As anyone who’s closely followed the league over the past few years, one thing has become abundantly clear: this isn’t your daddy’s NBA. The days of superstars like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Isiah Thomas sticking with one team throughout their careers is over. The Dirk Nowitzkis, Parkers, and Ginobilis of the world are a dying breed and may be retired by the time you’re reading this. In this current NBA era of super teams, star players want to win, and they want to win now even if it means they have to leave a good situation for a great situation.
While some players take the easy way out and leave their former teams for record-breaking 73-win teams, other players move to new teams simply for a change of scenery. Rasheed Wallace went from a head-case with the Jail Blazers in Portland to a champion and team leader in Detroit with the Pistons. Pau Gasol is another example as after leaving the Lakers, he was interested in playing in cities that could accommodate a Renaissance Man such as himself. Thus, he first went to Chicago because he liked the orchestras and plays that the Windy City offered and then he went to San Antonio who had symphonies that attracted Gasol to the city…Different strokes for different folks.
Who will be the next batch of stars to change locations not just in the coming year but down the line? We’ll take a look at some of the players who have given us hints that they would be open to playing for a particular team and we’ll also predict where some of the top stars will end up. Here are my projections for a new team that these 15 NBA players will join before their career ends.
15 Klay Thompson - San Antonio Spurs
I remember Scottie Pippen giving an interview after he retired when he said he envied Karl Malone because he got to be “The Man” on a team for his entire career. I don’t have to remind you that Pippen has 6 rings and Malone has 0; but that shows you how some players want the spotlight as much as they do winning. Is Klay Thompson wired that way? I would lean towards “yes” and I could see Klay wanting his own team when his contract expires in the summer of 2019. He will be 29 at the time and will be presented with perhaps his final opportunity to be the star on his own team.
Maybe Luke Walton recruits him to join the Lakers or Mike Brown is a head coach by then and recruits him to join his team. I throw out those two coaching names because Klay needs to go to a similar motion-based offense as the Warriors run as that would best suit his skills. Using Klay like how the Raptors use DeMar DeRozan would be a disaster as he’s not a dribble-7-times-then-shoot type of player. Perhaps the best destination for Klay would be for him to join one of the nemeses of the Warriors and that is the San Antonio Spurs. Imagine Klay coming off screens in that offense instead of Danny Green!
14 Eric Bledsoe - Detroit Pistons
Think about how the NBA has changed: Bledsoe is just 27 but he was the 5th oldest player on his team last year. Everyone else on the Suns is either three years away from his prime or three years past his prime and it doesn’t make sense for Bledsoe to be wasting his best years on 25 win teams. He’s never started a playoff game in his seven year career and a move east would help his cause. He’s also one of the best players in the game to never make an All-Star team and let me remind you that the Eastern Conference made Joe Johnson a seven-time All-Star.
Detroit seems to be perpetually shopping Reggie Jackson so Bledsoe would be a fit there and his toughness would endear himself to Stan Van Gundy. Chicago is another fit if the Bulls and Rajon Rondo can’t recapture the magic they found in the first two games of the playoffs last year.
13 Paul George - Los Angeles Lakers
This may be the most obvious name on this list as everyone from Larry Bird to Magic Johnson knows that PG-13 wants to return to his native Los Angeles and play for the Lakers. George is under contract with the Pacers for one more season but I don’t think he lasts the whole season in Indiana. He probably won't even last this summer. Once the Pacers realize that they are no better than a #7 seed in the east, they will reach out to the Lakers to see what they can get for George. But with George a free agent after this season, the Lakers would be smart to not trade anything more than a 2nd round pick for George as everyone knows he’ll sign with L.A. after the season.
Thus, Indiana will trade him to a team who is going “all in” for a postseason run even though they know that George re-signing with them after the season is a long shot. A team like Toronto isn’t afraid to push all its chips to the center of the table and they have the requisite young players to make Indiana interested. In a matter of a few months I wouldn’t be surprised to see George to from Indiana to Toronto to Los Angeles.
12 Kevin Love - New York Knicks
You know those “Loser Leaves Town” matches that often take place in wrestling promotions? Well during the NBA Finals there was a social media video that emerged of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson playing one-on-one before a game and the caption on that video was “Loser Leaves Cleveland.” While the team would prefer to move Thompson, he doesn’t have much value in the league as a draconian big man so Love is more likely to be moved. Anytime someone mentions a trade with the Cavs, they usually bring up the name of Carmelo Anthony and he makes sense as a LeBron BFF and as another go-to scorer that can take pressure off LeBron and Kyrie.
Whether or not that makes Cleveland better is another story though. Love also makes sense for the Knicks as he is the perfect offensive big man for the Triangle Offense and he would allow Kristaps Porzingis to move permanently to center. Love can also become the main option or co-option on a team after playing third fiddle for the past three seasons in Cleveland.
11 Andrew Wiggins - Toronto Raptors
Even after just one season in Minnesota, Tom Thibodeau’s patience is wearing thin. Wiggins really hasn’t shown any development on the defensive end of the floor in his three seasons in the NBA and defense is Thibodeau’s calling card. For someone who is as athletic as Wiggins is, he should be averaging more than 4 rebounds per game and outside of scoring; Wiggins doesn’t bring much else to the table. Wiggins won the Rookie of the Year in 2015 but plenty of players have been traded on their rookie contract after winning that award including Damon Stoudamire, Elton Brand, and most recently Michael Carter-Williams.
I think Wiggins gets at least another full season under Thibodeau in Minnesota and they make even make him a qualifying offer for the 2018-19 season, but there is now way in hell Wiggins plays his entire career in there. There are a dozen Canadians like Wiggins currently in the NBA but the most high-profile one to actually play for the lone Canadian NBA team is Cory Joseph. Wiggins, who was born in Toronto, would instantly become Canada’s favorite NBA player were he to link up with his hometown team. Whether it’s in 2019 or 2029, look for Wiggins to come home and play for his hometown fans.
10 C.J. McCollum - Utah Jazz
It took the powers-at-be in Golden State two-and-a-half years to realize that a Steph Curry-Monta Ellis tandem is good for lots of points but not lots of wins. The Lillard-McCollum backcourt is entering year 3 together and they are officially on the clock. McCollum is already a better and more efficient offensive player than Ellis ever was but he needs a backcourt mate who can hide his deficiencies on defense unlike Lillard. If Gordon Hayward leaves Utah then McCollum can slot in at the two and form a complementary backcourt with George Hill. Likewise, McCollum and Elfrid Payton would work well together in Orlando.
There is even a ready-made trade between the Blazers and Magic as Terrence Ross (and change) and be shipped back to his hometown of Portland. C.J. and Dame are fun to watch but only play on one end of the court which is why this current incarnation of the Trail Blazers has a ceiling of the first round of the playoffs.
9 Carmelo Anthony - Miami Heat
There’s a very public power struggle in New York and neither Anthony nor Phil Jackson is budging. Jackson wants Anthony to leave but Anthony doesn’t want to leave the place he tried so hard to get to. However, one of the reasons why Anthony has been so committed to staying in New York is no longer committed to him, literally. That is his now-separated wife LaLa who made it clear that she has no intention of leaving New York. Now that the two appear to be on the splits, Anthony has one fewer reason to stay in the Big Apple and Phil Jackson couldn’t be happier.
After going through hell (AKA playing with the Knicks), Anthony needs to go somewhere where he can just relax and play basketball. That somewhere may end up being South Beach where Anthony would play for a structurally-sound organization with the Heat and play for a team on the rise. Perhaps Banana Boat buddy Dwyane Wade will even leave the key under the mat to his Miami home for Anthony?
8 Anthony Davis - Chicago Bulls
Anyone else getting the feeling that Anthony Davis in New Orleans is the 2.0 version of Kevin Garnett in Minnesota? Hopefully it doesn’t take The Brow 12 years to realize that the grass is greener on the other side and he decides to bolt the Big Easy. The Pelicans trade for DeMarcus Cousins seemed like a rushed move to appease their franchise player as Davis and Boogie are a poor fit together. It just seems like a matter of time before “Anthony Davis demands trade from Pelicans” is scrolling across ESPN’s BottomLine. Where will he end up? How about wherever John Calipari ends up when he leaves Kentucky for the NBA (You know it’s coming despite him denying it). But Cal is only leaving UK for a place where he can have complete control as both head coach and GM. Chicago’s a possibility as is Orlando. Davis and Calipari would be the biggest packaged deal since LeBron and Bosh hit South Beach.
7 Steph Curry - Charlotte Hornets
This summer Curry will likely re-sign with the Warriors on a deal that will pay him around $200 million for the next five years. That deal will take him into his mid-30s and if Kevin Durant re-signs then that will give Curry a chance to fill his fingers with rings. Whether it’s at the end of this next deal Curry signs or after another 2-3 years in the Bay; look for Curry to come home to his native North Carolina and the Charlotte Hornets.
The love the city of Charlotte has for Steph, and vice versa, is no secret. The Hornets franchise even went out of its way to honor Steph’s dad, Dell Curry, by holding a “Dell Curry Night” in 2015 while Steph and the Warriors were playing at Charlotte. Let me remind you that Dell Curry started all of 77 games for the Hornets during his career so the organization was clearly sending a message to the son through the father. Just imagine what the team would do for a two-time MVP were he to suit up for his hometown team.
6 Dwight Howard - New York Knicks
Even though Howard came home to Atlanta last offseason, they got tired of him after one year and sent him to Charlotte. Assuming his tenure in Charlotte won't be long either, I see Howard going to somewhere where he originally wanted to go 5 years ago: New York. Granted, Howard wanted to go to Brooklyn back in 2012, but he can hit up one of the other boroughs this time around.
While most teams are moving away from the traditional back-to-the-basket big man, Phil Jackson and the Knicks are still stuck in the 1990s and covet these kinds of players. When Howard joined the Lakers in 2012, Jackson wanted to come out of retirement to coach him but then-GM Mitch Kupchak wasn’t on board with that idea. Could Jackson have one last ride as a head coach if Howard joins the Knicks? Only if Jackson is still with the Knicks if/when Howard joins.
5 Pau Gasol - Memphis Grizzlies
As I mentioned earlier, Gasol has many interests outside of basketball and that often lures him to various cities. With his career winding down and his spot in the Hall of Fame already solidified; look for Gasol to do something he’s always talked about doing but has never had a chance to do and that is playing in the NBA with his brother, Marc. Due to a five-year age difference, the two Gasols never played together while growing up in Spain and the only time they’ve been on the same team is when they’ve represented Team Spain in the Olympics.
A return to Memphis would be a fitting end for Pau’s career and I’m sure he’d even be willing to take a hometown discount to go back to where it all started. There would also be a need for the elder Gasol if free agent Zach Randolph bolts Memphis but the first domino that needs to fall is Pau declining his player option with the Spurs and he’s yet to decide on if he will do that.
4 DeMarcus Cousins - San Antonio Spurs
If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs this upcoming season, then by the end of the year DeMarcus Cousins will have played the fifth most games in NBA history without making the playoffs. You think he wants to stay in that type of situation? Now, one could argue that the reason Boogie hasn’t made the playoffs has as much to do with him as his does his teams but I could definitely see him taking a pay cut to join a winning organization. A dream scenario would be him joining the Spurs as a contrast between the stoic Kawhi and the animated Cousins would be nearly as interesting as Popovich coaching Boogie.
Another team not to count out is the Washington Wizards as Cousins could reunite with his former UK teammate, John Wall. The two have often talked about playing together and Cousins going to DC is much more likely than Wall leaving the Wizards and joining the Pelicans or whomever else Cousins is playing with.
3 Ben Simmons - Los Angeles Lakers
Yes, even before playing a game with the Sixers, Ben Simmons is already angling for an exit from the Sixers. Who would have thought that after being drafted first overall in 2016 that Simmons would become the third fiddle in Philly but that’s where things are headed after what’s transpired over the last year. No one saw or heard much of him while he was injured and Joel Embiid seized control of the hearts of 76ers fans. With Embiid’s play, and maybe just as importantly his personality, he is not the one to take a backseat to anyone on a team and he is now the face of the franchise.
Also, by the time you are reading this, the Sixers have completed a power move to move up in the 2017 draft in order to draft Markelle Fultz which puts Simmons even further back into the minds of fans. Simmons has already previously stated his desire to play for the Lakers and that may become a reality sooner rather than later.
2 Chris Bosh - Dallas Mavericks
Obviously, Chris Bosh won’t be playing for the Miami Heat again after the two sides mutually agreed to sever ties. Now the question is “Will Chris Bosh ever play again?” Call me crazy, but I think he does play in the NBA again. I I think someone will take a flyer on Bosh and sign him to a minimum salary, incentive-laden deal. NBA executives and administrators are extremely pompous and there will be at least one team that believes it has “the cure” that will allow Bosh to play again. We know from Bosh’s social media accounts that he is still keeping in shape and itching to play again.
The Bulls showed some interest in Bosh back in January and before the latest news on him came out and I just have a feeling that some team will give him another shot even if for just one season. Bosh may have just a 1% chance of playing again, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone like Mark Cuban gives him a call one day and tries to lure the Dallas native back to his hometown.
1 LeBron James - Los Angeles Lakers
After bringing a title to The Land in 2016, LeBron is no longer indebted to Cleveland and most NBA insiders say it’s a 50/50 proposition that LeBron will leave the Cavs once again. Why would LeBron leave a perennial Finals team? Because he’s already thinking about life after basketball and for as much as Cleveland has given him; LeBron needs to leave to grow his brand. The most discussed destination for LeBron is Los Angeles and while the Clippers are the better team now; I think LeBron prefers the lore of the Lakers. Yes they suck right now, but they are stock with young talent and there’s a very good chance Paul George will be on the team a year from now.
LeBron has shown that he has now problem replacing his best friend in Dwyane Wade with a younger, better version so how do you think he’ll treat Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving? If and when LeBron leaves, don’t expect a made-for-TV special, don’t expect a public display of burning jerseys, and DON’T EXPECT AN ALL-CAPS EMAIL.