Over the past two weeks, the NBA has seen an unusual amount of stars make the move to a new team either from being traded or through free agency. Unlike many of the years past, this one has been filled with plenty of shocking moves and head-scratching signings that will change the face of the league for, at least, the next few years.
The off-season officially began the moment the New York Knicks decided to part ways with their team president, and 11-time NBA Champion as both a head coach and a player, Phil Jackson. The relationship never really grew into a successful one and the shocking news was released early in the morning on June 28th. It drowned out another big story from the same day.
Chris Paul was being traded to the Houston Rockets to partner with the one and only James Harden. That move kick-started a chain of events that continues to bring in news none of us were expecting to hear (You hear us Indiana?).
As crazy as all of the moves have been, the one thing that this will do for the future of the league is change the entire landscape of the two conferences. The Eastern Conference was already weak but is now setting themselves us for a disaster after losing Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Jeff Teague, and Paul Millsap to the Western Conference this summer. Outside of LeBron James, the Eastern Conference is left with Gordon Hayward and Joakim Noah? What is going to happen when the Western Conference All-Stars are forced to leave off 10 players that would easily make the Eastern Conference team?
So let's take a leap forward and start talking about the future of the league and what we think it is going to look like when the 2020 season rolls around. The best way to do that is by talking about these 20 NBA players and where they might end up come 2020.
21 Bradley Beal, SG (Future: Washington Wizards)
Current Contract: 5-Years, $127.2 Million (Free Agent - 2021)
The Washington Wizards have become one of the better teams in the NBA thanks to a solid core of star players like John Wall, Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris, and Marcin Gortat. Bradley Beal is probably the biggest X-Factor in that group because of his unique talents. He is not your typical shooting guard, standing 6'5" and weighing in at 210 pounds. He is a lot bigger than he looks on television with the ability to dance around the floor, dodging defenders left and right. His jump shot has improved steadily each season too.
Last year, he earned himself a new contract and he re-signed with the Wizards for 5-years at $127.2 million. He repaid his teammates by his amazing performances during the Eastern Conference playoffs, scoring 33 and 38 points during Games 6 and 7 of their Quarter-Finals series against the Boston Celtics, helping them win Game 6 92-91. His 38 points wasn't enough to get them a series win but it was something to build on for next season and the rest of his career, which, suffice to say, is going to be with Washington.
The Wizards know what they have and when they spent over $120 million to sign Otto Porter this summer, they showed that they plan on keeping that core together for as long as possible.
20 Mike Conley Jr., PG (Future: San Antonio Spurs)
Current Contract: 5-Years, $152.6 Million (Free Agent - 2021)
After signing the largest contract in NBA history last year, Mike Conley delivered with his greatest season of his professional career. He improved across the board, raising his per game averages in points (from 15.3 to 20.5), rebounds (from 2.9 to 3.5), assists (from 6.1 to 6.3), and steals (from 1.2 to 1.3). Was he overpaid? Sure. Does it matter? Well, how many pure point guards in the NBA average 20.5 points and 6.3 assists per game? Besides Mike Conley, only two others surpassed those numbers last year (John Wall and Russell Westbrook).
But Memphis is getting older and has to play in the Western Conference, which is like playing college football in the SEC. Every week is going to be tough. With Marc Gasol turning 32 this past January, his daily availability will continue to decline. They also lost Zach Randolph and have a stash of mediocrity that could potentially become something.
This will leave Mike Conley Jr. with a difficult decision to make very soon. Does he stick around and go down with the ship? Or does he demand a trade and take his talents elsewhere? Based on his work ethic and skill set, he will not be a Memphis Grizzly come 2020. He will be traded long before that, most likely to the San Antonio Spurs, where he can be the type of leader the Spurs are used to.
19 Hassan Whiteside, C (Future: Miami Heat)
Current Contract: 4 -Years, $98.4 Million (Free Agent - 2020)
In 2010, Hassan Whiteside slipped all the way to the 33rd overall pick (3rd pick of the 2nd round) when the Sacramento Kings decided to draft him and stash him away, where he would spend the next four years bouncing between the NBA's D-League, China's NBL, and even the Lebanses Basketball League before he was signed by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2014. They waived him and he signed with the Miami Heat, who unleashed his potential.
All they did was let him play. They shoved him out onto the court and gave him the green light to be himself and the rest is history. He has turned himself into one of the NBA's best Center's, if not the best Center, averaging 17 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game last year.
After struggling to get into an NBA lineup for so long, Whiteside's current contract was like winning the lottery and anything from here on out would be icing on the cake. Knowing Pat Riley is one of the greatest talent producers in the league, there is simply no way he lets Whiteside leave town. Expect the unexpected and assume Hassan remains put through his current contract and the next one he will most definitely get.
18 Rudy Gobert, C (Future: New York Knicks)
Current Contract: 4-Years, $102 Million (Free Agent - 2021)
Much like Hassan Whiteside, Rudy Gobert virtually came out of nowhere to become the best defensive center in the NBA. Sorry DeAndre Jordan, you just cannot out rebound the rest of the league and win that title. There has to be some consistency on offense, maybe even a mid-range jump shot and Rudy Gobert has proven that he can be that guy in Utah.
If he is going to become that elite Center than the time to do so is going to be now. With Gordon Hayward and George Hill leaving Utah, Rudy is going to become the team's last remaining superstar with actual potential. Derrick Favors is a great athlete but is not going to lead the Jazz next year.
When the Jazz start to struggle, and Rudy's $21 million dollar salary cap hit starts to lean heavily on the franchise, look for the front office decision makers to start shopping him around before it is too late. Or they can go in the opposite direction and mark him as the team's superstar and start surrounding him with talented teammates. Either way, the Jazz might struggle to win 34 games this year, leaving Rudy Gobert to start thinking hard about his future in the league.
He remains in Utah until the summer of 2020 when he will possibly get traded to the New York Knicks once they hire the right front office personnel that can bring a championship to the Big Apple.
17 Dennis Schroder, PG (Future: Boston Celtics)
Current Contract: 4-Years, $70 Million (Free Agent - 2021)
For four years, Dennis Schroder has been working on his jump shot each and every day at practice. He entered the league at 19 years of age and has become a legit starting point guard for the Atlanta Hawks. They rewarded him with a 4-year deal worth around $70 million just before the beginning of last season.
Instead of busting out, he got significantly better and finished the season averaging 17.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and just under one steal per game. All of which were career highs. The year before he only averaged 11 points per game. That increase turned him into a noticeably better talent in the league and a hot commodity for teams looking for a future superstar.
Since the Atlanta Hawks seem to be rebuilding, and he does not have the skills just yet to become their main guy, he might not make it one more season in the ATL. If they can get draft picks, the Hawks will probably unload him as part of their rebuilding. The Boston Celtics are a sexy choice because they have a ton of draft picks to deal and they could use a pure point guard at a value, not someone that demands $25 million per season.
16 Draymond Green, G/F (Future: Detroit Pistons)
Current Contract: 5-Years, $82 Million (Free Agent - 2020)
The Golden State Warriors have five players that they need to keep around in order to continue winning at this insane rate. They need Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Igoudala, and Draymond Green. However, money is and always will be the root of all evil. There will come a time, before 2020, that the Warriors must make a decision to preserve their core.
They just signed Andre Igoudala for another three years leaving them with some choices that will be made in 2020. Those five players above will be tough to keep together unless some of them take a massive paycut. Draymond Green is the most deserving of the bunch for a big payday after being the team's heart and soul for the past few years. What better place to sign that max deal than with the Detroit Pistons, the NBA team he grew up watching and even played college ball right down the road from.
15 DeMar DeRozan, SG/SF (Future: New Orleans Pelicans)
Current Contract: 5-Years, $139 Million (Free Agent - 2021)
The Toronto Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri nearly jetted for the New York Knicks but ended up deciding to stay put and continue trying to turn the Toronto Raptors into the NBA's first ever non-US team to win a championship. His superstar, DeMar DeRozan, is the key to it and during his latest playoff appearance, he reminded us that the Raptors are an unbalanced mess of shooting, scoring, and shooting.
They are built to go one-on-one, to take on the defense in isolation. That was evident when DeMar DeRozan was shut down this past postseason. Kyle Lowry could not help, no one could. And the Raptors wound up exiting the playoffs early.
DeMar has a strong hold in Toronto and really loves the city but players reach a point in their careers where they sacrifice money for titles. He is nearly to that point now.
In a move of desperation, the New Orleans Pelicans will emerge as a likely candidate to trade for DeMar DeRozan to complete their superstar starting lineup.
14 LaMarcus Aldridge, PF/C (Future: Portland Trail Blazers)
Current Contract: 4-Years, $84.1 Million (Free Agent - 2019)
Since joining the San Antonio Spurs two seasons ago, LaMarcus Aldridge has had to share the spotlight and has given up everything to do so. He has lost minutes, points, rebounds, steals and assists per game in two seasons and has been rumored to have been added to the trading block. The Spurs are apparently looking for a Top-5 draft pick in return for the 32-year old power forward who is built like Kevin Durant but plays like Tim Duncan.
Although he is still one incredible athlete, LaMarcus Aldridge just does not fit into the San Antonio model as once presumed. When the Spurs signed him in 2015, it looked good. It looked as if Tim Duncan would hand over the reigns to LaMarcus on his way out. But it just has not panned out the way Spurs fans, and management, would have liked.
Since the Spurs have always been one step ahead of the rest of the league, they understand it is time to move on and what better fit for him than the Portland Trail Blazers where, in the final two seasons together, Damian Lillard and Aldridge lead the Blazers to 54 and 51 win seasons and two consecutive playoff appearances. He is a free agent in 2019 and will get to make his own choice while leaving the Spurs without anything in return. Don't be shocked if he gets traded before Halloween this year.
13 Damian Lillard, PG (Future: Portland Trail Blazers)
Current Contract: 5-Years, $139.9 Million (Free Agent - 2021)
For four years, Damian Lillard built a foundation for his future basketball career at Weber State University. After an injury during the 2010-11 season, e ended up getting a medical redshirt and returned the following season to finish out his collegiate career. The two-time Big Sky Player of the Year finished his collegiate career averaging 18.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.2 steals.
He left college as Weber State's 2nd leading scorer while also becoming the Big Sky Conference's 5th leading scorer of all-time. He was nothing more than a two-star high school basketball recruit that grew into the NBA's 2013 Rookie of the Year, a two-time All-Star, two-time NBA Skills Challenge champion, and a two-time All-NBA team member.
Damian Lillard has struggled since losing LaMarcus Aldridge although his scoring has exploded into a 27.0 ppg Point Guard, an amazing feat for the young gun in Washington. There is zero chances he leaves, especially after they get LaMarcus back into the fold in the next few months or so.
12 Paul George, SF (Future: Los Angeles Lakers)
Current Contract: 5-Years, $91.6 Million (Free Agent - 2019)
On June 18th of this year, The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that Paul George confirmed what everyone already knew, and it was that he would not be resigning with the Indiana Pacers when his current contract expires after this upcoming season. But this is not the first time he has told Indiana about his future plans. He has begged management to go out and build a team worthy of a NBA Title and they have failed to do so.
He also mentioned that the Los Angeles Lakers would be his ideal choice as he loves the town and wants to live in LA and win a title with the legendary Lakers. So when free agency officially began, it did not take very long before the Indiana Pacers finally traded him away, to the Oklahoma City Thunder, so they could get something in return as opposed to nothing if he were to become a free agent, a trend that continues to gain momentum this off-season.
Now that he is playing aside the reigning league MVP Russell Westbrook, does that change things? How many games does Oklahoma City have to win next year in order to entice him to want to remain there or is this just a fun ride along the way to LA for him?
Based on his remarks about LA, it appears as if Oklahoma City would have to win the NBA Title next season to change his mind. Since there is very little chances of this happening with their current roster, do not be shocked when he heads to California next summer.
10 Andre Drummond, C (Future: Boston Celtics)
Current Contract: 5-Years, $127.2 Million (Free Agent - 2021)
Did you know that Andre Drummond is only 24 years old? He has already been in the NBA for five years and thanks to his massive size, it feels as though he has been playing for Detroit since the Chauncey Billups days.
The real answer is location. He is playing for a Detroit Pistons team that is so-so at best and does not look like they are going to be able to beat any one of the top teams in the Western Conference anytime soon. So while he works hard and keeps his head down, Andre Drummond has quietly become the league's best overall complimentary center. He might not be a superstar that can carry a franchise, but he surely is one that work alongside one.
The young All-Star has a lot to learn about the game and that alone could hurt his value in the near future. In fact, this upcoming season is his chance to improve offensively and show-off his ability to increase his shooting percentage, which is terrible as it stands now. But where would he go if traded?
Without knowing anything about the salary cap, the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls are the two best fits for Drummond. If the Celtics can figure out a way to keep Gordon Hayward, Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, and Jaylen Brown, while adding Drummond, than they can discuss beating the Warriors.
9 Jimmy Butler, SF (Future: Minnesota Timberwolves)
Current Contract: 5-Years, $92.3 Million (Free Agent - 2020)
From the 1999-00 to the 2004-05 seasons, the Minnesota Timberwolves won 50 or more games four times and had a total of 300 wins with five consecutive playoff appearances. In fact, the 2004-05 season was the last time they finished above .500 while the 2003-04 season was the last time they earned a playoff berth. These numbers are unsettling for a team that once had Kevin Garnett, a first ballot Hall of Famer.
After multiple losing seasons, the T'Wolves landed consecutive first overall draft picks between 2014 and 2015 which they used to select Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, two of the last three NBA Rookie of the Year award winners. But it wasn't until this summer that they finally put together a playoff lineup by acquiring Jimmy Butler from the Bulls, Jeff Teague from Atlanta, and signing Taj Gibson from OKC. These moves alone have turned them into a 50 game winner next year.
Jimmy Butler loves basketball, and if you know his story, you would understand how it saved his life. He wants to win and he is now in the perfect spot to do so. He will grow and mature along with Wiggins and Towns forming a trio of players that compliment one another. He will most likely remain in Minnesota for the next six or seven years.
8 John Wall, PG (Future: Washington Wizards)
Current Contract: 5-Years, $84.8 Million (Free Agent - 2019)
It is about time John Wall reached the potential he flashed at the University of Kentucky and over the past seven seasons. Since his rookie season, John Wall has been considered one of the best pure point guards in the NBA and has never averaged less than 16.4 points and 7.6 assists per game in a season, ever.
The Wizards started off last season 0-3 before finally squeezing out a victory over the Atlanta Hawks. They would continue to struggle and by December 7th, were 7-13 and not anywhere close to a contender. But during those first 20 games last year, John Wall grew up right in front of our eyes, leading the Wizards to a 42-20 finish and a 49-33 overall record.
He is now one of the three best point guards in the NBA today and should be considered a MVP candidate for the next few years as he hits his peak. With the re-signing of Bradley Beal last summer and the contract offer to Otto Porter Jr, it shows John Wall that the Wizards are serious about their future and he is the centerpiece.
John Wall will play for the Wizards until they trade him or he retires.
7 James Harden, G (Future: Houston Rockets)
Current Contract: 6-Years, $228 Million (Free Agent - 2023)
Thanks to a massive increase in the NBA salary cap these past two seasons, NBA players are not only signing the largest contracts in league history, some of these players are signing the most valuable contracts in pro sports history. Stephen Curry just signed for $201 million, Blake Griffin re-signed for $172.3 million, and Mike Conley signed last summer for $153 million.
Then, out of the blue, James Harden signed a contract extension that adds four years to the end of his current contract making his entire contract worth around $228 million. Outside of Major League Baseball, which does not have a salary cap, these numbers are just plain silly.
Last season, James Harden put together one of the most impressive seasons in Houston Rockets history, maybe even in NBA history but was overshadowed by Russell Westbrook's MVP season in which he averaged a triple-double for the year. Harden spent last season leading the surprisingly talented Houston Rockets to a 55-27 3rd place finish in the Western Conference. He averaged 29.1 points, 11.2 assists, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.5 steals, all career highs.
With the Rockets adding Chris Paul and P.J. Tucker, they just moved themselves into the discussion for competing in the West. But none of that matters since James Harden will earn $228 million by staying in Houston and we fully expect him to leave out his contract right where he is today.
6 Kawhi Leonard, SF (Future: San Antonio Spurs)
Current Contract: 5-Years, $94.3 Million (Free Agent - 2020)
At what point will Gregg Popovich call it quits and retire? Will the San Antonio Spurs remain a sexy landing spot for some of the league's biggest superstars? Or will they revert back to their earlier days of mediocrity?
Unfortunately for them, Gregg Popovich is one of the greatest head coaches in NBA history. He has won more games with recycled talent than anyone in league history. He finds players and figures out a way to unlock their true potential. Tim Duncan did not win five NBA titles alone, he had help from Tony Parker, Manu Ginoboli, and David Robinson. But beyond those players, what is left?
Kawhi Leonard is going to be the league's MVP very soon and the Spurs know it. So the odds of him leaving are very slim unless he decides he wants to play somewhere else where defense isn't the goal, it's the last resort. He might have to win a title to get that MVP but regardless, he is going to stay in San Antonio for the near future.
5 Anthony Davis, PF (Future: New Orleans Pelicans)
Current Contract: 5-Years, $127.2 Million (Free Agent - 2021)
The New Orleans Pelicans shocked the World when they traded for DeMarcus Cousins shortly after last season's All-Star game. They went from one of the worst teams in the Western Conference to a playoff caliber contender. They were easily ten times better than before the trade but struggled to mesh together until towards the end of the year.
Heading into this summer, the Pelicans had one goal and that was to get Jrue Holiday signed. They locked him up for 5-years and are actively chasing other big names around the league to help them compete in the overloaded Western Conference.
Anthony Davis is the future of the Pelicans and with the addition of Cousins and the long term signing of Holiday, they are doing what they can to convince him to stay right there in New Orleans.
No shocker here, we fully expect the Pelicans to turn things around this season and put themselves into position to become a contender by 2020 which also includes keeping Anthony Davis happy and with the Pelicans.
4 Russell Westbrook, PG (Future: Oklahoma City Thunder)
Current Contract: 3-Years, $85.6 Million (Free Agent - 2019)
How do you follow up a MVP season where you averaged a triple-double? Well, we are not sure yet since it has never happened before in NBA history. The only other person to average a triple-double was Oscar Robertson and he did not win the MVP that season. So this is brand new territory for a player to reach.
Then, just when we were not expecting it, the Oklahoma City Thunder went out and traded for Paul George to compliment Russell's incredible abilities. The teaming surprised everyone but actually works. Russell tends to have the highest usage rate in the league and needed a teammate superstar that was willing to not be the top choice, rather a complementary star, like Chris Bosh did in Miami all those years.
We just do not think Paul George wants to play in any city except Los Angeles, for the Lakers, so, as we already mentioned, is going to bail after one season, leaving Russell Westbrook standing all alone in the middle of the Oklahoma plains, once again.
But players like that end up staying put because of their complete control and respect of the fans that they have grown from scratch, as Westbrook has done. He will be a member of the Thunder for a long time, you can book it.
3 Kyrie Irving, PG (Future: Chicago Bulls)
Current Contract: 5-Years, $94.3 Million (Free Agent - 2020)
Kyrie Irving and LeBron James are the best 1-2 punch in the NBA, when they are both playing at their best. That was evident when they beat the Golden State Warriors two years ago to win the NBA title after trailing in the Finals three games to one. It was the first time any team came back from being down 3-1 and won a title and it was all because of Irving and James.
Knowing that LeBron James can opt out of his contract after this upcoming season, Kyrie Irving has already begun reaching out to former teammates and friends around the league about being open for a trade. The rumor mills are buzzing about this and it comes fresh off the heels of the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Finals failure last month.
He is protecting himself from being stuck with a team that has very little talent outside of himself, LeBron James, and Kevin Love. Kevin Love could even be traded next season, who knows anymore.
However, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported that Kyrie is interested in playing for the Bulls. Now that Jimmy Butler is gone, the Bulls can afford it but all these rumors also happened before Butler was traded so maybe Kyrie has changed his mind. We really do not expect Cleveland to stay together much longer and playing for the Bulls would be a great fit for Kyrie.
2 Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF (Future: Milwaukee Bucks)
Current Contract: 4-Years, $100 Million (Free Agent - 2021)
If not for our top pick, Giannis Antetokounmpo would be up there. But until Giannis shows that he can be the league's most valuable player, which he nearly did last year, he is going to be in second place. That being said, at 22 years old, there is no other player in the NBA that is that young and that talented. He exploded last year, showing off his incredible talents while averaging 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.9 blocks, and 1.6 steals per game. Only James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and LeBron James had better overall numbers last year.
That means that the Milwaukee Bucks have about ten seconds to get their act together or they will squander the greatest talent they have ever had. After examining their off-season this summer, it looks like they do not get it. By the time his current contract expires, he will only be 25 years old and just entering his prime.
To spend the summer signing Spencer Hawes and Greg Monroe means that Milwaukee is going to take the build slowly, instead of capitalizing on Giannis's amazing season. Even though we do not like what Milwaukee is doing right now, he is going to stay there through 2020, maybe even longer.
1 Kevin Durant, SF (Future: Golden State Warriors)
Current Contract: 2-Years, $53Million (Free Agent - 2019)
Right now, Kevin Durant is signing smaller contracts to maximize his returns and help his team build around him instead of putting them into a salary cap frenzy. But for some reason people are criticizing him for going to Golden State just to take the easy way out. Guess what? LeBron James signs one-year deals each season, leaving him open to make whatever decisions he might feel is necessary, even if that means leaving.
Just because he is signing that two-year deal each other summer does not mean he is planning on leaving. He is not going anywhere as long as they continue to win titles and build dynasties in Oakland. Would you leave the Warriors if you were him? Where would you even go?
He might have lost some respect by teaming with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, but that should not discount the fact that he stepped up during the NBA Finals this year and was nearly unstoppable. He made a choice to go to Golden State and has left the league scrambling to build even more superteams. Mark our words, Kevin Durant is going to finish his career in Oakland.