Projected Landing Spots for NBA’s Top-20 Free Agents

The 2015 NBA free agency period is about to get started. In what promises to be an active summer, some of the league’s top players will hit the open market. And while most will likely return to their current teams, there will be some decent movement.

In an attempt to sift through the seemingly never-ending rumors, we have formulated a pretty extensive piece focusing on where each player may end up when all is said and done. Most of the predictions are based on various reports around the Association, but there is some conjecture involved here. Heck, we’d be lucky to get about half of these right.

In any event, here are our predictions for where each top NBA free agent will land in the coming weeks.

1. LeBron James, Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

There is no way James leaves Cleveland after one successful season, right? While he is opting out to become a free agent, that has more to do with the business side of basketball. By signing another two-year deal with an early termination option for next summer, James can maximize his earning potential. More than just the reports that he’s going to remain with the Cavaliers, bolting from Cleveland would be a major black eye in the star’s career. It’s not happening. Prediction: Cleveland Cavaliers 

2. LaMarcus Aldridge, Forward, Portland Trail Blazers

Courtesy of USA Today Sports: Where will LeMarcus Aldridge land?

Courtesy of USA Today Sports: Where will LaMarcus Aldridge land?

It’s a forgone conclusion that this All-Star big man will not be returning to the Pacific Northwest. Among reports linking him to the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks, the wind seems to be blowing in the direction of Aldridge joining the newly drafted D’Angelo Russell in Southern California. By selecting the Ohio State point guard second overall on Thursday night, the Lakers made it clear that they anticipate adding an upper-echelon power forward. Now that the interest appears to be mutual, there doesn’t seem to be much standing in the way of Aldridge heading to the Lakers when free agency comes calling. Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers

3. Marc Gasol, Center, Memphis Grizzlies

There had been a lot of chatter about Gasol leaving Memphis when the summer of 2015 came calling, but that has quieted a great deal now that we are approaching free agency. Gasol seems to be pretty happy with the Memphis area—a region he has called home for over a decade now. The Grizzlies have also done a decent job building a contending team over the past couple seasons, something that goes a long way in determining whether the All-Star center will return. While under-the-radar, the addition of Matt Barnes as a perimeter shooter and other potential moves could be an indication that Memphis expects the 30-year-old big man to return. Until we hear anything coming remotely close to linking Gasol to another team, the assumption has to be that he will return. Prediction: Memphis Grizzlies

4. Kevin Love, Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

By opting out, Love has at least opened the door for other teams to make a play for him. And despite suggestions from the All-Star that he wants to return to Cleveland, he has to be giving some serious thought about bolting for a team where he wouldn’t be the third option. Cleveland can offer Love more than any other team. It could even sign him to a deal similar to the one James is likely to sign. That is to say, a two-year contract with an early termination for next summer. Either way, that’s the type of deal Love should look into. The Cavaliers have also made it clear they would like to retain Love. The issue there is that they are in a tenuous salary cap situation and performed at solid clip with Love manning the bench in the postseason. Do they really have interest in giving him a max deal, especially with Tristan Thompson potentially set to return? I wouldn’t call it a slam dunk.

If Love were to move on, the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics both come into play. Of course, this is working under the assumption that Aldridge ends up in Los Angeles. We already know Boston has shown preliminary interest in Love, and that would be a solid fit. He would immediately become the team’s No. 1 option and could could be handed a max deal. Look for that to become a reality. Prediction: Boston Celtics

5. Kawhi Leonard, Forward, San Antonio Spurs

There isn’t much too look at here. San Antonio has made it clear that it will match any offer Leonard receives on the open market. And for his part, Leonard seems content with being the face of the franchise moving forward. Expect a max deal shortly after free agency opens. Prediction: San Antonio Spurs

6. Draymond Green, Forward, Golden State Warriors

Courtesy of USA Today

Courtesy of USA Today Sports: There’s no real chance Draymond Green will leave Golden State.

Much like Leonard, there isn’t much to look at here. Green, a restricted free agent who upped his stock during the Warriors title run, is going to return to the team on a max deal. Golden State has made it clear that the franchise will match any offer for Green’s services. In turn, Green has shown absolutely no intentions of even testing the restricted free agent market. Expect something to get done shortly after free agency opens. Prediction: Golden State Warriors

7. Jimmy Butler, Guard, Chicago Bulls

Let’s just get the easy predictions out of the way here. Butler, who is already among the best all-around wing players in the game, will likely be returning to Chicago next season. This despite the fact that some reports have suggested that he’s open to a short term deal with the Los Angeles LakersIt’s now all about how the Bulls are able to pull off giving Butler a max deal while avoiding a huge luxury tax hit. Some have concluded that the team will look to trade Joakim Noah as part of a cost-cutting move. Either way, Butler is returning to the Bulls. Prediction: Chicago Bulls

8. Tim Duncan, Forward, San Antonio Spurs

Again. Here’s another player that’s extremely unlikely to move on in free agency. Duncan will either return to the Spurs or retire from the Association after a first-ballot Hall of Fame career. At this point, all indications seem to be that Duncan will look for at least one more opportunity to win that sixth NBA title in his 19th season. The larger question here is who’s going to be surrounding Duncan and Leonard on the Spurs next season. That’s the real intrigue of an offseason that brings some serious questions for one of the NBA’s consistent contenders. Prediction: San Antonio Spurs

9. DeAndre Jordan, Center, Los Angeles Clippers

Jordan, a 6-foot-11 stalwart on defense, averaged a league-leading 15 rebounds per game last year. You read that right, 15 rebounds. He also put up an average of 4.8 offensive boards, 11.5 points and 2.2 blocks per game. The 26-year-old center is also going to on high demand when free agency opens. Already slated to meet with the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, it looks like Jordan is preparing to move on from the Clippers. That’s only magnified by a reported rift between the big man and Chris Paul—a rift that could force Jordan from the Clippers.

If the former second-round pick does leave Southern California, and our predictions play out above, Dallas seems like the logical fit. Tyson Chandler is set to become a free agent, and the team values defense from the center position. Equally as important, big-time players in the Dallas-area sports scene are prepared to put the full-court recruiting press on Jordan. This marriage makes too much sense. Prediction: Dallas Mavericks

10. Paul Millsap, Forward, Atlanta Hawks

There are rumors floating around that the Utah Jazz are looking to move Derrick Favors in a trade to clear up the necessary cap room to bring this big man back. We aren’t entirely too sure that makes much sense considering Utah let Millsap walk a couple years ago in part because it wanted to hand Favors the starting job. It makes even less sense now that Favors is coming off a 2014-2015 campaign that saw him average 16.0 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. This would also require Millsap actually wanting to return to the Salt Lake City. As it relates to the Hawks, they will do everything in their power to re-sign the All-Star power forward. They also have the ability to offer him the most money. Considering Millsap’s career soared for a successful Hawks team, it makes sense that he would want to return. Though, he will test the market. Prediction: Atlanta Hawks

11. Brook Lopez, Center, Brooklyn Nets

Even opting out of a $17.7 million salary for next season. Lopez seems to be fully prepared to return to the Nets—probably on another max deal. It’s too early to know whether it’s a guarantee the center will bypass testing the open market altogether, but it would make sense considering Brooklyn’s roster make up and what will likely be a struggle making the playoffs in 2015-16. Either way, it looks like he’s returning. Prediction: Brooklyn Nets

12. Dwyane Wade, Guard, Miami Heat

It doesn’t seem to be the same foregone conclusion that Wade will finish his career with the Heat as it was when he signed a two-year deal with the team last summer. In deciding to opt out of his deal amid reports that he wants more money, the future Hall of Fame guard didn’t necessarily quiet rumors that he might be moving on. The Los Angeles Lakers were mentioned as a possibility prior to the draft, but that might be an unlikely scenario considering the team selected D’Angelo Russell No. 2 overall. In addition to the Lakers, it’s rather clear that the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers will show interest in Wade when free agency opens.

For Wade, it’s going to be all about finding a happy medium between what he thinks he’s worth on the open market and contending for a championship in his golden years. Sure the Lakers, New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers could offer him a butt-load of money, but would any of those situations be ideal? And while the Dallas Mavericks might make some sense, especially with the likely departure of Monta Ellis in free agency, it’s hard to imagine Wade would leave Miami if the team comes in with a competitive offer. Prediction: Miami Heat

13. Goran Dragic, Guard, Miami Heat

Much like Wade, Dragic will likely have to choose between taking less money from Miami and receiving a max deal from a lesser team on the open market. Miami is said to be offering the veteran combo-guard about $80 million over five years. That falls well short of the max it could offer the veteran. Another team can swoop in and offer Dragic $85 million over four seasons. In reality, it is all about what Dragic wants to do here. He can take less money to remain part of a talented core group in Miami or go to a lesser team.

The normal names such as the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have been rumored to be interested. However, both teams added young point guards in the first round of Thursday night’s draft. It would make little sense for either to add Dragic, unless the plan is to play him at shooting guard. This brings us to the Dallas Mavericks, who have a ton of cash to spend and are in need of a point guard with Rajon Rondo’s imminent departure. If Dragic is looking for more money while retaining the possibility of contending for a playoff spot, Dallas might actually be a better fit than Miami for the veteran guard. Prediction: Dallas Mavericks

14. Brandon Knight, Guard, Phoenix Suns

Unless Phoenix plans on playing Knight and Eric Bledsoe together in the backcourt, one will be leaving the desert this summer. The interesting dynamic here is that Bledsoe’s name has been thrown around in potential trades over the past month or so. Those rumors didn’t quiet down after a possible deal sending Bledsoe to the New York Knicks fell through leading up to the draft. That’s the first sign that Phoenix is intent on matching any offer Knight receives as a restricted free agent.

More than that, the Suns willingness to acquire Knight during the trade deadline should tell us what we need to know about what they think of him. An injury-plagued end of the season doesn’t change that. As a restricted free agent, the ball really isn’t in Knight’s court. If the Suns want him, he will return to Phoenix. Prediction: Phoenix Suns 

15. Greg Monroe, Forward, Detroit Pistons

By now, it’s a foregone conclusion that Monroe will not be returning to Detroit. The team made that more than clear by trading for former Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan İlyasova following the 2014-15 campaign. Heck, it was clear the former lottery pick wasn’t returning to Detroit once Stan Van Gundy grabbed full control of the team’s front office.

Now set to move on, the 6-foot-11 big man will draw a ton of interest. The Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and aforementioned Knicks have been rumored to be possible suitors for Monroe. Considering New York drafted Lavtian center Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick on Thursday and are said to be the likely landing spot for former Indiana Pacers forward David West, it will be interesting to see what the Knicks do here. Though, there’s no question this team needs help at every position.

Potentially adding West likely won’t change the team’s plans moving forward. Equally as important to look at, Monroe would be able to play at his more natural power forward position with the presence of a pro-ready Porzingis expected to be a major contributor as a rookie. In reality, a frontcourt consisting of Carmelo Anthony, Monroe and Porzingis would not look too bad in the Big Apple. Prediction: New York Knicks

16. Monta Ellis, Guard, Dallas Mavericks

Another top-end guard switching teams this summer, Ellis’ market will dictate which teams can make a play for him. If he’s a near-max player annually on a shorter-term deal, the market decreases considerably. However, based on how the market is expected to play out, Ellis seems more like a $10 million per type of player. A volume scorer (18.9 points per game in 2014-15), Ellis likely isn’t a top option on a contending team. Instead, he’s best served joining a squad that needs that extra scoring punch.

Now that Dallas doesn’t plan on re-signing Ellis, his options appear to be wide open. The Lakers made sense before they added D’Angelo Russell, especially if they were willing to let a shoot-first guy run the offense. Now that they are out of the equation, teams in need of a natural shooting guard make more sense.

Ellis is said to be interested in the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks. Of those two, Atlanta makes the most sense. Of course, that’s dependent on Miami retaining Goran Dragic and the Hawks letting Paul Millsap walk—two things we did not predict above. Considering both of those teams have a lot of work to do before being mentioned as a real possibility for Ellis, let’s throw out a true wild card here. What about the Indiana Pacers, who now have money to spend after David West’s surprising decision to opt out? Does the team really want to continue giving C.J. Miles (39 percent from the field last season) 26-plus minutes per game? Ellis could come in and act as that second option behind a healthy Paul George. It just makes too much sense: Prediction: Indiana Pacers

17. Rajon Rondo, Guard, Dallas Mavericks

The Sacramento Kings. Need I really say more here? Kinds head coach George Karl has not made it a secret that he’s looking to add a point guard to run his offense. And Rondo might be best served signing a short-term deal with a bad team to maximize his value heading into the summer of 2016. After all, the events of the past year seem to indicate that he’s not necessarily going to receive a long-term deal this summer. Assuming DeMarcus Cousins returns, Rondo would have that big man to dish the ball to in Sacramento, further padding his stats and adding to his value. And while the Kings are not an attractive destination, Rondo has been linked to the team over the past couple weeks. Prediction: Sacramento Kings 

18. Tobias Harris, Forward, Orlando Magic

Courtesy of USA Today Sports: Tobias Harris will be an underrated free agent target.

Courtesy of USA Today Sports: Tobias Harris will be an underrated free agent target.

It appears that Harris’ asking price of a near-max deal might prove to be too much for the Magic. If that’s the case, he’s probably going to move on as a restricted free agent. Of course, this is dependent on Harris actually receiving a near-max deal on the open market.

One reported potential destination makes a ton of sense here. Likely able to add an upper-echelon free agent with Greg Monroe departing, the Detroit Pistons could find themselves looking at another wing player to team up with the recently drafted Stanley Johnson. Harris, who remains one of the most underrated players in the game, averaged 17.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for the Magic last season. His outside shooting ability (36 percent on three-pointers in 2014-15) would also fit Stan Van Gundy’s system. Prediction: Detroit Pistons 

19. Tyson Chandler, Center, Dallas Mavericks

One of the top defenders in the Association, Chandler will receive a ton of play on the market. He’s averaged nine-plus rebounds in each of the past five seasons and is averaging 9.3 per game throughout what has been an impressive career. While Dallas will look to re-sign Chandler should it not land DeAndre Jordan or LaMarcus Aldridge, there’s a strong chance that Mark Cuban will land one of his top targets this summer.

If so, that leaves Chandler looking for a new city to call home. It may seem too simplistic, especially with our prediction that Jordan will land in Dallas, but what about the Clippers? They will be in need of an interior presence to team up with Blake Griffin should Jordan depart in free agency. Originally drafted by the Clippers, this could be a reunion of sorts for Chandler. The interesting dynamic here is that the Clippers are looking to potentially move Jamal Crawford, who the Mavericks would definitely have interest in. Any Chandler to the Clippers possibility has to include a sign-and-trade, which makes this even more likely. Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers

20. Josh Smith, Forward, Houston Rockets

The expectation has to be that Smith will re-sign with the Rockets. He chose them over multiple suitors when the Detroit Pistons bought out his contract during the 2014-15 campaign. He’s also best friends with Dwight Howard. This one is a no-brainer. Prediction: Houston Rockets

Photo: USA Today Sports