With the NBA Finals here, that means that just two teams will actually still be focused on this season, while the other 28 are already looking ahead to next season. Teams will be contemplating potential trades, evaluating draft-eligible prospects, and assessing the upcoming free agent class. This free agent class will particularly be very interesting since the NBA and NBPA agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that will go into effect next season. If you thought Mike Conley getting $153 million last season was outlandish; you haven’t seen nothing yet!
While every team would like to sign an impending free agent in the mold of Kevin Durant or Steph Curry; you have to be realistic in your goals…or you have to be Warriors’ GM, Bob Myers. But there are plenty of other options that can help a team reach the next level including Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin. Additionally, there will be several big-name free agents on the trade block such as Paul George, Jimmy Butler, and even, LaMarcus Aldridge.
June may signal the NBA Finals but July is when the fun truly begins! The new league year starts on July 1 and then teams can officially sign players on July 6 which means your phone will be blowing up on Independence Day as you learn that Player X is negotiating a deal with Team Y. We are just about a month away from that time so here is a look at the one player all 30 NBA teams could, and should, chase this offseason.
30 Atlanta Hawks – Patrick Patterson
The Hawks seem like a team undecided about its future and doesn’t know if it wants to rebuild or is content at being a #4 or #5 seed each year. Their front office is in transition but with Dwight Howard in the fold and the team wanting to bring back Paul Millsap; it appears they are putting off rebuilding for now. Thus, they could use some steady veterans and specifically ones that could help their bottom-5 offense. If Toronto re-signs Serge Ibaka, then Patrick Patterson would make a great addition as a stretch-4. Both Millsap and Howard will be 32 next season so they could stand to rest a little more and perhaps that will help Atlanta finish better down the stretch.
I don’t foresee the Hawks making any splash moves this offseason but if they could upgrade their outside shooting and get a backup PG (such as Deron Williams), then they may see the second round again.
29 Boston Celtics - Gordon Hayward
The Celtics smartly didn’t trade their top pick for Jimmy Butler at the trade deadline as now they can keep the pick AND sign another wing All-Star. The lure to Boston for Gordon Hayward is obvious as he and Brad Stevens were together at Butler University and Hayward always speaks fondly of his college coach. With all due respect to Isaiah Thomas, you are not going to win a championship with him as your go-to guy and best player. Hayward affects the game on both ends and he is still improving. If watching the Eastern Conference Finals taught us anything; it’s that you have to have a player that will make LeBron James work on the defensive end.
Jae Crowder is a pitbull defensively, but he’s a standstill 3P shooter on offense he doesn’t put the ball on the floor. Hayward would at least prevent LeBron from getting a rest every time he trots back on defense and just watches Crowder sitting in the corner waiting for a pass. Unfortunately for Boston, Hayward will have other suitors outside of Utah (as you’ll see below).
28 Brooklyn Nets – James Johnson
While the Nets would undoubtedly love to land an All-Star caliber player, or two; they have to be realistic. This isn’t the NFL where top players chase after the biggest paycheck without regard to the success of the team; in the NBA the best players want to play with the best teams. James Johnson would represent a B-level free agent addition who would help the Nets on both ends of the court. Brook Lopez isn’t the most-physical center in the game so Johnson would bring some much needed physicality to the Nets as they continue to climb out of the crater they put themselves into with the Celtics trade. Johnson will have tons of offers this offseason which will be a unique situation for him. He’s had to settle for one-year and minimum-contract offers recently but will finally have his pick of suitors. If he wants to win, Brooklyn is clearly not the option; but if he wants to get paid then the Nets become very appealing.
27 Charlotte Hornets – Zach Randolph
Randolph doesn’t fit in with every team but he fits in with Charlotte because they are one of the slower-paced teams in the league. Randolph was rejuvenated this past season in Memphis as a bench player and that’s the role he should undertake in Charlotte. The team never replaced the low-post scoring that Al Jefferson provided when he left for Indiana and the Hornets were among the worst teams in points in the paint last year. None of their bigs are true post players as Marvin Williams and Frank Kaminsky are stretch-bigs while Cody Zeller is a rim-runner with no offensive game. Randolph epitomizes the grit-and-grind mentality that has defined the Grizzlies over the last seven seasons but I think the fans’ perception of Z-Bo is higher than management’s. Another person the Hornets should chase after is a new shooting coach for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who still hasn’t figured out how to shoot after 5 years in the NBA.
26 Chicago Bulls – D’Angelo Russell
With the Lakers lucking into the #2 overall pick, the Lonzo Ball-era is just weeks away from coming into fruition in Los Angeles. That means that the Lakers’ 2015 #2 pick, D’Angelo Russell, should be on his way out of Tinseltown. Every team will be in the market for a 21-year-old point guard who made offensive strides in his second season and the Lakers can also net something in return in a trade. The best landing spot for Russell is in Chicago where he can learn the intricacies of the position from Rajon Rondo (who may not be much of a leader, but he is a good teacher). Russell will also be surrounded by actual NBA talent in Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler rather than just the prospects that surrounded him in LA.
The Bulls have the #16 overall pick that they can dangle in a potential trade along with young players such as Denzel Valentine and Cameron Payne. Chicago would get its point guard of the future while LA would get more young assets and less competition for Ball. It’s a win-win for both teams.
25 Cleveland Cavaliers – Vince Carter
If Carter does return next season, he will be just the 3rd guard in NBA history to play at the age of 41 or older. The other two played a total of 9 games but VC showed he still has enough to play an entire season as a backup wing. Carter may be going to the Hall of Fame one day, but he has never even played in an NBA Finals and joining the Cavs would give him his best opportunity. There is also a need on Cleveland’s side for a backup to LeBron. Richard Jefferson flirted with retirement last season and could go through with his plans this offseason, while Kyle Korver and James Jones are both free agents.
Carter is about nine-tenths man/one-tenth amazing at this point, but he can still stroke the 3P and ranks fifth all-time in made three-pointers. Ring-chasing veterans often get mocked by NBA fans but I don’t think anyone would have a problem if Carter signed with the Cavs.
24 Dallas Mavericks – Serge Ibaka
Dirk Nowitzki has joked for years that he’s going to try and win Sixth Man of the Year by coming off the bench and maybe it’s time for that joke to become reality. Ibaka joining the Mavs would give them perhaps the best three-man big rotation in the game. Nowitzki is the greatest stretch-4 in NBA history while Nerlens Noel is an elite shot-blocker. Ibaka is sort of a combination of the two as a 3-and-D power forward who can also man the center position. The Mavericks played a mind-boggling 9 different rookies last season and they owe Nowitzki to surround him with veterans and make one last playoff push.
Another big man option for the Mavs is trading for Dallas-native LaMarcus Aldridge who may have played himself out of San Antonio with his recent playoff performance. The only problem with that is that the Mavs don’t have many assets that the Spurs would want in return.
23 Denver Nuggets - Derrick Rose
This may seem like an odd fit, but remember: the Nuggets were all-in on Dwyane Wade last offseason and he admitted that they were in his ‘Final Two’ before signing with Chicago. So why not go after another Son of Chicago in Rose? The Emmanuel Mudiay Experience isn’t working in Denver and he even got benched for Jameer Nelson. Rose’s downhill game would work perfectly in the high-altitude of Denver as he still proved he can push the ball up the court in a hurry in New York after all of those injuries. From Rose’s perspective, perhaps a move to a city with a lower profile than Chicago or New York would do wonders for him.
He’s been under the spotlight ever since his lone season at Memphis and he needs to get back to just playing basketball and staying out of the headlines. Denver was just one game out of the playoffs last season and Rose could be the one to get them over the hump for their first birth since 2013.
22 Detroit Pistons – Jrue Holiday
Stan Van Gundy has seemingly tried to rid himself of Reggie Jackson as soon as Jackson landed in Motown. Jackson’s hero-ball mentality and poor body language has also affected his teammates who say the team’s chemistry needs to improve next season. Signing Jrue Holiday would be an upgrade both on the court and off it for Detroit who needs some good press as it heads into the new Little Caesars Arena next season. As one of the few head coaches/head of basketball ops in the league, SVG has a lot on his plate. The last thing he needs to worry about is his point guard hijacking the offense or not getting players into the right positions. That won’t be a problem with Holiday and after taking a backseat with the Pelicans’ addition of DeMarcus Cousins; he would have the offense run through him in Detroit.
21 Golden State Warriors – Tyreke Evans
The Warriors have more free agents than any team and while the two big names (Durant and Curry) are expected to re-sign; they will likely lose much of their bench. Ian Clark, Shaun Livingston, and Andre Iguodala are all also free agents and, at best, only two of those players will return. That will create a need for a backup swingman who can facilitate the offense at times and that is Evans’ best skill. After winning Rookie of the Year in 2010, he was miscast as a go-to guy but he is one of the best wing ballhandlers in the game. He can back up at all three perimeter positions and even though he’s an improving three-point shooter who’s knocked down 37% over the last two seasons. Also, with Evans’ history of leg injuries, a limited role is probably best for him at this point in his career.
20 Houston Rockets – Rudy Gay
The last time we saw Gay he was being carried off the court with a torn Achilles’ tendon. He had a player option for this upcoming season but said he will take his chances on the open market and opt-out. With that being one of the worst injuries to come back from (just ask Kobe), Gay may have to settle for a below-market deal. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing as that’s only what contenders like Houston have to offer. The Rockets have lots of one-dimensional players and outside of Trevor Ariza; no one else on their team is a positive on both ends of the court. Gay would likely come off the bench in Houston but he would be a great combo forward and can play alongside both Ariza and Ryan Anderson. He’s also coming off the second-highest 3P percentage of his career so he would fit right into Mike D’Antoni’s offense.
19 Indiana Pacers - Gordon Hayward
While Hayward has been linked to a reunion with Brad Stevens, you can’t disregard Hayward going back to his hometown of Indianapolis. He fits a need at the small forward position as Paul George will be wearing Lakers gold at some point in the near future and he would get to play in a basketball-crazed state which (sorry Jazz fans) Utah is not. Utah is an up-and-coming team but the path to the Conference Finals is a little easier in the Eastern Conference. Hayward has already shown a willingness to head east as in 2014 he signed an offer sheet with the Charlotte Hornets only for it to be matched by Utah. This time around, Hayward will be an unrestricted free agent and if he wants to leave Utah there is nothing they can do about it.
18 L.A. Clippers – C.J. Miles
Miles isn’t the sexiest free agent wing out there, but he may be exactly what the Clippers need. If the NBA played 4-on-4 then the Clippers may have won a couple of championships by now, but they’ve always had a hole at small forward. Despite entering his 13th NBA season, Miles is just 30 and knocked down a career-high of 41% on his three point attempts this past season. Miles has a player option for next season, but like everyone else with that type of contract; he is sure to opt out. As a former second round pick, Miles has been underpaid throughout his whole career. Over 12 seasons he’s made about $34 million (or less than what Chris Paul will make next season). Miles should cash in this season and could be a cheaper option than J.J. Redick who is also a free agent for the Clippers.
17 L.A. Lakers – Shaun Livingston
Livingston’s NBA career began in Los Angeles, and it nearly ended in LA; so wouldn’t it be apropos if Livingston came full circle and ended his career back where it started. Going on 32, this will likely be the last multi-year contract of his career but he can still hit that mid-range jumper like no other. Livingston would fit in nicely as a veteran backup to D’Angelo Russell Lonzo Ball and unlike the Lakers’ free agent additions from last season; Livingston can still play. An added bonus for the Lakers is that Livingston knows their system well after playing under Luke Walton while he was an assistant with the Warriors.
The one thing Walton didn’t bring with him from Oakland to L.A. were some of the Warriors players and Livingston could be the first. As one of 10 free agents on the Warriors, the team will have to prioritize (i.e. re-sign Curry and Durant) and that could have Livingston on the outside looking in.
16 Memphis Grizzlies – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Caldwell-Pope is a restricted free agent so the only way he leaves Detroit is if the Pistons choose not to match an offer sheet thrown his way. Well, after throwing $153 million to Mike Conley last season, the Grizzlies could throw another max offer KCP’s way and force the Pistons to match. Caldwell-Pope is the prototypical two-guard in today’s NBA as he can knock down the outside shot while also holding his own on the defensive end. Memphis has been gritting-and-grinding its way to early playoff exits for the last half-dozen years and it may be time for a change.
Tony Allen is a free agent and if he’s brought back, it should only be as a backup. KCP has the defensive mentality that the Grizzlies cherish while also having an offensive game that would help Memphis take the next step.
15 Miami Heat – Blake Griffin
Pat Riley isn’t the type to start the free agency negotiating period by ringing up the likes of Brandon Jennings and P.J. Tucker. Riley goes for the biggest fish in the pond that he can realistically get and Blake Griffin could be one of those. Griffin has a player option that he is sure to decline which will make him a free agent. LA can offer him $175 million over 5 years while all other teams, including Miami, can throw $130 million over 4 years at Griffin. Miami’s appeal for Griffin is obvious as even with his recent string of injuries, he is still one of the best dozen or so players in the NBA and he also puts butts in the seats. Why would Griffin leave LA for a middling team like Miami? Well, perhaps a change of scenery would do wonders for BG after the last few years. He has ceded the role of ‘face of the franchise’ to Chris Paul and going from Doc Rivers’ lax culture to Riley’s boot camp might be what he needs at this point in his career. Miami may also show interest in trading for Carmelo Anthony but fellow Banana Boat buddy Dwyane Wade may dissuade Anthony from heading to South Beach.
14 Milwaukee Bucks – Jeff Teague
It will be awfully tough to pry away Indianapolis native Jeff Teague from the Pacers, but if the team moves Paul George, then Teague may not want to come back. Teague is hitting free agency for the first time in his career and could be the type of player that takes Milwaukee to the next level. He’s not as glamorous as Steph Curry or Kyle Lowry, but he should come a bit quicker and Milwaukee isn’t exactly flushed with cash. The age of Giannis is upon us and the team could use a point guard who can run the offense at times, but also be a standstill jump shooter.
The Bucks had to rely on Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry too much last year and Teague would be an upgrade on both ends of the court. If the likes of Teague or George Hill price themselves out of the Bucks’ price range then the team would have to turn to retreads like Deron Williams and Darren Collison.
13 Minnesota Timberwolves – Taj Gibson
The connection between Gibson and the T-Wolves is obvious as Taj Gibson may have lost two years on the back-end of his career by playing under Tom Thibodeau in Chicago. Despite Thibodeau’s reputation as a defensive mastermind and the abundance of talent in Minnesota, the baby Wolves still ranked 27th in defense last season. Karl-Anthony Towns may be an MVP one day but he took a big step back, defensively, last season. Perhaps he needs another mentor in Gibson to help him out a la Kevin Garnett two seasons ago.
Gibson’s lack of range doesn’t make him a fit on every team but with both KAT and Gorgui Dieng being 37% three-point shooters; he can play alongside either as the team’s third big man. Minnesota had the youngest team in the NBA last season so their pursuit of free agent veterans shouldn’t stop with Gibson.
12 New Orleans Pelicans – Kyle Korver
The Pellies finished last season with a top-10 defense and, arguably, two of the top 10 players in the league with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Now it’s time to surround those two with complementary pieces and first on New Orleans’ wish list should be a floor spacer. In acquiring Cousins, the Pelicans had to trade their two best shooters, Buddy Hield and Langston Galloway, and signing Korver would help fill that void. Korver is arguably the only person who can walk into a room with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and confidently say that he’s the best shooter there.
At 36, Korver will come cheaper than many of the other 3P shooters on the market (Redick, Miles, etc.); however, with the way he’s been shooting for Cleveland this season, Cavs’ GM LeBron James David Griffin may not let him get on the market.
11 New York Knicks – George Hill
George Hill checks all of the boxes that the Knicks SHOULD be looking for in free agents. He’s a team leader, he’s low-maintenance, and he’s a good player who’s coming off a career-high in PPG. As an added bonus to the Knicks and Phil Jackson, Hill is the perfect point guard to play in the Triangle Offense: he’s a good decision-maker and knocked down 40% of his three-pointers each of the last two seasons. Hill is also a two-way player which isn’t something that can be said about most of the current Knicks.
As a 31-year-old, Hill probably wants to join a contender but it’s hard to say no to the amount of money that New York can throw his way. If the Knicks don’t re-sign Derrick Rose and/or trade Carmelo Anthony, then they can offer Hill whatever he wants, and sources say, he wants the max.
10 Oklahoma City Thunder – Otto Porter Jr.
OP Jr. could go from the player Kevin Durant could have replaced in DC to the player that does replace Durant in OKC. But there’s a catch: Porter will be a restricted free agent this offseason. However, if the Wizards were to make a max offer to Porter (as expected), then they may not have enough to pay him, Brad Beal, and John Wall who qualified for a $200 million contract by making an All-NBA team. If forced to choose, Washington would clearly pick Wall over Porter which means they may not match an offer sheet that OKC throws Porter’s way.
Porter would obviously fill a big need at SF for the Thunder and can do everything Andre Roberson can do on the defensive end; plus make free throws. He’s also used to playing with a ball-dominant point guard so he would mesh with Russell Westbrook and he’s just reaching his prime at 24. Most big-name free agents aren’t exactly clamoring to go to Oklahoma so the Thunder should set their sights on a mid-tier player like Porter.
9 Orlando Magic – James Johnson
The Magic don’t have an identity and Johnson isn’t the face-of-the-franchise type. But he will bring something to an Orlando team that many perceive as a non-physical, finesse team and that is toughness. The man has a neck tattoo, is undefeated in 27 MMA/kickboxing matches, and his nickname is Bloodsport. Miami rehabilitated Johnson’s game, and his body, as he lost about 40 pounds while in South Beach. However, his improved play also has him in line for a raise and likely more than what Miami is willing to hand out. After earning about $17.5 million through his 8-year NBA career, JJ may average that much on the next contract he signs.
The nickname of ‘Thunder and Lightning’ is usually reserved to NFL backfields; but that nickname would be appropriate for Johnson and Aaron Gordon if they were to team up in Orlando.
8 Philadelphia 76ers – Kyle Lowry
Why would Kyle Lowry want to leave a perennial playoff team for one of the worst teams in the NBA? It’s the same reason LeBron James wanted to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland: it’s home. Lowry wouldn’t crack the starting five of an all-Philly all-time team, but he’s the best player in the game today from the city. The 76ers obviously could have a need for anyone except more injury-prone players and Lowry could cross-match with Ben Simmons, who the team plans on starting at point-forward next season. In addition to the family ties in Philadelphia, Lowry also has a proponent in the front office as Sixers’ GM Bryan Colangelo was the one who brought Lowry to Toronto back in 2012. Time will tell if the pull of your hometown outweighs about $50 million because that’s how much more Toronto can offer Lowry as compared to Philadelphia.
7 Phoenix Suns – Tony Allen
Remember when Devin Booker scored 70 points and the Suns took a smiling team photo afterwards in a game that they lost? That wouldn’t happen with the Grindfather in the Valley of the Sun. From Boston to Memphis, Allen is one of those players who implements a certain mentality to the team that he is on. The Suns had the third worst-ranked defense last season and they may look to unload some of their offense-only players like Brandon Knight and Leandro Barbosa.
Just imagine Allen going one-on-one with Devin Booker every day in practice; by osmosis alone Booker would improve his defensive effort and technique. With the #4 overall pick in the draft, the Suns will be adding another 19 or 20 year old, so they should balance out their roster by adding a veteran like Allen.
6 Portland Trail Blazers – Paul Millsap
Before Portland traded for Jusuf Nurkic, there were rumors that the team may swap C.J. McCollum for Andre Drummond in the offseason; but the team now has its center in Nurkic. What the Trail Blazers still need is help on the defensive end as they aren’t getting that from their backcourt. Millsap is a criminally-underrated two-way player who fits into any time of team. He is one of just eight players to make the All-Star team in each of the past 4 seasons. The only problem in obtaining him is that Portland already has 15 players under contract and has 3 first round picks in this year’s draft so they have to unload some assets. Perhaps a sign-and-trade with Millsap and Atlanta would work for two of those picks, Allen Crabbe, and Meyers Leonard?
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have lobbied for Paul George to head to the northwest but we all know his final destination is Los Angeles. Millsap would be more than just a one-year rental and could boost the Blazers into the top 4 in the west.
5 Sacramento Kings – George Hill
Just as Hill would make a great addition to the inept Knicks; he would also be a solid pick-up for the dysfunctional Kings. He would bring stability, leadership, and a winning mentality to an organization that lacks all three attributes. The Kings’ current point guards include Darren Collison and Ty Lawson, both of whom have been arrested and suspended by the league due to off-court incidents. None of the championship-contending teams have a need at point guard so they won’t be throwing money at Hill; but if he wants the max contract that he’s seeking, then a team like the Kings may be his only possibility. Kings’ GM Vlade Divac has made so many mistakes during his tenure that throwing a $100 million contract George Hill’s way wouldn’t even crack the top five. The Hill-Hield backcourt in Sacramento would at least be something to look forward to for Kings fans.
4 San Antonio Spurs – J.J. Redick
With Manu Ginobili possibly retiring and Jonathon Simmons a free agent, the Spurs will need some depth at shooting guard. Enter in Austin, Texas native J.J. Redick who lives about an hour from San Antonio. From Bruce Bowen to Brent Barry to Marco Belinelli; wings have always excelled in coming off screens in the Spurs system and Redick would be the best of the bunch. Danny Green’s shot comes and goes so there is a clear need for someone like Redick. The Clippers can offer Redick more money to come back; but if he sees San Antonio as a better option to get his first ring, then he may pass up more money to join them. With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin set to sign max deals for a combined $375 million with the Clippers; there may not be much left over for Redick and that would make his decision so much easier.
3 Toronto Raptors – Kyle Korver
After losing to the Cavs in the playoffs; DeMar Derozan said he would like the Raptors to add some more shooters in the offseason. (He also neglected to say that he’ll work on his putrid outside shooting). There is no better catch-and-shoot marksman than Kyle Korver who has led the NBA in three-point percentage in three out of the last four seasons. Korver would fit in with every NBA team but he fills a definite need for Toronto who ranked in the bottom 10 in made three-pointers. Korver started alongside current Raptors small forward, DeMarre Carroll, in Atlanta; but with the way Carroll has played in Toronto; Korver may usurp the starting job in Toronto. Perhaps Korver can even teach DeRozan on how to take a jump shot from beyond the arc?
2 Utah Jazz – Jrue Holiday
Holiday has been one of the most underrated point guards in the NBA for years. He hasn’t played on many winning teams and has been hurt often, but last year he was one of just 6 point guards who graded out as a positive on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. With George Hill wanting max money, he may not return to Utah so the team will need another steady veteran to take the reins. New Orleans wants him back but with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins in the fold; Holiday turned into just a glorified spot-up shooter with his lack of touches. His numbers dropped across the board after the team traded for Cousins but a move to Utah would make him the team’s second option after Gordon Hayward (if he re-signs). Deron Williams returning to Utah is also a possibility if Hill leaves but Holiday’s age (27) more aligns with the rest of Utah’s core so he makes the most sense.
1 Washington Wizards – Andre Iguodala
In 2013 the Golden State Warriors were a young team in needed of a proven veteran to help them get over the hump. Andre Iguodala, who may be the NBA’s ‘glue guy’ MVP, helped the Warriors get over that hump but he’s now a free agent. It would take a lot for Iggy to leave a perennial Finals team like Golden State for a team that hasn’t advanced to the Conference Finals like Washington; but the Warriors can’t retain everyone. Durant and Curry will get max contracts and the team still has seven more free agents outside of Iguodala. If Otto Porter departs Washington then Iguodala can return to the starting role he had for most of his career, or he can continue to come off the bench as he did in Oakland.
Iggy would provide the Wizards with a secondary ballhandler after John Wall and he would immediately become the team’s best perimeter defender. The Wizards could easily be the second best team in the east next year if they could retain Porter and sign Iguodala.