Every NBA Contender's Top Free-Agent Target

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 8, 2019

Every NBA Contender's Top Free-Agent Target

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    Most NBA teams that reach contender status get there by sacrificing financial flexibility and leaning on stars. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the five teams we'll cover here aren't in the acquisition business. They're tapped out resource-wise and are generally more concerned with retention than addition.

    That said, these teams still have to fill out rosters. Depth matters in deep playoff runs, and it's not uncommon for a minimum-salary role player to make a difference in a title pursuit. In fact, with such top-heavy, expensive, star-laden cores, it's practically a contention prerequisite to get outsized production from unlikely sources.

    We'll define our corps of contenders based on the current year. To put a finer point on it, these teams all posted winning records and positive net ratings in the 2019 playoffs.

    The free-agent targets we'll highlight have to come from the outside, no re-signings. And though we can't be sure which contenders will lose stars to free agency, we'll make our best guess as to how things will shake out. That'll dictate what these top teams need to chase on the market.

Golden State Warriors: Rodney Hood, Unrestricted

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    With or without Kevin Durant, the Warriors are dealing in minimum salaries and the mid-level exception again this summer. We're going to assume Klay Thompson comes back on a max deal, which will preserve the unity of the Splash Brothers but again prove insufficient to solve the lack of scoring depth that has paradoxically plagued the Warriors for several years.

    With Stephen Curry and Durant off the floor this past season, the Warriors scored 100.6 points per 100 possessions, which ranked in the league's third percentile. Chances are there will be even more minutes in 2019-20 without those two.

    The Dubs need another shot-creating option on the bench to keep second units from revolving entirely around Thompson running off pindowns. Among the ring-chasing vets Golden State could try to entice with its limited cash, Rodney Hood stands out.

    The 26-year-old has made under $10 million in his career, so he might not be willing to take what the Warriors can offer. But this is about guys Golden State should target—not necessarily guys who'll happily sign.

    A big wing at 6'8", Hood can generate his own looks with one-dribble pull-ups and clever close-range work. He's adept at posting up smaller guards. Just 40.4 percent of his two-point field goals were assisted last season, so you know he's comfortable creating for himself. A career 36.7 percent shooter from deep, Hood could also provide spacing off the ball.

    He may seem like a modest target, but that is an upgrade from what the Warriors have gotten from their bench in recent seasons.

Toronto Raptors: Wesley Matthews, Unrestricted

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    Let's go ahead and assume Kawhi Leonard will play his home games in Los Angeles next season, despite his purchase of real estate in Toronto, according to Michael Landsberg of Toronto 1050 (h/t The Spun).

    If that's the case, the Raptors will need reinforcements on the wing—especially if free-agent shooting guard and fellow starter Danny Green also winds up defecting from Canada in free agency. Pascal Siakam is a modern 4 who might see more time at center as he matures, and OG Anunoby is probably also best suited for a frontcourt spot. Neither figures to be a plug-and-play replacement for Leonard or Green.

    Wesley Matthews isn't at Leonard's level on either end (who is?), but he'd offer reliable defense and three-point shooting that could approximate what Green provided.

    And with Toronto's 2019-20 looking a bit like a "last ride" scenario— the contracts of Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet all expire in 2020—it'd make sense to slot in a relatively low-cost veteran like Matthews rather than invest in a flexibility-compromising long-term option.

    Matthews is 32 and slowing down, but he's a career 38.2 percent shooter from deep who can be trusted to defend both wing spots.

    There are loads of variables in Toronto. Gasol could follow Leonard in opting out, which would leave the Raptors a little light in the middle. Green could be a re-signing candidate if the price is right. But in the scenario we've selected—no Leonard, no Green—the best course would seem to be a short-term replacement who'll give Lowry and the expiring veterans a decent chance at remaining competitive in an improving East.

Milwaukee Bucks: Dewayne Dedmon, Unrestricted

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    Restricting our targets to outside acquisitions makes it particularly tough to find a fit for the Milwaukee Bucks, who'll focus on keeping their own free agents this summer. If they manage to bring back Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and even Nikola Mirotic, the Bucks will have had a hugely successful offseason.

    It'll be difficult for Milwaukee to keep Lopez using either the taxpayer's midlevel exception or cap space (which would only become available through salary-shedding elsewhere on the roster), and Mirotic's postseason struggles should put him lowest on the priority list. So let's imagine Middleton and Brogdon are the only two free agents who stay put.

    In that hypothetical, the Bucks will need help at the 5—even if, as should be the case, Giannis Antetokounmpo spends more time there. If he puts on another 30 pounds of muscle this summer, which we shouldn't put past him, the Bucks' positional plans for Giannis will be clearer.

    At any rate, Milwaukee should make an offer to Atlanta Hawks free-agent center Dewayne Dedmon. A 38.2 percent three-point shooter on career-high volume last year, Dedmon will be on many teams' radars. That includes the Hawks. The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Atlanta has interest in retaining the 29-year-old.

    Milwaukee could do worse than offering the full taxpayer MLE to Dedmon on a multiyear deal. It might not be the best offer he gets, but the Bucks can pitch championship contention more realistically than most. Maybe that'll make the difference.

Houston Rockets: Richaun Holmes, Unrestricted

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    It's too bad we used up Dedmon on the Bucks because there's a decent chance the Houston Rockets will need a less costly replacement for Clint Capela.

    The New York Times' Marc Stein reported the Rockets are looking into trading Capela, Eric Gordon or PJ Tucker and that the team is "operating under the belief that at least one of those three mainstays will not be a Rocket next season."

    If Capela is the one to go, Tucker can handle the center spot for stretches during the postseason. But the Rockets will still need a more conventional lob-catching threat—unless their offseason overhaul includes a complete reconstruction of the offense. Don't bet on that; even if tweaks are imminent, it's unlikely Houston would divert too drastically from James Harden attacking downhill and attracting help.

    A backup for the Phoenix Suns last year, Richaun Holmes has no chance of carving out a bigger role if he were to return. Not with Deandre Ayton around.

    Holmes could be a starter in Houston, though, and he'd be a fine fit who'd come fairly cheap. His 1.26 points per play as a roll man ranked in the 81st percentile, and his low-usage, high-efficiency game would work alongside Harden. Though his reputation as a rim defender isn't near Capela's, Holmes was one of just eight qualified players to post a block percentage above 5.5 last year. 

    The Rockets could offer Holmes some of their MLE, which could be more than Phoenix is willing to spend.

Philadelphia 76ers: Seth Curry, Unrestricted

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    The Philadelphia 76ers' needs will depend on what happens with Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick in free agency. If all three return, the team won't have anything but roster exceptions and minimums to spend, which would take it out of the running for a significant addition.

    If the Sixers don't retain their own free agents, cash will be available to pursue moderately priced three-and-D fits. Danny Green stands out as the best of that bunch, and he'd work brilliantly as a low-usage gunner alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

    Assuming Philadelphia keeps its trio of high-profile free agents, its focus should shift to Seth Curry, who'd provide more shot-making, stretch and defense at the point than T.J. McConnell, who's also unrestricted. If Redick were to leave, Curry could easily start in the backcourt with Simmons, effectively occupying the shooting guard role while defending opposing 1s.

    The Sixers took the Raptors to seven games in the conference semifinals, despite a woefully thin bench that couldn't generate enough offense to survive. There's a clear need at backup center here too, but maybe the team will lean harder on Simmons for those minutes going forward. Philadelphia has to add shooting at every spot it can, and that'll be the case as long as Simmons and Embiid occupy cornerstone positions.


    Stats courtesy of Basketball ReferenceNBA.com and Cleaning the Glass unless otherwise indicated. Salary information courtesy of Basketball Reference and Spotrac. Pick obligations via RealGM.