Every NBA Team's Biggest Selling Point in Free AgencyJune 26, 2019
Every NBA Team's Biggest Selling Point in Free Agency
Every NBA team has something worth pitching to potential free agents.
Maybe it's a culture or a coach. Maybe it's an organizational direction. Don't forget playing time. Whatever it is, now's the time for everyone to advertise.
We'll go into some depth for every franchise, but the elevator pitch comes up front. Those are in bold.
Unpredictability tends to take charge at this time of year, so with a few exceptions, we won't direct a team's pitch at a specific free agent. Instead, think of these selling points as a way to grasp what every organization has to offer.
We Will Imitate to Dominate
If the goal is to win, and the team that wins the most does things a certain way, it's in everybody's best interest* to take up mimicry.
This brings us to the Atlanta Hawks, a team run by general manager Travis Schlenk, late of the dynastic Golden State Warriors.
Schlenk has only been in charge since 2017, but the way he's built the Hawks to this point suggests he's pulling from his successful past. Trae Young plays the role of Stephen Curry, who also came into the league looking physically overmatched only to explode into a defense-warping, dime-slinging long-range lead guard.
Kevin Huerter is the easy Klay Thompson doppelganger, a big guard with a feathery stroke and no shortage of confidence. Recently drafted Cam Reddish fills the Harrison Barnes role: a big wing with two-way potential. Throw in De'Andre Hunter, a well-rounded combo forward with a defense-first bent (there's your Draymond Green facsimile), and the blueprint-following gets even more pronounced.
Head coach Lloyd Pierce isn't exactly Steve Kerr, but like the Warriors coach, he's had no shortage of exposure to the game's key figures. Kerr played with Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, and he was coached by Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. Pierce played collegiately with Steve Nash, coached LeBron James in Cleveland, worked under Kerr in Golden State and then got a crash course in patience as an assistant for Brett Brown during The Process.
None of these are perfect analogs, obviously. But the outline of a plan that looks a lot like the Warriors' is there.
There's more than one free-agent destination with promising young talent and an up-and-coming coach. But the Hawks are the one that can sell free agents on a Warriors-esque approach that everyone knows has worked before.
*Unless you're the San Antonio Spurs, who cruise along in the "we zig when you zag" lane at all times.
We're Very Chill Now
All the Boston Celtics have to do is convince free agents that 2018-19 never happened, and that the thrilling 2018 playoff run (sans Kyrie Irving) was more indicative of what's ahead.
Last year was a mess, marred by Irving's chemistry-compromising leadership crisis, unreliable offense and a disappointing lack of progress from key young players. It's hard to avoid thinking all three were related, in which case Irving's likely departure could prove to be a cure-all.
If the Celtics lose Al Horford, it'll hurt. But Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward are a fine, functional core. Without Irving, maybe head coach Brad Stevens will even get to design a ball-sharing offense.
Basically, the Celtics are a little shorter on talent (which could mean more opportunities for free agents), and a lot longer on harmony. That's attractive, especially when it comes with the allure of a well-regarded coach on a marquee franchise.
If all that fails, Boston can advertise its full embrace of a round-earth theory.
Grant Williams, drafted at No. 22, is clear proof of that last part.
All the New York, None of the Knicks
The Brooklyn Nets aren't necessarily in direct competition with the New York Knicks, but any free agent set on playing in New York has to realize there's no contest between the two.
Brooklyn built itself into a playoff team without control over its own first-round picks, relying instead on shrewd trades, opportunistic signings and a patient approach to culture-building. Everything about the organization feels thought-out and measured. There's a plan here.
Meanwhile, the Knicks scorched the earth to clear two max salary slots and will depend on organizational mystique to attract free agents.
The Nets have two max slots, tons of young talent on below-market deals and are generally far better positioned to morph into a contender if the right pieces come aboard. Plus, their owner hasn't spent the last 20 years in the news for all the wrong reasons.
A free agent who signs with Brooklyn gets all the positives of playing in a major market without the headaches of being a Knick.
We Promise to Try
Say one thing for the Charlotte Hornets: They don't know how to bottom out.
Whether Kemba Walker returns or not, expect Charlotte to continue fighting its way toward .500, probably finishing a little above or below that mark. Over the last five seasons, the Hornets are 192-218 with winning percentages ranging relatively narrowly between .402 and .585.
Their three draft picks—PJ Washington, Cody Martin and Jalen McDaniels—have eight years of college experience between them, another indication of Charlotte's preference for predictability. No risky unknowns here, folks.
The Hornets have around $94 million in guaranteed 2019-20 salary before counting their new draftees, so their free-agent resources are limited (and will be severely constrained if Walker stays on a max deal). But a new player signing in Charlotte can rest assured he'll join a team focused on winning in the present. That's worth something.
Come Get Buckets
Look, the Chicago Bulls finished 29th in scoring efficiency last season. There's no getting around that. And head coach Jim Boylen, a demanding, old-school figure, isn't exactly the type you'd associate with free-flowing offensive innovation.
But Chicago has built a starting five with the skills to space the floor and punish opponents at all five positions. New point guard Coby White can do damage driving downhill, and he's a reliable shooter who can operate off the ball. Zach LaVine and Otto Porter Jr. can stripe it. Lauri Markkanen took more threes per game than any big in the league last year, and Wendell Carter Jr. is comfortable operating away from the basket as well.
The Bulls are going to be exciting if Boylen doesn't pull the reins too tight. White is a burner in the open floor, and he's going to have nothing but space in which to operate. A free agent looking to juice his numbers or get clean looks could do a lot worse than signing with Chicago, where there's real potential for fireworks.
Get with the Program
By hiring former Michigan head coach John Beilein, the Cleveland Cavaliers committed to patience and process.
"His skill development translates," GM Koby Altman told reporters at Beilein's introductory press conference in May. "In this era of Cavaliers basketball, when player development is so important, we need a teacher. That age group, 18-22, he’s been the best at it. That is really intriguing to us."
Beilein was voted the cleanest coach in college basketball, a sport exposed as conspicuously dirty in recent years, so you know the Cavs aren't going to cut any corners in their rebuild. A player needs to know he can trust his coach, so maybe that's enticing to the right rule-abiding free agent.
With Cleveland so clearly embracing a deliberate rebuild, there will be opportunities for young free agents to earn time (and improve). Vets shouldn't want anything to do with the Cavs, who are surely in line to lose a lot in the coming seasons. But less experienced players could use Cleveland's developmentally focused environment to get their careers on track.
Five-Year Plan? Try 20.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban might have let enthusiasm get the best of him when he told reporters he wanted Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis to represent the team's core for the next 20 years, but his focus was in the right place.
Any free-agent pitch involving the Mavs has to start with their two young cornerstones.
Doncic just collected the Rookie of the Year award and was one of the most productive teenagers in league history last year, joining Oscar Robertson as the only first-year players to ever average at least 20 points, six rebounds and six assists per game—and doing it all while looking eminently comfortable in an alpha role. Though injury concerns persist in the wake of his torn ACL and general lack of durability, Porzingis is similarly tantalizing as a floor-spacing, rim-protecting, multi-skilled big.
With those two, Dallas can advertise immediate competitive play and the chance to sustain that high level of performance for years to come.
Some situations require more nuance, but Dallas' best attributes are obvious.
You'll Never Have to Create a Shot Again
In one sense, the Denver Nuggets have a tough situation to sell to free agents.
Every player who made meaningful contributions to last year's 54-win season is under team control and likely to return. The only uncertainty is Paul Millsap, whose future depends on what Denver does with a $30 million team option for 2019-20.
Add the possible emergence of a healthy Michael Porter Jr., regarded by some as the top talent in the 2018 draft, and there won't be many chances for free agents to secure roles.
Still, anyone who signs and sees minutes with the Nuggets figures to feast on clean looks. That's the beauty of life with Nikola Jokic, the best passing big man the league's ever seen. Share the floor with him, and you're guaranteed to be dimed up on a backdoor cut, slick handoff or inverted pick-and-roll. Run the floor, and he'll hit you with an outlet pass so accurate you'd swear it was controlled by an advanced NASA guidance system.
Everybody likes easy buckets. Denver has plenty of those to offer.
We Will Employ All Interested Wings and Guards
The Detroit Pistons are set at power forward and center, as Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond figure to occupy most of the minutes there. It's the other three positions that are shakier, which means there will be opportunities for free-agent point guards, shooting guards and small forwards to carve out roles.
Reggie Jackson is a low-end starter on an expiring deal, Bruce Brown Jr. can defend but does little else, and Luke Kennard...well, Luke Kennard actually looks pretty good. He can hit threes and has more playmaking feel than you might think. He's going to play plenty.
But there are minutes to be had on a roster that could lose Ish Smith and Wayne Ellington.
Don't worry about the fact that Detroit is cash-strapped with about $115 million already committed to next year's salaries. Or that reliable shooting and perimeter playmaking don't come cheap. Those are logistical problems; you don't bring them up in a pitch to free-agent targets.
If there's a wing or point guard out there intrigued by opportunity and willing to take (at most) the $9.2 million non-taxpayer MLE, the Pistons will gladly sign him. They can't afford to be picky.
Golden State Warriors
Stick Around, Guys. You Know You Want to.
Some teams have more specific free-agent goals than others. So the Golden State Warriors' pitch is focused on two players.
The top offseason priority for the Warriors must be re-signing Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. The former feels unlikely, while the latter is close to a lock.
Golden State will play its games next year in a slick, glistening monument to commerce and metropolitan glitz, also known as the Chase Center in San Francisco. The banners will come across the bay from Oakland, and you'd better believe the Warriors have designs on hanging new ones.
Because they'll be a taxpayer once Thompson signs, their resources for filling out the roster are minimal. So although it'll cost them an absurd amount of money to keep Durant, they still have to try. Short of an unlikely delayed sign-and-trade, they can't add high-end talent to replace KD—even if that's more of a 2020 concern than a 2019 one in light of Durant's injury.
It's difficult to overstate the ambition of this organization, and though owner Joe Lacob's visions of the future can sometimes sound like designs on world domination, you've got to respect the unabashed appetite for more. They cannot win enough to be satisfied, so of course they want Durant. He's the embodiment of excess.
WE ARE DEFINITELY NOT IMPLODING! NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT! PLEASE JOIN US IN OUR HIGHLY FUNCTIONAL, NOT AT ALL FRACTURED ENVIRONMENT!
Picking against GM Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets has been a sucker's move for several years. Often appearing stuck, Houston always acts boldly and leverages its strong grasp of asset management to create outs.
It's just harder to see the way forward now.
Chris Paul and James Harden are beefing, and CP3's contract makes him a negative asset if the Rockets have to trade him to preserve harmony. Owner Tilman Fertitta's tenure has featured several moves that can only be described as financially motivated, though he claims at every turn that he's not going to scrimp on building a contender. What's that old cliche about actions and words again?
Meanwhile, head coach Mike D'Antoni is back for one lame-duck season after rejecting a lowball extension offer and losing his assistants (another cost-cutting move?).
Those are major issues, and the instability seems real.
Nonetheless, we've got to formulate a pitch. Houston cranks out points, is always willing to turn decent shooters into high-volume gunners and figures to be in the deep-playoff-run ranks as long as Harden is around.
If free agents can look past the cracks forming in the foundation, the Rockets still offer a high ceiling.
We Always Overachieve
Fifty-three wins, despite losing Victor Oladipo for the season in January. That's the kind of gumption free agents should appreciate.
Not only do the Indiana Pacers, to the core of their organizational being, despise tanking. And not only do they have an admirable track record of developing players other teams couldn't (Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Bojan Bogdanovic). But with strong defensive principles and a blue-collar approach, the Pacers always seem to win more games than they should.
They've got one 50-loss season in the last 30 years and have made the playoffs 24 times in that span. Sign with Indy, and your odds of playing beyond April are darn good.
Los Angeles Clippers
You're Going to Want to Get in on This
The Los Angeles Clippers are the NBA's sleeping giant.
Everybody thinks Kawhi Leonard is set to slip into one of their max-salary slots, there's not a single bad contract on the books, and every trade of the last couple of seasons has either added assets, cleared cap space or both.
Deep-pocketed owner Steve Ballmer seems to be paying his executives handsomely enough to stick around, despite significant interest from other teams. It also doesn't hurt that those executives—led by President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank, GM Michael Winger and consultant/dynasty-builder Jerry West—understand how well they've set things up.
Nobody wants to leave right now, as The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski reported when Winger turned down a job with the Minnesota Timberwolves: "The Timberwolves received permission to interview Winger for their President of Basketball Operations position, but Winger determined he could not consider leaving a competitive team so well positioned for the years to come, sources said."
The Clips have young talent, a widely respected coach in Doc Rivers, several valuable incoming picks, massive cap space, the allure of Los Angeles and a superstar almost certainly inbound.
Any free agent who wants to jump into the title race for the next five years should have his representation put in a call.
Los Angeles Lakers
We Have LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Wanna Play?
Sometimes the most direct approach is best.
And really, the Lakers have to lead with the big, obvious stuff because there's not a lot else you'd want to bring up to potential signees.
Though L.A. has connected on its biggest swings by signing James last summer and agreeing to trade for Davis, its batting average is still exceptionally low. Last summer's free agency was a disaster, and the assets it cost to get Davis leaves the roster virtually empty with few resources to fill it out. That's to say nothing of the widespread organizational dysfunction that has marred the last couple of years.
Nonetheless, the Lakers have every opportunity to build a legitimate contender around their two superstars—who fit together perfectly, by the way. With a pile of cap space that can't quite yield a max free agent, minimums and a mid-level exception to spend, the Lakers should have their pick of role players. Maybe there's a third star out there who'd take a moderate discount to catch on with a team that has serious potential.
James had a down year and missed time in 2018-19, so he may feel he has something to prove. Davis is in his prime and might be similarly motivated to change the conversation from last year's trade request to his elite play.
There are risks in signing with the Lakers, and the pressure is always immense when James is involved. But the rewards could be enormous.
Talent always matters most, and the Lakers have it.
We Know How to Build an Identity
Grit 'n Grind lasted the better part of a decade, and it didn't take the Memphis Grizzlies long to pivot from that well-established identity to a new one. Now, after years featuring a slow pace and punishing defense, the Grizz are opening things up with a youth movement that figures to play a much more modern, uptempo style.
Jaren Jackson Jr. offers stretch and switchability on D at either the 4 or the 5, rookie Ja Morant has a 6'3" build of fast-twitch muscle fiber and court vision, and fellow 2019 draftee Brandon Clarke jumps like he's magnetically repelled from the hardwood.
Quite quickly, Memphis has exchanged its trademark rugged toughness for blindingly athletic finesse—all without sacrificing an emphasis on D if Jackson and Clarke reach their considerable potential.
For a free agent, there can be no doubt about Memphis' direction. That matters for players trying to figure out where they fit in.
Check Back in a Year
The Miami Heat can dazzle free agents with the weather and lifestyle of South Beach, Pat Riley can dump his sack of rings on a desk, and head coach Erik Spoelstra can advertise his championship pedigree—but those positives won't be persuasive during a summer in which the Heat can't spend.
With $129 million in guaranteed salary earmarked for the 2019-20 season, Miami is capped out.
Good news, though: Patience should pay off. In 2020, Miami can create two max slots, and Riley has shown in the past he knows what to do with those.
Though the free-agent class of 2020 won't be nearly as asset-rich as this summer's (Anthony Davis and Draymond Green figure to head a short list of big names), that's the one Miami has to focus on. Don't be surprised if the Heat wind up as the most attractive destination a year from now.
How Do You Feel About Open Threes?
A conference finals loss to the Toronto Raptors might force the Milwaukee Bucks to tweak their offensive approach, but don't expect them to abandon a scheme that generated a league-leading 35.4 open or wide-open threes per game during the regular season.
The book on defending newly crowned MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will be three words long until he proves he's mastered his own three-point shot: Build a wall. And with that strategic directive in place, every defense will have no choice but to concede heaps of open treys to Milwaukee's supporting cast.
Granted, the Bucks are mostly focused on retaining their own free agents this summer. They dumped Tony Snell in an effort to clear enough room to re-sign Brook Lopez (whom they have to keep using cap space because they don't have his Bird rights), retain Khris Middleton and match what's sure to be a hefty offer sheet on restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon—all while trying to avoid the tax. Still, Milwaukee will need cheap shooting, and anyone interested in clean outside looks should consider taking the minimum to join the Bucks.
Oh, and with Giannis in the fold, Milwaukee figures to be a title threat indefinitely. That's attractive as a secondary free-agent pitch, don't you think?
We Know What We're Doing This Time
In hiring former Rockets executive Gersson Rosas as their new president of basketball operations, the Minnesota Timberwolves broadcast a level of stability and front office competence they've been lacking for years. Rosas, who worked in Houston for 17 seasons, comes equipped with a data-driven approach and a career of exposure to bold thinking.
You don't work under Daryl Morey for several seasons unless you've got a facility with the CBA, scouting and creative roster-building tactics.
Minnesota faces several hurdles as it tries to build a sustainable winner around Karl-Anthony Towns (who we also could have used as the organization's top selling point; he's that good). Andrew Wiggins' deal is an anchor, and free agents haven't historically flocked to a losing franchise with brutally cold winters.
But Rosas' presence adds capability and savvy to a front office that previously didn't have a reputation for either quality.
New Orleans Pelicans
We Offer Sanctuary
In the upcoming Zion Williamson era of the NBA, there will be two classes of players: those who play on his team and those he's going to dunk on. Mercilessly.
Sorry if that feels reductive, but have you seen what the New Orleans Pelicans' top pick did in college? Are you aware the rims of NCAA basketball are involved in a class action lawsuit against him, suing for emotional distress plus damages?
You're either on Williamson's team, or you're seconds from getting posterized. There's no third option.
So in addition to wooing free agents with the opportunity to be part of a team that'll instantly draw more eyeballs than almost any other (and perhaps even push for a playoff spot with a young core that also includes Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram), the Pels can offer shelter.
Williamson is coming for the rest of the league, and the only safe place is in a Pelicans jersey.
New York Knicks
Please Take Our Money
Not so long ago, the New York Knicks seemed certain they could sign two top-end, franchise-altering max-salary free agents. They cleared the necessary room with a bold trade, and owner James Dolan was outwardly confident. All indications were that two superstars were inbound.
Now, with the Nets, Clippers and others more commonly rumored to be the top landing spots for marquee free agents, the Knicks seem to be preemptively lowering expectations.
President Steve Mills appealed to fans who believed massive additions were a foregone conclusion, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN: "We're asking them to continue to be patient. We laid out a plan that ... we are going to build this team the right way. We are going to be diligent and not take any shortcuts, and follow a process."
Patience? No shortcuts? What was all that bold cap-clearing about then?
The Knicks probably should exercise patience. They'd be better off developing No. 3 pick RJ Barrett, leveraging the future first-rounders they got from the Mavericks in the Porzingis trade and, most of all, avoiding the folly of spending their piles of cash on second- and third-tier stars.
But it's easier to imagine them panicking and offering that money to the biggest names who'll take it. Hence the somewhat desperate pitch.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Come As You Are
Most teams crave established shooters, but the Oklahoma City Thunder take another approach. They try to create them.
It may seem like the tactic hasn't worked, as OKC ranked 22nd in three-point percentage last year. But Russell Westbrook dragged that figure down in a major way, firing off 411 attempts at a 29-percent clip. That's the third-worst accuracy mark for a player with at least that many attempts in a single season.
Terrence Ferguson, an athletic sophomore in 2018-19, hit 36.6 percent of his treys. Jerami Grant, a five-position defender, pumped his hit rate up to 39.2 percent. Neither entered the league with reliable jumpers.
The Thunder offer a refuge for high-end athletes who lack the perimeter accuracy so many teams covet. They've got no problem taking on projects, and free agents around the league (especially those passed over by shooting-obsessed organizations) should know they can trust OKC to help them improve in a vital area.
Let's Play the "What If?" Game
What if Markelle Fultz gets past the shoulder woes of the last two years and rediscovers his confidence?
What if Jonathan Isaac, already a valuable defender, develops into an All-NBA first-teamer on that end?
What if Mo Bamba, practically forgotten as a rookie, takes a step toward his potential as a floor-spacing, shot-blocking force?
What if Aaron Gordon realizes he's more play-finisher than playmaker?
What if last year's playoff trip was only the beginning?
The Orlando Magic have more possible paths to success than it might seem. Even if only one or two of the aforementioned uncertainties break in their favor, their outlook suddenly gets much rosier. A free agent with some imagination could see himself as part of a team with serious (if partially hidden) potential.
Failing that, Orlando could pitch its obvious need for offensive punch. Whether directed at its own free agents (Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross) or at the outside market, the Magic can sell opportunities to score. There isn't a trigger-happy player out there who'd pass up a glowing green light like the one on offer in Orlando.
Never Count Your Steps Again
As long as the Philadelphia 76ers are built around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they'll need a very specific type of free-agent support: a capable shooter who'll send defenses into a frenzy by sprinting around the floor, taking handoffs and firing off triples whenever cracks of daylight open up.
That's what JJ Redick has done for Philly over the last two years, which is why he should be a high retention priority for the Sixers. If they can't keep the prototype, the Sixers should do whatever they can to add similar models.
Simmons' lack of a jumper creates a spacing crunch and allows opponents to relax and/or pack the paint. Embiid likes to shoot the three, but most smart foes concede his heaves. Breaking the other team out of a constricted, mostly stationary defensive formation requires high-speed threats zipping around beyond the arc.
If the Sixers can attract the type of shooters they need, those new additions will never have to consult their wearable fitness tech at the end of the day. They'll blow past 10,000 steps with lung-searing, foot-pounding curls and cross-court sprints.
We'll Keep You on Your Toes
We've used stability as a selling point for other teams, but what about those free agents who'd prefer a wackier, less predictable lifestyle? What if there's a crop that craves uncertainty, that likes to wake up in the morning with no idea what's ahead?
That's where the Phoenix Suns come in.
Though we could invoke recent reports of top-down chaos that sometimes results in barnyard animals sullying the office carpet, all we need to underscore the thrilling experience of signing with the Suns are their recent draft-day shenanigans.
Phoenix dealt TJ Warren and the No. 32 pick to the Pacers on draft night, ostensibly to clear cap space for...who knows?! The lack of an obvious plan is pure Suns! After that, they reached waaaaaaaaaay down most draft boards to snag 23-year-old Cam Johnson out of North Carolina at No. 11—after trading down from No. 6 and adding Dario Saric, who'll hit restricted free agency next summer.
This could all work out for the Suns, but that's beside the point. A free agent in search of an employer where anything's possible should be all over Phoenix. It's a wild-card's paradise.
Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard Only Waves Goodbye to Opponents
The Portland Trail Blazers reached the conference finals last season but have yet to shake the stigma of being a team that's mostly locked into its roster and isn't quite a serious contender. Under normal circumstances, that'd make Damian Lillard a flight risk.
And free agents might not want to sign with the Blazers if they thought there was a chance Lillard might bounce in short order.
That's not a problem in Portland, though, where Lillard is likely to sign a supermax deal this summer, according to Yahoo Sports' Chris B. Haynes.
As long as Dame's around, the Blazers will be competitive, and there'll be quibbling over who shoulders the pressure of big shots. Plus, if you're Lillard's teammate, you're a lot less likely to get smoked in an offseason diss track exchange.
Counting Stats Still Matter
Most respectable player analysis tilts toward usage and efficiency these days, as we've mostly moved past the idea that points (or any stat) per game is the best way to measure value.
But it's still difficult to shed the idea that a player averaging 20 points a night is better than the one averaging 18.5.
Free agents who'd like to elevate their profile with bigger counting stats should keep an eye on the Sacramento Kings, who push the pace like few others. Propelled by the afterburners of De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento devoted a league-leading 19.6 percent of its offensive possessions to transition. The Kings took their shots an average of 13.3 seconds into a possession. Only the Thunder let it fly more quickly.
That's the kind of up-and-down, quick-trigger environment free agents can utilize to produce gaudy numbers.
San Antonio Spurs
We'll Work with You
The San Antonio Spurs haven't missed the playoffs in two decades, and though much of that sustained success owes to the consistency of Tim Duncan and the stars of years past, there's another factor that gets overlooked.
San Antonio adapts to its personnel better than anyone.
It built around twin towers when Duncan and David Robinson shared the floor, and then pivoted to an inside-out look that popularized three-point shooting after Robinson retired. It defended and embraced an ugly grind-it-out style when necessary, and then embraced the Beautiful Game when passers filled out the roster.
Now, with mid-range shooting specialists LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio is eschewing the league-wide focus on threes and layups in favor of shots that are, well...very much out of favor. Despite topping the NBA in mid-range frequency last year, the Spurs ranked sixth in scoring efficiency.
There's this idea that the Spurs force players to acclimate to their culture. That's true from a personality standpoint; San Antonio requires that you've gotten over yourself. But in terms of what happens on the court, things work the opposite way.
The Spurs adjust to you.
What More Could You Want?
This is another pitch focused exclusively on one player, as the Toronto Raptors' only real chance to defend their title depends on retaining Finals MVP (and fun guy) Kawhi Leonard.
The Raps should enter their next meeting with Leonard armed with a projector on which they display nonstop clips of devoted fans across Canada chanting his name. Maybe teams in southern California can offer Leonard better weather and a proximity to home, but nobody can match Toronto's ability to shower him with adoration.
Leonard is a bona fide hero for delivering the Raptors their first title. He's good enough to bring rings to another franchise in the future, but it's hard to imagine he'll have another democratic nation ready to crown him King of the North.
Toronto's roster will be good enough to contend again next season, as long as Marc Gasol sticks around and OG Anunoby gets healthy. There's still the chance Pascal Siakam will get even better. Winning Most Improved Player, which he's likely to do, doesn't put a cap on development.
Toronto has everything Leonard could want. It should remind him of that at every opportunity.
Listen to Donovan
We could tout the long list of positives that come with playing for the Utah Jazz, but why not let someone with a little more firsthand experience make the case?
Donovan Mitchell laid it all out for Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune:
"My thing is, we have the defensive player of the year, and myself, who's still finding ways to get better. We have an amazing group, a bunch of guys who love to work. Look, we want to win, you know? We don't care about the individual stuff. When you look at a team like the Spurs, who had Tony, Manu, and Tim Duncan — I'm not saying we're the Spurs — but, you look at the unselfishness, you look at the camaraderie that they had, and I think we have something very similar here. I think that's not the same throughout the entire league."
Add Mike Conley to the mix of talent, potential, past success and selflessness, and Mitchell's assessment gets even better.
The Jazz had the second-best net rating in the league after Feb. 1 last year, and everything else Mitchell said rings true. Free agents who want to win (especially stretchy power forwards who could replace the traded Jae Crowder in the first unit) should be flocking to Utah.
You'll Never Be Considered Overpaid
With John Wall's four years and $170 million still on the books, no free agent who signs with the Washington Wizards will ever be regarded as overpaid.
It's impossible. With Wall's contract setting the bar, everyone else's agreements will seem reasonable by comparison. In an NBA where image matters, knowing you'll never have to contend with the perception that you're making more than you're worth has to count for something.
Financial shots at Wall aside, there's a real opportunity in Washington to capitalize on the point guard's likely unavailability for most of 2019-20. Bradley Beal proved he could handle scoring and playmaking duties with Wall sidelined, and a free agent looking to demonstrate he can run a team could do the same.
The Wizards can't expect Beal to shoulder such a heavy load for a full season, and though Tomas Satoransky could stick around in restricted free agency, there will still be plenty of chances for other new additions to spread their wings in a sizable role.
Washington is short on long-term assets, so it's also positioned to win now by default. Somebody could come in and produce at a bargain rate, perhaps setting things up for a bigger deal down the line. There's real opportunity with the Wizards.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference, NBA.com and Cleaning the Glass unless otherwise indicated. Salary information courtesy of Basketball Insiders.