Skip to main content

2021 NBA Free Agency Preview: Latest Rumors and Buzz

A look at the latest chatter and news around the league.

Last fall, before Giannis Antetokounmpo committed to Milwaukee, Paul George reupped with the Clippers and injuries threw Victor Oladipo’s future into doubt, teams were positively giddy about this summer’s free agent class. Yet while the talent pool has thinned considerably, there is still expected to be plenty of movement this offseason. As many as seven teams could clear north of $20 million in cap space with the Mavericks ($19 million) and Raptors ($15 million) trailing right behind, creating the kind of roster shuffling that could significantly alter the landscape going into next season. The latest intel …

· There is momentum for Kyle Lowry to join Miami, as ESPN first reported Sunday, with Miami targeting Lowry via a sign-and-trade that would involve Goran Dragić. Lowry, 35, played 46 games last season but posted strong numbers (17.2 points/7.3 assists/39.6% from three) during a challenging season for the Raptors. New Orleans has prioritized Lowry, as has Dallas, per sources, while the Knicks and 76ers—the latter of which has been internally discussing sign-and-trade scenarios—will be in the mix. Lowry will be expensive: Team execs expect him to command anywhere from $25 million to $30 million per year on a three-year deal.

· Don’t expect a quick decision on Ben Simmons. As has been reported, Philadelphia has been asking for a lot for him. “Forget a Harden haul,” an exec in contact with Philadelphia told SI. “They want what Boston got for KG and Pierce.” The Sixers, though, seem to be in no rush, with Simmons under contract for the next four seasons and the market for him, after last spring’s playoff debacle, relatively cool. Toronto is an option—Pascal Siakam, coming off a turbulent season, is available—while Philadelphia may choose to wait and see what happens in Portland. Many teams, frankly, are waiting to see what happens with Portland.

· The Lakers need shooting. That’s clear, after the draft-day deal to acquire Russell Westbrook removed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (41% from three last season) and Kyle Kuzma (36.1%) from the roster. Alec Burks, Reggie Bullock and Doug McDermott can all expect phone calls from a 213 area code, but shooting is in demand this offseason—and teams will pay for it. The Lakers project to have just the $5 million exception, and still have the free agencies of Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker to contend with. L.A. is expected to explore sign-and-trade scenarios with Dennis Schröder—who would have to consent—but it’s unclear what the market for Schröder, who rejected a four-year, $84 million extension last spring, will look like. Chicago, Miami and Dallas are among the teams expected to show interest in Schröder, who shot 33.5% from three last season.

· Count the Knicks among the teams interested in Evan Fournier. The question is, how aggressive will Boston, which used a sizable chunk of the trade exception created by the departure of Gordon Hayward, be in re-signing him? Rival executives believe Fournier will attract offers in the neighborhood of $15 million per season. That may be more than Boston is willing to spend.

· Unsurprisingly, Boston’s brass isn’t too comfortable opening the season with a point guard depth chart topped by Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard. There’s internal interest in Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, though acquiring Dinwiddie—who told SI’s Howard Beck that he is seeking a contract in the five-year, $125 million range—would get financially complicated. Expect the Wizards, who will be in the point guard hunt with Westbrook gone, to make a run at Dinwiddie, too. Another potential Boston target: Spurs guard Patty Mills.

· Boston’s acquisition of Josh Richardson could spell the end of Marcus Smart’s run in town. Smart has become a fan favorite over seven years with the Celtics, but Brad Stevens has been frustrated by Smart’s unpredictable play in recent years, per sources. Smart, one of the NBA’s better perimeter defenders, is entering the final year of his contract. Boston could extend Smart, but two people familiar with Stevens thinking tell SI it’s more likely Stevens will look to trade Smart before the start of the season. Boston shopped Smart last season, seeking multiple first-round picks, a team executive with knowledge of the discussions told SI. Smart’s value now? “Probably a first-round pick and a rotational player,” a high ranking Eastern Conference executive told SI. “Might be able to swap him for similar player that fits a positional need. [Danny Ainge] valued him like an All-Star though—he is not.”

· Kawhi Leonard will decline his $36 million player option for next season, per multiple reports, but leaguewide that is widely viewed as a precursor to a long term deal with the Clippers. Leonard, 30, will likely spend most—if not all—of next season recovering from ACL surgery, but that won’t stop the Clippers from paying him. The question will be length: Will Leonard go for maximum length on a new deal with the Clippers? Or will he sign a shorter term deal for flexibility—and to keep pressure on the Clippers to continue to invest in a title contender.

· Teams are operating like Bradley Beal will be with the Wizards at the start of the season. Washington may not be better without Russell Westbrook—though Kuzma, Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell certainly make the Wizards deeper, with flexibility to make more moves—but the Westbrook trade was about creating future financial flexibility, while showing Beal there was a pathway to win in Washington. Unless Beal says he wants out—and there have been no indications of that—expect the Wizards to continue to operate like a team building around him.

· Is there a market for Victor Oladipo? Surgery to repair a torn quad in May will keep him out for the start of the season, and teams have become increasingly wary about his long-term health. Several execs say it’s possible Oladipo, 29, could go unsigned for the next few months, until he can show he is ready to play.

· Andre Iguodala will be a free agent, after Miami declined to pick up the $15 million option the Heat had on him next season, and there will be mutual interest in a reunion between Iguodala and Golden State, per a source.

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) passes the ball against Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo

· Smart money says Chris Paul will return to Phoenix on new deal. But Suns fans had to cringe after recent comments from Robert Sarver. Speaking with 98.7 FM in Phoenix, the Suns owner said of Paul: “I don’t know, it’s kind of interesting. I had some discussions with him after the season and said, ‘You’ve only been a part of the organization for nine months so there’s really not a lot of history here, but from a team perspective, it was my best season in 17 years and it was your best season in 16 years.’ So there’s really a lot there to keep the two of us together, the Suns and him.”

But he’s got a decision to make and a business decision and a family decision and all that kind of stuff. Unfortunately, it’s not our decision, it’s his decision and he’ll have to decide whether he’s going to become a free agent or opt in his contract.”

Yikes. Paul will have options—the Knicks are frothing at the idea of Paul doing for New York’s young core what he did for Phoenix—but people close to him have consistently said that Paul enjoyed his season in Phoenix, loves playing for Monty Williams and believes that even in a crowded Western Conference playoff field the Suns can get back to the Finals, giving Paul, 36, another chance at his first title. Regardless, the expectation is that Paul will have a $100 million contract somewhere by the time next season starts.

· The Pels, as noted above, will make a run at Lowry, and with as much as $36 million in cap room will have cash to burn. But point guard isn’t isn’t the only position New Orleans needs to fill. The Pelicans were an abysmal perimeter shooting team, connecting on a shade under 35% of its threes. They also struggled to find a reliable third scoring option. Zion-Ingram is an enviable core, but Griffin & Co. have a lot of work to build a winner around them.

· One more thing on New Orleans: Lonzo Ball isn’t in the Pelicans’ long-term plans, but several rival execs tell SI that if the Pels strike out on the top playmakers they expect New Orleans to match a reasonable offer sheet for Ball, if only for the flexibility to deal him for an asset next season.

· The Blazers have shown no inkling they intend to move on from Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum, and have a slew of their own free agents—Norman Powell, most notably, plus guaranteeing the $12 million for the final year of Jusuf Nurkić’s contract, which Portland is expected to do—to deal with. Ex-Blazer Nicolas Batum is on Portland’s radar, per a source, with the Blazers projecting to be limited with what they can spend by their $5.3 million mid-level exception.

· Utah's trading Derrick Favors is a clear signal that the Jazz intend to pony up to keep Mike Conley. Dealing Favors doesn’t create any added cap flexibility—with the new contracts of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert set to kick in next season, Utah’s payroll is hovering around $125 million, over the cap and about $10 million short of the luxury tax line—but it will decrease the size of the check Jazz owner Ryan Smith will have to write as a tax payer next summer. Conley is expected to command in excess of $20 million per season, rival execs say, a number that could swell given how many teams are looking for point guards.

· The Bulls are interested in a Derrick Rose reunion, but player agents are expecting Chicago to aggressively pursue several free agent point guards. There is interest in Lonzo Ball—Chicago nearly completed a deal for Ball at the trade deadline—while Schröder, who played for Billy Donovan in Oklahoma City, will get a look. Lauri Markkanen’s future with the Bulls is murky. Chicago extended a qualifying offer to him last week, but the Bulls have signaled to teams they are open to a sign-and-trade for the 24-year old forward.

· Atlanta’s dealing of Kris Dunn strengthened the likelihood Lou Williams will be brought back on a new deal. Williams, 34, shot 44.4% from three in his 24 games with the Hawks last season. Indiana has interest in him, per a league source. He will be looking for at least a two-year deal.

· What are the Raptors up to? Toronto has not ruled out an attempt to bring back Lowry, but the crowded marketplace for him will likely make the price—especially when it comes to years—too high. In that scenario, the Raptors are expected to pursue a sign-and-trade. It just feels like Toronto’s decision to draft Scottie Barnes—as opposed to, say, Jalen Suggs, who theoretically could have been plugged into a spot vacated by Lowry—signals this team is focused on a long-term building effort rather than prioritizing winning next season.

· Duncan Robinson ranks among the best shooters in this year’s class. Hard to see Miami letting Robinson walk, however, with several execs expecting to see him reup with the Heat on a new deal that averages in the neighborhood of $18 million per season.

· Zach Collins seems like an ideal fit for Oklahoma City. Collins, who was not tendered an offer sheet by Portland, has battled significant injuries the last two seasons, missing all of last season with an ankle injury. Still, Collins, just 23, showed flashes of a strong two-way game in the 2018-19 season. He’s the kind of low-risk/high-reward player Thunder GM Sam Presti loves.

· DeMar DeRozan said recently that winning means more to him than money at this point in his career, and several teams intend to see how serious he is about that. Both Los Angeles teams have interest in DeRozan, who grew up in the L.A. area and played college ball at USC. But the team to watch could be Miami, which has done intensive research on DeRozan and could attempt to acquire him via sign-and-trade.

· Expect several quick offers for the best available shooters, a list that includes Danny Green, Tim Hardaway Jr. (who shot nearly 40% from three for Dallas in each of the last two seasons) and Doug McDermott. Dallas is motivated to bring back Hardaway, who excelled for the Mavs in the playoffs.

More NBA Coverage:
NBA Free Agency Mailbag
Which Team Should Trade for Damian Lillard?
2021 NBA Free Agency: Ranking the Top 50 Players
Rockets Chart Path Forward With Jalen Green, International Prospects