With the draft come and gone, and the NBA's calendar flipping to the 2021-22 season Monday, this summer's free-agency period will center on the league's rapidly spinning point guard carousel.
The biggest fish, Chris Paul, appears all but destined to return to Phoenix, sources said, on a deal that's now widely rumored to be for at least three years, $90 million.
According to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, the New Orleans Pelicans did have their sights set on prying Paul away from Phoenix. And there was a period this past week in which league personnel widely discussed the possibility of Paul playing elsewhere. Suns governor Robert Sarver, after all, appeared Wednesday on Arizona Sports' Burns & Gambo and said, "[Paul's] got a decision to make and a business decision and a family decision and all that kind of stuff."
The Pelicans even attempted to acquire Paul in a trade prior to last season, sources said. Head coach Willie Green was just hired away from the Suns, and Green is known to hold a close relationship with Paul. The All-Star actually lobbied Houston management to bring Green on board as an assistant during Paul's tenure with the Rockets, sources told B/R.
But Paul finding his way out of Phoenix, and particularly to Los Angeles, always seemed unlikely because of salary-cap complications, plus a long rivalry between the Suns and Lakers. When Steve Nash joined L.A. in 2012, Sarver's front office demanded the deal become a sign-and-trade that sent two future first-round picks back to the Suns.
Acquiring Russell Westbrook in a draft-day blockbuster clearly then satisfied Los Angeles' demand for a dynamic creator to supplement LeBron James in the Lakers' playmaking duties next season. Westbrook's increasing desire to leave Washington and join James in Los Angeles played a significant factor in Bradley Beal's own wavering commitment to Washington, as Bleacher Report previously reported. Ultimately, Westbrook did request a trade from the franchise, sources confirmed to B/R, and the Wizards are moving forward with the expectation that Beal will remain their franchise face for some time.
With that, the next name off the point guard market appears likely to be Spencer Dinwiddie to Washington, sources said, in a sign-and-trade that could reroute the newly acquired Kyle Kuzma or Montrezl Harrell to Brooklyn. The Nets continue their efforts to move DeAndre Jordan's salary as well, sources said.
Kyle Lowry remains the top domino that teams and league personnel are anxiously waiting to see fall. By offloading Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe onto Memphis' cap sheet, New Orleans has enough room to offer Lowry the same three-year, $90 million framework that Phoenix and Paul are expected to agree upon. Multiple cap analysts around the league have also told B/R that New Orleans can clear upward of $36 million to offer Lowry by renouncing both Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart. By just renouncing Ball, the Pelicans could offer roughly three years, $100 million.
Yet while New Orleans has gained momentum toward landing Lowry, the race for his services still does consist of several suitors. Miami and Dallas are expected to aggressively pursue the All-Star point guard, sources said, as Lowry's close relationship with Heat centerpiece Jimmy Butler is often mentioned among league personnel.
The team that offers Lowry the most guaranteed money in the third year of his contract may ultimately sign him.
Until Lowry is off the board and Ben Simmons has been traded, league sources are not discounting the possibility that Philadelphia could swing a sign-and-trade with Toronto. That would reunite Lowry with Sixers president Daryl Morey, and it would allow the veteran to chase a championship in his home city with Joel Embiid.
There has also been an intriguing CJ McCollum-Pascal Siakam trade framework discussed between Portland and Toronto, though talks between the teams have yet to generate significant momentum, sources said. Rival executives believe the Raptors' selection of Scottie Barnes seemingly reinforces Siakam's availability for trade.
Another player frequently mentioned as available for trade during draft week was indeed 23-year-old point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, yet sources told B/R the Oklahoma City Thunder never offered their young star in trade conversation to acquire the Cleveland Cavaliers' No. 3 choice. In those conversations that ultimately fell short, the Thunder only offered packages including present and future draft capital. Oklahoma City and Gilgeous-Alexander are expected to come to terms on a lucrative five-year, maximum-contract extension before the start of next season.
Mike Conley also seems unlikely to leave Utah after the Jazz unloaded Derrick Favors to the Thunder in an effort to reduce Utah's tax bill. The number being speculated for Conley's next contract is three years, $75 million, sources said.
That would still leave New York and Chicago with vacancies at point guard. For the Bulls, there's believed to be mutual interest with Lonzo Ball on a four-year deal worth over $80 million. If the Pelicans do not renounce Ball, that agreement would have to come via an offer sheet, which New Orleans would have the option to match.
Regardless of that outcome, there are strong indications from league sources that mutual interest exists between Derrick Rose and his storied hometown franchise, where he claimed league MVP honors in 2010-11. It's unclear how Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau can stand in the way of the Bulls' potential advances, and Chicago will need to shed contracts to bring on two ball-handlers at such expected salaries. In any case, Chicago will likely search for more than one point guard on the free-agent market, with a goal of pushing its Zach Lavine-Nikola Vucevic tandem into the postseason, especially as Coby White recovers from a shoulder injury.
The Boston Celtics have also been mentioned recently as another team interested in Ball, sources said, as word has begun to spread among league personnel that Boston may not be retaining Evan Fournier. Moving Tristan Thompson on Friday afternoon would appear to be the first step in creating cap flexibility for the Celtics to add Ball, although Boston did take on Josh Richardson's $11.6 million salary. The Celtics had also expressed trade interest in Kyle Anderson, sources said.
The Knicks are mentioned by league sources as a team that has expressed interest in Fournier, while New York has also been linked to Lakers guards Dennis Schroder and Talen Horton-Tucker.
More notes from around the league:
With Westbrook now headed to Los Angeles, multiple league personnel contacted by B/R expect there to be significant interest from several veterans, including DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Carmelo Anthony, to forgo higher salary opportunities elsewhere and join the Lakers in pursuit of a championship.
The reigning champion Bucks are believed to have interest in re-signing versatile defender P.J. Tucker on a deal framework of two years, $20 million, sources said. There's also a belief that Bobby Portis and Milwaukee hope to strike a deal.
Richaun Holmes is expected to return to Sacramento, sources said, although a market for Holmes may still exist with Dallas, New York and Toronto. After Charlotte acquired Mason Plumlee and Kai Jones on draft night, the Hornets are no longer considered a free-agent destination for centers, which may also help steer Nerlens Noel back to the Knicks.
The Raptors have long been rumored to covet Jarrett Allen in addition to their interest in Holmes. Yet while Cleveland officials view Toronto as their biggest threat to retaining Allen, it is expected that the 23-year-old center will re-sign with the Cavaliers to pair with Evan Mobley in the frontcourt.
The Mavericks, along with the San Antonio Spurs, are known to have registered interest in John Collins, but it appears the Atlanta forward will likely re-sign with the Hawks following their sprint to the Eastern Conference Finals on a deal that could surpass $120 million in total value, sources said.
Outside of their efforts to land Lowry, the Mavericks are said to prioritize retaining sharpshooting wing Tim Hardaway Jr., who has also been linked to the Heat.
Dallas, San Antonio, New York and Miami are the rumored suitors for Kelly Oubre Jr. in free agency, sources said.
TJ McConnell and Doug McDermott are expected to have interest in re-signing with the Pacers, but the Pelicans, Nuggets and Suns are said to be pursuing McDermott.
Forward JaMychal Green could very well return to Denver, yet New Orleans and Minnesota are rumored by league sources as potential landing spots.
League sources believe Lou Williams may return to Atlanta on a veteran minimum deal after his strong postseason performance.
Bryn Forbes parted ways with Milwaukee after not playing in the last three games of the Finals, and league sources said the Brooklyn Nets are believed to be a leading candidate for him. Other teams to keep an eye on: Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas and New Orleans.
The Rockets are expected to bring on center Daniel Theis, perhaps landing the veteran via sign-and-trade through an $8 million trade exception.
The Mavericks are considered the favorite by league sources to sign Sterling Brown.
Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Toronto and New Orleans are known to be interested in unrestricted free-agent center Zach Collins, sources said.