Every NBA Team's Top Priority in 2020 Free Agency
Smart NBA teams never stop thinking ahead, and the time horizon has to extend well beyond the upcoming season. So as the 2019 free-agency session winds down, it's actually not too early to start thinking about next July.
Whether it's a specific target, a tough looming decision or a broader change in direction, every team has a list of priorities for 2020. Remember, too, that free agency isn't just about signing outside talent. It's also when teams can extend their own players (in certain situations), swing trades and generally reorganize rosters.
Though the 2020 crop of free agents looks a little sparse, that doesn't mean there'll be a transactional lull. Shrewd free agents might be more likely to decline player options so they can hit the market in 2020 rather than 2021, when several stars will soak up most of the big money. And rookie-scale extensions might become increasingly common with player empowerment and shorter deals scaring teams into earlier commitments.
Here's what all 30 teams should be focused on in 2020 free agency.
Atlanta Hawks: John Collins' Extension
The 2019-20 season will be John Collins' third as a pro, and it'll go a long way toward determining what kind of player he'll ultimately be.
As a rookie, he bounced around, ran the floor, snared offensive boards and finished with a block rate of 3.8 percent that ranked him just outside the league's elite tier of shot-swatters.
He seemed like a low-usage, high-energy role-filler, albeit one with the immense upside you'd attach to a 20-year-old. That outlook changed in Year 2 when Collins leaped from 15.7 points per 36 minutes to 23.4, upping his usage rate and nudging his true shooting percentage a bit higher (62.7 percent) in the process.
He shelved his shaky mid-range game and more than doubled his three-point attempt rate, hitting 34.8 percent of his deep tries. The updated version of Collins stopped defending the rim as effectively but became an efficient scorer who could produce plenty of volume with tantalizing stretch at 6'10".
If he combines the best parts of those first two years and proves he can play center more often (38 percent of his minutes came at the 5 as a rookie, against just 18 percent as a sophomore), Collins will be a star.
If defense continues to be an issue, or if Collins' impressive statistical production doesn't translate to wins, the Hawks will have a tricky decision when he becomes eligible for an extension on July 6, 2020.
Just about everyone who matters in Atlanta is on a rookie deal. Though it seems like the rebuild just started, Collins' extension—and with it, the Hawks' first chance to commit to their core—is just around the corner.
Boston Celtics: Make a Decision on Jaylen Brown
Jaylen Brown is a spring-loaded athlete who can wreak havoc in transition and shot 39.5 percent from deep as recently as 2017-18. He also has more career turnovers than assists and a negative box plus/minus in each of his three seasons to date.
And if you think it's tough to determine the worth of that profile now, just try to imagine how much harder it could be in the summer of 2020 when an underwhelming free-agent class could result in several restricted free agents (like Brown) fielding inflated offers from teams that don't know what else to do with their cap space.
Brown could simplify all this by proving he's a top-end three-and-D wing this season. He's flashed both components at points during his career but hasn't put everything together for a sustained period. Maybe the absence of Kyrie Irving's faux-woke philosophizing will unlock Brown's potential; the Cal product was reportedly among the players most annoyed by Irving's approach.
With Kemba Walker's new deal on the books, Jayson Tatum eligible for an extension next July and Gordon Hayward seeming like a lock to pick up his $34.2 million player option for 2020-21, the Celtics will have to think carefully about matching a major offer for Brown.
Brooklyn Nets: Staying Practical
Caris LeVert is one of the best free agents in the 2020 class, but the Brooklyn Nets can't afford to pay him what he's worth.
Brooklyn committed vast sums to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant this summer, and it's also got Spencer Dinwiddie inked to a team-friendly deal that runs through 2021-22. The Nets are largely set in the ball-dominant-scorer department, and they won't have cap space to add star-level talent from the outside anytime soon.
LeVert, a rangy wing with point guard instincts and a slithery in-between game, is best with the rock in his hands. He's good enough to run an offense on his own as a primary playmaker, but his skills are duplicative on this Nets roster, and he hasn't shown enough as an off-ball threat (career 32.9 percent from deep) to be valuable as a stand-around spacer. That'd be a waste anyway; he's too dynamic for that.
Roster-building, especially when superstars are involved, requires a focus on fit. The guys surrounding Durant and Irving need scaleable skills and must be able to contribute in ways that don't overlap with or detract from the big guns. LeVert is a good offensive engine, and there's something to be said for putting as many smart passers on the floor as possible, but the Nets have to allocate resources intelligently.
Strange as it sounds, shooting specialist Joe Harris, who'll be unrestricted, might be the better investment—especially considering the contract LeVert will deserve.
A max offer isn't out of the question if he takes a step forward this season. The Nets might even want to think about dealing him during the year (which would hurt, as he's set to play huge minutes with Durant out), rather than risk losing him for nothing next summer.
Charlotte Hornets: Do the Opposite
Quick: What's the last good major decision the Charlotte Hornets made?
It wasn't low-balling Kemba Walker and losing him to the Boston Celtics, and it definitely wasn't failing to proactively trade him at some point over the last two years, which would have averted that disaster.
It wasn't egregiously overspending in 2016, and it wasn't paying more than market rate to retain low-ceiling rotation players in the foolish pursuit of a low-rung playoff spot.
The Hornets have perfected the art of the shortsighted screwup, to the point that somehow, despite being too cheap to pay the tax, they continually put themselves in financial pain. It's kind of impressive in a macabre way. It'd be hard to replicate this level of mismanagement if you tried.
So, when the Hornets hit free agency in 2020, they need to invert their approach by asking themselves a simple question before every decision: Is this something we'd normally do?
If the answer is yes, do not do that thing. Easy!
Chicago Bulls: Make Anthony Davis Consider It
- The Chicago Bulls play basketball in Chicago.
- Anthony Davis is from Chicago.
- Anthony Davis did not run away screaming when presented with the possibility of playing basketball for the Chicago Bulls.
"If the opportunity ever presents itself and when that time comes, I'd definitely consider it," he recently said, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.
That's as diplomatic and noncommittal as comments about one's hometown get, and Davis was probably just trying to avoid making the nation's third-most-populous city mad at him. But the Bulls should still do everything in their power to make a run at AD.
There's a semi-realistic scenario in which things with the Los Angeles Lakers don't work. Maybe LeBron James' decline accelerates rapidly, the front office continues operating dysfunctionally and head coach Frank Vogel isn't up to the task of coaching while also fending off Jason Kidd's clandestine angling for his job.
Even if none of that happens, the Bulls must move heaven and earth (and Otto Porter Jr. and Cristiano Felicio and whatever else has to go) in order to present Davis with a full max offer when 2020 free agency opens.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Become a Pick Repository
Any time a team has cap space, spending it on new free agents seems like the logical first choice.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, who currently project to have about $67.5 million committed to 2020-21 salaries, should think differently. By all means, throw the full boat at Anthony Davis or Pascal Siakam. There's no harm in that.
But when those guys giggle and politely decline such entreaties, the Cavs should consider holding that room open and waiting for some team to unburden itself of its bad money. It happens every year, and it's a patient opportunist's dream.
Atlanta struck early in 2019, taking on Allen Crabbe from the space-clearing Brooklyn Nets with a pair of first-rounders in tow. The Memphis Grizzlies grabbed their own first-rounder when they took Andre Iguodala off the Golden State Warriors' hands. If the New York Knicks hadn't signed every middling power forward in the league to two-year deals, they could have been the ones to absorb Iguodala and that pick.
Cleveland is eons away from relevance. Adding two or three rotation pieces on the market might even be counterproductive if it produces a handful of extra wins and diminishes lottery odds. Better to leave that cap space clear and wait for desperate teams to come calling with bad money and first-rounders.
Dallas Mavericks: Facilitate Luka Doncic's Growth
Even if Tim Hardaway Jr. declines his $19 million player option for 2020-21, the Dallas Mavericks won't have max cap space to pursue (and probably miss out on) another star-level free agent next summer.
That's fine. The market will be more robust in 2021, by which point Dallas should have an even better idea about the player type that makes the most sense as a third option alongside Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
The summer of 2020, then, should be about addressing a broader concern: turning Doncic into an MVP-level talent. To that end, Dallas should sign Doncic's Slovenian countryman, Goran Dragic.
Dragic will be unrestricted in 2020 and shouldn't cost anywhere near the $19.2 million he'll make in the last year of his current deal. A veteran of the Miami Heat's legendary conditioning program, he could impart some critical wisdom to Doncic, whose vault to superstardom may depend on getting into top-flight shape for the first time in his professional career.
The Mavs should think of Dragic, in whom they had interest this summer, as an investment in Doncic's potential.
Denver Nuggets: Keep the Gang Together
In Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and, to a less certain extent, Michael Porter Jr., the Denver Nuggets have a collection of young talent locked into contracts that extend at least through the 2021-22 season.
Their big move in 2019 free agency was extending Murray, and next summer should continue that focus on retention. Jerami Grant has a player option for 2020-21 at $9.3 million, and if he fits as well as it seems like he should in his first year with the team, he'll likely opt out and seek a larger deal. Denver should be the team to give him one.
Malik Beasley will hit restricted free agency, and though it may seem like he's more of a luxury than a necessity for a team that already has Harris, Porter and Will Barton on the wing, Denver will see Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee come off the books in 2020. That's about $44 million in salary gone, which is more than enough to offset Murray's raise and a new deal for Grant without ruling out Beasley's return.
Beasley will only be 23 next July, and he's coming off a 2019-20 season in which he shot 40.2 percent from deep and outplayed both Murray and Harris at times. The guy is a keeper.
Denver is the most serious title contender nobody is talking about right now, and it should remain among the league's top teams as long as it keeps its key players. That includes Grant and Beasley.
Detroit Pistons: Find a Point Guard
Blake Griffin is locked down through 2020-21 and has a $39 million player option for 2021-22 that may preclude the Detroit Pistons from starting fresh for the foreseeable future—even if Andre Drummond opts out next July.
That makes them a sensible landing spot for veteran free agents who want to keep playing competitive games as they hit the twilight portions of their careers.
With Reggie Jackson coming off the books after this season, Detroit should focus on adding an experienced point guard who can threaten defenses whenever Griffin is running the offense and, more importantly, take over playmaking duties so Griffin can get a breather. Injury-prone throughout his career, Griffin can't sustain the do-it-all duties he shouldered last season. He may break down either way, but a few more possessions off the ball can't hurt.
In a thin class, Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic fit those criteria best. Jeff Teague will be available, but he feels like a lateral move from Jackson.
If Detroit wants to add present help with an eye toward the post-Griffin era, Fred VanVleet would make a lot of sense.
However they do it, the Pistons have to find help at the point.
Golden State Warriors: Make the Call on Draymond Green
There's no questioning Draymond Green's importance to the Warriors' dynastic past. The Dubs will have to decide in 2020 if he matters as much to their future.
Green will be 30 when he hits unrestricted free agency (assuming he doesn't sign an extension this offseason), and his play tailed off badly last year. Though he got into shape and looked more like his familiar defensive superstar self late in 2019, his three-point shot remained absent. Even with a late surge, he still finished with his lowest scoring average since becoming a full-time starter and posted the worst turnover rate of his career.
Undersized and never a top-end conventional athlete, Green profiles as the type of player who can't afford to lose a step. Of course, considering he's a legitimate basketball genius with unsurpassed timing and instincts, don't rule out the chance he'll still be materializing in proper defensive help position when he's in a walker.
Sentiment dictates keeping Green, but logic suggests he can't be an integral piece on the next great Warriors team—if there's going to be another one during his playing career.
Golden State has been in a privileged position for a long time. Nobody should envy the tough decision it'll have to make on one of the most meaningful players in franchise history.
Houston Rockets: Crush the Minimum Market
That rules them out as free-agency players next summer, not to mention 2021 and 2022.
In theory, the Rockets' mid-level exception and minimum salary slots should go a little further than they do for most teams. If the Westbrook-Harden pairing works, free agents in search of a ring might prefer Houston to other destinations. If that duo flames out, though, Houston could find itself in a rough spot—even rougher if owner Tilman Fertitta gets antsy about paying the tax for a non-contender.
In any case, the way forward is simple.
Hamstrung by a pair of huge salaries, the Rockets must find free-agent shooting and defense on the cheap. They've generally been pretty good at that (see Austin Rivers at the minimum this offseason), but the constraints have never been tighter.
Indiana Pacers: Keep Domantas Sabonis, Unless...
It's a good thing the Indiana Pacers have a full season to see if Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner can thrive while sharing the floor for significant minutes. If they had to decide right now, rather than next July when Sabonis becomes a restricted free agent, they'd make the call with incomplete information.
Last year, the center duo averaged just under seven minutes per game together, posting a respectable plus-2.8 net rating but struggling mightily to generate efficient offense—what you'd expect from a tandem that still only dabbles in the deep ball.
Sabonis is a potential star who's improved in each of his three NBA seasons. Tough, skilled around the basket and dominant on the glass, the 23-year-old is a first-unit player. It's just that Indy already committed $72 million to Turner last October, which makes allocating at least that much for a new Sabonis deal questionable. Small-market teams have to be extra careful with resource allocation.
If Turner or Sabonis add volume to their three-point shooting, or if either proves effective guarding more mobile power forwards, the Pacers could justify paying (or matching) market value for Sabonis. If the fit doesn't improve, and if the offense with both on the floor is as clunky in 2019-20 as it was last year, maybe Indiana could still keep Sabonis with the intention of trading him for value later on.
Or—and this would be a tough look—the Pacers could let the talented center walk.
Los Angeles Clippers: Whatever Kawhi Leonard and Paul George Want
If the last few months of superstar relocation taught us anything, it's that an organization's primary job is keeping its best players happy. Slip up and your All-Star cornerstone will start eying other teams—regardless of his contract status.
To that end, the Los Angeles Clippers' primary objective in the summer of 2020 will be the sustained contentment of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, both of whom have player options for the 2021-22 season.
If those two decide they want Pascal Siakam to be their third star, the Clips had better bend over backward to clear space and make that happen next summer. With player empowerment rising (a good thing, by the way), no request is too outlandish.
If they'd prefer to practice under a circus tent in the Staples Center parking lot, maybe with some sword-swallowers and acrobats around for ambiance, get on it, Lawrence Frank.
The Clips profile as a true contender, but that status is fragile. Leonard and George can hit free agency in two years, but Los Angeles should proceed as though their contracts are day-to-day deals.
Los Angeles Lakers: Keep Anthony Davis
Sometimes, these are easy.
The Los Angeles Lakers have a lot invested in Anthony Davis. And though it's hard to imagine he'd leave so soon after the prolonged fiasco that got him to L.A., you just can't ever be sure. Obviously, a successful 2019-20 season—one in which LeBron James proves he's still the best player in the game—would go a long way toward increasing AD's confidence that he's in the right place.
A max offer on the eve of 2020 free agency is an obvious must, and it'd help if the Lakers could position themselves to somehow add a third star between now and then.
And yes, we're all aware Davis will only hit free agency next summer if he opts out of the final year of his deal. If you think there's any chance the Lakers are banking on AD opting in, please do the reading next time.
Memphis Grizzlies: Think Hard About Spending on Talent
The Memphis Grizzlies could approach the summer of 2020 with the same mindset we've suggested for the Cleveland Cavaliers: Use that copious cap space to onboard bad money with draft assets attached. We know the Grizz appreciate that strategy because they used it during 2019 free agency.
Then again, Memphis might be better served to approach the market more conventionally. Assuming the Grizz are bad enough this season to keep the top-six-protected pick they owe the Boston Celtics, they'll head into the 2020-21 season owing Boston an unprotected first in the 2021 draft. Though avoiding the bad optics of conveying a high pick should never influence a team's long-term decision-making, it might still make sense for Memphis to shift into another developmental gear by then.
In other words, it might be time to spend on talent.
Buddy Hield will be a restricted free agent in 2020, and the Sacramento Kings may not want to tie up big money in him with hefty extensions looming for De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III. Hield would fit brilliantly in Memphis as a spacer, and his relative defensive weaknesses wouldn't matter as much with human erasers Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr. behind him.
Teams in the Grizzlies' position shouldn't rush things. But in this hypothetical, they don't have their 2021 first-rounder. That disincentivizes continuing the slow build around drafted talent. By 2020, it might be time to pivot toward outside acquisitions.
Miami Heat: Pursue Whichever Late-Prime Star Is Available
Telling the Miami Heat to go after stars is like telling Netflix to keep cranking out C-minus original series. They couldn't stop if they wanted to.
It may take a while for Chris Paul to get to Miami, as ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports talks between the Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder have cooled, but it still feels like CP3 will end up there eventually. With him and Jimmy Butler, the Heat will have a pair of over-30 stars dictating a win-now timeline.
It's difficult to know what the salary ramifications of a Paul addition would look like, and it's possible the Heat get into a position from which they can't pay market value for an aging star like Draymond Green, Marc Gasol, Paul Millsap or Serge Ibaka. But a weak class of free agents could prompt Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson to opt out of their contracts ahead of the 2020-21 season (better to hit a thin market in 2020 than a loaded one in 2021), which would create some flexibility.
At the very least, the Heat are going to be connected by rumor and report to loads of older free agents. Call it a gut feeling, but it just seems like they're going to get one.
Milwaukee Bucks: Extend Giannis
Giannis Antetokounmpo, reigning MVP and possible intergalactic traveler from a dimension populated by giants made entirely of fast-twitch muscle fiber, becomes eligible for a supermax extension on July 6, 2020.
At the risk of sparking controversy, I think it would be a good idea for the Milwaukee Bucks to offer him one of those.
I know, I know. What if he's called back to fend off a warmongering species of space pirates intent on stealing the natural resources of his home world? What if he has to beam back up to do some maintenance on the mothership for the entire 2020-21 season?
These are risks the Bucks have no choice but to accept.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Move Andrew Wiggins
In July 2020, Andrew Wiggins will only have three years and $94.7 million left on his contract, which...yeah, that's still bad.
But with every passing season, it gets theoretically easier to move Wiggins. And by next summer, maybe a team with cap space and no aspirations of signing a major free agent will only require a pair of first-rounders to take on Wiggins' onerous deal.
Karl-Anthony Towns is professing satisfaction so far, but there's no realistic scenario in which the Minnesota Timberwolves build a supporting cast of the quality KAT deserves with Wiggins occupying so much of their cap space. Subtract Wiggins, splitting his salary into three or four new players, and the Wolves might have a good enough team to render those hypothetically surrendered first-rounders less valuable.
This is technically a trade suggestion, but it will probably have to happen during free agency when teams have the flexibility to take on bad contracts. And there should be no question that Minnesota's top priority—now, next summer and in perpetuity until Wiggins is gone—must be ridding itself of that crippling deal.
New Orleans Pelicans: Go Get Some Shooters
It's interesting that two of the best marksmen on the market, Eric Gordon and Buddy Hield, are both former New Orleans Pelicans.
This is a very different Pels team than the ones that employed Gordon and Hield, so past experiences shouldn't necessarily preclude a future reunion. Either way, any team prominently featuring Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball should seek out shooting. The Pelicans added JJ Redick this summer, but he's 35 and nearing the end of the line. By 2020, it may not be realistic to expect him to terrify defenses in quite the same way.
Joe Harris and Malik Beasley belong in New Orleans' free-agent sights, as well. Wayne Ellington would be a fine low-cost fallback if he ditches the New York Knicks after this season.
The Pelicans have their nucleus of ball-dominant talent. They need shooters orbiting around it.
New York Knicks: Keep an Eye on 2021
The Knicks preserved flexibility by including team options and partial guarantees in virtually every deal they struck this summer, but they shouldn't be so quick to cut ties with their new additions when the opportunity arises in 2020.
As we've said several times, that year's free-agent class is weak. The worst thing the Knicks could do is sacrifice their flexibility a year from now, especially with the 2021 crop looking so much more intriguing. That's not to say New York should just run back a second wasted season (assuming 2019-20 will be the first) and pin all its hopes on finally (finally!) landing a marquee free agent in 2021.
The best course would be using 2019-20 as an evaluative tool. Whichever of the young players and short-time vets look like the types of role players a star would want can stay. Whichever don't can go. All the while, the Knicks should hunt for future draft picks and keep their eyes on opportunities to take on someone else's problem contract—as long as it doesn't severely compromise spending potential in 2021.
The mantra for 2020: No long deals, no panic signings and, most important of all, no telegraphing to the league you think you've got a star free agent in the bag.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Play the Restricted Market
If the Oklahoma City Thunder can't find a way to move Chris Paul without taking on a bunch of salary that extends through next summer, their free-agency priorities constrict. For a rebuilding team, they could have an alarming amount of money on the books in 2020-21.
But if OKC can unburden itself of Paul's deal in such a way that next summer's cap sheet looks cleaner, the only logical acquisition-minded move is to focus on restricted free agents such as Pascal Siakam, Caris LeVert, Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram and Buddy Hield.
Players from that class will be young enough (except for Hield) to make sense as part of Oklahoma City's next era—much of which will spring from its bevy of incoming first-round picks.
Siakam is probably the only player on the list who'd warrant a max offer sheet under normal circumstances, but the unusually thin 2020 landscape could result in LeVert, Brown and Ingram commanding contracts that large, as well.
If the Thunder don't land a big restricted fish, no biggie. They could proceed with their longer-term plans. At the very least, they could make some other teams agonize over the possibility of losing young building blocks.
Orlando Magic: Bolster the Backcourt
If Markelle Fultz makes progress this year and Evan Fournier opts in for 2020-21, the Orlando Magic's guard rotation might be in decent shape. But no one is giving Fultz the benefit of the doubt at this point, and Fournier, 27 next summer, should try to secure one more long-term deal before he exits his prime years.
The Magic have plenty of intriguing frontcourt youth—Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba and Aaron Gordon—but better guard play will be important to help those guys reach their ceilings.
Fred VanVleet should be Orlando's primary target. He's been best as an off-ball threat to this point in his career (39.4 percent from deep through three seasons), but the Toronto Raptors backup averaged 6.3 assists per 36 minutes this past season. He can run an offense, too.
Plus, FVV's tenacious on-ball defense would mesh well with the Magic's rangy stoppers up front, led by Isaac.
Philadelphia 76ers: Spacing and Playmaking
The Philadelphia 76ers' strengths are obvious. They're exceptionally large and long, and they profile as a punishing defense. The 2019-20 season will ultimately reveal whether their weaknesses are similarly predictable.
At the moment, it appears they'll struggle to find enough shooting, spacing and off-the-dribble playmaking.
If those shortcomings manifest this year, the Sixers' goals during the 2020 free-agent period will be clear: Find guards who can shoot and run a pick-and-roll, and find them cheap. Philly has a monumental $140.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books for 2020-21.
If Isaiah Thomas shows signs of life with the Washington Wizards this year, he might make sense as a second-unit leader. Bogdan Bogdanovic could also fill a need, but he's going to want more than the taxpayer's MLE, which is all the Sixers figure to have available.
Of course, if the 76ers win the 2020 title, their options could expand as veteran guards in search of a ring may consider playing at a discount.
Phoenix Suns: Backup Big
The Phoenix Suns' core feels pretty well settled through the 2020-21 season. Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Deandre Ayton are all under team control for the next two years, and Dario Saric will be a restricted free agent in 2020.
If Phoenix runs up another win total in the low 20s or high teens, nobody should be safe. But from here, it seems like reserve spots will be the main concern, particularly up front.
Aron Baynes will relieve Ayton this season, but he'll be unrestricted next summer. If he doesn't perform well enough to warrant retaining (or if he decides he'd rather go play for a winner), the Suns should consider Mason Plumlee.
The veteran backup is one of the top passing centers in the league, and though he's a rotten finisher when he has to do anything but dunk, he's still athletic enough to be a solid lob threat. Plumlee has no stretch in his game, so playing him with Rubio would pose problems. But if Booker is the primary ball-handler surrounded by shooters, Plumlee's roll gravity would be helpful.
Portland Trail Blazers: Re-Evaluate the Wing Spots
Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu manned the Portland Trail Blazers' starting forward spots for the better part of the last four years, providing advantages on defense and on the glass at the expense of reliable shooting.
The Blazers will pivot in 2019-20. Harkless and Aminu are both gone, effectively replaced by Kent Bazemore and Rodney Hood. Zach Collins and Anthony Tolliver will probably play at least as much at the 4 as Hood or Bazemore, but the ideological shift is clear: Portland is looking for something different.
By 2020 free agency, the Blazers will know if the change was a lateral move or a real improvement. At that point, with some handy year-over-year comparison data, they'll be able to consider what type of wing/forward works best in support of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Bazemore will be unrestricted, and Hood should opt out of the $6 million he's owed for 2020-21 if he plays reasonably well.
This season's new-look experiment, hopefully, will tell the Blazers what they need to know.
Sacramento Kings: Leave No Doubt on De'Aaron Fox
De'Aaron Fox is a no-questions-asked cornerstone. Last year, his age-21 season, he was one of just five players to average at least 17 points and seven assists with a true shooting percentage above 54 percent. The other four were James Harden, Nikola Jokic, LeBron James and Jrue Holiday.
When he's first eligible for a max rookie extension on July 6, 2020, the Sacramento Kings should already be sliding that contract across the table and handing Fox a pen.
The Kings will have other issues to consider next summer, not the least of which will be Buddy Hield's restricted free agency. Do they match his market rate or chase a cheaper replacement like Joe Harris? Is Bogdan Bogdanovic going to be too expensive to keep with Marvin Bagley III's own extension possibly coming as soon as July 2021?
None of those concerns are as important as locking down Fox.
San Antonio Spurs: Commence Youth Movement
If DeMar DeRozan opts out of the final year and $27.7 million of his deal, the San Antonio Spurs would have considerable flexibility in 2020 free agency. If they cut LaMarcus Aldridge loose before his contract guarantees for the full $24 million on June 29, 2020 (they'd still owe him $7 million), they'd have even more room to maneuver.
(If the Spurs move on from Aldridge, the more likely scenario would involve a trade sometime this year. He'd have value to a contender.)
Either way, next summer feels like the right time to skew younger. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV will get chances to prove they're a high-end backcourt trio in 2019-20, and the Spurs should be optimistic they're ready to do damage. With Tim Duncan signing on as an assistant, too, it seems like San Antonio is readying itself for a more developmental phase.
The Spurs will still have Rudy Gay, Patty Mills and DeMarre Carroll under contract for 2020-21, so it's not like there'll be a lack of experience on the roster. But next offseason may be when San Antonio stops relying on vets as its key players.
Don't rule out a run at Pascal Siakam, Caris LeVert or Brandon Ingram. Those three would all make more sense with San Antonio's new, younger timeline.
Toronto Raptors: Keep the Young Core and Add to It
The Toronto Raptors currently have just $16.5 million in guaranteed salary for the 2020-21 season, which means there's little question about when their post-title rebuild will begin in earnest.
Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet should be the top two retention priorities in that order, and next summer might also be a good time to lock up OG Anunoby on an extension if he does enough in 2019-20 to earn that early investment.
If those three progress as expected, the Raps will have themselves a quality core around which to build through free agency, though we certainly shouldn't rule out roster construction via trade as long as Masai Ujiri calls the shots.
We've hit just about every young free agent of consequence at this point, and the Raptors should pursue the best of the best. That includes Caris LeVert, Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram and Dejounte Murray.
Utah Jazz: Secure the Spida
Donovan Mitchell isn't the first rookie extension candidate we've listed as a team's top priority, but it's more important for the Utah Jazz to lock up their young star than it'll be for any other team with that option.
Utah has long struggled to build via free agency. What's worse, there's a recent history of its own drafted talent leaving. Gordon Hayward's departure should still influence Utah's thinking, especially because its failure to commit early led to him securing an offer sheet that contained a player option from the Charlotte Hornets in 2014.
Hayward opted out and left in 2017, which wouldn't have happened if the Jazz had committed more strongly before restricted free agency.
Mitchell is better now than Hayward was in 2014, and he's a key piece of a team that profiles as a contender—something that wasn't true of the squad Hayward ultimately left.
The Jazz can head off Mitchell's restricted free agency by offering a max rookie-scale extension next July.
In an ideal world, the Washington Wizards will have found a way out of John Wall's contract by the start of 2020 free agency without also having to surrender Bradley Beal. Of course, moving Wall seems impossible, and the more likely scenario a year from now involves Beal playing for another team after a trade at some point this season.
Let's be optimistic, though, and assume Wall is gone but Beal is still around. In that setup, Dejounte Murray becomes an obvious 2020 target.
Murray is an ace defender with length who showed a dramatically improved in-between scoring game before a knee injury knocked him out during the 2018-19 preseason. He'd feature nicely with Beal, an excellent first option who also proved he could function as a playmaker when called upon.
Murray would provide much of what made a younger Wall so electrifying: fearlessness, raw athleticism, defensive tenacity and terrifying disruption of passing lanes. Maybe the Wizards would want another bona fide shooter alongside Beal, but there's something to be said for emulating a backcourt that was the only good thing about Washington for several seasons.