Every summer has the potential to be monumental when it comes to changing the landscape of the NBA. However, it has been a while since we faced a summer that could change the league as much as this one might. The 2018 free agency class is strong, and it could rival that of many other years. The first thing we have to keep in mind is that the best player in the world will most likely test the market this summer. Yeah, and you all remember how crazy the LeBron James free agencies have been in past years. But not only LeBron, other superstars like Paul George, Chris Paul, DeMarcus Cousins, and even DeAndre Jordan will be in the market when the summer rolls around. With that in mind, we decided to make a list filled with surprises as well as things that are obvious. After all, there are moves we have been hearing about since the season began. Some of these rumors we heard so often and from so many sources that it will almost be disappointing if they don’t come to fruition.
Meanwhile, as the season progressed, several other potential free agency storylines have developed, and they could change the shape of the NBA as well. So, without any more waiting, here’s our list.
20 Surprising: Paul George Re-Signs With OKC
Now, common sense is telling us and everyone around the league that the right thing for Paul George to do is to get out of Oklahoma City and find a new place where he could be happy and pursue a championship. Some people have been saying Philadelphia, but the most common and obvious destination for him would be with his home state club, the Lakers. Still, there are those around the league who believe that there is a possibility that George could decide to re-sign with Oklahoma City. And there are some perks for him to choose that. First, he already had an entire year to adapt to the rest of the team, even though Billy Donovan will have to severely change the system if he wants any kind of success going forward. Secondly, and for some people most importantly, Oklahoma City can offer more money than anyone else because they are the only team that can offer him a five-year deal.
So, there is the possibility of him re-signing. But we believe, as a lot of people around the league also seem to, the decision will come down to him deciding if he wants to play with Russell Westbrook or not. Yes, throughout the year Westbrook tried to delegate a lot of the decision-making and finishing to George, but when the playoffs came around, it was Russ playing hero ball every time down the court.
19 Obvious: Clint Capela Stays In Houston
The Houston Rockets have already proven that brining in Chris Paul was the move they needed to reach the next level and the solution for them going into next season, whether they fall short in their quest of the NBA Championship or win it all, is to bring the band back together next year, and add to their core, not extract from it. Clint Capela is a big part of what made the Rockets successful, and whatever they do with Chris Paul, who's also an impending free agent, Capela needs to be brought back as well.
In fact, when Chris Paul was brought on board last summer, he expressed immediate interest and excitement over playing with the Swiss big man.
“I had an opportunity to play with Clint, Trevor, and James when were in Vegas last week, and that’s what got me so excited. Cause Clint is so raw and ready to work, and ready to do whatever—screen, roll, defend and all that, and I’m excited about the opportunity for me to not only help him get better, but for him to help me get better.”
Capela proved to be instrumental in the Rockets success and there's no reason to think the Rockets wouldn't give the 23-year-old the payday he's earned, after making just over $2 million this past season.
18 Surprising: LeBron Signs With Philly
Now, this is a conversation that only started brewing inside people’s minds towards the end of the season. In fact at this point, we don't know whether it'd be a surprise, or if fans are now expecting it. Much of it was because Philadelphia dazzled everyone with their stunning run towards the playoffs and their campaign throughout the postseason. That was an incredibly young team that succumbed mostly because of their lack of experience. They could have made that series against Boston go all the way to seven games if they only kept their heads cool and made the right plays near the end of the games. So, imagine what would happen if those guys got the experience of a LeBron James added to the team? That is a terrifying thought if you are a fan of any other team in the Eastern Conference.
This is a prospect that a lot of people are starting to work with because Philadelphia does have the cap space to acquire LeBron James and maybe even another superstar.
Yes, the process could eventually turn into a dynasty if they make the right moves during the summer. And if you are LeBron, this is an opportunity to make history that you will hardly allow to go by. It might take a little time for the team to gel together, but this is a very real possibility.
17 Obvious: Dirk Stays In Dallas
Year after year it seems that fans speculate that Dirk Nowitzki is finally set to move on from Dallas, but Dirk has proven time and time again that loyalty trumps chasing rings with star studded teams or going somewhere where he can pad his career totals before he retires. However, Dirk has continued to show his loyalty by taking short term deals with Dallas despite the fact that it's clear they're not set to contend for any titles for whatever's left of Nowitzki's career.
Dirk has said he plans to return for his 21st NBA season despite missing some time in 2017-18 to undergo ankle surgery. Dirk has also reaffirmed that he wants to play out his entire career as a Maverick, even in some tough times for the franchise.
"I've said it numerous times: I want to help push through the tough times," Nowitzki said. "I came into the league here, we had some tough times, didn't make the playoffs a few years. Then we were riding the high time. We won 50 games every year. It seemed like it was easy. We took it for granted. And the last couple of years have been tough, so hopefully I can help the team push through those times."
16 Surprising: Kawhi Leonard Gets Traded
Now some people could call this a surprise, and some might say that it is only bound to happen, but whenever a guy who is a top-three player in the NBA is even considered to be on the trading block, that is big news. Yes, it was surprising to everyone that Kawhi Leonard decided not to play throughout most of the season even after he was cleared by the Spurs' medical staff. Kawhi must have had his reasons, but they didn’t really seem to sit well with anyone in the Spurs organization. From the silence coming from the front office to the complaints made by guys like Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, and even to the harsh remarks that Gregg Popovich made whenever he was asked about Kawhi. Not a single person in San Antonio seemed happy with how Leonard dealt with his recovery. All of those factors put together culminated in a bunch of rumors regarding this guy getting traded.
A lot of this has to do with the fact that he will be a free agent after next season, and if the atmosphere in the locker room doesn’t change, the most likely outcome is that he will leave San Antonio anyway. So, if you are the Spurs, you most certainly should look to trade him. And when teams like the Lakers and Sixers, who have countless young assets, are hungry for a guy like Leonard, San Antonio could certainly bank if they decide to take this path.
15 Obvious: Kevin Durant Re-Signs With The Warriors
Here is one thing most people don’t realize. Kevin Durant will probably be a free agent again this summer. But the thing here is that he will most likely only stay as a free agent for a few minutes or even just a few seconds. The reason for that is that Durant has a player option on his contract that he will most likely decline. But he is not declining so he can move away from Oakland and turn cloak again. No, he will most likely just deny his player option, so he can sign a max contract with the Warriors and make a whole bunch of more money.
This is a move that some people might consider greedy since it will severely deplete Golden State’s ability to reinforce the team during the off-season, but who cares? Certainly not Durant.
He knows that he is probably the second-best player in activity as of now since nobody knows what is happening to Kawhi Leonard, so it would only be fair that he gets paid proportionally to his skill.
This is an obvious scenario that will happen during the summer, but it will also have repercussions for the Warriors as they will most likely have to give up a few assets in order to give Durant the contract he wants.
14 Surprising: Damian Lillard Demands Trade, Ends Up In Phoenix
During his tenure with the Portland Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard quickly went from being an undervalued kid from a mid-level college to becoming one of the premier point guards in the NBA. You will have a hard time finding anyone who will deny that Lillard is one of the best guards in the league today. Lillard is a premier talent, and he has the numbers to prove it. During the regular season, Damian averaged almost 27 points per game and performed countless late-game heroics to lift Portland during close affairs. However, the playoffs this year proved that whatever they are doing up there in Oregon is not going to be enough for Lillard to take another step forward in his career.
This is why we believe that it wouldn’t be too farfetched to imagine this guy demanding a trade just like Kyrie Irving that last year.
Yes, he is their franchise player, but there is not much Portland could do if he decided he did not want to play for them anymore.
And in a way, maybe they could get some valuable pieces going forward if they decided to trade the guy. After all, Lillard was terrible during the playoffs, as he averaged a little over 18 points per game while shooting an abysmal 35 percent from the field.
As for where he could go, there have been whispers this offseason that the Suns are interested in Lillard, but what they could give up is another story. Yes, they have the no.1 overall pick, but it's more likely they'd trade some younger players on their roster, while bringing in Lillard to pair with whomever they draft 1st overall.
13 Obvious: Boogie Stays In NOLA
There were a lot of up-and-coming teams in the NBA this season, but it was hard to find a team that was more fun to watch than the New Orleans Pelicans. And yes, we are talking about both the Pelicans before DeMarcus Cousins got injured and the Pelicans after. They quickly transformed from a team that played around their twin towers to a team that played around just one tower, and even after going through that change, New Orleans still managed to make some noise in the playoffs. Hell, some people even considered the possibility of them beating the Golden State Warriors in the second round. While that did not come to fruition as the Pelicans would find out, they did get a lot out of this season.
This is a young squad that has those key veteran pieces that turn them into a contender in the Western Conference. The fact that Anthony Davis is still developing is also a bright light for New Orleans. So, what is the next big step they should take in order to solidify that future? You re-sign Boogie Cousins. He is still only 27 years old and was putting up the ridiculous stat line of 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game. There are a lot of seasons in which this would get you an MVP.
12 Surprising: Isaiah Thomas Gets A Big Contract With Detroit
It's hard to feel bad for a guy who has an ego like Isaiah Thomas, but we do believe that he was one of the few players who were wronged during this season. Seriously, the only crime this guy ever committed was being traded to Cleveland. He had no say in the negotiation, and it completely turned his career upside down. Thomas went from being one of the best point guards in the NBA, and even an MVP candidate, to becoming someone no team is looking at anymore. This was supposed to be his contract year, the year he would play even better than he did in 2016-17 so he could finally get paid the money he was worth. Or at least, the kind of money he and many people thought he was worth before he went to Cleveland.
Unfortunately, this season served to do the complete opposite of what he wanted. His stock did not go up, it plummeted.
Isaiah was supposed to be one of the most sought-after free agents this summer, but now we don’t hear about anyone even thinking about him. Still, this silence can be deceiving. Thomas proved he can be a premier scorer in the NBA, and there are a lot of teams that could use a guy like him. Most importantly, there are a lot of teams with cap space that will probably strike out with the other top free agents, and here is where he could get a lucrative contract if he is lucky. That's where Detroit could come in. They already have Blake Griffin and there are reports they're shopping Reggie Jackson. That would clear space for IT and Detroit could pair the two together.
11 Obvious: Hawks Try To Move Dennis Schroder
There were not many silver linings for the Atlanta Hawks this season. They quickly went from being a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference to becoming one of the worst teams in the NBA. Just to put it a little bit in perspective, they went from being the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference back in 2016-17, to earning the number three pick in this upcoming NBA Draft. Yes, the Hawks are a perfect example of a team that made the most out of a tanking season. Here is where things get iffy if you are a guy like Dennis Schroder. After drafting him in the middle of the first round back in 2013, the Hawks really thought that he could have been their point guard going forward. But the problem with Schroder is that despite being in the NBA for five years, he has yet to become a reliable option shooting from outside. He can get his point in the paint as he still managed to average more than 19 points a night this season, but he shot a terrible 29 percent from three-point range. And if you follow the NBA, you know that guards who cannot shoot don’t survive in this league very long.
That being said, there are some coaches who would be interested in a guy like this. The first one who comes to mind is Gregg Popovich. So, put yourself in Popovich’s shoes and imagine if you would or not consider trading Kawhi Leonard for Schroder, that number three pick, a guy like Kent Bazemore, and rookie John Collins. Just throwing that out there.
10 Surprising: Melo Agrees To Be Traded To Houston
Before Sam Presti turned the basketball world upside down and made the blockbuster trade of the season by managing to get Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City, Melo had a little list of destinations he told the New York Knicks he would accept to be traded to. Right at the top of that list were both the Houston Rockets and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Sure, it might have been the blockbuster trade of the season, but at the end of the day Carmelo did not turn out to be the influential player Presti thought he would be when he made the trade happen. Either way, you have to respect the guy because, at the time, this seemed like it would be a game changer.
But back to the topic at hand, Anthony always made clear that he wanted to play for either Houston or Cleveland. And the funny thing is that depending on how the Western Conference finals pan out, the Rockets could end up trying to make a move for Anthony. This would be a best of both worlds scenario for everyone since for a trade like this to happen Carmelo could agree to a sign and trade for less money.
It's clear that OKC wants him out of there, and he could turn out to be a good piece for Houston given the way they play.
In exchange, OKC could get the massive Ryan Anderson contract that Houston has been trying to ditch for so long, but he could be a good piece for OKC.
9 Obvious: Carmelo Anthony Takes His Player Option
It's impressive how quickly the mighty fall and Carmelo Anthony is just the latest example of how this can happen even to future Hall of Famers. No one will sit here and deny that Carmelo has been one of the premier scorers in the NBA since he was drafted number three overall in 2003. Through sheer scoring alone, this guy has earned himself a spot in the Hall of Fame. However, his move to Oklahoma City during the summer did nothing but put doubt in people’s minds in regard to whether or not he is still a top talent in the NBA. At 33-years-old, he is as old as LeBron James. But while LeBron had yet another career year in Cleveland, Melo has done nothing but get people to question how effective he can be at this point in his career. And we really shouldn’t put all of this in Oklahoma City since even with the Knicks Melo was already being questioned by both fans and the front office as to whether or not he was worth the money he was getting paid.
Good thing we got to the money because that is exactly why Carmelo will pick up his player option. He clearly did not like the way he had to play in OKC. But given the fact that no one is going to pay him the $28 million he is due next season if he picks up his option, he will most likely take another bad year in Oklahoma City to collect that paycheck.
8 Surprising: Enes Kanter Returns To OKC
What seemed like a promising season turned out to be a learning experience for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Sam Presti and the whole organization found out that creating a big three doesn’t exactly turn your team into a championship contender. Yes, on paper it is hard to deny that OKC was one of the best teams coming into the season. But it turns out that you need a good coach and a system that works to make a team gel and play well together. Like we said before, the Carmelo Anthony trade seemed like it would be the cherry on top, but it turned out to be a nail in the coffin of Oklahoma City. But that was not only because Anthony did not play up to his potential in OKC. The real problem for OKC was that they had to give up one of their most valuable assets to acquire Carmelo.
Many people don’t realize this, but if instead of having Anthony they still had Enes Kanter, it's possible that OKC would have had a much better year.
For sure, Westbrook and George would have more freedom to do what they do because they knew there was another big guy down low to grab the offensive rebounds. It also doesn’t hurt to mention that Kanter absolutely loves Oklahoma City. Now, guess what? He has a player option and could become a free agent. So, depending on how the whole Carmelo Anthony thing goes, Steven Adams could get his Stache Bro back.
7 Obvious: Chris Paul Remains In Houston
Another thing that most people might not realize about this free agency period is that Chris Paul will also be on the market. At least, that is how things are supposed to go as his contract with Houston will run out in June. Nevertheless, the obvious thing that will happen here is that Chris should re-sign with the Rockets. It doesn’t really matter how things will end up by the end of their playoff run. The experiment in Houston worked. These guys were by far the best team in the regular season, and with another year playing together, they could indeed turn out to be the team to take down the Warriors, and take them down in fantastic fashion.
But in order for Houston to do so, they need Chris Paul. Whether many people would like to admit it or not, he is by far the best pure point guard in the NBA. You hear about guys like Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard, who can score in bunches, but they are not true point guards. Westbrook is a stat-padder, and you only need to look at the games to see how much he forces those passes to get his assists. Meanwhile, Lillard is a pure scorer. Paul is different as he always seems to make the right play for his team.
6 Surprising: Westbrook Traded?
Speaking about failed experiments, we could not help ourselves but to bring up the possibility of Oklahoma City deciding the Westbrook era is something that has not happened and will never happen. Yes, we talked a lot about Oklahoma City on this list, but that is because the Thunder are so full of holes that it is almost impossible for you to imagine a summer where there wouldn’t be any big shakeups there. The front office needs to do something because what is happening there is not sustainable. Don’t get us wrong, we will repeat what every single NBA analyst who criticizes Westbrook says because it is the truth. Nobody can say this guy doesn’t compete. He might be the toughest competitor this league has ever seen. You don’t see Westbrook play at 100 percent. You always see him playing at 110 percent or more. However, most of the time that seems to be exactly why his team loses. How many times did we see this happen while he was playing with Kevin Durant, and Durant had the hot hand late in a crucial game, but ended up not getting the ball because Westbrook had to be the one playing hero? Countless times.
Again, you cannot say he doesn’t have passion, but it turns out it is possible to have too much passion. We won’t even get into the merit of him being a stat-padder, which is absolutely true, and you just need to go on YouTube to watch it happen. Either way, there are fans and even people around the league who believe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea for OKC to consider trading their franchise player. It really does seem like you can’t win a championship with Westbrook.
5 Obvious: Toronto Shakes Things Up
We have had a lot of disappointing teams in the history of the NBA, but it seriously will be hard to beat the Toronto Raptors of these past few years. How is it possible that a team can play so well during the regular season but always succumb in the playoffs in the most spectacular of fashions? Seriously, it is almost unbelievable how terrible these guys are in the playoffs. If you have any doubt about that, we will erase those doubts by just telling you what happened in the past five years. In 2014, they were the number one seed in the East and lost in the first round to the freaking Nets, who have since become one of the NBA's worst teams. The following year, they were are also the number one seed and lost in the first round to the Wizards. Next, they were number one again and lost in the conference finals to the Cavs. Then in 2017 they were number two and were swept in the semifinals by the Cavaliers. Then this year they were number one again, and again, they managed to get swept by LeBron James, er, the Cavs.
If you are the owner or the general manager, half a decade of failure should be enough for you to start to shake things up.
For example, DeMar DeRozan proved he cannot be a reliable option in the playoffs. Poor Dwane Casey had to take the blame and was fired. Either way, don’t be surprised if DeRozan gets traded even before the draft, or if Kyle Lowry demands a trade because he can’t take being the only guy who plays in the playoffs anymore.
4 Surprising: Lakers Sacrifice Lonzo For Kawhi
Don’t tell LaVar Ball about this one because he would not be happy to hear that his dear Lonzo could be on his way out of Los Angeles. Yes, when he arrived in L.A. to play for the Lakers, Magic Johnson told Lonzo Ball that he believed he would have his shirt up in the rafters one day and that he would be the guy to bring showtime back to Los Angeles. Then again, the Lakers have this mentality that they want to win now, especially how it seems like they will be approaching this free agency period. You don’t try to bring in LeBron James and Paul George to win a few years from now. No, if you do something like that, you want to win immediately. And while just adding those two guys could prove to put the Lakers back into contention in the playoffs, there is another player on the market who could very well put them in position to dethrone the Golden State Warriors in the West. That guy is Kawhi Leonard.
We already went over the troubles Leonard has been going through in San Antonio and the idea that the Spurs would be willing to trade him. Now imagine if the Lakers try to get into this mix. The only way the Spurs would agree to send Leonard to L.A. would be to get max value from the Lakers, which would mean a trade involving Lonzo. We don’t know if Magic would trade him or not, but it sure would be fun to watch LaVar’s reaction if it ever happened.
3 Obvious: The Wolves Keep Derrick Rose
We talked about teams that are hard to understand, but if we go deeper, we can talk about players who are hard to understand. Among those types of players, there is one guy who rises above the rest. Derrick Rose is a question mark. This guy is impossible to decipher. At some point, he was league MVP and perhaps en route to being one of the best players in the history of the game. Then you turn your head, and when you look back you find out that he is an injury-prone player who probably won’t ever play an entire season without constant visits to the team’s medical department. Then we had his ridiculous tenure with the New York Knicks, in which he literally bailed from the team and did not show up for practice or even games without a prior warning to his coaches or anyone else.
So, those are the problems that might come with a team signing a guy like Rose. However, when he wants to play, he is tough to stop. And a team that was very happy they picked him up late this season were the Minnesota Timberwolves. Yes, they lost in the first round, but Rose was superb when he was on the court. In the 23 minutes he played per game, he averaged 14.2 points and almost 3 assists. But the impressive part is that he shot almost 51 percent from the field and 70 percent from three-point range. Yes, we can pretty much guarantee the Wolves are bringing him back this summer.
2 Surprising: Memphis Trades One Of Their Stars
Yes, there were a bunch of surprises during this season, but perhaps the biggest one regarding the performance of a team happened in Memphis. Who in their right mind would have thought that the Grizzlies would fall so far in just one season? Yes, it had been a while since they advanced past the first round of the playoffs. But since 2010-11, they were always in the postseason. Much of that had to do with the performance of their superstars Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol. Still, even with both of those guys on the roster, 2017-18 was nothing short of a disaster for Memphis.
The only team that managed to be worse than them Memphis in the Western Conference was the Phoenix Suns, and the difference was a single game.
The silver lining here is that they have the number four pick in this year’s draft. Now they could go one way or the other. But given the fact that both Gasol and Conley are over 30, it wouldn’t be too farfetched to imagine the Grizzlies trying to trade them and going into full rebuild mode. Now, just imagine what kind of value other teams could get with the addition of a guy like Gasol. He really is the kind of center who could change a franchise from one day to the other.
1 Obvious: Heat Try To Trade Whiteside
You can’t blame Miami for not trying, because they really tried to give Hassan Whiteside a chance to be an All-Star in the NBA. After the fantastic 2016-17 season he had, in which Whiteside averaged 17 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game, it seemed like he took a step back in his career. All of his averages went down, and he even shot worst from the field. But perhaps the most important factor here is that Whiteside saw a decrease in the minutes he played for Miami. And that is certainly something you saw him talking about in the media. It was almost annoying how many times we had to watch Hassan Whiteside complaining that he was not getting enough minutes. Come on, at some point, you have to realize that constantly bashing how your head coach does things will not get you what you want.
It's simple math. If you want more minutes just go up to your coach and talk to him, he might understand, or he might just say no. But if you go to the media, all you are doing is alienating everyone inside your organization. That is one of the reasons why Miami should and probably will try to trade Whiteside this summer. There are a lot of teams with valuable assets like high draft picks that would be willing to trade for a defensive force like Whiteside.