With the end of the season comes the exclusion period, and with the end of the exclusion period comes the summer silly season. Some big names are coming onto the market in free agency, and with the playoffs providing a very clear, if somewhat depressing, view of who’s who and who’s not, teams and players alike are looking to reorganise. With some big names on the market, including two former MVPs, it will be interesting to see how (if) free agency alters the NBA’s balance of power.
A common theme this year: thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, teams can make offers to certain of their impending free agents that other teams can’t match. (You’ve heard of a hometown discount. Call this a hometown incentive.) The new paradigm encourages players to remain loyal to their teams and fanbases, or it denies them options, depending on who you ask. The result is the same, though: a lot of the big names are probably going to stay where they are, because moving would effectively cost them tens of millions of dollars. Plus you have to rent a van and get wifi set up and who wants any of that?
Another theme: talent has pretty obviously consolidated around two teams and winning a championship means doing likewise. A lot of players are looking at otherwise thoroughly pleasant circumstances and wondering if they’ll ever have an opportunity to win it all.
Let’s take a look at where this year’s crop of FAs are mostly likely to land.
Wow! Big deal, right? The first-ever unanimous MVP and the centrepiece of the perennial favorite comes on the market, who knows what could happpen?
Here’s what’s going to happen: Golden State is going to send a small barge full of VC money to Steph Curry’s house, and he’s going to stay in town until the heat death of the universe.
While he’s currently earning $11 million/year, the Warriors can offer him as much as $210 million over five years, which presents the rare opportunity to chase rings with one of the best teams in NBA history and also make hundreds of millions of dollars and also live in the Bay Area and also keep the kids stay in the same school.
The interesting thing about Curry’s free agency is that his old contract was laughably team-friendly and the salary cap is going to be a problem. Kevin Durant is also eligible for up to 35% of the cap, so while it’s been fun watching this team, some serious conversations are going to have to take place. Fortunately Golden State isn’t squeamish about paying a luxury tax and will do whatever it takes to keep the dream team together.
Steph Curry free agency odds
- Golden State Warriors: 1/19
- FIELD: 19/1
If Gordon Hayward gets some help in Utah, the Jazz could very plausibly become a challenger in the Western Conference. If they don’t pick up some serious talent in this free-agency cycle, the team will continue to get swept by the likes of Golden State. If Utah loses Hayward and doesn’t replace him with someone very special, they’ll probably have to pivot dramatically and become an MMA podcast or a bakeshop or something.
Either he stays home, and collects a big paycheque, or goes somewhere like Boston (joining college coach Brad Stevens) or Miami (where Pat Riley is allegedly a big fan). Again, though, the home team can offer more money over a longer period. So:
Gordon Hayward free agency odds
- Utah Jazz: 1/1
- Miami Heat: 3/1
- Boston Celtics: 4/1
Somebody is going to give Blake Griffin a max contract. If you count out Steph Curry, and you probably should, Griffin is arguably the best free agent on the market and he hasn’t exactly been shouting down rumours that he’ll leave the Clippers. While his health issues are well documented, he’s a top target and will have the opportunity to pick whichever teams he thinks will suit him best. He could go to the Heat, team up with Isaiah Thomas/Markelle Fultz in Boston, or do the whole homecoming thing and ball with Russell Westbook in Oklahoma City. It’s up to him, and it’s probably going to be the biggest single shift of this offseason.
Blake Griffin free agency odds
- LA Clippers: 3/2
- Boston Celtics: 3/1
- Miami Heat: 5/1
- Oklahoma City Thunder: 5/1
Chris Paul is a really smart guy. Thanks to a clause he negotiated into the league’s CBA while serving as president of the Players’ Association, the Clippers can pay him in excess of $200 million over five years, a contract I’m sure he’d be happy to sign. He’s been a leader in LA for their most successful and profitable era, and they’re going to want to keep him. Look for him to end up back with the Clippers.
It’s hilarious if he does leave, however, because that means masterfully negotiating more money for players like him was just a head-fake, and that we’re playing checkers while he’s playing 3D Scrabble.
Chris Paul free agency odds
- LA Clippers: 1/9
- FIELD: 9/1
Kyle Lowry’s in an interesting position, because he’s declined his player option with the Raptors and decided to enter free agency with one stated priority: getting a ring. For that, he’ll need to find a team that can contend, has the cap room to accommodate him, and needs a point guard. This eliminates a couple of the teams that would otherwise seem likely: the Denver Nuggets need a point guard, tried to get Dwyane Wade last year, but finished ninth in the Western Conference. The New York Knicks are doing weekly animal sacrifices in the name of a new point guard and have a lot of cap room, but were 12th in the East and are something of a trainwreck as an organisation.
More likely: maybe the Spurs figure something out with cap room, or maybe Lowry hops to the other team that got swept by the Cavaliers and tries his luck with the Indiana Pacers.
It’s also possible that he’s a young athlete with a competitive attitude and that a nine-digit number that starts with “2” will sober him up a little. Toronto can offer him more money than anyone else, and money talks.
Kyle Lowry free agency odds
- Toronto Raptors: 7/3
- Indiana Pacers: 5/1
- San Antonio Spurs: 5/1
- Denver Nuggets: 12/1
- New York Knicks: 14/1
Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap opted out of his contract to test the waters of the free-agent market. He’ll probably lean towards the Hawks — as a veteran they can sign him to a much bigger contract than anyone else — but it will be interesting to see how the dominoes fall. If the Jazz pick him up while keeping Gordon Hayward, Utah will look strong going into 2018. The Celtics have the cap room to give him a max contract.
Paul Millsap free agency odds
- Atlanta Hawks: 3/2
- Utah Jazz: 7/3
- Boston Celtics: 7/3
Serge Ibaka averaged 14.2 points per game in a Raptors uniform, but the deadline-acquisition is now a free agent after just half a season. Last year, the Celtics came after the Congolese power forward before the deadline, too, but lost out to Toronto. Boston is still looking for an upgrade at the position, and if the Celts don’t end up getting Hayward, Ibaka could be a good alternative.
Serge Ibaka free agency odds
- Toronto Raptors: 3/2
- Boston Celtics: 7/3
D-Wade had maybe his worst season in the NBA last year, and enters free agency without the kind of promise that earned him a $23.8 million salary in Chicago. If he decides to hit the open market, perhaps to go ring-chasing again, it’s unlikely that he’ll get that kind of money anywhere else. Look for him to stay in Chicago.
Dwyane Wade free agency odds
- Chicago Bulls: 1/4
- Anywhere else: 4/1
Like a few others, Derrick Rose is one of those players with an impressive career behind him, a healthy bank account, and an empty slot in his jewellery box. Rose wants to win, and soon. To do that, he’ll need to stay healthy and find a spot on a team that’s capable of getting him there.
He’s also apparently not worried about money, so if anyone’s going to take a paycut to play for the Spurs, it’s Rose. He could also find a spot on a talented young roster like that of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have all manner of lottery picks but a little less experience than you’d want.
Derrick Rose free agency odds
- New York Knicks: 7/3
- Minnesota Timberwolves: 3/1
- San Antonio Spurs: 4/1