The NBA offseason is going to begin soon, and there's already a lot of speculation as to what may happen in the 2017-18 season. There's no shortage of big names set to hit the market, and that's before you factor in any trades that may be completed as well. While this ensures that the intrigue level will be high for this offseason, it's never too early to begin thinking about what the implications will be for the 2018 offseason period.
Indeed, much of what ends up happening during this offseason will have a direct effect on the moves that the next one brings. There's a ton of star-power on the market in 2018. While some of these names will inevitably end up resigning with their incumbent teams, many will be looking to make the move to a new franchise. Given that it's so far off, there may be trades involving these players as well, which would further shake things up. Either way, the 2018 offseason is going to be chock full of the NBA juggernauts who will be looking for a new contract in free agency. Let's take a look at who will be going where.
Ranked below is a projection of where the top 15 NBA free agents of 2018 will sign.
15 Rajon Rondo: Toronto Raptors
The Rondo experiment in Chicago definitely wasn't operating at an optimum level this season. He struggled with some notable injuries, and missed some time along the way. As a whole, Rondo looks to have lost a step from his prime days with the Celtics, and there seems to be little incentive for the Bulls to keep him for the long haul.
That means that Rondo will be looking for a new team, and there's only a few that seem like ideal fits. Given the fact that the Raptors are likely to lose Kyle Lowry in free agency for this offseason, they'll need someone to effectively run the point, and Rondo could end up fitting the bill. There's some nice talent on Toronto's roster right now, which would help to compliment Rondo's game there.
14 Blake Griffin: Los Angeles Lakers
One of the most frustrating players in the NBA, because he never seems to take the next step into becoming a truly elite player, Griffin could end up in a plethora of situations after the 2017-18 season concludes. The Clippers as a team seem to be swirling the drain, and there opportunity for a deep playoff run as the roster stands now doesn't seem to be available.
They're going to be moving on from some of their historically important pieces this season, and Griffin very well may be one of those names. A move across town to the Lakers would fit his penchant for the highlight reel, and make him an established veteran on a young, but super-talented roster who is going to need some guidance in the proceeding years. Griffin would be a perfect fit for the glitz of the Lakers organization.
13 Rudy Gay: Philadelphia 76ers
Even after years now of tanking, the Sixers are still trying to work out some kinks in their roster. There's no doubt that Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and likely Ben Simmons have the potential to be a great circle of stars, but injuries and general inconclusiveness has gotten in the way of determining that. One thing is clear though; they desperately need a shooter.
Gay is a league veteran who is still a high-level scorer. The Kings are just embarking upon a total rebuild of the roster, and someone like Gay just won't fit the long-term plans. He could however be an asset to the Sixers as a player who can hit the jump shot with consistency, and push the team over the hump into a decent playoff position. Given the young talent on the team, he wouldn't have to be a primary player, and could simply fill a role. This isn't their only option, but if the Sixers don't procure a pure shooter this offseason, consider Gay to be a top option.
12 Kevin Durant: Golden State Warriors
This one is a guarantee. No chance that the Warriors don't bring back the second half of their elite tandem. Steph Curry and Durant are going to be dominating the Western Conference for the foreseeable future, and Golden State undoubtedly wants to ensure that will happen. After some initial questions about how he would fit in the Warriors' dynamic, Durant had a stellar season, removing all doubt from everyone's minds.
Truly, the Curry/Durant combination should run roughshod over the West for quite some time. They're a pair of some of the best players the league has to offer. The Warriors know they need to keep them intact if they want to continue their reign of dominance, even if it comes at an expense of losing some role players. Durant is going to be paid a premium contract to stay, and he deserves all of it as far as Golden State is concerned.
11 Pau Gasol: Retirement
After a long, storied career that has seen Gasol ascend to the greatest heights that an NBA player can possibly get to, it's likely that he retires after next season. He missed some fairly significant time this year, and at nearly two decades in the league, the years have finally seemed to have taken a toll on him.
Granted, playing in San Antonio for a coach the caliber of Gregg Popovich is probably the most ideal scenario he could find himself in right now. Still, he's going to be nearly 40-years-old by the time next season's free agency comes around. Gasol has been one of the best big-men in the league for years now, but once his present contract is up, it's unlikely he'll be up for another go-around.
10 Avery Bradley: Milwaukee Bucks
In a nearly unprecedented situation, the Celtics currently sit with the 1st-overall pick in the NBA Draft this year, despite the fact that they had a roster that earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference. This creates some confusion as to what exactly their plan is for the roster going forward.
Bradley remains one of those players in question. It's clear that he's a quality complementary piece to a star player (such as Isaiah Thomas), but that doesn't mean he's going to remain on the roster when his contract is up. Frankly, it wouldn't be surprising for the Celtics to let him walk. A team like the Bucks who have some nice pieces in place at multiple positions may be a candidate to pay up for him. This move could all of a sudden bump Milwaukee up to the upper echelon of the East.
9 Aaron Gordon: Miami Heat
The former 4th-overall pick has been slightly underwhelming during his NBA career so far, but Gordon was able show enough flashes of brilliance this season to keep his future bright. There's also the fact that the Magic are an absolutely dumpster fire from the top down, and haven't done Gordon any favors in terms of providing him with adequate personnel.
When it comes down to it, Gordon will still be in his early-20s after this season, and likely looking for a way out of Orlando. Remaining in-state and jumping ship to the Heat makes a ton of sense for him. Miami already has some high-quality young players in Goran Dragic and Hasaan Whiteside, which would give Gordon opportunity to step in right away and hit his peak potential. This is a sensible move, and eventually the best option for Gordon's career as a whole, as opposed to the wasteland that is the Magic right now.
8 Brook Lopez: Boston Celtics
Boston needs bigs right now, and Lopez may be the best pure center available on the market next year. They likely won't have to worry about Brooklyn resigning Lopez, as they're another team on the cusp of a complete rebuild. With some savvy cap clearing maneuvers, the Celtics would probably be able to afford him, which would give their roster the depth it needs at multiple positions.
Lopez is in the prime of his career, and playing like it. He's one of the top scoring centers in the league, and is a good enough shot-blocker and rebounder to keep him on the floor for the vast majority of the time. This would vastly improve Boston's roster, and give them the presence in the paint to match up with the best in the Eastern Conference.
7 Gordon Hayward: Utah Jazz
The Jazz had a surprisingly effective season this year, and won their first playoff series in the better part of a decade. Hayward is an important piece of their roster, and their second-best player in overall talent next to Dante Exum, who has suffered with some injuries early in his career. The hope is that the pair can continue to grow, and turn into a tandem that can eventually lead them on a deep playoff run.
Hayward is unquestionably worth the money for Utah. He's a homegrown talent who they are counting on to boost the team into the upper echelon of the Western Conference, which isn't so farfetched now that they're won a playoff series with the core group. It may not be a flashy move, but it's one that has to happen as far as the Jazz are concerned.
6 Joel Embiid: Phoenix Suns
We finally saw Embiid step onto an NBA floor this season after several years of injuries hindering his ability to play. The results were phenomenal...when he was on the floor. Embiid still only played in a mere 31 games this season, and it's fair to wonder at this point if he's ever going to be healthy for a full 82-game campaign. This is the sole issue that the Sixers are having right now, and it could prove to be the one that ultimately severs Embiid's stint with the team.
The upcoming season is the make-or-break year. If Embiid can't get healthy, then the Sixers simply can't afford to pay out for him. All things considered, it's a toss up, but I'd put the money on Embiid not being back with the Sixers after next year. His style of play and injury history just isn't conducive to remaining healthy for the required amount of time. A team like the Suns could take a flier on him in hopes he could recover well enough to form a flat-out dangerous duo with budding star Devin Booker.
5 DeMarcus Cousins: New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are sitting on a goldmine right now with both Cousins and Anthony Davis on the roster. It's a no-brainer that they'll end up resigning Cousins, who they gave up a ton of assets in a trade with the Kings for. He's one of the premier scorers in the league, and has a chance to really take the team over the hump once he has the chance to play a full season with them.
So yeah, this is one that's guaranteed to happen. Cousins is a player that New Orleans can't afford to leave behind as a cap casualty, and ultimately should be the catalyst that gets the Pelicans into the upper echelon of the league. Combine his skill set with Davis', and you have a duo that can match any other team in the league.
4 Chris Paul: Detroit Pistons
Given the aforementioned problems that the Clippers are having, it would not be surprising to see Paul go the same route as Griffin, and move on to another team. He's still a premier point guard in the NBA, and Paul can dish out the rock with the best of them. The Clippers ship is collapsing fast, and Paul would be wise to seek better fortunes somewhere else in the league.
The Pistons really would be an interesting destination for him. He would immediately be the best player on the Detroit backcourt, and would elevate the game of bigs Marcus Morris and Andre Drummond. It's safe to say that the Pistons would be much better off with Paul's services, and he would be simultaneously be giving his career a fresh start.
3 Dwyane Wade: Cleveland Cavaliers
In a way, this makes too much sense not to happen. Wade and LeBron James formed a tight-knit bond during their days on the Heat together, and there is suspicion that Wade only remains in the league to once again reunite with King James on the Cavaliers. Of course, given his age, and the presence of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, this time Wade wouldn't be asked to shoulder the load.
But LeBron seems capable of playing at an elite level for at least a few more years, and if that happens, Wade could end up coming to Cleveland to team up with him one last time. It would probably serve more as a personal nostalgia trip for LeBron more than actually making a difference on the court, but it remains a distinct possibility.
2 Andrew Wiggins: Minnesota Timberwolves
The former 1st-overall pick really came into his own last year, and had his best season yet in the NBA. Wiggins is simply a dynamic player who is going to be a massive star for a long time. He's not even hit his peak potential yet, and he's already one of the league's best young players. It's a given that the Timberwolves are going to bring him back, as he's their most important player.
Plenty of other teams would be chomping at the bit to be able acquire Wiggins, but it's not going to be in the cards. The Timberwolves want continuity with there young star, and build their roster into one that can compete for a title when LeBron, and to a lesser degree Curry start getting up there in age. Wiggins is the most important aspect of that plan over the long-term.
1 Isaiah Thomas: New York Knicks
In what may turn out to be the most surprising move over the last few years in the NBA, the Celtics may actually not be interested in keeping Thomas for the long haul. It's easy to forget that Thomas hasn't always been a star in the league. That's something that's come about only during his time on the Celtics; in other words, two years out of his eight-year career. While he's still relatively young at age 28, his trajectory hasn't been the steadiest.
Consider the fact that the Celtics hold the 1st-overall pick in this year's draft, and there's tons of high-quality backcourt prospects that could end up making Thomas expendable. He may be good, but his new contract is going to be among the highest in the league, and the Celtics may want to allocate their financial resources elsewhere. If that happens, a move to the rival Knicks could be in order, as they desperately try to build a roster that works with what Phil Jackson wants to do.
Regardless, Thomas isn't a surefire bet to return to Boston with the team having an opportunity to get a blue-chip backcourt player in the draft this year in Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball.