Every Team's Top Potential Free-Agent Target After the 2018 NBA Draft
With the 2018 NBA draft now over, the next phase of the offseason is free agency, which in some ways is the most exciting time of year for NBA fans.
For a brief moment in time, everyone has hope. At least five teams—the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets—are currently entertaining hopes of LeBron James joining them.
Not every team is seeking to add a max player, though. Some are hoping just to keep the ones they have. Others are capped out. And certain clubs might have the cap space but aren't at the phase in their team-building where they can attract a superstar looking to win.
Based on media reports and projected salary-cap space (via Spotrac), let's walk through the top free-agent target for every NBA team this summer.
Atlanta Hawks: Julius Randle
The Atlanta Hawks could have nearly $30 million to spend, but they aren't likely to utilize that on a big name.
"The Hawks have amassed an intriguing blend of talent, and they're not done building," Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer reported after the draft. "There were trade talks heading into the draft involving guards Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore, per league sources. Schroder was on the block all season, as we reported in January, while the team at least discussed Bazemore with Dallas and Orlando in possible trade-downs."
While O'Connor didn't delve into specifics about the Hawks' free-agency plans, it does suggest that they aren't in win-now mode. If they use their cap space, they're more likely to absorb a bloated contract from another team so long as it comes with assets attached.
"Even so, the Hawks need a third point guard and a combo forward," ESPN.com's Bobby Marks wrote. "... Two names that fit: Washington's Tim Frazier and OKC's Josh Huestis, each projected for the minimum salary exception."
The one player who could make sense in terms of filling a hole and fitting in with the youth movement is restricted free agent Julius Randle, who quietly had a brilliant year with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, averaging 16.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.
His explosiveness and athleticism would fit in nicely with what the Hawks are trying to do. The most likely situation is Atlanta doesn't do anything major, but if it does make a big move, Randle would be a smart one.
Because of the Lakers' pursuit of two max players (potentially), an offer on July 1 could put them in a bind, forcing them either to live up that dream or let Randle go. Typically, an offer to a restricted free agent of Randle's stature would be matched, but the Hawks could steal him.
Boston Celtics: Dwight Howard
The Boston Celtics are well over the cap, so they will be limited in what they can do in free agency. They do have their mid-level exception and bi-annual exception available to them, though.
The Celtics got lucky on draft night, as Robert Williams fell to them at No. 27 despite earning lottery buzz for much of the year. Concerns about "both a knee injury and his approach to the game" caused him to plunge, according to ESPN.com's Chris Forsberg, but he'll fill an enormous hole for Boston if he lives up to his potential.
If the Celtics want to ease Williams into action, they could turn toward free agency to further bolster their frontcourt. The Charlotte Hornets have reportedly agreed to trade Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, but his stay in Brooklyn may be brief.
On Thursday, ESPN.com's Chris Haynes reported the Nets have entered into buyout negotiations with Howard, which would make him a free agent this summer. A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston reported the Celtics will be one of "several teams" interested in signing Howard once his buyout is complete.
Howard averaged 16.6 points on 55.5 percent shooting, 12.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks with the Hornets last season. He has flaws, but that kind of production at a bargain-basement price is hard to overlook.
Adding both Howard and Williams in one offseason would help fix the Celtics' biggest weakness.
Brooklyn Nets: Joe Harris
The Brooklyn Nets could have $8.9 million to spend, but they aren't likely to make a major free-agent splash.
They already made their big offseason move, swapping Timofey Mozgov and two future second-round picks for Howard, with whom they immediately entered into buyout negotiations. Their primary goal seems to be getting ready for a move next summer.
According to Wojnarowski, the Howard trade will create two max slots for Brooklyn in 2019-20. The Nets shouldn't make a deal that jeopardizes that position, so their most likely free-agent target will be retaining Joe Harris, who had a sneaky good season in 2017-18 (10.8 points, 41.9 percent from deep).
There's nothing sexy here, but that's how Sean Marks has steadily been turning lemons into lemonade since taking over Brooklyn's general manager gig in 2016.
Charlotte Hornets: Treveon Graham
The Hornets Dwight Howard trade dropped them about $8 million below the tax level, according to Albert Nahmad, but I don't anticipate a team that isn't going to contend for the playoffs to be spending into the tax, so I don't think they'll use the full mid-level exception.
Based on the comments from Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak during a post-draft press conference, it doesn't seem like they'll be too active this summer, either.
"Well, I don't know if you would say we are retooling. We are dealing with the roster as it is today, and we have a veteran roster, that I think will improve this year as a team.
"... I think it is a unique combination of a team that has veterans that we know, or they know, can compete for a playoff spot and perhaps win a round or two. You never know year to year what can happen, but I would not say that this is a reset at all. I think this is an example of a veteran team that is poised to win games."
Instead, the Hornets' most likely move is to try to retain Treveon Graham. He was unspectacular last year with 4.3 points per game, but he's the only free agent Charlotte is likely to sign.
Chicago Bulls: Zach LaVine
The Chicago Bulls are in a difficult situation with Zach Lavine, who was a part of the package last summer for Jimmy Butler.
LaVine missed over half the season with the Bulls as he recovered from a torn ACL. When he did come back, he wasn't the same player as he was before. He averaged 16.7 points on a 44.2 effective field-goal percentage, per Basketball Reference, compared to 18.9 points on a 54.4 eFG% in 2016-17.
The 23-year-old still has time to recapture his previous form, but will he? And how much is it worth to gamble on that? That's the question the Bulls might have to answer when deciding whether to match any offer sheet he receives as a restricted free agent.
"Bulls may still lock up restricted free agent Zach LaVine this summer—but as an organization the near universal support LaVine once had internally isn't there anymore," ESPN.com's Nick Friedell tweeted. "Bulls will wait to see if he can find big $$$ elsewhere first and then decide if they want to match."
It would hurt the Bulls to lose a key component of the Butler trade so soon, but they seem likely to let the market set the price for him before they decide whether they'll match. He's their top target, but they aren't going to overpay for him.
Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James
Retaining LeBron James is unquestionably the Cavaliers' top priority in free agency.
Whether it's feasible is another story.
It'll be difficult for the Cavaliers to convince the King to stay home after the Golden State Warriors swept them out of the 2018 NBA Finals. However, a trade with the Hornets for Kemba Walker could do the trick.
"The Cavs continue to explore the possibility of working a deal" for Walker, Bleacher Report's Ken Berger reported after the draft. One league source told him that the Cavaliers acquiring Walker would be "the only way LeBron stays" in Cleveland.
Following the draft, Kupchak said he wanted Walker to finish his career in Charlotte, per Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. However, such claims may just be a way to drive up Walker's trade value.
Dallas Mavericks: DeMarcus Cousins
The Dallas Mavericks have more than $23.8 in practical cap space, which means they may be able to carve out enough room to offer DeMarcus Cousins a max deal.
According to Michael Scotto of The Athletic, "Dallas believes it has a strong chance" to sign Cousins in free agency. "DeAndre Jordan could also become an unrestricted free agent if he declines his $24.1 million player option," Scotto noted, "but Dallas has been through that courtship before."
The Mavericks' pursuit of a center goes back years, and it's filled with its own form of drama and comedy, highlighted by the "kidnapping" of Jordan in 2015.
Perhaps Cousins can be the one that doesn't get away. The question, though, is whether he'll still be the same player he was before he blew out his Achilles in January.
While Boogie has no firm return date set, he did recently tweet out a video showing his progress. The Mavs will have to see more before handing him a huge deal, but he'll be their top target if he checks out medically.
Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic
Since Nikola Jokic was a second-round pick in 2014, the Denver Nuggets had two options with him this summer.
Had they picked up his $1.6 million team option for 2018-19, he'd become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Otherwise, they could decline the option and allow him to test restricted free agency this year.
It appears as though they're going with the latter route.
"The Denver Nuggets will decline Nikola Jokic’s team option for next season — making him a restricted free agent — and plan to reach agreement on a five-year, $146.5 million maximum contract with the 23-year-old star," Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports reported Monday.
While keeping Jokic's cheap option on the books would have helped Denver in its attempt to duck the luxury tax, the last thing it wanted to do is irritate its franchise big man. Declining his option and offering him the max at the first possible moment is the right call.
Detroit Pistons: Anthony Tolliver
Sitting at nearly $17 million over the cap, the Pistons have little room for free-agent additions.
However, new head coach Dwyane Casey says they aren't going into rebuilding mode.
"Our time is now," he told reporters at his introductory press conference. "I'm not afraid to say it. We're not developing. We're not two or three years away. We want to win now."
While the Pistons have the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception available, using it would send them over the tax threshold. Instead, they figure to focus on retaining Anthony Tolliver, who averaged 8.9 points and shot 43.6 percent from deep for them last season.
Golden State Warriors: Dwight Howard
Since Steve Kerr took over as head coach of the Golden State Warriors four years ago, the Dubs have won three championships. The one weakness they've had is the lack of a true starting-caliber center.
So, why not Howard? Yahoo Sports' Ben Rohrbach recently pondered the same question:
"Imagine that Howard [is] eating up the center minutes for an already elite Warriors defense and working against single coverage in an offense featuring Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. It’s easy to see why Golden State general manager Bob Myers might be teased by theoretical possibilities, so long as they were convinced he would be committed to his limited role on a small-ball team."
Both JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia will be free agents in July, making center even more of a need for Golden State. Howard is no longer a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber star, but he's still better than McGee and Pachulia. And perhaps on a championship favorite like the Warriors, he'd exercise a smidge of humility and willingly embrace whatever role they ask him to fill.
Kerr has managed to coach McGee and Nick Young into being team players, after all.
If the Warriors can get Howard to play within their system, the best team ever assembled could get even better.
Houston Rockets: Chris Paul
The Houston Rockets will have one of the most intriguing offseasons of any team. It could end in heartbreak, elation or something in between.
A lot of that will be determined by Chris Paul, who has three options as a free agent:
1. Paul stays and recruits another star (LeBron James?) to Houston.
2. Paul stays but isn't able to recruit another player.
3. Paul leaves.
Most signs seem to be pointing to No. 2, according to USA Today's Sam Amick, who wrote on Saturday:
"As for the recent report from Fox Sports' Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn't sure if he'll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.
"Paul is part of the Rockets contingent expected to be on hand for the NBA awards show in Los Angeles on Monday [he was and Harden won] to help his co-star, James Harden, celebrate the MVP award that is widely expected to be coming his way. What's more, Paul recently bought a new house in the Houston area."
Indiana Pacers: Will Barton
The Indiana Pacers exceeded expectations last season. While most expected them to contend for the lottery, they landed the No. 5 seed and took the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Were they better than expected, or did they overachieve? If it's the former, they can build on something; if it's the latter, they'll need to continue tweaking their roster.
Chris Haynes suggests Will Barton or Tyreke Evans as potential targets. Of the two, I prefer Barton, who was a revelation in Denver after getting traded there from Portland in the Aaron Afflalo deadline trade in 2015.
Barton has arguably been the NBA's best player off the bench the last two seasons, averaging 14.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists.
Barton is good enough to take some of the pressure off Oladipo but is also a step below him as a ball-handler. He's pretty much the exact right amount of "good" the Pacers need.
Los Angeles Clippers: Isaiah Thomas
The Los Angeles Clippers are being tight-lipped about their future plans. Isaiah Thomas would be an interesting fit here.
He could be an undervalued contract, and that's what the Clippers seem to be harvesting.
The Clippers need a scoring point guard such as Thomas, who is already situated in L.A. after having been traded to the Lakers in February. Evan Massey of Hoops Habit speculated about that possibility as well:
"Bringing Thomas in would be an intriguing move, to say the least, for the Clippers. He would bring explosiveness to the point guard position again. His defense has been one of his biggest weaknesses throughout his career, but the production that he could help bring offensively might just be worth bringing him on board."
Thomas could be the difference-maker who is obtainable for the Clippers.
Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James
It's no secret that the Lakers' top free-agent target is LeBron James. Whether they can get him remains uncertain, though.
While oddsmakers have the Lakers as heavy favorites, according to OddsShark, it isn't a foregone conclusion as of yet. During a recent appearance on The Lowe Post podcast, ESPN's Brian Windhorst gave the Lakers only a 51 percent chance of landing him, according to B/R's Tyler Conway.
Gary Payton told Sheena Davis of BlackSportsOnline that James' oldest son had committed to Sierra Canyon High School near Los Angeles, but a source refuted that report to Bryan Kalbrosky of LeBron Wire. If Paul George remains with the Oklahoma City Thunder rather than signing with the Lakers, that could be "a big blow to the Lakers’ chances of landing James" as well, according to Amick.
None of this is to say that LeBron isn't going to Los Angeles, but rather that it looks like he hasn't decided where he's going to go yet.
And if he doesn't know, how can anyone else?
Memphis Grizzlies: Marcus Smart
The Memphis Grizzlies are already over the cap, but they're far enough below the tax line to use the full non-taxpayer's mid-level exception without nudging into tax territory.
At the trade deadline, the Grizzlies reportedly considered swapping Tyreke Evans for Marcus Smart along with draft considerations, according to Jared Weiss of Celtics Wire, but the two sides never reached a deal. With Evans heading into unrestricted free agency and Smart due to become a restricted free agent, Memphis may sniff around the latter again.
Smart is the type of versatile wing defender who would thrive in Memphis. Adding him to a lineup featuring veterans Marc Gasol and Mike Conle and newly drafted shot-blocker Jaren Jackson could return the Grizz to their grit-'n'-grind splendor, with Smart filling the Tony Allen role.
The Celtics may decide to match if the Grizzlies offered the full $8.6 mid-level exception, but they might not given their wing depth and salary-cap hurdles moving forward.
Miami Heat: Wayne Ellington
The Miami Heat are nearly $20 million over the cap, which means they aren't situated to make any big moves in free agency. Team president Pat Riley admitted as much in his post-draft press conference, according to Anthony Chiang of the Palm Beach Post.
"I don't know if there's going to be any midnight meetings. This might not be the year for us to do that. But we will plan. We're already planning for the future like we did 2006 for 2010 and 2010, as soon as LeBron left, we were in it with Durant, we were in it for Hayward. I don't think we're going to be in it that way because we can't. We don't have the cap space and we're up against the tax, so we have to do some other things in reversing that direction."
However, Riley did indicate that he wants to keep incumbent free agent Wayne Ellington in Miami.
"There's no doubt that we want to keep him," Riley said. "We're going to try to find a way to do that. But we're up against the tax. I think if you add up the numbers, you know what that means. But we're going to do everything we can do to try to keep him."
Ellington will turn 31 at the end of October, but the two best years of his career have been with the Heat. This past season, he averaged 11.2 points while shooting 39.2 percent from deep.
Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker
Jabari Parker presents a tricky situation for the Milwaukee Bucks. He's a textbook case of why players end up getting overpaid.
During his four-year tenure in Milwaukee, he's had some flashes that indicate he could become an All-Star or even an All-NBA player. However, he's already suffered two ACL tears and has missed 145 of a possible 328 games to date.
Another team could sign Parker to an offer sheet, which would force the Bucks to either match or let him go. If they do match, they might have to overpay. If they let him go, they won't be able to replace him with the money they have available in free agency.
ESPN.com's Bobby Marks suggested how the Bucks could walk that tightrope:
"The Bucks can take a proactive approach and offer Parker a three-year, $40 million contract on the first day of free agency. The $12.4 million cap hit in the first year would keep them under the luxury tax and also retain the ability to use their full $8.6 million midlevel exception. Having the midlevel is a key component for how the Bucks' bench improves this offseason. Plus, the team-friendly contract would also allow Milwaukee to use Parker as a trade asset in the future."
If the Bucks can get Parker to accept a deal like that, it would be a huge coup.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Luc Mbah a Moute
The Minnesota Timberwolves are over the cap, but they have both the mid-level exception and the bi-annual exception available to them.
Going after Luc Mbah a Moute with one of those exceptions would make sense.
The T-Wolves are plenty good on offense, but their defensive improvement was largely dependent on Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. Their defensive rating was 7.1 points better with Butler on the court and 4.2 points better when Gibson was on, per NBA.com.
Minnesota needs someone else who can play and defend forwards. Why not chase a guy who can do both? While Mbah a Moute isn't the greatest ball-handler or passer, he's an elite defender who helped the Houston Rockets hold opponents to only 101.2 points per 100 possessions while he was on the floor this season.
If the T-Wolves want a quality X-factor who they can get for the MLE or less, Mbah a Moute is their man.
New Orleans Pelicans: DeMarcus Cousins
The Mavericks will be competing with the New Orleans Pelicans for DeMarcus Cousins' services.
Excluding Cousins' cap hold, the Pelicans have less than $700,000 in projected cap space. Since they aren't going to get anyone like Boogie with their mid-level exception, it makes sense for them to pursue re-signing him.
After Cousins went down with his torn Achilles in January, the Pelicans traded for Nikola Mirotic. The former Chicago Bulls thrived alongside Anthony Davis and helped New Orleans get to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.
With Boogie, Brow and "Threekola" in tow, the Pelicans could boast one of the NBA's best three-man frontcourt rotations.
New York Knicks: Enes Kanter
When the New York Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder last year, they took the Thunder to the cleaners.
Enes Kanter, who the Knicks received in exchange for Anthony, finished the 2017-18 season with a 24.0 player efficiency rating, 7.6 win shares and a plus-2.5 box plus-minus. Anthony, meanwhile, had a 12.7 PER, 3.7 win shares and a minus-3.8 BPM.
While Kanter is a liability on defense, Anthony is a far cry from an All-Defensive talent as well. The former fared so well during his first season in New York that he played himself into becoming the Knicks' top free-agent target.
As SportsNet New York's Taylor Rooks reported, Kanter said he has not decided whether to opt out of the one year and $18.6 million remaining on his contract. If he does, ESPN.com's Ian Begley reported multiple teams will pursue him.
Look for the Knicks to lock him up under a new contract if he does hit the market.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Paul George
There's good news and bad news for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The good news is that it looks like Paul George plans to stick around, according to Amick.
"Remember when George was so hell-bent on joining the Lakers? Well, that was before he found his way out of Indiana and into an Oklahoma City situation that might suit him well after all.
"Even with the Thunder coming just two losses away from missing the playoffs, and then falling to Utah in six games during their first-round matchup, there is all sorts of optimism in Oklahoma City that George will re-sign. Conversely, there's pessimism in James' camp that George would leave Oklahoma City. George has raved about the Thunder since the beginning, making it clear to USA TODAY Sports in September that the organization had earned his confidence from the start."
That would be fantastic for the Thunder, as George and Russell Westbrook could guide them through the next several years. As they learn to play together, OKC should improve.
The bad news, though, is that Carmelo Anthony did not exercise his $27.9 million early-termination option, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times.
Orlando Magic: Aaron Gordon
If restricted free agent Aaron Gordon is not still with the Orlando Magic next season, something has gone seriously wrong.
Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reports that new head coach Steve Clifford traveled to visit with Gordon:
"It was very good for me because I got to see him work out. When I first got here the first day, the three of us sat down—Jeff (Weltman), John (Hammond) and I—and they gave me a good evaluation on all the players, where they're at. So it was a great starting point for me. And they had told me what a great worker Aaron was.
When the new head coach is flying out to talk to a player, that's the team's top free agent.
Gordon has tremendous potential to be the face of the Magic future. Also, he's the one holdover from the "young core" that the Magic have since blown up by trading away Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton.
Pretty much the only way they're not wearing egg on their faces is if Gordon is still in a Magic uniform this year.
Philadelphia 76ers: Paul George
Your regularly scheduled LeBron James hype is being interrupted for this important message: Paul George would be a much better fit for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer indicated the Sixers will target both players as soon as free agency begins on July 1.
"The Sixers can't publicly say so until July 1, but it doesn't take an engineering degree to realize the team is prepared to do whatever it takes to sign (LeBron) James, a four-time league MVP. Oklahoma City small forward Paul George is another free agent the Sixers have interest in, according to folks around the league. He would be a great fit because of his ability to shoot the ball and defend."
Yes, LeBron is still the best player in the world. But no, he would not be the best possible fit for the Sixers.
That distinction goes to George, who fits like a jigsaw puzzle piece into the Sixers starting lineup.
George would be able to play off Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons, allowing the young point guard to drive to the rim and kick out to open three-point shooters. Alongside Simmons, Joel Embiid and Robert Covington, he would help give the Sixers a lethal defensive unit.
While James is better than George, the latter makes more sense in Philadelphia.
Phoenix Suns: Rajon Rondo
The Phoenix Suns have about $13.2 million in practical cap space. Depending on their moves, they can almost expand that to $20 million. But how much they can spend is a little bit of a question mark.
Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic spoke with general manager Ryan McDonough about the Suns' free-agency plans.
"McDonough said the Suns are targeting two positions: Point guard and a power forward who can stretch the floor with his 3-point shooting and defend.
"The need for a point guard is obvious. Even if the Suns pick up Ulis' contract, they would currently go into the 2018-19 season with Ulis, Okobo and Brandon Knight, who's coming back after reconstructive knee surgery. (Coach Igor Kokoskov has said he doesn't want Devin Booker playing the point except for possibly some late-game situations.)
"Power forward? That's interesting given McDonough's description seems to fit Dragan Bender. Less so Marquese Chriss, but Phoenix liked the way he played late last season. A trade is a likely possibility if the Suns sign a free agent."
Rajon Rondo could be a comfortable fit here. He'd make the game easier for rookie Deandre Ayton, and he'd take some of the ball-handling duties from Devin Booker without jacking up many shots. During his time with the Pelicans and Bulls, he also showed he's great with younger players.
Portland Trail Blazers: Jusuf Nurkic
The Portland Trail Blazers were vastly improved on defense last year, in large part due to Jusuf Nurkic.
This past year, the Trail Blazers were tied for eighth in defensive rating on the season. They were 4.3 points per 100 possessions stingier with him on the court this year, the best mark of any Portland rotation player.
While Nurkic isn't elite statistically, his 14.3 points, 9.0 boards and 1.4 blocks in 26.4 minutes per game are perfectly acceptable. The backcourt tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum shoulder most of the scoring load, so the Blazers need Nurkic to be the cornerstone of their defense.
While it would be stunning to see Portland let him go, ESPN's Zach Lowe thinks he might end up signing his qualifying offer upon finding his free-agent market to be tepid this summer.
"I think Nurkic is going to take his qualifying offer," Lowe said in a recent episode of The Lowe Post, per David Deckard or Blazer's Edge. "Nurkic turned down a lot of money in October. ... Who's offering Nurkic more than the mid-level? What's the team? Nobody needs centers and there's no cap room."
Sacramento Kings: Mario Hezonja
Mario Hezonja won't have fans salivating for the start of the regular season, but "he has fans" in the Sacramento Kings front office, according to Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.
"He's the kind of player the Kings could land on a short-term deal and figures to be a high priority," Jones reported in March.
Jones repeated that thought on June 25, throwing cold water on the thought of chasing Jabari Parker: "The kind the Kings do not want to tie up money in beyond next season. Someone like Hezonja makes more sense because he's an unrestricted free agent, so the Kings do not have to worry about his offer being matched."
Thought of as a shooter, Hezonja shot only 33.7 percent from three-point range last season. He isn't the greatest defender, either, as his minus-1.30 Defensive Real Plus-Minus ranked 80th out of 92 small forwards, according to ESPN.com. So, Hezonja is far from the perfect player.
Still, as Jones argues, he's the best that the Kings are likely to get, even if he's not a top-tier or even second-tier small forward.
San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker
The San Antonio Spurs reportedly have their sights set on LeBron James, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times.
"I've also been advised that the ever-persuasive San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is bound to try to force his way into the conversation to sell James on the merits of South Texas," Stein reported in early June.
How the mechanics of that would work is another question, though it is possible the Spurs could move some salaries (Pau Gasol and either Danny Green or Patty Mills would make it work).
If the Spurs are not able to force the stars to align, they'll probably try to retain Tony Parker.
Parker is no longer the threat he once was, as he averaged 7.7 points and 3.5 assists per game last year. He doesn't have the same speed. But he does still have four rings with San Antonio and the experience that comes with them. David Robinson retired a Spur. Tim Duncan retired a Spur. Manu Ginobili will retire a Spur (if he finally retires). There's a pattern here. The Spurs keep their greats. It would be a shock to see Parker wearing a different uniform.
Toronto Raptors: Fred VanVleet
Fred VanVleet was so instrumental to the Toronto Raptors bench that it would be a shock if they let him walk. With the Raptors $26.6 million over the cap, they'd have no chance to add someone better.
VanVleet averaged 8.6 points, 3.2 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 20 minutes per game last year in Toronto. Those aren't All-Star-caliber numbers, but he helped fuel the NBA's most productive bench.
The Raptors being over the tax level might be cause for concern. But in a recent interview on TSN 1050 (via GiveMeSport's Tariq Saleh), Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said the team's ownership is willing to cross into luxury-tax territory.
"He's a huge priority," Webster said about VanVleet. "I don't want to get fined here and I'm a bit limited in what I can say, but we love Freddy and he knows that. He's our highest priority."
Utah Jazz: Derrick Favors
Kyle Goon of the Salt Lake Tribune believes the Utah Jazz's decision to draft Grayson Allen with the No. 21 overall pick could signal their free-agency plans.
"And yet Allen, barring a surprising surge as a rookie, won't be the piece that bridges that gap. That could be Derrick Favors, who is testing free agency, but has said he's open to returning. It also could be Exum, who has shown flashes of his top-five potential in between a frustrating string of injuries.
"It's notable that the Jazz didn't draft any players who could look to replace either of them—even restricted free agent Raul Neto still could have a defined role as Utah's third point guard. While the Jazz can't communicate with free agents until July 1, the draft can be read as a vote of confidence that Utah hopes to bring back those pieces."
Fresh off a trip to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs and a strong second half of the season, it makes sense that the Jazz wouldn't be looking to overhaul their roster. They're still young enough that internal improvements should be enough to push them higher.
Whether that's enough to nudge them into the tier occupied by the Rockets and Warriors is another story. But with only $11.7 million in practical cap space, it's hard to see how they can do better.
Washington Wizards: Dwight Howard
The Wizards don't figure to be major players in free agency this summer. They are $23.8 million over the cap and don't have any notable free agents of their own to keep.
However, they could try and make a mini-splash by inking Howard.
"The Washington Wizards could also be an option as an upgrade (of sorts) to Marcin Gortat," Kristian Winfield of SB Nation wrote. "Howard would have to take a minimum contract to make this happen, but he could actually meaningfully help Washington."
In a league where everything is about small ball, it would be interesting to see the Wizards cut against the grain with Howard and Gortat manning the middle. It likely wouldn't get the Wizards much further than they are now, but it may be the best they can do.