By: Justin Martinez (@JustJustin956)
Free Agency is here! And if it’s any bit as exciting as the playoffs then… well, let’s hope it’s more exciting than the playoffs.
With all-stars like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Gordon Hayward opting out of their contracts, teams are scrambling to create cap space and stay active this offseason.
Both Kevin Durant and Steph Curry are expected to stay in the Bay Area, but the fate of the remaining dominoes is anyone’s guess. So without further ado, let’s get into it.
1. Gordon Hayward
The Utah Jazz finished the season with a record of 51-31, marking their first 50-win season since 2010. Hayward led the way, averaging a career-high 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds in the process. The breakout season even earned him his first all-star appearance.
Despite a harsh playoff exit at the hands of the Warriors, fans have hope for a bright future in Utah. Hayward is that future. Re-signing him is the top-priority for the Jazz, but the 27-year old from Butler University is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after free agents this offseason. The front-runners outside of Utah are Boston and Miami.
The Celtics seem to be in the middle of every rumor as of late, but Danny Ainge has yet to actually pull the trigger. The motive to sign Hayward is a simple one though: beat Cleveland. Despite finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics were no match for LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Hayward can change that.
But watch out for Miami. After parting ways with Chris Bosh, the Heat now have an estimated $37 million of freed up cap space to make a splash this summer. Pat Riley is known for landing big names in the offseason, and a trio of Hayward, Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragić is no joke. The perception has been that Boston is the favorite to land Hayward, but ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that the Jazz are becoming equally worried about Miami stealing their star.
But when the dust settles I expect Hayward to be playing in green and gold next year. The reunion with former college coach Brad Stevens is too perfect, and Hayward should fit in well with the team despite the crowdedness at the small forward spot. The move elevates Boston to a new level of championship contention, and it’s about time the Cavaliers have a real challenge in the East.
Prediction: Boston Celtics
Update: Gordon Hayward has signed a four-year, $128M deal with the Boston Celtics.
2. Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin can’t catch a break. The 28-year old is a monster of a player. His explosive dunks make frequent appearances in the nightmares of players like Timofey Mozgov and Kris Humphries. He even makes driving a Kia look cool.
But he can’t stay healthy.
Griffin went down at the worst possible time last season, injuring his toe in the first round against the Jazz. He missed the remainder of the series and Utah advanced in seven. The timing was déjà vu to Clippers fans as Griffin injured his quad in the playoffs the year before.
With six straight playoff appearances and no trips to the conference finals, people in Los Angeles are wondering if it’s time to move on from the big three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Once again, the Heat are in the mix to land a star free agent. Hayward remains at the top of their wish list, but the front court duo of Hassan Whiteside and Griffin is plenty cause for excitement in Miami. The Heat need to spend their $37 million one way or another, and a change in scenery could be good for Griffin.
Prediction: Miami Heat
Update: Blake Griffin has signed a five-year, $173M deal with the Los Angeles Lakers.
3. Chris Paul
Well that last prediction has to bum you out if you’re Chris Paul, huh?
With the big three now over in Los Angeles it’s time for Paul to really take a look at free agency this offseason. Sure, he could go chase a ring in San Antonio. The 32-year old certainly isn’t getting any younger.
But there’s one thing in the way of that plan: money.
The Spurs are experiencing some serious buyer’s remorse with LaMarcus Aldridge right about now, and it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to create enough cap space for Paul unless they manage to deal Aldridge away.
The Clippers don’t have to worry about that. And although they can’t offer a ring like San Antonio, they can offer a boatload of money – $200 million over the next five years to be exact.
Need I say more?
Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers
Update: Chris Paul has been traded to the Houston Rockets for Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, DeAndre Liggins, Tim Quarterman, and a 2018 first-round pick (top-3 protected).
4. Kyle Lowry
According to a report from the Toronto Star, Lowry has been displeased with the Raptors organization for months. This unhappiness with his current situation has led other teams to believe he has no interest in re-signing.
Lowry’s exact value is hard to pinpoint. The Philadelphia native is stellar in the regular season, but the postseason is another story. His stats dipped in this past year’s playoffs from 22.4 points and 7 assists to 15.8 points and 5.9 assists.
Nevertheless, Lowry is the best available point guard outside of Chris Paul this free agency and plenty of teams are showing interest. The reports point to Lowry joining a Western Conference team. Among those suitors are the Houston Rockets, the San Antonio Spurs and the Denver Nuggets.
Denver is a hard sell due to their already crowded back court and lack of championship potential at the moment. The Spurs face the same predicament that they have in their pursuit of Chris Paul: lack of cap space. That leaves Houston.
The move makes sense for both parties. The Rockets are openly shopping Patrick Beverly and Lowry has already played for Houston. He also provides a second ball handler to relieve pressure on Harden. Add in yet another weapon from behind the arc and a tenacious defender and you have a solid match.
And most importantly, Lowry wants to win. Escaping the wrath of LeBron James in the East and joining a Western Conference team with elite scoring ability gives him the best chance to do that.
Prediction: Houston Rockets
Update: Kyle Lowry has signed a three-year, $100M deal with the Toronto Raptors.
5. Paul Millsap
Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that free agent Paul Millsap “might get better offers than we can make him” this offseason.
The Hawks can actually offer Millsap a five-year max worth $207 million, so clearly Schlenk means better offers than they’re willing to make him. Millsap averaged a career-best 18.1 points and 7.7 rebounds this season, enough to gather quite a bit of interest this summer.
One option for the 32-year old is to go ring chasing. A reunion with Al Harford in Boston would be ideal, but we’re sticking with the Hayward prediction for the sake of consistency. That would also rule out Miami if Griffin decides to go there.
Indiana has the money to sign Millsap, but it’s a hard sell if Paul George is gone. Ultimately, the Hawks want to resign their guy. And with Dwight Howard gone, the departure of Millsap would essentially force Atlanta in a full rebuild. They don’t seem to want that.
Take the money, Paul.
Prediction: Atlanta Hawks
Update: Paul Millsap has signed a three-year, $90M deal with the Denver Nuggets.