NBA free agency hasn't officially tipped off, but we've already witnessed plenty of fireworks. Chris Paul fled to the Rockets, Jimmy Butler was traded to the Wolves and who knows where Gordon Hayward might end up.
With all of this craziness so far, it's hard to make bold predictions that don't seem plausible. We took a shot anyway:
Lee Jenkins: Paul George will join superteam
In the NBA, as in physics, every action prompts a reaction, and over the next week another star cluster will emerge to counter the Warriors. It might be in Boston or Houston, and given the unique set of circumstances last summer, it won’t be as potent as the one put together in Golden State. But another contender will be hatched outside of Oakland, and Chris Paul was only the first domino to drop.
Paul George, not even a free agent, is the key to this next cluster. If the Celtics get him, or the Rockets, or the Cavaliers, there is no guarantee they will eventually be able to keep him from his hometown Lakers. But for next season, George (plus James Harden and Paul, or Isaiah Thomas and Gordon Hayward, or LeBron James and Kyrie Irving) could have the best shot to upset the NBA’s best team.
Ben Golliver: Nuggets will land big fish
Denver has been a certified backwater for four solid years now, suffering through losing seasons and coaching changes while trying to gather itself following the departures of Carmelo Anthony, Andre Iguodala, coach George Karl and executive Masai Ujiri. The emergence of centerpiece Nikola Jokic has delivered a badly-needed identity, setting up the Nuggets as a fun and ultra-efficient offense that capitalizes on the 22-year-old Serbian’s vision and scoring ability.
Last summer, prior to Jokic’s full emergence, the Nuggets made a run at Dwyane Wade, the type of ill-advised star-chasing that lost franchises engage in when they’re desperate for relevance and don’t fully believe in their young pieces to win games now. This summer should be different. The core is coming together: Jokic is a true building block, guard Jamal Murray had a promising rookie season, and Gary Harris is set to enter Year 4 as a quality contributor or a really, really nice trade chip given his rookie contract number. The West’s power balance is also shifting Denver’s way: the Clippers are due for a standings slide after losing Chris Paul, the Jazz will have their hands full keeping together their squad, the Grizzlies are a year older, the Blazers really need to dump salary and the Thunder are as completely reliant on Russell Westbrook’s health as ever. The door is wide open for Denver, which barely missed the postseason last year, to crack the conference’s top eight in 2018.
What’s more, Denver enjoys better flexibility and spending power this summer than just about anyone. Oft-injured forward Danilo Gallinari is a free agent, Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler are both obvious trade pieces on non-outrageous contracts, and a good chunk of next year’s projected rotation (including Jokic, Murray, Harris, point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, Juan Hernangomez and newcomer Trey Lyles) are all on low-cost rookie deals.
The past week has seen rumors linking the Nuggets to a big-dollar free-agency run at Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, L.A.’s Blake Griffin and a possible trade for Cleveland’s Kevin Love. Millsap represents the best complement to Jokic, and Denver is well-positioned to overpay the 32-year-old forward on a four-year deal because of its slim payroll. But even if those All-Star scenarios fall through, there’s a strong chance other big-name pursuits will materialize once the dominos start falling this weekend. The Nuggets have the ability to pay top dollar and piece together trade packages involving picks, prospects and movable contracts, making them a dark horse mover-and-shaker in the coming weeks.
Jake Fischer: Heat will haul in stars
If my math is correct, the Miami Heat could have upwards of $40 million in cap space this summer once Chris Bosh's contract comes off the books. And in league circles, the allure of Pat Riley and the Miami Mafia has definitely returned. The Heat's charge toward a playoff spot at the end of last season fell short, but it turned a lot of heads of players and league personnel. Erik Spoelstra losing out on coach of the year was an upset for many. You couple that on-court pedigree with Miami's highly publicized strength and conditioning miracles of James Johnson and Dion Waiters, and South Beach has emerged as a highly competitive free agent destination once more, just a year after Kevin Durant only really granted Miami a meeting in the Hamptons as a courtesy.
Chris Paul is gone in L.A., leaving both Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick primed for departure. Gordon Hayward certainly fits alongside Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. Miami has been creative in moving around salary to open up gobs of space before. What if two stars like Hayward and former teammate Paul Millsap decided to team up? Miami has the ability to create another super team. And when there's no smoke around Pat Riley, that's also when the iron might be boiling at its hottest.
Jeremy Woo: Banana Boat reunion
We get one Internet banana boat reunion. These are stressful times in the lives of our friends LeBron, Dwyane, Chris and Melo. The Cavs have no executive leadership. The Bulls are pretending not to be tanking (they are tanking). The Rockets, well, things are pretty good there actually, but they’re deep in preparation to lead the league in complaints to the refs. The Knicks without Phil Jackson... are still the Knicks.
Who knows if Wade or Anthony find a way to join their more fortunate friends on the basketball court, but this level of net stress can only mean that vacation and bro time are in order. These guys need to unwind and perhaps ride some grocery-oriented nautical transportation in an exotic locale. That, and maybe concoct a scheme for next year’s off-season. Don’t forget they’ll all be unrestricted free agents on July 1, 2018. I heard the Globetrotters have cap space.
Rohan Nadkarni: Andre Iguodala will leave Warriors
The Warriors will still be heavy favorites to win the NBA Finals next year, but they will have to do so without the services of Andre Iguodala. Iggy will command a large salary on the open market, with young, low-salaried teams and contenders alike both chasing him. Golden State will blanch at the offers, particularly with a massive luxury tax bill looming as its stars begin to sign contracts closer to market value.
Why would Iguodala leave? Sometimes there can be such a thing as too much winning or too much sacrifice. Sometimes a new challenge is more invigorating than running it back with a team that is entirely title or bust. Whatever the case, Iguodala will find something more intriguing about lifting up a young squad (the 76ers?) or helping take down his former team (the Spurs?) than signing back with the Warriors. The result? The door opens up the slightest bit more for the rest of the league, which is desperately scrambling to form its own superteams.