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The 2020 NBA free-agency period likely won’t have too big of an impact compared to free-agency periods of years past.
In 2019, we were wondering where Kawhi Leonard was going to be headed fresh off an NBA championship. He shook the NBA universe when he wound up joining forces with Paul George with the Los Angeles Clippers. The year before, it was once again a LeBron James world, as he left Ohio with championship aspirations and joined the Los Angeles Lakers.
This year, it’s hard to even pinpoint the biggest names who will change teams. After a strange season, there are few superstars set to hit the market. Anthony Davis, Brandon Ingram and DeMar DeRozan are among the names who could don different colors in 2021, but for various reasons, none of them seem likely to move.
In addition to the fact that there aren’t many marquee names set to hit the market, the increased uncertainty from the coronavirus pandemic makes things complicated. The cap is usually based on the revenue from the season before. But with the season on hiatus, it’s difficult to tell what impact that will have next season.
Instead, it’s likely that the names who will headline this class are more in the range of Fred VanVleet, Montrezl Harrell and DeMarcus Cousins. They would boost their respective new teams’ stock even if they can’t lead them to championships.
Looking across the league, VanVleet could be one of the biggest winners in this free-agency class. The 26-year-old guard is putting up the best numbers of his career. He has helped fill the void left by Leonard’s departure, with 17.6 points, 6.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game.
VanVleet isn’t a superstar, but his championship pedigree and year-by-year progress show he is still developing and could be valuable to a rebuilding team.
Perhaps the most marketable trait for VanVleet is that he can help you out at either guard spot. He is strong as a distributor but has spent most of his career playing alongside Kyle Lowry. He’s a defensive opportunist who won’t kill your lineup defensively.
The draft is heavy on point guards. However, VanVleet would be the perfect option to sign along with a newly drafted point guard. He’s used to pairing with another point guard and would instantly upgrade the backcourt.
The New York Knicks make sense as a destination, but so do the Detroit Pistons. James Edwards III of The Athletic reported earlier in the season that Detroit would be interested in VanVleet. With the emergence of Christian Wood, their own budding star should be their primary focus, but trading Andre Drummond to the Cavs makes them one of the few clubs with financial flexibility.
VanVleet could either slide to the 2-guard and allow a newly drafted point guard to grow into the position or he could become the primary ball-handler and allow the Pistons to draft someone like James Wiseman or Anthony Edwards depending on where they fall in the lottery.
Prediction: VanVleet signs with Detroit.
The Los Angeles Clippers will be an interesting team to watch this offseason. After gearing up for a championship run in 2020 and potentially not having anything to show for it, they are going to have some tough decisions to make.
Harrell is one of those tough decisions. Jovan Buha of The Athletic reported in December that executives around the league believed Harrell could command somewhere around $20 million a year. Buha went on to mention a four-year, $80 million deal that could possibly be on the low-end of what he could get.
That would be a massive commitment to Harrell at this point.
Granted, he has improved every season in the NBA, and he seems to have unlocked parts of his game. A more diversified offensive repertoire boosted his scoring to 18.6 points per game coming off the bench. He still isn’t a threat from three-point range, but he has taken a career-high 30 percent of his shots from 3-10 feet from the basket.
His metamorphosis from a high-energy big who lived off putbacks and dunks to a post player with more ability to create his own shot should drive up his value. But with big money already devoted to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers will need to decide whether he can be the third-best player on a title team.
That’s going to be hard to figure out given the current situation. With few teams having cap space and Harrell in a prime position to get paid, it could be tough to retain his services. A team like the Charlotte Hornets could use Harrell’s services. The only exciting thing going on in their frontcourt is P.J. Washington. Harrell would be able to bring some energy to the franchise and be the team’s starting center.
His limitations as a rim-protector might not make him the best fit. But he would still lead the team in blocks (1.1 per game) right now.
Prediction: Harrell signs with Charlotte.
Thanks to ACL and Achilles injuries, DeMarcus Cousins has only played in 95 games over the past three seasons. He was waived by the Lakers in February to clear a roster spot, leaving the four-time All-Star a free agent already.
There’s a chance he heads back to the Lakers. Joe Vardon of The Athletic reported Boogie was still staying in Los Angeles and both sides have a mutual interest in a reunion next season.
It’s safe to wonder whether that mutual interest will materialize, though. The Lakers were doing just fine with a combination of Dwight Howard and Javale McGee manning the center spot. Both are still good on the defensive end and require minimal shots on the offensive end to be happy.
Cousins is a different story. He’s never been an explosive defender and has historically needed touches to stay happy. If he were to stay in Los Angeles, it would have to be an exception of some kind. The Lakers don’t have the cap space to sign him outright.
So that opens the door for a team to easily outbid them for his services. There aren’t many teams that will have the cap space to burn to do that, but the Miami Heat jump out as a one who could.
The Heat are one of few teams projected to have cap space this offseason. The Heat could have in excess of $26 million to spend. However, it’s likely they will be conservative with it. They are going to want to maintain the flexibility in 2021 when Giannis Antetokounmpo could be available.
Signing Cousins to a bloated one-year deal is a no-lose proposition for them. They already made a move for Andre Iguodala, showing they have no problem in being aggressive in adding aging talent if they believe they can move the needle.
Bam Adebayo obviously gets the lion’s share of the work at center, but Cousins is more exciting than Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard in the frontcourt. Cousins’ work with Anthony Davis in New Orleans showed his ability to play with other bigs.
In two seasons with the Pelicans, he hit 35.9 percent of his threes. It’s worth a one-year experiment to see whether he can stay healthy and do similar things alongside Adebayo or anchoring the second unit.
Prediction: Cousins signs one-year deal with Miami.