Whoever said that "the only constant is change" was probably an NBA fan. While some may decry the predictable nature of the league in a time where the same two teams have met in three straight Finals, personnel turnover nonetheless remains rampant every off-season. Most recently, LeBron James, the anchor to the Cleveland Cavaliers' past three Finals teams, led a frenzy of summer activity by joining the Los Angeles Lakers. That signing served to open the floodgates of player movement, culminating in big money contracts and blockbuster trades that shook up the league. In San Antonio, for example, Manu Ginobili retired, Tony Parker left to sign in Charlotte and Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green went north to Toronto in exchange for DeMar DeRozan.
Regardless of what happens throughout the rest of 2018-19, the winds of change will only continue to blow.
Looking at the current state of the league, there seem to be an inordinate amount of impact players with at least one foot out the door. First, you have an impressive group of greybeards that includes 40-something's Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki. Then, you have a star-studded pending free agent class that is led by Kevin Durant. On top of that, you also have stories of in-fighting and general unhappiness within NBA locker rooms, leaving things ripe for player movement. With the league looking poised for a shakeup on several different levels, let's take a look at seven retirements, signings and trades that could make this summer a busy one.
21 Trade: Gordon Hayward To LAC For Avery Bradley, Montrezl Harrell & Jerome Robinson
It's still early in the season, but it's getting hard to ignore how much better Boston fared last spring when driven by young, inexpensive players like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. While neither Hayward nor Irving should necessarily shoulder blame for the club's slow start, it'll be hard for GM Danny Ainge to accept a situation where the future of the franchise remains stuck behind guys with max deals who aren't getting it done.
A trade with the Clippers, with whom Boston is readily familiar thanks to the Doc Rivers connection, could offer LA a desperately needed star while earning the C's some much-needed long-term cap savings and bringing in some useful pieces. Avery Bradley remains popular in Beantown, Montrezl Harrell has a non-stop motor and Jerome Robinson is an intriguing rookie two-guard.
20 Retirement: Jamal Crawford
If there is any justice in the world, Jamal Crawford will get one more chance at being an unlikely playoff standout on a contending team. It probably won't come on his current team, the Suns, where the 38-year-old is averaging just 12.5 minutes on a young team stuck in the basement of the Western Conference. But if Crawford has any magic left in that dangerous shooting stroke that has made him a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, then he may still be useful to a contender in what looks like his last season.
If a trade deadline deal isn't in the cards, then maybe there's no more fitting place for Crawford to wrap up his 19-year career than in Arizona, which has long been home to many a retiree.
19 Signing: Kemba Walker To Phoenix
The Suns boast an exciting young core based around 22-year-old Devin Booker and 20-year-old Deandre Ayton. What they don't have, however, is a point guard. Isaiah Canaan and Elie Okobo are holding down the fort for now, but are getting over-matched on a nightly basis and are struggling to help Booker and Ayton develop. But with the right sales pitch and their plentiful cap room, the Suns could make a massive upgrade.
Looking to the free agent market, Kemba Walker might be seeking a fresh start away from the frustrating mediocrity of the Hornets. If he can look past their recent losing ways, Walker may find a team with the potential to grow into a perennial playoff contender with him at the helm.
18 Trade: Kevin Love To Milwaukee For John Henson, Donte DiVincenzo & Thon Maker
The Cavaliers' season sheds light on the disarray that the King left behind. The Cavs sit at the bottom of the East and have already undergone a coaching change and trade demands. As things appear headed towards a fire sale, it only makes sense to speculate on the future of their biggest star, Kevin Love. Even as his value has probably diminished, many teams could use an elite rebounder who is dangerous from deep.
How about the Bucks, who seem to be making the jump to the cream of the crop in the East but could use another complimentary piece to pair with Giannis Antetokounmpo. A package of Donte DiVincenzo, Thon Maker and John Henson might be short a few assets (likely draft picks), but would provide the Cavs with three intriguing pieces without any long-term financial commitments.
17 Retirement: Pau Gasol
With so many pro athletes, the thought of retirement is accompanied by some degree of worry over what to do when the sport that has consumed so much of their life from an early age is no longer there. With Pau Gasol, this isn't exactly a major concern. Apart from being a six-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion, the power forward is fluent in numerous languages while maintaining interests in literature, classical music and even the field of medicine.
So even as the Spurs big man has one more year left on the three-year, $48 million contract he signed in 2017, don't expect finances to entirely dictate his NBA future. Now, with Gasol getting fewer minutes than at any other point in his 18-year career, it seems like it may be time to pursue a new passion.
16 Signing: Jimmy Butler To The Lakers
The Jimmy Butler saga is over - for now. The Philadelphia 76ers have played well since trading for the shooting guard, but the pending free agent will only invite more speculation over his future as he inches closer to the summer without a new contract. Butler clearly wanted out of Minnesota, but just because he wound up with the Sixers via trade doesn't mean that's where he's set to stay long-term.
There were reports that had him looking to wind up in LA to team with LeBron James prior to the Philly trade, so that may take on new life once the offseason rolls around. And sure enough, he happens to make a lot of sense as a free agent target of LeBron's Lakers, the kind of player whose talent and competitive spirit jive with James.
15 Trade: Kyle Lowry & Jonas Valanciunas To Detroit For Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson & Luke Kennard
At first glance, this one admittedly doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Why would a team currently sitting at the top of the league standings trade their All-Star point guard and popular center for players who have failed to elevate the Detroit Pistons? Well, this trade hinges on a scenario wherein Kawhi Leonard opts to leave Toronto as a free agent. The Raptors would surely need to change course somewhat and could remain competitive while retaining less salary (Lowry is owed $31 million next year), improving up front and adding a potential-laden shooter in Luke Kennard.
The appeal from the Pistons side of things is considerably more understandable. Losing Andre Drummond would hurt, but Jonas Valanciunas is a valuable big man. Of course, the true prize here would be reuniting Dwane Casey and Lowry, not to mention giving Blake Griffin his best point guard since Chris Paul.
14 Retirement: Vince Carter
It's been 18 years since Vince Carter's iconic 2000 Slam Dunk title, but the ageless wonder can still bring fans to their feet. Look no further than a November contest in the waning seconds of a blowout loss at home against his first team, the Toronto Raptors. Needing just one point to surpass 25,000 for his career and with the crowd cheering him on, Carter followed his own miss with a buzzer-beating slam, showing some hop still exists in that 42-year-old body. Meaningless basket? Sure. Less-than-intense defensive pressure? Undoubtedly. But it still offered fans, teammates and opposing players, alike, the chance to marvel at Carter in his 21st NBA season.
While he hasn't announced any intention to retire yet, the end must be near and it may be telling that the eight-time All-Star chose to sign in Atlanta, where broadcaster TNT is headquartered.
13 Signing: Klay Thompson Stays With Golden State
Okay, so not every transaction this summer stands to be a thrilling and unpredictable one. Klay Thompson's march towards free agency has gone along with little fanfare, largely because no one really believes that he'll entertain offers to leave Golden State. Unlike the media circus that has already been Kevin Durant's pending free agency, KD's teammate has managed to operate without the specter of his decision this summer looming over the entire season.
Why wouldn't Thompson stay? He may not be the highest profile Warrior, but he is recognized as an integral cog, nonetheless, and will be in line for an accordingly big payday. Sometimes, the NBA can be simple: Steph Curry's Splash Brother likes it here, the Warriors surely want him back - let's make a deal.
12 Trade: Markelle Fultz To Orlando For Nikola Vucevic
Needless to say, this wasn't quite what the 76ers had in mind when they traded the No. 3 overall pick and a future No. 1 to Boston to take Markelle Fultz first overall. But after a shoulder injury threw his rookie season into chaos and has developed into a full blown saga in year two. If the Sixers agree that it's time for both sides to move on, an interesting fit could be found with the young Orlando Magic.
The Magic need a point guard and could offer 28-year-old big man Nikolai Vucevic, who is in the midst of a career-best season but is blocking the path of rookie center Mo Bamba in Orlando. Vucevic and Joel Embiid could form a dangerous pair up front to go along with the impressive guard rotation of Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick.
11 Retirement: Gregg Popovich
Although most media members wouldn't dare ask him lest to incur his wrath, Gregg Popovich has nevertheless been a subject of retirement speculation in recent years. The players most commonly associated with Pop's San Antonio Spurs championship teams, such as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, have all moved on, leaving behind a younger and less familiar group. More significantly, Erin Popovich, the wife of the legendary coach, passed away last April.
The bench boss for five championship teams in San Antonio will be 70 in January and while he has more than earned the right to leave on his own terms, it's worth wondering if he's had enough after 22 years.
10 Signing: Kyrie Irving To Chicago
Neither Kris Dunn nor Cameron Payne have exactly locked down the point guard position in Chicago, and so it stands to reason that some of the Bulls' considerable cap space this summer could be earmarked for a free agent floor general. Could Kyrie Irving represent an intriguing fit? Irving seems to have worn out his welcome in Boston, where the Celts are struggling and he's facing increased scrutiny stemming from the club's solid run without him last spring.
If Uncle Drew is, in fact, perceived by Celtics management as too selfish and ball dominant to win with, then the 26-year-old could be on the move for a second time in three years. And the Windy City, flush with cap space and a decent young core that lines up pretty well with Irving's prime, could be poised to pounce.
9 Trade: Andrew Wiggins To Memphis For Chandler Parsons, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks
The Jimmy Butler trade served to put an end to locker room drama between the shooting guard and the Timberwolves, but it also put the spotlight firmly on Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. To date, both men have little to show for their nice-looking stats and elite potential as former No. 1 picks. And Wiggins, who has been around one year longer and has $101 million still owed beyond this season, may be the first to go.
The Grizzlies would be wise to at least put in a call on the 23-year-old. A surprisingly feisty West contender built around now-healthy point guard Mike Conley, the Grizz still rank last in points per game, which is where the athletic swingman comes in. Sure, Memphis would have to part with some young assets to add Wiggins and certainly to off-load Chandler Parsons' contract, but a core of Conley, Wiggins and Marc Gasol might be enough to make some noise in the West.
8 Retirement: Dwyane Wade
For all these pie-in-the-sky crystal ball predictions, this one is the safest bet. After all, Dwyane Wade has already identified the 2018-19 season as his #OneLastDance. He already seems to have an eye towards his post-playing days, having recently announced the birth of daughter Kaavia and with a potential showbiz aspiration on the horizon for Wade, who would be following in his famous spouse's footsteps.
We have yet to hear of many send-offs for the former Finals MVP, but those will surely pick up as the soon-to-be 37-year-old approaches season's end. If the 12-time All-Star can't will his team to the postseason this spring, then an April 9th home finale against Philadelphia will promise to be an emotional night.
7 Signing: Kawhi Leonard To The Clippers
Where there's smoke, there's often fire and there's been no shortage of smoke surrounding a potential pairing of enigmatic superstar Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers. For now, things seem to be going well for Leonard and his new Raptors team, but what that means for the 27-year-old's future is anyone's guess. Few truly 'get' the former Spur and even fewer are actually close enough to him to have any sense on what he wants out of his pending free agency.
It seems pretty clear, though, that Leonard needed to warm up to the idea of playing in Toronto and may still have designs on playing close to home in LA. The Clippers, for their part, are once again in the shadow of the Staples Center co-tenant Lakers, and have interest in the former Finals MVP.
6 Trade: John Wall & Kelly Oubre Jr. To Miami Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside
For some reason, the Miami Heat just doesn't seem to carry the same cache that they once did. Of course, that could change and Riley has certainly surprised us before (just look at the 'Big Three' era), so don't expect the club to remain entirely on the sidelines this summer. Even if the free agent market doesn't produce a difference maker for Miami, the trade market could.
Perhaps they could hit the reset button with John Wall, who needs a fresh start and a break from the Wizards. He and Kelly Oubre Jr. carry the type flash and swagger that plays well in South Beach, but Heat management would surely balk at taking on a point guard still owed $170 million after this year. It could, of course, be made more palatable if the Wizards take on Hassan Whiteside to go along with Goran Dragic, who would surely be more preferable to Washington.
5 Retirement: Dirk Nowitzki
Just like any other Dallas Mavericks fan, Dirk Nowitzki has been watching the new generation of Mavs as they navigate through the highs and lows of the treacherous Western Conference. No, the NBA's seventh all-time leading scorer hasn't called it a career just yet, but he has been sidelined while rehabbing a lingering foot issue. The absence from the court has, however, given the 40-year-old a glimpse at life after basketball, as the likes of rookie Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. take the reins of a team that Nowitzki has led for two decades.
Even when the former MVP does get healthy, it remains to be seen how much he plays after averaging just 9.8 minutes on the court last year. Whenever Nowitzki does decide that he's done, Dallas will surely be ready to offer a Texas-sized send-off to the best player in franchise history.
4 Signing: Kevin Durant To Boston
As of right now, the uneven Celtics look like one of the NBA's bigger disappointments in the early stages of the 2018-19 season. By the summer, though, they could reign as one of the more dangerous wheelers and dealers. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving, who represent two of the club's three biggest cap hits, carry player options for next season, and at least Irving is expected to decline his, thus freeing up cap space.
Could a max salary slot possibly pique the interest of Kevin Durant, fresh off a much-publicized row with Draymond Green and possibly looking to at least test free agent waters? While it's hard to offer a better situation than Golden State, Boston could sell KD on the idea of being the biggest star in a major market while playing on a deep, championship-caliber team that looks poised to contend for years to come.
3 Trade: Damian Lillard To The Lakers For Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram & A 1st Rounder
If KD jumps ship to Boston, the sharks could quickly start circling in a bid to unseat the weakened Golden State Warriors. Durant or not, you know the Lakers will be looking to make a move, as LeBron didn't join LA to be an also-ran. Even as he sings the praises of Lonzo Ball, LBJ likely didn't arrive in La La Land to be part of a developmental curve. Depending on what free agency brings, Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and company could also use some of their young assets to take the trade route towards contender status. Ball isn't the only point guard James is high on.
Earlier this year, he was effusive in talking up Damian Lillard, a superstar who just happens to be the subject of trade reports of his own. If Lillard's Blazers can't shake the label of 'playoff choke artists' this year, a package of Ball, Brandon Ingram and a first might look appealing to Blazers executives.
2 Retirement: Zach Randolph
It's gotten to this point for the man known as Z-Bo - playing cheerleader on the Kings bench while Marvin Bagley III, Nemanja Bjelica, Harry Giles and Skal Labissiere. Those four, combined, comprise less than one-fifth of Zach Randolph's career points total, but represent the youth-oriented direction of the club. When Randolph signed with the team prior to last season, he was viewed as a mentor and locker room leader, but it gets increasingly hard to carry authority over young players when you aren't on the floor with them. Randolph still hasn't gotten into a single game yet this year, even as he makes a team-high $12 million. That deal comes to an end after this season and so, too, might the 37-year-old big man's 18-year career.
1 Signing: DeMarcus Cousins To Boston
DeMarcus Cousins' surprising decision to join the Golden State Warriors on a one-year, $5.3 million pact this past offseason wasn't a sure thing at the beginning of free agency. While the volatile big man knew he wanted to play for a contender and was prepared to sacrifice money to do so, Cousins had narrowed down his choices to the Warriors and the Boston Celtics. Still hurt, Boogie is surely focused on returning to the court and not on another free agent decision this summer right now, but it's entirely possible that Boston will be there once again with an offer.
This time around, they may be able to offer more playing time, depending on the future of aging free agent Al Horford. And given the disappointing start to this season, they will probably welcome the added edge that Cousins would bring.