Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Though there is no definitive timetable for resuming the 2019-20 season, the NBA will be back. When it does return, free agency will be one of the most important events on the horizon.
For many teams, the current season has been a disappointment. The Golden State Warriors, for example, are a title contender when healthy but have slogged through an injury-plagued campaign to land the league’s worst record.
For teams like Golden State, preparing to rebound next season is the immediate goal. Revamping rosters, of course, is part of the equation, which is where free agency and the trade market come into play.
If the Warriors, for example, want to make a run at another superstar, as they did with Kevin Durant in 2016, they’re going to have to make room on their current roster. The Athletic’s Anthony Slater recently dug into the possibility of Golden State pursuing Giannis Antetokounmpo and why such a pairing—as exciting as it might be—is unrealistic.
One interesting aspect of the Warriors’ situation that Slater examined is the moves that would have to be made to acquire another star player—specifically dumping either Draymond Green or Klay Thompson.
“The Warriors would have to shed either one or both of Green and Thompson, along with basically any young asset of value,” Slater wrote. “…Green would likely be the Warriors’ preferred candidate of sacrifice over Thompson, but he also makes nearly $14 million less, an important note.”
Green is slated to be a free agent this summer, and while he is just 30 years old, he could be a player the Warriors are willing to move on from. Breaking up the tandem of Thompson and Steph Curry seems less likely, and parting with Green could save enough cap space to add another standout player—a factor that might come into play if the Warriors decide to deal their lottery draft pick.
However, the Warriors could also look to draft and develop a player while leaning on a formidable core of Thompson, Curry, Green and Andrew Wiggins.
Given the fact that a player of Antetokounmpo’s caliber probably won’t be available, re-signing Green for one more run might be the prudent move.
Prediction: Warriors re-sign Green
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
While getting healthy could provide the Warriors with a path back to title contention, the Toronto Raptors could be in a trickier situation. With Kawhi Leonard long gone and several key players scheduled for free agency, a full-on rebuild could be looming.
“As far as next season, the win-now mentality and summer 2021 could be headed for a collision. VanVleet, Gasol and Ibaka will all be unrestricted free agents; some other players who played important, but lesser roles (Chris Boucher, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson), will be free as well. And OG Anunoby will be eligible for a contract extension.”
VanVleet and Ibaka are likely to be coveted targets in free agency for several teams. Retaining Ibaka could prove particularly difficult for the Raptors. While VanVleet largely rose to prominence during Toronto’s title run, Ibaka has long been a defensive standout. Keeping the soon-to-be 30-year-old will be costly.
A contender like the Warriors, for example, could be interested in adding Ibaka. Grant Liffmann of NBC Sports Bay Area recently mentioned both Gasol and Ibaka as ideal Warriors targets.
“Ibaka similarly would be an automatic starter with the Warriors, and would be a fantastic fit,” Liffmann wrote.
If the Raptors do go into rebuilding mode, overpaying to keep Ibaka away from a contender seems unlikely.
Prediction: Ibaka leaves Toronto in free agency.
Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton
Unlike the Raptors and the Warriors, the New York Knicks are not looking to return to title contention. For New York, the offseason will be about returning to relevance. Doing so may require some blockbuster acquisitions and the retooling of the current roster.
Part of the retooling will involve decisions on players like Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton, both of whom have partial guarantees ($1 million) that are scheduled to kick in on June 28.
According to The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov, Bullock is the only near-lock to be re-signed.
“To me, only Bullock seems like somewhat of an easy decision to retain for next season. Payton’s future might be determined by whether New York wants to take a point guard in the draft,” Vorkunov wrote. “The point guard options in free agency aren’t great, unless it’s at the top of the market, like Fred VanVleet.”
As previously mentioned, the Knicks may be inclined to make a splash in free agency or via trade, so going after a guard like VanVleet or Jordan Clarkson appears likely.
Though the draft is more of an uncertainty, the 21-45 Knicks should have a shot at one of the top rookie point guards. Expect New York to weigh its options before making a move to retain Payton.
Prediction: The Knicks re-sign Bullock, let Payton test the market.