Realistic Landing Spots Top 2022 NBA Free Agents Should Avoid
The 2022 edition of NBA free agency kicks off at 6 p.m. on June 30, with plenty of good starters and the occasional All-Star to be found.
While James Harden (who pushed for a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers in February), Kyrie Irving (who said he won't leave Kevin Durant) and Bradley Beal (who can sign a five-year, $247.7 million max deal with the Washington Wizards) are all widely expected to stay put, the other top free agents should at least take meetings with other teams.
Not every premier free agent is a natural fit anywhere, though. Roster construction, current level of competitiveness and potential cap space could all affect where these stars end up.
The top available 2022 free agents should avoid the following destinations in particular.
Collin Sexton: Washington Wizards
Collin Sexton should have a number of teams bidding for his services this summer. Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer listed the Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards as some of his potential landing spots.
Perhaps no NBA team has a greater need at point guard than the Wizards. Even though Sexton isn't a true floor general, he'd still be a better option than anyone else Washington has right now.
Getting Sexton to the Wizards would be complicated, however.
Washington will be well over the salary cap if it successfully re-signs Bradley Beal this summer, so it would have to acquire Sexton via a sign-and-trade. It's hard to imagine the Cavs agreeing to let Sexton go without receiving significant compensation in return, and Bradley Beal will forever be in trade talks if Washington isn't making deep playoff runs. Sexton would be leaving a Cleveland team on the rise in the East for one that could be staring down a rebuild at any time.
Sexton's best role is that of a scorer, someone who can go one-on-one in isolation without having to worry about setting up teammates. While Beal is a decent playmaker, both would be better off next to a true point guard.
The 23-year-old guard would be wise to stay with the Cavs or even join the Pistons, who could offer him a starting salary of $20 million or more on a new deal while letting Cade Cunningham serve as the primary distributor.
Better Landing Spots: Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons
Mitchell Robinson: New York Knicks
Four years into his NBA career, we have a good idea of what Mitchell Robinson is and is not. For that reason, his time with the New York Knicks needs to come to an end.
Robinson can be an elite defender and pick-and-roll partner, one who doesn't need plays run for him to be effective. However, he lacks a good post game and rarely shoots from outside of three feet, which means would be most effective playing next to a floor-spacing power forward and receiving lobs from an elite point guard.
Even the Knicks' collection of veteran floor generals, Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose, brought out the best in Robinson. He shot 85.2 percent off passes from both point guards, compared to only 63 percent from all other teammates, per NBA.com's tracking data.
If Robinson can finish shots this well alongside past-their-prime vets, imagine what he could do playing off of LaMelo Ball. He should push for a sign-and-trade to get to the Charlotte Hornets or could sign for the $10.3 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception.
The Pistons also have interest in Robinson, per Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer. He would have floor-spacing power forwards (Jerami Grant, Kelly Olynyk) and an elite playmaker (Cade Cunningham) to play alongside there.
Better Landing Spots: Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons
Anfernee Simons: San Antonio Spurs
The allure of playing for Gregg Popovich and a franchise known for player development could be tempting for Anfernee Simons, especially since San Antonio can open up more than $30 million in cap space this summer. A backcourt of All-Star Dejounte Murray and Simons would be extremely fun as well.
But would the Spurs really be a better fit for him than the Portland Trail Blazers?
In Portland, Simons is essentially guaranteed the starting shooting guard job next to Damian Lillard, who's a perfect mentor for him and a fringe top-10 player in the league when healthy. In San Antonio, Simons would be in a constant battle to outplay Josh Primo, last year's No. 12 overall pick.
There's also the uncertainty surrounding the long-term future of the 73-year-old Popovich, who may be considering retirement sometime soon.
After shipping out CJ McCollum and Norman Powell at the trade deadline, the Blazers did their best to pave the way for Simons to thrive. They should reward him after a career year in which he averaged 17.3 points, 3.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds while shooting 40.5 percent from three-point range.
“I 100 percent want to stay in Portland,” Simons said via SI's Ben Pickman. “And I think everybody wants me to stay as well. I think it’s a perfect fit for me.”
Simon's hometown Orlando Magic could be another intriguing destination, but only if they moved one of their ball-dominant guards (Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Markelle Fultz) first.
Better Landing Spots: Portland Trail Blazers, Orlando Magic (if they trade a guard)
Miles Bridges: Orlando Magic
Miles Bridges is coming off a breakout year with the Charlotte Hornets during which he showcased his ability as an isolation scorer, pick-and-roll partner and versatile defender. Outside of LaMelo Ball, he's the most important player to Charlotte's rise in the East.
The Orlando Magic should thus have interest in Bridges, as he'd be a terrific lob partner for their plethora of young guards. The 24-year-old is young enough to fit the Magic's rebuild, and he would greatly increase their chances of making the play-in tournament next year.
This doesn't mean Bridges should want to go to Orlando, though.
The Magic already have already a lot of bodies in their frontcourt (Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr., Chuma Okeke, Jonathan Isaac when healthy) and they are widely expected to take another big man with the first overall pick. That could mean even fewer minutes and shots to go around for Bridges.
Leaving one of the game's best passers in Ball seems foolish as well. The pair have already created some jaw-dropping highlights and should only continue to develop their chemistry together.
The Portland Trail Blazers could at least offer Bridges the starting power forward job and the chance to play next to Damian Lillard. However, staying in Charlotte seems like the best and most likely scenario here, especially since the Hornets can match any offer sheet he signs with another team in restricted free agency.
Better Landing Spots: Charlotte Hornets, Portland Trail Blazers
Jalen Brunson: Indiana Pacers
If Kyrie Irving stays with the Brooklyn Nets, Jalen Brunson will be the top point guard on the free-agent market this summer. His list of suitors is expected to include the New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers, according to Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer, although the Dallas Mavericks remain confident in their ability to re-sign him.
Of that trio, the Pacers would be the worst fit for Brunson.
With Malcolm Brodgon and Tyrese Haliburton already under contract for at least the next two seasons, it's unclear where Brunson would fit in Indiana's point guard hierarchy. He has the ability to play next to either Brogdon or Haliburton, but he shouldn't agree to become a sixth man again after thriving as a starter next to Luka Doncic in Dallas.
The Pacers are also in a weird transition phase between a rebuild and playoff contention after trading Domantas Sabonis in a package for Haliburton. After making it to the Western Conference Finals this season, Brunson would be looking up at a number of more talented teams in the East if he signed with Indiana.
The Mavericks might offer Brunson enough money to convince him not to take meetings anywhere else, although landing the starting point guard job for a New York Knicks team that does feature a fair amount of talent would be a strong backup plan.
Better Landing Spots: Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks
Deandre Ayton: Detroit Pistons
Deandre Ayton is one of the few restricted free agents who may actually get away from their team this summer.
Sources told The Athletic's James L. Edwards III and John Hollinger that "it’s 'more likely than not' that Ayton plays somewhere other than Phoenix next season." Sources also told them "the Pistons are expected to do their due diligence and make a run at Ayton."
It's natural that Detroit should want Ayton, who could be an offensive hub in the post alongside Cade Cunningham, Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes and whomever the Pistons select with the No. 5 overall pick. The 23-year-old averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds for the Suns this year, which was the fourth straight time (in four career years) that he averaged a double-double.
While Ayton could to play a big role in Detroit—perhaps even bigger than the one he has in Phoenix—the shift from championship contender back to lottery-dweller might make Ayton look elsewhere.
The Suns won 41 more games than the Pistons last season (64 to 23). They should be in contention for their second trip to the Finals in three years if Ayton returns to Phoenix.
San Antonio could be a good compromise for Ayton, as he could still get a max or near-max deal, play a big role and potentially make the playoffs next season.
Better Landing Spots: San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns
Zach LaVine: Portland Trail Blazers
Zach LaVine might be the most fascinating free agent this summer, as he hasn't committed to returning to the Chicago Bulls.
Plenty of teams could use a dynamic scorer and playmaker on the wing, particularly a two-time All-Star who's only 27 years old. The Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks have already mentioned as potential landing spots for LaVine, per NBC Sports Chicago's K.C. Johnson, although the Blazers are the only one of that quartet with cap space.
The Lakers don't appear to be a realistic landing spot unless they're willing to give up Anthony Davis in a sign-and-trade. The same can be said about the Mavericks, who are projected to be over the luxury tax even before trying to re-sign Jalen Brunson.
However, Portland could open up significant cap space to try to pair LaVine with Damian Lillard, creating one of the most offensively dynamic duos in the NBA.
If LaVine has any hard feelings about being pushed to the No. 2 option in Chicago behind DeMar DeRozan, his situation certainly wouldn't change alongside an alpha guard like Lillard. A core of Lillard, LaVine and Josh Hart would still have a hard time making the playoffs in the West, and Portland would need to add a lot of defensive help to avoid being a complete trainwreck on that side of the ball.
Taking a max contract to stay in Chicago would be a win for LaVine, especially if DeRozan starts taking a step back in usage as he approaches his 33rd birthday. But if LaVine wants to be a primary scoring option, the San Antonio Spurs could offer him that opportunity.
The Spurs have the cap space to sign him to a near-max deal, and Gregg Popovich coached LaVine on Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics last summer. Whether that's enough to pry him out of Chicago may come down to how much the Bulls are willing to offer him.
Better Landing Spots: Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs