10 NBA Free-Agency Predictions: Klay Thompson, Paul George and Others. (May 2024)

We know the Philadelphia 76ers will utilize their mountain of cap space to make at least one major addition in free agency this summer, and it’s a pretty good bet that the Orlando Magic will target scoring with their spending flexibility.
Other safe assumptions: The Los Angeles Clippers will endure a thorny offseason in which both Paul George (player option) and James Harden (unrestricted) may test the market, the Detroit Pistons will again struggle to decide where to allocate their resources and the Denver Nuggets will face a cap crunch.
Beyond those reasonable guesses, everything else about NBA free agency is up in the air.
These bold predictions won’t have high success rates. They shouldn’t. That’s kind of the point. If they’ve each got a shred of logical underpinning, that’s enough to get us into the more interesting portion of the exercise: thinking about what the fallout could be if they prove correct.

Klay Thompson -> Back to the Warriors

If the latest rumors are any indication, Klay Thompson has a clean, logical pathway out of the Bay Area. In an appearance on FanDuel TV’s Run It Back, Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic reported “there is mutual interest between the Magic and Klay Thompson.”
Orlando, fresh off a seven-game loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round, has the ability to clear nearly $65 million in cap space (though the actual number will likely be closer to $35 million) and a demonstrated need for perimeter shooting. Thompson slipped athletically and briefly lost his first-unit gig with the Golden State Warriors this past season, but he still finished fourth in total made threes and canned them at a 38.7 percent clip.
He’s an obvious fit for a squad that has plenty of defense but not enough spacing or scoring punch to hold up on the other end.
At the risk of letting sentiment take the wheel, Thompson will still return to the Dubs on a two-year deal that syncs with the timelines of Stephen Curry and head coach Steve Kerr. Let’s set the official terms at two years and $40 million with incentives that could raise the total value up to $45 million.
That’s less than the reported two-year, $48 million deal Thompson rejected last offseason and will likely be lower than what Orlando will offer. A prideful player who might be motivated to prove he can still perform like a star, Thompson will be tempted to take the biggest contract and role available.
In the end, he’ll realize the grass isn’t always greener…and that he already has loads of green. With $266 million in career earnings, Thompson is in a position to decline bigger bucks in the interest of playing an entire career with one franchise.

Paul George to the 76ers!

The smart money is on Paul George sticking with the Los Angeles Clippers on a four-year max deal, and that the rumors about him and the Philadelphia 76ers making eyes at one another is just a leverage play to coax extra cash out of his incumbent team.
After all, George and Kawhi Leonard were a package deal in L.A. from the jump, and Leonard already re-upped on an extension that’ll keep him under contract through 2026-27. Though there’s been much hand-wringing about George and the Clips failing to come to terms, it’s hard to imagine L.A. letting him get away, with a new arena to open next season.
Well, imagine it. Because it’s going to happen.
George cannot be confident in Leonard staying healthy for a full regular season and playoffs, mainly because it’s never happened since they teamed up in 2019. Take a moment to digest the fact that in this hypothetical, George is choosing the health record of Joel Embiid, who’s never played more than 68 games in a season, over Leonard’s. If that doesn’t illustrate Kawhi’s chronic unavailability, nothing will.
Ultimately, George has good reason to believe the Embiid-Tyrese Maxey combo has more upside than the Leonard-James Harden one—and that’s before considering Harden’s own free agency. The Sixers have unmatched flexibility, an in-prime MVP and a rising max-salary star.
That level of top-end talent and malleability makes it possible for George to occupy something less than an alpha position (a role he’s never proved capable of handling) while being paid as if he’s a true top option. Were he to return to L.A., all he could expect is more of the same.
Even if there’s a logical foundation to the idea, George leaving L.A. for Philly still has to qualify as bold. It’s long been assumed he and Leonard are linked, and a move across the country would be surprising in light of all the homecoming angles that attended George’s arrival in Southern California.

Patrick Williams to the Canada’s Toronto Raptops!

The Toronto Raptors’ need for rangy combo forwards is a good illustration of how quickly rosters can change in the NBA. It wasn’t so long ago that the Raps were deep into the positionless experiment many dubbed “Project 6’9″”, during which they over-indexed on exactly that player type.
Scottie Barnes and Jalen McDaniels are the only such players under contract in Toronto for next year, which means a good chunk of the Raptors’ projected cap space should probably go to a free agent who can man the 3 or the 4 in flexible lineups.
Patrick Williams has battled injuries in two of his four pro seasons and might be gettable with a large enough offer to prevent the Chicago Bulls from matching in restricted free agency.
The Bulls have DeMar DeRozan’s unrestricted free agency to consider and tend to operate in a misguided win-now mode that could marginalize their 22-year-old former lottery pick. This is a bet that Toronto will swoop in with an offer sheet competitive enough to pry away the so-far underwhelming forward.
With Immanuel Quickley, Barnes and R.J. Barrett, Toronto is skewing younger with its core. That makes it a logical fit for Williams ahead of his age-23 season. A low-usage offensive player who hasn’t shown any knack for self-sufficient shot creation, Williams has quietly pumped his career hit-rate on threes up to 41.0 percent.
If he can add a little volume, focus on being a catch-and-shoot threat and defend across multiple positions, he’d be a stellar fit alongside the Raptors’ other early-20s pieces.

Malik Monk will earn around $100 Million

Malik Monk has never been better positioned to cash in than he is right now. Expect him to take advantage of his situation as one of the top scoring threats available in free agency.
That’s bad news for the Sacramento Kings, who can only offer their elite sixth man $78 million over four years unless they make major changes throughout the roster to free up cap space.
The scoring-starved Orlando Magic should be in the mix for his services, with the desperate Detroit Pistons also likely to be interested. The Toronto Raptors have a void at the 2, and the San Antonio Spurs should be chasing anyone who can both shoot and pass. All of them will run the risk of spending big on a player coming off a career season in a contract year, but the competition is still going to juice up Monk’s price well beyond Sacramento’s range.
Smack in his prime at 26, coming off two straight top-five finishes in Sixth Man of the Year voting and last season’s leader in assist rate on drives (minimum 6.0 drives), Monk is going to get a deal that will feel shockingly rich. Or, at least it’ll seem that way to observers who don’t realize he averaged 21.3 points, 7.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds per 36 minutes last season.
Smart teams know Monk’s bench role suppressed his production, and that he’s a quality starter worthy of a four-year deal in the $90-95 million range.
Framed that way, maybe the bolder prediction would be to say Monk will wind up back in Sacramento.

Tobias Harris and Simone Fontecchio Get Similar Deals? What’s going On???

Tobias Harris has a longer track record of success and, even in a down year, outproduced Simone Fontecchio, a two-year vet who’d started just six games heading into last season.
That said, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that Harris’ stock is at an all-time low. He’s 31 and coming off a brutal post-All-Star stretch in which he posted a 52.9 true shooting percentage and struggled mightily on defense. His $39.3 million salary didn’t do him any favors in 2023-24 either; so-so production always seems worse when it comes with a star-level contract.
Fontecchio is three years younger than Harris and hit 40.1 percent of his threes last season. Perhaps more importantly, the restricted free agent put up 76 more triple attempts than Harris in 724 fewer minutes. If we agree that Harris is now more of a supplementary, score-first role-player than the second option his last contract suggested he should have been, Fontecchio is arguably the better specialist.
Harris’ reputation and past salaries will make it easier for teams to justify spending on him, and this isn’t an argument that Fontecchio is going to sign an objectively larger contract. But the combination of Harris’ declining reputation and the younger Fontecchio’s demonstrable value as a floor-spacing ace will result in these two players signing deals at average annual pay rates that’ll be much closer than most would expect.
Let’s get specific and say Harris’ next deal will only pay him $3 million more per year than Fontecchio’s.

Isaiah Hartenstein Will Get More Guaranteed Money Than Nic Claxton

Nic Claxton averaged more points (11.8), rebounds (9.9) and blocks (2.1) than fellow free-agent center Isaiah Hartenstein (7.8, 8.3 and 1.1, respectively) this past season and brings switchable defense many teams crave from their big men.
Hartenstein is still going to out-earn Claxton on the open market.
Some of that has to do with the quiet shift back toward conventional big men across the league. Versatility is still critical, but the need for actual heft is rising again. The league’s last four MVPs have been bruising, non-switch big men who cannot be guarded by small-ball 5s, and the trend extends past Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokić.
If you scan the teams still competing in the second round of the playoffs, you can see more of a need for the 7’0″, 250-pound Hartenstein than for the quicker but thinner Claxton.
The Boston Celtics have Kristaps Porzingis and Al Horford, the Minnesota Timberwolves have Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns, and the Dallas Mavericks flip between Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II. Even “frailer” bigs like the Oklahoma City Thunder’s multi-skilled Chet Holmgren and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Jarrett Allen can dominate the paint and score in the post.
That’s not to say Claxton is without his merits. He’s younger and more mobile than Hartenstein, and his shot-blocking prowess is legitimate. But the New York Knicks big man, pressed into starting duties only after an injury to Mitchell Robinson (another old-school big), roasted Claxton in every catch-all metric from Box Plus/Minus to Estimated Plus/Minus to Player Efficiency Rating and can hold up better against the bruising bigs that are returning to prominence.

Tyus Jones Will Sign for More Total Money Than D’Angelo Russell

D’Angelo Russell has an All-Star nod on his resumé and spent last season starting for the spotlight-dwelling Los Angeles Lakers. With career averages of 17.8 points and 5.8 assists, he’s also got a better track record of box score production than most free-agent point guards.
Tyus Jones is still going to get more on the open market than D-Lo.
Though Russell has an edge in name recognition and superficial numbers, Jones’ 2023-24 salary of $14 million was less than $4 million below Russell’s pay rate. The market already values them more similarly than you’d think. And last offseason, there weren’t a ton of takers for Russell, which is why he returned to L.A. on a one-plus-one deal for a total of $36 million.
Jones led the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio for the sixth straight time in 2023-24 and plays the role of careful organizer better than most. Russell, in contrast, offers more flair and scoring punch but isn’t exactly renowned as the type of talent who makes others around him better. He’s a trickier fit in most situations.
This prediction will be right if Russell picks up his player option and remains with the Lakers for one more year before hitting free agency in 2025. In the bold-prediction game, wins on technicalities still count.
Jones is as plug-and-play as it gets—whether a team like the Orlando Magic views him as a starter or, say, the Detroit Pistons determine he’s the right adult-in-the-room vet for them. He’s someone smart teams will happily lock down on a three- or four-year agreement above the mid-level exception. Meanwhile, D-Lo’s two-year deal last summer suggests teams aren’t keen on inking him long-term.
Jones can prove this prediction correct with a four-year deal worth over $50 million as long as Russell doesn’t attract greater interest than he did in 2023.

James Harden Will Get Just 1 Guaranteed Year back with the Clippers

James Harden told Sam Amick of The Athletic that his decision to opt in to the last year of his deal with the Philadelphia 76ers before requesting a trade “was about trying to get to a situation where I could get paid and obviously have a chance to win at the highest level.”
If the 10-time All-Star thinks a longer, more lucrative contract than the one-plus-one agreement he signed after opting out of $47 million in 2022 is in the offing, he’s going to be disappointed.
Harden’s last deal paid him $33 million in 2022-23 with a $35.7 million player option for 2023-24. While he might approach a similar (potential) total value on the one he signs this summer, it’s hard to imagine any team guaranteeing more than a single year for a declining former star who’ll turn 35 before next season. Particularly one who’s claimed to want to retire with four separate franchises.
A track record full of trade demands and discontented check-outs makes Harden too great of a commitment risk. Better for the L.A. Clippers or any other team considering his services to take things season by season and hope Harden doesn’t grow too unhappy or decline too quickly before he’s off the books.
Harden is still more productive than most 15-year vets, as his 2023-24 averages of 16.6 points, 8.5 assists and 5.1 rebounds illustrate. But those numbers should be viewed as a ceiling for next season (as should his 72 games played, his highest since 2017-18). Combined with his general unpredictability, Harden just isn’t someone teams will feel comfortable locking down for multiple seasons.

The Denver Nuggets Will Lose 2 Rotation Players

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope turned 31 shortly after the 2024 NBA trade deadline, which means he may only have one more chance to secure a significant payday in free agency.
Good thing he has a player option for 2024-25.
He’s going to opt out and instantly become a hot target worthy of a four-year deal that could nudge up against the $100 million mark.
The Denver Nuggets will find themselves above the dreaded second apron if KCP opts in for $15.4 million next season. The pain will intensify if Reggie Jackson exercises his option and/or the Nuggets bring back Vlatko Čančar via team option.
Management could be willing to face the penalties of plunging deep into the tax if the Nuggets repeat as champs. But this organization hasn’t historically cut many checks for luxury-tax payments.
Caldwell-Pope is one of the best role-playing guards in the league. A champ with two different franchises, his mix of elite backcourt defense and reliable three-point shooting (39.0 percent or better four years running) makes him a stress-free fit on any roster. That’ll drive up demand to levels Denver may not want to meet.
Quietly, the Nuggets have been preparing for this. Between Christian Braun, Peyton Watson, Julian Strawther, Jalen Pickett and Hunter Tyson, they have five 25-and-under guards and wings in the pipeline—none of whom will earn more than $3 million in 2024-25.
That’s not to say Denver will be as good with those players taking over rotation spots from KCP and Jackson, who also figures to opt out in search of a multi-year deal. But it seems clear the Nuggets have worked out contingency plans for exactly this summer’s scenario.

De’Anthony Melton Will Get $60 Million

The back issues that limited him to 38 games with the Philadelphia 76ers last year are a concern, but De’Anthony Melton is still going to cash in to the tune of at least $60 million in free agency.
A double-digit scorer in each of the least three seasons, the 25-year-old Melton brings a lot of the same plug-and-play qualities as Caldwell-Pope but won’t cost nearly as much. Considering he’s five years younger than KCP, you could make a case that a mere $60 million would be a bargain to lock down what should be Melton’s prime seasons.
It’s also convenient that a projected four-year deal at the mid-level exception, which starts at $12.4 million with annual raises, should come in right around the $54 million mark. Melton only needs to beat that by a few million bucks, which shouldn’t be hard to do.
He’ll have a good number of suitors, with the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz among the squads that could ink him using cap space. The Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Charlotte Hornets would also be good fits, and each of them could bring Melton aboard at a rate above the mid-level exception.
Add the 76ers’ own mountain of cap space as another force driving up his price. Though Philly will look to spend on starrier names before circling back to its own free agents, teams pursuing Melton may feel like they need to come over the top to prevent him from going back to what should be a contending Sixers team.
This is all great news for Melton, who’s made just under $37 million in his six-year career.

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