Sorting the real and fake news in NBA free agency rumors

Brad Stevens and Gordon Hayward could potentially reunite in Boston next season. Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The conference finals are winding down, and NBA teams are plotting which free agents to target come July 1. Here’s an early look at scenarios that make sense and others not quite steeped in reality:

Gordon Hayward to the Celtics

It’s long been rumored that Gordon Hayward could come join his college head coach, Brad Stevens, in Boston when he becomes a free agent this offseason. The Celtics would make sense for Hayward even if they didn’t employ his college coach.

If they don’t bring back any of their free agents, the Celtics would have about $30M in cap space, which would be fortunate since Hayward’s max is expected to be about $30M. This would mean saying goodbye to the cap holds for restricted free agent Kelly Olynyk and unrestricted free agents like Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko and Gerald Green. Needless to say, adding Hayward would make saying goodbye to those role players pretty easy. Room could also be created by keeping Olynyk and trading a player like Avery Bradley, who will only have one year left on his contract for $8.8M before being in line for a hefty raise.

Not only could the Celtics add Hayward to a team that earned the No. 1 seed and has reached the East finals, but they also will have the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, which they could use to pick a future cornerstone or trade for a player like Jimmy Butler or Paul George. The Celtics also will be receiving the Nets’ 2018 pick and are owed future first-rounders from the Clippers and Grizzlies, so the Celtics with their cap space on top of this figure to be an enticing destination for every elite free agent.

Hayward would provide a second high-scoring player to pair with Thomas that Boston seems to be missing, and he could be teamed with the No. 1 pick and perhaps another stud targeted in a trade.

Hayward will be eligible for a 5-year, $176M deal from the Jazz or a 4-year, $130M deal from all others based on current cap projections.

Verdict: Very real news

Kyle Lowry to the 76ers

Philly.com reported there is mutual interest between the 76ers and Philly native Kyle Lowry. Lowry’s addition would be a stark acceleration of “The Process” in which the 76ers have not even sniffed mid-tier free agents while hoarding cap space the last few seasons and accumulating high lottery picks like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jahlil Okafor.

But at a certain point it will make sense for the 76ers to use their vast salary cap space to acquire a player who can help turn their young talent into a playoff team. Although some might prefer a player younger than the 31-year-old Lowry, who does not fit the timeline of the Sixers’ young studs, Lowry would provide a star veteran who can show the young players how to win at a premium position of need.

Lowry would be a massive upgrade at the point guard spot, a position Philly has neglected with its recent lottery picks (depending on what you think about Simmons’ future at that spot), and he offers the kind of elite 3-point shooting that could make him effective spotting up around Simmons. The local connection that includes playing his college ball at Villanova is just gravy.

The Sixers could offer Lowry a 4-year, $152M deal that will cover ages 31-34, so at least the first few years of the deal should age well. The 76ers can create about $55M in cap space, so they would still be able to add another piece plus the No. 3 pick. With Embiid, Simmons and Dario Šarić in the fold as well, Lowry can help turn all this talent in Philly into winners.

Verdict: Real news

Chris Paul to the Spurs

If Chris Paul wants to win a ring, conventional wisdom goes, he will sign with the Spurs this offseason. But for this to happen, he won’t be coming to the same Spurs team that won 61 games and made it to the West finals.

To create cap space, first of all the Spurs will have to say goodbye to the cap holds for unrestricted free agents Manu Ginóbili and Patty Mills (Ginóbili could still be brought back later at a lower price if he doesn’t retire). Next, let’s assume Dewayne Dedmon declines his $3M player option and say David Lee declines his $2.3M player option as well. Assuming they keep their $1.6M cap hold for Jonathan Simmons to keep him a restricted free agent, the Spurs would only have about $7M in projected cap space.

The big wild card here is if Pau Gasol declines his $16.2M player option. The Spurs would then have about $22M in cap space under this scenario. If the Spurs can trade Tony Parker’s $15.4M expiring contract without taking much salary back, then they would have the ability to offer Paul a 4-year, $152M max deal that starts at $35M in the first year.

Paul could also take less money of course, but as the president of the Player’s Association who just negotiated the new CBA that will go into effect on July 1, it would not be the best look for Paul to sign for any kind of a significant discount.

Gasol declining his player option could take CP3 to San Antonio from doubtful to possible, but creating enough cap space for Paul could create a top-heavy Spurs team that for so many years has relied on incredible depth.

Verdict: Fake news if Gasol returns; potentially real news if he does not

Blake Griffin to the Thunder

Big Baby Davis recently said on TNT’s Area 21 that he thought Blake Griffin could end up in Oklahoma City this offseason when he becomes an unrestricted free agent by declining his $21M player option for 2017-18. However, Oklahoma City is about $13M over the cap going into the offseason before dealing with restricted free agent Andre Roberson and unrestricted free agent Taj Gibson. Assuming Blake doesn’t sign for far below his market value on a mid-level type of deal, the Thunder just won’t have the money to pay the Oklahoma native.

The most feasible way for this to happen would be for the Clippers to take back one of the Thunder’s high-paid role players such as Steven Adams ($22.4M), Victor Oladipo ($21M) or Enes Kanter ($17.9M) as part of the deal. But the Clippers likely would not be interested in Adams at that price with DeAndre Jordan holding down the center spot and Enes Kanter at nearly $18M does not figure to be of much interest to the Clippers. Victor Oladipo could replace JJ Redick in an interesting backcourt if Chris Paul returns and Redick does not, but this seems like a stretch as the start of a deal as well.

Verdict: Fake news