NBA teams can begin to talk and negotiate with free agents starting July 1, and with that will come a flurry of massive new contracts shelled out. With the salary cap rising from $70 million to $94 million, far more teams than normal will have cap space to play with, making this summer’s free agent frenzy one of the hardest to predict. But we’re here to do exactly that anyway.
Here are seven predictions for the NBA’s top unrestricted free agents.
1. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant is the ultimate prize of the summer of 2016. The 2014 NBA MVP, Durant has no shortage of suitors and has meetings set up with the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics and, of course, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Of those teams, however, the three that appear to have the best shot of getting Durant’s signature are the Warriors, Heat and Thunder.
Heat President Pat Riley and his front office have zeroed in on Durant and envision the formation of new big three with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The problem for the Heat is that Dwyane Wade, while still an All-Star-level player when healthy, is 34 years old, and Chris Bosh has had serious health problems over the last two seasons with blood clots. Pat Riley might be a basketball genius and master of persuasion, but selling Durant on Miami is harder than it looks.
All indications are that Durant’s decision will come down to the Warriors or Thunder. If the Warriors are able to move either Andre Iguodala or Andrew Bogut, they’ll have the cap space to sign Durant, and the opportunity to play alongside Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and compete for championships year after year is a chance that few players would be willing to pass up.
But is Kevin Durant willing to leave OKC for a team he came within one game of defeating in the Western Conference Finals? The once pervasive “I don’t want to join them, I want to beat them” attitude is now largely extinct in the NBA, and above all else, you have to imagine Kevin Durant just wants to win.
In the end, however, coming up just one game short of the NBA Finals, still having Russell Westbrook as his teammate, the acquisition of Victor Oladipo, and rise of players like Steven Adams and Andre Roberson should be enough to persuade Durant to give it at least one more shot in Oklahoma City. Expect Durant to re-sign on a one-year max contract and then explore his options once more in 2017, when the salary cap will rise again.
PREDICTION: Durant re-signs with the Thunder but just for one year.
2. DeMar DeRozan
Although Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan has stated on multiple occasions that he plans on staying in Toronto, there are still some whispers that the two-time All-Star could be had. DeRozan, who turns 27 in August, is from Los Angeles and played his college ball at USC. Both the Lakers and Clippers would certainly be interested in signing the L.A. native if he were to make it clear that he truly wanted to leave Toronto.
The problem is, as of right now, DeRozan only has one meeting planed, and that’s with the Raptors. All signs point to DeRozan re-upping for the max with Toronto.
PREDICTION: DeRozan re-signs with the Raptors.
3. Mike Conley
Finally, we have a free agent who appears destined not to re-sign with his most recent employer! Former Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley has been the victim of playing in a conference with a plethora of amazing point guards. Conley is an All-Star-level floor general and is easily at the top of his position on the market.
The Spurs and Dallas Mavericks appear to be Conley’s two most likely destinations at the moment. For the Spurs, the sell is an easy one: Come play alongside Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge and compete for championships for years to come. If Spurs management can open up enough cap space, it might be enough to sway the 28-year-old to San Antonio.
That being said, the Mavericks should be considered the favorites to sign Conley. Mavs owner Mark Cuban has been desperate to sign a high-profile free agent for years, and after losing out last summer on DeAndre Jordan, you can be assured that the Mavs will be pushing the hardest for Conley’s services. Conley is exactly the type of point guard head coach Rick Carlisle loves, and cold hard cash talks.
PREDICTION: Conley signs with the Mavericks for the max.
4. Al Horford
Trying to figure out where former Hawks center Al Horford is going to land this summer is a difficult puzzle to solve. The four-time All-Star could very well re-sign in Atlanta, but it’s hard to imagine Hawks president of basketball operations Mike Budenholzer will be willing to shell out a max contract to a player who is about to turn 31 years old. The Lakers, Celtics, Magic, Pistons and Rockets are all rumored to be interested in the center, but as of right now, there doesn’t appear to be a clear front-runner.
Of all these teams, however, the Celtics seem most desperate to sign a star, and Horford would fit nicely in Boston’s lineup at the five spot. If the Celts offer Horford a max contract, they should be able bring him to Beantown.
PREDICTION: Horford signs with the Celtics for the max.
5. Dwyane Wade