Free agency hasn't even started yet, but Jimmy Butler was introduced as the newest member of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday just before Chris Paul was traded to the Houston Rockets. With several other big names either on the market or on the trade block, it's time to get used to the idea of stars wearing different uniforms. Here's a look at several of the scenarios that are in play:
Gordon Hayward to Celtics
How does this make sense? Well, this has only been discussed for years. Hayward played for Brad Stevens at Butler, and Boston would love to add him to a roster that was already good enough to get the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics are an attractive destination because they have great complementary pieces, plus they have all sorts of avenues to get better, from improving young players to potential trades. Hayward would be a snug fit in Stevens' system, and Boston would be lucky to add a player of his caliber on a maximum contract. He has been excellent for a while, but last season he took major steps on both ends of the court.
If not this, then what? Hayward stays in Utah or signs somewhere else, like Miami. For all the talk about Hayward and Boston, it's not clear that going there would actually be that much of an upgrade in terms of competing for titles. With the Jazz, Hayward can remain the undisputed franchise player while working with a great coach in Quin Snyder and one of the best defenders in the league in Rudy Gobert. After years of not quite breaking through, Utah finally made the playoffs this past season and then defeated the Clippers in seven games. It would be a bit of weird time to leave. Still, it's clear that the Jazz are going to have to make a good pitch, as they will have serious competition.
Paul George AND Gordon Hayward to Celtics
How does this make sense? Boston's front office has patiently built a well-rounded team, but it's probably time to swing big. Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley will hit free agency next summer, so this offseason is likely Danny Ainge's last chance to spend money on external help. Stars are difficult to find, but there is an opportunity to nab two of them if the timing breaks right. If the Celtics get an early commitment from Hayward, his presence could persuade George to see them as a long-term home. The plan would be to create cap space, sign Hayward, then execute the George trade with current and future assets. As much as George might be dreaming of playing in Los Angeles, don't forget how much he wants to challenge LeBron James -- joining forces with Hayward, Thomas and Al Horford gives him a realistic chance to do so.
If not this, then what? Boston could get Hayward and not George. Indiana could trade George to the Lakers or elsewhere. It's interesting, though, that The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Celtics' backup plan is to sign Blake Griffin, then get George. That would be extremely interesting -- just imagine a Thomas-Bradley-George-Griffin-Horford starting five. Of course, there's a possibility that all of this speculation will seem silly a few weeks from now and Boston will wind up trotting out essentially the same team as last year, with its collection of future picks still sitting there, ready to be dangled if another superstar becomes available. It's a little crazy, but the Anthony Davis rumors have sort of already started.
Paul George to Lakers
How does this make sense? George wants to play for his hometown team and believes he can recruit other stars to join him once he's there. This isn't the surest path to competing for championships, but he'd get to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Kobe Bryant, and be part of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka's effort to bring the team back to prominence. Market size might not matter as much as it used to, but it matters, and George is clearly tired of the way things have been going in Indiana. It's no secret that George plans to sign in Los Angeles in 2018, but the Pacers have done a good job creating a trade market for him, so the Lakers will risk losing out on him entirely if they don't give something up to get him now.
If not this, then what? George has been linked to a bunch of other teams -- including the Wizards, which is confusing because they don't really have assets to send to Indiana -- and it seems highly unlikely that Indiana would choose to bring him into training camp. The Lakers could elect to sit this one out, preserve all their assets and hope that they're in a position to sign him next summer. By the way, they plan to have room to add two max contracts a year from now, and LeBron James just happens to hit free agency then.
Paul George to Rockets
How does this make sense? If George wants to join a superteam, how about playing with Chris Paul and James Harden? This isn't the same thing as Kevin Durant joining the Warriors, but it's similar in that George would be promised more wide-open looks than ever before, plus the opportunity to play in a system that (most) players love. Houston made itself a much more attractive destination on Wednesday, and adding George would make them perhaps the most interesting team in the league. The Rockets are somewhat limited in what they can offer the Pacers, though, so they have to hope that Indianapolis native Eric Gordon is of interest.
If not this, then what? ESPN's Tim MacMahon reported that Houston thinks it is getting either George or Carmelo Anthony. George is the better player and one of of the best defenders on the planet, but Anthony would be a fascinating fallback plan. The Rockets tried to sign him three years ago, and that didn't work out, but this is a totally different situation. My question here: Would Anthony seriously consider playing for Mike D'Antoni again?
Paul George to Cavs, Kevin Love to Nuggets
How does this make sense? George would love to team up with James, and he's precisely the type of player that Cleveland needs in order to have a better chance against Golden State. George would make the Cavs' defense better, make them more versatile and not take away from their incredible offense. From the Nuggets' perspective, this would give them a star in his prime after years of trying to acquire one, and the combination of Love and Nikola Jokic would be dangerous -- offensively, at least.
If not this, then what? For Denver, there might not be another attainable star, which would put the team in basically the same position it has been for the past few seasons. But, hey, maybe it could still make a run at Paul Millsap. For Cleveland, its best hope for help might be hoping that one of James' buddies gets a buyout. Speaking of which â¦
Carmelo Anthony to the Cavs
How does this make sense? This seems less likely now that Phil Jackson is no longer the president of the Knicks. They'd still like to trade Anthony, according to The Vertical, but a buyout would be necessary in order for him to team up with James â¦ unless the Cavs' next general manager would be willing to trade Love for him. If that happens, Cleveland would be a bit more versatile in the frontcourt, but I don't buy that it makes them a bigger threat to the Warriors or appreciably better on either end of the court.
If not this, then what? Cleveland might wind up bringing essentially the same team back next season. In New York, perhaps with Jackson out of the picture, management can mend things with Melo. Otherwise, the trade-or-buyout dance will continue. This is what the Knicks get for giving Anthony a no-trade clause.
J.J. Redick to the Sixers
How does this make sense? Basketball-wise, it's a no-brainer. Philadelphia has a bunch of extremely talented young players, and Redick would make them all better with his shooting and basketball IQ. I love the idea of him starting next to Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, with Dario Saric serving as the sixth man. As a bonus, Redick could teach them a thing or two about winning in the league. The only issues are whether he will be comfortable going from the veteran Clippers to a team like this, and whether the Sixers would be better off chasing someone who is on a similar timeline to their other core players, like restricted free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
If not this, then what? He could return to Los Angeles if the team is willing to pay market price. Alternatively, the Brooklyn Nets are also expected to make him a lucrative offer. That would be an even more challenging situation than Philly, but he would be looked at as a leader and culture-setter. It's worth noting that Redick has a penthouse in Brooklyn.
Other notes: Kyle Lowry's options seem to keep disappearing, with the Sixers drafting Fultz and the Rockets acquiring Paul. Will the Spurs try to steal him from the Raptors? ... The Clippers are reportedly expected to do everything they can to keep Griffin -- we'll find out if he is excited about the prospect of becoming their primary playmaker. ... The Pelicans maintain that Jrue Holiday is a part of their core, and they're reportedly willing to pay big bucks to keep him. ... The Mavericks are expected to make retaining restricted free agent Nerlens Noel their top priority. ... There has been relatively little buzz about Paul Millsap, which seems weird, especially considering the Hawks seem ready to let him walk if his price tag is as high as expected.