The opening day of free agency is rapidly approaching and there have already been tons of predictions made about where free agents are headed. This off season is interesting because it is bound to shake up the NBA landscape because a few superstars could be on the move. For the most part, there is a pretty good general idea of where most players are going to end up. However every free agency there are huge surprises that have fans and analysts alike scratching their heads.
The big domino that needs to fall this year is obviously LeBron James and his destination is ultimately between Cleveland and Los Angeles. Once he makes that decision the rest of the movement this offseason will be much easier to predict. In the past couple of offseasons there have been tons of frivolous spending. However this year it will be more limited because not that many teams have cap space available to spend. This makes it easier to predict which teams will be buyers in this year’s market.
This list focuses on the players that will inevitably re-sign with their team because it is still the best situation for them. Or they will likely be shipped out of town because of a rebuild or poor on court performance. The second half of the list is centered on the big surprises that could happen this year. For example a superstar might decide to pack up and play for a team more suited to win now. Other surprises will be players that have been rumored to go elsewhere but will actually stick around.
20 Inevitable: Isaiah Thomas leaves Los Angeles
Two seasons ago, Isaiah Thomas was an MVP candidate on the verge of signing a max contract with the Boston Celtics. He has taken a dramatic fall from grace since then and now he is in a difficult position as a free agent this summer. He is going to be coming off a major hip injury and he is going to be looking for big money because he has been underpaid pretty much his entire career. He played relatively well for the Los Angeles Lakers last year before he got hurt and they have been at the forefront of a ton of he off season rumors. However all indications say they are going after the big names on the market rather than trying to re-sign anyone of their free agents including Thomas.
19 Surprise: Marco Belinelli re-signs with 76ers while Redick explores other options
Last season J.J. Redick had one of the best seasons of his entire career playing for the 76ers. He shot an impressive 46 percent from three-point range and averaged 17.1 points per game, the most in his career. The only problem is that his contract was only for one season and it was a massive one-year deal over $20 million. Marco Belinelli played the role of his back up last season and had a terrific season shooting the ball as well. He only shot 38 percent from three but he also put in over 13 points a game. He was on a one-year deal like Redick but it was worth $20 million less. That is why they could let Redick walk this off season even though he just had such a great season for them.
18 Inevitable: Dwyane Wade re-signs with Miami
Watching Dwyane Wade struggle in a new uniform the past two seasons had many fans wondering why he ever left Miami. After he had somewhat of a falling out with Pat Riley and signed with the Bulls two seasons ago, no one really expected him to ever return. Yet at the trade deadline the Cavs tried to get younger and more athletic and shipped D Wade back to city that made him a basketball legend. Last season he proved he can still be a closer for them and come up big in clutch situations. It would make zero sense for him to try to go anywhere else at this point in his career so he is likely to re-sign with the Heat this offseason on a contract long enough for him to retire there.
17 Surprise: Trevor Ariza takes less money to go to the Warriors
The rumor surrounding Trevor Ariza lately is that he is reportedly looking for around $50 million to $60 million in free agency. However the one place where he would take less money to go would be Golden State if he wanted to secure a chance at a championship. Ariza does have one championship to his credit already with the Los Angeles Lakers early in his career, and got close last season. But it could be hard to pass up playing on one of the best teams of all-time. He could sign a low-level one-year deal with them and play a role in a title to get a bigger contract next off season. There will be more money for teams to spend next off season, so this could be a smart move for him.
16 Inevitable: Paul George to the Lakers
There have been rumors about Paul George going to the Lakers for almost two seasons now. It even got so serious at one point that the league filed tampering charges against Magic Johnson and the team because of it. From the beginning it was George who started all the rumors by saying he wanted to play in hometown and turn the Lakers back into contenders. This seemingly gained even more steam this season when the Thunder were not as good as many people projected them to be. They were ultimately bounced in the first round and that is something PG 13 probably could have done with the Lakers this season. With the prospects of LeBron James and now even Kawhi Leonard ending up with him in Los Angeles, it is almost inevitable that he signs with Lakers when free agency begins.
15 Surprise: LeBron Stays Home in Cleveland
Most of the talk about LeBron James this off season has been about him going to either Los Angeles to play for the Lakers or in Houston with the Rockets. However LeBron has so many ties to Cleveland, that it could be just too hard for him to uproot his family and leave once again. Everyone expects James to bolt somewhere else to create a super team like he did in 2010, but he could surprise everyone and stay home. They just added Collin Sexton with their number one draft pick for the future, or they could use him as a trade piece to try and bring in another superstar. They are also in the Eastern Conference and they would have a much easier road to the finals than LA or Houston. They do not have best Vegas odds to land him right now, so this would be a somewhat unexpected move.
14 Inevitable: Mario Hezonja leaves Orlando for Sacramento
Mario Hezonja’s came into the league with a ton of hype being the fifth pick of the draft in 2013 but he has yet to reach his full potential in the NBA. That is why it is almost certain that he will be playing for a new team next season. One team that has been rumored to be interested in him is the Sacramento Kings. Two of the their top two guards right now are foreign born guys and when the team was at their best they had foreign born stars like Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac playing for them. Now Divac is running the front office in Sacramento, so it would not be surprise if he tries to help revitalize Hezonja’s career. He could probably get him for a low level deal, so he could turn out to be a steal he continues to develop.
13 Surprise: Jabari Parker leaves Milwaukee as a restricted free agent
Jabari Parker came into the NBA as one of the best players in his draft class. However injuries have pretty much derailed his career thus far. He has pretty much missed more games than he has played for the Bucks, but he has played relatively well when he has been healthy. With all that taken into consideration, it would be a surprise if another team makes a big offer to lure him out of Milwaukee. One team that could be interested is his hometown Chicago Bulls, they are in need of scoring help on the wing and he fits their timeline to go along with their young core.
12 Inevitable: Zach LaVine re-signs with the Bulls
Zach LaVine has not done much in a Bulls uniform to warrant a contract extension, but he is still one of the more exciting young players in the NBA. He is one of the key pieces Chicago got in return when they traded their all-star Jimmy Butler last season during the draft. That is the main reason why they will be hesitant to let him go this off season. Considering his injury history and his down season when he was on the court last year, he likely will not have that many teams interested in luring him out of the Windy City. That should make it easy for the Bulls to either wait to extend LaVine until next season, or try to get him to sign a discounted long term offer sheet. It is more likely than not that he will still be in a Bulls uniform on opening night next season.
11 Surprise: Julius Randle to the Dallas Mavericks
Julius Randle battled through injury and was mostly average through his first three seasons. However last year something clicked for Randle and he was arguably the best player for the Lakers all season. That breakout performance puts the Lakers in a tough position this off season with Randle’s contract. If the Lakers sign the two max players they are going after, then Randle is likely gone. However if they do not get a big time free agent they have to bring back Randle, but by that time it could be too late. The Dallas Mavericks have reportedly shown interest in Randle and they are his hometown team, so they are a likely destination if he does leave.
10 Inevitable: Greg Monroe leaves Boston for Miami
When Greg Monroe was traded to Boston it was thought that he would be a great fit in helping them down the stretch in the playoff chase. He was not getting the playing time he wanted in Milwaukee and Phoenix, and he thought that would change playing for the Celtics. Yet that was not the case and Monroe rode the bench pretty much throughout the entire postseason. After falling completely out of the rotation again, it is smart to think Monroe will look to switch teams again in free agency. There have been rumblings that Miami has looked into signing Monroe and he could be a good fit playing alongside Hassan Whiteside in the frontcourt because he can hit a fifteen to 20 footer to spread the floor. Whiteside would also make up for him being a liability on defense.
9 Surprise: DeMarcus Cousins re-signs with New Orleans
DeMarcus Cousins missed nearly half of the season last year with a torn achilles and the Pelicans still had a great year and made it to the playoffs. They even won their first round series something they could not get done when they had Cousins available. That is why most people expect him to walk away from New Orleans as a free agent this off season. That feeling grew even stronger when Cousins unfollowed the Pelicans on Instagram. However the Pelicans might still be the team that offers Boogie the most money and the best chance to win. That could mean he could surprise a lot of people and re-sign with the Pelicans if they are one of the only teams to offer him a max contract.
8 Inevitable: The Magic Extend Aaron Gordon
Aaron Gordon is one of the only members of the Orlando Magic that the casual NBA fan would recognize. That is why it would be catastrophic for them to lose him this summer. He is a restricted free agent, so they will have a couple of days to match an offer another team puts in for him. If it is a max contract they could pass and decide that he is not worth that type of investment. However they will likely try to extend Gordon before he hits unrestricted free agency next season and leaves for a better team. The Magic knows as well as any other franchise how bad it hurts to lose a big man to free agency (Shaq in 1996), so they will likely look to re-sign Gordon this summer before history repeats itself.
7 Surprise: Clint Capela goes to the Suns
Last season Clint Capela solidified his status as one of the best young big men in the game. He stepped up as the third member of the Rockets big three last season and they rarely lost with him, CP3, and James Harden on the floor together. He is not a center that can stretch the floor, but his shot blocking and rebounding make him a great throwback center. The Rockets have a ton of players that will be free agents this season and it is going to be hard to retain everyone from last season’s squad. Capela could be the hardest of that group to keep because he could receive a max offer from another team. There have been rumors going around that the Suns love Capela and would offer him a max deal. If this happens the Rockets could decide that he is not worth the max contract and let Capela walk.
6 Inevitable: Tony Parker re-signs with Spurs
Tony Parker is arguably the greatest San Antonio Spur point guard that has ever lived. That is why it would be shocking to see him play anywhere else because he will probably hang it up at some point soon. Even though Kawhi apparently wants out of town, the Spurs have a history of having their legends go out on their own terms. David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobli all got a final contract with the franchise even though they were not the same players at the end of their careers. However Parker’s game has always been based off of his elite quickness and ability to get to the basket unlike those other players. He might not be as valuable at the end of his career as they were, but he still has a legacy with the team. For that reason it is likely that he re-signs with them and ends his career where it started, in San Antonio.
5 Surprise: Avery Bradley stays in Los Angeles
Avery Bradley has bounced around the league as much as anyone the past couple of seasons. That is why it would be a surprise to see him stick around through the massive rebuild that the Clippers are going through. However Bradley is still a serviceable 3 and D player in the league and he can still be a solid contributor on any team he is on. He is an unrestricted free agent, so many people around the league expect him to try and sign with a contending team and that would exclude the Clippers. However if they are the team that offers him the most money then he could surprise so people and re-sign with them.
4 Inevitable: Chris Paul re-signs with Rockets
If Chris Paul did not get injured in game 5 of the western conference finals, then they would have probably dethroned the Golden State Warriors. That series was already the furthest that Chris Paul had gone in his entire career. At this stage of his career Paul is all about winning the championship that has always eluded him. Getting that close to the promise land with James Harden and the Rockets in their first season together pretty much solidified that he will re-sign with them. This becomes even more of a done deal if LeBron decides to take his talents to Houston as well. There have been murmurs of Paul teaming up with James in LA with the Lakers, but it is far more likely they do that in Houston.
3 Surprise: Dante Exum re-signs with Utah
The next restricted free agent on the list, Dante Exum was drafted in 2014 as well. He has yet to make the impact that the Utah Jazz thought he would make since then. Injuries have played a big role in that, but he still has not played up to his potential when he has been healthy. In year one Donovan Mitchell leap frogged Exum on the depth chart easily, so that might make Exum expendable moving forward. Since he is a former lottery pick and his cap hit will be close to $15 million, he will stay with them. This is surprising considering his injury history and the logjam the Jazz have at point guard.
2 Inevitable: Kevin Durant re-signs with Warriors
One of the biggest surprises in free agent history is when Kevin Durant decided to go to Golden State in 2016. He received a ton of backlash for that decision, but has won every NBA finals MVP award since. That is why it is extremely unlikely that Durant will opt out and sign anywhere else but with the Warriors to go for three straight championships. The combination of him, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green probably will not last forever, so he needs to make sure they can at least go for one more title together as a group. Both Klay and Draymond will be free agents in the next two off seasons respectively and they will have to go deep into the luxury tax to pay all of them.
1 Surprise: Tyreke Evans stays in Memphis
Tyreke Evans was pretty much a forgotten player since his amazing rookie of the year season in 2010. However this past season he looked rejuvenated and turned back into the big time scorer he once was. That performance has made him a hot commodity going into this free agency period. With a lot of teams interested in him, that makes it far less likely that Memphis will be able to retain him. He is thought to go somewhere else because Memphis might try to go into rebuild mode. But if they keep Gasol and Conley to go along with their new first round pick Jaren Jackson Jr., then they could surprise people and bring back Evans to try and make the playoffs next season.