Thursday’s NBA draft is the first big date of the NBA offseason, kicking off what should be a wild summer in the league.
Many of the game’s stars are set to hit the free agent market, and many will be testing the waters and could be headed elsewhere.
There are a lot of moving parts in this year’s free agency puzzle, and the first moves will set the tone for how the rest of the summer plays out. But in the early stages, here’s a look at a few of the biggest names on the market and other rumors surrounding this year’s class of free agents.
Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward will be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market, assuming he declines his player option. But the list of potential suitors for Hayward could change on Thursday night.
The Boston Celtics have been among the teams presumed to be interested in Hayward, but a blockbuster trade on draft day could alter those plans. The Celtics have also been suggested as a destination for Paul George of the Indiana Pacers and Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls—both of whom could be traded on Thursday.
According to Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago, the Bulls have already offered Butler to the Celtics for the No. 3 overall pick, and Boston declined. On the surface, that offer appears to favor the Celtics, so their decision to turn down the opportunity to add Butler could indicate a preference to add Hayward on a long-term deal this offseason.
The Jazz will obviously make an effort to keep Hayward in Utah, but if Hayward is interested in chasing a ring, a move to the Eastern Conference could be in his best interest. By teaming up with Isaiah Thomas in Boston, Hayward may have an easier path to the NBA Finals than if he stays in the Western Conference and has to deal with the Golden State Warriors.
Prediction: Hayward joins his college coach Brad Stevens in Boston
It’s rare for one of the game’s top point guards to hit the open market, so Chris Paul will have no shortage of suitors this summer. One of them will likely be the San Antonio Spurs, who took a major step towards making such a move possible on Tuesday.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported on Tuesday that Pau Gasol would decline his team option in order to re-sign to a longer deal. Gasol’s new deal will presumably be more team-friendly, allowing the Spurs to clear enough space to add another expensive veteran such as Paul.
Paul’s eventual landing spot is tough to predict, because he is likely motivated by finding the best place to get paid and win an NBA championship. But that decision could be influenced by where others land in free agency, such as current teammate Blake Griffin.
If the Clippers can lock up Griffin to a long-term deal, the odds of Paul staying in Los Angeles likely increase. But Paul probably won’t return without knowing the team has the tools to compete.
Even if the Clippers prove they’re committed to sticking with Griffin and Paul, it might not be enough to convince Paul to stay. The allure of a proven organization such as a Spurs—especially if they’re offering comparable compensation—might be too much for the 32-year-old Paul to turn down.
Prediction: Paul chases a ring with the Spurs
Houston Rockets targets
The Houston Rockets put one of the best teams in franchise history on the floor this past season and still fell far short of an NBA championship in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. So Houston is expected to be one of the most aggressive teams in free agency in an effort to build up the talent around James Harden.
ESPN’s Marc Stein put together a list of targets the Rockets plan to pursue this summer:
The list of targets is relatively long due to the fact that there aren’t any obvious fits. While each player would be a great addition for Houston, it will be tough to pry each player away from their current franchise, while also outbidding other suitors.
The Rockets best chance to land one of these targets may be to hope Paul or Griffin signs elsewhere and then snatch up the other former Clippers star, who would likely be looking to leave Los Angeles also. While Paul and Griffin have had their ups and downs as teammates, the Clippers future success is obviously tied to both players returning. If one decides to head elsewhere, the other will likely be searching for a new home as well.
So while the Rockets might ordinarily be worried about the Spurs adding Paul, in this scenario, it may actually work to their advantage.
With Paul in San Antonio, the Rockets could then make a hard push to sign Griffin, who would be an ideal complement to Harden in Houston.
Prediction: Houston adds Griffin and becomes a serious threat to the Warriors in the West
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