Do you hear that? That’s the sounds of trade rumors swirling in the wind.
The 2017 NBA free-agency class has some big names but also a lot of uncertainty. There’s no guarantee that some of the players listed below will even leave the teams they played for last season, regardless of the fact that some opted out of their contracts to test the open market.
When All-Stars hit the market, teams and general managers will flock to sign them to max or near-max contracts, and this year is no different.
Let’s take a look at the latest rumors surrounding some of this year’s most prized free agents before free agency begins on July 1:
Predicting where Utah Jazz star wing Gordon Hayward will land is a bit of a crapshoot. It’s hard to imagine a player leaving a team that won 51 games last season in a city that adores him, not even mentioning the fact that the Jazz can offer Hayward the most money of any team in free agency.
But it’s also understandable why Hayward may want to leave the Western Conference, especially if he wants a chance to win a championship. The Jazz were swept by the Golden State Warriors with relative ease during the second round of the playoffs, and that had to make Hayward wonder if the grass is greener in the Eastern Conference if he were to join a contender.
Enter the Boston Celtics.
The Brad Stevens-Hayward narrative gets really, really old, but it’s still a factor in Hayward’s decision. The Celtics were the top seed in the East last year and made it to the Conference Finals before losing in five games to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Would Hayward have given Boston a better chance against LeBron James and the Cavs? Absolutely.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, the addition of Hayward could signal the green light for the Celtics to trade for George, who would be more interested in signing an extension with the Celtics rather than bolting for Los Angeles.
The Celtics have a much easier path the Finals, with only the Cavaliers and Washington Wizards (maybe) in their way, whereas the Jazz will have to go through the Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and emerging teams such as the Minnesota Timberwolves with Jimmy Butler and the Portland Trailblazers.
The Miami Heat, as reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein earlier this month, could also be a threat to sign Hayward, but I can’t see Hayward taking his talents to South Beach to join the likes of Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic. He’d rather play for a team with better players, a stable front office and a legitimate shot at a title.
Prediction: Hayward leaves the Jazz, signs a max deal with the Celtics, who will trade for George.
For while, I figured that Chris Paul was just going to opt out of his contract to resign on a better deal with the Los Angeles Clippers.
That has all changed. And even though ESPN’s Marc Spears reported that Paul hasn’t officially opted out of his deal, it appears likely that he will.
Paul is rumored to be targeted by the Houston Rockets to join James Harden in Houston’s backcourt. In all honestly, it’s hard to figure out how a ball-dominant player like Paul could mix with an equally ball-dominant player in Harden, but wouldn’t it be fun to see in head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system?
The Clippers have been stuck in a rut for the past few years now and just can’t seem to make it out of the first round of the playoffs, let alone challenge the Warriors or Spurs in the Conference Finals. But pairing Paul with an MVP-caliber player like Harden seems like the right move for Paul, on paper that is.
But how would they play together in an actual game? Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times doesn’t seem to agree that the two can coexist when they get on the court:
Woike has a point, simply because the move to Houston makes zero sense for Paul. He’d be better off staying put in Los Angeles and luring in free agents rather than go to a team that already has a ball-handler on offense.
The San Antonio Spurs would be a much better fit as Tony Parker continues to age and will be coming back from injury this upcoming season, but it will take a lot of creativity from the Spurs’ front office to make the cap space work. At least the Clippers can give Paul all the money he wants, something that a lot of competitive teams can’t say especially with the salary cap lowering to $99 million this upcoming season.
Prediction: Paul stays put because he likes to have the ball in his possession.
Oh look! Paul’s teammate Blake Griffin has also opted out of his contract to test free agency. This could be a really bad summer for the Clippers if both players leave.
Griffin, the former No. 1 pick by the Clippers and savior of the franchise may not have reached expectations by not putting the Clippers in the championship conversation, but he’s still one of the best power forwards in the Association. When healthy, that is.
Health has always been the factor when it comes to Griffin. No one can doubt his skill or athleticism, but the best ability is durability, and Griffin just can’t stay on the court that often.
In the past three years, Griffin has played in a total of 163 out of a possible 246 games. That means he has missed 83 games, more than a full regular season, in the past three years. He will still command a max deal from some team during free agency outside of the Clippers, but who would sacrifice their cap space for him?
It’s been reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein and Chris B. Haynes that the Denver Nuggets could put an offer on the table Griffin in free agency, which would make for an interesting fit if the Nuggets were able to ship out Kenneth Faried in a proposed deal for Paul George.
Maybe Griffin needs a new team and needs to hit the reset button. Or maybe he just needs new teammates to build around.
Griffin could be with the Nuggets or another team, such as the Celtics, who could also free up some space if they fail to land George or Hayward, according to ESPN’s Chris Forsberg.
But let’s face it: Griffin’s best chance of winning is with Paul. They just need a little more firepower, and a lot less free throws from DeAndre Jordan. It would be a shock if Griffin left the Clippers, and it’ll be hard for him to turn down a max deal in a city that he can maximize his star and brand potential.
Prediction: Griffin stays in LA, makes things work with Paul.
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