After the inevitable loss that the Cleveland Cavaliers suffered at the hands of the Golden State Warriors the league enters a week or two of meditation. All the best minds fervently work around the clock trying to find the best player in the draft – maybe the future steal of the draft – and dive in to more trade scenarios than you can imagine. Ahead of all the commotion that is to come in this year’s free agency, I’ll try to line-up the best players available. It should be wild, as there’s a lot of great guys available and most teams are strapped for cash.
There’s a point guard up north that is going to get the bag this summer. As the Raptors dialed back both DeMar DeRozan’s and Kyle Lowry’s minutes this season, there was a chasm of important ball-handling duties to be taken care of. The dynamic VanVleet and Delon Wright filled this role with aplomb, bringing incredibly wily defense with relatively capable floor-stretching to boot. A finalist for 6th man of the year, and staring at a huge pay increase, VanVleet is looking to bring his elite shooting (41-percent from three) and bed-bug like defense to whoever comes to the table with the most cash. One of the NBA’s top net-rating players is looking for a place to call home.
Not unlike VanVleet, Bradley is an intense on-ball defender (although, better) and capable floor-spacer. As we saw in the playoffs this year, when it comes down to the nitty gritty teams crave these types of players. Eric Gordon wasn’t a player anyone watched religiously until we saw him shred the Golden State defense repeatedly. Like Gordon, Bradley possesses elite level athleticism. Provided that Bradley can find a team that uses his tenacity and off-ball acumen properly, he’ll be very good. Personally, I hope he lands on whichever team LeBron James chooses.
One of the NBA’s most prolific 3-point shooters, and maybe the most entertaining player to watch cut around screens. In the Spoelstra offense in Miami, Ellington transitioned into the role he’s wanted his whole NBA career. Miami was masterful in their designs to get him open for jumpers, and he’d be wise to find his way to a team with a similar level of offensive ingenius. I’m hoping he goes to San Antonio if Kawhi Leonard is back.
- Will Barton
The NBA’s resident no-look pass champion is heading out of Denver, and he’s ready to bring his offensive creativity to a new squad. A capable ball-handler and shooter, especially when the offense breaks down, Barton’s place is with a team that could use a good deal of offensive punch. Ideally for me, I’d like to see him in Indiana to play with Oladipo, spot-up, run in transition, and lighten the load for Oladipo in that role.
- Julius Randle
A player of Randle’s ilk isn’t usually so available from the RFA slot, but with the Lakers designs on a host of superstars, there’s every chance that a robust contract offer from another team could have Randle walking away from Hollywood. An extremely gifted passer and ball handler at his height and position, Randle has trouble asserting himself in games at times, but when he finds a spot where he can dominate, he’s absolutely lethal. Too quick for traditional bigs, and brutally difficult for guards to deal with physically. Randle is a menace in transition and attacking from the weakside. Would love to see some crazy stuff happen that results with Randle in Denver.
- DeAndre Jordan
As the league changes stylistically, the farther back players like Jordan are going to fall. It’s a shame as well because he’s a legitimately great player. He’s mastered the art of the pick and roll, mixing that in with his hefty defensive chops he’s more than useful. The game is getting away from big men, and Jordan finds himself in that group. For a team that doesn’t expect to compete for titles and wants to dominate portions of the regular season, Jordan would be a boon. It’d be cool to see him land in Miami to see what kind’ve lob plays Spoelstra can draw up for him.
- Clint Capela
Keeping Capela and Jordan this low is probably a minority view, considering they’re both All-NBA level centers and incredibly capable basketball players. Capela is wise beyond his years on the defensive end, he reads plays early and consistently puts players in horribly tricky situations offensively. Same as Jordan, he’s a feared lob threat, and same as Jordan, he’s limited elsewhere and at the charity stripe. If the Rockets don’t get LeBron James I’d like to see Capela stay in Houston to keep working with Chris Paul.
- Aaron Gordon
Lightning in a bottle. One half of the two-man crew that shut down All-Star weekend in 2016. Gordon is one of the league’s premiere athletes, he’s blinding in transition, scary as hell when attacking the backside of the defense and can boast a 3-point percentage above 33-percent. I’m confident that these skills are all trending upwards and he’s a star in the making. All of his tools are waiting to be put together, and when/if that happens he’ll solidify his place as a top-15 player. It’s likely that the Magic will match anything though, so expect him to stay put.
- DeMarcus Cousins
One of the league’s most polarizing players. Not only as an actor, but as a player. Cousins is clearly one of the most gifted players in the league and has stretches on the court where he’s undeniably legendary. His blend of smooth athleticism and power is mesmerizing, when he mixes these things well throughout the game it’s more than likely the opposing team is getting at least a 30-burger. Cousins tragically tore his achilles earlier this year and is working his way back. Will he be the same player as before? Who knows, but I’d like to see him go to Los Angeles, to join the Lakers.
- Chris Paul
If this was a list for players to only play 2 years, Paul would be higher. However, whatever Paul gets this summer might be what you pay him when he’s 38, and that’s terrifying. Paul is one of the greatest players to ever grace the point guard position. His griphold on a game rivals that of LeBron James, and that was abundantly clear as he bent the knee of the Warriors before suffering his untimely injury. One of the NBA’s true leaders and a terrific shot-maker at any point in the game. Hopefully he stays in Houston.
- Paul George
The NBA boasts a few players who might fit in any system, and a bulk of them reside in Oakland. Paul George is incredibly malleable as he possesses all of the skills of both a lead-guard and a staunch 3-and-D player. George is a sniper from downtown and one of the NBA’s most intimidating perimeter defenders. His iso ability is undeniable, and he’s gone toe-to-toe with LeBron James in previous playoffs. Come playoff time, he’s a monster. If you can ignore some of the malaise he’ll show during the regular season, he’ll be worth every penny you can throw at him. I think he’s already wearing a Lakers jersey under his clothes.
1B. Kevin Durant
LeBron James is certainly better than Durant. I can’t say that enough, but Durant is younger. In a league that deeply fears paying aging players Durant’s position as an investment looks better in 5 years than James’. Durant is one of the best scorers to ever play in the NBA, he’s a clear-cut hall-of-famer, he just won his second consecutive Finals MVP, and he’s sneakily one of the 10 best defenders in the NBA. In a league without James, Durant reigns supreme. Who knows where he’ll go, but I’d guess it’s the Warriors.
1A. LeBron James
A player with a credible claim at “Greatest of All Time” who is still playing at the level that earned him that standing. His prowess on the court is unmatched at this point in time. He controls every game and bends the court in refreshingly imaginative ways. The caveat with James is that he isn’t malleable like Durant or George, he makes teammates both more valuable, and worthless all the time. If you fit alongside him, it’s heaven, it’s basketball pornography. But if you don’t jive with James playstyle, he’ll carry you into the basket for two points. An absolute superpower, unrivaled, and timeless. I hope he goes to New Orleans, but he won’t. I have no idea what’s in store for him.
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Have a blessed day.