Editor’s note: This story was published before Wednesday’s report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez that Stan Van Gundy has agreed to a multi-year deal to become the next head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans.
The NBA has plenty to figure out ahead of the start of free agency and trade season. The transaction moratorium will be lifted sometime before the Nov. 18 draft, but before then, let’s dive into the biggest storylines this offseason has to offer.
Which players are the most intriguing targets? Which teams are in the best position to make a splashy move? Which coaching vacancy is most appealing?
Our panel tackles the biggest questions and drops some bold predictions for the NBA offseason.
1. Which free agent do you find most intriguing?
Andre Snellings: To me, it’s Anthony Davis. Assuming he re-signs with the Lakers, they will remain favored to repeat and give LeBron James a chance at the two more rings he needs to catch Michael Jordan. And Davis has a big decision about how many years to sign for, even if he is staying in L.A. for now. So while the offseason drama around Davis might be muted this time, he’s still the most important free agent.
Tim Bontemps: Fred VanVleet is the best unrestricted free agent who could change teams this offseason. He could help Phoenix or Atlanta take a significant leap forward. But if Toronto can keep him at a price that preserves cap space, it will strengthen the Raptors’ case for a max player to join VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby next offseason.
Royce Young: VanVleet is likely due a big payday, and there are whispers of potential max-level offers lurking. With a market pretty dry on guards, VanVleet could be the prize target.
Tim MacMahon: Danilo Gallinari might end up deciding between several contenders who offer their full midlevel exception. That would be a bargain for a prolific scorer who has shot 41.8% from 3-point range over the past two seasons, but the teams that have cap space don’t look like good fits. Or maybe Thunder general manager Sam Presti can find a win-win, sign-and-trade scenario.
Kevin Pelton: Goran Dragic‘s resurgent play was a key factor in Miami’s run to the NBA Finals, and the Heat missed him badly when he was injured in Game 1. The Heat surely want Dragic back on a big one-year deal that preserves their cap space for the 2021 offseason. Will someone else offer a long-term deal that trumps that immediate payday?
2. Which potential trade target are you watching?
Young: Chris Paul is the domino to fall for the Thunder to embark on a long-time-coming rebuild. After his second-team All-NBA season, his trade value isn’t going to get much higher, especially with $85 million remaining on his contract. If the right offer is there, Sam Presti won’t hesitate.
MacMahon: Jrue Holiday is a two-way star who could provide a significant boost to any contender. He could also help the Pelicans compete for a playoff spot, of course. But his greater value to New Orleans would be in what the franchise could get for Holiday as it builds a long-term supporting cast around Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram.
Bontemps: If New Orleans trades Holiday, it is a clear indication the Pelicans think they’re a year or two away from being contenders (likely the correct assessment). Holiday is also good enough that he could swing a team’s fortunes significantly — in, say, Brooklyn alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Pelton: I think Holiday offers the best combination of a player who could move this offseason and has the ability to shape the title race wherever he lands. A Holiday deal would also reshape the future of the Pelicans, one of the league’s most promising teams going forward.
Snellings: I’m watching who the Bucks will pursue, because of Giannis Antetokounmpo. With the two-time MVP just a year from free agency, the pressure is on the Bucks to make an impact move that potentially puts the team over the top. If they can’t, then Giannis will have a huge decision to make about whether he wants to stay.
3. Which team are you watching most closely this offseason?
MacMahon: The Bucks have a year to build a case to convince Antetokounmpo he will be playing for a perennial contender if he stays in Milwaukee. No pressure, just the future of the franchise at stake.
Young: The Rockets, given the changes we’ve already seen. But despite the coaching upheaval, Houston appears intent to maintain some level of stability. While there is buzz about the future for James Harden and/or Russell Westbrook, more likely the Rockets run it back with roster adjustments than blow the whole things apart.
Snellings: The Warriors, holding the No. 2 pick in the draft. With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green ready to go again, I want to see if the Warriors actually make the pick, or whether they’re able to use it in a trade to add a fourth impact player to try to reclaim their vacated throne.
Bontemps: Golden State. Will the Warriors use their trade exception from dealing Andre Iguodala last summer? Will they be able to turn the second pick into a ready-to-play star? The answers to those questions, along with the health of Curry and Thompson, will determine just how good Golden State can be next season.
Pelton: Between the No. 2 pick and the Iguodala trade exception, the Warriors face some interesting choices that will determine how competitive they can be for the 2021 championship and in years to come. Their spending will also be a key indicator of how willing teams will be to pay lavish luxury-tax bills during the pandemic.
4. Which team has the most desirable coaching job that’s still open?
Bontemps: New Orleans, because of the combination of young talent (Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and others) on the roster, a strong front office led by David Griffin and a bevy of draft picks in the future. Houston has an edge in current talent (for now) and OKC has more future flexibility, but New Orleans has the best blend of both.
Snellings: The Rockets, with the players to make legitimate noise at the top of the league. Yes, it would be fun to build around Williamson, Ingram and Lonzo Ball, but the Rockets are full of veteran players desperate to win now, and they have two former MVPs leading the team. A confident coach could see this team as his chance to win a ring.
MacMahon: The Rockets offer the best chance to contend right away, but the job in Houston comes with a lot of pressure and little long-term certainty. The Pelicans’ next coach takes over a franchise with a potential superstar, a young All-Star, a lot of assets and a franchise architect who has won a title. New Orleans gets the nod.
Young: If it’s about talent and immediate upside, the Pelicans are an easy pick. Taking a longer view, it’s the Thunder. GM Sam Presti is loyal to coaches, and the Thunder provide a top-tier infrastructure. The team might not look ready-made to win, but getting in on the ground floor with a mindset to build — with young talent and draft picks — could pay off in four or five years.
Pelton: The Pelicans. Among the teams to change coaches, I think only the Clippers had a more promising opening. Not only will New Orleans’ next coach get a chance to develop a core of young talent, there’s an obvious opportunity for improvement at the defensive end of the court.
5. What’s your bold offseason prediction?
Bontemps: Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul will be traded again — but this time not for each other. Moving on from Paul will allow the Thunder to finally bottom out, and in a year with a strong draft class coming. Westbrook, meanwhile, is the only player — besides James Harden — who might net a return that would allow the Rockets to change course.
MacMahon: Chris Paul will start next season in Oklahoma City. Presti has proved he will be patient and won’t act on a deal unless it makes sense for the Thunder. While Paul restored his value with an All-NBA season, his contract makes finding the right fit complicated.
Snellings: Neither the Timberwolves nor the Warriors will play a game with the top two players from this draft. I think the Timberwolves will use the No. 1 pick to bring in a third young impact starter who’s ready to compete now and grow with Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, while the Warriors will trade down in the draft to bring in both a veteran starter and a late-lottery/mid-first round pick to groom for the future.
Pelton: The Sacramento Kings, under new front-office management, make more trades than any other team.
Young: The Clippers will make a splashy move. They are already pot-committed to a title run. They need to solve Montrezl Harrell‘s free agency, there’s a clear need at point guard and the Clippers have desirable players to trade. It seems unlikely the only change they make is at coach.