With the NBA now in its offseason, our team got together to answer some of the biggest questions surrounding the association.
This year’s free agent class is not as deep or talented as last year’s and Anthony Davis, who can opt out of the final season of his current contract to become a free agent, is more-than-likely going nowhere after the Lakers took home their 17th title. So, which big star will change teams in the coming months?
Matthew Wellington: Chris Paul. After all, how many other genuine Hall of Famers are just laying around to be acquired this summer… I mean winter. Paul is also at the stage of his career where teams know what he brings to the table. And he impressed this past season, when his remarkable leadership qualities helped him push the Oklahoma City Thunder beyond all expectations. His proven ability to make his teammates better is why the natural fit is the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks are a team who fell-out of the postseason earlier than anticipated and it largely came down to a lack of veteran leadership and the simple fact that everybody knows what the Bucks’ offensive game plan is come the postseason. They lack an ability to truly mix-it-up and surprise, even with an exceptional head coach in Mike Budenholzer. If reports are to be believed, Paul and the Bucks’ superstar Giannis Antentokounmpo became close whilst in the Orlando Bubble, which could suggest a future relationship is on the cards. Subsequent Bucks press releases have shut down any such rumours of a relationship, but I still believe that a move such as this might just help push them over the hump in the Eastern Conference.
Huw Hopkins: Yes, Chris Paul is likely to switch it up. Maybe we’ll see Rudy Gobert be moved thanks to his fallout with Donovan Mitchell. And if Victor Oladipo says goodbye to Indiana, that would be major.
But there are two over-the-hill former star forwards playing, who, if they still think they can play at their previous levels, could stink up their respective joints and turn the corner into being disliked.
Carmelo Anthony and LaMarcus Aldridge have great careers behind them, but much less of it is ahead of them. However, both have shown a propensity to want to be the man.
For the Portland Trail Blazers, Anthony showed how dangerous he could be as a third or fourth option this year, but if he wants another payday and a run at being the top one or two scorers for a team, he might chase a contract with another team.
While it’s clear the Spurs still need an offensive big man, the winds of change are beginning to blow through San Antonio. The young perimeter trio of Derrick White, Lonnie Walker and Dejounte Murray showed great promise together, and there seems less room for the likes of DeMar DeRozan and Aldridge.
What the Spurs could get in return is probably not much, but if another team is looking for a player that they think will push them into playoff territory or to take that next step, one of those guys – and lore likely Aldridge – can show they still have a bit of gas in the tank, even if it is showing a bit of rust.
Sid Mohapatra: Victor Oladipo. The Indiana Pacers came out flat in the playoffs, while Oladipo posted career lows across the board in his return to action towards the tail end of the season. While showing flashes of his old self at times, his discomfort on the court was palpable. It’s unfair to place blame for the team’s woes solely on Oladipo, but, coupled with his rumored disgruntlement and the team’s focus now on T J Warren, it could be the end of the road for him on the team. Possible destinations via trade include the New York Knicks or the Milwaukee Bucks. Oladipo for Eric Bledsoe could prove to be a win-win for both teams.
Ger Deegan: I think the obvious answer here is Chris Paul, but there’s a reason for that. He is clearly the best player who is truly available in this off season. It’s quite clear that OKC need and probably intend to strip it down and getting Chris Paul’s contract off the books seems to be the perfect place to start.
Paul’s value has definitely risen since the beginning of last season. However, due to his previous injury history and age, there is risk involved for whoever may take him on. I think it’s a risk worth taking and I’ve been in love with the idea of Paul linking up with Giannis in Milwaukee. The Bucks are in desperate need of a point guard with experience to run the floor and it seems to be a matchup that fits perfectly. They probably just about have the assets to put a package together but I wouldn’t rule out the idea of Paul heading to Philly, which makes perfect sense also under the tutelage of former coach Doc Rivers.
Harry Harrison: I’m throwing this out of left-field, but I think LaMelo Ball could be the biggest (future) star to move this offseason. Yes, I understand he isn’t in the league yet, but he is already a bigger name than most of the players in the NBA. You can thank his father for that.
With no consensus number one selection in the upcoming NBA Draft, Ball could go anywhere from first to fourth. If a team is dead set on selecting him, they need to get as high a pick as possible to boost their chances. The Minnesota Timberwolves for example are rumoured to want to trade the No. 1 overall pick and the rumour mill is already working overtime on potential deals. In recent weeks, we’ve seen trades for Ben Simmons, Buddy Hield and Aaron Gordon emerge.
What I am saying is, keep an eye out for trades involving lottery picks. LaMelo is going to cause a stir.
Chinedu Udezue: The easy answer is Chris Paul, but the contracts that a lot of the top players have make moving them incredibly difficult, regardless of the desire to do something (also see Andre Drummond, John Wall, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, etc.)
Calling him a ‘star’ is probably pushing it, but in terms of at least a ‘noted’ name, I think Andrew Wiggins will probably be dealt this offseason; possibly packaged with Golden State’s No. 2 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Steve Kerr seems to like Wiggins as a person, but he hasn’t really had an opportunity to show how he fits with Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. Wiggins may just have ended up in the wrong situation at the wrong time, but I reckon dangling the above trade package will get them something reasonable in return.
It’s a hard question, given that there are still a few coaching spots not filled yet and the draft hasn’t happened… but I’d also keep an eye on Gordon Hayward. He’s an expiring contract this year and might be attractive to someone looking for a three-point shooting playmaker.
Tom Hall: After his coronavirus antics (what seems like years ago, before the bubble), there was unrest in the Utah Jazz locker room between Gobert and star Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz did well to quash the trade rumours and hide the rumours of a full-blown-feud. But between the beef behind closed doors, his limitations in the playoffs and upcoming chance at a supermax, I think the Jazz will be looking to offload the Stifle Tower, should a reasonable offer become available.
Sean Guest: As the players that are most likely to change teams have already been mentioned, I’m going with one that I want to see change teams: James Harden.
Although various sources have said it probably won’t happen this offseason, a trade involving Harden would be huge. After all, Daryl Morey’s gone, Mike D’Antoni’s gone and thanks to last season’s moves, the Rockets’ payroll offers about as much flexibility as a loan shark’s repayment plan.
As far as I see it, the franchise can either run back last year’s group in anticipation of another early playoff exit and a change next offseason, or they can look to recalibrate now. And while they’re probably stuck with Westbrook, putting Harden on the hook should land them a haul of players and picks that allows them to compete in the present, while also building for the future.
The prospect of seeing him play alongside, say, Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray on the Nuggets, Jimmy Butler on the Heat, or Joel Embiid on the 76ers is downright mouth-watering. But Harden’s used to being the man in Houston and may not take kindly to playing second fiddle in some of these locations.
The bottom line though is that he’s 31 now and his championship window is closing fast. If he’s serious about winning, he needs to realise that barring a minor miracle he’s not doing it with the Rockets. Maybe that’s less important to him than playing in a city he loves, for a fanbase that loves him though.
Either way, we may not need to wait too long to find out.