Every NBA Team's Biggest Question After 2022 Free Agency
The 2022 version of NBA free agency is effectively finished.
James Harden still needs to finalize his pact with the Philadelphia 76ers, Collin Sexton needs to sign a new contract somewhere and a handful of veterans have to latch on to someone's back end of the roster. Otherwise, the heavy lifting is done, and most rosters look the way they will when training camp opens in a few months.
Still, there is at least one unanswered question hovering around every team, so we're breaking down the biggest one for each.
Atlanta Hawks: What's Happening with John Collins?
The Atlanta Hawks brokered one big deal this summer while adding All-Star guard Dejounte Murray, but could another blockbuster be in the works? High-flying forward John Collins is no stranger to the rumor mill, but his name has never buzzed quite like this.
"The likelihood of a John Collins trade, league sources indicate, is as high as it's ever been," Marc Stein reported in June. "... I've been advised that relocation for Collins this offseason is pretty much expected now."
Collins has been hyper-productive for the Hawks (16.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per night), but his skill set runs a little redundant with starting center Clint Capela, and his presence puts a barricade in front of Onyeka Okongwu, the No. 6 pick of the 2020 draft. It seems that's reason enough for Atlanta to at least entertain Collins trade talks, though it's uncertain when (or if) the Hawks will actually trade him and what they want in return.
Boston Celtics: Are the Jays Ready to Lead a Title Run?
The Boston Celtics leveled up to juggernaut status late last season, posting a 26-6 record over their final 32 regular-season games and eventually securing their first Eastern Conference championship since 2010. This offseason, the front office leveled up the roster by trading for Malcolm Brogdon and signing Danilo Gallinari.
This might be the best lineup in basketball, but is it championship-ready? That question will hinge on the progress and production of All-Star wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Last season's sprint to the Finals never happens without them, but when Boston needed their best, they couldn't deliver. Tatum shot a dismal 36.7 percent against the Golden State Warriors, while Brown coughed up 10 turnovers during the series' final two contests.
With seemingly all of the necessary support pieces now in place, the Celtics' stars have no excuses. If this group stays healthy, it's ready to follow Tatum and Brown—if those two are ready to lead a title run.
Brooklyn Nets: Is Kevin Durant Staying or Going?
The Nets understandably want the moon and the stars in any Kevin Durant trade. That would be a sensible stance any time given his prominent place in the best-player-on-the-planet discussion, but it's even more reasonable right now with the astronomic trade prices paid for Dejounte Murray and Rudy Gobert.
However, just because Brooklyn is right to seek a potentially historic return, that doesn't mean anyone will pay it. And with Durant signed through 2025-26, the Nets have zero reasons to consider dropping that price even one penny.
"There's no way the Nets will ever trade Kevin Durant for anything less than what Rudy Gobert got Utah," a Western Conference executive told Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer. "If nothing comes, I can see them saying [to the players], 'We just all have to come back.' If I'm them, I just try to string this out as long as possible."
While it's hard to put percentages on ongoing trade scenarios, the possibility of Durant being in Brooklyn for the season opener isn't zero. It still feels like a long shot for now—you'd like everyone in a locker room to want to be there—but it can't be ruled out, which adds a fascinating layer to what was already a potentially landscape-shifting situation.
Charlotte Hornets: Who Picks Up the Scoring Slack?
Last season, the Hornets had the Association's eighth-most efficient offense. Sustaining that production—if not improving it—felt inevitable given the age and trajectory of Charlotte's young core.
However, the Hornets are currently without that group's leading scorer, as they have yet to re-sign Miles Bridges following his felony domestic violence arrest.
Charlotte has no obvious place to turn to fill that void. LaMelo Ball can only climb so high after pumping in 20.1 points per night last season, and Terry Rozier seemingly peaked in the same area.
Unless Gordon Hayward can (stay healthy and) turn back the clock or a young player like James Bouknight or JT Thor can fast-track their development, this attack could lose some serious steam.
Chicago Bulls: Can They Count on Lonzo Ball?
When Lonzo Ball suited up for the final time on Jan. 14, Chicago held a 27-13 record with a plus-2.7 net rating. From that point forward, the Bulls managed just a 19-23 mark and were outscored by 3.6 points per 100 possessions.
An offensive connector as a ball-mover and spot-up shooter and defensive disruptor, Ball provided immense value before a meniscus tear in his left knee forced him off the floor. His initial timetable had him shelved for six to eight weeks; some six months later, the Bulls are still awaiting his return and unsure when it will ever happen.
"He's getting better. Probably not at the speed that we would like. But he's getting better," Bulls executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas said, via NBC Sports Chicago's K.C. Johnson. "Hopefully, he's going to be ready for training camp. That's just our hopes."
Yikes. Whatever Chicago's goals are for the 2022-23 campaign—given the age and cost of its core, it better be contending for a title or something in that vicinity—they are unreachable without a healthy Ball. The Bulls can't develop or deal for a replacement, so they're left only hoping for the best.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Is Collin Sexton Coming Back?
Someone gets tangled up in the thorns of restricted free agency nearly every summer. This time around, Collin Sexton is apparently that someone.
His path back to Cleveland has always appeared a little murky, as he isn't the cleanest fit with All-Star point guard Darius Garland. The problem for Sexton is that his list of potential external suitors may have dwindled down to nothing.
As one executive told Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor earlier this month, Sexton "has no market."
Presumably, there is a middle-ground price point at which Sexton and the Cavaliers could come together on a new deal, but does either side want that? Sexton can only get so much exposure in a Garland-led backcourt, and Cleveland's shift toward size and defense doesn't really leave an opening for a 6'1" scoring guard like Sexton.
Dallas Mavericks: Can Christian Wood Be Luka's Co-Star?
Luka Doncic needs a top-shelf co-star. The Mavericks won't officially join the championship conversation until he has one.
Kristaps Porzingis couldn't make it work. Jalen Brunson didn't bother sticking around to try. Will Christian Wood pass the test?
The skilled combo big has put up gaudy numbers before, but he has yet to produce for a winning team. His offensive arsenal makes him an intriguing dance partner for Doncic—they can pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop opponents into oblivion—but Wood must make huge strides with his consistency and defense to handle a significant role with a win-now team.
Denver Nuggets: Can Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Get Back on Track?
The Nuggets look like title contenders on paper. That will only be the case if Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. still look like themselves after lengthy layoffs.
Murray hasn't suited up since suffering a torn ACL in his left knee in April 2021. Porter played only nine unproductive games this past season before undergoing third back surgery.
Murray (25) and Porter (24) are young enough to extend the benefit of the doubt with their recovery, though Porter's injury history complicates that. Still, Denver needs them to hit the ground running and be rust-free by the playoffs, because even a supreme talent like two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic can't chase a championship on his own.
Detroit Pistons: Will Cade Cunningham Make the All-Star Leap?
Pistons fans, it's OK to get downright giddy about the direction of your franchise. The excitement brewing around this young nucleus is not at all bound by the Motor City's borders.
"I'm excited to see them play over the next two or three years, because I think, in two or three years they will be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference," NBA sharpshooter-turned-analyst JJ Redick said, via Marlowe Alter of the Detroit Free Press.
That's a bold statement, but Redick added one Cade Cunningham-related stipulation: "[becoming] a true No. 1 franchise-level player."
The Pistons might eventually have different paths to the top, but they all start with Cunningham making (at least) an All-Star turn. He started hitting the jets late last season with post-All-Star averages of 21.1 points, 6.5 assists and 5.7 rebounds, but the challenge now is sustaining (or, ideally, improving) those numbers over a full season.
Golden State Warriors: How Much Can the Young Players Handle?
The workload on the Warriors' young players is going up. It isn't clear how many minutes are available and which players will be tasked with them, but Golden State's prospects will clearly have more on their plates.
Mathematics say they have to. Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr., Damion Lee and Juan Toscano-Anderson all left in free agency. The only external additions were Donte DiVincenzo and, assuming he clears waivers, JaMychal Green, as ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported. Someone has to replace those minutes, and it won't be the 30-somethings who just brought their fourth world title to the Bay.
Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman and Moses Moody are the most obvious candidates for promotions, but are they ready to handle major minutes for a contender? Does Jordan Poole still have another level he can reach? Is there any chance a rookie like Patrick Baldwin Jr. or Ryan Rollins enters the equation?
If enough of these young players are ready to take flight, the Dubs could be nightmarishly good.
Houston Rockets: Is There Enough Talent to Attract Top Free Agents?
The Rockets might be between the infant and toddler stage of their post-James Harden rebuild, but they'll have a chance to grow up really quick.
"They are ready to be a cap space player as early as next summer, and they're in a market where free agents are going to look at them," ESPN's Zach Lowe said on his podcast, via RocketsWire's Ben DuBose. "This team is now a sleeping giant in free agency, starting next summer, and could go from bad to interesting really freaking fast."
Houston could have around $80 million in cap space, and that type of spending money speaks to anyone. Still, the Rockets' recruiting pitch would be a lot stronger if it comes on the heels of some breakout campaigns for players like Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher, Jabari Smith Jr. and Tari Eason.
Indiana Pacers: Is a Myles Turner Trade Finally Happening?
Myles Turner has spent as much time on the trade block as anyone in recent years, and Indy's shift toward a rebuild (or, at least, a reset around Tyrese Haliburton) could finally spell the end of Turner's run in the Circle City.
If the Pacers' thoughts on Turner weren't clear by this point—he certainly thought they were—their recent decision to ink Deandre Ayton to a four-year, $133 million offer sheet (immediately matched by the Phoenix Suns) should have hammered them home. Indy aggressively sought out his replacement while he was still on the roster. That can't be swept under the rug.
The proverbial cat is out of the bag, and soon, Turner will likely be out of Indiana. He is entering the final season on his contract, and it might be best for all parties involved if he spends it elsewhere.
Los Angeles Clippers: Is Kawhi Leonard Ready to Rejoin the Elites?
June 14, 2021. That's the last time Clippers fans—and the entire NBA—caught a glimpse of Kawhi Leonard in action.
He has been shelved by a torn right ACL ever since, leaving L.A. to tread water in his absence. But if his body cooperates, he could have the Clippers parading through pools of Champagne in no time.
A healthy Leonard adds another name to the best-on-the-planet discussion...and the MVP race. He might be basketball's best defender while doubling as a ruthlessly efficient scorer and perpetually improving playmaker. As long as he is good to go, L.A. might just follow his lead to the top.
Los Angeles Lakers: Can They Make It Work with Russell Westbrook?
While it doesn't sound as if the Lakers have ruled out a Russell Westbrook trade, they at least seem to recognize the many challenges attached to it and the fact it might be too difficult to get done.
New coach Darvin Ham has already detailed plans for a Brodie bounce-back. The Lakers have reportedly declined to part with multiple first-round picks in a trade involving Westbrook and Kyrie Irving, which could kill those trade talks. Now, Westbrook has spoken with LeBron James and Anthony Davis "with each expressing their commitment to one another and vowing to make it work," per Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes.
It isn't entirely clear how much of this is posturing, how much is genuine and how much is a late attempt to make the best of a brutal situation. And that actually doesn't matter. It sure sounds like the plan is to keep Westbrook around (for now, at least), so the only thing that matters is finding the right role for his talents to help the team.
The thought of Westbrook setting screens and then exploding out of them for rim attacks or drive-and-kicks remains intriguing as ever, but can the 33-year-old finally be convinced to ditch his ball-dominant ways for the betterment of the team? Stay tuned.
Memphis Grizzlies: Can Player Development Push This Team over the Top?
The Grizzlies had the cap space and trade chips to make a cannonball splash this summer. You could argue they had the motivation, too, since Ja Morant's superstar ascension put Memphis on the inside track to title contention.
In the end, though, the Grizzlies made waves not much bigger than what you'd see in an Olympic diving event. They gave Tyus Jones a new deal, but lost Kyle Anderson to free agency. They traded De'Anthony Melton for an injured Danny Green and a draft pick in the 20s. They sacrificed multiple picks to move up for Jake LaRavia. They extended John Konchar.
Mainly, they bought into their core and the idea that it's either good enough to win a title or can get there with time. Maybe that's a wise bet; this roster is absurdly young for a team that just snagged the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. Then again, maybe it's overly optimistic. If the Grizzlies can't spawn a second star alongside Morant, their good may never be good enough.
Miami Heat: Do They Have Enough to Trade for a Star?
While the Heat fell just one victory short of what would have been their second Finals trip in three years, it's fair to wonder whether this group has enough: enough shot-creation, enough half-court scoring and, ultimately, enough star power.
The franchise, apparently, shares that concern and has gone "all-in on
scouring the league to try to manufacture extra first-round picks to
boost their chances of completing a trade for Kevin Durant or Utah’s
Donovan Mitchell," per Marc Stein.
Durant feels out of reach, even for an expert whaler like Heat president Pat Riley. Mitchell seems more reasonable, though if the Jazz seek a similarly pick-heavy package to the one they received for Rudy Gobert, Miami might be out of luck. Tyler Herro is a nice trade chip, but he isn't anchoring a blockbuster deal on his own.
Milwaukee Bucks: Can They Reverse Their Defensive Decline?
Multiple things thwarted Milwaukee's attempt to defend its NBA title, some of which were outside the team's control. Losing Brook Lopez to back surgery made the regular season a slog. Watching Khris Middleton go down with an MCL sprain was the proverbial nail in the coffin.
But what about the defensive slippage? Did that simply stem from the injury issues, or is there something more concerning to blame?
The Bucks had the NBA's best defense in 2019-20 and landed ninth overall in their banner-raising 2020-21 campaign. They dipped down to 14th this past season and actually fared even worse upon Lopez's mid-March return (19th). They did right the ship during the postseason (first), though that had perhaps as much to do with drawing an injury-riddled Bulls team than anything.
Milwaukee will remain in the championship mix as long as it remains the home of Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Bucks need to be great defensively to make another title run.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Will Their Big Bet on Rudy Gobert Pay Off?
Clearly, the Timberwolves are convinced that Rudy Gobert is their missing puzzle piece. You don't fork over that kind of package—four first-round picks, plus a first-round swap and a first-round rookie (Walker Kessler)—without believing you're getting a full-fledged difference-maker in return.
"We gave up a lot to get a lot," Wolves president Tim Connelly told reporters. "... When you look at players of Rudy's abilities, they don't become available very often."
Gobert immediately adds length, strength, rebounding, paint protection and point-blank finishing to the Timberwolves. But is this suddenly super-sized squad built to succeed in the modern NBA? The Wolves became less versatile after the deal, and while that was a calculated risk, it's a risk nonetheless.
New Orleans Pelicans: Can Zion Williamson Push Them to Championship Contention?
Zion Williamson has suited up 85 times since being made the No. 1 pick in 2019. If you want to lay out the ways his five-year, $193 million contract extension—or New Orleans' upcoming season—could go awry, that's reason No. 1 with a bullet.
But those 85 games have been so magical that it's easy to get carried away thinking about what his return will mean for the Pelicans, and perhaps the league at large.
A healthy Williamson reels off paint points like Shaquille O'Neal in his prime, impresses Blake Griffin with his thunderous throwdowns and even runs offense as a 6'6", 284-pounder. If Williamson forces his way back into the elite ranks, he just might take this entire team with him.
New York Knicks: Is a Donovan Mitchell Deal Up Next?
The Knicks potentially ended their decades-long search for a point guard when they plucked Jalen Brunson out of free agency. Could they soon snag their first star since Carmelo Anthony? They have an obvious trade target in three-time All-Star (and New York native) Donovan Mitchell, so we'll see how negotiations play out.
"New York can offer some combination of multiple picks, RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley, and that's probably the benchmark any team is going to have to beat in order to get Donovan Mitchell from the Jazz," an assistant general manager told Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer.
The Knicks have enough trade chips to get Mitchell, but how many are they comfortable putting on the table? The Jazz may try to get "at least six" first-round picks out of the Knicks, per Marc Stein, and if that's within New York's price range, maybe the franchise doesn't have a walk-away point.
Oklahoma City Thunder: How Long Until Chet Holmgren Finds His Footing?
The Oklahoma City Thunder aren't in a rush to turn things around. At some point, they'll have to at least attempt an acceleration, but not now. Not with Victor Wembanyama sitting atop the 2023 draft board.
Still, the Sooner State could use some kind of sign illuminating when better days might be on the horizon. The development of No. 2 pick Chet Holmgren will help provide that.
Now, prospect development is relevant for nearly this entire roster, but it's different with Holmgren. He might be like a Rudy Gobert with a three-ball. Or Kristaps Porzingis without the injury issues. Either way, you're talking about a potentially special talent and one whose development might signal to the organization when it's time to rise.
Orlando Magic: Is Paolo Banchero Already the Focal Point?
As soon as lottery luck landed in Orlando's lap and granted the Magic the top overall pick, it seemed like Duke's Paolo Banchero would be their obvious choice. That's not intended as a slight to Jabari Smith Jr., who was most commonly mocked to the franchise. But this offense had a clear opening for a featured scorer, and Banchero had the draft's deepest bag.
Last season, Orlando operated at the 10th-fastest speed and averaged the second-fewest points per game. There were 69 different players around the league who averaged 17-plus points; the Magic were the only team that didn't roster one of them.
So, is Banchero ready to lead this offense? Because regardless of whether he is, the assignment could be his by opening night. Maybe Jalen Suggs will shake out of his season-long scoring funk in his sophomore campaign, or Jonathan Isaac (ACL) will return as a net-shredder. But more likely than not, Orlando's offense will run through the No. 1 pick.
Philadelphia 76ers: Did They Finally Solve the Championship Puzzle?
James Harden has long been established as a top-shelf table-setter, but he might have saved his best assist for this summer. His willingness to take "whatever is left over," as he told Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes, allowed the Philadelphia 76ers the flexibility to add P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr. in free agency.
Tucker and House should fit like a glove with Harden, just like they once did back in Houston. And since Joel Embiid thrives alongside the same three-and-D archetype, the fit should be just as snug on that end.
The Sixers are in better shape now than when they entered the offseason. That shouldn't be in question. Are they legitimate title contenders, though? That's ultimately up to Harden. He needs to change a few trends to make that happen, like his declining stats and less-than-stellar track record in key playoff contests.
Phoenix Suns: So, Um, How Are Things with Deandre Ayton?
Deandre Ayton wanted a max deal and found one. He just had to leave the Phoenix Suns, a team he helped steer to the 2021 NBA Finals and the top record in 2021-22. In order to do it, he inked a four-year, $133 million offer sheet with the Pacers in restricted free agency that Phoenix quickly matched.
All's well that ends well, right? Well...
"This process does create acrimony, and certainly it was felt in Phoenix, especially at the end of last season by Deandre Ayton," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said. "And now, when you match the offer sheet, you get Deandre Ayton back, now there's some mending that has to go on, and I think especially Monty Williams, Chris Paul, the leadership of that Suns team they're uniquely able to go and do that."
Everyone is saying the right things for now, and maybe the good vibes will continue if the wins keep stacking up. But players don't always forget perceived snubs, and the Suns had their reasons for not wanting to pay top dollar for Ayton.
Is this suddenly a partnership again, or are these sides simply stuck with each other because of the way restricted free agency works?
Portland Trail Blazers: Does Damian Lillard Have Enough Help to Make Noise?
The Portland Trail Blazers are attempting a rapid recovery around 32-year-old centerpiece Damian Lillard. Have they done enough to make that possible?
It probably depends on how you valued this core before the team punted on the remainder of the 2021-22 season to salvage its lottery-protected pick. Portland made a few key external additions—Jerami Grant (via trade), Gary Payton II and No. 7 pick Shaedon Sharpe—but a big part of righting this ship is getting the incumbents healthy and rolling again.
Lillard has few concerns beyond his age (assuming his abdomen injury is behind him), but between Jusuf Nurkic's injury issues; Anfernee Simons' small sample as an impact player; Grant's ability to play a big role for a win-now team; Payton's ability to contribute outside of Golden State; and Sharpe's lack of film, there are a lot of unknowns with this group.
Sacramento Kings: Will the Drought Finally End?
The Sacramento Kings' playoff drought is old enough to drive a car (16 years and counting). Is there any reason to think it's about to snap?
Sorry, Kings fans, but no, there isn't.
Maybe Keegan Murray, who won summer-league MVP, will electrify as a rookie. Maybe De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis will form an effective pairing. Maybe Davion Mitchell will find another gear.
Here's the thing: The Kings could check all of those boxes and still not crack the play-in tournament. The Western Conference is brutal, as all Sacramento fans can surely attest to at this point.
San Antonio Spurs: Who Will Lead the Next Chapter?
The San Antonio Spurs are starting over.
Four years ago, it was shortsighted when they turned Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green into only DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick. This time around, they focused solely on the future when dealing Dejounte Murray and Jock Landale to Atlanta for three first-round picks, a 2026 pick swap and Danilo Gallinari, who was immediately waived.
San Antonio is on the slow-and-steady road to recovery, but it could be a while before any progress is made, let alone becomes evident. In the meantime, the Spurs will hope some of their young players assume leadership roles. Keldon Johnson seems to be the most likely after inking a four-year, $80 million extension last week, but anyone from the rookies to Joshua Primo to Devin Vassell could challenge for that spot.
Toronto Raptors: How Much Is Too Much for Kevin Durant?
The idea of trading for a superstar like Kevin Durant sometimes sounds too good to be true. Once you factor in the cost, you might found out that's what it is.
In a vacuum, the Toronto Raptors should be tripping over themselves to land Durant. An alpha scorer of this ilk could be exactly what they need to blow the roof off their ceiling and sprint to the crown. But the business of basketball isn't done in a vacuum, and the real-life cost of a Durant deal could be more than the team can stomach.
"Toronto doesn't want to part with Scottie Barnes. That's their stance," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said on Get Up. "Brooklyn, right now, wouldn't consider a deal [with the Raptors] without Scottie Barnes."
Some will scoff at the notion of letting Barnes, a player with 74 games under his belt, block a deal for Durant. Others will laugh off the idea of flipping Barnes, a 20-year-old with a skyscraper's ceiling, for a 33-year-old Durant who has played 90 games in the past three seasons combined. This is where the rock meets the hard place in tricky negotiations.
Utah Jazz: How Long Will the Rebuild Take?
Utah's plan to rebuild and eventually recover is clear. The Jazz are selling off their win-now talent for draft capital and will use that to construct their next foundation.
Credit the decision-makers for recognizing that the previous core's ceiling stopped short of a title and there were no obvious options to raise it. Credit them also for having a clear goal in mind. The Jazz received four first-round draft picks as part of the Rudy Gobert deal, and they want even more from a Donovan Mitchell blockbuster.
It's good to have draft capital when building a roster, but when can fans expect to see those picks deliver any kind of on-court success? Let's just say this might be the perfect time to dabble with hibernation. This is a top-to-bottom house cleaning, and it could be years before the introduction to the next chapter is finished.
Washington Wizards: How Can They Surprise the Countless Doubters?
All along, the Washington Wizards and Bradley Beal expressed confidence they would get a deal done. And the rest of us wondered: Why would the Wizards would want to commit max money to someone who can't turn them into a contender, and why Beal would want to spend the remainder of his prime with a non-contender?
Our skepticism, of course, didn't matter, as Washington and Beal ironed out a five-year, $251 million contract. But the questions about why either side wanted this remain and will until the Wizards prove they can exceed expectations.
The good news is the bar isn't set very high. This team has one playoff trip to show for the last four seasons, so it's not like anyone is expecting a deep postseason run. The bad news is even clearing a low bar could be tricky. Washington is short on both established stars and high-upside youth, so giving Beal the kind of support he needs could be particularly difficult.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.