NBA Free Agency 2017: Latest Rumors and Predictions for Gordon Hayward and More

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MAY 6: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz looks on against the Golden State Warriors in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Vivint Smart Home Arena on May 6, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

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When it comes to an expected wild summer in the NBA, the Chicago Bulls surrendering Jimmy Butler was only the beginning. 

The NBA might need to swipe the “madness” moniker the NCAA is so fond of because nothing seems to come close to the three-month stretch starting in June that reshapes the league in a way video games would have a hard time accepting.

Butler isn’t just on the Minnesota Timberwolves now. Speculation surrounding names like Paul George won’t go away, to name the biggest fish. As for free agency, we’re looking at a class headlined by Gordon Hayward, with other potential notables such as Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin and more.

In the wake of the draft, let’s peek ahead to the upcoming free-agent frenzy by taking a look at some of the most notable recent rumblings.

       

The Gordon Hayward Sweepstakes

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MAY 6: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz passes in the second half of their 102-91 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Vivint Smart Home Arena on May 6

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

It’s odd to think Hayward is the face of free agency.

It helps names like Curry don’t figure to leave their teams, of course. But its speaks to the job the 27-year-old forward has done adapting to the pro game and becoming an undisputed star.

Hayward is the reason the Utah Jazz were quite competitive in the Western Conference a year ago and figure to be even better next season, provided he stays with the team. That could be a big “if” though thanks to the bidding war about to unfold for Hayward’s services.

One notable potential suitor is the Celtics, as mentioned by ESPN.com’s Chris Forsberg after the team’s front office didn’t land Butler on draft day: “Boston is expected to make a run at top free agents, including Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin, this summer.”

And there’s zero chance Boston is alone in this pursuit. ESPN’s Marc Stein noted earlier this month the Miami Heat have an eye on Hayward as well.

In other words, Hayward doesn’t have an easy decision on his hands. Provided the team also brings back George Hill, there’s nothing wrong with sticking in Utah and playing alongside a noteworthy core including top-five center Rudy Gobert.

Note Hayward’s decision won’t come down to cash—he didn’t qualify for an All-NBA team, meaning the Jazz can’t offer him a “super max” contract. So if he wants to go play in sunny Miami next to Hassan Whiteside and trust Pat Riley to build a contender, he can. If he wants to go play next to Isaiah Thomas and top-three-pick Jayson Tatum, the money is equal.

Smart money might suggest the Heat. Utah is a quality team mired in a wild conference and Boston seems to have a bit of a logjam at Hayward’s position, not to mention an apparent hesitancy to make big moves. Miami has the weather, Whiteside and Riley going for it, with one superstar arrival away from making it a serious contender in the Eastern Conference again.

Prediction: Hayward signs with the Heat

               

Blake Griffin’s Trip to Market

Blake Griffin got a nod in the above because his opting out has been widely expected.

Like clockwork, sources told ESPN.com on Friday Griffin will indeed opt out of his deal with the Los Angeles Clippers alongside point guard Chris Paul.

This sounds like a dire situation for the Clippers—and it certainly could be.

Griffin seems like the biggest flight risk of the two, especially after seeing his name come up alongside the Houston Rockets, as noted by Stein:

Houston will be far from alone in its potential pursuit of the high-flying forward based on a note earlier this month by Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: “The Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder are two teams that will make a bid for Griffin, according to several executives.”

If one had to guess which free agent actually leaves the Clippers, it’s Griffin in a landslide. Paul hits free agency after one of the best years of his career. Griffin is already 28 years old and his athleticism-based game might fade sooner than later, not to mention he hasn’t appeared in more than 67 games since 2013-14.

This doesn’t mean Griffin won’t be a priority for other teams. Teams outside of Los Angeles pay $40 million less when inking him to a max deal, meaning at least a few years of his prime play at a respectable price.

Given the teams potentially involved, Griffin seems like the best fit in Boston. Houston has James Harden, but he might want to escape the Western Conference. Running the court with Thomas and Tatum and playing alongside Al Horford in the Eastern Conference has a nice ring to it.

Prediction: Griffin signs with the Celtics

          

Chris Paul Joins the Fray

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Paul’s situation is slightly more complicated.

Italics indicate sarcasm here, folks.

Paul, 32, is arguably the biggest superstar flight risk in free agency besides Hayward. He’s coming off a season in which he averaged 18.1 points, 9.2 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game on 47.6 percent shooting from the floor, so a regression at the league’s most important position isn’t something teams on the market view as likely.

And as mentioned in the ESPN writeup above, the Clippers have a few concerns on their hands here: “The Clippers, knowing the free-agent threat posed by San Antonio and Houston is real, hired NBA front-office legend Jerry West away from the reigning champion Golden State Warriors in the first of a series of moves they are hoping will help persuade Paul to stay put.”

Is it enough? The above report by Turner notes Paul has plans to at least talk to the Rockets and Denver Nuggets. And Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype recently noted the San Antonio Spurs aren’t some unrealistic option to swoop in, whether it’s on the market or via a sign and trade.

In fact, none of these destinations outside of the Clippers are unrealistic from an on-court perspective. Paul would team with Harden in Houston, who would shift back to the 2. He’d help an upstart Denver roster led by breakout star Nikola Jokic. And in San Antonio, obviously, he’d play in a Gregg Popovich system and with MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard.

But the almighty dollar will certainly come into play here. Thanks to the new super max, it’s quite difficult to see Paul leaving the Clippers. Here’s the disparity, visualized by ESPN’s Arash Markazi:

Maybe Griffin leaves, but Paul will still reside in Los Angeles of all places next to DeAndre Jordan with an interesting amount of free cap space around him, which he could put to use in recruiting major names.

And if all else fails, he’ll still be sitting on a super max around the ripe age of 37. The money and arrival of Jerry West, hinting at a possible culture shift, might override repeated playoff letdowns over the years.

Prediction: Paul re-signs with the Clippers

         

All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

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