1 Realistic Trade or Free-Agent Target for Every NBA Team

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVJune 27, 2022

1 Realistic Trade or Free-Agent Target for Every NBA Team

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    With the NBA draft in the rearview, the offseason is in full swing.

    Up next, we have free agency (set to start June 30) and trades to look forward to. And though cap space around the league is limited (only five teams are projected to have any), a wave of player movement could still be incoming.

    Instead of signing players outright, we can expect to see trades, sign-and-trades, the use of trade exceptions and plenty of players signed to midlevel or taxpayer midlevel exceptions (with starting salaries of $10.3 and $6.3 million, respectively).

    We'll explore each of those mechanisms for roster-building below as we go through offseason targets for all 30 teams.

Atlanta Hawks: Rudy Gobert

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    Mechanism: Trade

    Rumors of the Atlanta Hawks' interest in acquiring three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert were reportedly overblown, but it's not hard to imagine how he'd help.

    Beyond averaging 15.6 points and 2.1 blocks and leading the league in both rebounding (14.7 per game) and field-goal percentage (71.3) last season, Gobert is the league's premier defensive anchor.

    For a team that finished 26th in points allowed per 100 possessions last season, that alone should be interesting. Ever since Gobert became the Utah Jazz's starting 5 ahead of the 2015-16 season, they've led the league in that number.

    Having him on the backline would instantly give Atlanta credibility on that end of the floor. And playing with one of the NBA's best alley-oop creators in Trae Young would make Gobert even more of a weapon on the other end.

Boston Celtics: Kelly Olynyk

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    Mechanism: Trade Exception

    Assuming they guarantee Al Horford's $26.5 million salary for 2022-23, the Boston Celtics will return every key rotation player from the team that just made the NBA Finals. And that group is already one of the deepest and most well-balanced in the league.

    If there are two spots they could shore up with a $17.2 million trade exception, it might be backup point guard or backup 5 (roles currently occupied by Payton Pritchard and Daniel Theis).

    Kelly Olynyk is a good way to go for one of those boxes.

    He's set to make $12.8 million next season (fits in that trade exception), is currently on a team that should be turning over more responsibility to the young core and is one of the league's more underrated playmaking bigs.

    For his career, Olynyk has averaged 3.5 assists, 2.0 threes and 2.0 offensive rebounds per 75 possessions. No one in league history matches or exceeds all three marks.

Brooklyn Nets: Derrick Favors

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    Mechanism: Trade Exception (or Taxpayer Midlevel Exception if Derrick Favors Opts Out)

    For purposes of this slide, we'll assume that public negotiations between Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets lead to his return, that the "Kevin Durant demands a trade" domino stays upright and the core looks an awful lot like it did at the end of the postseason.

    With LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Nic Claxton all entering free agency, what that group could use is a big man, and veteran Derrick Favors is the kind of unselfish rim protector Brooklyn should be looking for.

    Over the last two seasons, Favors has gotten used to a sub-20-minutes-per-game role and doesn't demand a ton of possessions. He'll just take up space on defense, protect the rim, rebound, set screens and happily take a break when the Nets go small.

Charlotte Hornets: Mitchell Robinson

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    Mechanism: Midlevel Exception

    In plenty of other offseasons, Mitchell Robinson would probably sign for more than a deal starting at $10.3 million, but there just aren't many teams that can do better than that this summer.

    His incumbent New York Knicks certainly have some leverage, thanks to Robinson's Bird rights (which allow teams to re-sign their own players for an amount that goes over the salary cap), but their pursuit of point guards might affect what they're willing to spend on a center.

    If they look to cut corners at that position, the Charlotte Hornets should zip in with their full midlevel exception and add Robinson as the defensive anchor for returning coach (and defensive wiz) Steve Clifford.

    Though not as disciplined or proven as Rudy Gobert, Robinson is very much the kind of rim-running and -protecting big that Charlotte could use.

Chicago Bulls: Rudy Gobert

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    Mechanism: Trade

    The Chicago Bulls are another team that's been rumored to have interest in Utah's All-Star center, but Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer reported the "Bulls do not appear willing to include Patrick Williams alongside [Nikola] Vucevic in a trade package for Gobert."

    That stance feels like little more than posturing, because Utah probably wouldn't even give Gobert up for those two. Chicago would likely need to include another young player and some future draft consideration.

    Even if that's the price, the Bulls should be willing to pay it.

    Depth would be a concern after such a trade, but a lineup with Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Zach LaVine (assuming he's re-signed), DeMar DeRozan and Gobert would possess a devastating combination of offense and defense.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Gary Payton II

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    Mechanism: Midlevel Exception

    Fresh off an NBA Finals that swung upon his return to the rotation for Game 2, Gary Payton II should have no shortage of suitors this offseason.

    If he doesn't return to the Golden State Warriors, the Cleveland Cavaliers should pony up their midlevel exception to sign him (especially if restricted free agent Collin Sexton signs a big offer sheet with another team).

    Cleveland has one of the game's top up-and-coming offensive engines in Darius Garland and a wealth of size with Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley, Lauri Markkanen and Kevin Love. What it could use is some defensive-minded wings to slot in between Garland and the bigs.

    Payton is only listed at 6'3", but a 6'8" wingspan, high-end lateral explosiveness and All-Defense instincts allow him to guard up and justify Stephen Curry's description of him as "the tallest 6'3" guy in the world."

Dallas Mavericks: Otto Porter Jr.

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    Mechanism: Taxpayer Midlevel

    With Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga waiting in the wings, Otto Porter Jr. is another recently crowned Warrior who might hit the open market this summer.

    If he does, the Dallas Mavericks should come calling.

    With Luka Doncic on the roster, you can't really have too many switchable defenders who can reliably hit catch-and-shoot threes created by the All-NBA playmaker.

    Porter is a career 39.8 percent three-point shooter, and his career-high 2.1 defensive box plus/minus in 2021-22 suggests he's worked through some of the residual effects of injuries that plagued him in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

Denver Nuggets: Gary Harris

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    Mechanism: Taxpayer Midlevel

    With two-time MVP Nikola Jokic being rejoined (presumably) by Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., the Denver Nuggets will have more than enough offensive firepower next season.

    What they need is another reliable perimeter defender to take some pressure off Aaron Gordon.

    That may be the end goal with the reported availability of Monte Morris and Will Barton, but if that doesn't yield any acceptable offers, there are free-agent defenders who should be willing to take a salary in the $6 million range.

    One such option is former Nugget Gary Harris (who went to the Orlando Magic as part of the Aaron Gordon deal). He can reasonably be expected to guard 2s and some 1s and 3s, shot 38.4 percent from three last season and already knows how to play off-ball with Jokic.

Detroit Pistons: Deandre Ayton

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    Mechanism: Cap Space

    After the last two drafts, the Detroit Pistons suddenly have one of the league's most intriguing young cores.

    Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey could combine to be one of the league's most dynamic playmaking duos after a few years of development. And the Pistons are reportedly high enough on big man Jalen Duren to back off a pursuit of Deandre Ayton.

    "Detroit is eager to continue to build back toward playoff contention with the aforementioned young core," James L. Edwards III wrote for The Athletic. "And the Pistons are expected to use the majority of their remaining cap space to add multiple veteran pieces rather than just one big swing this offseason, per sources."

    That's an understandable (and probably prudent) approach, but the chance to take such swings doesn't come around often, especially for a non-splashy market like Detroit.

    This summer provides a perfect storm for the Pistons. They have plenty of young talent and cap space in a year that most other teams don't. Ayton might not have a ton of options to get off the Phoenix Suns, and Detroit should force their hand.

    Max money to any center might be daunting (just look at what the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors got from Robert Williams III and Kevon Looney for far less), but Ayton is only 23.

    He's close enough to the timelines of Cunningham and Ivey, holds up fairly well when switched onto the perimeter and has elite touch around the rim.

Golden State Warriors: Kyle Anderson

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    Mechanism: Taxpayer Midlevel

    After winning the title at an already exorbitant price, the Golden State Warriors could spend upward of $500 million on the salaries and luxury-tax payments for the 2022-23 squad.

    With that in mind, even if some of this group's veterans head elsewhere, it's hard to imagine Golden State spending much more than the minimum on incoming free agents. But if ownership throws even more caution to the wind, a forward like Kyle Anderson on the taxpayer midlevel exception makes a lot of basketball sense.

    For years, the Warriors' primary playmaker off the bench hasn't looked much like a traditional point guard. Shaun Livingston filled that role at times. Andre Iguodala has too. And Anderson, who played point guard at UCLA, possesses a lot of traits similar to those two.

    He's an elite defender who's more concerned with setting up teammates than he is with getting his own. And his ability and willingness to move the ball and himself would make him a seamless fit.

Houston Rockets: Anfernee Simons

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    Mechanism: Cap Space (if John Wall Is Bought Out)

    The Houston Rockets have plenty of potential with Jalen Green, Jabari Smith and Alperen Sengun on the roster, but as one of the only teams that can create some cap space this summer, they should be willing to take a shot at one of this class' bigger names.

    Kevin Porter Jr. has shown flashes of playmaking upside, but Anfernee Simons is only a year older and looks like the much more reliable shooter.

    For his career, Simons has hit 39.2 percent of his three-point attempts, and he averaged 23.4 points over his last 27 games in 2021-22.

    With shooting from him, Smith and Green around the playmaking of Sengun, Houston could piece together a very intriguing inside-out offense.

    And if the Portland Trail Blazers are intent on surrounding Damian Lillard with more size and defense next season (as the acquisition of Jerami Grant might suggest), a big enough offer sheet to Simons might scare them away.

Indiana Pacers: Miles Bridges

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    Mechanism: Cap Space

    Just under a year ago, Miles Bridges reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million extension offer from the Charlotte Hornets. For his part, that looks like the right decision.

    After averaging career highs in points (20.2), rebounds (7.0) and assists (3.8), some team will almost certainly give him a bigger offer sheet and force Charlotte to match.

    One such team that should do just that is the Indiana Pacers. After trading Domantas Sabonis in a deal that returned Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana could use a more modern 4, and Bridges fits the bill.

    Tying up your options with offer sheets to restricted free agents that could simply be matched is risky, but a lineup of Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Bennedict Mathurin, Bridges and Myles Turner might be worth it.

Los Angeles Clippers: Ricky Rubio

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    Mechanism: Taxpayer Midlevel

    The Los Angeles Clippers understandably come up every time a star point guard is reported to be unhappy in his current situation. They have two superstar wings, no traditional table-setter for them and plenty of tradable contracts.

    Instead of sacrificing depth for someone like Kyrie Irving or John Wall, L.A. should at least offer its taxpayer midlevel exception to Ricky Rubio.

    He's coming off a torn ACL, but that shouldn't rob him of his savvy, vision and passing ability. And the Clippers likely wouldn't be signing him to take Reggie Jackson's role. Instead, he'd be a change-of-pace guard who could be trusted to run the offense and get everyone involved for 20-25 minutes per night.

Los Angeles Lakers: Kyrie Irving

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    Mechanism: Taxpayer Midlevel (But Really, Who Knows?)

    Almost immediately after ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Kyrie Irving's list of preferred sign-and-trade destinations (which included the Los Angeles Lakers), most realized L.A. didn't really have anything Brooklyn would be dying to take back.

    That is unless an Irving trade is just the first domino to fall in a full-scale rebuild. In that case, Russell Westbrook (who could maybe be bought out) and future draft considerations might make sense.

    Otherwise, the only real way Irving could reunite with LeBron James is by declining his 2022-23 player option and taking a $30 million pay cut to play for the Lakers on a taxpayer midlevel exception.

    And if there's one player in the league who could make such a move without shocking everyone, it's Kyrie.

Memphis Grizzlies: Bruce Brown

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    Mechanism: Midlevel Exception

    There may not be another team in the league that's better at building through the draft than the Memphis Grizzlies.

    After trading De'Anthony Melton and adding Jake LaRavia, David Roddy and Kennedy Chandler on draft night, it looks like they're content to keep leaning on that form of team-building.

    But there's nothing wrong with occasionally supplementing with a smart free-agent signing, which is exactly what Bruce Brown would be.

    After starting his NBA career as a guard, Brown has worn just about any positional hat Brooklyn could find for him. And now, he has a skill set that includes creation, three-point shooting and rim running like a 5.

    His versatility, age (25) and team-first mentality would make him an easy fit with the up-and-coming Grizzlies.

Miami Heat: Donovan Mitchell

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    Mechanism: Trade

    A Rudy Gobert trade is reportedly more likely, but it wouldn't be hard to talk yourself into the other route if the partnership between him and Donovan Mitchell has truly reached its end.

    Since Mitchell joined the team, Utah is plus-11.0 points per 100 possessions when Gobert plays without him (compared to an even 0.0 when Mitchell plays without Gobert).

    Moving the big man opens up the very real possibility that Utah will be worse in the short term, which would give Mitchell more of an excuse to ask out (he's already been dropping hints of a wandering eye).

    If the Jazz traded Mitchell instead, they could remain competitive in the West, especially if the Miami Heat were willing to offer multiple young players (including Tyler Herro) and future picks for him.

    And despite what that might do to Miami's depth, the Heat should be willing to go there.

    Jimmy Butler may not have many prime years left, and adding Mitchell to him and Bam Adebayo would give Miami one of the league's most dynamic trios.

Milwaukee Bucks: Otto Porter Jr.

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    Mechanism: Taxpayer Midlevel

    The Milwaukee Bucks are another team that should pursue Otto Porter Jr. should he be a cap casualty in Golden State.

    Milwaukee clearly missed the veteran savvy, corner shooting and versatile defense of P.J. Tucker this past season (he was part of the title team in 2021), and Porter could replace a lot of that while being eight years younger and three inches taller.

    In lineups with Giannis Antetokounmpo at center, Porter would be a no-brainer fit at the 4.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Victor Oladipo

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    Mechanism: Midlevel Exception

    The Minnesota Timberwolves' starting five was one of the NBA's top lineups this past season (only five units had a better total plus-minus), but they could use a little more guard-wing depth, and Victor Oladipo finally looked healthy again this postseason.

    For the starters, D'Angelo Russell provides a lot of offense without a ton of defense. Patrick Beverley is sort of the inverse. Oladipo can add a bit of both off the bench.

    With the ability to defend up a position or two that he, Beverley and Anthony Edwards possess, Minnesota might even be able to roll out some super-small lineups with those three at spots 2 through 4.

New Orleans Pelicans: Malik Monk

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    Mechanism: Taxpayer Midlevel

    As long as Zion Williamson is the centerpiece of the New Orleans Pelicans, surrounding him with shooting will be of paramount importance.

    Last season, New Orleans was 28th in threes per 100 possessions and 27th in three-point percentage. That just won't cut it going forward.

    Zion can maneuver through tight spaces better than a player of his size should be able to, but that doesn't mean the Pelicans shouldn't try to make it easier for him.

    Having a high-volume shooter like Malik Monk (2.2 threes in 25.6 minutes, with a 39.4 three-point percentage over the last two seasons) to command attention beyond the three-point line would do just that.

New York Knicks: Kyrie Irving

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    Mechanism: Cap Space

    The New York Knicks made moves on draft night to create cap space and presumably chase Dallas Mavericks point guard Jalen Brunson. They also picked up some future first-round picks they might be able to attach to other contracts in deals and make more room.

    If the Brooklyn Nets and Kyrie Irving can't come to some kind of solution that keeps him around, New York might want to offer that cap space to Irving first.

    Half a decade of drama might scare some teams off, but there's little doubt Kyrie is a bigger box-office draw than Brunson. And if he's healthy, he absolutely brings a higher ceiling.

    Over the last two seasons, he only appeared in 83 games, but he averaged 27.1 points, 5.9 assists and 3.0 threes while shooting 40.8 percent from three.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Isaiah Hartenstein

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    Mechanism: Midlevel Exception

    Isaiah Hartenstein has quietly developed into perhaps the league's most underrated reserve big.

    Last season, he was tied for 18th in the NBA in box plus/minus and stuffed box scores with 17.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.5 steals per 75 possessions. And for good measure, he posted a 66.4 true shooting percentage.

    Contenders would be wise to go after him, but if they don't, the Oklahoma City Thunder should pounce.

    Hartenstein (24) isn't much older than the young core, and all the passers (including Josh Giddey, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Aleksej Pokusevski and Chet Holmgren) could use a good rim-roller to feed.

Orlando Magic: Anfernee Simons

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    Mechanism: Cap Space

    Like Houston, the Orlando Magic don't really need to devote a bunch of cap space to one contract this offseason.

    There is a wealth of young talent on this roster, and simply allowing it to develop together organically is probably a smart way to go.

    Adding a 23-year-old proven scorer (at least, more proven than Orlando's core players) probably wouldn't hurt, though.

    And the Magic are probably set at the forward spots with Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Jonathan Isaac (Banchero and Isaac might even be able to play some 5 in today's game).

    There are plenty of promising guards too (including Jalen Suggs and Markelle Fultz), but Simons could be a more efficient version of Cole Anthony.

Philadelphia 76ers: Andre Drummond

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    Mechanism: Taxpayer Midlevel

    The Philadelphia 76ers already addressed one need by acquiring De'Anthony Melton on draft night. Now, they should revisit some other moves they made last season.

    Philly signed Andre Drummond to back up Joel Embiid last summer, and the move was paying dividends over the first several months of the season. Then, he had to be included in the James Harden trade, and the Sixers' reserve unit suffered.

    Prior to Drummond's departure, Philadelphia's net rating was 9.4 points better with Embiid on the floor than it was without him. After that trade, the number swelled to a whopping 16.2.

    Having someone who can dominate the boards and at least take up space defensively when Embiid is out went a long way toward stabilizing those minutes. If Drummond will come back for the taxpayer midlevel (or some portion of it; his salary was only $2.4 million last season), the Sixers should try to make it happen.

Phoenix Suns: Jakob Poeltl

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    Mechanism: Sign-and-Trade

    If the Phoenix Suns do indeed make Deandre Ayton available, the San Antonio Spurs have been mentioned as a team that might pursue him.

    And it's not unreasonable to think such a deal might actually make the Suns better in the short term.

    Jakob Poeltl would almost certainly be a part of any sign-and-trade that sent Ayton to San Antonio, and his production wasn't far off Ayton's last season. You also have to figure he'll get a boost playing alongside Chris Paul, as so many other bigs have (JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo just this past season put up Ayton-like numbers when playing with CP3).

    You could also argue that Poeltl is a better passer and defender than Ayton.

    But there's a reason the Spurs would likely have to include more than just their starting center to land Ayton (the younger, higher upside player), and that may be the key for Phoenix.

    If the Suns can get 85 percent of Ayton's play for less than half the price, while adding another San Antonio rotation player, the trade starts to feel pretty obvious from their perspective.

Portland Trail Blazers: T.J. Warren

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    Mechanism: Midlevel Exception

    Damian Lillard may be publicly angling for Kevin Durant, but the Portland Trail Blazers simply don't have the assets to make such a trade (unless Lillard himself is involved).

    Following the acquisition of Jerami Grant from the Detroit Pistons, they don't have any cap space, either. So, they'll be looking for players in the exception range, and there's room for creativity there.

    T.J. Warren's value has surely been decimated by missing all but four games of 2020-21 and then the entirety of 2021-22, but he's still just 28 years old. If he can be 85-90 percent of his previous self, he'll take a lot of scoring pressure off Lillard.

Sacramento Kings: Caleb Martin

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    Mechanism: Midlevel Exception

    There's plenty of upside to the De'Aaron Fox-Domantas Sabonis pairing. It's easy to see how Davion Mitchell and Keegan Murray might slot in at the 2 and 4 lineups with those two.

    The next targets should be the same ones that most teams around the league are looking for: skilled wings with decent size who can guard up and down opposing lineups.

    Two players who should get some attention from a number of teams are Cody and Caleb Martin, both of whom had breakout seasons in 2021-22.

    The biggest distinction between the two (at least as far as the numbers suggest) is that Caleb is a bit more of a scorer, while Cody is the better passer (and that goes all the way back to their time at Nevada).

    With much of the ball-handling already accounted for with Fox, Mitchell and Sabonis, the more scoring-minded Caleb probably makes a bit more sense for the Kings.

San Antonio Spurs: Deandre Ayton

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    Mechanism: Sign-and-Trade

    This is the other side of the coin introduced on the Phoenix Suns slide. Though it could cost plenty of cap space and multiple rotation players, it would be worth it for the Spurs, who've been somewhat rudderless since the Kawhi Leonard trade.

    Assuming Dejounte Murray wouldn't be included in the deal, giving him Ayton to work with would instantly give the team a direction.

    You'd need to surround it with a lot of shooting, but a Murray-Ayton pick-and-roll in the middle of the floor would be no picnic for opposing defenses. Ayton has high-end pick-and-pop potential, and few players can get downhill off a ball screen as explosively as Murray.

Toronto Raptors: Rudy Gobert

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    Mechanism: Trade

    Though the buzz has died down a bit, Marc Stein recently reported, "[the Toronto Raptors remain] a team to watch if the Jazz indeed trade away the league's foremost interior defensive anchor."

    Toronto is one of the teams closest to achieving true positionless basketball, and throwing Gobert into the mix frustrates that purpose a bit, but it might also make the Raptors the best fit for him.

    They'd surely have to give up one of those wings (like OG Anunoby) to get him, but Gobert would still be surrounded by three or four playmakers and switchy defenders who'd make his rim-protecting duties far easier.

Utah Jazz: Kyle Kuzma

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    Mechanism: Trade

    Whether they keep Gobert or not, the Utah Jazz need more versatility on the wing. And with the Washington Wizards being mentioned as a possible landing spot for Mike Conley, Kyle Kuzma seems like a natural target for the Jazz.

    Last season, Kuzma looked as engaged defensively as he ever has, and he posted a career-high rebounding percentage. Plus, he still showed an ability to get his own shot in a pinch.

    Moving Conley to another team, shifting Donovan Mitchell to the 1 and putting as many switchy defenders around him is the right path forward, and Kuzma can help steer things that way.

Washington Wizards: Mike Conley

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    Mechanism: Trade

    And here's the other side of that potential deal (or at least part of it).

    Right now, the only point guard on the Wizards roster is Ish Smith, and that's not even a given (they can release him before his contract is guaranteed on July 1).

    Sliding Mike Conley, who shot 40.8 percent from three last season, into that role would instantly lend some stability to the offense without taking much (if any) usage from Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis.


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