The NBA’s annual frenzy of player movement has already begun.
Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Lakers agreed to trade for New Orleans Pelicans superstar big man Anthony Davis. They’re now attempting to carve out enough salary-cap space for a third star in free agency.
That’s only the beginning of what is expected to be a wild summer, with some of the biggest names in the NBA potentially being on the move.
Certain stars aren’t expected to change teams. Even before he suffered a torn ACL in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Klay Thompson was likely to re-up with the Golden State Warriors on a max deal. Likewise, don’t expect Jimmy Butler to go anywhere this summer. After he carried the Philadelphia 76ers to within a Game 7 buzzer-beater of a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, they have no choice but to pay up to keep him.
Other stars’ futures are murkier.
Kevin Durant is a total mystery in the wake of the torn Achilles that will likely sideline him for all of next season. So is Kawhi Leonard, who seems more likely to re-sign with Toronto after delivering the franchise its first-ever NBA championship but could still leave for the Los Angeles Clippers. Kemba Walker appears open to returning to Charlotte, but he will have plenty of other suitors to entertain.
Certain players seem likely to be wearing new uniforms when the 2019-20 season tips off in October. The following are some of the best bets to be changing teams this summer.
Kyrie Irving’s second season in Boston did not go as planned.
Pegged as the favorites to win the Eastern Conference at the start of the season, the Celtics were plagued by chemistry problems and inconsistent play. They ultimately lost in five games to the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the playoffs.
In October, Irving told Celtics season-ticket holders that he planned on re-signing, but that stance changed as the season progressed. On Monday, Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe reported Irving has “ghosted” members of the Celtics organization, and the team is not optimistic he will return.
The Celtics’ reluctance to get involved in the bidding war for Anthony Davis spoke volumes about Irving’s likely departure. If team president Danny Ainge felt confident about his chances to pair Irving and Davis, he might have offered a package including Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. With Irving as good as gone, he decided it wasn’t worth the risk of Davis bolting after a year.
Irving recently parted ways with his longtime agent Jeff Wechsler to join Roc Nation Sports, an agency with long-running ties to the Brooklyn Nets. Previously thought to be preparing to join Kevin Durant on the New York Knicks, Irving now appears to be a good bet to join the Nets.
That isn’t final by any means. There’s still an outside chance he could reunite with LeBron James on the Lakers or go to the Knicks after all. But it’s becoming increasingly clear he will not be back in Boston.
Irving’s Celtics teammate, Al Horford, also looks to be headed out the door.
On Tuesday, Horford officially declined his $30.1 million player option for next season, although ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported he planned to negotiate a long-term deal to remain in Boston. Hours later, however, the Boston Herald‘s Steve Bulpett reported that talks had broken down and Horford is now expected to sign elsewhere in July.
A solid scorer and post defender, Horford would be a seamless fit on virtually any team in the league and should be in high demand for contenders with cap space.
He’d be a logical frontcourt partner for Anthony Davis with the Lakers, as well as a nice fit with the Clippers or Nets. If the Milwaukee Bucks can move the contracts of Tony Snell and Ersan Ilyasova, they hypothetically could create enough cap room to sign him while keeping the cap holds of Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon on their books.
There’s no clear read at this point on where Horford will be playing next season. But barring a change of course, it won’t be Boston.
If Irving is headed to the Nets, D’Angelo Russell likely won’t be returning, according to SNY’s Ian Begley.
Russell is coming off a breakout year and his first All-Star appearance, but he isn’t a natural fit next to the similarly ball-dominant Irving.
Luckily for him, plenty of teams that make sense could carve out enough cap space to sign him.
The Chicago Bulls, Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic all need point guards. The Utah Jazz will be looking for a replacement for Ricky Rubio and will have some money to spend.
Whoever wants to sign Russell to an offer sheet will have to pay up, but Shams Charania of The Athletic reported earlier this month that multiple teams are “expected to show an interest” in him.
The Philadelphia 76ers traded for Tobias Harris at the deadline in part as an insurance policy in case Jimmy Butler left in free agency. But after the way Butler played in the playoffs, it’s difficult to imagine them not doing everything in their power to keep him.
With their lack of depth getting exposed in the playoffs, the Sixers may be better off spending their remaining cap space to fill out their roster rather than on Harris.
Harris is a prime candidate to receive a big contract this summer. Although he likely isn’t a No. 1-caliber option on a contending team, he’s still a reliable scorer..
Harris isn’t quite a max player, but he’ll get a max or near-max contract from one of the teams (Knicks, Nets, Lakers) that misses out on the biggest names and has money to burn.
Things appear to be coming apart at the seams in Houston.
On Tuesday, Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports reported that the relationship between Rockets stars Chris Paul and James Harden is toxic and that Paul wants out of Houston.
Moving him will prove difficult for Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, as the 34-year-old Paul has three years and $124 million remaining on his contract. But Morey could look to make other changes to retool around Harden, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported in late May, including moving Clint Capela.
Capela re-signed with the Rockets last summer on a five-year contract worth up to $90 million following Houston’s 65-win campaign in 2017-18. His disappointing playoff performance this past season has cast his future in Houston into doubt, but he can still be useful as a rim protector and pick-and-roll finisher.
The Rockets should be able to get good value for him on the trade market.
Bojan Bogdanovic had a career year in Indiana, averaging a career-high 18.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per game while shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range. The Pacers would love to keep him, but he’ll be in high demand from playoff teams in need of size and shooting.
ESPN’s Bobby Marks mentioned him as a possible trade target for the San Antonio Spurs (via Jesus Gomez of Pounding the Rock), and he should have interest from the Lakers, Clippers and Nets as well.
Bogdanovic will likely receive contract offers below the max tier but in the $15-20 million per year range, which is reasonable for a quality starter with his shooting ability. Since there will be plenty of competition for his services, he may price himself out of a return to Indiana.
The Clippers would love to re-sign Patrick Beverley, who played a key role in their unexpected playoff run this season. But they’re in the market for max-level free agents, which could make him the odd man out.
Plenty of teams will be ready to swoop in to sign the tough, versatile defensive guard.
Beverley’s hometown team, the Chicago Bulls, have plenty of cap room and are in need of a point guard. There’s mutual interest, too: Beverley told the Chicago Tribune he “bleeds Chicago.”
The Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic and Dallas Mavericks also have cap space and need someone like Beverley. He could be an option for the Lakers, too, if they aren’t able to land a third max player to pair with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Beverley would be an asset on most teams, as he’s a hard-nosed defender with the ability to knock down an open three. There should be a strong market for him this summer.
Like Bojna Bogdanovic, expect Nikola Mirotic to be an intriguing option for teams looking for size and shooting.
He’ll likely be the odd man out in the Bucks’ salary crunch as they prioritize retaining guard Malcolm Brogdon, forward Khris Middleton and center Brook Lopez.
Mirotic is coming off a contract that paid him $12.5 million per season. Considering how many teams project to have cap space this summer, the 28-year-old should be able to command at least that much on the open market.
A career 35.9 percent three-point shooter, Mirotic can be a useful piece for any playoff contenders with money to burn, including the Lakers and Nets.
Rubio recently told a Spanish radio station that the Jazz have said he won’t be a top priority for them, per Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune.
As such, it’s a near lock that he’ll be playing elsewhere next season.
Much like Patrick Beverley, Rubio will be an option for teams looking for a veteran point guard such as the Bulls, Suns and Magic. His lack of a consistent three-point shot makes him an imperfect choice as a starting point guard, but he’s a good enough passer and defender to make up for those weaknesses.
He could be a solid pickup for any of those teams.