The NBA Playoffs are approximately halfway finished. There continues to be a strong chance for another Golden State Warriors versus Cleveland Cavaliers Finals rematch. Along the way, a few contenders and challengers have been eliminated.
After suffering a major defeat, it’s normal for a star player to wonder (usually privately) whether he can win a championship with his team. We all know for a fact that Kevin Durant went through that process.
Different players are motivated by different things. Some prioritize rings, others prioritize money and some just want an opportunity to prove they belong in the NBA. Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams generally can offer their own players substantially more money than other teams to convince their players to re-sign. Despite this inherent advantage, here are a few players that may be on the move after suffering playoff defeat recently.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
The 2017 NBA Playoffs have not been kind to the Toronto Raptors. Star point guard Kyle Lowry suffered a sprained ankle in the third quarter of Game 2 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals match up with the Cavaliers. Count the injured ankle as one of many things that did not go the Raptors’ way in the playoffs. With and without Lowry, the Raptors didn’t have any answer to LeBron James and the Cavaliers, resulting to a four-game sweep.
The failure to win a single game against the Cavaliers is made worse by the fact that the Raptors made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last year and won two games against the Cavaliers. After being retooled for the purpose of being able to defeat the Cavaliers, with the additions of forward Serge Ibaka and forward P.J. Tucker, the Raptors failed to win a single game. The Raptors will have to answer many questions this offseason, especially in regards to Lowry.
Lowry will reportedly pass on his option to play out the final year of his contract. Like other potential free agents on this list, if Lowry were to leave, he would likely give up some salary to do so. After coming up short against the Cavaliers again, Lowry has to decide if he is going to return to the Raptors or perhaps pursue greener pastures elsewhere.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers are another franchise facing several important questions going into this summer. Proof of these uncertain times can be found in the recent departure of Team President Larry Bird. The most important question is what to do with forward Paul George. Unlike Lowry, George is the highest paid player on his team and is under contract for the 2017-2018 season. So what’s the problem? The problem lies with the Pacers continued inability to achieve team success anywhere close to their two runs to the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2013 and 2014 NBA Playoffs.
It’s hard to blame George for the Pacers being swept in four games by the LeBron James-led Cavaliers. George averaged playoff career highs in points (28.0), assists (7.3), rebounds (8.8), three-point shooting and minutes (43.0) per game. It’s not clear that the team is on track for continued team success and George has stated that he wants to play for a winning team. The organization might come to the conclusion that they don’t want to allow George to eventually leave and look to trade him while they still can.
Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Unlike every other player on this list, forward Gordon Hayward and his team are still in the playoffs. In fact, reaching the Western Conference Semifinals has to be considered a successful outcome for a franchise that has not reached this point since the 2010 season. In addition, Hayward is having an amazing postseason run. Hayward has increased his scoring (24.0), despite being the primary target for opposing defenses. Hayward is playing well and made it back to the playoffs after not appearing in the postseason since his rookie year. So why would Hayward consider taking his talents elsewhere?
Hayward goes into the offseason with a player option this offseason. He is healthy, in the prime of his career and can call the shots this offseason. There have been a couple of stretches where the Jazz looked like they could compete with the Warriors in the semifinals, however, they face the prospect of being swept in Utah tonight against a very dominant Golden State team. Long term, the Warriors are set to continue terrorizing the Western Conference.
Perhaps Hayward might see greener pastures in the Eastern Conference. The Boston Celtics have tremendous roster flexibility and Head Coach Brad Steven coached Hayward at Butler (as has been pointed out more than a few times). The familiar relationship and potentially easier path in the playoffs present potential allure. In addition, Hayward has attempted to jump ship before. As a restricted free agent in 2014, Hayward signed a max contract with the Charlotte Hornets, which the Jazz matched. With the ability to sign elsewhere without any restrictions, Hayward holds his own fate and that of the Jazz in his hands.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers’ playoff run came to an end on April 30 as the team fell to the Utah Jazz. The loss capped off a series that came down to a final elimination game and standout performances from stars on both teams. However, any realistic hopes the Clippers had of making a deep playoff run came to an end on April 21 when forward Blake Griffin suffered a toe injury that would require surgery and keep him out for the remainder of the playoffs.
Griffin has a player option for next year. Count this as one of many uncertainties for the Clippers as point guard Chris Paul and shooting guard J.J. Redick each have the right to sign elsewhere this offseason as well. There has been speculation that Redick is the most likely player to depart and perhaps for good reason after another disappointing playoff performance for Redick.
After another disappointing playoff and uncertain prospects regarding the team’s future, the stage is set for a potential departure by Griffin. Griffin and Paul have played together for six seasons and it continues to be clear that Paul is the unquestioned leader of the team.
If Griffin desires a chance to put past failures behind him and be seen as a star and a more defined leader, a change of scenery could be the answer.
Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
On February 23, the Chicago Bulls traded two rotation players in forwards Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott without receiving any players in return that would offer any significant on-court contributions. The Bulls still made the playoffs based on contributions from other key players, particularly star forward Jimmy Butler.
With Butler, the Bulls have a two-way star in the mold of LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard: the best player on his team, relied on for the team’s success to an absurd degree and is the team’s best lockdown defender. In addition, he is under contract until the 2018-2019 season at which point he has a player option and the choice of whether to come back for an additional season. So why would the Bulls look to move Butler?
As stated above, the Bulls are a hard team to figure out. They can’t seem to put the pieces together to realistically contend. Yet with such a dominant core piece in Butler, they refuse to miss the playoffs and break apart the team in an effort to rebuild by acquiring assets, draft picks and younger talent from places like the D-League. Trading Butler would immediately jumpstart any such effort but that’s no certainty given Chicago’s history.
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
The prospect of Chris Paul leaving the Clippers may be the least likely on this list. He is the undisputed on-court leader for his team and can earn significantly more staying put. Even if Paul had shown a desire to leave, where would he go? Paul is a fierce competitor and has made it clear he wants to win. If he were to leave, it would have to be a team virtually guaranteed to be a top-tier contender.
With the recent injury to point guard Tony Parker, the San Antonio Spurs present an unexpected and interesting opportunity for Paul. Parker is out for the playoffs after suffering a torn quadricep in his left leg. In 16 seasons, Parker has never played less than 60 games and has been an important piece for the Spurs since he joined the team in 2001. However, Parker has been slowing down significantly and played a career-low in minutes (25.2) this season. Whether Parker returns from this injury and how productive he will be is unclear.
With Parker’s future somewhat in question, the Spurs make for an interesting fit for Paul. The franchise is constantly retooling while remaining extremely competitive. In addition, the Spurs are currently projected to have up to $22.9 million in cap room this offseason. With an opening at point guard and the team looking to be less dependent on Kawhi Leonard for production, it’s possible that the Spurs will look into acquiring Paul’s services.
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