahoma City Thunder
When Kyle Lowry was asked what he wanted out of his free agency, he said, “A ring. Nothing else. I just want a ring.” Though Toronto isn’t that bad of a team, it’s doubtful they’ll bring home a championship any time soon. So, if his quote is any indication, Lowry is likely wearing something other than a Raptors uniform this fall. The veteran point guard will look elsewhere and land at the place that gives him the best opportunity for a trip to the Finals.
Though a couple of teams have expressed interest in Lowry, the most intriguing one has been Philadelphia. The Sixers are young. With Ben Simmons healthy for next season, they may actually be an 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. If you throw Lowry in the mix, they could be a contender. Simmons may have to move to small forward or shooting guard, but the young Aussie is long and lanky enough to handle the position change.
However, going to Philadelphia would likely harm Lowry’s chances of getting that coveted ring. Don’t get me wrong—they have a lot of potential. They’re just too young. A more likely destination for a championship would be in the Western Conference. But Lowry has said that he “can win anywhere.” Why wouldn’t he want to go back to his hometown with a young squad if he has that kind of attitude?
Likely destination: Philadelphia 76ers.
As of late, Paul Millsap has been pretty open about his offseason intentions. The Vertical reported that Millsap will opt out of his contract and see what he can get out of free agency. It makes sense as he’s likely on the other side of his prime and wants to put himself in the best position he possibly can before he retires. Whether that means that the big man is looking for money or a ring, one thing is certain: he probably won’t get the most out of Atlanta.
That being said, if the Hawks organization gets their act together, they can likely convince Millsap to stay. Right now, Atlanta’s front office lacks leadership. They’re interviewing candidates for the GM position, but still have yet to hire anyone. Surely, if they get someone like Chauncey Billups—who they actually have interviewed—in charge, then that might be enough to keep Millsap in town. Otherwise, they may as well kiss Millsap goodbye.
But I think they’ll figure it out. No real evidence to prove it; just a gut feeling.
Likely destination: Atlanta Hawks.Filed under: Sports, NBA Basketball, Free Agency, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Jimmy Butler