This summer is setting up to be one of the most exciting offseasons in some time. Last year’s offseason will be hard to top, with stars moving all over the place. We have the likes of LeBron James, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, and Chris Paul in free agency. We have plenty of stars in trade talks as well. Due to the 2016 offseason, many teams don’t have money to spend. Only six teams have positive cap space but NBA GMs always find a way to pull money out of nowhere. Expect to see contenders try to stack stars to compete with the Warriors and for new, dark horse free agency destinations to arise. This list will not take into account rumors. This is purely what I believe is the best fit for the player. Without further ado, let’s get to the list.
LeBron James, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers
Potential Destinations: Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers
Best Fit: Los Angeles Lakers
Following an inevitable loss to the Golden State Warriors once again in the finals, the LeBron James free agency saga will once again ensue. At 33 he is still somehow in his prime, putting up MVP caliber numbers. In this playoffs, he is averaging an absurd 34.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, and nine assists. He is unquestionably the best player on the planet and will have teams lining up to sign the King.
Staying in Cleveland would be straight up foolish. They don’t have the assets or cap space to significantly improve the roster and there is a good chance that he will not make the finals again in the East due to the emergence of Philly and Boston. Houston would have to gut almost their entire roster to bring in James, making it impractical. LeBron in Philadelphia could certainly make them the second best team in the NBA but he may stunt the growth of Ben Simmons. We all know how ball dominant James is and him and Simmons may struggle to coexist on the court.
Now we come to the Lakers, which once seemed like a foregone conclusion. Although adding James would give LA the least talented roster out of Philadelphia or Houston, he is the best fit and has the most long term potential there. James will be free to be as ball dominant as he wants, not hindered by anyone else. The team is stacked with young talent in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma. Lastly, the Lakers have the cap space to bring in a second star next to LeBron like Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. Going to the Lakers may not bring LeBron the most immediate success but it will give him the best potential for success over the longest period of time.
Paul George, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
Potential Destinations: Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers
Best Fit: Philadelphia 76ers
The Thunder are coming off of a disappointing season where they lost in the first round to the Utah Jazz. Paul George is an unrestricted free agent and the Thunder will try their hardest to bring him back. But given all of the better options, there is a slim chance he resigns with the Thunder. George is one of the best two-way wings in the NBA who can lock up the best of them and dominate on offense. We saw him carry the Pacers for multiple seasons before chasing a ring in OKC.
Many have already touted him to be signing with the Lakers but assuming LeBron does not sign with the Lakers, I believe Philly is a better fit. They have two budding superstars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Paul George is a perfect fit in the Sixers’ system and is the third star that you need in today’s NBA.
He provides valuable floor spacing for the currently non-shooting Ben Simmons to combine with an elite scorer. George may be the best player on the 76ers if he were to sign with them. He can play floor spacer when Simmons is running the show and can take over and run the offense himself when he is called upon.
DeMarcus Cousins, C, New Orleans Pelicans
Potential Destinations: New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Lakers
Best Fit: New Orleans Pelicans
Just as the Pelicans were starting to figure out how to play Cousins and Anthony Davis together, Boogie went down with a season-ending ACL injury. Given New Orleans’ late success and playoff sweep, many have said that Cousins is expendable. Despite this, it is in the Pelicans’ best interest to resign the star big man.
Cousins may not have the defense or athleticism that he once had but he is still a dominant offensive force. Before his injury, Cousins averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.6 blocks. Coming off of his ACL tear, Cousins may struggle with his movement and defense, subsequently. Luckily for him, by staying home, he has one of the most mobile and best defensive players in the NBA next to him in Davis. Those two compliment each other perfectly and are a difficult combo to defend when they are clicking.
Because of his injury, Cousins most likely will not demand the max contract that he otherwise would. New Orleans will likely be able to bring him back on a shorter, cheaper deal, giving them better roster flexibility. If need be, they could move him at the deadline for assets.
Chris Paul, PG, Houston Rockets
Potential Destinations: Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns
Best Fit: Houston Rockets
People questioned whether Chris Paul and James Harden could coexist on the court. The Rockets’ season disproved any naysayers and proved that their isolation-heavy system is still viable in today’s league. Paul was instrumental playing second fiddle to James Harden, playing excellent defense and providing scoring and playmaking. He recorded 18.6 points, 7.9 assists, and 1.7 steals.
Chris Paul exercised his early termination in 2017 to join the Rockets on a sign and trade and is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. There aren’t many teams in the NBA who are suitable for Paul; staying in Houston makes the most sense for both parties. He was one game from reaching his first NBA finals. The Rockets’ best option is to run it back and try to go all the way to the promised land with the same core.
The only issue lies in the fact that Paul will not resign for anything less than a max contract and Houston may not want to give the 33-year-old floor general the money and duration he wants. They may opt to sign him and then trade him to another team. Giving him a max contract will make it tougher to re-sign Clint Capela and the rest of their pieces but it is the option they should attempt to carry out.
Aaron Gordon (RFA), PF, Orlando Magic
Potential Destinations: Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns
Best Fit: Indiana Pacers
Aaron Gordon is a budding young star and one of the only bright spot on a Magic team with seemingly no direction. Gordon has steadily improved each year after being drafted fourth in 2014. He was always freakishly athletic and a good rebounder but his shooting, passing, defense, and all around polish has massively improved. This season, he averaged 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists, shooting an improved 33.6% from three.
In all likelihood, Orlando will match any offer thrown their way at their most promising player. They also have Jonathan Isaac and the sixth pick but outside of that, the Magic are devoid of assets. The versatile 22 year old forward has plenty of potentials but Orlando may not want to give him the money he asks for. If a team throws him a max contract, Orlando may be enticed to let him walk and start completely over.
Indiana is one of the only playoff teams with cap space and will be in the market for another star. Victor Oladipo is underpaid for how good he has become. Myles Turner could blossom into the Pacers’ second star but he hasn’t been more than an above average big man. At 22, Turner has potential to be a star but adding a guy like Gordon never hurts. With the contracts of Al Jefferson, Lance Stephenson, and Bojan Bogdanovic coming off of the books, Indiana could afford to throw a $25M+ contract at a player. That money could very well deter the Magic, who are already in a cap hole. Gordon could be the third star that takes Indiana over the top if everyone develops.
Clint Capela, C, Houston Rockets
Potential Destinations: Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks
Best Fit: Houston Rockets
Capela is coming off of a breakout season and is one of the most valuable and promising centers in the NBA. He is a great defender, rebounder, and is very mobile, making him invaluable against teams like the Warriors. He averaged 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks. Capela is dominant as a lob target for James Harden and a great defender. He fits Houston perfectly. Unfortunately for them, his rise will likely have him commanding near max money.
The Suns are reportedly preparing to offer Capela a near-max contract sheet and the Rockets will almost certainly offer the same or more. If Houston wants to go after someone like LeBron James or Paul George, they will have a few options. They can let go of Capela or bring him back and gut almost the entire roster of all of their assets. They were 48 minutes away from dethroning the Warriors and likely raising an NBA championship. Houston should run it back this year and resigning Capela should be number one priority along with bringing back Chris Paul.
Jabari Parker (RFA), F, Bucks
Potential Destinations: Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets
Best Fit: Milwaukee Bucks
Drafted number two overall in 2014, Parker has flashed immense potential but injuries have marred his career. Parker hasn’t been able to stay healthy and was a shell of his former self in the playoffs this year. That being said, the Bucks still took the Boston Celtics to seven games. If they had Parker at full strength they could have won. In the 2016-17 season, Parker dominated, averaging 20.1, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists.
Parker will command interest from many teams but ultimately, he is a restricted free agent. The Bucks can and likely will match any offer they get for Parker. A versatile, 23-year-old scoring forward would likely garner max money in any other offseason but his injury concerns diminish his value. I would project his value to be around $18M over three years or so. This isn’t max-money and gives the Bucks contract flexibility. Even if a team like Brooklyn, who have historically given restricted free agents huge contracts, throws a $20M+ offer at Parker, the Bucks could very well match. They don’t have an avenue to par another star with Giannis Antetokounmpo that isn’t internal. Retaining Parker must be a priority this offseason.
Isaiah Thomas, PG, Lakers
Potential Destinations: Los Angeles Lakers, Indiana Pacers, Phoenix Suns, New Orleans Pelicans
Best Fit: Phoenix Suns
Isaiah Thomas has had quite the journey over the last 365 days. At this time last year, Thomas had just finished an MVP caliber season, averaging 28.9 points and leading his Celtics to the second round of the playoffs. He seemed to be in for a massive payday. Soon after this, his team traded him to the Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving due to medical concerns and the Celtics getting a simply better player in Kyrie. He struggled mightily in Cleveland and was traded at the deadline to the Lakers for a few role players. Thomas finished the season a bit better, averaging 15.6 points and five assists in 17 games in Los Angeles. The 5’9″ guard is not a free agent and has very little value.
Thomas hasn’t been able to be the same electric scorer that he was in Boston. His defense has always been atrocious and that will definitely deter some teams. In Cleveland, he posted an abysmal 118.6 defensive rating. Also, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Thomas was previously looking at a potential $25M+ per year deal and long-term stability. Now, a team likely won’t use more than their Mid Level Exception on Thomas and he will likely be on his sixth team since entering the league.
The Lakers likely won’t resign Thomas due to the fact that he doesn’t fit their timeline and they are going after bigger fish. They have bigger priorities on the roster to attempt to resign (Julius Randle) and are looking to keep as much cap space as possible for the 2018 and 2019 offseasons. Although he pairs well with Lonzo Ball, LA can find a similar player for much cheaper.
The Suns are in for a potential big offseason with plenty of cap and draft capital. They are in dire need of a point guard and specifically offense at that position. There are people that believe Elfrid Payton cutting his hair will help him shoot better. I am not in that camp and doubt he can ever be a good offensive player. Thomas won’t give you the defense or playmaking that Payton will but he provides valuable scoring as a starter or off of the bench. Phoenix could use their non-taxpayer MLE of $8.4M per year to bring back Thomas, whose value has plummeted. Pairing Thomas with Devin Booker and one or two more stars could have Phoenix back in the playoff hunt for the first time in some time.
DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers
Potential Destinations: Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers
Best Fit: Dallas Mavericks
We had a similar situation to this year as we had in the summer of 2015. He agreed to sign with Dallas but reneged his agreement. Jordan had doubts about signing the four-year, $80M deal with Dallas. Doc Rivers and some Clipper players held a meeting with the center, convincing him to stay in Los Angeles. Now, the Clippers are in a very different situation.
They no longer boast the star power of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. They are a roster filled with valuable assets and expiring contracts. Due to this, they will be a prime trade target throughout the offseason for contenders and pretenders alike. Guys like Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris are prime trade bait. DeAndre Jordan doesn’t really fit in with the Clippers’ timeline. He has a $24M dollar player option he can exercise. There is a good chance he takes the money and stays with the Clippers as they look to trade for a star. If not, he could opt out and pursue a better situation elsewhere.
Last season, the Mavericks had the lowest total rebound percentage in the NBA with a TRB% of 47.4. Dallas struggled to rebound as a whole; Harrison Barnes led the team in boards last year with 6.1 per game. They are very thin at center with their best options being Nerlens Noel and Salah Mejri.
Dallas has a ton of cap space and a top-five pick, giving them great flexibility. They could draft a dominant big like Mo Bamba or Marvin Bagley and pair him with Jordan. They could also trade that pick for a young talent like Jaylen Brown to form a big three of Brown, Jordan, and Dennis Smith Jr. Jordan lived off of drives and feeds from Chris Paul in LA. Dennis Smith is a developing star with a knack for getting to the rim, providing for easy dunks and putbacks.
Julius Randle, PF, Los Angeles Lakers
Potential Destinations: Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Phoenix Suns, Brooklyn Nets
Best Fit: Phoenix Suns
Like Isaiah Thomas, the Lakers have a decision to make on Julius Randle. He had a breakout season in his fourth year, putting up splits of 16.1 points, eight rebounds, and 2.6 assists. His versatile and aggressive playstyle shone in the young Lakers’ system. Randle flashed great potential this year but he is expendable for multiple reasons.
Los Angeles is going after multiple stars and already has multiple young forwards in Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Randle is certainly a valuable asset who the Lakers would love to retain but their cap situation may not work out that way.
Phoenix, like I spoke about before, has a lot of cap space and a lot of assets to make a move. Adding a talented big like Randle would be ideal. Pairing Randle with Booker and the number one pick could form a big three that could dominate the NBA in due time.
Ben Pfeifer is the Managing Editor of the Colts for Full Press Coverage, the AFC South Division Editor, and head NBA editor. Want to continue the discussion? Contact Ben Pfeifer on Twitter @Ben_Pfeifer_, @FPC_NBA and @FPC_Colts.