We won’t pretend that the free agency scene in the NBA in 2020 looks as exciting as it did in 2019. Nor will we pretend that it looks as exciting as 2021 appears to be right now, with a whole roster’s worth of big-name stars scheduled to either come out of their contracts or have options to escape their current deals should they wish to do so. Despite that, there’s still potential for a few names to make eye-catching moves as free agents this year – and some reason to believe that at least a few of those moves might happen.
At the time of writing, there are just over seventy players who are scheduled to become free agents in 2020. Many of them will be retiring from the sport of basketball. A few more are unlikely to get another chance to stay in the NBA and might have to head to Europe or elsewhere if they want to continue with their basketball careers. There are maybe only ten players who most fans would welcome as additions to their preferred team, and they should expect to be getting plenty of phone calls in the near future. Of those, we’ve picked five names to focus on who we believe will be taking more calls than most.
Even as we make these observations and predictions, we know we could easily be wrong. Issues around free agency are often unpredictable, and sometimes coaches and players make seemingly-bizarre decisions can either wind up to be disasters, or turn out to be incredibly astute pieces of business. It’s like the online slots game “Basketball Star” has come to life. You don’t always know the value of the symbols on the reels of that online slots until they arrange themselves into the correct order, and you suddenly get a payout that you weren’t expecting. Free agency moves can appear to be every bit as random as online slots games sometimes, but when they pay off, they’re no less rewarding. Let’s check out these five players, who could turn out to be jackpot acquisitions for the right team.
The Toronto Raptors can ill afford to lose Fred VanVleet, but it’s almost certainly going to happen anyway. As either a point guard or a shooting guard, he’s demonstrated that he has the ability to play the game of basketball at its highest level, and the brutal truth is that playing in Toronto probably isn’t going to provide that experience for him in the long term. His recent virtuoso display against Miami Heat was the perfect showcase of why he’s earned the right to play for a historically bigger or more significant team, and the smart money says that he’s going to take that opportunity as a free agent. The Raptors will probably offer to make him their best-paid player in an attempt to make him stay, but there’s so much speculation that the New York Knicks are lining him up that at this point, it’s hard to believe there’s no fire to go with all the smoke. We expect VanVleet to end up in New York when all is said and done.
The only solid news we have on Demar DeRozan’s contract situation from the man himself is that he’s relaxed about it, and he doesn’t want to talk to the press about it. It appears that someone close to him is happy to speak to the press, though, because there have been suggestions that DeRozan isn’t happy in San Antonio circulating since March. The team wouldn’t necessarily be sad to see him go either. He’s been solid but unspectacular at the Spurs and probably keen to try his hand elsewhere and see if he can make a bigger splash. As he’s just turned 31, this could well be the last big move of his career – but where will it take him? We’ve seen the Brooklyn Nets linked with him, and that’s understandable. The combination of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and DeRozan would be a great one on paper and would give Nets fans something to look forward to next season. At the risk of repeating ourselves, though, we wouldn’t be shocked to see him turn up at the New York Knicks either.
The general feeling around Montrezl Harrell at the moment is that he’s about to enter the prime of his career, and the Los Angeles Clippers are going to have to improve their offer if they want him to spend those prime years in LA. He’s been paid twelve million dollars for the past two seasons, but it’s thought that he wants at least a 50% increase on that if he’s to stick around. He might not get it – not because the Clippers don’t want to pay, but because they just can’t make the numbers work. Centers don’t get the star billing that they used to at most teams, but Harrell is as attractive a prospect as a free agent as you’ll find for a center, and someone will pay him what he’s looking for. The bigger question appears to be whether that ‘someone’ will be the head of a lesser team than the Clippers. Harrell might have to choose between being a big, rich fish in a small pond, or a relatively well-paid fish in a larger one.
The writing is on the wall for Jerami Grant and the Denver Nuggets. He spoke out in June to confirm that he was considering turning down his option to stay with the team for next season. That means he’s saying ‘no’ to over nine million dollars and implies that he might have a better option on the table. Alternatively, it might just be his way of telling the team that he believes he’s worth more than the amount of money he’d get by taking up the option. Like Montrezl Harrell, Grant is 26 and coming into his prime, and probably wants to make hay while the sun is shining. We’ve seen the Minnesota Timberwolves linked with Grant, but that may not be the (presumably) glamorous move that Grant has in mind. We can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want him if the price was right, so he could go anywhere.
Justise Winslow’s misfortune might well turn out to be Josh Jackson’s good luck at the Memphis Grizzlies. Jackson had already broken into the team before Winslow’s hip injury, but Winslow being on the shelf for a while ought to give Jackson more opportunities to play. So far, he’s been making the most of them, seeming to have come back to the NBA big time with more hunger after the humiliation of spending the first half of the season in the G League. Better things were expected of Jackson when he was drafted fourth in 2017, but he finally appears to be turning things around. In the process of doing so, he might have put himself in the shop window for a few teams who are looking for bargain acquisitions as they reshape their squad. Jackson is shooting better than ever, and at 23, his best years are still ahead of him. If someone can nurture this somewhat-erratic talent, he could still become the star he threatened to be when he was a rookie.