Ranking Every Top NBA Free Agent's 3 Best Landing Spots

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 19, 2020

Ranking Every Top NBA Free Agent's 3 Best Landing Spots

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The 2020 NBA free-agency player pool lacks star power and depth, especially if you subscribe to the popular notion that Anthony Davis is a free agent by title only. He wouldn't force his way to the Los Angeles Lakers only to abandon his new digs after a single, wildly successful season, would he?

    Probably not. But he'll have options should he choose to entertain them. All of the top hoopers-for-hire will.

    Even with a shortage of cap space, there are a select number of landing spots that could theoretically interest a superstar like Davis or some of the lesser heralded members of this crop.

    That's what we're here to examine as we map out and rank the top three landing spots for the subjectively ranked best six players in this class.

6. Fred VanVleet (Unrestricted)

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Plan A: Toronto Raptors

    If you expected a different destination at the top, then you haven't paid attention to VanVleet's own words.

    "I've been on record about how I feel about this place," VanVleet said on Sportsnet's Tim & Sid back in October. "This organization knows how I feel about this place. So in a perfect world, we know what would happen."

    Free agency, of course, doesn't always take place in a perfect world, so VanVleet was smart to keep his options open. The Raptors have enormous, Giannis Antetokounmpo-sized dreams for the 2021 offseason, and since they already maxed out Pascal Siakam, they might be hesitant to hand VanVleet a blank check.

    But from a basketball standpoint, the fit is perfect. The Raptors don't ask VanVleet to carry the offensive load—he had the second-lowest usage rate among the league's 66 players averaging 17-plus points—but there are enough touches to keep him satisfied and productive.

    Toronto, still the defending champs until proved otherwise, should offer VanVleet a shot at title contention. In this market, he'll have a hard time sniffing that out elsewhere.


    Plan B: New York Knicks

    The 'Bockers have a boatload of cap space and a vacancy at point guard. If VanVleet can envision the picture the front office is painting—RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson and Julius Randle isn't the worst nucleus—he could find a featured role in the Association's marquee market. If the on-court product never comes around, at least VanVleet could always fall back on his mountain of cash.

    VanVleet is a sharp enough shooter (career 39.2 percent from distance) that he can operate off the ball when Barrett or Randle want to initiate. But given the state of this offense (29th in scoring, 27th in efficiency), VanVleet would presumably be afforded all the opportunities he cares to handle.


    Plan C: Detroit Pistons

    The Pistons reportedly plan to prioritize VanVleet, per The Athletic's James L. Edwards III, so their offer could be astronomic (or at least in that vicinity).

    Detroit can't offer much in terms of near-future competitiveness as long as Blake Griffin's knee problems persist, but there are a few pieces in place—namely Luke Kennard, Svi Mykhailiuk, Sekou Doumbouya and, if he's re-signed, Christian Wood—to perhaps interest VanVleet.

5. Danilo Gallinari (Unrestricted)

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Plan A: Miami Heat

    The Heat were hot on Gallo's trail at the trade deadline, but the sides couldn't come together on contract extension talks. Miami, like seemingly every other team, wants to keep the books as clean as possible for 2021, known heretofore as the Summer of Giannis.

    But perhaps Gallinari and the Heat could find common ground on a frontloaded, short-term arrangement. They've yet to scratch their itch for a stretch 4, and they have enough versatile defenders to hide any of his shortcomings at that end.

    Miami could use more shot-creation, and while Gallinari isn't elite in that department, he can wreck matchups with smaller wings or slower bigs. His sizzling three-point stroke (42.1 percent since the start of last season) would offer yet another outlet for co-quarterbacks Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Any spacing issues those two present could be more than compensated for by Gallinari, Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro.

    Contract length could be the sticking point, as Gallinari could have trouble getting more than a one-year deal (or a two-year pact with a team option for the second). But collecting a bloated salary and chasing a ring in South Beach sounds like a fine way to spend his age-32 season.


    Plan B: Oklahoma City Thunder

    As close as Gallinari seemed to the exits at the trade deadline, maybe he stuck around for a reason.

    "I wanted to stay," he told Rachael Jamison of The Daily Thunder Podcast. "[It would be] tough to leave such a great atmosphere, great teammates, a group that is winning."

    Granted, that's an easier statement to make after the fact, but maybe Gallinari has found a home in the Sooner State (at least in the short term). Playing off three different point guards and knowing Steven Adams has your back certainly has its appeal. If he thinks Chris Paul is staying put through the end of his contract ($44.2 million player option for 2021-22), Gallinari might need to consider doing the same.


    Plan C: Phoenix Suns

    The Suns still need a spacer to free up Deandre Ayton to feast on the interior, and they could use another scoring threat to ease the burden on Devin Booker. Gallinari, who landed on Phoenix's radar ahead of the deadline, could check both boxes.

4. DeMar DeRozan (Player Option)

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Plan A: San Antonio Spurs

    If DeRozan needs a reason to run it back in the Alamo City, we can think of 27.7 million of them. That's the size of his player option, and the only way he's finding that kind of coin in free agency is by inventing a time machine that takes him back to when mid-range jumpers were all the rage.

    Speaking of which, San Antonio has already proved willing to craft its attack around his inside-the-arc game. The Spurs attempt 22.2 mid-range shots per game; no one else takes more than 17.6. While LaMarcus Aldridge leads the way with 6.6 of those, DeRozan ranks third league-wide with 5.4.

    San Antonio, once a bastion of brilliant ball movement, even allows DeRozan to isolate on 13.3 percent of his offensive plays (tied for 21st). Considering he's a 90th percentile finisher on them, there's no reason to alter the approach.

    If he's seeking a long-term pact, this probably isn't the place to find it, though. Father Time is finally getting around to flexing his undefeated record over the Silver and Black, who need to rebuild sooner than later.


    Plan B: Orlando Magic

    While the league has largely soured on DeRozan's scoring style, the Magic are desperate enough for points that they gave him a look in November, per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor. Orlando, unfortunately, has limited funds available, although its flexibility would increase if Evan Fournier declines his $17.2 million player option.

    This would effectively torpedo any hopes DeRozan might have of contending, but it's not like he's getting that in San Antonio. At least the Magic can offer a stingier defense (10th in efficiency) and a stretchier center in Nikola Vucevic (166 triples since the start of last season).


    Plan C: Dallas Mavericks

    The Mavs could scrounge up some cap space if Tim Hardaway Jr. declines his $19 million player option. DeRozan's ball dominance and lack of spacing make him an imperfect fit with Luka Doncic, but maybe Rick Carlisle could tactically work his way to an explosive offense built around two perimeter shot-creators and the team's resident 7'3" sniper, Kristaps Porzingis.

3. Gordon Hayward (Player Option)

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Plan A: Boston Celtics

    After one year wiped out by injury and another largely spent finding his footing, Hayward has finally settled in with the Celtics and made them one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Why would he have wandering eyes now? If he simply exercises his player option, he'll spend another season contending for the crown and collecting an enormous $34.2 million salary to do so.

    "It's too much money to pass up," one general manager told Heavy.com's Sean Deveney. "... He can opt in this year and then take a big contract next year. When you look at what he has done since his injury, he has only gotten better. He could get better next year and be ready for the summer of 2021."

    Hayward's fit with the Shamrocks is almost perfect. He, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown function as interchangeable wings, and when they're joined by scoring guard Kemba Walker and versatile center Daniel Theis, they steamroll opponents by 12.5 points per 100 possessions. Swap out Brown for five-tool stopper Marcus Smart, and that number climbs to 13.1.

    Hayward, who plays for his college coach Brad Stevens, can pick and choose his spots to maximize efficiency. Hayward's 50.2 field-goal percentage is a career high, and his 39.2 three-point percentage soars over his career connection rate of 36.6. This is only the second season in which he has doubled up his turnovers (1.8) with assists (4.1).


    Plan B: Dallas Mavericks

    Hayward played five minutes of the 2017-18 season, had his minutes restricted last year and had already missed 19 games before this campaign was suspended. Considering his 30th birthday is already behind him, he could opt for long-term security over a heightened one-year salary.

    If the Celtics don't want that kind of commitment, the Mavericks might. They could use a secondary table-setter—Tim Hardaway Jr. ranks second among their starters with 2.0 assists per night—and their historically efficient attack would only get harder to handle with Hayward.


    Plan C: Miami Heat

    Every win-now contributor open to a short-term, big-money arrangement should have an eye on the Heat. Hayward would increase Miami's versatility at both ends and lift its ceiling. But it's hard to see even Pat Riley crafting a more attractive one-year plan than Hayward's player option.

2. Brandon Ingram (Restricted)

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Plan A: New Orleans Pelicans

    Ingram and the Pelicans are ascending together. He's a 22-year-old who made his All-Star debut and was one of only six players to average 24 points, six rebounds, four assists and two triples. They're a rapid rebuilder who has already assembled perhaps the NBA's best young nucleus, and they posted the Association's seventh-best net rating once electric rookie Zion Williamson debuted.

    Why would either party want to split? Simple answer: they won't.

    Back in November, Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin told The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears the team had "every intention of keeping [Ingram] long term." Since Ingram is a restricted free agent, New Orleans can turn that intention into a lengthy contract—probably a max, either with the Pels offering it themselves or matching one that Ingram receives.

    If Ingram's shooting holds up (his 46.6/38.7/85.8 slash line says it will), he could be the ideal partner for Williamson. They can work pick-and-roll magic together, and they're operating on the same timeline, which for now feels infinite.

    There isn't a better situation for Ingram than his current one.


    Plan B: Atlanta Hawks

    The Hawks have money to spend, plus their own transcendent star in Trae Young, the 21-year-old phenom set to become just the fifth player ever to average 29 points and nine assists. They also have an opening for a difference-making wing, and their deadline deal for Clint Capela indicates a desire to compete sooner than later.

    Atlanta has little to lose by throwing a max offer in front of Ingram and seeing whether New Orleans will match. If (when?) the Pels do, the Hawks can just move on to their next-best target.


    Plan C: Charlotte Hornets

    Ingram is a North Carolina native who spent his one-and-done collegiate season at Duke. The Kemba Walker-less Hornets need an elite wing, a go-to option on offense and someone to get Buzz City buzzing again. Ingram makes all the sense in the world for the Hornets, but they probably don't make a ton of sense for him beyond offering a starring role in his home state.

1. Anthony Davis (Player Option)

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Plan A: Los Angeles Lakers

    How can it get any better for Anthony Davis?

    His hoops home is now Hollywood. His running mate, LeBron James, is in the GOAT discussion (and arguably leading it). His Lakers have already won more games than any of his New Orleans Pelicans teams ever did (49 through 63 games). They also own the NBA's second-best net rating, which stands at plus-7.1 and jumps to plus-10.3 when Davis and James share the floor.

    Why would Davis want to leave? He almost certainly won't. He did list an L.A. mansion recently, but that could be nothing more than an off-court business move. He purchased the property in 2018—then started renting a different mansion last summer.

    In January, Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported, "No one within league circles anticipates Davis leaving the Lakers after one season." Days later, NBC Sports' Kurt Helin wrote, "I know zero sources around the league who think otherwise."

    The only question here is the method Davis employs to stick around.

    He could (but won't) pick up his $28.8 million player option. He could (but probably won't) ink a five-year max. The most likely scenario is a three-year deal with an option for the third season, since that keeps pressure on the front office and allows him to re-enter the market as a 10-year vet, when he can collect the biggest paycheck possible.


    Plan D: Miami Heat

    No, the "D" isn't a typo. It's just that Plans A, B and C probably all keep Davis draped in purple and gold. But maybe there's a universe in which the Brow is less than dead-set on remaining with a team that's otherwise built around a 35-year-old—even cyborgs have to age, right?—who could get out of his own deal after next season.

    No one can match Miami's combination of cap space and proximity to contention. And as carefully as the Heat have kept the books clean for 2021, you'd have to think they'd make an exception for Davis, whose career 27.50 player efficiency rating ranks third all time.

    A defense featuring Davis, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Andre Iguodala sounds like a cheat code. Since all four can also play either side of a pick-and-roll, this offense could be a juggernaut too.

    It's not happening, but can you imagine the parties Miami would throw if it did?


    Plan E: Chicago Bulls

    The Brow hails from the Windy City, and even if we tend to overrate the appeal of a homecoming, Davis himself has addressed the possibility.

    "Honestly, it's nothing like playing at home," Davis said at a Nike-sponsored event in Chicago back in November (via ESPN's Eric Woodyard). "I don't know. ... I mean, I am a free agent next year, but we'll see. It's a possibility."

    The Bulls don't get in this discussion without sharing a home base with Davis. They can't come close to offering the basketball pitches presented by the Lakers or Heat, and even among rebuilders, they might lag behind the Atlanta Hawks, who could give Davis a full-fledged co-star in Trae Young. But as Davis' current co-pilot can attest, there's a reason hometowns tend to surface in these discussions.


    All stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.