It’s weird how everyone tried to fight the idea of a fourth straight meeting in the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors.
The Rockets literally went out of their way to specifically match up better with the Dubs and the Celtics are still in it, but it really does feel like that’s where we’re headed.
Regardless, once the season ends, it’ll be back to the drawing board for whatever 28 teams don’t get to the Finals and compete for a championship. They’ll be forced to look at themselves in the mirror and try to gauge exactly what needs to be done to close the gap.
Improving through the draft is one option, but lately, the way to get vastly better in a hurry has been making moves in free agency or trades.
I’m sure some blockbuster deals could be in the works yet again this summer, but with a pretty tantalizing free agency class headed our way, that could take a backseat.
Some truly massive names are expected to hit the open market (if only temporarily) and some could change teams and shake things up in the NBA.
I’m not sure there will be any signings big enough to derail the Cavs and Dubs, but fans of the other 28 teams can hope.
In anticipation of the looming NBA free agency period and all that comes with it, let’s take a gander at the best available options at each position:
This year’s free agent point guard class is paced by Chris Paul, who was traded to the Rockets last summer and has an expiring one-year deal.
CP3 finally tasted the Western Conference Finals (and more?) in his first season next to James Harden, so I really find it difficult to believe he’s going anywhere but Houston next year.
The other guys on this list are probably going to be available to the highest bidder:
- 1. Chris Paul – Houston Rockets
- 2. Isaiah Thomas – Los Angeles Lakers
- 3. Elfrid Payton – Phoenix Suns
- 4. Rajon Rondo – New Orleans Pelicans
IT2 is an interesting case. He was sensational with the Boston Celtics two years ago, but a hip injury ruined him this year and lost him a ton of cash.
He wants big money and a starting gig somewhere, but it may not be easy to find it. There are a number of teams that would be interested, but he can forget about the max deal he covets.
The interest inexplicably appears to be mutual between the Lakers and Thomas, even though the role and money he wants should lead him out of L.A.
If that ends up being the case, watch for someone like the Orlando Magic, assuming they don’t upgrade the position in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Rondo may test the open waters, but I believe he’ll be back with the Pelicans. He’s found a place he can call home and he fits their system. Playoff Rondo was a thing again and New Orleans appears to be trending in the right direction in general.
The main guy to monitor here is going to be Payton.
Phoenix swung a deal to land him late last year, but it’s fair to wonder if he actually fits in with their long-term plans. That, and he could garner a fat contract as a restricted free agent.
I’m not sure who actually wants him bad enough to offer him a huge deal, though, and not many teams have more cash to spare than the Suns.
Shooting guard lacks an elite face of the franchise like CP3 does at the point, but it’s actually quite loaded.
Tyreke Evans leads the way as a free agent after earning himself a big payday with a nice season as a focal point in Memphis:
- 1. Tyreke Evans – Memphis Grizzlies
- 2. Will Barton – Denver Nuggets
- 3. Zach LaVine – Chicago Bulls
- 4. J.J. Redick – Philadelphia 76ers
- 5. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Los Angeles Lakers
- 6. Dwyane Wade – Miami Heat
- 7. Avery Bradley – Los Angeles Clippers
- 8. Marcus Smart – Boston Celtics
- 9. Marco Belinelli – Philadelphia 76ers
- 10. Wesley Matthews – Dallas Mavericks
Evans could wind up back in Memphis, but I tend to think he may have priced himself out of town. That, and there’s little incentive for him to take any kind of a discount to return to a losing team that isn’t visibly making progress.
There are flaws to Evans’ game, but he can still create and score with the best of them. He may prefer to be a starter and I think he proved that’s what he is.
Teams with fat wallets like the Hawks and Lakers could beef up their lineup by bringing him in, while the Magic, Nets and Mavericks will all be looking to add talent.
Barton is my second best shooting guard option just because he does one thing at such a high level. He’s another guy who probably proved he deserves to start, which is a pretty good reason why he may not stick in Denver.
LaVine is going to get paid big money this summer and some team will try to pry him from the Bulls. I don’t see that happening, however.
Redick had a nice one-year deal with Philly and it worked out swimmingly for both sides. At 33 years old, though, he may need to take a significant discount to stay in town or latch on with any other title contender.
For what it’s worth, it sounds like he’ll do what needs to be done to come back.
The other big name to watch is KCP, who can score the ball and also defends at a high level.
The Lakers could use him, but if they’re hunting bigger game in free agency, he may slip through the cracks and sign elsewhere.
The other guys on this list are solid role players, but they all have glaring flaws or are at risk of steep regression.
Of the lot, Belinelli is the most interesting just because he can be such an explosive outside threat. If he’s not back in Philly, I see him latching on with a title contender like the Rockets or helping to fatten up the bench in a city like OKC.
Just so I don’t miss it, Wade is surely deciding between one more year at a discount with the Heat. If he doesn’t want to play or they don’t want him, he’s retiring.
KD leads “the big three”, which highlights easily the most loaded position going into the 2018 NBA free agency period.
It’s quite possible Durant, James and PG-13 all stay right where they are, but they’re easily the big names to monitor this summer:
- 1. Kevin Durant – Golden State Warriors
- 2. LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers
- 3.Paul George – Oklahoma City Thunder
- 4. Carmelo Anthony – Oklahoma City Thunder
- 5. Jabari Parker – Milwaukee Bucks
- 6. Trevor Ariza – Houston Rockets
- 7. Wilson Chandler – Denver Nuggets
- 8. Rudy Gay – San Antonio Spurs
- 9. Mario Hezonja – Orlando Magic
Durant did mention that he wasn’t too keen on taking such a big discount to stay with the Dubs, but he loves it there and got his first title last year.
He’ll opt out to see what they do, but ultimately he’s staying in the Bay Area.
James is a very interesting situation, as the whispers grow louder and louder that he might leave Ohio.
The top NBA betting sites certainly think there’s some merit to all the rumors, as BetOnline and other sportsbooks only put his odds to be in Cleveland next year at +125.
There are a number of options for King James. The Lakers make sense financially, while a return to the Heat is an interesting option.
The more likely possibilities are James latching on with a budding Sixers franchise or teaming up with Harden and CP3 in Houston.
Ultimately, I doubt James is going anywhere.
PG-13 might be another story. He pretty much forced his way out of Indy because he was sick of losing.
His first year in OKC ended in a thud in round one and given the state of their roster, it’s safe to assume it won’t get exponentially better next season.
George heading over to his hometown Lakers (-200 at BetOnline) makes a lot of sense.
There is a steep drop-off after the top three guys, as the majority of the other options are simply role players.
Melo doesn’t seem to be too happy in OKC, but he has a player option. There is no way he’s passing on guaranteed cash to let them off the hook.
Parker is the most interesting case out of the rest of this group, as he’s still young and has flashed star potential when healthy.
The Bucks will have a big decision to make when someone like the Nets, Hawks or Magic ultimately offer him a massive contract.
Rudy Gay should opt in to stay with the Spurs. He wasn’t the same after a torn Achilles and he’s not going to find more money or a better situation elsewhere.
Ariza makes sense returning to the Rockets, while Chandler could jump ship to latch on with a better title threat.
Hezonja is just interesting due to a bit of a breakout year this past season. He’s extremely versatile and if the right team gives him a shot, he actually could be special. I highly doubt he’s back in Orlando, though.
You might be able to argue some centers in at the four spot, but for the most part this position is between Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle up top.
Both of these guys enjoyed stellar 2017-18 seasons and are strong locks to stay in Orlando and Los Angeles, respectively.
They are restricted free agents that will absolutely be handed a ton of cash by other teams, but I find it hard to believe the Magic and Lakers let them walk.
- 1. Aaron Gordon – Orlando Magic
- 2. Julius Randle – Los Angeles Lakers
- 3. Thaddeus Young – Indiana Pacers
- 4. Derrick Favors – Utah Jazz
- 5. Ersan Ilyasova – Philadelphia 76ers
- 6. Michael Beasley – New York Knicks
- 7. Dirk Nowitzki – Dallas Mavericks
There isn’t a ton else to get excited about here. Young is probably the next best option just because he can do a little bit of everything, defend and allows you to go small.
He seems to like it in Indy and has a player option, though, so he’s not going anywhere.
I’d rank Favor higher, but he’s had a history of injuries and he’s more of a traditional big man that doesn’t fit everyone’s system.
He was actually quite good in place of an injured Rudy Gobert for portions of this past season, so someone looking for a solid two-way center ay look to land him.
I don’t really think he has a place in Utah anymore, so teams interested in a big change at the five spot like the Wizards, Spurs and/or Bucks should be monitored.
Nowitzki says he isn’t retiring yet, but it’s always going to be Dallas or bust for him. A lot of teams are going to come calling for guys like Beasley and Ilyasova.
I prefer Ersan, just because he actually gives effort on defense and impacts the game in a lot of different ways. Beasley is a pure scorer and doesn’t have the greatest awareness.
Both of these guys could look for starring roles on bad teams, but it’d make more sense for them to latch on with title contenders.
Last up is center, which is actually rather stacked depending on how things go down this summer.
DeMarcus Cousins tops this list, though, even with a torn Achilles injury lowering his stock. He might consider taking a discount to latch on with a title contender, but the Pels are his best financial move.
Here’s the rest of the list:
- 1. DeMarcus Cousins – New Orleans Pelicans
- 2. DeAndre Jordan – Los Angeles Clippers
- 3. Clint Capela – Houston Rockets
- 4. Jusuf Nurkic – Portland Trail Blazers
- 5. Enes Kanter – New York Knicks
- 6. Brook Lopez – Los Angeles Lakers
- 7. Nerlens Noel – Dallas Mavericks
- 8. Greg Monroe – Boston Celtics
- 9. Dewayne Dedmon – Atlanta Hawks
- 10. Kyle O’Quinn – New York Knicks
Boogie is the top name here and a lot of teams will be after him. I just don’t think he leaves the Pelicans.
DJ is my next best center, just because he’s so consistent and knows his role. He’s a rock-solid defensive presence and boosts your rebounding and shot-blocking immediately.
The issue with DJ is he has full power here. He can opt out of his deal, but I don’t see him passing up that cash. To a lesser extent, the same goes for Kanter, KOQ, and Dedmon.
The only guy there that might want to consider doing so is Kanter. He probably made some money this year, provided there is someone that believes in his ability to improve as a defender.
Lopez leads the unrestricted free agents centers. He is a terrible rebounder and overrated defender, but he can certainly score the ball. I don’t think he really fits in L.A. and he’s far too perimeter oriented, but he can still be a star for someone that needs offense.
Noel was basically abused by the Mavs, who held him back for much of the last two seasons. He’s still very young and has loads of upside. The money coming his way may not be fat, but he could be a steal for the right club.
I’m most excited about Nurkic, who can score inside and has also turned into a bit of a defensive force. With so many other bodies in Portland, it’s possible a big offer could pull him out of the Rip City.
Ultimately, this is the summer of LeBron James and Paul George. Once those guys decide what they want to do, the rest will follow.
It’s still going to be a very interesting offseason, starting with the draft and then which teams look to merely re-tool with role players or opt for huge splashes.
Several teams are just a move or two away from potentially making a title run, so it will be very interesting to see how things unfold.
Regardless, if you pay close attention and take advantage of NBA player prop bets at BetOnline and other sites, you could profit from all of the rumors.