Thus far, the NBA offseason has delivered on intriguing transactions. Chris Paul and Jimmy Butler will don new jerseys next season, per Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. Carmelo Anthony and Paul George could be dealt at any point in the coming days. Nonetheless, Saturday marks the beginning of free agency in which players can choose their career paths.
Expect to see more prominent names choose new colors in a league dominated by star players joining forces to compete for a title. The separation between the have and have-nots should widen after free agency, but who’s going to tip the scale this summer?
The Western Conference could lose three impact players to suitors in the East. Gordon Hayward, Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap could send their current teams into complete rebuild mode while adding to a contender elsewhere.
What’s the latest on the three impending free-agent forwards in the West? Where will they sign in July?
Gordon Hayward’s Destination List: Utah, Miami and Boston
For Hayward, it’s pretty simple. He’ll stay with the team that drafted him in Utah or go east to disrupt the Cleveland Cavaliers’ three-year reign as conference champions.
According to Salt Lake Tribune reporter Tony Jones, the 6’8″ forward will visit the Heat on Saturday and the Jazz on Monday. A meeting with the Celtics hasn’t been finalized, but Ben Dowsett of Basketball Insiders suggested Sunday in between the two reported meetings would be a likely date:
There’s obvious allure to the incumbent team where he’s the lead star on the roster. Furthermore, the arrow points up for the Jazz. The 2016-17 campaign became a breakthrough year for Hayward and the franchise. He earned his first All-Star honor, and the club won its first postseason series since the 2010 playoffs under Jerry Sloan.
Hayward’s decision to leave would certainly send the franchise back into obscurity. The draw for other potential free agents would immediately dissipate. The Celtics have a connection to the 27-year-old through head coach Brad Stevens who led Butler to a national title game with Hayward on the roster in 2010.
According to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Celtics may pitch the idea that Paul George would be more willing to re-sign after a trade if Gordon inks a deal with the team during free agency. Of course, Boston would have to ensure the Indiana Pacers would be interested in such a deal.
As for the Heat, team president Pat Riley has a history of acquiring stars. Shaquille O’Neal went to South Beach and won a title alongside Dwyane Wade in 2006. LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Wade and formed Miami’s Big 3, which appeared in four consecutive NBA Finals.
Without Gordon, the Celtics claimed the No. 1 seed and went to the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston also stands closer than the other two teams to winning an NBA title. Hayward could begin the process of chipping away at James’ dominance in the East.
Prediction: Hayward Signs with the Boston Celtics
Will Blake Griffin Become Clippers Lead Star?
The Houston Rockets ripped Paul away from the Los Angeles Clippers, and it probably felt like a punch in the gut for a franchise that struggled tremendously before his arrival.
Nonetheless, the Clippers must attempt to salvage what’s left of the core that led them to six consecutive playoff appearances. According to Los Angeles Times reporter Brad Turner, team brass views Paul’s exit as a clear-cut pathway for Blake Griffin to re-sign with the club:
Without Paul’s strong on-court personality, Griffin would become the undisputed face of the franchise. Over the past three seasons, he’s struggled to stay healthy, but when available, the five-time All-Star could drop 20 points per game with a double-double and dish out assists as a kind of point forward.
However, ESPN’s Michael Eaves dished out pertinent information about a toxic situation in the Clippers locker room:
“Several members of the team felt Austin acted entitled because his dad was both the coach and the President of Basketball Operations. In the view of the tenured players, Austin Rivers never tried to fit in, and when players tried to address the situation with him, he still did not respond the way the core of the team wanted him to. It led to resentment within the locker room, which often played out during games.”
Doc Rivers still holds his dual position as president of basketball operations and head coach. His son, Austin, has a contract through the 2018-19 season, per Spotrac. If the resentment exists in the locker room, Griffin will likely become the next Lob City member to jump ship.
Riley will swing and miss on Hayward but land Griffin.
Prediction: Griffin Signs with the Miami Heat
Six to Eight Teams Interested Paul Millsap
Paul Millsap‘s game doesn’t flash in the SportsCenter highlights, so he’s overlooked as a top free agent on the market. At 32 years old, he’s a threat for a double-double every game and plays solid defense at power forward—sounds dazzling.
Millsap logged a career high in points per game (18.1) during the previous season. His versatility could push a mediocre team into playoff contention. He could also provide a calming voice in a young locker room.
According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Chris Vivlamore, six to eight teams have shown interest in Millsap.
Among the likely suitors, the Denver Nuggets should emerge as the front-runner based on past interest and financial resources to throw extra cash at the 32-year-old forward, per BSN Denver reporter Harrison Wind.
“Denver nearly acquired Millsap last summer and expressed interest in trading for the four-time All-Star around February’s deadline,” Wind said. “With max-level money available, Millsap is likely at or near the top of the Nuggets’ free-agent target list.”
The Nuggets barely missed the eighth spot in the West with a 40-42 record during the 2016-17 campaign. It’s a young roster buzzing with potential in need of a productive veteran with a business-like demeanor. In the midst of signing his last major NBA contract, Millsap could cash in on a max deal in Denver while the team continues to develop its talented youngsters.
Prediction: Millsap Signs with the Denver Nuggets
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