The 2016 NBA free agency class has dominated headlines this month, and understandably so. However, with most of the marquee players off the market, let’s shift gears and look forward a bit.
Today, we’re going to focus on some players who can hit free agency in 2017 and, as a result, may surface in trade rumors between now and February’s deadline. Some of these names have already popped up in the rumor mill, and it’s only a matter of time until the others do too.
Without further ado, here’s a look at some free agents-to-be worth watching:
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder, 2017 Unrestricted Free Agent: With Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder this month, all eyes are on Westbrook to see if he’ll ask for a trade or part ways with the organization when given the chance next summer. He can bolt as an unrestricted free agent in July of 2017, so don’t be surprised plenty of teams are calling Thunder general manager Sam Presti in hopes of prying Westbrook away from Oklahoma City.
Westbrook is a perennial All-Star and certainly a hot commodity as one of the best point guards on the planet. His athleticism, improved shooting and ability to make plays for others make him a truly remarkable floor general. He has a great competitive spirit and energy, which is evident when he’s on the floor. This fire and passion has made him something of a fan favorite and his attitude seems contagious among his teammates as well.
Sometimes, Westbrook makes mistakes and tries to do too much by himself, but that’s part of his personality on the court and he has tried to limit those reckless, one-on-one attacks.
Oklahoma City is going younger by acquiring Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Alex Abrines this summer and holding onto Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Cameron Payne, Andre Roberson and Mitch McGary. All eight of those players are 24 years old or younger. Westbrook may not want to wait around if the team has to rebuild. Last season, the 27-year-old averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 assists, 7.8 rebounds and two steals, while finishing fourth in Most Valuable Player voting.
If he wants to contend for a championship now, which would make perfect sense, he could ask for a trade. If Westbrook is made available, plenty of potential suitors will emerge. However, keep in mind that like all of the soon-to-be unrestricted players on this list, Westbrook has some say in where he may land since he can tell teams that he won’t commit to a long-term deal with certain teams if they trade for him. This is essentially how Carmelo Anthony forced his way to New York a few years back, and Westbrook could do the same if he has a certain destination in mind – so long as he was comfortable with forcing his incoming team to surrender assets for him the way the Knicks did for Melo, something many point to as a limiting factor in the team’s success after the trade.
Or, he could stay in OKC. It remains to be seen what the future holds for the nightly triple-double threat, but he’s certainly a name to watch.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers, 2017 Early Termination Clause: The former slam dunk champion has been terrific throughout his career. Griffin is a high value commodity to the Clippers and the league as a whole, but because of his injury history and an off-court incident last season, it may be hard to persuade a team to shell out a couple of high draft picks and additional assets for him. Obviously, when Blake is healthy, he’s one of the most dominant power forwards in the league and is still relatively young in NBA years at just 27 years old. But the off-court incident in which a punch was thrown at a member of the organization, along with his health, are major concerns for other teams who come calling.
Since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2011, Griffin has vastly improved his game. Once a player who had a lousy mid-range game, he now has a reliable jumper – proving to many that he’s more than just a “dunker.” His court vision, off-ball movement, ability to get up and down the floor and his post moves allow him to be a good fit in almost any system because of his versatility and size.
Playing only 35 games last season, he still managed to average 21.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists while shooting over 49 percent from the field.
It’s very unlikely that a Griffin deal happens before the start of the season, but the Clippers will have to consider it if the team struggles or if the right offer presents itself. Oklahoma City is a team hoping to get Griffin since he’s from the area. And keep an eye on the Boston Celtics, who have been rumored to be in the mix and have a ton of assets.
The jury is out on whether Griffin will still be the same after his injuries last season, but if he’s close to what he was, expect the Clippers to try and increase his value. They could wait until the trade deadline, when a team that is underachieving feels they need to make a change.
Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz, Early Termination Option 2017: Hayward has an early opt-out as well and can become a free agent next year. An extremely undervalued player, Hayward has been effective with the Jazz by becoming a constant on a team that’s been on the brink of the playoffs for three to four seasons. His ability to hit three-point and mid-range shots, drive to the hoop and move off the ball is extremely valuable and versatile for any team in the league. Sometimes his movement laterally and positional instincts can be questioned, specifically on defense, but other than that Hayward is an incredibly gifted basketball player.
The Jazz are on the up-and-coming path and have been for a few seasons. With injuries riddling them last year, they hope to get back to the playoff pursuit with new signings like Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw and George Hill.
Playing 80 games this season, Hayward averaged 19.7 points, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals and five rebounds per game on 49 percent effective field goal shooting. Keep in mind, this was without key players like Rudy Gobert, Dante Exum and Derrick Favors, who suffered from staggered injuries throughout the year (a combined 92 games missed between Gobert, Favors, and Burks, plus Exum out for the season).
A natural pairing for Hayward is Boston and coach Brad Stevens, Hayward’s former mentor at Butler University. Will that play any part in a potential trade to, say the Celtics? Although an interesting thought and idea, it’s questionable whether the Celtics would part ways with enough pieces for the Jazz to pull the trigger. On the other side of the coin, the Celtics really don’t have a need for another small forward unless they send Jae Crowder in a potential deal.
Rumors have already flown about Hayward and have been categorically shot down by both his camp and multiple local beat writers, and all signs point to him remaining with this Jazz team based on his personality and how he fits in Utah. He’s been one of the most consistent and proven commodities in the league for the past five seasons, and with Utah’s injury battles, he’s also been the most reliable as far as health is concerned.
Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings, Player Option 2017:
Gay has stated multiple times that he wants out of the Kings organization, but it’s finding a likely trade partner to make a deal happen that becomes the problem.
The 29-year-old is still a good player and had a productive season with a below-average Kings team, averaging 17.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. Those would be his lowest totals since the 2012-13 season and before then since his rookie year. Staying relatively healthy the past couple seasons, only missing 26 games over two years, Gay has proven he can be a good defender and efficient scorer. His three-point shooting has been sub-par at around 34 percent his entire career, which is certainly a downside for a team in need of a “3-and-D” player, but he makes up for his inefficient three-point shooting with his size and ability to rebound.
Gay has been shopped a lot in his career, from team to team and city to city. The situation in Sacramento has long been tumultuous at best, and while it may be getting better, it’s hard to blame Gay for wanting out. He’s gone through three seasons in Sacramento (two separate stints) in which the team has gone a combined 91-155, which won’t get you near the playoffs when you’re in the Western Conference.
When players begin to reach their late 20s and early 30s, like Gay, it seems as though they want realize what they want – and it certainly feels as though Rudy wants to be on a playoff team. Teams like Miami, Cleveland, Boston, L.A. Clippers, Dallas, and Toronto seem like reasonable destinations, but it’ll be interesting to see what teams will have to give up to get him. Because Gay has spoken out about wanting to be traded, Sacramento is in a difficult spot because teams know he doesn’t want to be with the Kings. Essentially, teams know the Kings will have to trade him, or else they’ll lose him for nothing after this season.
Greg Monroe, Milwaukee Bucks, Player Option 2017:
Another player with a ton of question marks surrounding him,it seems like Monroe has been involved in many trade rumors with teams looking for a big man over the last six months. Toronto, Portland, New York and several other teams have been subject to rumors, but no one seems to be giving Milwaukee what they’re looking for. After re-signing Miles Plumlee, getting Mirza Teletovic in free agency, drafting promising big man Thon Maker and returning a healthy Jabari Parker, the frontcourt in Milwaukee seems to be filling up without Monroe in the fold.
After averaging his lowest minute total since his rookie season (29.3 minutes per game), Monroe fell out of place within Jason Kidd’s Bucks rotation late last season on multiple occasions. The former Pistons player has always been questioned because of his lack of mobility and inability to stretch the floor, which may be the reason for his minutes decrease over his first season in Milwaukee.
The NBA is moving toward a faster, quicker pace, meaning Monroe can only fit in so many schemes. With the additions they’ve made, Monroe is now just checking a box that isn’t there for him, and the Bucks have to find a way to get some assets for him before he bolts in free agency.
Monroe’s salary is significant, and getting a team to take that deal may be more difficult than originally thought. At over $17 million per season, he’s making more than most on the Bucks’ roster and playing a smaller role than many. It has yet to be seen whether Monroe is happy in Milwaukee, but the writing must be on the wall based on the acquisitions and moves they’ve made this offseason.
Averaging 15.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists, Monroe terrorizes the low post but has had some difficulty with his one-on-one defense and lateral mobility. A double-double machine, Monroe can offer a lot to a team looking for someone to dominate the paint, but do they want him to slow their offense down and create a new scheme around him? It all depends on where he ends up.
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN
NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener
Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.
“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”
That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.
While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.
Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.
While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.
Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).
While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.
Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.
Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).
“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”
Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.
Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.
“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.
For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.
“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”
Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.
The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.
Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics
Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.
Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.
Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.
In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.
Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.
“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.
“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”
The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.
“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.
“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”
Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.
“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”
The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.
“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”
Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.
“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.
“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”
Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.
“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.
“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”
While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.
“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.
“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”
Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.
Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.
Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.
“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.
“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”
You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.
Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.
“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?
“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”
Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.
“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”