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LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have all switched teams in the past two years. And it’s possible that all three could be on the move again after the 2020-21 season.
The 2021 NBA free-agent class has the potential to be a star-studded group that may not only include James, Leonard and George but also other top players such as NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Chris Paul. It means summer 2021 could be an exciting time in the NBA.
And with the league shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s a good time to look ahead. Although there’s still an offseason and another campaign to be played, here are some predictions for what will happen to these top players following the 2020-21 season.
James joined the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of the 2018-19 season. It sure seems unlikely that he will be on the move again so soon—if ever.
The Lakers may not have been successful in James’ first season with the team (they missed the playoffs), but they were faring much better this season. When the season was suspended, Los Angeles was 49-14 and ranked first in the Western Conference. And in 115 games with the team, James has averaged 26.5 points, 9.5 assists and 8.2 rebounds per contest.
Not only that, but James has one of the best supporting casts of his career, including All-Star forward Anthony Davis. As long as Davis stays in Los Angeles moving forward, James should too. Expect him to accept his player option for the 2021-22 season (worth $41 million) and stay with the Lakers in what figure to be the latter stages of the 35-year-old’s career.
Prediction: James returns to Los Angeles.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
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The Los Angeles Clippers became a much better team last offseason when they signed Leonard during free agency and acquired George in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder. And the moves have quickly paid dividends, as Los Angeles was 44-20 and ranked second in the Western Conference when the season was suspended.
Leonard (26.9 points per game) and George (21.0) have been big reasons for the Clippers’ strong season. However, both could leave Los Angeles at the same time, as each man has a player option for the 2020-21 season. George’s option is worth $37.9 million, while Leonard’s is $36 million.
There’s no reason to think Leonard or George would leave L.A. Leonard chose to go there, and George should be happy with the success the team is having while he gets to play alongside another star player. The Clippers are going to be NBA title contenders with Leonard and George on their roster, and all parties should be interested in keeping it going.
Prediction: Leonard and George both return to Los Angeles.
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Unlike the aforementioned players on this list, Antetokounmpo is slated to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2020-21 season. Since being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013, the 6’11” forward has developed into a superstar.
Many of the NBA’s top stars have played for numerous teams in their careers, and this will be Antetokounmpo’s first opportunity to switch uniforms in NBA. However, last season, the Bucks won their first playoff series in 18 years, so perhaps they are doing enough to convince him to stay.
But Antetokounmpo might need to leave Milwaukee to win an NBA title. And the Golden State Warriors have been “preparing for years” to make a run at Antetokounmpo, according to Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle. Like Kevin Durant before him, Antetokounmpo will assemble a superteam with Golden State to make strong runs at numerous NBA titles.
Prediction: Antetokounmpo signs with Golden State.
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When the 2021 offseason arrives, Chris Paul will be 36 and getting closer to the end of his NBA career. But as the talented point guard has proved in recent years, he’s still capable of playing at a high level.
In his first season with the Thunder, Paul averaged 17.7 points and 6.8 assists over 63 games and was named an All-Star for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign. Part of the trade that sent George to Los Angeles, Paul has helped keep Oklahoma City competitive, as it was 40-24, sitting in fifth in the Western Conference when play was suspended.
Paul will have a $44.2 million player option for the 2021-22 season, and it’s unlikely he will turn down that payday, as well as the opportunity to keep helping the Thunder have success. He will return to Oklahoma City for at least one more year and continue to provide veteran leadership to its younger players.
Prediction: Paul returns to Oklahoma City.