The season of basketball is over, but the season of business is just about to begin. July 1 will mark the beginning of free agency, when a number of contracts of top NBA players will expire and there will be a several restricted or unrestricted free agents on the market. For unrestricted free agents, there are no strings attached, and they can pursue their next move however they wish. Restricted free agents can sign offer sheets, but their own teams can match to keep them ensnared a little longer.
How many of these players will be wearing different NBA jerseys in a few months?
Here is my look at the top free agents this summer, where I also predict the chances of them changing teams this offseason:
1. LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Four years ago, he shocked the world with a very public “decision” to leave Cleveland for Miami. Last year, he shocked the world again, when he announced “I’m Coming Home!” to return to Cleveland. What happens now? LeBron has completed a successful return season with the Cavaliers as he carried an injury-riddled team to the Finals. But once again, he has opted out of his contract and will be a free agent with a player option.
Will LeBron actually leave Cleveland again? Most signs point towards ‘no’, and the belief is that LeBron will wait and see how the Cavs retool this summer before signing his own extension with them. But after his last two dramatic decisions, history has taught us never to be a 100 percent sure about King James again. LeBron is one of the few players in the league who dictates his own terms entirely, choosing teams instead of letting teams ever choose him.
Chances of departure: 10 percent.
2. Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)
The reigning ‘Defensive Player of the Year’ is an unrestricted free agent this summer and you can be sure that nearly every team with cap space, will be throwing their money with hopes to ensnare his talents. Leonard is a rare superstar who can lead a team to success without any superstar aura, and his personality has been a perfect fit for the Spurs so far. He’s still only 24 and has a lot of years of basketball left in him.
It is highly unlikely that Leonard leaves the Spurs now. He may feign some interest to see his market worth, but eventually, I think he’s happy and comfortable in San Antonio. The Spurs will do everything in their power to keep him in their colours and build around the former Finals MVP.
Chances of departure: 5 percent.
3. Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies)
Gasol has spent his entire career in Memphis, and has had close ties to the city ever since his older brother Pau began playing there in 2001. He is one of the best centers in the league and his personality and playing style are very closely suited with the culture and approach of the city of Memphis and the Grizzlies team.
It is more than likely that Gasol will stay in Memphis for the rest of his career, but if he is to leave, I don’t see him leaving for a team that is not guaranteed to keep him in the title hunt (Knicks, Lakers). One interesting fit could be the San Antonio Spurs, where Gasol’s personality and playing style will fit well and he could have his best shot and building a dynasty.
Chances of departure: 15 percent
4. LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trail Blazers)
Aldridge has been a Blazers man all his career. The sweet-shooting power forward has been this team’s centrepiece for a couple of playoff runs and helped himself to a few All-Star appearances, too. Aldridge is one of the most underrated players in the league, and coming to a bigger market – or more successful squad – would make many more fans aware of his talents.
There are conflicting reports about whether or not Aldridge has already told Portland that he is set to leave, but usually, where there is smoke there is fire, and it seems likely now that the Blazers-Aldridge marriage is over. Portland are already thinking about a rebuild and will be attracting other free agents to take Aldridge’s place once he makes his decision.
Chances of departure: 85 percent.
5. Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Love as had a strange season, and a strange career overall. He got superstar numbers in Minnesota for several years, but he never made the playoffs. His numbers dipped significantly in Cleveland, but his talented team won more games, and they made the playoffs. Then, he got hurt, and the Cavs came within two wins of an NBA title without him. Love’s value has fluctuated all over the place, and it will be interesting to see what the market will be for him now that he’s an unrestricted free agent again.
There are two schools of thought on Love. One says that he never fit in with the Cavaliers and with LeBron all season – both on and off the court – and would rather leave than continue this unhappy marriage. The other says that the Cavs can probably still offer him the best deal financially and the promise of success, while his value on the open market has suffered a dent among other teams after his injury and dip in form in the regular season. It’s a tough call, but I think that Love will most likely move out of Cleveland to somewhere where he can at least be the second option on offense.
Chances of departure: 60 percent.
Other notable free agents
Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls) – restricted – 25 percent.
Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat) – player option – 30 percent.
DeAndre Jordan (LA Clippers) – unrestricted – 70 percent.
Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs) – unrestricted – 0 percent.
Goral Dragic (Miami Heat) – unrestricted – 35 percent.