Both current finalists actually should give plenty of teams hope for a turnaround. The Warriors looked to be near the end of their legendary run as title contenders. Kevin Durant left in free agency, Klay Thompson missed more than two years with an injury, and Stephen Curry and Draymond Green each had significant injury issues themselves.
But after missing the playoffs for two straight seasons, the Warriors are right back in the Finals. Curry, Green, and Thompson are healthy and the team also has a bright future. They developed Jordan Poole into a future All-Star and also have promising young talent in Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and James Wiseman on the roster. Those players should continue improving, which should keep the Warriors in contention for years to come.
The Celtics, after a lackluster performance last season, looked to be on the verge of blowing up their big two of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown earlier this season after a slow start. They also flirted with the idea of trading Marcus Smart.
Instead, first-year coach Ime Udoka helped spark a turnaround, Tatum and Brown have become arguably the best duo in the league, and Smart won the Defensive Player of the Year award.
Both teams have shown that the right move here or there can make a huge difference in a team’s fortunes in both the short- and long-term.
As teams look to add the right pieces this offseason, here are five players who could garner some interest.
Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz: Mitchell has become a bright young star on the perimeter for Utah, and he’s led the team to major regular season success. That hasn’t translated to the playoffs, though.
Mitchell’s Jazz once again bowed out of the postseason early this season, losing to Dallas in round one.
Mitchell, for all of his offensive brilliance, is not a good defensive player, and Utah’s perimeter defense has been a recurring issue for the team. Mitchell has also been frustrated at times with the team’s direction.
Mitchell is still just 25-years-old, though, so it’s hard to imagine the Jazz parting ways with him unless Mitchell is so fed up with the postseason losses that he asks to be traded.
If he were available, though, there would be no shortage of teams in pursuit – Miami and New York are both reportedly interested already, even with no indication that Mitchell wants to be traded.
Gobert might be the more likely option to be traded. He and Mitchell have always had a frosty relationship, and it might be time to break up one of the most successful duos in franchise history.
Gobert is still one of the best defensive players in the league, and there are plenty of big man-needy teams who would have interest in him. He’s also older than Mitchell, so if Utah is going to choose one or the other to build around, it makes more sense to keep Mitchell than Gobert.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls: The Bulls would undoubtedly like to keep LaVine, but he’ll be one of the most impactful free agents available on the market.
The San Antonio Spurs are currently the favorites to sign him, but several other teams are reportedly gearing up offers to try and pry him away from Chicago.
LaVine is an efficient shooter, big scorer, and is just 27-years-old, so there’s no doubt he’ll have a big impact no matter where he ends up.
Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets: Irving can opt out of his contract and become a free agent if he chooses, and there are at least some rumors he may do that based on frustration with how the Nets handled his vaccination status this season.
Irving still has the support of Durant, though, so that makes it more unlikely that Brooklyn would let him leave in free agency. But the Nets have also been lukewarm about committing to him with a long-term contract extension, so Irving deciding to leave wouldn’t be a total shock.
DeAndre Ayton, Phoenix Suns: Bleacher Report’s Andy Bailey pointed out that backup centers JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo had nearly identical production to Ayton when they shared the court with Chris Paul this season.
That alone should make it conceivable Phoenix would rather spend money elsewhere than invest the max contract he’s looking for in order to bring Ayton back. When you also factor in the fact that Ayton got benched in the team’s blowout loss to Dallas in game seven of their second round series and that coach Monty Williams is reportedly not super fond of him, Ayton is a good bet to be on a new team next season.
He’s still young, he’s a double-double machine, and he’d have no shortage of teams interested if it becomes clear the Suns won’t match a max offer for him.