The NBA offseason is my new favourite sporting event. Rumours circulate wildly, the GM of a team that’s been to the Finals for the last three years got (sort of) fired, Phil Jackson is trying to incite a riot in New York, and it’s all so exciting. Every sport has a silly season but this has to be among the silliest of them all.
For their part, the LA Lakers, who seem to be at the centre of most rumours, just traded D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov for Brook Lopez and a first-round pick, which frees up cap room, adds a third first-round pick to their stockpile, and leaves them ready to acquire some top-tier NBA talent. The Boston Celtics have a drawer full of picks as a result of both their infamous Brooklyn Nets larceny and their decision to trade down in this year’s draft. The Cleveland Cavaliers, the other team trying to make big moves this offseason, are now suddenly without their GM and in a tight spot leading into the draft.
Butler’s been the source of so much heat this offseason because he’s both a slightly controversial figure and an extremely versatile scorer. He’s the kind of player that could put up over 20 points per game just about anywhere, but not the kind of player that Chicago is eager to build its future around. This leads to a lot of rumours because you can plausibly make a case that everyone and no one wants him. He’s also a bit picky about his destination, reportedly telling Cleveland management (which is … who?) that he didn’t want a trade.
The Boston Celtics could potentially use him to get over the Eastern Conference hump; the Timberwolves could use him to bolster their young roster; even the Lakers were reportedly interested. But the Cavaliers were the favorite to make this trade and were unable to either convince Butler or put together an attractive enough package.
Butler’s situation has always been a little unique, and it’s unfortunate that he hasn’t been able to find his way to a contender yet. He’ll likely stay in Chicago, unless circumstances change significantly, and soon.
Odds Jimmy Butler starts the 2017 season with …
- Chicago Bulls: 3/2
- Boston Celtics: 7/3
- Cleveland Cavaliers: 19/1
Paul George is a complicated figure this offseason. On one hand, he’s a certified Grade-A All-Star with value that’s recognized around the league. On the other hand, he only has one more year on his contract and he’s made it clear that his preference is to play for the Lakers. Trying to wheel and deal George for a package that can somehow recreate his contribution to the team is going to be no easy feat for the Pacers’ front office.
The market for George’s services seems to be dominated by two teams: the LA Lakers, for whom he has a professed a desire to play, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. For the latter, whose quest for a scoring wing was rebuffed by Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, the addition of George would fill a need they showed in the NBA Finals and potentially allow them to contend with the Warriors in 2018.
Odds Paul George starts the 2017 season with …
- LA Lakers: 7/3
- Cleveland Cavaliers: 7/3
- Indiana Pacers: 4/1
Gordon Hayward wasn’t a guy you would have expected to light the free agency market on fire three or four years years ago, but his impressive shooting efficiency (59.5% true-shooting and nearly 40% from deep) makes him the kind of player that teams building on the Warriors’ model need. Of particular interest is the Boston Celtics, whose name will come up every time you mention a versatile scorer who can complement Isaiah Thomas. The Miami Heat are also showing interest, but seeing as how they’re neither a contender nor able to offer as sizeable a contract as the Jazz, that particular move doesn’t seem super likely. Hayward’s will be a choice between staying with the Jazz and getting a bigger contract or taking a smaller deal and going to an Eastern Conference contender in Boston.
Odds Gordon Hayward starts the 2017 season with …
- Utah Jazz: 2/3
- Boston Celtics: 4/1
- Miami Heat: 9/1
Ooooh boy. First he’s maybe available, then he’s not available, but they’re taking calls, and now everyone’s mad. Roughly 29 teams are super high on Porzingis, who’s really the only bright spark on a Knicks team that’s making everyone sad. There’s no way to predict what this front office will do. It’s becoming so dysfunctional as to be totally random, so expect to see Porzingis sent to the Perth Wildcats or something.
Odds Kristaps Porzingis starts the 2017 season with …
- New York Knicks: 1/3
- FIELD: 3/1
Side prop: odds Phil Jackson is trying to get himself fired: 1/1
Chris Paul using his free agency to do anything other than sign the kind of super-max contract he negotiated into existence as president of the NBPA is the stuff of lunatic fever dreams, which means that I’m increasingly convinced it will happen. There isn’t a team in the league that couldn’t use CP3’s skills at point guard, and the Rockets in particular are supposed to be interested, but it all feels a little speculative. No one walks away from that much money, right?
Odds Chris Paul starts the 2017 season with …
- LA Clippers: 1/4
- Houston Rockets: 9/1
Blake Griffin has been fuelling free agency rumours in the most 2017 way possible, through Instagram follows and podcast appearances. He doesn’t really become a free agent until next year, but he has an early termination clause and can leave the Clippers this offseason if he so chooses. As with most of these players, there’s a lot of talk surrounding Houston, Boston, and Cleveland, and for the most part the same concerns apply. Griffin will be eligible for a super-max contract with the Clippers next year, and despite his frustrations in the playoffs, can probably be enticed by the LA climate and more money.
Odds Blake Griffin starts the 2017 season with …
- LA Clippers: 2/3
- Houston Rockets: 5/1
- Boston Celtics: 9/1
LeBron James (2018)
So much of the free agency landscape is shaped by where LeBron James will decide to go in 2018. If he leaves the Cavaliers, they obviously become a much less attractive team, as Jimmy Butler so keenly pointed out, and all the other teams in his destination conference have to get a little realistic about their odds of making the NBA Finals. If I’m being realistic, however, the Cleveland Cavaliers will be able to offer him a bigger contract than anyone else, he’s made Cleveland and Ohio a huge part of his personal brand, and his control over the franchise is both unprecedented and as much as anyone could reasonably expect.
He’ll probably stay, but the idea of a third “Decision” is the kind of thing that makes sports media types absolutely tumescent and generates clicks like nothing else, so expect to hear a lot about it. The one note everyone seems to pick up on is that LeBron is eager to transition into an acting/business career after basketball, and in order to do that, he’ll need to be based in Los Angeles for the remainder of his playing career, because LeBron lives in a world without airplanes and FaceTime, apparently.
Odds LeBron James starts the 2018 season with …
- Cleveland Cavaliers: 2/3
- LA Lakers: 6/1
- Miami Heat: 12/1
- Golden State Warriors: 19/1