2016 NBA Free Agency Cheat Sheet: predicting where the top players will sign

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 17: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives to the basket against LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half of their game on December 17, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. the Rockets defeated the Cavaliers 105-93. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 17: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives to the basket against LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half of their game on December 17, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. the Rockets defeated the Cavaliers 105-93. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)

Welcome to the circus.

Thanks to an incredible increase in the salary cap, more teams than ever are heading into free agency with money to spend.

That bodes well for the players, who can expect bidding wars for their services, but also the NBA, which will see teams stuck on the outside of the league's elite spending big money -- money they might not usually have -- in an effort to reach it.

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Big names can expect record deals, restricted free agents should expect more offer sheets, and we should expect more chaos.

With that in mind, here are the top 15 free agents available this summer and our best guesses on where they land.

The rumors are already flying. The fun gets underway, in earnest, July 1.

Kevin Durant

One of the most prolific and gifted scorers in NBA history, Durant is the most coveted free agent since, well, the guy who comes after him on this list. Where he goes will have massive ramifications on the league as a whole as he makes any team an instant title contender.

Most likely destination: Oklahoma City
The salary cap is going to make another massive leap next year when Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook hit the open market. The Thunder were one game away from the NBA Finals, and Durant could sign a one-year deal and take another crack at winning a title with this elite OKC team before the team could be broken up in 2017.

Watch out for: Golden State
The Warriors have money to spend and could create a four-man core of Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant that would be poised to dominate the NBA for the better part of the next decade. If Durant wants to win a title, going to the Bay Area is the best possible move.

LeBron James

Arguably the greatest player to grace an NBA floor, James has a one-year player option to return to Cleveland for the 2016-17 season. Having just completed the greatest accomplishment of his incredible career -- €” bringing a title to Cleveland -- €” there's a newfound (though currently unsubstantiated) belief that he might leave "The Land" having delivered on his promise.

Most likely destination: Cleveland
It's hard to believe that James would leave Cleveland a second time, particularly considering the amount of influence he has in the organization. As long as he's on the Cavs, the team will contend for titles.

Watch out for: Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron has spoken about his desire to form a super team with his friends Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. While creating that team would be incredibly difficult and is more likely than not a pipe dream, the Lakers could theoretically make it happen. LeBron also recently purchased a home in Los Angeles.

Al Horford

Perhaps the most underrated player in the NBA, Horford is a versatile and reliable big man who has thrived as pace-and-space has taken over the league. While the possibility of re-signing with Atlanta is high, Horford might pursue greener pastures in search of the NBA title that appears more distant for the Hawks moving forward into 2016-17 and beyond.

Most likely destination: Boston
The Celtics are poised to challenge the Cavs in the Eastern Conference next year -- €” they're one piece away. Horford might be that piece. The system perfectly fits him, and the Celtics can sign him and use their prolific draft assets to further bolster Brad Stevens' roster to create a sustainable title contender.

Watch out for: Miami
Horford is a native of the Dominican Republic who played his college ball at Florida. For him, the Heat can offer the best balance of lifestyle, money (no state taxes), and title contention.

Mike Conley

The no-flash, just-results point guard has the class and poise to lead a team to a title, and given the hard-luck run he's had in Memphis, he might be keen to look for a new place to call home. The Grizzlies can give him the most money, but it might not be about that for the nationally underappreciated Conley.

Most likely destination: Memphis
The Grit and Grind era might be over, but the Grizzlies' roster is still strong and Conley is still a revered figure in West Tennessee. There aren't a lot of playoff teams looking to add a point guard like Conley (the Spurs could get into the mix, but it'd take a lot of maneuvering) -- €” a little change might be enough to keep him in Memphis.

Watch out for: New York
Phil Jackson needs to get a point guard to give the ball to Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony if the two ever want to see the playoffs while wearing blue and orange. The Knicks have money to spend, and Conley would be a near perfect fit with that lineup and market.

Andre Drummond

A four-and-out center of the highest caliber, the Pistons have built their entire franchise around Drummond -- €” literally. There are dozens of teams that would like to put in an offer sheet, but there's a sense of inevitability to him staying in Detroit.

Most likely destination: Detroit
Drummond might receive a max offer sheet, but the Pistons will match it. He is the franchise. No price is too high.

Watch out for: New York
LOL, just kidding, he's staying in Detroit.

DeMar DeRozan

One of four unrestricted free agents likely to command a max deal, DeRozan is a volume shooter who lives at the free-throw line. His lack of 3-point shooting makes him a bit of a throwback, but his high defensive ceiling makes up for that limitation in his game. The Raptors could pay him more to stay in Toronto, but the sentiment around the league is that he's keen to move on from The Six.

Most likely destination: Los Angeles Lakers
DeRozan returns home, takes on the Klay Thompson role in Luke Walton's offense, and is the steady veteran to a group of young players.

Watch out for: Chicago
It seems ridiculous that the Bulls would move Jimmy Butler, but if they do, DeRozan could be his immediate replacement. The Bulls could make the case that DeRozan and Derrick Rose would play together better than Butler and Rose have.

Dwight Howard

Once considered to be a generational talent at center, Howard's career has stalled since moving to Los Angeles and then Houston. At age 30, Howard is still a bit of an enigma, but with the right scheme fit, he could erase the memories of a few bad years.

Most likely destination: Dallas
After missing out on DeAndre Jordan last year, the Mavs still need a center. Howard would fit their scheme and help a good team become a title contender (should they astutely throw the full weight of their buying power around this summer.)

Watch out for: Golden State
The Warriors were defeated in the paint in the NBA Finals. Howard, for all his faults, is still an elite-level rim protector. Howard would be able to revitalize his career with perhaps the most stable franchise in the NBA and re-brand himself as a winner.

Hassan Whiteside

The most fascinating member of this free agent class, Whiteside, who was playing in Lebanon as recently as 2014, is likely to land a max offer after a stellar season with the Heat. He has the most complex contract situation on the market, as he's an unrestricted free agent (despite his age, 26) with Early Bird rights, which limits Miami to paying him the league average for his position -- €” roughly $8 million -- €” before they have to cut into salary cap space.

Most likely destination: Miami
Whiteside will command a max offer, but he and the Heat should come to a less-than-max agreement to keep him in Miami. Whiteside and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra have developed a bond that the center would find difficult to create elsewhere. Pat Riley is a master of finding creative ways to work around cap limitations.

Watch out for: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers need a center and would pay max money for one. Whiteside loves celebrity and would be around young, dynamic players he can continue to grow alongside. It's such a logical fit, it can hardly be considered a dark horse option.

Chandler Parsons

A wing who can make 3-pointers in bunches, Parsons is seeking a max deal this offseason. Even with buku bucks floating around this summer, Parsons might be hard-pressed to find that kind of cash, considering the questionable health of his troublesome right knee.

Most likely destination: Dallas
The Mavs would be foolish to let Parsons walk. While paying Parsons the max might not be the most economic use of the Mavs' cash, it is a smart thing to do if the team plans on making a push for a title in the years to come.

Watch out for: Brooklyn
It'd be his franchise, and it'd be a glamour market. The Nets could use anyone of any level right now, and Parsons would improve the team on the court and help the front office in much-needed free agent recruitment.

Bradley Beal

The Wizards' sharpshooter has averaged nearly three 3-pointers per 100 possessions in his four-year career, making him a valuable commodity as teams look to spend on shooting specialists, but doctors found the beginnings of a stress reaction in his right leg last year, forcing Beal to go on a minutes restriction that might last his entire career.

Most likely destination: Washington
The Wizards are likely to miss out on Kevin Durant, and they're not expected to be major players on the free agent market outside of re-signing Beal. There is a reported willingness to pay Beal max money, and if that's the case, given Beal's restricted status, he won't be leaving town.

Watch out for: New York Knicks
The Knicks need to get better in a hurry, and they have enough money to overpay to bring talent to the Big Apple. Landing a sharpshooting off-guard is a good way to do that, and Beal would be highly desirable and possibly attainable, should the Wizards not want to match a max offer sheet to an injury prone player.

Nic Batum

Once considered a tweener, Batum is now considered to be a prototypical stretch-4 for the modern NBA. An unrestricted free agent, there should be no shortage of teams looking to land a player who can be a lockdown defender on three positions while guarding all five, all while displaying above-average court vision and ball handling with a potent 3-point shot to boot.

Most likely destination: Charlotte
The Hornets have made keeping Batum the priority of their offseason and Batum has stated that he'd love to stay in Charlotte, as long as the price is right. Seems like an easy deal to get done.

Watch out for: Golden State
Should things break down in Charlotte, there's no doubt that the Warriors would get in on Batum, who would be a significant upgrade to Harrison Barnes (should Durant not sign with GSW) and fit the Warriors' system to a T.

Dwyane Wade

At age 34, Flash doesn't have the same burst and is unlikely to be a volume scorer again in his career, but he is still capable of being an impact player on a playoff team.

Most likely destination: Miami
He's the face of the franchise and he might be willing to take far less than market value to remain with the Heat. Given the team's salary cap situation, they could use that help.

Watch out for: Cleveland
If it all falls apart in Miami, Wade could take the taxpayer mid-level exception to reunite with LeBron and help him win a second title in Cleveland.

Harrison Barnes

The mercurial, enigmatic wing for the Western Conference champions is perhaps the most interesting player on the market. There are many teams who will bet there's a tremendous amount of untapped potential in the 24-year-old by extending him a lucrative offer sheet. There will also likely be teams willing to extend offer sheets to Barnes that would put the Warriors in the unfavorable position of matching the deal, which would overpay him, or letting him walk.

Most likely destination: Golden State
Barnes is going to receive a massive offer sheet, one that would make him the Warriors' highest-paid player. Regardless of what happens with Durant, the Warriors could be keen to avoid paying him that much, particularly after his NBA Finals performance. Staying in Golden State is the most likely option, but it's a close race with GSW holding a slight plurality.

Watch out for: Indiana
The Pacers are going to move to pace-and-space next year, and Paul George needs another versatile front-court player who is willing to work off the ball and take on tough defensive assignments. The Pacers have big money to spend and Barnes would take on a larger offensive role for a playoff team. There's a strong fit there.

Rajon Rondo

The 30-year-old four-time All-Star and All-Defensive Team selection is one of the most divisive players in the NBA. His lacking (but improving) jumpshot and concerns over his attitude have diminished his earning ability, but he's the second-best point guard on the market.

Most likely destination: Sacramento
The Kings need to keep Rondo, and Dave Joerger is the best coaching fit for him since Doc Rivers. Rondo won't likely have too many suitors on the open market, and Sacramento is still his best play.

Watch out for: Houston
The Rockets are going to run this year, and unless they think that James Harden can be the Steve Nash of this decade, they're going to need a point guard. Rondo would be a tremendous fit on the court. Off the court ... that might be another story.

Bismack Biyombo

Biyombo was let go for free by the Charlotte Hornets last season, and had a tremendous season in Toronto, averaging career highs in points and rebounds. His 26 rebound game in the Eastern Conference Finals will have teams lining up to hand the once backup center starter money.

Most likely destination: Houston

The Rockets need a center, and while Biyombo isn't the prototypical Mike D'Antoni 5, he would fit well with James Harden -- €” essentially providing everything Dwight Howard did without needing to touch the ball on offense.

Watch out for: Chicago
The Bulls have zero, zilch, nada at the center position. They might make a play for Howard, but they're more likely to land Biyombo, should the price be right.