What if you couldn't go home?
Before this starts sounding like a Lee Jenkins piece (which are all fantastic, for what it's worth), let's imagine an NBA world where players can't re-sign with their teams...at least, not originally. As soon as a player becomes a free agent, they have to spend at least one season with another NBA team before going back to a franchise that, with so much change, may not have the same allure as it did a year prior.
In other words, come this July, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant can't stay with the Golden State Warriors. Staying in California, the Los Angeles Clippers' big three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and J.J. Redick all have to find new homes. Would they all go together, or would they split up? How about Dwyane Wade, the seasoned veteran who wants another chance at a title with LeBron James?
Let's imagine that in a few short months, the free agency re-signings that we've all imagined as certain aren't going to happen. Chef Curry will explore restaurants in Boston, Kevin Durant will think about returning to Oklahoma City, and we're going to look at some NBA free agents to see the best and worst spots for them in free agency...if they weren't going to re-sign with their current team, that is.
Like in a college-level Interpretation of Fiction class, you're going to have to accept the sometimes outlandish possibilities here. Besides, we've seen weirder things, right?
30 Ersan Ilyasova - Best: Memphis Grizzzlies
Somehow, Ersan İlyasova is still only 29 (at least, we think so. Someone should probably clear that up...) and somehow, he's in for a big contract...at least, that's what we'd be saying if İlyasova wasn't having a career-best season for the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks. With free agency on the way, İlyasova figures to join his sixth team since 2015 and, though they don't often go for a splash in free agency, the Memphis Grizzlies wouldn't be a bad option for the veteran stretch forward.
How productive Chandler Parsons will be over the rest of his career is unknown after knee surgeries and Zach Randolph is getting up there in age, so why wouldn't the Grizzlies consider adding İlyasova to the mix as another body in the frontcourt? There's better options for the Turkish veteran in terms of championship contenders, sure, but in terms of playing time and environment?
29 Ersan Ilyasova - Worst: Washington Wizards
On the other hand, the only good that İlyasova might really get out of playing in Washington (other than seeing the monuments, which are always cool) is if Otto Porter Jr. were to depart in free agency and he became the starter. Because that's not a given and Porter is likely to stay in our nation's capital - and cash in big time, by the way - İlyasova would be another veteran body on a veteran-laden team. Why would İlyasova do that when there are bigger and better opportunities elsewhere?
The Wizards have a better chance at a championship than the Grizzlies and Hawks do, that much is for certain, but İlyasova isn't at the point yet where he needs to join a team solely for an NBA Finals win.
28 Serge Ibaka - Best: Brooklyn Nets
There is no way that Serge Ibaka is still only 27 and there is no way, given how much older he's looked the past couple years, he should be headed for a big payday this summer. Yet, improved numbers with the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors mean that the three-time All-Defensive player is going to cash in and the Brooklyn Nets, who have boatloads of money and could use another big man alongside Brook Lopez, would seem to be the ideal option.
Make your jokes about the Nets and their lack of a future, but they've actually resembled an NBA team after the All-Star Break and, as hard as this may be to believe, could be a year away from a postseason spot. If the Nets are serious about returning to contention, adding Ibaka has to be something they consider in the coming months.
27 Serge Ibaka - Worst: Oklahoma City Thunder
People love homecomings, especially when a fan favorite is involved, so the time is soon to come where Oklahoma City Thunder fans begin to beg the team to bring Serge Ibaka home for a second stint with the team. On paper, it sounds like a great idea - and it'd certainly be the cherry on top of the pie that was acquiring Victor Oladipo - but Ibaka wouldn't be the Ibaka he was during the Thunder's heyday.
Keep in mind that the Thunder already have enough big men and the split with Ibaka wasn't too pretty - though it certainly went better than when Kevin Durant left. I do think Ibaka will end up in Oklahoma City again at some point in his career, but now is too early and it wouldn't make sense with the younger direction the franchise seems to be headed in.
26 Zach Randolph - Best: Cleveland Cavaliers
If old man Zach Randolph were to leave Memphis this summer, maybe in search of a team whose conference alignment actually makes sense, it'd be hard to rule the Cavaliers and their love of seasoned veterans out. With Cleveland always looking to swing trades and Kevin Love never seemingly safe, could a deal arise that sends the All-Star somewhere new and opens up a need for a veteran power forward?
Probably not, but the Cavaliers are always in search of a quality, older big man who can provide a dominant force in the paint - that force that they were expecting from Andrew Bogut prior to his immediate injury - and Z-Bo could very well be the guy to bring it. Oh, and if the Carmelo Anthony to Cleveland trade rumors start again, the Cavaliers would need another forward if Melo's injuries were to act up again...
25 Zach Randolph - Worst: Los Angeles Clippers
As you'll see, homecomings are a common theme on this list, though Randolph's tenure in Los Angeles was about as memorable as Zett Jukassa. While Jukassa met an unfortunate end because Palpatine decided that the Jedi were suddenly evil, Randolph prolonged his career after his short stint with the Clippers during the 2008-09 season and began to build a serious Hall of Fame resume.
Nearly a decade later, I'm not quite sure what Randolph would provide the Clippers other than another veteran big man who can come in when DeAndre Jordan has foul trouble. Given the upcoming free agency of J.J. Redick, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin, the Clippers are going to need much, much more than a soon-to-be 36-year-old power forward with over 33,000 minutes under his belt.
24 J.J. Redick - Best: Philadelphia 76ers
If you've been spelling J.J. Redick's last name as 'Reddick' like Houston Astros outfielder Josh Reddick, you're not alone. We've all made that mistake...some of us more recently than others. Redick going to Philadelphia and joining a young Sixers team, however, wouldn't be the mistake that it'd have been a year or two ago, especially with heralded prodigy Ben Simmons supposedly making his debut next year.
At 33 years of age this June, the days of tolling away on a second-round team at best with the Clippers have to go away at some point and Redick, the former Duke star who spent the first half of his career with the Orlando Magic, may find a return to the East Coast preferable. Anything has to be better than hoping and praying to get past the Spurs and Warriors, right?
23 J.J. Redick- Worst: Brooklyn Nets
Finding that hope with the Brooklyn Nets, however, is laughable. While Ibaka fits a position of need for the team once owned by Jay-Z and is still young enough that there's realistic hope he can contribute long-term as a starter, adding Redick to an already-clogged backcourt that includes Jeremy Lin, Isaiah Whitehead, Caris LeVert, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - not to mention other veterans - doesn't make any sense.
What good would it do the Nets in the middle to closing years of a rebuild to add someone like Redick - and this is coming from a self-proclaimed Nets fan who has been a fan of Redick's since his days at Duke! If the Nets really want a shooting guard this offseason, then Sergio Rodriguez or Anthony Morrow would be a more realistic option.
22 Danilo Gallinari - Best: New York Knicks
Speaking of homecomings, remember when Danilo Gallinari was a member of the New York Knicks? Remember when 'Gallo' was supposedly the three of the future for the Knicks as they tried to rid themselves of the bad memories from Isiah Thomas' tenure? Remember when Blake Griffin dunked on Timofey Mozgov? I remember...
Anyway, this is a move that makes sense regardless of what the Knicks end up doing with Carmelo Anthony this summer. If the King of Zen gets rid of Anthony, then Gallinari steps in as the replacement for his one-time replacement - and a potential placeholder as the team develops a Josh Jackson or Jonathan Issac. If the Knicks keep Carmelo, Gallo can play the three, moving Anthony to the four and Kristaps Porzingis to his more natural position at the five.
21 Danilo Gallinari - Worst: Los Angeles Clippers
My problem with Gallo going to the Clippers, for as much sense as it makes on paper because the Clippers have needed a true wing player for years, is this: if you have the money for the veteran three, who is most likely going to command a lot of money, then where's the money for one of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and J.J. Redick? Are the Clippers really going to let one of them walk to sign Gallinari?
Now, if the Clippers could get Gallinari on a cheap, short-term deal that they could afford while bring all three of those guys back, I'd say go for it. But there seems to be too much that has to go right and I'm not sure if it can this summer. But, if one of those three were to leave...now that's a different story.
20 Jrue Holiday - Best: Philadelphia 76ers
When the Philadelphia 76ers began 'THE PROCESS', the first move was getting All-Star and budding star point guard Jrue Holiday out of dodge, flipping him to the new-look New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Nerlens Noel. Right...well, the thing about 'THE PROCESS' is that it's only finally coming to fruition, but the Sixers are in slight need of a point guard. Who else are you going to call but Jrue Holiday?
Other than the homecoming aspect, this is a match made in heaven, especially as the Sixers try to figure out where they want to play former top pick Ben Simmons. And, as ESPN's Zach Lowe pointed out earlier this year, "the hilariousness of Philly bringing Holiday back after flipping him to start The Process is irresistible." Amen to that!
19 Jrue Holiday - Worst: Golden State Warriors
Sticking with homecomings, wouldn't it be fun for Jrue Holiday, a California native who played his college ball at UCLA, to come to the Golden State Warriors? No? The general consensus of NBA fans would most likely agree with you regardless of where Stephen Curry goes this offseason (right, because he's totally leaving! Oh right, suspending our disbelief...) and it has nothing to do with replacing the greatest player in Golden State Warriors history at the point guard position.
Golden State's offense requires run'n'gun guards who can shoot the three-point ball at an extremely efficient rate, something that Holiday has never been able to do. Unless the Warriors were paying Holiday to simply dish the ball out to Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, but where would the fun be in that?
18 Jeff Teague - Best: Sacramento Kings
All point guards who go to Sacramento on a one-year contract find ways to resurrect their careers. Rajon Rondo did it after his time with the Dallas Mavericks ended poorly and ended up leading the NBA in assists, though what went on to happen in Chicago is a different story for a different day. This season, Ty Lawson is slowly building his stock back up after disastrous tints with the Rockets and Pacers last year.
Could Jeff Teague, who has struggled to find his niche with the Pacers, achieve the success that Rondo did if he were to spend some time in California? It's not an ideal situation, especially with DeMarcus Cousins no longer around, but there are ways it could work. Teague, a former All-Star with the Hawks, would have to swallow his pride to play with the most dysfunctional team in the NBA, but Rondo made it work for a time. If Rondo can, then Teague certainly can do the same.
17 Jeff Teague - Worst: Phoenix Suns
If Sacramento is where point guards go to attempt fixing their careers, then what can Phoenix be called? The dry dessert of dead point guards? The backlog of point guards who once were highly-touted, but now aren't much? Between Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, and Tyler Ulis, there's too many point guards on the Suns' roster right now for Teague to break through and make any sort of true impact.
Then, you have to remember that there are plenty of quality point guards in this draft and the Suns are bound to have a high pick, so what's to say they don't draft Lonzo Ball or Dennis Smith Jr. in June? Teague can do a lot better than the Suns not because they're a bad organization, but because there's not enough space for him.
16 Andre Iguodala - Best: Philadelphia 76ers
What could go wrong with this homecoming pairing? No, seriously. The Philadelphia 76ers could use another wing and we know how much they love developing their prospects instead of immediately throwing them into the fire, so adding the veteran Iguodala while drafting a Jayson Tatum or Miles Bridges could certainly work out in the Sixers' short-term future.
It may not sound ideal on paper, especially with the Sixers getting closer and closer to becoming a true playoff contender in the Eastern Conference, but Igudola brings that savvy, veteran attitude that a young franchise like this needs if they're serious about ending the losing. People will want the Sixers to get flashy names and for good reason, but Iggy isn't a D-Leaguer or one-time All-Star that's made a name for himself in China...
15 Andre Iguodala - Worst: Denver Nuggets
As for this homecoming (yes, Iguodala played for Denver once upon a time, averaging 13.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.4 assists a night in 80 games with the Nuggets back in the 2012-13 season, when he was acquired as part of the Dwight Howard deal), there's not much reason I see it happening or working. While the Sixers need veteran wings, the Nuggets already have that in Wilson Chandler and could probably add a cheaper one this offseason because they're already in that playoff state of mind.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, needs to keep working for it and that's why Iggy fits there. In Denver? Iggy wouldn't be much of a real upgrade than Wilson Chandler because even with his defense factored in, Iguodala isn't a spring chicken anymore. It'd be two totally different roles on two totally different teams...
14 Derrick Rose - Best: San Antonio Spurs
There's so many positives to the idea of Rose going to the Lone Star State to link up with Kawhi Leonard and friends that there's no real place to start. Because Rose is coming off yet another knee surgery, he could take the time to rehab with one of the league's top medical staffs while learning from Tony Parker if the oldest point guard in the NBA decides to return for another season.
Factor in Gregg Popovich's offense, which doesn't need the point guard to be that explosive player that Rose was counted on to be in both Chicago and New York, and this is a perfect match on paper. And, while San Antonio isn't a tiny market, it may also do Rose some personal good to get out of the limelight. Longtime Bulls fans will call it a fall from grace, but if Rose is healthy and winning, then who is anyone to complain?
13 Derrick Rose - Worst: Chicago Bulls
This won't and should not happen, but let's go over it so that I'm not remiss in my duties. Even if the team wasn't lost trying to find a new sense of direction, this wouldn't work right now because things ended so sourly in Chicago between Rose and the Bulls. Maybe some years down the line, when Rose is a crafty veteran who has learned to play at a high level despite all of the wear and tear on his knees, the 2010-11 NBA MVP can return to the Windy City, but now is certainly not the time.
Chicago made the choice last summer to cut ties with Rose, sending him to the Big Apple for Robin Lopez, and people think this pairing would work again? Not a chance.
12 Dwyane Wade - Best: Cleveland Cavaliers
Who would want to pass up a Dwyane Wade-LeBron James reunion, though it'd be taking place in Cleveland rather than South Beach. As we mentioned last month, Wade would be crazy to pass up opting into his contract to earn $23 million, even if this is likely his lone season with the Bulls. If this was a $3 million dollar opt-in, it's probably a different story, but $23 million?
Let's suspend the disbelief though and say that Wade does what James has wanted for the past few years: a partnership in the Rock and Roll City of the World. If not for cap space limiting them to reserve players and veterans, Wade likely would have joined the Cavaliers this past offseason, but there's still time to change! Besides, does anyone really see them bringing Kyle Korver back?
11 Dwyane Wade - Worst: Golden State Warriors
My personal fear with Wade is that despite him winning three titles, including one without LeBron James, he's going to begin ring-hunting with various teams if he can't partner with The King again. If Wade wants to ring-hunt with a team like Denver or Tonroto, that's fine, but him heading to Golden State would be a massive mistake for both sides.
Forgetting about the fact that it'd be a massive middle finger to LeBron, who has made Draymond Green and the Dubs his most hated rival since puppet Kobe, how would Wade's body be able to handle that offense? The only worse spot for him would be Houston, but that can't even be put into consideration on this list because they have James Harden. If Wade ever goes to Golden State, I can assure you there will be no more banana boat parties...
10 Paul Millsap - Best: Houston Rockets
Speaking of the Rockets, James Harden has done an admirable job carrying the team on his back the past few seasons and Mike D'Antoni could get more votes for NBA coach of the year than people expected entering the season, but they're still in need of a dominant big man up front. Unfortunately, the Dwight Howard experiment didn't really work and we're a long way off from the days of Yao Ming, so it'd potentially be up to Paul Millsap to step in as James Harden's 1B and partner on this team.
Millsap's had a nice run of things in Atlanta, that much is for sure, but adding him to that high-octane Houston Rockets offense would be flat out deadly. With a healthy, productive big man who isn't worried about his own ego, Harden and the Rockets may finally be able to make some waves in the Western Conference and, potentially, challenge the Cavaliers, Warriors and Spurs for league supremacy.
9 Paul Millsap - Worst: Orlando Magic
Because of a photo taken at exactly the right angle, we now know exactly who the Orlando Magic are going for this offseason...and one of their top targets is Paul Millsap. Have you stopped laughing? Can we continue? No? Alright, I'll let you keep laughing while I focus on why exactly this would fail.
Right now, the Magic are trying to build a young frontcourt of Aaron Gordon and whoever they draft come June, right? And there are plenty of younger options they can land in free agency like Mason Plumlee, right? So why, pray tell, would a team who is a few years away from competing in the Eastern Conference want to add Millsap? Why would Millsap want to go anywhere like that, even with the money offered? Millsap seems like a smart enough guy to know that money isn't everything, right?
8 Blake Griffin - Best: Boston Celtics
Last year, Boston tried to land a big fish in Al Horford and succeeded, but they'd be wise to try again this summer with landing Blake Griffin. Some NBA fans are liking the possibility of Griffin going to Oklahoma City - which in itself would be a homecoming for the former University of Oklahoma star - to team up with Russell Westbrook, but imagine the damage that a big three of Griffin, Isaiah Thomas, and Al Horford (not to mention Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley) could do?
Oh, and the Celtics are likely to have either of the top two picks this June thanks to the Kevin Garnett and Paul Piece trade, so they'd be getting a Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball as well. Remember, it was a decade ago this summer that the Celtics swung the trades for Garnett and Ray Allen...
7 Blake Griffin - Worst: Los Angeles Lakers
And speaking of big threes, how much would the Lakers love to start a new one with Griffin, D'Angelo Russell, and Brandon Ingram? Good luck with that, Magic Johnson and the new-look Lakers front office. Blake Griffin leaving the Clippers, the team who drafted him and helped prople him to stardom, to partner up with the team in the same building isn't likely to happen, nor should Griffin want that to happen...yet. Right now, the former number one overall pick needs to go somewhere where he can win an NBA title - or at the very least, move past the second round of the playoffs - and the Lakers aren't that spot. Maybe a few years down the line, when Griffin is in his 30s and the Lakers are back to being contenders, but now is not the time.
6 Chris Paul - Best: New Orleans Pelicans
One more homecoming reunion, shall we? Look, the best thing for Chris Paul in reality is to find a championship contender if he were to leave the Clippers and while the Pelicans may not be one right now, think about it like this: you'd be putting arguably the best point guard in the NBA right now with Anthony Davis, a future MVP and a dominant big man, plus DeMarcus Cousins, who would probably fare better in year two with the Pelicans than he has in year one.
With a point guard who excels at ball handling, both Davis and Cousins would be in absolute heaven. Paul's first stint with the then-Hornets didn't end well, especially with how popular the story of the NBA vetoing the trade to the Lakers became among non-basketball fans at the time, but this is a reunion made in heaven if the Pelicans could bring back their former franchise point guard.
5 Chris Paul - Worst: New York Knicks
We can spend ten minutes trying to explain why Paul going to the New York Knicks would not work, but let's try to do it in nine. Even if you contemplate the idea of a big three between Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Kristaps Porzingis and even if you take the relationship between Paul and Anthony into account, why would the future Hall of Famer want to throw the remaining years of his prime away with a dysfunctional organization like the Knicks?
If the Knicks were closer to the playoff hunt and this was a situation like what Dwyane Wade's Heat were in - there's good, young talent and the division is extremely winnable - then this is a different story. But now? And with how Phil Jackson has treated Carmelo? I think CP3 would rather go to the dry desert of point guards than spend time in a Knicks uniform.
4 Stephen Curry - Best: Indiana Pacers
Again, let's invoke a suspension of disbelief and pretend that Curry isn't heading back to the Golden State Warriors and is in the process of choosing another team. Knowing Curry's play style and what he's had in Golden State, it makes sense to think he'd at least want another superstar on the team and a franchise he can help bring a championship to. Enter the Indiana Pacers, who would be in need of a point guard after letting Jeff Teague go and still have Monta Ellis - for how much longer, no one knows - around scoring buckets and starring on video game covers.
Even if the Pacers went out and hired a new coach (Mark Jackson!), a dynamic duo of Curry and George is flat out terrifying. Add in the return of Lance Stephenson, the young Myles Turner, and former Warriors that Curry would likely bring in via free agency and the Cavaliers may actually have competition for the Eastern Conference title...
3 Stephen Curry - Worst: Charlotte Hornets
We all want to think that one day, Curry will return to Charlotte - the city where he grew up and where his father, Dell, was a star for the original Hornets - and it's certainly possible we'll see that when Curry is nearing the end of the line. In his prime, however, Curry should want to stay far away from a team that already has a point guard (though they'd get rid of Kemba Walker in a second if it meant getting Curry) and where the pressures and expectations may be too much.
Though the Chef has thrived under that pressure in Golden State, it'd be an entirely new ballgame (no pun intended) with the Hornets. There's so many better options out there for Curry, even if Charlotte has only suffered this year because of bad luck.
2 Kevin Durant - Best: Miami Heat
Last summer, Kevin Durant angered enough of the NBA's fanbase by ditching Oklahoma City, the city that helped make him a star and an MVP, for the Golden State Warriors - the same team that beat him and the Thunder weeks prior in the playoffs. Imagine what would happen if Durant, after making an NBA Finals with the Warriors, did the LeBron James method of taking his talents to South Beach?
A potential core of Durant, Hasaan Whiteside, Dion Waiters, and Goran Dragic may not sound impressive, especially compared to what Durant has now with the Warriors, but to get Heat-Cavs a few times a year and allowing Miami to finally get a version of revenge against James...now that's a story I'd want to see. Also, it's Florida. Who wouldn't want to play in Florida?
1 Kevin Durant - Worst: New York Knicks
And at the same time, who would want to play with the New York Knicks? Three years ago, that'd have been an impossible thing to think about and consider, but Phil Jackson has done so much damage to this organization and his own reputation - seriously, those posse comments are going to continue bothering black NBA stars as long as the Zen Master is in charge - that Durant would have to be given permission to personally fire Jackson for him to even consider coming to New York.
On the court, a duo of Durant and Anthony doesn't have the same intensity and spark that it would have three or four years ago, though that may only be because Anthony and the Knicks have been in such a bad place. Could Durant fix that? Sure. Is it worth it for him to try? Probably not.
Where do you want to see these NBA stars land in free agency? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below!