Every NBA Team's Pitch to Its Top Free-Agent Target
While the start of NBA free agency is still a few months away, it's never too early to get those pitches ready.
With a deep and talented free-agent class getting ready to hit the market after teams worked to clear cap space at the trade deadline, this summer should be filled with players on the move.
Some squads will set their sights on the major prizes of this class, including Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving. Even second-tier players such as Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic could be sniffing max deals with cap-space-happy teams.
Given their market, contention status and salary-cap room, every team's main free-agent target will differ. The New York Knicks lead the way with over $70 million to spend, while luxury-tax-paying teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder will only have a mid-level exception of $5.7 million.
Here's a look at who every NBA team should chase, the best pitch they can make and whether they've got a legitimate shot to land their top prize.
So You're Telling Me There's a Chance?
Detroit Pistons: G/F Khris Middleton
This is a long shot for financial reasons, but Middleton would be a huge addition if Detroit can shed some salary.
The Pistons should pitch Middleton on what a perfect fit he'd be on their wing—a major area of weakness on an otherwise solid roster. Blake Griffin is coming off a career high in scoring (24.5 points per game), and Andre Drummond will collect every missed shot you throw up (5.4 offensive rebounds and 15.6 total per game).
Detroit was the fifth-best team in the East after the All-Star break (15-11) and is led by the 2017-18 Coach of the Year in Dwane Casey. If the money somehow, someway dries up and Middleton is forced to take a one-year mid-level exception a la Julius Randle last summer, Detroit would be a great place to showcase his talent.
Indiana Pacers: PG Kemba Walker
Indianapolis isn't New York or Los Angeles. But the Pacers are really, really good when Victor Oladipo is healthy.
That's the main draw for Walker to not only spurn the only franchise he's ever known in Charlotte but also pass on the big markets: winning. The Hornets have won just 41.1 percent of their games since they drafted Walker in 2011—an average of about 34 wins per season. In the last 20 years, the Pacers have failed to reach 34 wins just once.
Indiana had the fourth-best record in the entire NBA (32-15) before Oladipo ruptured his right quad on Jan. 23, even though they ranked just 21st in points per game. Walker (25.6 points, 5.9 assists) would help spike the Pacers' offensive rating.
He and Oladipo would form one of the NBA's most dynamic backcourts and immediately reestablish the Pacers as one of the top contenders in the East.
Miami Heat: G/F Jimmy Butler
Things between Miami and Jimmy Butler were getting serious back in October when the Heat offered Josh Richardson, Kelly Olynyk and a protected 2019 first-round pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves, per Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
While there's no reason to believe Butler wouldn't love to live and play in Miami, the Heat have one of the worst salary situations in the NBA. With $130 million potentially tied up for next season, Butler to Miami is a Hail Mary.
The Heat can cut Ryan Anderson and save nearly $6 million. If by some miracle Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic choose not to exercise their player options, another $46.3 million would come off the books.
Only then could Miami seriously pitch Butler on its championship culture, the warm weather and his chance to become the next legendary shooting guard in South Florida.
Milwaukee Bucks: SF Kawhi Leonard
The Bucks' pitch to Leonard is simple: If you can't beat us, join us.
After Milwaukee finished above the Toronto Raptors in the standings, a potential Eastern Conference Finals knockout would give the Bucks a great deal of leverage.
See how good we were without you? Imagine us with you.
Placing Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo at the forward positions would not only create one of the greatest defensive pairings in NBA history, but it could also result in 50 points per night.
Pluck Leonard off the Raptors and watch them crumble while chiseling in the Bucks as the team to beat in the East (NBA?) for years to come. There's nothing flashy or fancy about Milwaukee or Leonard, which makes this a perfect fit.
Utah Jazz: PF Tobias Harris
The Jazz have one of the NBA's brightest young stars in Donovan Mitchell. It's time he got a true co-star.
No disrespect to Rudy Gobert—an elite defender and shot-blocker—but he shouldn't have to be a team's second-leading scorer with his offensive limitations. He and the Jazz just need a 20-points-per-game stretch 4 to complete their starting unit.
Utah can give Harris the same max contract (albeit a year shorter) he may receive from the Philadelphia 76ers and promise him a bigger role in the offense. The Sixers only won one more game than the Jazz despite having a Big Four. Imagine how much better they'd be after swapping out Derrick Favors for Harris in the starting lineup.
Winning? Check. Money? Check. The chance to grow alongside a core that has Mitchell and Gobert under contract for multiple seasons? Check.
Leaving a good team in Philly would be tough, but Utah can give Harris enough reasons to at least consider the switch.
Brooklyn Nets: SF Kevin Durant
If Durant is eyeing New York, the Nets can make a far greater basketball argument for his services.
Already a playoff team, Brooklyn provides Durant with enough talent to win—D'Angelo Russell (if he re-signs), Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris—but not so much that he'd be criticized for joining a superteam again.
The Nets can offer Durant a full max, and the marketing opportunities in New York should only help pad his bank account. Plus, the chance to take a Brooklyn team left for dead just years ago on a potential NBA Finals trip would help restore Durant's image and may be his best chance at a second MVP award.
Denver Nuggets: G/F Jimmy Butler
Money may be tight, but not picking up Paul Millsap's $30.5 million option for next season would be the first step. Trading Mason Plumlee or Will Barton to a team with cap space should be enough to make a near-max offer to Butler.
The Nuggets surprised everyone by rising to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, nearly toppling the Golden State Warriors in the process. Depending on where Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson end up, they could be in the driver's seat next season.
Butler would be a big upgrade over Barton in the starting lineup and would bring a toughness this young Nuggets team needs. Colorado and its 300 days of (at least partial) sunshine and endless outdoor activities are a nice draw for Butler, as well.
Memphis Grizzlies: PF Nikola Mirotic
Leaving a top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks team for a 33-win Memphis squad isn't immediately appealing, but hear us out.
Mike Conley and Jaren Jackson Jr. are standouts, and this is finally the last year of that dreadful Chandler Parsons contract. Jonas Valanciunas was excellent following a midseason trade (19.9 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.6 blocks), and the Grizzlies finished among the top 10 in both assist percentage (63.1 percent, sixth overall) and defense (108.0 defensive rating, ninth overall).
Jackson looks like the long-term center once he bulks up, and Mirotic could be a quality stretch 4 next to the future All-Star for years to come.
Minnesota Timberwolves: PF Paul Millsap
If the Nuggets decide not to pay Millsap $30.5 million next season, he should look to stay in the Northwest Division.
A playoff team just a year ago, the Timberwolves need Millsap's veteran presence to help guide them back. Led by Karl-Anthony Towns and his 24.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists, this is a young roster just waiting to break out. Andrew Wiggins can't possibly be this awful again, and they actually get to play music at practices with former head coach Tom Thibodeau gone.
Millsap would help shore up the 24th-ranked defense and have Minnesota sniffing the postseason once again. Funds could be an issue for the 34-year-old, as he'd likely have to accept a $9 million mid-level exception.
Oklahoma City Thunder: SG JJ Redick
When Paul George can lift both arms above his head, the Thunder are a damn good team.
One major weakness? Shooting. Well, that and cap space. There is no cap space.
Oklahoma City was 22nd in three-point percentage during the regular season (34.8 percent) and fell to just 33.1 percent in the playoffs. A player such as Redick could turn that around in a hurry.
Before George hurt his shoulder against the Denver Nuggets on Feb. 26, the Thunder had the seventh-best net rating (plus-4.7) in the NBA, led by the third-ranked defense (105.7 defensive rating). When Russell Westbrook is playing efficient basketball, this could easily be a top-three seed in the West with a shooter of Redick's caliber.
Can We Get a Meeting?
Los Angeles Lakers: SG Klay Thompson
Playing alongside LeBron James. Having your dad call your games on the radio every night. A warmer portion of the ocean to jump in whenever you want.
For Thompson, who should at least listen to what the Lakers have to say, the allure of leaving a cozy situation with the Golden State Warriors for Los Angeles does exist.
If Kevin Durant moves on from the Warriors and Los Angeles opens talks with the New Orleans Pelicans and new executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin about an Anthony Davis trade, the Lakers would suddenly look like a strong possibility for this 2-guard.
Philadelphia 76ers: SF Kevin Durant/SF Kawhi Leonard
With free-agent decisions to make on Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick, why not put them all on hold to pursue Durant or Leonard?
The Sixers can offer the opportunity to play alongside two of the NBA's best young players (Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid) and in front of a fanbase that will support you like none other...as long as you're winning.
They already possess the league's eighth-best offense (111.5 offensive rating). Imagine what adding either dynamic small forward could do.
Philadelphia landed a meeting with LeBron James' agent last summer in the current regime's first attempt at a superstar. Landing either Durant or Leonard would finish the job.
New Orleans Pelicans: SF Bojan Bogdanovic
A rebuild doesn't have to take place in New Orleans.
Bogdanovic averaged 20.7 points on 50.3 percent shooting from the field and 41.1 percent from three after Victor Oladipo went down, and he would plug in beautifully as the Pelicans' starting small forward.
Jrue Holiday remains one of the NBA's best and most underappreciated point guards, and the Pelicans were a whopping 14.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor last season. The inevitable trade of Anthony Davis is sure to net some high-level talent, and Jahlil Okafor quietly put up 18.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes of play.
David Griffin has won a championship in a small market before, carefully orchestrating some key signings and trades around LeBron James in Cleveland. There's no reason to believe he can't build a winner here, either.
Sacramento Kings: C Nikola Vucevic
The Kings were one of the NBA's biggest surprises this season, sniffing the playoffs before ultimately falling to the Western Conference's ninth seed with 39 wins.
Still, that's a huge improvement over much of the last decade. The Kings' young core is one of the league's best with De'Aaron Fox (17.3 points, 7.3 assists), Buddy Hield (20.7 points) and Marvin Bagley III (14.9 points, 7.6 rebounds).
All this team needs to make the playoffs is a veteran center who can help facilitate the offense and score as needed. Sacramento can offer Vucevic a four-year max contract, the starting center job and the opportunity to lead separate franchises from lottery-dweller to playoff participant in back-to-back years.
Washington Wizards: PF Julius Randle
Yes, John Wall's status for next season is iffy, but there's still a lot to like about signing with the Wizards right now.
Bradley Beal is knocking on the door of superstardom after he averaged 25.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists during the 2018-19 campaign. Thomas Bryant (who would need to re-sign) was one of last summer's best free-agent signings once the Lakers waived him, and Washington can save $20 million by declining the club option on Jabari Parker.
Randle would get all the shots he wants with Wall out and eventually form a three-headed offensive monster with the two standout guards. The bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture is still up for grabs, and a strong season by Randle could push the Wizards back into the postseason.
Shoot Your (Reasonable) Shot
Atlanta Hawks: C Thomas Bryant
The Hawks have potential cornerstones at four different positions and should be in the market for a young center to complete their starting five.
Bryant broke out with the Wizards to the tune of 10.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in just 20.8 minutes per game. He won't turn 22 until July 31 and becomes a restricted free agent this summer.
The Hawks have the cap space to give him a significant raise from his current $1.4 million salary, putting pressure on the Wizards not to match. Atlanta's future is also much brighter than Washington's, and catching lobs from Trae Young for the next decade should be enough to entice Bryant into signing an offer sheet.
Charlotte Hornets: PG Kemba Walker
There's not much of an argument for Walker to re-sign with the dreadful Hornets other than a larger payday and his own comfort. It's the only franchise for which he's played in eight years, although that's come with just two playoff trips and a first-round exit both times.
If it's money Walker values, the Hornets can offer him a five-year, $221 million contract should he be named to an All-NBA team this season. Other teams can only counter with four years and $140 million, per Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.
The Hornets can make a legacy play here, too. He's already the franchise's all-time leader in points, three-pointers, free throws and minutes played, and another multi-year contract would likely push him to the top of the assists, steals and games played leaderboards, as well.
Golden State Warriors: SF Kevin Durant
The Warriors would love to retain both Durant and Klay Thompson, but Durant has to be the top target here.
Winning trumps everything. Durant has two rings and two Finals MVPs in two seasons with Golden State, as well as a strong chance to go 3-of-3 in both categories.
Stephen Curry is one of the most unselfish and down-to-earth superstars with whom he could possibly be paired, and a core also featuring Thompson and Draymond Green is still young enough to run it back for a few more years.
Opportunities like this just don't come along. Despite all the jokes about Durant joining a 73-win team, a title run of three, four or five years (maybe even more?) would quiet a lot of his critics.
Phoenix Suns: PG Ricky Rubio
It's no secret the Suns need a point guard, preferably one who passes first and plays a little defense.
Rubio fits this mold, and his insertion into a lineup with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton would breathe new life into their already blossoming games. Depending on how the draft lottery shakes out, the Suns could potentially add Zion Williamson, as well.
Phoenix can offer Rubio a short-term, big-money deal and let him cash in while assuming a leadership role on a rising team in the West. Wins may not come right away, but this has the foundation of a playoff team by the 2020-21 season.
The Suns now have a brilliant young mind at general manager in former sharpshooter James Jones. Rubio should trust him to build a competitive roster—a process that starts this offseason.
San Antonio Spurs: C Brook Lopez
Two words: Gregg Popovich.
Lopez spent this season playing for a Popovich disciple in Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer; now it's time to learn from the master himself.
The Spurs are already a good veteran team that could use a floor-spacing center to complete the starting five. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are still playing at a high level, Derrick White is showing star potential during the postseason (17.8 points, 60.7 percent from the field) and Dejounte Murray will be back next year.
San Antonio was 26th in three-pointers made per game this season (9.9), while Lopez connected on 2.3 per contest by himself. Winning should be all that matters to the 31-year-old at this stage in his career, and the Spurs can certainly provide that opportunity while giving him a chance to continue his late-career development under a legendary coach.
Things Are Getting Pretty Serious
Boston Celtics: PG Kyrie Irving
A lot may depend on how Boston finishes the postseason, but the Celtics are in a great position to win now and for years to come.
One good sign? Even with a slightly disappointing 49-33 overall record, Boston was one of just four teams (Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Denver Nuggets) to finish the regular season among the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating.
Perhaps the best pitch Boston can make to Irving is a trade package for Anthony Davis. The trade-asset list is long and plentiful, including Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and the four potential first-round picks the organization could collect this June.
The Celtics could go into negotiations asking Irving if he prefers to ride it out with the young core as is or look to flip them for some veteran help.
Dallas Mavericks: PG Kemba Walker
Leaving a perennial loser for a franchise that's reached the postseason 15 of the last 19 seasons, a future superstar running mate in Luka Doncic and an owner willing to spend money to win must appeal to Walker.
A core of Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis and Walker would be enough to make the playoffs next season, especially when you mix in Tim Hardaway Jr., Justin Jackson, Dwight Powell and Jalen Brunson.
The Hornets can offer Walker more money and guarantee he'd be the face of the franchise. But nearing 29 years of age, shouldn't a chance at a championship start to mean more? Walker can still get a max contract in Dallas, but he'd have a much better chance to win.
Orlando Magic: C Nikola Vucevic
After a 20-31 start to the season, Orlando finished 22-9 to reach the playoffs for the first time in seven years. From Jan. 30 on, the Magic had the best net rating (plus-7.6) in the entire Eastern Conference and were tied for third overall in wins.
Vucevic is the heart of the team, but there's plenty of young talent to grow around him. If Markelle Fultz can take over the point guard position and finally showcase his incredible skill set, Orlando would become even more dangerous.
The Magic can give Vucevic the five-year max no one else can offer, and head coach Steve Clifford has done an excellent job maxing out his overall game. Staying home and getting paid is probably Vucevic's best option.
Portland Trail Blazers: PF Thaddeus Young
Portland, Oregon. So hot right now.
While the Blazers may only have a mid-level exception to offer, Young could be the new starting power forward for the third-best team in the Western Conference.
Damian Lillard is turning the page from star to superstar and is currently the playoffs' leading scorer at 33.0 points per game. CJ McCollum is right on his heels with 24.4 per night, helping make a case for the Rip City duo as the NBA's best backcourt.
Jusuf Nurkic was having a career year (15.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists) before he sustained compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula, and Zach Collins looks effective enough to be a future starter.
The Blazers are really, really good and could use Young's versatile overall game to bolster another playoff run next season.
Toronto Raptors: SF Kawhi Leonard
The Raptors won more games than anyone outside of the Milwaukee Bucks this season and just got done throttling the Orlando Magic over the last four games of their first-round playoff series.
Toronto's system proved a perfect fit for Leonard to maximize his game, as he averaged career highs in points (26.6) and rebounds (7.3) while leading the Raptors to a top-five finish in both offensive and defensive rating.
The plan is simple: Run it back with this roster next season, then use massive amounts of expiring salary to aggressively pursue free agents in the summer of 2020.
Pascal Siakim has already reached star status with his 22.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in Round 1, while Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol bring plenty of playoff experience to complement Leonard's game.
The Raptors can offer Leonard $190 million over the next five seasons, compared to the $141 million over four years he could receive anywhere else.
Let's Make It Official
Chicago Bulls: PG Patrick Beverley
The Bulls can offer Beverley something no other team can: the chance to come home.
A Chicago native, Beverley wouldn't just be coming back for sentimental reasons, either. The Bulls could carve out a big role for him either as a starter or a high-minute reserve to push incumbent point guard Kris Dunn. Because they play in the East, the playoffs are certainly within reach next season, as well.
Zach LaVine was one of only four players to average at least 23 points, four rebounds and four assists while shooting no worse than 37.0 percent from three. Lauri Markkanen showed star potential (18.7 points, 9.0 rebounds), and the trade for Otto Porter Jr. filled the team's need at small forward. Chicago could also land Zion Williamson or another top talent in this June's draft.
The Bulls have the cap space to offer Beverley a fair deal, and he could be both a veteran mentor and a high-level contributor on a team set to rise up the Eastern standings.
Cleveland Cavaliers: G/F David Nwaba
The Cavs are capped out for one more season until the contracts of Tristan Thompson, Brandon Knight, Jordan Clarkson, Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson all come off the books. No big-name signings will take place here.
Instead, Cleveland should bring back one of its own in Nwaba.
He could potentially start at shooting guard, which is a role he'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. The Cavs only have JR Smith and Cedi Osman under contract on the wing, and Smith will either be traded or released this summer.
The Cavaliers' pitch to Nwaba is simple: Continue to be the team's best perimeter defender and help improve what became the worst defense in NBA history.
Houston Rockets: F Trevor Ariza
If LeBron James can come back to the Cavaliers, Ariza can certainly reunite with the Rockets.
They stumbled out of the gate this season, partly because they missed Ariza's defensive versatility and overall game. With him, they pushed the Golden State Warriors to Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals and were arguably the second-most-talented team in the league.
The starting unit could, once again, make room for Ariza, although the money would be limited to a mid-level exception. Ariza chose cash over winning last season and was forced to play for both the Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards. That's a mistake he shouldn't repeat.
Ariza and the Rockets were a couple that should never have split up. It's not too late to rekindle the magic.
Los Angeles Clippers: SF Kawhi Leonard
The Clippers have put together one of the best front offices and coaching staffs in the NBA, and the results are starting to show.
Reaching the playoffs and coming back from a 31-point deficit to beat the Warriors is one thing, but doing it while also maintaining the second-most practical cap space in the league is quite another.
The argument for Leonard to come to LA is simple. This is already a winning team that has the potential to add him and another superstar. Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet will only cost around a combined $20 million next season.
A move to the Clippers would also get Leonard much closer to his $13.3 million Southern California mansion.
New York Knicks: SF Kevin Durant
The Knicks don't have to make a complicated pitch. They can sell Durant on the opportunity to join one of the most iconic franchises in professional sports and restore his image and reputation.
While he remains in Golden State, Durant won't get the credit he deserves no matter how many rings he wins. Taking the worst team in the NBA to the Finals—or maybe even the playoffs—would garner far greater respect.
Of course, he won't have to do it alone, either.
New York has more cap space than any other team and can try to pair Durant with Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker or whoever he wants, really. The Knicks are also guaranteed to get a top-five pick—one that could turn into a valuable trade piece for another star a la what the Cavaliers did when they swapped Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love in 2014.
Durant could get as many touches as he wants and put up MVP numbers once again, this time while recruiting other stars to join him and not the other way around.