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Matt York/Associated Press
The macro discussions on NBA free agency understandably revolve around the potential travels of basketball’s biggest stars.
But the conversations currently taking place inside of front offices aren’t so obsessed with celestial hoopers.
That’s because all teams—from the star-chasers to the bargain-bin shoppers—have their own free agents to run through rounds of staying-or-going debates.
This article can help point clubs the right direction by identifying the one player they must keep around at all (reasonable) costs.
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Hector Amezcua/Associated Press
Credit the Hawks for safeguarding themselves against a possible John Collins defection this summer. They have fortified the frontcourt through trades (Clint Capela), the draft (Onyeka Okongwu) and free agency (Danilo Gallinari). They also seemingly have the scoring depth to still support Trae Young even without Collins, thanks to Capela, Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic and De’Andre Hunter.
But assuming Atlanta is comfortable with its future financial picture—Trae Young and Kevin Huerter are both extension-eligible this offseason—then it should aim to keep the talented young power forward as part of this core, too. Collins wasn’t quite as productive this year as he has been in the past, but he still found his way to 17.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.3 triples per night.
As a 23-year-old, his best basketball should be in front of him. Considering the Hawks control this situation with their ability to match any offer he receives, they should be ready to foot the bill on anything within reason (less than the max, but perhaps in the neighborhood of $100 million over four years).
Collins’ ability to space the floor (40.0 percent from deep over this season and last) means he can coexist with Capela and opens all kinds of pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop possibilities with Young. It’s hard to see the Hawks letting Collins walk and adding a more talented player this summer, so they should pay him. And if they don’t like what they’re getting out of the investment going forward, they can always shop him around.
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Kathy Willens/Associated Press
The Celtics have some massive decisions to make this summer—no greater than coach-turned-president Brad Stevens finding his own replacement—but free agency isn’t one of them.
Five players aren’t under contract for next season: Evan Fournier, Luke Kornet, Semi Ojeleye, Tacko Fall and Tremont Waters. If you’re reading that list and thinking, ‘One of these things is not like the others,” you are not alone.
Standing out like that one piece of killer clothing on the clearance rack is Fournier, who Boston added at the trade deadline to provide support scoring, playmaking and outside shooting. Despite navigating through a brutal bout with COVID-19, Fournier checked all boxes, averaging 13.0 points in 29.5 minutes, nearly tripling his 1.2 turnovers with 3.1 assists and burying an absurd 46.3 percent of his long-range looks.
For reference, Ojeleye was the next-highest scorer of Boston’s impending free agents at 4.6 points per outing. In other words, Fournier is running unopposed as the Shamrocks’ most important free agent to bring back.
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Adam Hunger/Associated Press
Brooklyn has just seven guaranteed contracts on the books for next season, so this discussion could go a number of different directions. Some might make arguments here for Spencer Dinwiddie, Blake Griffin or Jeff Green.
But in my eyes, this is pretty straightforward. When Bruce Brown stays within himself (i.e., doesn’t go rouge on late-game playoff possessions), he’s the Lebowskian rug that ties this roster together. The 6’4″, 202-pounder uses his length (6’9″ wingspan), athleticism and high motor to play bigger than his size by being a multi-positional defender who sets hard screens and regularly rocks the rim (70 percent shooting within three feet).
“[Brown is] a solution for us,” coach Steve Nash said, per Marie Schulte-Bockum of the New York Times. “He’s a Swiss Army knife, so to speak. … He does the dirty work.”
Brown isn’t the most talented of the Nets’ impending free agents, but they aren’t exactly hurting for talent with Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving leading the roster. They need a glue guy, and Brown can be a human adhesive.
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Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
The debates could get heated in the Hornets front office this summer as they have two restricted free agents with nearly equal claim to this spot: Malik Monk and Devonte’ Graham.
They could, in theory, keep both, but that might limit what else they can add to this roster. With a pressing need at center and an itch for more shooting, they may not have the luxury of paying up to keep a pair of backup backcourt players.
So, why does Monk get the nod over Graham here? It boils down to fit. Monk is an ignitable off-ball scorer who can find his own shots and finish above the rim. That’s easier to slot alongside LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward than Graham, a shooting point guard who works best with the ball in his hands.
Moreover, the Hornets should be looking to keep Ball around as long as possible, which effectively blocks Graham from the starting five. While Monk probably won’t run with the openers either next season, he could conceivably grab a starting spot after that if Charlotte doesn’t re-sign Rozier in 2022.
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Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
Garrett Temple is a 35-year-old whose career has come to define the term journeyman. The Bulls are his 10th different NBA team, and he has only spent multiple seasons with three of those clubs.
The fact he gets the nod here may say less about him than it does Chicago’s other free agents.
Lauri Markkanen once had building-block potential for the Bulls, but he lost his starting spot this season and is a poor fit alongside Nikola Vucevic. Daniel Theis started with Vooch as a necessity, but Theis is a natural center who will likely be valued more elsewhere. Denzel Valentine never found his stride after the Bulls made him the 14th pick in 2016. Cristiano Felicio muddled Chicago’s cap as soon as the ink dried on his four-year, $32 million deal in 2017.
Temple, in effect, almost takes this spot by default. But his defense and leadership are the real keys in offering the most bang for the Bulls’ bucks.
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Nick Wass/Associated Press
Between Larry Nance Jr.’s lack of size, Kevin Love’s inability to stay healthy (or defend) and Andre Drummond’s two-way limitations, the Cleveland Cavaliers opened the campaign without a long-term solution at center.
They rectified that problem in the middle of January by wiggling into the James Harden megatrade and coming out of it with interior anchor Jarrett Allen.
Now, they just need to lock up the 23-year-old on a contract that keeps him in Northeast Ohio for the foreseeable future. Since they knew he needed a new deal when they helped broker the blockbuster, they presumably already factored this expense into their budget.
Allen might not be a spacer or shot-creator, but he’s a 6’11” rim-runner who can control the paint at both ends. While so much of Cleveland’s long-term plans are unknown, the present and future of its 5 spot should be clear.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
This is tricky.
Depending on Dallas’ internal evaluations on Kristaps Porzingis, the club either needs a third star to support him and Luka Doncic or a second star to play sidekick to the latter. The Mavericks don’t have many resources to find that player—they don’t have draft picks or high-ceiling prospects to fuel a trade—beyond the cap space they possess this summer (up to $35 million, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks).
Re-signing Tim Hardaway Jr. could wipe out a big chunk of that flexibility. But considering how snug his shooting fits with Doncic—and how underwhelming most other options in this free-agent market are—how can Dallas not get this done?
Three-point snipers are the best bet for widening Doncic’s attack lanes, and Hardaway is the Mavs’ best quality-plus-quantity marksman. He doesn’t dominate the ball, and his fiery scoring works with both the starters or reserves. The Mavs need to upgrade this roster, but letting Hardaway walk might create more problems than it solves.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
The toughest contract decisions Denver will tackle this summer don’t involve this free-agent class. Instead, it’s the extension eligibility of Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon that will keep the Nuggets’ decision-makers up at night.
When they do turn their attention to their own free agents, though, they’ll have both eyes on Will Barton and his $14.7 million player option. He can play above that pay rate at times, but after losing games to injuries each of the past three seasons, that might be the best he can do in this largely cash-strapped market.
But even if he does opt out, Denver should work on bringing him back. When the Nuggets have him, Porter, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray on the floor, the offense goes supernova. That quartet logged 571 minutes together this season, and in them scored at a ridiculous rate of 124.4 points per 100 possessions.
In theory, the Nuggets might be at their best replacing Barton’s spot with a two-way contributor, but since they don’t have an obvious way of making that upgrade, they should instead focus on keeping their best free agent around. They may want to keep JaMychal Green, Paul Millsap and Austin Rivers, too, but none will come close to playing as significant of a role as Barton’s.
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Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
This feels obvious for two reasons.
For one, the Pistons are big fans of Hamidou Diallo. When they acquired him in March, general manager Troy Weaver told reporters that Diallo “fits what we’re trying to do here” and added “great things” are ahead of the explosive swingman.
Diallo rewarded that trust by impressing in Detroit, especially down the stretch. Over his final six outings, he averaged 18.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 free-throw attempts in 30.3 minutes, while shooting 53.3 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from range.
But the other reason Diallo stands out here is a lack of major competition. The Pistons only have three other players heading to free agency: Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Jackson and Saben Lee. Even if the Pistons want to keep some (or all) of that trio, they won’t prioritize them the way they will (or at least should) with Diallo.
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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Kent Bazemore isn’t Golden State’s most talented free agent. Kelly Oubre Jr. might have had a disappointing debut season with the Dubs, but he’d still win that argument over Bazemore.
But talent is only part of the equation with free agents. Once you start factoring in things like system fits and opportunities, it’s a lot easier seeing Bazemore having a future with the Warriors than Oubre.
While Golden State could go star searching on the trade market, its internal dealings will involve finding complementary fits for Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and a hopefully healthy Klay Thompson. Bazemore’s game and projected pay rate meets that criteria easier than Oubre’s will.
Oubre is reportedly hoping to get a salary “over $20 million (annually),” per HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto, and the Warriors almost certainly won’t want to pay that when coach Steve Kerr said only a reserve role will be available for Oubre, per ESPN’s Nick Friedell. Bazemore, on the other hand, won’t break the bank but will offer a cheap supply of shot-making and defensive energy.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Put this down as an off-the-grid selection, but in this post-James Harden state, Houston should be thinking outside the box.
As a 23-year-old on a two-way contract, Armoni Brooks fits into the proverbial mystery box. For some, that might be reason enough to slot him lower on the priority list than fellow Rockets free agents Kelly Olynyk, David Nwaba and Sterling Brown.
But the Rockets should be willing to venture into the realm of the unknown in hopes of stumbling onto a diamond in the rough. They know who Olynyk is: a 30-year-old with defensive limitations. They know Nwaba is a defensive menace but an offensive liability. They have a less clear read on Brown, but the rough outline is in the three-and-D neighborhood.
Brooks could fit that mold, too, only he’s three years younger and could be considerably less expensive than Brown. Assuming Houston is prepared to play it patient, it should want to see where things are headed with Brooks, who averaged 11.2 points in 26.0 minutes per game while burying 3.0 threes at a 38.2 percent clip.
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Nick Wass/Associated Press
Let’s start with everyone’s favorite thing to see in a sports discussion: an asterisk.
The Pacers should absolutely want to keep Doug McDermott. They don’t have enough three-point shooting as it is, so the last thing they’ll want to do is subtract a 40.7 percent career three-point shooter from the offense.
The real question is whether they can keep him around. He just engineered a career year in points (13.6), player efficiency rating (15.6) and true shooting percentage (63.5). For teams in need of shooting—every single team in the modern NBA—he could emerge as a top target.
Indy already has $115.8 million on next season’s books, and that figure doesn’t include McDermott, T.J. McConnell or Oshae Brissett. The Pacers may have to make some sacrifices, and if someone throws a bunch of cartoon money bags at McDermott, maybe it’s him. But the best-case scenario sees him sticking around the Circle City on a relatively reasonable deal.
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Ashley Landis/Associated Press
Folks, when there’s low-hanging fruit in front of your face, you pick it and devour it.
Nicolas Batum is underrated. Reggie Jackson has had some major moments this postseason. A healthy Serge Ibaka is a great way to spruce up the frontcourt. But imagine if I went with anyone other than Kawhi Leonard here. I’d be out of a job before you finished this sentence.
Leonard is an all-universe megastar. When he’s right, he’s one of a handful of players who actually enters the best-on-the-planet discussion. His scorching playoff run is the latest reminder, as his per-game marks through 11 contests feature 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.1 steals, plus a pristine 57.3/39.3/88.0 shooting slash.
If Leonard stays put, L.A. stays firmly in the championship picture. If he leaves, this club could be fighting for a ticket to the play-in tournament.
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Matt York/Associated Press
The Lakers have no shortage of options here.
Dennis Schroder might be the most common response, as he has a good chance to sign the biggest contract among L.A.’s free agents. Talen Horton-Tucker arguably has the highest long-term upside. Andre Drummond might be best known to casual fans for his All-Star past and gaudy rebounding totals. Montrezl Harrell is a year removed from being crowned the game’s best sixth man.
But glue guy Alex Caruso gets the nod, and I’ll let LeBron James explain why.
“He’s a guy we know we can count on,” James told reporters in September.
James should know, as he’s been working two-man magic with Caruso over the past two years.
Last season, the pair produced the highest net rating of any two-man lineup that logged 500 minutes (plus-18.6). This year, they again paced the Lakers with nearly the same number (plus-17.1). Since L.A. should be aiming to maximize James in what’s left of his prime, it makes sense to re-sign the player who has done that better than anyone since the start of last season.
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
Nearly halfway through this exercise, it’s the first time I’m just grasping at straws.
That’s not a knock on the Grizzlies, by the way, but merely a reflection of the fact nearly their entire roster is intact for next season. Twelve different players have fully guaranteed pacts for 2021-22, and another has a partial guarantee (Jontay Porter).
So, this decision boils down to Justise Winslow ($13 million team option), Tim Frazier (unrestricted) and Killian Tillie (restricted). Committing that kind of coin to Winslow should be a scary proposition, since he has suited up just 37 times since the start of last season, but the Grizzlies are so young and so cheap that the salary would actually make him their second-highest paid player.
They have the funds, in other words, to see whether 2015’s 10th overall pick can finally get healthy and mold his blend of defensive versatility and playmaking into something worthwhile to the rotation. Almost by default, that makes him more interesting than Tillie, who made 18 appearances on a two-way contract, and Frazier, who played 62 minutes between a pair of 10-day contracts and a rest-of-season agreement inked in late April.
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Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
The Heat will always be a bit squeezed for spacing with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo atop their roster. Duncan Robinson alleviates that issue as well as anyone could.
He’s a 6’7″ rocket launcher from distance who can shred nets off the catch or on the move. He’s usually racing around something—either a ball screen or a dribble hand-off—and either firing from three or bending defenders his direction. This attack wouldn’t be the same without his shooting threat.
He might be a specialist, but his specialty has never been more important. To that end, his plus-6.3 net differential ranked second-best among Miami’s rotation regulars, trailing only Butler, an All-NBA third-teamer.
Robinson, who has the third-most triples since the start of 2019-20, is about to collect a mountain of cash. The Heat should be on the other end of that agreement.
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Aaron Gash/Associated Press
P.J. Tucker’s gas tank isn’t empty, but the fuel light might be on. He’s a 36-year-old who just the worst player efficiency rating (5.5) and second-lowest true shooting percentage (51.0) of his career.
So, how can he possibly get the nod here? Because he’s also fifth on the Bucks in minutes per game (25.3) and third in net differential (plus-11.0) this postseason.
Now, perhaps the size and significance of his role says something about Milwaukee’s supporting cast, but it also says the team trusts him to contribute to a championship chase. Since the Bucks are all-in on their current core, that trust is vital in terms of deciding whether or not Tucker is a keeper.
He’s not a long-term fit, but that doesn’t really matter with Milwaukee laser-focused on the present. The Bucks have shown they value Tucker’s defensive versatility and veteran know-how more than Bobby Portis’ scoring and Bryn Forbes’ shooting. Why would that evaluation change in free agency?
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Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
If Minnesota makes major moves this summer, they won’t happen in free agency. The Wolves already have 10 players on next season’s roster with salaries totaling over $127 million. Assuming they guarantee the contracts of Naz Reid and Jaylen Nowell, they’ll have even fewer roster spots to fill and money to fill them with.
That makes this exercise tricky, since there’s a decent chance Minnesota moves on from each of its three free agents. Ed Davis never found an on-court niche in the Gopher State. Jarred Vanderbilt and Jordan McLaughlin, meanwhile, showed enough to potentially price themselves out of the budget.
But if the Wolves pay up to keep one, Vanderbilt should be the target.
He’s younger, more explosive and has a greater pedigree than McLaughlin. Minnesota also would have a much easier time finding a nightly role for a defensive-minded power forward than it would an offense-first point guard. If the Wolves can afford to pay Vanderbilt, they should.
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Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
It seems as if Lonzo Ball’s free agency could go any number of ways. His name bounced around the rumor mill at the trade deadline, and some teams think he could be available in a sign-and-trade this summer, per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Andrew Lopez.
The Pelicans could let him go. Their cap situation could get dicey in a hurry, especially when the luxury tax looms as a threshold this franchise has never crossed. They only have so much in the coffers, and too much of it is already committed to Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe, who will cost a combined $35.2 million next season.
But New Orleans needs to figure out a way to make this work. Ball is the third-best player on the roster. That sounds (and is) subjective, but good luck forming a great argument against it. He’s an instinctive and creative playmaker who has made massive strides as a shooter (37.8 percent from three, 78.1 at the line this season) and can defend multiple positions.
He’s also young enough to grow and develop on the same timeline as Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. That trio needs to lead New Orleans’ future. The Pels would take a step back without Ball and send the wrong message to Williamson about their overall commitment to winning.
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Brad Penner/Associated Press
It wasn’t long ago that Mitchell Robinson seemed a possible centerpiece of New York’s roster. But while his 2020-21 season was torn apart by injuries, multiple teammates jumped ahead of him on the organizational hierarchy.
Still, Robinson is a lot closer to the top than the bottom. If he maximizes his potential, he could cement himself in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation and become a perennial All-Defensive honoree. He ranks among the most fearsome and ferocious shot-blockers in the business, plus he has the lateral quickness to handle perimeter switches.
His offense is a work in progress and probably won’t feature many layers even when it’s fully matured. He’ll also face some durability questions as a 7-footer coming off a foot fracture.
But he can still be a building block for the ‘Bockers, and they should give him a chance to prove it. Whether that means exercising his $1.8 million team option now and letting him venture into unrestricted free agency next summer or declining it to make him a restricted free agent this offseason is up to the front office.
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Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
How does another round of straw-grasping sound, folks?
The Thunder have self-sabotaged their roster by tearing it down to the studs in hopes of creating limitless developmental chances and increasing their odds of hitting the draft-lottery jackpot. They don’t have a lot of talent, and what they do have is mostly young and under contract.
The pickings are slim, in other words. Only the five following players are entering free agency: Svi Mykhailiuk, Mike Muscala, Tony Bradley, Jaylen Hoard and Josh Hall. Other than maybe Muscala, an eight-year pro, that group is too obscure to even put in a game of “Who He Play For?”.
Oklahoma City could live without any of the five. But if the Thunder run it back with any of them, Mykhailiuk feels like a flier worth taking. Consistency has eluded him through three seasons, but he has shown enough promise as a shooter (2.1 threes at a 40.4 percent clip in 2019-20) to think he could become an asset in that area.
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Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
The Magic are effectively a few months into what could be a years-long, top-to-bottom overhaul. Their roster shows nothing but major work to be done.
That probably won’t happen on the free agent front. Not now, at least.
Orlando has six players ticketed for free agency, and none stands out as an automatic keeper. Otto Porter Jr. is worth more to teams that are a lot closer to winning than the Magic. Same goes for James Ennis III, who showed some promise as a shooter but did so at low volume and as a 30-year-old journeyman. The jury remains out on whether Chasson Randle, Sindarius Thornwell and Ignas Brazdeikis are NBA talents.
The same might be true for Moritz Wagner, but he’s at least interesting in theory. The 6’11”, 245-pounder can play power forward and center, always finds his way under an opponent’s skin and posted a 37.2 percent three-point splash rate over 11 outings with Orlando. The Magic might want to see where this is headed at a minimal cost.
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Matt Slocum/Associated Press
Danny Green gets it.
There are a number of things you can highlight with his skill set—sharpshooting, cutting, defending—but his willingness to play a role and ability to execute it are why contenders keep seeking him out and winning big with him. He has never played for a team that missed the playoffs and won three championships in his career, including each of the past two.
“He’s been with some really good teams all the way through college, and he finds himself on winning teams and I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said, per Liberty Ballers’ Tom West. “I think that’s part of who he is and what he gives the team, on the floor and in the locker room.”
The Sixers need it all from Green—the sniping, the smart team defense, the off-ball movement, the off-court leadership. It’s hard to put a price tag on the total package, but whatever it is, he’s worth it for Philly.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Chris Paul isn’t the only reason the Suns snapped a decade-long playoff drought and earned a trip to the conference finals. But he sure seems like the biggest since his desert arrival coincided with the club’s rise from lottery participant to heavyweight title contender.
“Chris has an ability to make everything around him better,” Suns coach Monty Williams, who also coached Paul in New Orleans, said, per Suns.com’s Gina Mizell.
Paul is the player you picture when you hear the label floor general. He injured and re-aggravated his right shoulder in the opening round. In the second round, he dropped 41 dimes against five turnovers while putting together a ridiculous 62.7/75.0/1.000 shooting slash.
He’s had such an incredible season that the 36-year-old actually intends to decline his $44.2 million player option for next season, per B/R’s Eric Pincus. If the Suns want to build off of this success, they cannot let Paul get away.
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Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
The Blazers bought high on Norman Powell.
He was smack dab in the middle of an expertly timed career season when Portland picked him up from the Toronto Raptors at the trade deadline. In other words, the Blazers could see Norman was storming (sorry) toward a massive payday, and they picked him up anyway.
That should say everything you need to know about their future plans for him. As soon as he shoots down his $11.6 million player option, Portland should be ready to put a fortune in front of him.
As a quick aside, part of me would have liked for this spot to go to Zach Collins or Harry Giles III, but the young bigs don’t have the numbers or the medical histories to even make this a conversation.
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Randall Benton/Associated Press
Surprised not to see Richaun Holmes listed here? Honestly, I sort of am too, even though I’m the one making the decisions.
But this is about the free agent each club can’t afford to lose. Holmes might simply be the free agent Sacramento can’t afford. The Kings have a bunch of roster spots to fill and over $98 million on next season’s books. Holmes’ breakout might have priced him out of the plans.
“His team is looking for a contract in the neighborhood of four years, $80 million, which as of now is out of the Kings’ price range,” NBC Sports Bay Area’s James Ham reported.
Maybe the Kings can move off of enough money to keep him, but the situation is complicated. It’s much more straightforward with restricted free agent Terence Davis, who shot 37.2 percent from deep and played some of the best defense Sacramento saw all season over his 27 games with the Kings. He’s a keeper, for both his two-way play and what should be a reasonable contract cost.
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Eric Gay/Associated Press
This summer sets up as a real line-in-the-sand moment for San Antonio, and it’s possible the Spurs could go forward without any of their own free agents.
Bringing DeMar DeRozan back to control the offense doesn’t make a lot of sense when the organization needs to see what it has in its youth. Rudy Gay’s quick-strike scoring means more to a contender than it will to San Antonio. Trey Lyles, Quinndary Weatherspoon and Keita Bates-Diop all did little to deserve another go-round in the Alamo City.
But Patty Mills might be worth having around.
On the court, he’s a 38.8 percent three-point sniper who can give the young players more breathing room. Off the court, he has 10 years of information to share on the Spurs’ way of doing business.
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Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
It’s a little painful to not put Kyle Lowry in this spot given how legendary he’s become north of the border. But for every scenario in which it makes sense for him and the Raptors to keep their relationship going, there are five more in which one or both will be ready for change.
It’s much more clear cut with Gary Trent Jr., the primary asset Toronto received in exchange for Norman Powell at the trade deadline.
Trent didn’t exactly set the world ablaze during 17 games with his new team (16.2 points on 39.5 percent shooting), but he didn’t have to. The trade alone indicated the Raptors were ready to include him in their long-term plans.
As a third-year pro who barely saw the floor as a rookie, Trent has significant growth potential. But he offers enough as a shooter (career 39.3 percent from deep) and defender to contribute to winning right now. That’s important, because even if the Raptors split with Lowry they could have a playoff-caliber core with Trent, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Chris Boucher.
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Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
All-Star Mike Conley—it feels great to finally be able to label him that way—knows he has a good thing going in Salt Lake City.
“Utah’s got me,” Conley told The Athletic’s Tony Jones in February. “… I don’t think I can go anywhere else that plays the way we play.”
Conley’s fit with the Jazz is almost perfect. Utah has an assembly line of production with most rotation regulars providing some level of outside shooting and defending on a string. Conley does both, plus he perks up the attack as a playmaker and pick-and-roll creator (85th percentile as a PNR ball-handler).
The Jazz have Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert to handle the spotlight duties, but there’s enough opportunity for Conley to get his shine, too. He won’t match his $34.5 million salary, but both sides should be interested in a longer deal with a lower annual cap hit.
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Nick Wass/Associated Press
The Wizards already have $116.2 million tied up between just seven players for next season. Sacrifices are a must in free agency, and there might be a scenario in which all of Washington’s consequential free agents depart the District.
The big choices involve four players: Robin Lopez, Ish Smith, Raul Neto and Garrison Mathews. While the first three have more name recognition than Mathews, he might offer the most utility going forward.
He’s a 38.9 percent three-point shooter across his first 82 NBA outings, and his energy never dips below full-throttle. There aren’t really other elements to his game, but that’s enough to have value.
Lopez has value, too, but it’s hard to label him as a necessity when the Wizards have Thomas Bryant and Daniel Gafford manning the middle. Smith and Neto can also contribute, but they’re both backup point guards who seem pretty replaceable. Mathews’ shooting might be the single best skill possessed by any of the four, and bargain sharpshooters are a great way to balance a modern roster.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Stathead unless otherwise noted. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.