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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 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’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.
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.
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