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Where Will the Top NBA Free Agents Land?

With more than $1.2 billion in cap space opening up on July 1, where will marquee free agents land?

Steve Kyler



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Where Will The Top Free Agents Land?

Unlike most free agency periods, this summer is unique. It’s unique because for the first time in the free agency era, virtually every team in the NBA will have the ability to get to meaningful cap space. It also means virtually every team can pursue a top free agent.

In normal years, there are a small handful of cap teams and pending free agents have months to consider where they might fit and what they might get in terms of offers. None of that is true this summer. Most of the top-tier free agents know roughly what’s available to them, but many have no idea where the market will place them and how desperate some teams might get as they miss on higher profile players.

And while it’s fun to speculate on where guys may sign, this year may be the hardest of any to predict where guys will really land, simply because the market place is so wide open.

With that said, you have come to expect us to tackle the hard things in the NBA – so we won’t shy away from the challenge.

Keep in mind this list is not meant to be anything more than a prediction of where certain key free agents may land. While these predictions come from an educated-guess point of view, they are not meant to be a proclamation that Player X will sign with Team Y, simply because there isn’t enough known today to make that kind of call. We’ll start getting those on July 1.

So with the disclaimer out of the way, let’s jump into the key players of the 2016 NBA free agent class.

Kevin Durant

The initial word from the Durant side of things is that he’ll meet with a small handful of teams, which is believed to include the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami HEAT, Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder. There is a chance that Durant expands the list to include the New York Knicks, but at this point that does not seem to be on the table.

The prevailing thought going into this process was that Durant would ultimately stay in Oklahoma City on a “one-and-one” deal – one fully guaranteed year and a player option year, giving the Thunder one more year and allowing Durant to see what teammate Russell Westbrook does next summer when he hits free agency. The player option is also insurance should an injury occur for Durant. That’s the smartest play for Durant on a number of fronts.

However, sources close to Durant said recently that his looming free agency was incredibly stressful and distracting and that Durant isn’t overly eager to go through this again and that these meetings may be more than just going through the motions. He is genuinely planning to listen to options and see what’s available to him and may make a long-term commitment with whatever team he chooses.

There is still a sense that Oklahoma City could be the front runner and with the moves the team made around the draft to add even more to the team, they did not hurt their cause acquiring Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova.

However, the threat to the Thunder is real. Durant is said to be very interested in what the Warriors could be with him on the roster, and the appeal of the Spurs is equally interesting. Boston and Miami are something of the dark horses, but sources close to Durant say that while they may not be the front runners, both offer interesting appeal to Durant.

One thing that was very clear is that Durant is not looking to drag this process out. He’d like to get to a quick decision and move past the circus. It’s unlikely that this gets decided in the 48 hours of free agency, however Durant is scheduled to launch his new Nike KD 9 shoe in Asia the second week of July and he’d like to have it all locked up in advance of that trip.

The prevailing belief is that the Thunder will win the day, however with how this is going, it’s far from locked.

Mike Conley

The word around Mike Conley is that he’s going to listen to some free agent pitches, but will ultimately give the Grizzlies the last word. That’s simply how Mike is wired.

The belief around the Grizzlies is that Mike will re-sign on the maximum offer they’ll present him on July 1. However, sources close to Conley say that getting his signature will require the team to be aggressive in adding talent to the roster. It’s one of the key reasons the Grizzlies passed on their team option on Lance Stephenson.

As things stand today, the Grizzlies will have about $31 million in usable cap space to add other free agents and still have the means to exceed the cap to re-sign Conley.

The Grizzlies are far from safe on this front, word is the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs all have eyes for Conley and could get a meeting.

The dark horse in all of this is the Brooklyn Nets, who may not get the serious consideration they’d like, but still plan to swing for the fences, according to sources.

At the end of the day, the Grizzlies seem like they are in the driver’s seat, but it’s far from a lock that Conley is back especially if the Grizzlies can’t get meaningful additions in free agency.

Hassan Whiteside

Off all the free agents, Hassan Whiteside might be the most obtainable. While the narrative surrounding Whiteside is that he’ll re-sign if the HEAT put a full max offer on the table, there is a growing belief that Whiteside may forego the HEAT and pick a new team that’s more openly committed to him.

The HEAT have said all the right things publicly, but there continues to be reports that some inside the HEAT organization would rather see the team invest the $20 million in free agent money into another player (or players). That’s not a new story by any leap of the imagination; it’s also why teams the L.A. Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets all believe they have a real shot at signing him.

Whiteside has said he’d like to get his free agency resolved quickly. League sources say money may end up winning out, but if the HEAT play games, there is a real chance Whiteside walks to a new team and the front runner there seems to be the Lakers, although sources close to Whiteside say it’s far from decided until he hears what those teams have to say.

Al Horford

The popular narrative is that Al Horford is leaving Atlanta, and that may well happen. However, sources close to the Hawks say they will give Horford a full maximum offer, meaning if Al leaves it won’t be over money; in fact, it would be at a sizable pay cut.

That’s not going to stop the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers and Washington Wizards from trying to pry him away.

Horford has been one of the players the Celtics have had eyes on for some time, trying repeatedly to trade for him over the last two years. The Mavericks are believed to have Horford just behind Whiteside on their front court wish list, much like the Blazers.

A dark horse in the Horford race is the Miami HEAT. Should they lose Whiteside in free agency, Horford is believed to be the next guy on their list, and the feelings may be mutual.

The smart money says Horford takes the Hawks’ money and finishes where he was drafted, but there is some intrigue to this one.

Joakim Noah

The smart money puts Joakim Noah in New York on a major free agent deal. However, sources say while the Knicks are very appealing to Noah, it’s far from decided where he will land. The Minnesota Timberwolves are said to have interest in Noah and may have some credibility with the hiring of Tom Thibodeau, but sources cautioned that Noah wasn’t running to the Wolves because of Thibs.

The Washington Wizards are another team said to be in heavy pursuit of Noah, with some reporting they’d offer a full max deal to ensure they landed him.

While it’s safe to say the money being equal that Noah signs with the Knicks, there is a sense that a small bidding war could emerge that drives the price up past where the Knicks would go for a player of Noah’s age and injury history, so it’s far from a lock that the Knicks go all-in on Noah at any price.

Dwight Howard

Some were puzzled when Dwight Howard opted out of his remaining $23 million in Houston, believing that no one would offer Howard that kind of money in free agency. That may not turn out to be true.

While Howard isn’t the darling in NBA circles that he once was, there is a belief that he’s the second name on the Knicks’ wish list and could be the primary target for teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, Portland Trail Blazers and Charlotte Hornets. The Dallas Mavericks continue to be a name linked to Howard, although he may be much lower on the list than he was two summers ago.

There is a running belief that Howard could return to the Orlando Magic, but sources close to the Magic and Howard have really downplayed that as a serious consideration.

The smart money says Howard gets another big deal at or near the maximum. The question remains is, where does he land? That’s far from clear today.

Rajon Rondo

The Brooklyn Nets are said to be the front runners in the Rajon Rondo sweepstakes, mainly because they’ll go up to the max to sign him. As crazy as that sounds, there just are not that many starting-caliber point guards in the marketplace and the Nets do not want to be left without a point guard.

The Kings would like to have Rondo back; however, it does not seem like that’s a first-choice option for him.

If the Nets miss on Rondo, which remains a possibility, it’s unclear who the next big suitor may be.

Sources close to the situation say Rondo is not overly interested in being the only new addition, so it’s up to the Nets to make something else happen to strengthen their pitch to Rondo.

The Nets are said to have serious interest in Brandon Jennings, Jeremy Lin, Kent Bazemore and Jamal Crawford among others. If the Nets can land one of those players, they might lock up their shot at Rondo.

Ryan Anderson

There is no shortage of suitors for Ryan Anderson. It’s believed that Anderson is one of the top names for the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Wizards, Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings.

Anderson was someone the Rockets pursued pretty aggressively at the trade deadline and with Mike D’Antoni in as head coach, landing more three-point shooting is a key point for the Rockets.

Anderson had the Wizards on his list of preferred trade teams at the deadline, so there is real mutual interest there.

Anderson is not going to come cheap, so it will be interesting to see how high the bidding gets.

Sources close to Anderson say he’d prefer a playoff team, so that might make offers from teams like Sacramento tough, unless they set the price tag so high he can’t refuse.

The Staying Put Squad

There are a few notable free agents who are unlikely to go anywhere:

DeMar DeRozan

The worst kept secret in basketball is how much DeMar DeRozan wants to re-sign in Toronto. Barring some kind of meltdown, it’s expected DeRozan and the Raptors consummate a new maximum deal on July 1 – locking him in with the Raptors for a few more years. DeRozan is not expected to meet with other teams.

Nicolas Batum

The same may be true of Nic Batum. He and the Hornets want to reach a new deal; the question is, at what price? The Hornets are expected to meet whatever is necessary and this one may get done quickly too.

Evan Fournier

Evan Fournier will be a restricted free agent and the Magic have been planning to match offer sheets. Evan may have to find his price elsewhere, but even a maximum offer likely gets matched. One of the key reasons the Magic were open to trading Victor Oladipo was knowing they were bringing Fournier back. Barring something nuts, the odds Fournier is not back are pretty small.

Andre Drummond

Andre Drummond’s free agency is more about process. Had he done an extension last summer, that new number kicks in with the new cap year on July 7 and would have limited the Pistons’ cap flexibility. In waiting, the Pistons pick up about $14 million in cap space to play with and can use Drummond’s Bird Rights to re-sign him after they spend. This one is about as done as it can be and is simply a cap maneuver.

Bradley Beal

Beal’s situation is very similar to Drummond’s because had the Wizards done an extension, it would have bit into their cap space this summer. Waiting was just about preserving cap space, not any sign of hesitation on doing a max deal for Beal.

Here are some things to know about the upcoming free agent period. Teams are eligible to talk about new contracts with players beginning July 1 at 12:01 a..m EST, nothing agreed to is binding until July 7, which will be the first day that new contracts not related to drafted rookies can be signed. Nothing becomes official until the NBA approves the contract.

While it’s believed the new salary cap will clock in at $94 million, the final agreed numbers will not be locked and released until July 6, after the NBA and the Players Association complete their end of year audits.

There is always a chance that the cap goes up slightly once the final math is checked.

Basketball Insiders will drop our annual NBA Free Agency Diary on Thursday and it will include all of the news, rumors, trades and speculation surrounding free agency all in one easy to read place. Keep an eye out for it.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba and @CodyTaylorNBA .

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.


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NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Path Back to the NBA Finals

In the wake of Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Bobby Krivitsky examines the Los Angeles Lakers’ path back to the NBA Finals.

Bobby Krivitsky



It’s been 15 games since a high ankle sprain sidelined LeBron James. 

With the Western Conference standings congested and Anthony Davis already out due to a right calf strain and a re-aggravation of his right Achilles tendinosis, the Los Angeles Lakers faced the threat of a fall that would require their participation in the play-in tournament.

However, the Lakers have fought admirably in the absence of their two stars, going seven and eight. As a result, their fall in the standings has been painless, going from third at the time of James’ injury to now occupying fifth place in the West.

The primary reason the Lakers have been able to tread water without their two stars is they’ve remained stingy on defense. Since James’ injury, they have the fourth-best defensive rating in the league. That’s despite facing four teams who rank in the top five in offensive rating and six of the categories’ top-10 members.

Right now, the Lakers are 2.5 games ahead of the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, with a 4.5-game cushion between them and the Dallas Mavericks, who are seventh in the conference. That should be a large enough gap to keep Los Angeles out of the play-in tournament, but the two teams are going to converge for a two-game series starting Thursday. For the Lakers, getting swept would re-open the possibility of having to compete in the play-in tournament.

Fortunately for them, even splitting that series would make it unlikely the Mavericks finish ahead of the Lakers in the standings. And help might be on the way for the Lakers: Davis may soon rejoin the lineup, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, meaning there’s a distinct possibility he’s active for at least one of those two matchups. As for James, he’s on track to return in three weeks.

While Los Angeles’ stars are getting closer to making their returns, the Denver Nuggets got dealt a more severe blow when Jamal Murray tore his ACL in a recent game against the Golden State Warriors. Denver is 10-2 since acquiring Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline and looked the part of a legitimate title contender prior to Murray’s injury. 

Denver is fourth in the West, 1.5 games ahead of Los Angeles. But even if the Nuggets have home-court advantage, they’re the preferable opening-round opponent, not just for Los Angeles, but any team with a legitimate chance at the fourth or fifth seed.

Fortunately for the Lakers, that’s the place in the Western Conference pecking order where they’re most likely to finish this season. So long as the Nuggets don’t freefall in Murray’s absence, Los Angeles will likely start the playoffs against an opponent that’s gone from having the potential to present the greatest challenge to the defending champions’ quest to get back to the Finals to becoming a desirable first-round matchup.

After that, the Lakers may have to get past the Utah Jazz and or the Los Angeles Clippers to make a return trip to the NBA Finals. The former has the best record in the league this season, but locking horns with the defending champions in a best of seven series is a far more challenging and potentially rewarding proving ground.

The Jazz have a deep, reliable rotation, they have the best net rating in the NBA, they’re in the top five in points for and against per 100 possessions, and they’re attempting the most threes per game, but also rank in the top five in three-point shooting percentage. However, the Lakers would have the two best players in a series against Utah. Usually, an opponent doesn’t overcome that disadvantage.  

As for the Clippers, Rajon Rondo has quickly proven to be an impactful acquisition. Los Angeles is seven and one with him in the lineup, generating the highest net rating in the league during that span. Last season, the Lakers saw first-hand how impactful playoff Rondo can be. Now, the Clippers are hoping he can bring structure to their offense, something they sorely lacked last postseason and was at the forefront of them blowing a 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets. Doing so would go a long way towards maximizing the production of a team that has the talent to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in franchise history.

If this is the year the battle of LA takes place in the postseason, it figures to be a slugfest. Still, the Clippers have their doubters after last year’s meltdown in the playoffs. There’s also a large contingency who are skeptical about how far the Jazz can go in the postseason, given their lack of a top-tier superstar. Despite the validity of those concerns, both teams can beat the Lakers in a best of seven series. That no longer appears to be the case for the Nuggets, which is a shame for them and people who want to see the best possible matchups in the playoffs. But Murray’s injury, as unfortunate an occurrence as it is, makes it easier for the Lakers to get through the gauntlet that is the Western Conference and have a chance to claim an 18th championship, which would break their tie with the Boston Celtics for the most titles in NBA history.

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NBA AM: The Play-In Game – West

With the season winding down, Ariel Pacheco takes a look at how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Western Conference.

Ariel Pacheco



With the regular season’s end in sight, teams are making their last push to make the playoffs in what has been a condensed season. But the new play-in tournament is providing more teams than ever a chance at a coveted playoff spot.

Here is what the new play-in tournament will look like: Teams that finish with the Nos 7 and 8 seeds will face off against each other. The winner of this game will be No. 7. The Nos. 9 and 10 seeds will also play and the winner will play the loser of the first game. The winner of this game will be the No. 8 seed. 

The play-in tournament provides intrigue and adds pressure on teams in both conferences to finish in the top six and avoid the play-in altogether. The Western Conference, in particular, is shaping up to have a rather exciting finish. There are a number of teams who could find themselves fighting for their playoff lives in this year’s tournament – all below in tiers.

Teams Likely To Avoid Play-In

Portland Trail Blazers (32-24)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 11

The Trail Blazers are currently the sixth seed in the West meaning, for now, they are safe from the play-in tournament. However, they are just two games above the Mavericks from possibly dropping down a place. They’re the team most likely to secure that sixth seed because they have more talent than the teams below them – hello, Dame – and they also have an elite offense. However, the defensive concerns are very real and if they were to slip, it would likely be because of their struggles on that side of the ball.

Likely Play-In Teams

Dallas Mavericks

Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 5
Games Against West: 8

On paper, the Mavs have a really easy schedule as the season winds down. They have just five games against teams over .500 and two against the Los Angeles Lakers, who may be without their two stars for those games. However, they are just 10-12 this season against sub .500 teams and are coming off a disappointing loss to the Sacramento Kings. There’s still a pretty good chance they get the sixth seed and avoid the play-in, but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see them in it as well.

Memphis Grizzlies
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 7
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 12

The Grizzlies are often overlooked, but they are about as well-coached as any other team in the NBA. It is likely they will be in the play-in game, but don’t be surprised if they are able to sneak into the sixth seed. They lost last year’s play-in game in the Bubble to the Blazers, so they do have experience in this type of setting. They may be getting Jaren Jackson Jr. back soon which should help. 

Golden State Warriors
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 6
Games Against West: 13

The Warriors are getting just other-worldly performances from Stephen Curry on an almost nightly basis at this point. However, they continue to struggle to win games, in large part due to the struggles when he sits on the bench. Their schedule is pretty light to close the season, which bolsters their chances. The talent on this team isn’t great, but Curry’s play should be enough to get them in the play-in tournament. 

San Antonio Spurs
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 7

The Spurs have struggled of late, especially after the All-Star break. Their defense has dropped off badly, but if there’s any reason to be positive, it’s that they are still coached by Gregg Popovich and their young guys continue to show improvement. They have been really good on the road this season and a majority of their games are on the road. It won’t be easy, but the Spurs should find themselves in the play-in tournament.

Outside Looking In

New Orleans Pelicans
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 9
Games Against West: 11

The Pelicans have been hit with the injury bug of late, but their inconsistent play this season continues to be a huge problem. Their defense continues to bleed three-pointers and while point Zion Williamson has worked, there just isn’t enough shooting to maximize him just yet. It seems unlikely the Pelicans make a late-season run to the play-in game.

Sacramento Kings

Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 14

The Kings are the least likely team to make the play-in tournament. Their defense is still problematic and they just recently ended their 9-game losing streak. It’ll take a huge late-season push and the Kings just haven’t shown that they are capable of putting it all together for a long enough stretch. 

The play-in tournament adds a new layer of competition that will bring excitement at the end of the season. Be sure to check out how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Eastern Conference.

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NBA Daily: The Play-In Game — East

With the play-in tournament just around the corner, Matt John previews who in the Eastern Conference might qualify for it.

Matt John



It’s official: we’re entering the regular season’s endgame. Every game from here on out will have much bigger consequences, a statement even truer in 2021 than perhaps any other season thanks to the NBA’s new play-in tournament.

If you’re not familiar, the play-in tournament will consist of two matchups within each conference. The seventh and eighth seeds of both conferences will face off against one another, while the ninth and 10th seeds shall do the same. The winner of the seven-eight matchup will take their conference’s seventh seed, while the winner of the nine-10 game will face the aforementioned match’s loser for the eighth and final spot in the postseason. It’ll serve as a nice appetizer before the playoffs get underway.

So, now that we have 15 games left give or take, it’s time to get a full scope of who we’re most likely to see in this year’s play-in, starting with the Eastern Conference. There’s really no need to go over teams that have all but clinched their playoff spots like Philadelphia, Brooklyn, or Milwaukee. Just like there’s no need to mention teams that are way too out of a reach for a playoff spot like Detroit and Orlando.

But that does leave ten teams in the Eastern Conference that we could potentially see in the play-in. At first glance, it would sound ridiculous to say that Boston and Cleveland could be in the play-in seeing how they are separated by ten and a half games, but Boston is only two and a half games ahead of Miami for that seventh seed while Cleveland is only three games behind Chicago for the tenth seed.

The best way to evaluate is to divide these into tiers. One for playoff teams who are likely to avoid the play-in, one for teams that are most likely to be in the play-in, and those that are likely to miss out on the play-in.

Likely to Avoid

Atlanta Hawks (30-26)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Six
Games Against East: 13

Replacing Lloyd Pierce with Nate McMillan proved to be a genius move by Atlanta’s front office, as the Hawks have won 16 of their last 23 games. They may have had that stretch where they lost four of five, but that was on a West Coast Trip. Seeing how almost 75 percent of their remaining games will be at home, it’s hard to see Atlanta collapsing. They may be decimated by injuries right now, but the schedule seems a little too easy for them to blow this.

Boston Celtics (31-26)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Four
Games Against East: 10

Much like Atlanta, Boston’s really hit their stride over the past few weeks. Getting healthy and making a few roster changes have helped them rediscover the team that started out so well at the beginning of the season. It’s hard seeing Boston folding down the stretch primarily because they won’t be facing too many strong opponents from here until the regular season’s end. Given their recent strong play, don’t expect an appearance at the play-in tournament.

Likely Play-In Teams

New York Knicks (30-27)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Nine
Games Against Teams Over .500: Eight
Games Against East: Six

Give credit where credit is due. The Knickerbockers are not going away. They’ve stayed the course when many thought this was going to be another wasted year for them. They’ve given no reason to indicate that they’re stopping now. The reason they’re not as sure of a thing as Atlanta or Boston is because, over this last stretch, they’re going to face off against several Western Conference contenders looking for the highest seeding possible. As tough as that’s going to be, the Knicks are going to make each one of them earn those wins, guaranteed.

Miami HEAT (28-28)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Seven
Games Against East: 11

It’s been difficult to get a read on the reigning Eastern Conference champions. They go on stretches that basically even out each other. After starting out 11-17, they win 12 of their next 13, then follow that up by losing their next six games, then win six of their next seven, then finally and most recently, they lose their next three games. No one really knows what Miami’s ceiling is right now. Odds are, the HEAT will probably be in the play-in. It’s just a matter of where. Also, why have we still not gotten any updates on Victor Oladipo?

Charlotte Hornets (27-28)
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Eight
Games Against East: 13

What’s happened to the Hornets over the past few weeks is just straight up not fair. If LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward were playing, they’d solidly be in the same tier as Boston and Atlanta. With their squad fully healthy, Charlotte’s a playoff team, but being down their two best players definitely takes them down a peg. They deserve props that they haven’t rolled over since losing those two, but sadly they’re nowhere near as good as they were with their whole squad. Their schedule is easy enough that it shouldn’t knock them out of the play-in. If LaMelo and Hayward are back by then, then it’s hard not seeing the Hornets get into the postseason.

Indiana Pacers (26-29)
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Seven
Games Against East Teams: 11

It hasn’t been talked about enough how injuries have really shaken up Indiana’s season. TJ Warren’s foot injury was a substantial season-long setback and Caris Levert’s cancer, as miraculous of a story as that was, was another prolonged absence. Overall, Indiana’s injuries have led to a rather underachieving season compared to past results. Luckily their schedule for the rest of the season shouldn’t be too tough, so making the play-in seems realistic.

Outside Looking In

*One of these teams will get the play-in as the 10th seed.

Toronto Raptors (23-34)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Nine
Games Against East Teams: Seven

That’s right, the same Raptors, who only weeks ago were in serious talks to trade Kyle Lowry to the highest bidder, have suddenly found themselves in the fight for the final spot for the play-in. It’s not that they’ve suddenly turned it all around. It’s that the competition is too weak for them to bow out completely. Their schedule may allow them to go all-in on the tank, but maybe one last hurrah with the franchise’s greatest player isn’t the worst way to go.

Chicago Bulls (23-33)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Seven
Games Against Teams Over .500: Nine
Games Against East Teams: 16

Good news: Nikola Vucevic looks like he’s fitting in splendidly. Bad news: The team has been on a downward spiral since his (and others) acquisition. Chicago has only won four of their last 13 games since the trade deadline and their remaining schedule is not going to be a breeze. On paper, they should be a shoo-in for the 10th seed, but the roster holes right now appear to be too glaring for Chicago to take the next step. If they don’t at the very least make the play-in, that’s not going to be a good look after all the moves they made.

Washington Wizards (23-33)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Five
Games Against East Teams: 10

Remember when Washington was one of the worst teams in the league record-wise? And how they managed to only slightly improve themselves over the course of the season? Well, apparently that was enough to get them into the conversation for the play-in because, lo and behold, they’re now tied with Chicago for that 10th seed. It gets better too. They only face two tough challenges from here on out – Lakers and Bucks – but after that, it’s honestly easy enough that they might be the favorite to get that last play-in spot.

Cleveland Cavaliers (20-36)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Nine
Games Against Teams over .500: Six
Games Against East Teams: 12

This sounds the most ludicrous seeing how the Cavs are currently the East’s 13th seed, but being three games behind Chicago while facing only six teams over .500 gives them a fighting chance. If the Cavaliers are actually able to get the play-in, that’s a big stepping stone for their future. It’s an accomplishment to build off of in an era with no LeBron James to speak of, which they haven’t been able to do since Friends was on the air.

As you can see, the play-in has, in a way, brought a new dimension to the NBA season. In any previous season (excluding the last one) no one would bat an eye at the 10 through 13 seeds. Their season at this point would be all but done and no one would care, but because of the possibility of going to a play-in tournament, teams suddenly have the chance to make something of what usually would have been a lost season.

Some teams may get annoyed by it because their time is coming to a close and there’s no need to delay the inevitable. For others, the play-in signifies that it could just be the beginning.

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