Best Fits For the Top NBA Free Agents

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Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the NBA Finals and the NBA Draft have concluded, it is now time to shift our attention to the unpredictable and exciting free agency period. This is were it gets crazy. This is not just any off-season but the landscape of the NBA can change once again. Big name free agents such as Kevin Durant and DeMar DeRozan will have many NBA fans glued to Twitter or ESPN as they await to find out where the top free agents will play basketball for the next few seasons. Just considering all of the names and possible trades that could be upcoming, has there ever been a bigger off-season in the recent memory?

With the salary cap rising to an all-time high of $94 million due to the recent TV deal agreement, many more teams will aspire to bring in some of the top stars this summer. Some of the small-market teams can get in the action too after years of jealousy and watching their stars leave. Times have changed. Where do the top NBA free agents land this summer?

Note: This article looks at the best fits for both the player and the team. For example, the Timberwolves would be a good fit for Durant. The T-Wolves would have a formidable “Big 3” with Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Kevin Durant that can finally lead Minnesota to a playoff berth. From Durant’s perspective, the T-Wolves do not make sense at all since KD would want to go to a team that would be an instant and legitimate championship contender. So the fits need to be realistic and make sense for both parties.

-Also note that due to LeBron James recent comments about staying with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he will be left out of this list.

 

Honorable Mention: Tim Duncan/Manu Ginobili: Center and Shooting Guard for the San Antonio Spurs (Player Option for Duncan, declined player option for Ginobili)

Best Fits: Spurs or retirement

Is there really any other choice for these future Hall of Famers?

At this point in their careers, money does not mean much for Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili since they have made millions from the Spurs and through advertisements. Instead, they desire helping the Spurs win championship #6. The million-dollar question is how much do they have left? Tim Duncan averaged career lows in points per game, minutes per game, and rebounds per game. At 40, Duncan can still make an impact on defense and have a strong veteran presence to the team. In Ginobili’s case, his shots and minutes per game decreased but he improved as a shooter and shot selection pleased many Spurs fans.

There is no way that either of the two would join another team so it’s either returning to the Spurs or walking off into the sunset after a historic regular season. If they both end up returning, they might be persuaded to take yet another pay cut in hopes of bringing in another star free agent to pair up with Kawhi Leonard and Lamarcus Aldridge.

 

12: Pau Gasol – Center for the Chicago Bulls (Player Option)

Best Fits: San Antonio Spurs or the Golden State Warriors

After a miserable season with the Chicago Bulls where they ended up missing the playoffs, Pau Gasol will look to play for a contending team this upcoming season. Gasol signed with the Bulls in hopes of building something special with Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah. Well, that something special has now turned into a full rebuild and now Gasol will be looking for a new home. Gasol has been rumored to go to the new-look New York Knicks but if his Bulls tenure taught him anything, he is better off going to a team that will be guaranteed to play basketball in late May.

The Warriors and Spurs make the most sense for him but it will come at a heavy cost. Gasol will likely have to take a pay cut if he would wish to play for Popovich or Kerr. If Gasol were to go to San Antonio, he could be on the verge of going through the David West route and take a similar 1-year, $1.4 million dollar deal but it would also depend on the direction that the Spurs will go regarding signing other players and the pay cuts that some players would be willing to take.

If Gasol were to go to the Golden State Warriors, he would fit right in. The Warriors front office did say that they will be aggressive in free agency and that changes could come. 

Photo Credit: NBA Savant
Photo Credit: NBA Savant

Gasol still has that vintage mid-range jump shot that would be a boost to the Warriors offensive gameplan. Gasol is also an underrated passer for a center as he does well setting up a shot for a winger or assisting a player that is cutting to the rim for a high percentage shot. Adding Gasol to the Warriors could very well mean the end to Andrew Bogut’s starting duties but there are pros and cons to it. Bogut is more of a well-rounded defender in the post compared to Gasol while Gasol has a greater impact on offense. Whether it is the Spurs or Warriors, Gasol would be a tremendous addition to the team.

 

11: Rajon Rondo – Point Guard for the Sacramento Kings

Best Fits: New Orleans Pelicans or the Sacramento Kings

Finding a new home for Rajon Rondo is difficult, especially in this era of talented point guards. Plenty of teams across the NBA already have their point guard of the future or they are a team that make no sense at all for Rajon Rondo. For example, the Houston Rockets. Although the Rockets have Patrick Beverley running the point guard position, bringing in Rondo to facilitate the offense would be a nice upgrade for the team. It seems like a great fit but it could also end up like the Mavericks disaster. With the fact that Harden runs the offense with constant isolation plays and with Mark D’Antoni running his distinct fast pace offense, Rondo is better off looking somewhere else since his playmaking ability to get teammates involved in the offense through some all-star type passes would be limited.

Looking around the league, the Pelicans and Kings would make the most sense. Although Rondo had a tough time with the Kings due to the unpleasant relationship between George Karl and Demarcus Cousins, the good news is that Karl is not the head coach anymore. Rondo has entertained the thought of returning to the Kings and with Dave Joerger now running the show, Rondo could return and help his old pal Demarcus Cousins finally reach the playoffs.

Now why the Pelicans? The Pelicans need to desperately bring in top and unique talent to build around Anthony Davis and Rondo would be a perfect fit. Rondo has done an incredible job being a facilitator to Kevin Garnett and Demarcus Cousins and now Rondo could do the same with Davis. Rondo can find Davis when he has the advantage down in the post, assist some high percentage and uncontested jumpers, and find him for some good look 3-point shots (WATCH OUT NBA, DAVIS SHOOTS 3’s). The Pelicans do have Jrue Holiday but his injuries and  inconsistencies over the past three years could make the Pelicans re-consider what they should do with their point guard situation. Holiday has played a total of 139 games over the past three seasons and will be a free agent after the 2016-2017 season. His trade value is significant at the moment after coming off of a 16 points per game season so a trade can free up cap space to bring in Rondo and possibly a few mid-tier free agents in hopes of building a consistent winner. Rondo can also help in the development of the rookie Buddy Hield as for a scorer like him, he could be in the need of a point guard that can set him up on the court and would be able to space the floor to help create a comfortable shot for Hield. 

 

10: Harrison Barnes – Small Forward for the Golden State Warriors

Best Fits: Golden State Warriors or the Los Angeles Lakers

Harrison Barnes free agency stock value after the NBA Finals dropped like Laremy Tunsil’s draft stock in the recent NFL Draft. Overall in his 2016 playoff run, Barnes averaged 9 points per game on 38% shooting with 4 rebounds per game and 1 assist per game. Barnes was not the x-factor that the Warriors hoped he would turn into especially in the early rounds with Stephen Curry’s absence opening a door of opportunity. Instead, Barnes opened up a door of opportunity for opponents to pad their rebounding stats after a Barnes miss. He was too inconsistent on both ends of the floor and now as he looks back at this season, he probably wished that he had accepted the Warriors four-year, $64 million dollar offer.

Many teams will show interest but ultimately it will come down to returning to the Bay Area or following Luke Walton to Los Angeles. If he stays with the Warriors, he will continue to be a part of a championship contending team but his potential will always be limited playing behind Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. He will not have the golden opportunity to shine and run the team the way that he would hope to do so. He also will not get the money that he would desire as the Warriors have a 28th best $12 million in cap space this summer AND  Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala will become free agents next summer with Curry anticipating a max-contract deal.

I am envisioning this would be the outcome of a meeting where Barnes requests for a max contract from the Warriors. 

Now in the case that Barnes chooses to go to the Lakers, he could possibly get the ludicrous max contract deal as the Lakers will have $62 million dollars in cap space this season. He would continue to develop as a scorer with a young roster and under his former assistant coach Luke Walton. You never know, Kobe Bryant could also mentor and help grow your game. Barnes does not have many options so he should consider all of the factors before committing to a long-term deal.

 

9: Dwyane Wade – Shooting Guard for the Miami Heat (UFA)

Best Fits: Miami Heat or… joins LeBron James and the Cavaliers???

Dwyane Wade has played his entire Hall of Fame career with the Heat and it will continue that way unless he surprises the basketball world and joins LeBron James and the defending champs Cleveland Cavaliers. Wade to the Cavs to play with LeBron makes sense since the two all close friends and he would be an upgrade over J.R Smith… but that is pretty much it. Wade joining forces with LeBron will be a rumor that will not go away until Wade commits to a team but I just can not see him with the Cavaliers so it is better to just talk about his situation with the Heat..

Assuming that Whiteside also re-signs, a “Big 4” of Wade/Bosh/Dragic/Whiteside can give it another ride and challenge the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference if they all stay healthy. Now comes the issue of building around the “Big 4” to create a formidable supporting cast. The Heat can potentially have around $36 million in cap space so Wade might be forced to take on a near $12 million dollar per year contract with Whiteside, Dragic and Bosh all likely absorbing at least $15 million per year. If it works out with Wade, the Heat can now look ahead to bringing in solid role players such as Brandon Bass, Kent Bazemore and  Leandro Barbosa. Like Dirk and Duncan have done, saying goodbye to millions of dollars is tough but the reward could be one more championship. 

 

8: Hassan Whiteside – Center for the Miami Heat (UFA)

Best Fits: Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and the Dallas Mavericks

Hassan Whiteside has stated that he loves Miami and that he would want to stay there but they all say that until it gets down to the $$$. I listed these teams because they can afford him since they all will command at least $30 million in cap space this summer and because he would be a strong addition to the team. Whiteside will get a lot of interest but the claims for each team will be intriguing:

    • Blazers: If the Blazer show interest, Whiteside should seriously consider their offer. The Blazers will have $39 million in cap space and after a successful season where they were projected to be a lottery team, Damian Lillard and C.J McCollum took Portland to the 2nd round. Whiteside might not get the max with Portland but this is a team on the rise and many would wish to join the ride. 
  • Heat: This should be his #1 option at this point. Play another season with Goran Dragic, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade and trust in Pat Riley. Erik Spoelstra has maximized Whiteside’s talent and he can still realistically get the money that he desires.
  • Celtics: Why would you not want to play for Brad Stevens and the up and coming Celtics team. He would fit perfectly becoming the defensive anchor at the center position as Celtics fans have been waiting for a dominant rebounder ever since Kevin Garnett left. Whiteside can still get the money that he wants, maybe the max, with the Celtics as they could possibly have around $53 million in cap space.
  • Rockets: The Rockets are here because they are desperate at this point. With Dwight Howard declining his player option, the Rockets will be able to spend $41 million this summer. The Rockets will do anything that they can to build around James Harden instead of listening to trade demands by Harden.
  • Knicks: I can not see how this were to happen but the Knicks will definitely show interest and Whiteside could see appeal in a “Big 4” revolving around Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Kristaps Porzingis… and Hassan Whiteside.
  • Mavericks: Mark Cuban’s summer revenge tour could take a stop in Miami as Cuban will look to recruit Whiteside to Dallas. Whiteside should consider Dallas only if they have a committed deal with another big name free agent such as Mike Conley or another star in the loaded free agent class. He can also continue to develop his post game by getting mentored by the legendary Dirk. 
  • Lakers: Another interesting option. Play alongside Russell, Randle, and any big name free agents that they can add. Also play for Luke Walton AND get the max contract for 5 years. Some say that Whiteside does not deserve the max but he will be asking it and with Kobe’s contract coming off the books, the Lakers can afford it.

 

7: Mike Conley – Point Guard for the Memphis Grizzlies (UFA)

Best Fits: Dallas Mavericks

Like in Rajon Rondo’s case, it is difficult to find a home for Mike Conley due to the fact that many teams have their starting point guard or they are not looking for a high-priced point guard. I would have had Conley’s options include the Pacers and the Knicks but both teams recently acquired their point guards via a trade with Jeff Teague heading to Indiana and Derrick Rose heading to New York. The San Antonio Spurs would be a good fit but they have internal factors that could prevent the signing from happening. Assuming David West, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili all decline their options, the Spurs can have around $15 million in cap space. If the Spurs can find a way to re-sign Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili for the minimum, sign a big for a cheap price AND look to move or restructure Tony Parker’s near $30 million dollar contract over the next two years, then the Spurs can consider Conley. Unlikely at this point but never count out Popovich from making it all work out.

Scouting Conley’s options, that now leaves the Dallas Mavericks as his #1 option. After a disappointing off-season last year to go along with their first round exit in the playoffs, Mark Cuban will look to do anything that he can to get the Mavericks back in the title race. If Conley chooses to ask for the max, the Mavericks are one of the few teams that can afford to it plus add another star and key role players to form a contender that can challenge the Spurs and Warriors. Conley is still just 28 and after years of playing in the defensive-minded Memphis Grizzlies team, Conley has turned into one of the best two-way guards in the NBA. The Mavericks desperately need scoring from the guard position and Conley would add that element to the Mavericks as he has averaged 15 points per game on a true shooting percentage of .548 over the past two seasons.

 

6: Dirk Nowitzki – Power Forward for the Dallas Mavericks (Declined Player Option)

Best Fits: Dallas Mavericks

“The only way I would ever leave is, like I’ve always said, if we start five rookies. Obviously, that’s not something that I want to be a part of, but as long as we go for it and compete, then I’ll be a Mav.” – Dirk Nowitzki, April 2016

 

Mark Cuban, you have some work to do. With a 3rd best $56 million dollars in cap space, Mark Cuban will do all that he can to give Dirk one last run at a championship before he walks off the court as a legend. Cuban can surround Dirk with players such as: Barnes, Noah, Deng, Crawford, Afflalo, West, Conley, Howard, Batum, Whiteside, Parsons, DeRozan, Gasol, and Durant. Some of the options are unlikely to happen but it is more of a guarantee that Dirk will be playing with the best supporting cast since the 2011 Mavericks championship team. It is just a matter of who will be joining Dirk and how much of a pay cut will Dirk have to take. In 2014, Dirk signed a 3-year deal worth around $24 million dollars. It was considered a huge pay cut considering he was still one of the best big men in the NBA and had been making around $16 million per season. Now Dirk will not be taking a David West type of pay cut but a 2nd consecutive pay cut will no doubt be on the verge for the future Hall of Famer.

 

5: Al Horford – Power Forward for the Atlanta Hawks (UFA)

Best Fits: Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers

Oh look at this surprise, ANOTHER free agent that can be a fit for the Dallas Mavericks. As expected, Mark Cuban will be interested in plenty of the big name free agents and one of them should be Al Horford. Al is a unique center that averaged 15 points per game on 50% shooting to go along with 7 rebounds per game. Al can stretch the floor and shoot the 3 well and he would do very well with Dirk. Many coaches worry about the bigs going to work on the post and securing rebounds but now imagine TWO bigs that can also shoot the 3 on the same team?

The Mavericks are not the only team that will look to snatch Horford away from the Hawks. After a disappointing draft where the Celtics failed to reach an agreement on a deal to acquire Nerlens Noel from the 76ers, the C’s could look to add Horford to the team and they can afford to have him onboard for a possible 5-year contract. From the Rockets perspective, as said before, they will be desperate to bring some elite free agents to pair up with Harden. With the Wizards, they will not let $40 million in cap space go to waste and with Nene now a free agent, they could sign Horford to the team to create a durable backcourt along with Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris that can lead them back to the playoffs. Making the case for Horford to the Blazers is easy: Play with Lillard and McCollum while they give you more money than most teams can afford to give you.

 

4: Andre Drummond – Center for the Detroit Pistons (RFA)

Best Fits: Detroit Pistons

There is a better chance that Rasheed Wallace will come back to the Pistons and lead the team to the playoffs than Andre Drummond leaving the Pistons. Andre Drummond is about to get a huge contract with the Detroit Pistons and it will be about time for him. Andre Drummond is still just 22-years-old, younger than some of the draft prospects such as Kris Dunn, and he has already turned into one of the best centers in the NBA. He has been a durable player so far in his young NBA career starting at least 81 games in his last three seasons. Drummond was an All-Star for the first time in his career this past season as he averaged 16.2 points per game on 52% shooting and an NBA-leading 14.8 rebounds per game. If Drummond polishes his post moves and improves his free-throw shooting, he can turn into one of the best players in the NBA. Along with Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson, KCP, and Reggie Jackson, the Pistons look to grow and become a consistent championship contender just like the 2000’s Pistons team. Drummond is a restricted free agent so Detroit will likely match any offer and go on to lock him up for the next five years.

 

3: DeMar DeRozan – Shooting Guard for the Toronto Raptors (Declined Player Option)

Best Fits: Los Angeles Lakers or the Toronto Raptors

Which home will DeRozan choose? Return to Los Angeles and play for the hometown Lakers or return to his now second home in Toronto?   It should really be a simple choice for DeRozan but there also comes the option that the Lakers might not even pursue DeRozan. The Lakers could choose to go along with the complete rebuild plan and build through the draft with a few mid-tier free agent signings. If that happens, DeRozan might just end up going back to Toronto since many teams would be hesitant to offer him a max contract. DeRozan had an All-Star season with 23 points per game on 44% shooting but his inconsistency in the playoffs opened some eyes and critics questioned his superstar potential as he averaged 20 points per game on 39% shooting. DeRozan was able to revive his tremendous scoring ability late in the playoffs and led the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals where he gave it his all against the eventual 2016 champions Cleveland Cavaliers. Re-signing DeMar DeRozan would be huge in continuing the basketball revolution in Canada. With $32 million in cap space, the Raptors could then go on to bring in some versatile scoring role players to help make another run at the East Finals.

 

2: Dwight Howard – Center for the Houston Rockets (Declined Player Option)

Best fits: Dallas Mavericks or the New York Knicks

Dwight Howard’s play during his run with the Houston Rockets has lowered his value and this is not the exciting Dwight Howard sweepstakes that it was years ago. In arguably his last season with the Rockets, Dwight Howard averaged 13 points per game on a career high 62% shooting but took the fewest shots since his rookie year. To get back to being a dominant center, he NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDS to improve/polish his post moves and be aggressive on the boards once again. He needs to get his confidence up again and go to a team where he would get involved in the offense.

Plenty of teams will show interest but the Mavs and Knicks should be clear favorites to land Howard. For the Mavericks, how far do you think this potential and realistic lineup can go in the west: Mike Conley, Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki, and Dwight Howard. The wonders that Rick Carlisle can do with this team could be incredible and Cuban will have no problem putting it all together with $56 million in cap space. With the Knicks, if they fail to get Whiteside, then Dwight Howard is going to be the player that they will be looking to replace Robin Lopez to play center. Who knows where Dwight’s mindset is at but playing alongside Rose/Melo/Porzingis could be something special.  

 

1: Kevin Durant – Small Forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder (UFA)

Best Fits: Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston Celtics, and the Golden State Warriors

Now the main attraction. Where will Kevin Durant continue his career? After the Thunders’ disappointing loss to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, I looked at all the teams that can go after Kevin Durant here 

After considering all of his options and what he can bring to the team, the Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors and returning to the Thunder are all the best options for Durant. Since the Thunder have exclusive bird rights, the Thunder can offer the most money in a 5-year max contract. If the playoffs showed Durant anything, and yeah I know that they choked, it is that this team is capable of winning the championship. With Durant and Westbrook running the show along with a multi-dimensional offense with the developing post game of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, this team can continue to challenge the Warriors AND Spurs in the west for years to come. Now with the addition of Victor Oladipo, this could be one of the top talented and skilled rosters in all of the NBA. General Manager Sam Presti is making it a tough decision for Durant to say goodbye to Oklahoma City.

If KD chooses the Warriors, let’s just wrap up the next two seasons and start the parade. For a team that won the championship and went 73-9 the next season with a missed 3 by Stephen Curry with a minute to go away from going back-to-back, adding Durant is just historic. Now Kevin Durant is the type of player that makes it worth it to go over luxury tax unlike if the same opportunity were presented with a Harrison Barnes max contract offer.

Now with the Boston Celtics. They say that the Celtics never get any top free agents but it can realistically change with Kevin Durant. He would play under the mastermind that is Brad Stevens and would continue to just be Durant. He will not be forced to adjust his game nor deteriorate his production on offense but he would take the same amount of shots per game, occasionally run isolation plays, and have freedom to take advantage of any mismatch of the court for a high-percentage jump shot. Durant to Boston would ultimately signal the interest of another star to join the team. Al Horford, Hassan Whiteside, or Jimmy Butler could join KD and Isiah Thomas to create one of the best “Big 3’s” in the NBA. To go alongside one of the best supporting casts in the NBA which includes the growing Jae Crowder and one of the best 1v1 defenders in the NBA with Avery Bradley, NBA Finals aspirations could return to Boston could return once again.

All I would advise Kevin Durant to do is to think this decision over and talk to family, close friends, and a few of the top NBA players in the league. Choosing to leave OKC could be a success where he would finally be able to win a championship but at the same time, he can also leave and just be miserable with his new team.

This is the best off-season to be among the top 10 in cap space. If the draft and recent trades in the NBA are a signal to come, this is looking to be another exciting free agency period.

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