Every NBA Team's 2020 Free-Agency Big Board

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 30, 2020

Every NBA Team's 2020 Free-Agency Big Board

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    Even amid rampant uncertainty, failing to plan is planning to fail. So you'd better believe that even as all 30 NBA teams are still trying to complete the interrupted 2019-20 season, they're also looking ahead to 2020 free agency.

    Among the major complications: Teams don't even know how much they can spend because the salary-cap and luxury-tax thresholds depend on basketball-related income, which the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically reduced.

    To even begin laying out plans of action, we have to set parameters somehow. So for this exercise, we'll operate on the assumption that the 2020-21 cap and tax lines will be the same as they were in 2019-20. Most pertinently for our purposes, that means a mid-level exception of $9.2 million and a taxpayer mid-level exception of $5.7 million.

    Because the 2020 free-agent class is much thinner than 2021's, and because so few teams had actual cap room to spend before the potential for a reduction entered the picture, talent retention will be a larger point of emphasis than you might expect. This offseason, teams will still scour the market for outside help, but for many others, the focus will be on re-signing familiar faces.

    Into the unknown we go.

Atlanta Hawks

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    • Brandon Ingram
    • Bogdan Bogdanovic
    • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

    When you're projected to have more cap space than anyone else, one good way to put it to use is to make other teams sweat a little. That's why throwing a max offer sheet (for however many years he wants) at Brandon Ingram should be the Atlanta Hawks' top priority.

    Ingram is one of the only options who's young enough to fit with the Hawks' core of relative noobs and worth the hassle of tying up spending power while the New Orleans Pelicans decide whether to match—which they almost certainly will, unless they head this whole thing off at the pass by agreeing to a contract that keeps Ingram off the restricted market.

    If the Hawks get indications that an Ingram offer sheet would be a waste of time, they should take a look at another restricted free agent, the Sacramento Kings' Bogdan Bogdanovic. The combo guard could help avoid the catastrophe that arises whenever Trae Young rests and provide off-ball scoring when paired with the star guard. Atlanta should be ready to go up to $20 million per season if it wants to make the Kings blink.

    The safest and least costly route for Atlanta involves targeting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a Georgia product who has an $8.5 million player option for 2020-21. If he opts out, the Hawks could blow away other suitors by offering him a deal worth something like $45 million over three years. His defense would fill a dire need, and his spot-up game means he wouldn't take any touches away from Young.

    These are the higher-value targets. Whether the Hawks connect on one of these swings or not, they also have to shore up the backup point guard spot.

Boston Celtics

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    • Jakob Poeltl
    • Harry Giles III
    • Aron Baynes

    The Boston Celtics could have as many as 17 players under contract for 2020-21 if Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter opt in, they pick up Semi Ojeleye's partially guaranteed deal and they retain all three of their 2020 first-rounders.

    Oh, and they're also deep into the tax. Even if they wanted to add to their already full roster, the only tools they've got are the taxpayer's mid-level exception and minimums.

    Boston should throw the full taxpayer's mid-level at Jakob Poeltl, the San Antonio Spurs' 24-year-old restricted free agent. The 7'1" center is a force on the offensive glass, defends better in space than you think and protects the rim. He's worth more than what Boston can offer, but perhaps the Spurs would balk at matching a three- or four-year agreement.

    Deep just about everywhere else, the Celtics' focus, as you'll see, will be up front.

    If the long shot of signing Poeltl doesn't work out, Boston could skew younger and aim for Harry Giles III, whose fourth-year option Sacramento declined prior to this season. That means the Kings can't offer him more than $3.9 million per season on a new deal. Giles has a long injury history and hasn't been a regular rotation piece for a mediocre team, but he's not so far removed from an elite high school pedigree and has obvious potential as a defender and frontcourt facilitator.

    Aron Baynes will play his age-34 season in 2020-21, which would make a multiyear offer risky. But he proved himself as a three-point shooter this season and might have interest in returning to Boston after a year away.

Brooklyn Nets

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    • Joe Harris
    • Justin Holiday
    • Glenn Robinson III

    The luxury tax looms for the Brooklyn Nets, which tends to happen when you blow out the previous offseason adding two max-level free agents (and their buddy, DeAndre Jordan).

    Unless the Nets shake up their roster by dealing some combination of Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, they're not going to have the money it would take to add meaningful role-playing talent around Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Theoretically a contender, their cash could go a little further than some teams', so the Nets should fire off a few taxpayer's mid-level offers and hope one of these veterans accepts a discount for a shot at a ring.

    That's after using Bird rights to go deeper into the tax to retain Joe Harris, exactly the kind of knockdown three-point threat you want around superstar shot-creators. It may take $12-15 million per season to do that, but the Nets' window is open now. They can't justify pinching pennies.

    With or without Harris back in the fold, Brooklyn should target veteran two-way wings who've shown the capacity to succeed in limited roles. Justin Holiday and Glenn Robinson III are capable defenders who can hit open threes and make positive impacts in transition, but both seem likely to command more than the minimum.

Charlotte Hornets

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    • Christian Wood
    • Montrezl Harrell
    • Hassan Whiteside

    One of the half-dozen teams with cash to spend, the Charlotte Hornets could be significant players if they choose to use approximately $21 million in space on a single signee. None of the players on the list above are worth that on an annual basis, though it might take something close to all of Charlotte's available space to secure Montrezl Harrell, an offensive floor-raiser whose shoddy defense might not matter to a team as scoring-starved as the Hornets.

    The best value would be Christian Wood, whose midseason breakout should have him atop several teams' wish lists.

    Wood offers stretch at the 5, having hit 38.6 percent of his 140 long-range attempts this season. A terrific athlete who's averaging 21.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game as a starter, the 6'10" Wood could spread the floor or wreak havoc as a roller, teaming with Terry Rozier or Devonte' Graham to key the attack.

    Hassan Whiteside would give the Hornets a shot-blocking presence in the middle and a demonstrated board-hoarder underneath. If you like the look of Whiteside alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum with the Portland Trail Blazers, it's easy to imagine him working well with Charlotte's similar set of smallish guards.

Chicago Bulls

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    • Derrick Jones Jr.
    • De'Anthony Melton
    • Michael Carter-Williams

    This isn't the offseason for the Chicago Bulls to swing big. Unless Otto Porter Jr. opts out of the $28.5 million he's owed for 2020-21, the Bulls' best means to add talent will be limited to the mid-level. That's more than several teams will have at their disposal, but in 2021, when a much deeper class hits free agency, the Bulls could be flush with spending power.

    This offseason is about marginal improvement, ideally provided by younger players.

    Chicago's new front office, led by Arturas Karnisovas, should focus on upgrading the point guard position and adding some wing defense.

    Derrick Jones Jr. would look awfully good atop a zone defense (which might also help hide Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine) in Chicago, and his athleticism would make for a strong transition tandem with speed demon Coby White running the show. Assuming Chicago also lets restricted free agent Kris Dunn walk, Jones could fill the defensive void against small forwards.

    De'Anthony Melton would also replicate much of what Dunn did for Bulls, and he'd be better than Jones against guards. Michael Carter-Williams might not be welcomed back after an uninspiring 45 games with the Bulls in 2016-17, but he'd offer the size and length to complement White while also handling the tougher backcourt defensive assignment.

    If Anthony Davis opts out of his deal with the Los Angeles Lakers and, for some reason, doesn't do so with the express intent to sign another one to stay in L.A., the Bulls should scrap everything and clear space to sign the Chicago native. That's highly unlikely, but at least we've got the plan memorialized here in case something unexpected happens.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    • Jerami Grant
    • Derrick Jones Jr.
    • Davis Bertans

    It's a shame the Cleveland Cavaliers won't have the option to capitalize on a weak class and a dearth of teams with cap space, but their own financial strictures won't even give them the chance to overpay talent to play for a rebuilding team.

    They already did that with Kevin Love anyway.

    Andre Drummond could change Cleveland's outlook by opting out of the $28.8 million he's owed in 2020-21, but he'd be lucky to get half of that figure annually on any new deal. So he'll be back.

    Armed with the full mid-level, Cleveland should take a look at Jerami Grant (if he opts out of $9.3 million for 2020-21) and Derrick Jones Jr., two players who'd boost the athleticism on a squad that could use a little bounce. Grant might look good as a switchy 5 if the Cavs want to up the tempo and stay reasonably exciting as they work toward building a competitive roster. They're likely to be bad for a while regardless of what they do, but at least they'd be entertaining.

    There's almost no scenario in which Cleveland's mid-level would be enough to get Bertans away from the Washington Wizards, but his elite long-distance shooting would give Collin Sexton and Darius Garland a terrific pick-and-pop option. When you're built around two small guards, it never hurts to clear the lane as much as possible, which would give them more room to skitter toward the bucket. Bertans would certainly accomplish that.

Dallas Mavericks

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    • Tim Hardaway Jr.
    • Avery Bradley
    • Mason Plumlee

    Courtney Lee comes off the books this offseason, but the Dallas Mavericks still won't have more than the mid-level exception to spend unless Tim Hardaway Jr. opts out of the final year of his deal. Though it once seemed impossible Hardaway would give up $19 million for 2020-21, a career-best season in 2019-20 has added a touch of uncertainty.

    The Hardaway fit has been good enough to make his retention a significant priority. If the two sides can't agree on terms to stay together in an opt-out scenario, Dallas should pivot to replacements available on the market. It's critical that it avoid committing big money for more than one year, though, as the 2021 free-agent crop will represent the Mavs' last great shot to add a third star before Luka Doncic's imminent max extension ties up their books for a half-decade.

    Avery Bradley can play on-ball defense and hit open looks, which would make him a quality support piece for a Doncic-led team. He's not the offensive force Hardaway is, but he's a superior defender and won't cost nearly as much. Dallas could blow the market away with a one-plus-one deal (team option on the second year) for upward of $15 million if Hardaway bolts.

    If it doesn't appear Dwight Powell will be able to help after a torn Achilles, the Mavs could toss a portion of their mid-level at Mason Plumlee, who'd fill Powell's roll-man spot and could juice an already excellent offense with his clever passing.

Denver Nuggets

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    • Serge Ibaka
    • Davis Bertans
    • Dario Saric

    Jerami Grant and his $9.3 million player option for 2020-21 will have serious say over the Denver Nuggets' options this offseason. If he opts in, Denver probably can't also keep all its other free agents, Paul Millsap chief among them.

    Millsap should be in demand among contenders with the means to wow him with a hefty one-year offer. His defense and leadership can still make an impact on a winner, but don't expect anyone—Denver included—to lock up a 35-year-old who may not be more than a 25-minute player for multiple seasons.

    Grant is a logical keeper for the Nuggets, as his versatile defense and athleticism offer a nice changeup off the bench. If Denver thinks he can work as Millsap's replacement in the starting lineup, it'll be operating on faith in the absence of evidence; the main units featuring Grant and Jokic have negative net ratings in 2019-20.

    Serge Ibaka could replace the production of both Millsap and Grant, though signing him would be costly—and only possible if the Nuggets decide all their frontcourt free agents are goners. Davis Bertans wouldn't do anything to address frontcourt defense, but he landed here because imagining him slinging bombs from deep alongside Jokic is a lot of fun.

    Dario Saric could offer some spacing and might be the best buy-low candidate on the power forward market, having failed to impress with the Phoenix Suns.

Detroit Pistons

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    • Fred VanVleet
    • Christian Wood
    • Derrick Jones Jr.

    A thin free-agent class means this isn't the ideal offseason to have upward of $30 million in cap space, but the Detroit Pistons are more fortunate than many of the other teams with money to spend.

    They need a starting point guard, and Fred VanVleet is right there waiting for them. Though he isn't quite the pick-and-roll maestro you'd want in a starting 1, he is striping it from deep at 38.8 percent this season, defends both backcourt spots effectively and has demonstrated his ability to show up when the pressure is on.

    It's going to take a hefty overpay to snare VanVleet, who's already won a ring with the Toronto Raptors and might not be inclined to play the latter half of his 20s with a rebuilding team. Depending on the cost of retaining Christian Wood (whose early Bird rights the Pistons possess), Detroit could push up toward $20 million per season for VanVleet. Of course, as other teams come to grips with the dearth of difference-makers available, that price could go even higher.

    Wood should be Detroit's second priority. If the Pistons can keep him around for under $10 million per season, he'd profile as a key to their future. Investing much more than that on a player who's only proved it for half a season would be risky. Just 24, the springy, floor-stretching center could become a high-end starter if his success in that role is replicable over a full season.

    Derrick Jones Jr. landed here because his age and athleticism fit the look of what Detroit might be building toward. The Pistons won't turn the page until they move on from Blake Griffin's deal, but it would be good to get someone such as Jones in the fold while the option is available.

Golden State Warriors

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    • Serge Ibaka/Marc Gasol
    • Justin Holiday
    • Kent Bazemore

    The core of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are all north of 30 and due to collect over $100 million between them in 2020-21. Toss in Andrew Wiggins' $29.5 million salary, and the Dubs are already right at the tax line.

    The taxpayer's mid-level is the only meaningful free-agent tool at their disposal (the $17.2 million trade exception from last offseason's Andre Iguodala deal is the Golden State Warriors' real weapon), and a team with such an obvious win-now window should focus on adding veteran help at a discount.

    Could $5.7 million be enough to entice Serge Ibaka to San Francisco? What about his Raptors teammate, Marc Gasol?

    It's possible the Warriors would be better off spending on the wings than up front. The free-agent bigs from Toronto would be splashy, but Golden State might get a better return on investment by bolstering its wing position. Green and Marquese Chriss can eat up most of the center minutes, and Kevon Looney could help immensely if his health cooperates.

    Kent Bazemore and Justin Holiday have history with the franchise. Either could expect major minutes as the first wing off the bench behind Thompson and Wiggins. Expect the Warriors to aim high, hoping for a steal like the one they secured by signing David West to the minimum in 2016. If they don't have quite the same allure to ring-chasers, they may have to settle for something less with that taxpayer's mid-level.

Houston Rockets

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    • Joe Harris
    • Jae Crowder
    • Tony Snell

    The Houston Rockets have gone to great pains and leveraged some extreme roster-managing creativity to avoid the luxury tax. Since they're likely to be right up against it again next season, there's no guarantee they'll even use their exceptions.

    Let's imagine they wind up below the tax line and have the full mid-level at their disposal. In that scenario, Houston should focus on catch-and-shoot threats to surround James Harden. If that plan sounds familiar, it's because it's the same one Houston has had for the past several years.

    Joe Harris is probably out of Houston's price range, but his agent should be Daryl Morey's first call. Backup options include Jae Crowder, Tony Snell and virtually every other three-point shooting wing we've listed.

    If the Rockets are stuck with only the taxpayer's mid-level (and choose to spend it, incurring further tax pain), Snell might be the best they can do.

Indiana Pacers

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    • Justin Holiday
    • Josh Jackson
    • Alec Burks

    We've listed Justin Holiday as a target for several teams, but the Indiana Pacers might have the inside track on retaining him. That's true for reasons beyond the fact that his brother, Aaron, is in line to see an uptick in playing time if Indy moves on from T.J. McConnell to clear a little extra cap space. In addition to family ties, Holiday might get Indiana's full mid-level.

    He could get an even bigger deal if the Pacers choose to go into the tax and use their exception for other purposes.

    If Indiana doesn't keep Holiday around, replacement wings should populate its wish list.

    We haven't mentioned Josh Jackson yet. He hasn't lived up to his lottery status, but he's showed improved shot selection with the Memphis Grizzlies. He could be worth a flier and would add some young upside to the wing position. Alec Burks would be a safer choice, though neither he nor Jackson would command anything close to the full mid-level.

    Indy's best bet might be using that to keep Holiday and angling for Jackson or Burks on a minimum deal—which would keep it out of the tax territory it has avoided for so long.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    • Marcus Morris Sr.
    • Montrezl Harrell
    • DeMarcus Cousins

    The Los Angeles Clippers probably didn't trade a pile of draft capital just to rent Marcus Morris Sr. for a few months. They can pay him up to $18 million per season on a new deal, which should be enough to beat the market. But that level of expenditure would likely bump L.A. into tax territory before it considers what to pay Montrezl Harrell. If JaMychal Green opts in for $5 million, the tax is going to be unavoidable.

    The Clips could pay Harrell a rate similar to what Morris will command, but as the order of those nifty little bullet points up there indicates, Morris should be the priority. Serious championship contenders need big wings more than they do backup centers who don't defend their position very well.

    If Harrell's the one to go, Los Angeles should try to replace him on the cheap. The bet here is that the Clips will have the taxpayer's mid-level available to use, but the tax hit will be ugly if they do.

    DeMarcus Cousins on the minimum, anyone? He might still be able to punish backups if healthy, though that would push Ivica Zubac into L.A.'s closing lineup. The Clippers shouldn't worry about that; the 23-year-old is ready.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    • Anthony Davis
    • Various Player Options
    • Fred VanVleet?!

    The Lakers will be at the mercy of no fewer than five player options this offseason, which puts them in an unusually fluid situation for a contender. Anthony Davis' future is the simplest to forecast; once he opts out, Los Angeles will offer him the max for as many years as he wants. Don't be surprised if AD goes for a two-year deal with a player option on the third, setting himself up for a supermax once he hits 10 years of experience.

    Retaining Davis is the obvious must on the Lakers' offseason list. The rest depends on two factors: the results of the 2020 postseason and those other four player options belonging to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Avery Bradley, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo.

    If the Lakers win a ring, it'd make sense to bring the whole gang back. But would Caldwell-Pope, Bradley, McGee and Rondo try to parlay their status as title winners into bigger paychecks elsewhere?

    KCP is the least expendable, but he shares an agency with LeBron James, which means he's also the least likely flight risk. Then again, his earning power looks like it will be the greatest of L.A.'s potentially available role-fillers. Another team could swoop in and hit him with a three-year, $40 million offer the Lakers, an almost certain taxpayer, might not want to top.

    L.A. could keep all five player-option candidates, but if everyone but AD bounces, it would have over $30 million to spend on seven roster spots. It might not be the prudent course, especially with 2021's free-agent class looking tastier, but there's a scenario in which the Lakers could be in the mix for Fred VanVleet and the other high-end targets this offseason—such as they are.

Memphis Grizzlies

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    • De'Anthony Melton
    • Josh Jackson
    • Pat Connaughton/Kris Dunn

    De'Anthony Melton and Josh Jackson are the Grizzlies' only free agents of consequence, and the team's ability to retain both comes with strings attached.

    Per The Athletic's John Hollinger (who happened to be Memphis' vice president of basketball operations for seven seasons): "Jackson is capped at $8,930,242 because the Grizzlies declined his fourth-year option, and Melton at the league-average salary (roughly $10 million) as an Arenas-rule free agent. But with only $25 million separating Memphis from a $132 million tax line, keeping both would seem to rule out using the full MLE."

    Jackson's climb from the scrap heap was impressive, but it would feel dangerous to hand him the number Hollinger lists with such a small sample of modest success from the 2017 No. 4 pick. Melton, a second-rounder in 2018, looks like a defense-first rotation player, but it'd be similarly frightening to hand him anything close to $10 million annually.

    Retaining those two should be a priority, but only if it can be done at numbers that don't cost Memphis its full mid-level.

    If the Grizzlies don't like the potential cost of keeping Jackson and Melton, they could shift their focus to Pat Connaughton and Kris Dunn. Connaughton could be a spark off the bench, while Dunn, a restricted free agent like Melton, is an even better defender.

Miami Heat

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    • Danilo Gallinari
    • Derrick Jones Jr.
    • Goran Dragic/Jae Crowder

    Of the six teams projected to have more than the mid-level to spend this offseason, the Miami Heat are the only good one. They could throw their weight around if they want to, pitching themselves as the only serious contender to high-end free agents. In any situation where the offers are equal, you can bet players will prefer Miami's money (and lifestyle, and culture, and track record, and...you get the idea) to everyone else's.

    The Heat are lined up to have even more money to spend in 2021, though. So unlike the other cap-space teams, they can't just throw multiyear deals around. Compromising flexibility before Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rest of a deep 2021 class hit the market would be shortsighted.

    That's not the worst constraint to labor under. The Heat can target veterans with fat one-year offers, keeping a win-now mentality while preserving their future options.

    Danilo Gallinari would be a no-brainer fit at the 4. His scoring would prop up an offense that has to rely a little too much on Jimmy Butler's foul-hunting in big moments. If he's willing to accept a one-year, $20 million offer, book it.

    Miami can't forget about its own while it pursues outside targets. Derrick Jones Jr. should be a priority; his defense and athleticism are too valuable to let him walk. There's going to be some attrition, as the Heat have Goran Dragic, Solomon Hill, Meyers Leonard and Jae Crowder also ticketed for unrestricted free agency.

    After Jones, Dragic would be most valuable. If he'll stick around for the mid-level, Miami should consider it. Crowder might be cheaper to keep, though.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    • Giannis Antetokounmpo (extension-eligible)
    • Robin Lopez/Wesley Matthews
    • Lowball a Scoring Wing

    If Giannis Antetokounmpo accepts an imminent five-year, $253.8 million supermax offer on the first day of free agency, it's game on. The Milwaukee Bucks can exhale and turn their attention to using their full mid-level, which will be easier if they don't guarantee Ersan Ilyasova's 2020-21 salary.

    Let's say the Bucks ink Antetokounmpo. In that scenario, Milwaukee could retain Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez, both of whom have player options, on new deals. If the Bucks want to shuffle things, they could target Marc Gasol, who'd offer a lot of the same shooting and towering-oak-tree rim defense Brook Lopez does in the first unit.

    It might be unwise to break up the Lopez twins, though.

    Instead, why not get ambitious and toss the full mid-level at Evan Fournier, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Tim Hardaway Jr. if they opt out? The correct answer is probably "because then the Bucks might cost themselves the flexibility to keep Donte DiVincenzo down the line," but if they collect a championship, they should embrace a title winner's heat-check approach to free agency. Maybe a difference-maker wants to take a pay cut to play in a few Finals.

    It's possible the Bucks will be champs by the time they have to deal with all this. If they are, everything will be easier, starting with keeping Antetokounmpo. If they fall short of a title, well, who knows?

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    • Malik Beasley
    • Wesley Matthews
    • Kent Bazemore

    Any team built around Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell should spend every waking moment and available cent pursuing catch-and-shoot wings who can defend.

    If they find three Kawhi Leonards, the Minnesota Timberwolves might even be able to field a league-average defense.

    Chances are, Minnesota won't have serious resources. The Wolves are very likely to operate over the cap but beneath the tax, which means they'll have only the mid-level to spend—assuming the offer sheets they'll have to match on Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez (listed in order of importance) aren't too extravagant.

    Beasley is a keeper—both because he was a flamethrower after coming aboard at the trade deadline and because Minnesota didn't get him as a rental. Don't be surprised if the Wolves keep Beasley off the market by hitting him with something like four years and $50 million.

    Wesley Matthews would cost less than the full mid-level and function nicely as a stopgap three-and-D piece if he opts out of his contract with Milwaukee. Kent Bazemore would be pricier, but he's younger than Matthews and would address Minnesota's wing needs.

New Orleans Pelicans

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    • Brandon Ingram
    • Derrick Favors/Dwight Howard
    • Serge Ibaka

    Brandon Ingram will be a restricted free agent, and the Pelicans should be prepared to either match or preemptively extend him a max offer. Ingram's leap as a three-point shooter during the season has transformed his game, making him more valuable with and without the ball. Ahead of his age-23 season, he's not one to let walk.

    After Ingram, New Orleans should shift its focus to the 5. Derrick Favors is the incumbent, and the Pelicans could do a lot worse than retaining him on a shorter deal. Favors' durability is questionable, and he probably can't be counted on to play more than the 24.2 minutes per game he is this season. But his presence on the floor coincides with a plus-9.2 net rating for the Pels this year, so even load-managed contributions from him figure to be worthwhile going forward.

    As an alternative to Favors, New Orleans could kick the tires on Dwight Howard. It might be risky to bring him into a situation with impressionable young players and no megastar to indisputably set the culture, but he only made the minimum this season and would come cheaper than Favors.

    Pie-in-the-sky option who almost certainly won't settle for the mid-level but would provide tantalizing spacing alongside Zion Williamson: Serge Ibaka.

New York Knicks

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    • Fred VanVleet
    • Christian Wood
    • Chris Boucher

    There's no bigger wild card in 2020 free agency than the New York Knicks, a fount of uncertainty made less predictable than ever by a new management structure and a heap of "maybe, maybe not" team options and nonguaranteed contracts.

    The Knicks could wield max cap room by declining Bobby Portis' option and cutting ties with Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock—or they could bring everyone back and take clear aim at 2021.

    If New York opens up its room, Fred VanVleet has to be its primary focus. If any team is going to smash the market for the 26-year-old point guard, it should be the Knicks. Their need at the 1 is blindingly obvious, and VanVleet is already an established high-end starter.

    Because the Knicks are (or absolutely should be) in rebuilding mode, they need to set their sights on younger free agents with upside. Christian Wood and Jakob Poeltl, both 24, fit the bill. Or at least they would if New York didn't already have Mitchell Robinson as its prospective center of the future. Of the two, Wood looks like the better option. His spacing would make him playable with Robinson.

    Chris Boucher, a potential restricted free agent, would be a cheaper option. And hey, if the Knicks wind up with a pair of former Raptors in the fold, understand there are worse labels to bear than "Toronto Southeast."

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    • Danilo Gallinari
    • Nerlens Noel
    • Tristan Thompson

    It might seem like the Oklahoma City Thunder, flush with future first-rounders after dealing Russell Westbrook and Paul George last offseason, wouldn't want to spend upward of $20 million per year to keep veteran Danilo Gallinari around.

    Counterpoint: If nothing else, OKC has shown a savvy understanding of asset management. Gallo is a hot commodity, so signing him to a new deal with an eye toward trading him down the line would make plenty of sense. If there aren't any positive-value offers for Chris Paul, the Thunder would be right to continue operating like a playoff team for the final two years of CP3's deal.

    Paradoxically, locking Gallo down would increase the Thunder's flexibility, allowing them to compete in the short term or offload him via trade when the rebuild starts in earnest.

    Nerlens Noel is also unrestricted, and Oklahoma City should do what it can to keep him—as long as "what it can" doesn't include paying the full mid-level. Noel is a quality backup and is still just 26, but it'd be tough to justify another significant expenditure at center. Steven Adams is due to collect $27.5 million in 2020-21.

    Tristan Thompson isn't nearly the defender Noel is, but he might be available for less than the mid-level and has championship experience. Maybe that will matter if OKC intends to keep trying to win with Paul around.

Orlando Magic

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    • Jordan Clarkson
    • Chris Chiozza
    • Reggie Jackson/Jeff Teague

    Evan Fournier's decision on a $17.2 million player option would change the Orlando Magic's needs, but it wouldn't necessarily affect the resources they have to address them.

    The Magic project to operate over the cap and under the tax either way.

    If D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams don't return, there will be opportunities in the backcourt. Though more established options exist, Orlando should look at Chris Chiozza.

    Chiozza played just 21 games between the Nets and Wizards this year, but he buried 43.9 percent of his treys and could fill the undersized void left by Augustin. There's no doubt the scoring-starved Magic could use a little of this in their rotation.

    Jordan Clarkson would be a better option if Fournier bolts, as his scoring could work in the starting five or off the bench. The mid-level might not be enough to to secure his services, so the Magic may need to renounce their own free agents after Fournier opts out to afford him.

    Reggie Jackson or Jeff Teague would look good in a backup role behind Markelle Fultz, and their price points would sit somewhere between Chiozza's and Clarkson's, likely falling well short of the mid-level.

Philadelphia 76ers

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    • Kyle Korver
    • Carmelo Anthony
    • Langston Galloway

    The luxury tax, into which the Philadelphia 76ers will deeply plunge in 2020-21, warps the concept of currency. A dollar isn't a dollar for teams in Philly's position.

    That's important to know because the Sixers badly need perimeter shooting (stop me if you've heard that one before) and only have the taxpayer's mid-level and minimums with which to acquire it. The taxpayer's mid-level may appear to be oonly $5.7 million, but it'll cost the Sixers nearly five times that much because of tax penalties.


    Philadelphia is built, expensively, to contend. So maybe it'll grit its teeth and use the resources it has. Alternatively, the Sixers could shop for shooting at the minimum. If that's the approach, Kyle Korver is an obvious choice. He's a statue on D, but the 76ers have the personnel to cover for him. Even in his age-38 season, Korver is still at 41.5 percent from deep. That'll play.

    Another minimum option: Carmelo Anthony. He'll be playing his age-36 season in 2020-21, making him a relative pup compared to Korver, and his 37.1 percent hit rate from deep could help. He also won't be any worse than Korver on defense.

    Circling back, if the Sixers really believe Langston Galloway's offense (39.9 percent on threes for Detroit this season) will put them over the top, he might be worth the pain of the taxpayer's mid-level.

Phoenix Suns

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    • Paul Millsap/Serge Ibaka
    • Jerami Grant
    • Harry Giles III

    If the Suns renounce free agents Aron Baynes and Dario Saric, decline options on Frank Kaminsky and Cheick Diallo and waive the nonguaranteed salary of Elie Okobo, they can scrape together nearly $20 million to use on a frontcourt upgrade.

    The Suns have long tried to skip steps in rebuilding, flipping the switch to "let's make the playoffs" before they're ready. Assuming that remains the (hasty) plan, they could try to wow Paul Millsap or Serge Ibaka with big offers.

    A more measured course would include re-upping with Baynes and Saric and then hunting for help with the mid-level. Jerami Grant would likely require the entire mid-level to even consider leaving the Nuggets after opting out, but Harry Giles III would probably be gettable for about half that rate.

Portland Trail Blazers

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    • Dwight Howard/JaVale McGee/Cheick Diallo
    • Joe Harris
    • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

    Hassan Whiteside almost certainly won't be back next season, as Jusuf Nurkic should be ready to rock at center, and a healthy Zach Collins deserves a chance to prove he can handle second-unit minutes at the 5 while starting at the 4.

    The Trail Blazers, armed with the mid-level (and maybe a little more if they don't pick up Trevor Ariza's nonguaranteed deal for 2020-21) should still look to find inexpensive frontcourt help and another wing. That last part will become doubly important if Ariza isn't on the roster.

    Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee (player option) could eat up minutes against backups if Collins isn't ready to man the center spot, though Cheick Diallo would offer similar pick-and-roll punch if Portland wants to spend a little less at the position. Phoenix would have to decline its team option on Diallo to make that possible, which is conceivable but hardly certain.

    On the wing, Joe Harris stands out as the most exciting option. Defense might be a problem if he plays major minutes alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but Portland has schemed ways in the past that allowed it to punch above its defensive weight. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (player option) would look awfully good, too, while not compromising the Blazers' stopping power.

Sacramento Kings

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    • Bogdan Bogdanovic
    • Harry Giles III
    • Jae Crowder/Derrick Jones Jr.

    Normally, it wouldn't make sense for a lottery team to prioritize keeping its own talent from escaping in free agency; shuffling the deck would seem more objectively logical. But the specifics matter here, and the Kings were onto something before the hiatus.

    They went 7-3 after the All-Star break, producing a plus-3.1 net rating that was eighth-best in the league. Small sample caveats apply, but that level of competency is unusual in Sacramento. So it's worthwhile to hold on to the players who helped engineer that uncommon success.

    The Kings cleared cash during the year to pay restricted free agent Bogdan Bogdanovic. He'll attract big offer sheets, but Sacramento can afford to spend nearly $20 million per season on him while still preserving its full mid-level.

    Harry Giles III, whose fourth-year option the Kings inexplicably declined before the 2019-20 season, could be tougher to keep. Sacramento can only offer him $3.9 million, a number other teams could justifiably exceed.

    If the Kings manage to ink both Bogdanovic and Giles without sacrificing their full mid-level, they should be in the market for a bigger wing, as Harrison Barnes, best used at the 4, is the closest thing to a stopper on the roster. Note: Barnes is serviceable—not a stopper.

    Jae Crowder or Derrick Jones Jr. wouldn't be perfect shutdown options either, but they might be the best mid-level fits available.

San Antonio Spurs

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    • Jakob Poeltl
    • Josh Jackson
    • Pat Connaughton

    Unless DeMar DeRozan shocks the world and opts out of $27.7 million for next season, the Spurs won't have cap space available. Their goal in the likely scenario of a DeRozan opt in should be simple: Match any offer sheet up to, say, $13 million per season for restricted free agent center Jakob Poeltl, divvy up the mid-level on a couple of wings and fill out the remaining roster spots with minimum deals.

    If everything breaks right, the Spurs will stay out of the tax but will probably have to cut bait with Trey Lyles, whose $5.5 million 2020-21 salary isn't guaranteed.

    Josh Jackson would be an intriguing add for San Antonio, which should be eyeing younger players who can grow together once DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are off the books in 2021. If the Spurs could squeeze him and Pat Connaughton onto the roster with portions of the mid-level, that'd represent a successful offseason.

    Jackson could mature with Poeltl, Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV, while Connaughton could be the heir to Patty Mills' hustle-and-shoot role off the bench.

Toronto Raptors

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    • Fred VanVleet
    • Serge Ibaka
    • Chris Boucher

    Sorry (not sorry) if this feels like a cop-out, but the Raptors shouldn't be looking for outside help—not in this market, and not in this offseason.

    Fred VanVleet is going to get major offers from desperate teams, most of which project to pick in the lottery for at least another couple of years. Toronto must be prepared to ante up for him, though it would still be wise to convey there's significant non-monetary value in sticking with a winner with such a strong culture. It can also remind him that Kyle Lowry's deal expires in 2021 and that the backcourt reins will be his afterward.

    Maybe that'll save the Raps a few bucks.

    Marc Gasol, 35, is at a point in his career when Toronto would be justified in setting a firm upper limit on his salary. If someone wants to give him more than $5 million per season to play reserve minutes, the Raptors should think hard before coming over the top. Serge Ibaka is different and, critically, younger; Toronto should be willing to get into the $20 million range for his services—ideally on a two-year deal with a partial guarantee or team option on the third.

    From there, Chris Boucher should be a higher priority than Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, as the former's length and energy make him a great change-of-pace big behind more plodding first-unit vets.

    Toronto can count on its established stars and trust in growth from OG Anunoby. This franchise has what it needs in the fold. There's no reason to scrounge through a crummy free-agent class for help.

Utah Jazz

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    • Jordan Clarkson
    • Goran Dragic
    • Dario Saric

    The Utah Jazz have a pair of distinct paths laid out before them. The first involves re-signing Jordan Clarkson, and the second doesn't.

    If Utah wants to stay far enough below the tax to keep its full mid-level, it can't compete with outside offers for Clarkson that push past $14 million. The Jazz could go higher to hold on to Clarkson, but it'd compromise their ability to fill out the rest of the roster. It might be worth the sacrifice, as Clarkson's bench scoring provided a serious spark after he came aboard via trade.

    If Clarkson's a goner, Utah can comfortably use its mid-level, biannual exception and minimums to address needs at backup point guard and power forward. In that scenario, Goran Dragic or Dario Saric could be strong fits—though it's hard to be sure Dragic won't command more than the mid-level elsewhere.

    There's a third track faintly visible, which involves Mike Conley exercising his early-termination option. But it's almost impossible to concoct a reason for the 32-year-old to forgo $34.5 million.

Washington Wizards

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    • Davis Bertans
    • Jakob Poeltl
    • Derrick Favors

    The Wizards rank last in defensive efficiency and allow bottom-five shooting accuracy rates from just about everywhere on the floor. They can't fix all that in free agency, but a concerted effort to shore up a horrid interior defense seems like the best approach.

    Jakob Poeltl should get an offer sheet at the first available opportunity, and Washington should put out feelers on Derrick Favors and (gulp) Dwight Howard. Hassan Whiteside might be out of its price range (and has generally been less valuable than his counting stats suggest), but he should be a consideration as well.

    The Wizards can't forget about Davis Bertans. He's going to be hotly pursued as the best floor-stretching forward on the market, and the cost of retaining him could bump Washington into a position in which it can't spend its entire mid-level without slipping past the tax line.


    Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference, NBA.com and Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.