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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

10 big-name NBA players who could change teams this summer

LeBron James

The NBA is on fire right now, and it’s been undefeated since a for-the-ages 2017 offseason. In addition to a flurry of open-market transactions, a number of stars changed teams via trade, fundamentally shifting the league’s power dynamics.

Indiana shipped Paul George to Oklahoma City. The Clippers sent Chris Paul to Houston. Chicago traded disgruntled Jimmy Butler to Minnesota.

Which stars could be on the move this offseason? Here is our perspective on 10 who could change uniforms.

10. Markelle Fultz

The 2017 No. 1 overall pick had an up-and-down rookie season. After struggling with a shoulder injury and re-learning how to shoot (for a good breakdown of that strange situation, read this piece from PhillyVoice), he played in 14 games and showed glimpses of brilliance. He averaged 7.1 points, 3.8 assists, and 3.1 rebounds in 18.1 minutes per game. The 20-year-old flashed the uncanny speed, change of pace, and athleticism that wowed draft scouts. His stock is low at the moment, but his upside is huge. He could be a central figure in Philly’s efforts to acquire Kawhi Leonard.

9. Jaylen Brown

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Brown’s stock is high right now. He emerged with an increased role in Boston’s offense as the Celtics were forced to play without Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. With those two returning and Jayson Tatum looking like a future superstar, Boston may look to deal Brown. Depending on whom you ask, Brown is either Paul George 2.0 or a career above-average role player. Consider this, though: Jaylen is only 21, and he’s still playing on his rookie deal. The 6-foot-7 forward is a standout on both ends of the floor, he’s a workhorse, and his offensive repertoire is still growing. If I ran Boston, I’d hold onto him – but we all have learned to trust Danny Ainge’s judgement.

8. Jusuf Nurkic

Nurkic is a restricted free agent this offseason, so the Blazers could face a conundrum: would they match a large offer for the enigmatic 23-year-old? Previously, Nurk was earning only $2.9 million per year; he was playing on one of the league’s best-value contracts. The real question is: does Portland believe Nurk can be an asset in the modern NBA? No one is questioning his offensive ability, but his defense leaves much to be desired. Portland had a tremendous regular season, claiming the West’s No. 3 seed, but blew it in the playoffs. The Blazers may make major moves this summer, including parting ways with Nurkic and possibly one-half of its dynamic guard duo.

7. DeAndre Jordan

The Cavs nearly dealt for Jordan at the trade deadline, and it would have been interesting to see how such a move would have impacted the playoffs. D.J. has a player option for $24.9 million for this season, and most believe he will opt in – it’s difficult to imagine he would command that much cash on the market. Though he will likely opt in, however, he very well could be traded out of Los Angeles. Dallas, which nearly landed Jordan in 2015 before he backed out of the deal, is one of several potential suitors. Jordan is one of the league’s best rim protectors and rebounders. It seems all but certain he’ll end up with a new team before the season tips.

6. Clint Capela

The Rockets are in an interesting place: they’re on the verge of title contention, but three of their key pieces could potentially leave this summer. There’s also reports of tension between Chris Paul and the front office. Though they’re facing a quandary, the Rockets are in good hands with General Manager Daryl Morey, who recently won Executive of the Year. Capela had his best season as a pro with CP3 throwing him lobs. He’s one of the NBA’s top rim-runners and is only getting better. He plays with motor and plays within himself. Additionally, he’s only 23, and he’s one of the league’s most efficient bigs. Someone will pay him top dollar. The only question is whether Houston will be willing to match the offer.

DeMarcus Cousins

5. DeMarcus Cousins

BOOGIE! Cousins was having a strong 2017-18 season before he tore his Achilles. He was averaging 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game, and the Pelicans seemed to have figured out the Boogie-Anthony Davis pairing. Fans saw what happened after Cousins got hurt, though: the Pelicans got even better. The big man will almost certainly demand a max contract, but he’s coming off of a devastating injury. Rumors have linked the Mavs to Cousins, who is now an unrestricted free agent. He may be forced to accept a lesser deal if he wants to remain in a Pelicans uniform. Don’t count on it – I foresee Cousins leaving.

4. Chris Paul

Paul is another star who has hit unrestricted free agency. We all speculated when Houston dealt for Paul last year that the Rockets and former Clippers point guard had a wink-wink deal for the summer of 2018. The Rockets were confident Paul and James Harden could coexist, and their belief certainly proved valid, as Houston dominated in the regular season and came this close to a Finals berth. Paul may be a hair behind his former “point god” days, but he’s still one of the league’s best guards. He is 33, however, and smaller guards historically don’t age well. Furthermore, Paul does not appear open to taking a hometown discount, and there’s reportedly tension between CP3 and the Rockets – but that didn’t appear to be the case at the NBA Awards.

3. Paul George

PG-13 has a player option for 2018-19, and some believe he may actually opt in and spend one more year with the Thunder. I don’t buy it. The OKC experiment with George, Carmelo Anthony, and Russell Westbrook simply didn’t work out in Year One, and there isn’t evidence supporting the idea that OKC could make a Finals run in Year Two. Thus, I – and most of the NBA cosmos – expect George to sign with the Lakers, his hometown squad. This year, he put up 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game – but his defense is perhaps his biggest strength. The 6-foot-9 forward seems destined to return to Hollywood. Earlier this week, part of the Lakers’ pitch to PG-13 leaked.

2. Kawhi Leonard

What is there to say about Kawhi that has not already been said? He is clearly unhappy in San Antonio and wants out. Ideally, he’d like to end up in a Lakers uniform – and when all is said and done and he hits free agency in 2019, he might end up in the purple and gold regardless of what happens this summer. San Antonio is reportedly being picky with its trade partners, but the Spurs can’t afford to be too choosy; San Antonio needs to offload Leonard while it can still receive something of value in return. Kawhi may not end up in Los Angeles this summer, but he’ll most likely end up somewhere new – perhaps Philadelphia.

1. LeBron James

This is another situation that’s been written about exhaustively. LeBron is America’s most influential athlete, and he remains the best player in the NBA. This year he put up better stats in virtually every category than James Harden, who won MVP, in addition to willing a…subpar…Cavs squad to the Finals (and actually making that series somewhat competitive!). So, where’s he going? Your guess is as good as mine. Vegas says the Lakers are the likeliest destination, then come the Cavs, Celtics, and Sixers. Brian Windhorst recently said it’s between the Lakers and Cavs, but the Sixers have a prayer. Whatever decision LBJ makes will rattle the league. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Aaron Mansfield is a freelance sports writer whose work has appeared in Complex, USA Today, and the New York Times. You can reach him via email at aaroncmansfield@gmail.com.



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