Hater's Free-Agency Guide: Why Your NBA Team Ain't Getting Its Top Target

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 7, 2018

Hater's Free-Agency Guide: Why Your NBA Team Ain't Getting Its Top Target

0 of 30

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Your favorite NBA team is going to break your heart this summer.

    It will set its sights on a perfect gap-filling free agent, pursue him and then fail to close the deal.

    Don't dwell on the negativity. Don't react emotionally. Instead, think of this as a service. A dream-deadening stomp-out of your expectations that'll either prepare you for the worst or allow for jubilation on the off chance your team actually does get its man.

    Life (and NBA free agency) advice: You cannot be disappointed if your hopes are always low.

    B/R's Dan Favale already listed the best players each team could reasonably hope to sign this summer. That'll serve as our source for top targets...none of which, again, your team is going to get.

    Prepare for excessive negativity.

Atlanta Hawks

1 of 30

    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Top Target: Aaron Gordon

    Where to begin?

    Should we start with the fact that Aaron Gordon, still just 22, is among the most coveted restricted free agents on the market, which means every team with cash will be chasing him?

    Should we note the Orlando Magic have matching rights?

    What about the fact that the Atlanta Hawks are only assured of $17 million in cap space unless they move money or get opt-outs from Mike Muscala and Dewayne Dedmon? Gordon is likely to field at least one near-max offer, and it almost certainly isn't coming from Atlanta.

    Even if we ignore all that, there's still the larger concept of organizational direction to consider. The Hawks are in the fledgling stages of a rebuild, and they'd be better served by using their cap space to absorb bad contracts with picks attached.

    Bet on Gordon winding up back with the Magic, but super-duper-triple bet on Gordon not signing with the Hawks.

Boston Celtics

2 of 30

    David Dow/Getty Images

    Top Target: Ersan Ilyasova

    Bigs who can shoot are high on everyone's offseason-addition lists, but the Boston Celtics don't have the financial flexibility to be the top bidder for Ersan Ilyasova. What's more, they've got internal roster concerns that take priority over outside signings.

    Marcus Smart is a restricted free agent, and keeping him on the payroll for anything at or above his qualifying offer will send the Celtics into the tax. Aron Baynes is also a free agent—one you'd think Boston would be eager to retain after the postseason revelation that he can hit threes.

    Ilyasova, then, would almost certainly have to accept the taxpayer's mid-level exception or a minimum deal to sign with Boston. He'll have better options.

    Sticking with the Philadelphia 76ers might be one of them, as Philly will have oodles of cap space if it decides to wait until the summer of 2019 to chase its max-salary star on the wing.

Brooklyn Nets

3 of 30

    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Top Target: Jabari Parker

    If the Milwaukee Bucks were run by an unfeeling artificial intelligence system, they'd let some sucker pay $20 million or so per season for Jabari Parker and scoff at matching. The risk of retaining a player with Parker's history of poor defense and poorer health would be too great. It would not compute.

    But Milwaukee may still feel attached to the No. 2 overall pick it drafted and rehabilitated from two torn ACLs. And it might also look at the brief flashes of defensive competitiveness it got from Parker during the 2018 playoffs and talk itself into the pipe dream that there's a two-way player in there somewhere.

    The larger issue, and the one that pertains directly to the Brooklyn Nets, is a lack of cash. Brooklyn would have to renounce and waive all its free agents just to clear $16 million for Parker. That's a figure the Bucks would likely match, depending on contract length. More than that, there's a good chance Parker gets a bigger offer from someone else anyway.

    The Nets love to throw deals at other teams' restricted free agents, but they can't make enough room to push one across the table that'd make the Bucks blink.

Charlotte Hornets

4 of 30

    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Top Target: Ian Clark

    Ian Clark, a fringe rotation player without the size or quickness to effectively guard either backcourt position, would represent a colossal upgrade over the production the Charlotte Hornets got from their reserve guards this season (hi, Michael Carter-Williams!).

    How bleak is that?

    Unfortunately for the Hornets, Clark only makes sense at the minimum. Signing him with a roster exception would push the team into the tax, and that's been a nonstarter for this organization.

    According to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer: "Hornets owner Michael Jordan has said several times in the past he has no intention of paying luxury tax on anything short of a team capable of advancing deep into the playoffs."

    Here's some news: The Hornets are not such a team.

    Clark would help Charlotte, but if all he's going to get is the minimum, you'd have to think he'll be looking for a situation with more wins in its future.

Chicago Bulls

5 of 30

    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Top Target: Kyle Anderson

    The San Antonio Spurs have never been shy about overpaying to keep their own.

    Patty Mills, Pau Gasol, even LaMarcus Aldridge—all retained with deals at or above the market rate. Gasol and his three-year, $48 million contract especially stand out.

    The upshot: Even though the Chicago Bulls project to have $23 million to spend, they probably won't want to use enough of it to make San Antonio think about not matching. Whatever dollar amount Chicago assigns to the defense-first 24-year-old Kyle Anderson won't be as high as the one the Spurs do—if their valuations of past free agents are any indication.

    Chicago is starting over, and it isn't in a position to spend upwards of $10 million per season on a role-filler—particularly with Zach LaVine's own restricted free agency to consider and double particularly because the summer of 2019 might be the better time to strike.

    Also, Anderson is already so slow that his DNA is being harvested by labs developing suspended-animation technology. How immobile is he going to be at the end of his next deal?

    The Bulls shouldn't want any part of this.

Cleveland Cavaliers

6 of 30

    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Top Target: Luc Mbah a Moute

    I can't knock the logic of the Cleveland Cavaliers (or anyone else) pursuing Luc Mbah a Moute. He's that good.

    Here's B/R's Dan Favale explaining why:

    "Mbah a Moute is a no-brainer target even if he costs the Cavaliers their entire MLE. They don't have a defender who can almost seamlessly shift between defending power forwards and point guards. He guarded more pick-and-roll ball-handlers per game than Andre Roberson and placed in the 99th percentile of isolation defense."

    The problem: Cleveland will have no use for a veteran defensive standout once LeBron James leaves. And he's a goner. Has to be.

    After JR Smith, George Hill and Tyronn Lue (no timeout!) cost him Game 1 of the Finals, effectively destroying James' only shot at seizing momentum in the series, the outlook has only gotten gloomier. James has to be looking around at this roster and nonstop face-palming at the lack of talent.

    He could sign with 20 other teams and have a better shot at winning a ring than if he stayed in Cleveland.

    No James, no Mbah a Moute. Also no hope.

Dallas Mavericks

7 of 30

    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    Top Target: DeMarcus Cousins

    Letting DeMarcus Cousins walk would be the shrewd, forward-looking move. But when have the New Orleans Pelicans ever operated that way?

    They've made a disturbing habit of dealing picks and future assets to surround Anthony Davis with middling win-now talent. Shockingly, the Pels didn't have a single player on a rookie-scale deal this season.

    Keeping Boogie is the risky, shortsighted thing to do. So the Pels are going to do it, probably overpay in the process and definitely set themselves up for a gridlocked cap sheet that will drive AD away in a year or two.

    Sorry, Dallas Mavericks. You won't get your man.

Denver Nuggets

8 of 30

    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    Top Target: Gerald Green

    Once the Denver Nuggets decline the team option on Nikola Jokic's 2018-19 salary and re-sign him to a max deal, pow, they're a taxpayer.

    That means minimum-salaried targets like Gerald Green are the most realistic options. Retaining Jokic on a huge deal is a must, and it's worth going into the tax to do it. But spending roster exceptions and/or hunting other ways to add payroll doesn't make sense for a team that didn't even make the playoffs this season.

    Green makes sense.

    So why won't Denver get him? Easy! Because the Houston native loves the city and franchise enough to get the team's logo braided into his hair. That's a bigger commitment than a tattoo because there's upkeep, maintenance and re-dos involved. What is he supposed to get in Denver? A profile of the Rocky Mountains? That's not going to be a good look.

    Oh, and also, if Green is only ticketed for the minimum, why would he take it from a playoff hopeful like the Nuggets when he could get it from his contending hometown squad?

Detroit Pistons

9 of 30

    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Top Target: Devin Harris

    I pegged Devin Harris as a new member of the ring-chasing fraternity, and I'm sticking to it.

    Now 35 and with $71.8 million in career salary banked, the veteran guard has been an All-Star and averaged 20 points per game in a season. But he's missing a title because he wasn't around in Dallas for the Mavs' 2011 victory.

    So if Harris is after hardware, he's not going to the Detroit Pistons, a taxpaying team morbidly moored to fat contracts for Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin. The Pistons could absolutely use Harris' talents off the bench. He'd stabilize the rotation, guard three positions and take care of the ball while hitting threes (34.8 percent this season).

    But Harris won't want anything to do with a fringe playoff team at this stage of his career. He's running out of time to snag a title and will sign with a winner on the cheap.

Golden State Warriors

10 of 30

    Matteo Marchi/Getty Images

    Top Target: Marco Belinelli

    Dan nailed this top target, and I hate having to shoot it down. But here goes.

    Yes, the Warriors desperately need more shooting to support bench units whenever Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant has to rest. And yes, we're all well aware of how Belinelli is basically what Nick Young was supposed to be—except savvier, a better cutter, a superior playmaker and an overall more reliable rotation weapon.

    He'd be a perfect fit. And he's even been a Warrior before, having played the first two years of his career in Oakland.

    But for a Warriors team that tends to catch every break, adding Belinelli simply wouldn't be unfair enough. Golden State is going to find someone even better, probably for less than it would have had to pay Belinelli. That's just how things go for these guys.

    Maybe Wayne Ellington will abruptly decide he wants to become a tech investor and sign with the Dubs for the minimum so he can be close to Silicon Valley.

    Perhaps Tyreke Evans is a big fan of fog and wants the chance to be there when Golden State opens its new San Francisco Arena in 2019-20. He could sign a two-year deal and cut the ribbon.

    What if Joe Harris...you get the idea.

    Belinelli would be almost perfect for the Warriors*, but this organization always aims higher.


    *Full disclosure: I one million percent want to see Belinelli on the Warriors.

Houston Rockets

11 of 30

    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Top Target: LeBron James

    The Houston Rockets can't sign James because they're over the cap. Even if, for some reason, they parted ways with Chris Paul and renounced his rights, they'd still likely be up over $100 million in 2018-19 payroll if you account for other holds and roster charges.

    So the only ways for James to wind up in Houston involve straight-up trades or sign-and-trade scenarios.

    Of the two, a sign-and-trade is probably most plausible, but that's not saying much. First of all, the Cleveland Cavaliers would have to accommodate James by sending him to his desired destination after getting him to opt in to the final year of his current deal. It's almost impossible to imagine owner Dan Gilbert doing James any favors considering their history.

    There was the infamous comic sans letter that nearly prevented James from returning in 2014, and more recently, James wanted Cleveland to keep both Kyrie Irving and general manager David Griffin. This isn't a relationship where solids get done.

    In addition, any sign-and-trade would hard cap the Rockets at the tax apron, making it impossible to pay Paul and Clint Capela.

    This isn't happening. The mechanics are too messy, and the cooperation between James and Gilbert too implausible to imagine.

Indiana Pacers

12 of 30

    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Top Target: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

    The Indiana Pacers are a fine spot for KCP, but if given the choice, would you rather sign with a 48-win team that everyone agreed overachieved...or a 47-win San Antonio Spurs team that amassed those victories without its best player and hasn't missed the playoffs since the '90s?

    Thought so.

    B/R's Zach Buckley sees the decision the same way: "If there is a perimeter opening, Caldwell-Pope could prove a snug fit. His 38.3-percent three ball would seamlessly blend into this movement-based offense, and there might not be a more ferocious defensive trio on the wings than Leonard, Caldwell-Pope and All-Defensive second-teamer Dejounte Murray."

    Caldwell-Pope on the Spurs just works, and for a guy who was stuck on the rebuilding Lakers this season, assured contention has to be appealing. The Pacers had a fantastic year, and they might be right back in the middle of the East postseason mix again next season.

    But the Spurs, even without Kawhi Leonard, are a playoff lock. And if they get Leonard back and healthy, KCP suddenly finds himself on a potential conference finalist.

Los Angeles Clippers

13 of 30

    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Top Target: Josh Huestis

    It's not that Huestis is a bad fit with the Clippers; it's that he's a better fit for other teams.

    The Bulls and Pacers could pay him more than L.A., and both are in deeper need of defensive-minded wings. Chicago should be especially interested in the three-year veteran's services, as he's young enough (26) to have a future with the team's still-forming core and would come cheap.

    Cost matters for the Bulls, who don't want to blow their precious cash on non-starters, but who absolutely should be looking for inexpensive rotation pieces if Zach LaVine is about to get grossly overpaid. Granted, the type of team that would spend big on LaVine probably isn't the type of team to be calculating with its other expenditures, but we're not here to unravel Chicago's curious operations.

    Huestis can only collect $2.2 million from the Oklahoma City Thunder because they declined his fourth-year option, so he's almost certainly going to move on. While the Clips could use him, he'd be better served signing elsewhere.

    That's largely because the Clippers' plan is indiscernible right now. Is DeAndre Jordan staying or leaving? Is a rebuild about to start, or will Los Angeles run it back and try for another playoff trip now that Doc Rivers has signed an extension to stay on as coach? There's just too much uncertainty.

Los Angeles Lakers

14 of 30

    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Top Target: Paul George

    Ugh! How boring!

    The guy who telegraphed his intentions to join the Lakers two seasons ago finally hits free agency and signs there exactly as everyone expected?

    Where's the drama?

    Where's the intrigue?

    Where's the plot twist?

    It's a good thing the Rockets are making a push to land George, according to Rockets Wire's Kelly Iko, which should definitely get his attention. And the Thunder are trying to stay involved, too. Even preserving the status quo would count as a welcome surprise in the George saga.

    Otherwise, this is all shaping up to be unsensational. But if we've learned anything about how NBA offseasons work, it's that they never go as planned.

    That's the best case against the Lakers getting George: It's too predictable.

Memphis Grizzlies

15 of 30

    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Top Target: Pat Connaughton

    Pat Connaughton played all 82 games for the Portland Trail Blazers in 2017-18, and that just isn't going to fly on a Memphis Grizzlies team defined by injuries.

    Dillon Brooks, like Connaughton, played every contest in 2017-18, but he was the only guy on the roster to suit up more than 75 times. Adding Connaughton would double the number of ultra-durable wings, which  would shatter locker-room chemistry.

    Suddenly, chronically unavailable players like Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons would have another iron-man teammate taking the floor nightly, rubbing it in their faces.

    That's how teams come apart, and the Grizzlies, built to win in the short term (while nurturing their incoming lottery selection) can't afford a jealousy-based fracture like Connaughton would bring.

    You know, sometimes, roster building gets reduced to simple questions of finance and on-court fit. But I like to focus on the details others forget. This is one of those. The very survival of the Grizzlies franchise depends on not signing Connaughton.

    Oh, and Memphis would look ridiculous if it added Connaughton while letting Tyreke Evans walk.

Miami Heat

16 of 30

    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Top Target: Seth Curry

    Seth Curry may be coming off a completely lost season, but he's still not desperate enough to sign on with the Miami Heat.

    Persistent stress injuries (one of which cost him all 82 games this season) ought to be a dealbreaker. Curry should want no part of Miami's legendarily strenuous practice schedule. The Heat should go after him anyway; I said as much here.


    These guys are loaded with dicey contracts (many of which reside in a bloated backcourt) and have no reasonable avenue toward clearing enough space to refresh the roster. James Johnson will be a year older, the disconnect between reality and Hassan Whiteside looks less salvageable by the second and another first-round out feels like the ceiling.

    Curry, if healthy, is a terrific third guard who excels as a spot-up shooter and can facilitate as a secondary playmaker. He's going to get offers from several teams and will have his pick of destinations. Though the weather, lifestyle and reputable training staff in Miami have significant appeal, Curry can find spots with more playing time available and a better opportunity to win.

Milwaukee Bucks

17 of 30

    Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

    Top Target: Derrick Favors

    Everyone with a clear vision of the future knows Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to settle in at center for the Milwaukee Bucks eventually. He's going to see increasing minutes at the position year by year, and then before you know it, he'll be starting the 2020 All-Star Game at the 5.

    Derrick Favors, a former No. 3 overall pick who'll only be 27 years old this coming season, just spent several years backing up another lanky wunderkind with the Utah Jazz. So do you really think a guy with Favors' talent and pedigree wants to go someplace where he'll be he second-stringer again?

    Forget it.

    As if that weren't reason enough to scoff at Favors-to-Milwaukee thoughts, remember that the 6'10" big man also grew up in Atlanta. Born in 1991, a four-year-old Favors had to watch the Green Bay Packers knock his Atlanta Falcons out of the NFC Wild Card Game in 1995. That's the kind of trauma nobody forgets—especially when experienced at such a formative age.

    And now we're supposed to believe Favors would put all that aside and sign in cheesehead country?


Minnesota Timberwolves

18 of 30

    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Top Target: Avery Bradley

    Avery Bradley has never played for Tom Thibodeau, which would seem to disqualify him from joining the Minnesota Timberwolves via free agency. Thibs has his guys, and a roster that included Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler in 2017-18 indicates he's not changing.

    Kirk Hinrich? Absolutely.

    Keith Bogans? Lock it in.

    Carlos Boozer? Oh, most definitely.

    But not Bradley. Even if the unrestricted free agent addresses the Wolves' need for three-point shooting and backcourt defense, and even if Thibs would seem to appreciate a lockdown individual stopper, Bradley fails the most critical test: Thibodeau has never screamed "ICE!!!" directly into his ear from the sideline.

    I'm not sure how much deeper into the analysis we need to go.

New Orleans Pelicans

19 of 30

    Chris Schwegler/Getty Images

    Top Target: James Ennis

    Sorry, but the New Orleans Pelicans aren't allowed to have three-and-D wings. It's codified somewhere in the team charter or league bylaws—nobody's exactly sure where. But it's an ironclad rule.

    Why else would E'Twaun Moore and Jrue Holiday, both smallish guards, have spent so much time defending small forwards (and Kevin Durant in particular) during the 2018 postseason? Do you think the Pels wanted it that way?

    Of course not. New Orleans must have been beholden to a restriction on players just like Ennis, a 6'7" small forward who moves well and has a career accuracy rate of 35.9 percent from deep.

    The appeals process for obscure rules like these is arduous, and it's doubtful the Pels can get through it by July. So as much as New Orleans has a glaring need for someone exactly like Ennis, it isn't in the cards.

    Note, too, the glaring dearth of available players with Ennis' skill set. We're in a wing drought across the league, and Ennis is going to command significant interest.

    New Orleans can't do better than the taxpayer mid-level if it keeps DeMarcus Cousins, and Ennis is likely to have several offers of at least that much.

New York Knicks

20 of 30

    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Top Target: Mario Hezonja

    Can't play him, gotta pay him—that's the updated tagline for Enes Kanter. Or at least it will be when he opts into the final year and $18.6 million of his contract, which he absolutely must do. Don't listen to comments Kanter made that indicated there was any question about his plans.

    Nobody's forking over even the midlevel exception for an offense-only big man with no stretch and one of the worst defensive reputations in the league. Better for Kanter to collect every penny he can before re-entering free agency in 2019.

    The effect of that opt-in is simple: It limits the Knicks to roster exceptions and minimum deals in free agency. Potentially a non-taxpayer, New York can't justify spending any significant portion of its MLE on Hezonja. He showed flashes this season, but the Orlando Magic were probably right to decline his fourth-year rookie option.

    The Knicks need to spend on surer things.

    Hezonja is notoriously overconfident, though, and from his perspective, taking a minimum deal (from the Knicks or anyone else) would probably do too much ego damage. Expect Hezonja to hold out for someone's MLE, and expect the Knicks to look for a player more worthy of theirs. 

Oklahoma City Thunder

21 of 30

    Oscar Baldizon/Getty Images

    Top Target: Joe Harris

    "Oklahoma City would be lucky to have him," B/R's Dan Favale wrote about Harris. And he's right.

    But do you know what OKC doesn't deserve? Luck.

    Go back as far as you like. Losing James Harden because they were unwilling to pay a measly $4.5 million extra over a four-year deal, matching Enes Kanter's ridiculous offer sheet, losing Kevin Durant, giving up too early on Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, adding Carmelo Anthony, overpaying Steven Adams, grossly overpaying Russell Westbrook, which will inevitably cripple the team's finances going forward—all instances in which the Thunder have had more than their share of opportunities to make the right decisions and failed.

    OKC desperately needs a knockdown shooter with good size and passable defense on the wing, and Harris provides all that stuff.

    But do the Thunder, after so many squandered opportunities, deserve him?

    That's rhetorical. They do not.

Orlando Magic

22 of 30

    Jeff Haynes/Getty Images

    Top Target: Fred VanVleet

    The Orlando Magic would be wise to throw the full $8.6 million MLE at VanVleet and hope the Toronto Raptors don't match. The restricted free agent would be a dynamite fit at the point, alleviating one of the worst positional deficiencies in the league.

    Keeping VanVleet at that number would cost Toronto double the salary because of a luxury tax penalty, so the MLE might really be enough for the Magic to secure an up-and-comer who looks capable of moving from the bench to the first unit.

    Remember, though, restricted free agents aren't totally without leverage. While their incumbent teams have the right to match any offer sheet, the RFA doesn't have to sign one in the first place. So if the Magic put forward a multi-year deal, VanVleet could ignore it and try to resolve things with Toronto—or sign someone else's offer sheet.

    What backup would turn down $8.6 million per season in this economic climate? One who says things like: "Winning is the top priority," which VanVleet told reporters in May.

    Not only is Orlando home to an impressive point guard graveyard, but it's also unlikely to experience much success in the near or long term. It certainly won't win as many games or advance as deep in the playoffs as Toronto figures to.

    The Magic have the need and can procure the means to get their man, but none of that matters if VanVleet isn't interested.

Philadelphia 76ers

23 of 30

    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Top Target: LeBron James

    It's so easy to be taken by the idea of adding the world's best player to one of the league's most exciting on-the-rise outfits, to be swept up by thoughts of James guiding Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and a cast of role-players and ring-chasers to glory.

    But if you ditch the daydreaming, you realize James and the Sixers are actually an awkward fit.

    At this stage of his career, Simmons is useless if he doesn't have the ball, which makes it tricky to figure out what he'd do with James running the offense. Embiid's stagnating post game would also pose a problem, and it's been years since James played with a dump-it-in-and-watch big man like the Sixers center.

    With this much talent, it'd only be a matter of time before things sorted themselves out. But it's very much worth wondering whether the Sixers want to mess with this team's trajectory by adding such a transformative player—one who'd only come aboard on a short contract and whose presence would cause the evaporation of this summer's cap space plus the loss of several free-agent rotation players.

    James isn't going to be bulletproof forever. Imagine the fallout if, when his long-delayed slippage finally arrives, the ultra-promising Sixers are the casualty.

    Go after Paul George instead. He's the safer bet on a long-term deal and, probably, a cleaner fit.

Phoenix Suns

24 of 30

    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Top Target: Clint Capela

    A source told Rockets Wire's Kelly Iko that the Phoenix Suns are "enamored" with Capela and intend to make him a max or near-max offer.

    Really? Someone out there thinks a defensively dominant 24-year-old lob-catching savant with ridiculous mobility and tons of room to grow is worth big money? You don't say...

    Sorry, Suns, but you'd better get in line. We all know how few teams have significant cap space, but if you think you'll be alone in pursuing a player of Capela's youth and quality, you're sorely mistaken. Everybody with half a shot at a defensive anchor this good is going to get involved.

    Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta told USA Today's Sam Amick that he has no problem paying the luxury tax for a contender, which is what the Rockets are. So even in the unlikely event Phoenix has little competition in its courtship, Houston is just going to match whatever offer its center signs.

    Capela won't be playing for the Suns next year.

Portland Trail Blazers

25 of 30

    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Top Target: Omri Casspi

    Cap-strapped to the nth degree, the Portland Trail Blazers will zip into the tax unless they renounce every free agent on the roster. Keeping Jusuf Nurkic on a reasonable deal, without re-signing anyone else, will likely be enough to put the Blazers in the penalty.

    All that is to say a player of Casspi's ilk—little-used and then ultimately waived by the Warriors—is what Portland should be targeting. He won't command more than the minimum, and that matters for a team in the Blazers' financial situation.

    Unfortunately, Casspi may not be available. Not because he'll sign with another NBA team, but because he may be out of the league altogether.

    A savvy cutter with a purportedly dangerous three-point shot should have thrived in Golden State's offense. Despite the ideal conditions, Casspi flopped so badly that the Warriors cut him in order to give two-way G-League player Quinn Cook a two-year contract. It sounds cruel, but if Casspi couldn't make it work with the Warriors, where can he?

    When you get tossed aside for a player who was effectively out of the league, guess what. Now you're effectively out of the league.

    Maybe somebody will take a chance on Casspi, but it feels increasingly likely that that somebody will be in Europe.

Sacramento Kings

26 of 30

    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Top Target: Rodney Hood

    Rodney Hood floundered after a deal sent him from the Utah Jazz to the Cleveland Cavaliers, losing postseason minutes to Jordan Clarkson and even refusing to enter the closing stretch of a blowout win over the Raptors.

    With a lengthy injury history that has kept him sidelined for 80 games during his four-year career, Hood's recent fall from favor makes him a terrific buy-low candidate. A sharp, opportunistic, risk-tolerant team with a nose for high-value (if distressed) assets would be wise to swoop in and snag the 25-year-old wing with excellent size and a career three-point percentage of 36.9.

    Pick out a few key words from that preceding sentence. Sharp. Wise. Opportunistic.

    Do any of them sound right when applied to the Sacramento Kings, the team that wasted this season's cap space on veterans, hasn't made the playoffs in a dozen years and famously traded an unprotected first-rounder (which will convey in 2019) so it could clear enough space to sign...Rajon Rondo?

    Nope. Nope. Nope.

San Antonio Spurs

27 of 30

    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Top Target: Will Barton

    The San Antonio Spurs need more athleticism and scoring punch, but there's no way it'll come from Will Barton.

    Barton turned down a four-year, $42 million extension offer from the Nuggets before the season, according to ESPN.com's Chris Haynes, which would seem to indicate he's eyeing serious money this summer. The Spurs, meanwhile, have a few uncertainties on their balance sheet.

    Danny Green ($10 million) and Rudy Gay ($8.8 million) have player options, Kyle Anderson has a $6.5 million cap hold and Tony Parker is an unrestricted free agent. Bringing everyone back puts the Spurs over $112 million in 2018-19 salary with a few roster spots yet to fill.

    That means they may only have the mid-level exception for Barton, which is projected to be $8.6 million in 2018-19 for non-taxpaying teams that are over the cap.

    That won't be enough for Barton.

    Toss in the fact that San Antonio rarely spends big on outside hires (and frequently pays up to keep its own free agents), and Barton's odds of landing with the Spurs shrink to near invisibility.

Toronto Raptors

28 of 30

    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Top Target: Vince Carter

    I'm sorry, but I can't hate on this. I don't even want to.

    Seeing the 41-year-old Carter return to the place where it all started is too crammed with feel-good vibes to dismiss. There's also a redemption angle rolled into this whole thing, as Carter's flight from Toronto back in 2004 created mountains of ill will.

    Five years after his exit, he was still getting mercilessly booed.

    It's all good now, though, as time heals even the deepest of basketball wounds. Carter has even said he sees himself ending his career with the Raptors.

    I'm taking a "hate pass," and I will not apologize. We should all be rooting for this.

Utah Jazz

29 of 30

    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    Top Target: Tyreke Evans

    Even though the Grizzlies lacked the Bird rights that would make re-signing Evans easier this summer and had no need for a veteran with value in a lost season, they didn't move on from him at the trade deadline.

    Utah thus won't get Evans because the Grizzlies can't let him go.

    They'll have to use their entire mid-level exception to keep him, and they will. Failing that, they'll come up with some other means to retain the guy who played better than anyone else on the roster last season. Failing to do so would make Memphis look ridiculous at best and grossly irresponsible at worst.

    Perhaps this is giving too much credit to a franchise that maxed out both Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons, but there's no way the Grizzlies could justify keeping Evans through the trade deadline but not retaining him in free agency. It'd be an unfathomably dense mismanagement of assets.

    Evans isn't going to Utah or anywhere else. If he does, we'll have to rack our brains for more ways to criticize Memphis' management.

Washington Wizards

30 of 30

    Oscar Baldizon/Getty Images

    Top Target: Noah Vonleh

    The Chicago Bulls have plenty of cash and are going nowhere, so it's hard to understand why they'd let 22-year-old Noah Vonleh go.

    Sure, Vonleh has bounced among three teams in his first four seasons and owns a career scoring average of only 4.1 points per game. But if ever there were a team that could afford to wait on a ninth overall pick blooming late, it's this iteration of the Bulls.

    Imagine the payoff if Vonleh reaches his ceiling as a floor-stretching combo big who finishes well inside and moves defensively like a much smaller man. His physical tools remain intriguing.

    The odds are against Vonleh's mental game allowing for peak performance, but it isn't as though the Bulls will have to pay much to keep him. Vonleh could sign an offer sheet elsewhere, but teams have to know Chicago is equipped to match anything reasonable.

    Maybe a team like the Wizards sees enough potential in the 6'10" project to toss out $5-7 million annually, but matching that might be a worthwhile gamble for a Bulls team in position to take some moderate risks.


    Stats courtesy of Basketball ReferenceCleaning the Glass or NBA.com unless otherwise specified. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.

    Follow Grant on Twitter and Facebook.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.