As long as the Golden State Warriors remain intact, winning in the NBA is going to be one giant challenge for teams around the Western Conference and all of the league.
General manager Bob Myers, coach Steve Kerr and everyone involved with the Warriors the past three seasons have changed the league in rapid fashion, requiring teams to build around spacing and shooting on offense and long athletes on defense. Even if you have those things, beating the star-studded Warriors roster has proven to be the most difficult challenge in sports these days.
That backdrop makes this summer's class of free agents all the more interesting, as a number of high-profile players are expected to test the market and end up in new uniforms, altering the state of the NBA and changing the way we value players in fantasy hoops.
Here's a look at the top names who are capable of drastically altering the fantasy landscape with where they sign:
Gordon Hayward, SF (Player option to opt out and become an UFA)
What a postseason it was for Hayward, who averaged 24.1 PPG in 11 games. This is a player the Jazz simply cannot afford to be without. If they lose him, Rudy Gobert becomes the only top-100 fantasy option on this team, and Boston is regarded as the biggest threat, thanks to Hayward's ties to coach Brad Stevens from his college days at Butler. If Hayward does head East and land in Boston, Isaiah Thomas won't have to carry the scoring load nearly as much, and his shot attempts and points per game will both take a hit. Fantasy owners and NBA fans in general should hope that Hayward stays on the Jazz and continues to improve as a solid tandem with Gobert.
Blake Griffin, PF (Early termination option to become an UFA)
With Chris Paul traded to the Houston Rockets, the Clippers will probably to do whatever they can to bring back Griffin. Oklahoma City is another possibility to think about for Griffin, an Oklahoma hero in his college days playing for the Sooners. The Thunder desperately need to get bigger in the frontcourt and add more proven pieces around Russell Westbrook, and the addition of a star such as Griffin would make a lot of sense. Griffin's arrival in OKC would mean a lower usage rate and fewer shots for Westbrook, two of the biggest factors for Westbrook's fantasy excellence this season, and that would spoil a lot of the magic we saw with the Thunder star this season.
Kyle Lowry, PG (UFA)
Raptors backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan and coach Dwane Casey reportedly met with Lowry in the Bay Area before Game 1 of the NBA Finals, along with rising young swingman Norman Powell. Lowry has already announced that he has declined his 2017-18 player option, which will make him an unrestricted free agent. If he leaves Toronto, more shots will be available for the likes of DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas, and teams such as the Spurs and 76ers have already been rumored as possible destinations for the score-first point guard. His value wouldn't change too much on either of those teams, but there are suddenly quite a few scoring options on the young 76ers roster, so that's one situation where he would possibly have to share the ball more than he did in his days with the Raptors. Signing with the Spurs would also take some shots from Leonard, which isn't what anyone wants to see. Fantasy owners should hope that Lowry stays north of the border and re-signs with Toronto.
Paul Millsap, PF (UFA)
Millsap has 11 years of NBA experience under his belt and is set to turn 33 next season, which is probably a bigger issue than which team he signs with. In any case, he has already opted out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Spurs are a team to watch in the Millsap sweepstakes, and that could have a negative impact on his numbers, if recent history is any indication with players such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. The Clippers are another potential suitor if they miss out on bringing back Griffin. Fantasy owners should hope he ends up anywhere other than San Antonio.
Jrue Holiday, PG (UFA)
Holiday became the clear third option in New Orleans late last season, behind Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and if a team such as the Knicks or 76ers comes along and offers him huge money to sign with them, it's hard to imagine the point guard turning down a bigger role and a huge payday to leave the Pelicans. Holiday's role would have a chance to expand on another team, whether it be in one of those two places listed above or somewhere such as Dallas or Chicago. Fantasy owners should hope that he signs with the Mavs, where he'd have a chance to average 20 PPG.
Rudy Gay, SF (Player option to opt out and become an UFA)
Gay is expected to opt out and sign elsewhere this summer, and the veteran's proven scoring ability from the two forward positions makes him an attractive target for a number of teams. The Clippers have needed an upgrade at small forward for years, and that is one possibility, while Oklahoma City could see Gay as a piece that can elevate the talent of the roster surrounding Westbrook. If Denver misses out on Danilo Gallinari, this could be a landing spot for Gay, and the same is true in Miami if James Johnson signs elsewhere. Gay's fantasy value wouldn't change much on any of these teams, though his presence on OKC's roster might take some shots away from Westbrook. Fantasy owners should hope that he signs anywhere other than Oklahoma City -- even if it means shocking the world and coming back to Sacramento.
Jeff Teague, PG (UFA)
Teague thrived in his first year with the Pacers, playing all 82 games of the regular season for the first time in his career while notching a career-high 7.8 APG to go with 15.3 PPG and 1.2 SPG. Like George Hill, the key with Teague will be going to a team that needs him to be the main man at the point, and right now, few teams have that to offer aside from the Pacers. Utah could become a suitor if Hill leaves, and New Orleans could be an option if Holiday signs elsewhere. Philadelphia, which is rumored to be very interested in Lowry, could also see Teague as a potential fall-back option. There is also a team such as Dallas. Considering how well Teague played under Nate McMillan in Indiana, though, that's where fantasy owners should want him to sign.
Serge Ibaka, PF (UFA)
The Raptors traded for Ibaka with the hope that they'd be able to re-sign him over the summer, and early indications are that they'll be able to do so. A team such as the Celtics could make a push if it misses on other free-agent targets, but expect the Raptors to do what they can to bring back the veteran power forward, who averaged 14.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG and 1.4 BPG in 23 games in Toronto after coming over from Orlando. It doesn't really matter where he signs, Ibaka is going to do what he does as a secondary scorer and rebounder and above-average shot-blocker.
Dwyane Wade, SG (Player option to opt out and become an UFA)
The feeling around the industry is that Wade will likely opt in and remain in Chicago for one more season under contract to receive $24 million. By going this route, Wade can earn more in 2017-18 than he'd be able to fetch in free agency, and he can set himself up to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, free to sign with Miami or wherever he wants for one contract.
James Johnson, SF (UFA)
What a season Johnson had for the Heat, coming off the bench for 71 of the 76 games he played en route to averaging 12.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1 SPG, 1.1 BPG and 1.1 3PG. One of the game's best stat-stuffers, who doesn't get the attention he deserves, Johnson is a player the top contenders will be looking to add as a key puzzle piece in the years to come. He has indicated a preference for re-signing with Miami, but the big question, regardless of where the veteran power forward ends up, is whether the 30-year-old will match the 27.4 minutes and 10.1 FGA per game he averaged this season on his way to establishing career highs in virtually every major statistical category. His best chance of doing so would come by returning to the Heat.
George Hill, PG (UFA)
Based on recent comments by Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey, there's a belief in Utah's front office that the Jazz value Hill more than any other team in the league. It remains to be seen if that's how things will play out in free agency, but Utah is a great spot for Hill to get extended minutes and serve as the starting point guard. That's true of few other teams around that league, as point guard is suddenly a loaded position in the NBA. If Hill does leave, expect his playing time and production to decline, so if you're a fantasy owner, you have to be hoping he remains with the Jazz.
Danilo Gallinari, SF (Player option to opt out and become an UFA)
He's expected to opt out and test the free-agent waters, and teams desperate to add 3-point shooting, such as Chicago and Utah, are the ones that make the most sense as potential suitors. Gallinari, who turns 29 in August, averaged 18.2 PPG on 44.7 shooting last season -- his best shooting percentage since his rookie season -- but any team that signs him has to be leery of his injury history; he has played more than 65 games only once in his eight-year NBA career. Fantasy owners should hope that Gallinari signs in Chicago on a Bulls team that will hopefully be improved from 3-point land next season.