In November of 2008 I wrote an article on the 2010 offseason, predicting which players would stay with their current team and which would leave. For the marquee names – LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson – I was bang on.

In the next two years a new wave of stars will potentially become available in free agency, and again I’m attempting to forecast the outcome. Sure, anyone can make these predictions, but my success rate two years ago has to earn me some extra credibility, right?

For the top five potential free agents over the next two years, here are my predictions on who will stay and who will go. And as was the case in 2008, I see some big changes ahead.

CARMELO ANTHONY (player option 2011)

Stay or Go: Go

Do I even need to debate this one? Melo’s gone; it’s just a matter of time. He’s on record as saying ‘where I am from you don’t leave money on the table’, so his decision to pass on Denver’s max extension speaks volumes.

Thankfully for Nuggets fans it does appear the organisation can see the writing on the wall, and will deal him before the deadline to ensure they aren’t left holding the bag. All things considered, a good young prospect (ex. Favors), draft picks and an expiring contract would be a satisfactory outcome for Denver.

TONY PARKER (unrestricted 2011)

Stay or Go: Stay

The Spurs decision to lock in Manu Ginobli and Richard Jefferson would suggest they believe they can contend for the next three years. I am inclined to disagree. However, on the back of these moves it wouldn’t make sense to then turnaround and let your best player go, even with George Hill’s development. Tony Parker is only 28 years old, and when healthy he’s one of the best in the business at the point guard position. And let’s not forget he has a Finals MVP in his trophy case. The Spurs are not in the business of letting top-notch players leave, and the likelihood of getting equal value in return for Parker is remote.

Parker has been adamant in his desire to remain a Spur and the only sticking point I foresee is the size of the contract. But this could be an issue. After years of being ‘relatively’ underpaid, as a premier point he would be well within his rights to demand a big payday. There are teams out there who would be willing to oblige, so how far will the spurs stretch? The fact they overpaid Ginobli and Jefferson will be a factor, as they will be looking to negotiate the lowest deal possible to keep the payroll under control.

But Parker’s willingness to re-sign and the Spurs history of looking after their own, likely means he’s not going anywhere.

CHRIS PAUL (player option 2012)

Stay or Go: Go

For the last two years I was telling anyone who would listen that LeBron James was gone. I based this on the logic of LeBron repeatedly saying that he expects to compete for championships, and the Cavs clearly not built to achieve that. I maintained that the only thing that could prevent his departure was Cleveland acquiring a legitimate second star, which obviously didn’t happen. The same thing now applies to Chris Paul. He was crystal clear this summer in stating his desire to play for a contender, and if you look at the situation in New Orleans, that’s just not going to happen.

Chris Paul is best friends with LeBron and has been hanging out with him all summer in places like Vegas and South Beach. Look at it from his perspective; LeBron’s living in Miami, playing with fellow superstars and contending for titles, whilst he’s stuck in the Bayou with overpaid bums like Emeka Okafor. You think he won’t be envious and crave the same thing? Well, in two years he can have it, as long as he is willing to sacrifice some coin. And let’s be honest, is there really much difference between $100m and $120m (apart from greed)? For guys who genuinely care about winning and the legacy they leave behind, they can see the bigger picture.

Chris Paul is a fierce competitor with no tolerance for mediocrity and he will not see out the best years of his career with a ‘half-hearted’ organisation. In my opinion, the moment he can secure his freedom he’s out of there. At some point in time the Hornets will realise that, but by foolishly trading away his heir apparent in Darren Collison, it’s already too late.

DERON WILLIAMS (player option 2012)

Stay or Go: Go

For mine it comes down to one thing. Utah are in desperate need of another impact player, and as far as I can see Kirilenko’s big expiring contract is their only means to get it. Fail on this front and I think there is a real possibility they lose Williams, as he is not going to commit his future to a mediocre team.

Using their previous history as a guide, my hunch says the Jazz won’t capitalise on the Kirilenko chip due to their reluctance to take on more guaranteed salary. Their apparent involvement in the now dead four-team trade of Melo to the Nets, where Boris Diaw was headed to Utah, is clear evidence of their thinking. It’s a shame, because if they could add a third star to Williams and Jefferson they would really have something.

If in 2012 they have basically the same line-up in place, which I suspect will be the case, expect D-Will to take his considerable talents elsewhere, and rightfully so.

DWIGHT HOWARD (player option 2012)

Stay or Go: Stay

For whatever reason, this one is flying under the radar. The Orlando Magic are in a precarious position cap-wise due in large part to the Rashaard Lewis mega contract, which will hamper their ability to improve the team going forward. As it stands, the Magic will be over the cap until the 2013/14 season, so it is likely they will stagnate for the next few years, which will certainly give Howard pause.

On a personal level he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to jump ship, but the 2010 offseason has set the precedent. If you seriously want to win in this league you will need star teammates by your side. Unfortunately for Howard he doesn’t have this now, and due to their lack of trade assets, he is unlikely to have it in two years when he can opt out. But unlike places like Cleveland and Toronto, when the cap space is there quality players will come to Orlando, he will just have to remain patient.

Howard has made several strong statements in the past about his desire to stay loyal to Orlando, and I am going to hold him to this. Combined with the fact that Orlando is a great place to play NBA basketball, and I don’t see him changing zip codes.

To read more of JT’s stuff, check out his blog at NBAozblog


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