Back in March, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported that DeMar DeRozan intended on declining his player option for next season if he and the San Antonio Spurs couldn't come to an agreement on an extension, paving the way for him to become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
A lot has changed since then.
Not only has DeRozan shot down that report, there's still so much unknown as to how the coronavirus pandemic will impact the NBA moving forward. With the salary cap potentially being much lower next season and beyond, there's more risk than usual in turning down guaranteed money to test free agency. It doesn't help that there won't be many teams with cap space this offseason.
Still, with the possibility that DeRozan does turn down his player option for next season, it's worth exploring his options if he does decide to become a free agent. There are four teams that come to mind as possible destinations for him, plus a few wildcards, starting with the...
The Pistons are in an interesting position.
When they traded Andre Drummond at this season's trade deadline for next to nothing, they appeared to do so with a rebuild in mind. However, Blake Griffin is still on the books for another two seasons and they are one of the few teams that is projected to have cap space this offseason.
A portion of that money could go towards Christian Wood, one of this season's breakout players who will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but I could see them talking themselves into signing DeRozan in the hopes of returning to the playoffs next season.
Would it be the most prudent decision? Maybe not. The Pistons might be better off taking care of Wood and surrounding him, as well as the likes of Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, with better long-term fits. Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, for example, makes a lot of sense because the Pistons desperately need a point guard, he's on a similar timeline as their younger players and they wouldn't have to break the bank to sign him.
And yet, if the Pistons are hoping to be competitive again sooner rather than later, signing DeRozan could be a quick fix. He would give them a much-needed creator in the backcourt, someone who would form a dynamic one-two punch with Griffin - provided, of course, that Griffin bounces back from suffering yet another knee injury. With those two leading the way, they could make some noise in the Eastern Conference.
An added bonus is DeRozan has played for Pistons head coach Dwane Casey before. He blossomed into a four-time All-Star under Casey during their time together on the Toronto Raptors. Perhaps they'd be interested in a reunion.
New York Knicks
The Knicks tick two important boxes.
One, they have money to spend. Declining the team options of Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson and Wayne Ellington for next season could open up as much as $40 million to work with in free agency, giving them the means to go after a max-level player.
Two, the Knicks have long been on the hunt for a big name free agent. DeRozan isn't at the same level as some of the free agents they've pursued and struck out on in recent years, but he would bring the type of star power Madison Square Garden hasn't seen since Carmelo Anthony.
The problem? DeRozan isn't exactly a natural fit with RJ Barrett, the No. 3 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft who figures to be a big part of New York's future. There's an argument to be made that Barrett would benefit from playing alongside an established player who has a similar skill set as him - a throwback wing who lives in the paint and isn't much of a 3-point shooter - but DeRozan isn't exactly in the mentorship stage of his career. With him still being an All-Star calibre player, the addition of DeRozan could stunt Barrett's long-term growth by taking away the touches he needs to continue his development.
Even so, Haynes reported that the Knicks are "expected to be interested" in DeRozan should he become a free agent. It wouldn't be his best chance at winning a championship, but it might be DeRozan's best chance at securing another big payday. And for the Knicks, it would give them an established go-to scorer, the likes of which they haven't had in a long time.
Pretty much everything I wrote about the Knicks applies to the Hornets - they have cap space this offseason and could be on the market for a star - only DeRozan's fit next Devonte' Graham and Terry Rozier would be cleaner than his fit next to Barrett.
That's not to say it would be perfect. Graham and Rozier handle the ball a decent amount themselves, but they're at least capable of playing off-ball. According to NBA.com, Graham knocked down 42.2 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s this season on decent volume. Rozier was even better. He knocked down 45.7 percent of those opportunities on even greater volume, making the two of them some of the best catch-and-shoot threats in the league.
That's important because Graham and Rozier could afford DeRozan the space he needs to play to his strengths as a driver. As I wrote recently, DeRozan is zigging while everyone else is zagging by eliminating 3s from his game almost entirely to double down on what he does best. It doesn't make him the easiest player to build around, but it has been the key to him posting some of the best numbers of his career.
A core of Graham, Rozier and DeRozan doesn't exactly scream championship, but DeRozan would give a Hornets team that proved to be much friskier than anyone could have imagined this season a bonafide scorer. While the Eastern Conference will be tougher next season, he has the potential to give Charlotte the boost it needs to return to the postseason.
As hard as DeRozan can be to build around, I'm fascinated by the Nuggets as a potential destination for him.
The reason why: DeRozan would give the Nuggets another creator in the backcourt, one who could offset some of Jamal Murray's inconsistencies as a secondary playmaker, and I can't help but think that Nikola Jokic would do wonders for his game by tapping into his potential as an off-ball scorer.
Again, it would be helpful if DeRozan was a more willing 3-point shooter, but the Nuggets have the means to surround him with shooters at basically every position. It's fun to think about him receiving a back screen from Jamal Murray while Jokic scans the floor from the top of the perimeter or him running a pick-and-roll with Jokic while Murray, Gary Harris and Michael Porter Jr. space the floor or him diving to the basket when his defender crashes down on a Jokic post-up.
DeRozan has never been much of a cutter - he's generated 2.7 percent of his offence on those plays this season - but he has the size, speed, athleticism and know-how for it to be a bigger part of his game.
Where it gets complicated is that the Nuggets are going to have to make the little money they will have to spend this offseason go a long way. Murray, Jokic, Gary Harris and Will Barton are each under contract for the next few seasons, but they're at risk of losing some of their depth with Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee, Torrey Craig and Noah Vonleh each being in the final years of their contracts. Jerami Grant could join them as well, as he has hinted at turning down his player option for next season to test free agency.
In which case, the Nuggets might be more in the market for complimentary players like Raptors forward Chris Boucher this offseason than stars like DeRozan.
Orlando Magic - Earlier in the season, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported that the Magic had expressed interest in trading for DeRozan. They're an interesting destination for him given their need for a creator in the backcourt, but the Magic are Evan Fournier picking up his player option for next season away from having no wiggle room in free agency. Even if Fournier were to decline his player option, the Magic would have a hard time creating the room they'd need to sign DeRozan, making a sign-and-trade their best shot at acquiring him.
Toronto Raptors - If you search "DeMar DeRozan free agency" on Google, you'd be surprised as to how many people mention the Raptors as an option for him in free agency. It's certainly a possibility, but I don't see it. The two sides aren't far removed from a rather acrimonious breakup and who knows how DeRozan would adjust to returning to his former team, only to be a second option at best next to Pascal Siakam, not the first option. If DeRozan does ever return to Toronto, I'm guessing it's at the back-end of his career, not while he's still putting up 20 points per game in his sleep.
Miami Heat - The Heat are an option because they could have cap space and they are always in the market for big names. I'm just not convinced that a backcourt of DeRozan and Jimmy Butler - two ball dominant wings who don't provide much in the floor spacing department - is a recipe for success in today's NBA, even if the Heat were to surround them with knockdown shooters at every other position.
Los Angeles Lakers - The Lakers are worth a mention if only because DeRozan is from Los Angeles. It's also no secret that he's a big Kobe Bryant fan. DeRozan would almost certainly have to take a massive pay cut for this to even be an option, though. The only way he wouldn't is if Anthony Davis turned down his player option to sign elsewhere or the Lakers completely cut ties with Danny Green, neither of which I see happening.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.