17 stars that could become available this offseason
The obvious...and not so obvious names
It’s well established by now that the Houston Rockets will have up to $60 million in cap space this summer. It’s also well established that 2023 is a pretty weak free agent class. As you’ll see in the following list, there are star free agents available, but it’s less than a handful. However, as anybody who’s followed the NBA closely over the past decade knows, every year there are players under contract that become available via trade. For some reason, lists like this always fail to account for those players even though they’re fairly easy to predict.
But not today!
Today we’ve compiled a list of every player that could potentially become available soon and grouped them based on how likely they are to switch teams. Not all of these players would make good fits on the Rockets specifically, but they’re worth listing just to get an understanding of the landscape. In all likelihood, most of them will remain on their current teams, but the NBA offseason has grown unpredictable enough to remove any guarantees.
The obvious names:
All logic points to James Harden playing out his career with Joel Embiid on the Philadelphia 76ers. However, Harden is a free agent, he just took a $10 million pay-cut, he hired an agent, and there’s already been credible reporting linking him to Houston. Right now, the 76ers should probably be favored over the field of teams that might be interested in Harden’s services. However, if he were to switch teams, the Rockets should be favored over that field. Philadelphia’s situation is set up so well that only sentimentality could draw Harden out.
Update: In my estimation, the 76ers have a narrow edge over the Rockets in the Harden sweepstakes this summer.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Kyrie Irving over the last decade, it’s that you can’t count on him to do anything. Whether it’s taking a vaccine, disavowing antisemitism, remaining loyal to a team, or at least pretending to fight through a screen, Irving shouldn’t be relied upon to do obvious things. And that’s why, even if it makes the most basketball and financial sense for him to return to Dallas, it’s far from a given. He’s an NBA pariah that’s just good enough at basketball to still be labeled a star worthy of this list.
Kris Middleton’s situation is very similar to James Harden’s in that the most logical thing to do this summer is return to the Milwaukee Bucks and play out his career with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Middleton is a no-nonsense “I’ll get you 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists while shooting 40% from three and playing elite defense” star in a small market that adores him. Middleton’s also spent his entire career in Milwaukee, dating back to age 21. He’s never explored free agency, instead choosing to extend with the Bucks twice.
And like Jrue Holiday, Middleton accepted a contract just shy of his full max. Because he compliments virtually every team structure available without taking anything away, he’s exactly the kind of player that every team in the NBA wants. And with the lack of star free agents available, there won’t be a shortage of max offers peddled his way this offseason. The Bucks should still be favored over the field, but people should keep an eye on Middleton.
Speaking of player-types that every team in the NBA wants, Pascal Siakam might be the player most likely to dawn a new uniform on this entire list. The Toronto Raptors, sitting at 28-31, are in a tricky position. They clearly aren’t a contender, but they have too many good players in their prime to be a full-blown rebuilding team. Chief among those good players is one of the greatest player development stories ever in Siakam.
Toronto would obviously love to keep Siakam as he’s young enough (28) to be part of their next great team. For example, if 21-year-old Scottie Barnes becomes a foundational NBA talent, his prime would likely coincide with the tail-end of Siakam’s prime, making this an impossible decision. Siakam could also be a vehicle for the Raptors to pivot into a full rebuild. If a rebuilding team like the Rockets wants to pivot to contention, they could certainly acquire someone like Siakam, but it would cost a pretty penny.
The fact that Toronto has two players on this list demonstrates how they are currently one of the most interesting offseason teams in the NBA. It’s strange that nobody’s made a bigger deal about how they chose to largely stand pat at the trade deadline. The reason this could be prove to be consequential is because unlikely Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet is expected to become a free agent this summer that will draw a lot of interest. Perhaps standing pat is the Raptors way of telegraphing to other teams that they intend to keep VanVleet and attempts to pry him away will prove to be futile.
We’ll see. At 29-years-old, VanVleet is an extremely versatile point guard at the peak of his powers who can compliment multiple team constructs. He’s a good three-point shooter (37.4% for his career), capable passer, and perhaps most importantly, leaves few areas to attack on the defensive end of the floor. He’s a dream fit next to Jalen Green on the Rockets, and a possible trade would allow the Raptors to recoup something for his services instead of VanVleet walking away for nothing.
It’s unclear why the Houston Rockets would pursue a player like Zach LaVine when they already have Jalen Green. That said, the Bulls are a mess and LaVine is a two-time All-Star so he belongs on the list. At the very least, other teams should be inquiring about his availability.
Again, DeMar DeRozan isn’t exactly an ideal fit on the Rockets. While he provides superior passing and slightly better defense than LaVine, he takes away three-point shooting and floor spacing. He’s on this list because, as stated with LaVine, he’s a multi-time All-Star than can be had because the Bulls are a mess.
The not-so-obvious names:
1 and 2. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
Every year since 2019, some contingency within the national media has picked the LA Clippers to win the NBA title. But now that we’re four years into Kawhi Leonard and Paul George falling short of expectations, it’s probably time more people consider the possibility that this may be their last season together. Leonard and George are both under contract until 2025, but considering they each have a history of demanding trades and have player options in that final year, trades within the next year seem more likely than not. Teams seldom allow their star players to reach free agency anymore. If an extension isn’t penned, it usually means a trade is not far behind.
Leonard and George, both in their early 30s, are still in their primes and would immediately jump to the top of some teams wish lists should they demand trades. They’re All-Star wings with playoff experience that can still shoot, dribble, and defend at high levels. If they were high-level playmakers, they would be generational talents. Leonard is obviously the better and more accomplished player, but they would both be in-demand. The only reason a team would be nervous about acquiring them is health.
It was unusually shrewd for Los Angeles to get LeBron James to agree to a contract extension before the season. As incompetent as the Lakers front office is, they gave themselves some breathing room to make long-term decisions without the threat of James walking in free agency. With that said, it’s probably time to consider the possibility that it’s in everyone’s best interest for James to play for another team.
Even though he’s 38 years old and increasingly plagued by injuries, James still has value on the trade market as a credible Top-10 player. The Rockets obviously wouldn’t pursue James for a myriad of reasons, but he’s on this list because other teams would poke around if he became available. It’s worth noting that this requires the Lakers braintrust having some self-awareness and forethought, so we should all bet against it.
Again, based on their recent history, no one should count on the Lakers making well thought-out decisions. However, the smartest general managers in basketball have been able to figure out when their teams has reached dead-ends before everyone else has. Danny Ainge correctly identified a dead end in Utah and traded both Donavan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert at their peak value. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka should copy this play and move Anthony Davis in the dead of night.
At age 30, he’s the Lakers most valuable asset and moving him before LeBron James could ask out keeps your leverage intact. The Lakers would have to treat their traded draft picks as a sunk cost, but this move allows them to restock their cupboard. Then when it comes time to move James, their weaker asset, the Lakers would be dealing from a position of strength. For all his warts and health issues, Davis is still an incredible basketball player, logging 26.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.1 blocks, and 1.0 steals on 63.1% true shooting this season.
As someone with a lot of love for the Atlanta area, it would turn my stomach to see Trae Young go on the market. We may not hear about it nationally, but that Hawks fanbase has embraced Young to the fullest degree. However, if new head coach Quin Snyder can’t credibly sell his vision for the team to the 24-year-old, he could easily exercise his growing discontent with a trade demand this summer. No matter what some feel about the aesthetics or effectiveness of Young’s game, his undeniable talent would immediately command a ton of offers.
Jimmy Butler loves Miami. He loves Miami so much that he famously turned down the chance to play with Chris Paul and James Harden to go there. The problem is the Heat now sit as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference four years into his tenure. And Jimmy Butler hates losing. He hates losing so much that after getting eliminated in round one of the 2018 playoffs, Butler demanded a trade from the Timberwolves and threw a temper tantrum at a practice weeks after his request was ignored.
Instead of assuming Butler will play out the three-year contract extension he signed in 2021 (signed a year after the Heat made the Finals), we should all be on high alert for the possibility that he asks out this summer.
You know who else was at that infamous practice in 2018? Karl-Anthony Towns. In fact, he’s been at almost every Timberwolves practice since 2015 and all that practicing has gotten the team no farther than the first round of the playoffs. For eight years, Minnesota has been a textbook dysfunctional NBA organization (six head executives and five head coaches). It’s why Towns could become a textbook disgruntled player as soon as this summer.
The Timberwolves were wise to lock him into an extension that takes him through his age 31 season, but that only guarantees his financial security, not his services to the team. Much like Trae Young, Towns is harshly criticized, but supremely talented. Equipped with the best inside-out scoring ability since Dirk Nowitzki and similarly talented as a passer, there’s almost nothing Towns can’t do as an offensive player. His defensive ineptitude is well chronicled, but Minnesota has failed to do anything of significance to compensate for it until this past summer. And for the most part, pairing a three-time Defensive Player of the Year in Rudy Gobert with Towns has worked defensively (107.3 rating), but the pair has been predictably clunky offensively (106.6 rating).
Health issues have limited how much they’ve played together, but the paint gets clogged paint when the two share the floor (despite Towns’ shooting ability). Ironically, the Gobert trade may have actually created an opening for a Towns-Timberwolves divorce to be mutually beneficial. While Anthony Edwards has strong moments as a one-on-one defender, it appears he’s still too porous as a rotational defender to be depended upon. This necessitates someone like Gobert.
And if one can credibly make a case for Edwards as the best player on the team, one can credibly make a case that the team should be built around him, not Towns.
As much as Damian Lillard has professed his love for his adopted city of Portland, the fear of retiring without a championship catches up to almost every star player. Lillard would certainly be the finishing piece for a lot of would-be contenders. I tend to believe that his intention is to retire a Trail Blazer, but even the notoriously loyal Kevin Garnett left Minnesota after years of mediocrity.
It’s worth noting that even if he does leave, there’s virtually no chance considers Houston as a logical landing spot. Like LeBron James, he just had to be on the list.
Unlike Lillard, Bradley Beal has been less willing to chain himself to the Wizards long-term. Due to how much of a mess the Wizards have been for the past six years, Beal has been the subject of trade rumors for half of his career. Beal signed a massive contract extension that could scare some teams off, but his adaptable offensive game may lure someone who’s desperate enough to still bite. He’s never tested the waters with a formal trade request but as he nears 30, it’s possible he decides to change that.
Like Zach LaVine, the Rockets shouldn’t have a reason to go after Beal considering they already have Jalen Green. Nonetheless, he’s a three-time All-Star that belongs on the list.
While he’s technically the only player on this list that’s never made an All-Star team, Myles Turner is everything teams say they want in a modern NBA center. He’s in his athletic prime, great on defense, capable as a shooter, and low maintenance on offense. But therein lies the problem - there’s almost no incentive for Indiana to trade him. Turner’s still young enough to be a part of the Haliburton-led core and anchor the team defensively when it’s ready to win.
With that said, Turner has been kind of unappreciated and unaccounted for as the Pacers have navigated these awkward in-between rebuilding stages.
For example, Indiana nearly let his contract expire before giving him what equates to a market-level extension. And until last year, Turner was misguidedly saddled him next to Domantas Sabonis in the front court. Admittedly, these are minor slights and could’ve easily been papered over once Turner received his extension this year. However, Turner does present a unique opportunity for Indiana to get some premium young players back to pair with Tuner.
Per The Athletic, Houston has already inquired about Turner and there’s actually a framework for a good deal if the organization pivots to winning this summer.
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