As organizations have slowly started coming around to the realization that the NBA entry draft is a bit of a crapshoot, especially in today’s “one-and-done” era, more and more have shifted their team-building strategy to focus on free agency. Free agents are battle-tested, tried and true products. Why endure years of tanking, or risk giving up valuable assets for a potential superstar when you can go out and buy a proven one?
The Boston Celtics may have unintentionally started this revolution nearly a decade ago when they formed their “Big Three” through the free agent signings of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. The Miami Heat would up the ante a few years later, and now suddenly “superteams” stacked with All-Stars using free cap space have become the rule rather than the exception. Add to this mix the rising salary cap, and teams now have a brief window of unprecedented spending ability before the market catches up and contracts balloon.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the 2017 free agency class will likely set the course of the league for the next 5+ years. There’s a lot of star power at the top, and many experiments both short and long term that could come to an end depending on how the season unfolds. Will the Clippers finally break through in the playoffs? Will their core get blown up in the offseason regardless? How will the Warriors pay all their stars? It’s obviously way too early to know the answers to any of these questions, but looking into our crystal ball, we can make some educated guesses about who might go where based on league trends and, of course, the endlessly churning NBA rumor mill. Here are the fifteen best players who are slated to come off the books after this season, and the places they might be heading.
15. George Hill – Boston Celtics
Solid if unspectacular, Hill is just the sort of overlooked piece that can help a team over the hump. He began his career as Tony Parker’s backup with the vaunted Spurs before making the leap to starting point guard for the Pacers. He made most of his impact with those two teams on the defensive end, and Utah decided to bet on that pedigree this offseason by trading for him. Though he’s missed a significant number of games this season due to injury, the early returns have been promising, with Hill averaging a career-high 18.5 points per game. At 30 years of age, he’s not likely to get much better, but he can still be a real difference maker as a starter or backup.
A proven winner with great character and veteran poise, Hill will be highly coveted this summer by playoff teams looking for a low-risk move to put themselves in championship contention. Look for the Boston Celtics to make the best offer as they try to catch up to the Cavs in the East.
Other possible destinations: Utah, Chicago, San Antonio
14. Greg Monroe – Indiana Pacers
Assuming Monroe’s option isn’t picked up, he could hit the free agent market this summer. Monroe’s value seems to have taken a dive recently as teams have moved away from traditional post play, but he still has the talent that once made him a top-10 overall pick. Although he’s as talented a low post scorer as you’ll find, what makes him truly unique is his passing ability at the center position, making him an ideal fit for offenses that emphasize quick ball movement. His average-at-best defense and limited shooting range mean he’ll be most effective surrounded by good defenders and shooters who will mask his deficiencies and make his strengths stand out.
At just 26, it’s possible Monroe still has some room to grow as a player, and his blend of maturity and youthful potential could make him a good fit for an older team hoping to add some fresh legs, or a rebuilding team looking for some veteran depth. He’d be a solid piece for the Pacers.
Other possible destinations: Utah, San Antonio, Boston
13. Jeff Teague – Indiana Pacers
A former All-Star with Atlanta, Teague’s gotten off to a rough start on his new Pacers squad thanks to injuries, but as of late he’s started to regain his old form. His quickness, playmaking and knack for scoring give opponents headaches when trying to defend his drives. With point guards being all the rage these days, his package of skills will be highly sought after by teams in win-now mode, especially given that he’s right in the middle of his prime.
Indiana seems like a good fit on paper going forward, but they could look to blow up the roster if they endure another underachieving season. Playoff teams looking for an upgrade at the point of attack will be lying eagerly in wait to acquire his services.
Other possible destinations: Chicago, Milwaukee, Sacramento
12. Rudy Gay – New Orleans Pelicans
Gay’s strengths and weaknesses are by now well documented, as he’s put up almost identical numbers every season since his sophomore year. An 18+ point per game scorer for his career thanks to his spring-loaded legs and smooth midrange shooting stroke, he doesn’t really contribute in any other area of the game, being an average passer and apathetic defender at best. However, as he moves into the back end of his career, it’s possible Gay might be able to give up his starter’s status and become a huge weapon coming off the bench.
He’s rumored to want out of Sacramento after this season (who can blame him?) and his scoring prowess and crowd-pleasing aerial displays will likely get him looks from teams thin on depth and scoring. Playing second fiddle behind some younger stars in New Orleans seems to be the ideal situtation for Gay and could help put the Pelicans over the top.
Other possible destinations:, Phoenix, Charlotte, Oklahoma City
11. Derrick Rose – New York Knicks
He may never be the same player he once was, but the former MVP can still tap into that vintage form for short bursts. Even if he’s only 80% of his former self he’s still one of the most explosive guards in the game, and only figures to improve as he regains confidence. He’s managed to stay relatively healthy in his maiden season as a Knick, looking better than he has in any of his previous post-knee injury seasons and providing the occasional highlight play to the delight of the Garden faithful.
New York will likely want to keep him around for his star power, particularly if he keeps playing at this level, but if Rose tires of the spotlight and constant scrutiny, he may decide to jump ship and move to a smaller market. If you had to make a definitive call though, we see Rose staying in New York.
Other possible destinations: Brooklyn, Dallas