Where should we be watching as NBA free agency looms?
NBA’s 2016 free agency summer is upon us, and you’ve done your homework.
You already know all of Kevin Durant’s most likely landing spots, and you’ve seen the best guys available and all of the bargain buys.
But at the end of the day, the NBA is the ultimate team sport and that means the most important piece of free agency is actually the current piece missing from some of its top teams. These are the teams whose decisions will impact the landscape next June and set the tone in the market as it opens now.
Here are the 10 most interesting open starting positions in the NBA…
Warriors forward, aka the Barnes/Durant spot
The Cavs won the title, but the Warriors are still the team to beat. That makes this the most intriguing opening starting spot in basketball.
The Durant decision is easy, if he’s willing. In 20 years no one is going to care or remember if KD chased a ring — just that this dynasty won multiple titles and had the best offense in history. But Durant will probably stay in OKC.
So if not Durant, then who? The most obvious answer is Harrison Barnes. Barnes was pretty bad in the Finals, but he’s still an underrated and valuable part of this team. A lot of guys can hit wide open 3s, but Barnes also uses his size well to defend opposing PFs and can post smaller players on offense too.
He’s not an All-Star but he’s on the Olympic squad for a reason, a valuable role player that the Ws miss when he’s not there. They missed him in December and they missed him when he wasn’t firing in the Finals.
The Ws don’t have a ton of financial flexibility, so the easiest option, if KD isn't coming, is just to match any HB offer, even a max one. But might they opt out and try for someone like Nic Batum, a cheaper option like Marvin Williams, or a different look altogether?
Shaq. Kareem. Wilt. Mikan. Howard. Pau. Bynum.
No position in sports has such marquee names as Lakers center. The team’s young core is set with Russell at PG and Ingram and Randle at F, but they desperately need a big man to anchor the defense.
Maybe even the return of Dwi… nah…
Celtics star big man
The Celtics have about 45 guards and wings but a real lack of bigs under contract. They have team options to decide on with Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko and then RFA decisions on Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller.
What they really need is a star. They’ll surely push hard for a Boogie or Blake trade if either is available. Could Al Horford be their man? Might someone like Pau or Noah or Dwight be a good short term solution if not?
Of course, the Heat would love to bring back Whiteside, but he’s already said he’d like to make a swift decision and that it’ll be a business one. This is a team built to win now with Wade and Bosh (hopefully) so they’ll need to go in and get a replacement right away if Whiteside leaves.
With Bosh’s health and Wade’s recent comments, there’s just enough uncertainty in South Beach to make things very interesting.
Rockets power forward
Like always, Houston will be all-in on any big name free agent they can get. The Rockets PF position is an interesting one because they already have two of their own RFAs there in Terence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas. Does Houston have any real plan besides gathering assets and analytics darlings? They may opt for a bunch of high-priced 1-year guys but any move they make likely releases Jones and DoMo for others.
Clippers small forward
The Clips don’t have many options because they have almost no financial flexibility. They might be stuck resigning Jeff Green but he and Pierce didn’t get the job done this year. Bazemore or Dudley would be a great 3 and D wing, maybe Matt Barnes if the Grizz let him go.
Timberwolves power forward / stretch 4
This is a spot, folks should be paying more attention to. The Wolves are loaded with young talent but there’s a huge hole at the 4. Durant would never consider this year’s team but they’d be a top 5 and improving contender.
Minnesota has almost all of its guys tied to young cheap contracts so they’d be wise to use their money now. A short luxury deal for someone like Pau, David West, or even Marvin Williams could add a winning mentality and some offensive versatility.
Knicks shooting guard
The Knicks literally have nothing at shooting guard right now, and they definitely need shooting next to Derrick Rose. Could DeRozan go for the bright lights? Would the Magic match a max deal for Evan Fournier? Is DWade ready to leave South Beach? If we get lucky, the Knicks will have to try for someone like Dion Waiters, JR Smith, Evan Turner, or Lance Stephenson. Every one of those names in New York just makes me giddy with excitement.
Bulls point guard
Rose is gone, Jerian Grant isn’t ready, and the fork has been sticking out of Jose Calderon’s back for at least half a decade. The Bulls could try for Mike Conley but it’s tough to see him considering that an upgrade from the Grizz. The point guard market is awfully thin this year — Jeremy Lin might even be atop some teams’ PG shopping lists. The Bulls might have to take a shot on a short-term veteran option like Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, or Ty Lawson.
Lakers shooting guard
It’s tough to know if this spot is actually open — the Lakers hold RFA rights to Jordan Clarkson and should almost certainly sign him considering the limited contract he’ll sign thanks to the Arenas provision.
Still, the Lakers may not see Clarkson as a star or even as a starter. They could offer celebrity status and a chance for DeRozan to replace his hero Kobe, or a guy like Chandler Parsons could opt for fame and try to play out of position.
Special thanks to Mr. Brandon Anderson for his contribution.
Writer and Consultant. Follow @wheatonbrando for sports, humor, pop culture, and life musings.
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