With 28 former Kentucky Wildcats rostered in the NBA this season, it’s expected that at least a few will hit the open market on July 1st. As we’re under two months until free agency begins, here’s a complete breakdown of where each “free” Cat might land.
Prediction: Washington Wizards
Early in his career, Cousins was widely known as one of the bigger “headaches” in the NBA. However, following the deal that sent him to New Orleans and enabled him to join forces with former Wildcat Anthony Davis, Cousins has exceeded all expectations. Before the big man went down with a season-ending achilles injury, he and Davis were looking as if they could contend for this year’s NBA Championship.
It would be foolish of New Orleans not to entertain the idea of resigning Boogie. However, with major money committed to both Davis and Jrue Holiday, it’s unlikely Cousins could score the big payday he’s looking for (and rightfully deserves).
The market this summer will be rather dry, leaving a few sign-and-trade options on the table, one in-particular that involves Cousins. The Washington Wizards are missing a third star that brings a unique skillset to the table.
With All-Star guards Bradley Beal and John Wall (Cousins’s former teammate at Kentucky), the Wizards have only achieved mediocre playoff success in a weak conference. Throw in a 6’10 center who can stretch the floor and bully people inside, they’d be a force in the East.
The Wizards signed Otto Porter to a max contract last summer. The deal looks worse by the day for a player who simply shoots a decent percentage from behind the arc and defends opposing wings. Those types of players are needed on a championship team, but paying max-money to someone like Porter isn’t.
The Wizards own the 15th pick in the NBA draft. It’s expected that one of Kevin Knox or Miles Bridges could slip to them. If so, they could draft Porter’s replacement with the idea of a sign-and-trade that ultimately swaps Cousins and Porter.
Washington adds their third piece in seek of playoff success while New Orleans add talent to a wing position that has been dry for years down south.
Sure, other teams with large cap space (Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers) could make a run at Cousins. However, it’s something about playing with Wall again that makes the East coast enticing for Cousins.
Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers
The “Lebron James to the Lakers” have been swirling for months. However, their team is made up of younger players who Lebron has never surrounded himself with. Sure, they could trade them all off for assets and veterans, but that’s a lot of moving around to do.
If James indeed arrives in the purple and gold, it’s likely Randle will be skipping town. Randle averaged a career high in points this season at more than 16 per game. He was the leader of a young Lakers team and allowed himself to be coached back and forth from the bench to the starting lineup.
These are traits scouts notice and he’ll certainly have much interest this summer. However, I don’t see James landing in LA. Therefore, I could see Paul George shaking hands with Magic Johnson and the Lakers either offering (or matching an offer made for) Randle. He knows Luke Walton’s system, is one of the longest tenured Lakers and was a tremendous presence this past season.
Prediction: New Orleans Pelicans
Rondo had his best season in New Orleans this year since his departure from the Boston Celtics in 2014-2015 season. His personal stats were slightly down (8.3 points & 8.2 assists) but the way he influenced the culture and pace of the Pelicans was life-changing.
The 12-year vet is a pass-first point guard and managed to make life much easier not only for Cousins and Davis but Holiday as well. Being able to handle the ball and make plays allowed Holiday to play off the ball and handle more of a “natural” scoring load.
His “team” performance led to the Pelicans sweeping the Portland Trailblazers before the four-headed snake in the Bay Area became overwhelming for the under-manned Pelicans.
With Cousins unlikely to return to New Orleans, it leaves some flexibility to give Rondo a raise. He certainly earned it and would surely like to remain in a system that fits him.
Prediction: Boston Celtics
I mentioned earlier that the market is expected to be rather dry this summer than years past. For Noel, who only played in 30 games this past season, the market will be scarce. Last summer he was one of the hotter free agent names but ended up taking a measly $4 million qualifying offer from the Dallas Mavericks.
Now, though, while he’s an unrestricted free agent, I believe he ends up in green playing for Brad Stevens.
Noel’s talent is off the charts. He can run the floor, defend the paint, excel in the pick-and-roll and certainly comes at a low-risk, high-reward.
Boston will be thin on the front line with Daniel Theis and Greg Monroe expected to hit free agency. Noel fits a young roster with a coach that seems to bring out the best in every player he gets.
With the NBA Draft before free agency, it’s likely much could change by July 1st. However, don’t be surprised to see players receiving cheaper deals and many players like Enes Kanter opting into the final year of their overpaid contracts.