The Perfect Free Agent for Every Superstar NBA Duo
Finding the perfect role players to place around NBA superstars can be the difference between winning a title and an early playoff exit. While this year's free-agent class is lacking in star power, plenty of quality starters and rotation players will be available for contenders to sign.
Trying to find the right free agent depends on the position and play style of the incumbent stars, and cost is naturally an issue, as well. While teams with multiple superstars aren't likely to have much cap space, the non-taxpayer mid-level exception is projected to be $9.76 million. Free agents signing for the exception can receive up to a four-year, $41.95 million contract, which should be enough to land a quality role player.
For the following seven teams and their superstar pairings, these players would greatly help a championship push while still fitting under the salary cap.
Goran Dragic to Philadelphia 76ers with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid
Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown wants to expand Ben Simmons' role on the team, including using him off-ball more. While it's absolutely the right strategy, Philly doesn't exactly have a lot of other point guard options.
Josh Richardson can handle the ball in spurts, but he's not a true point guard by any means. Raul Neto is an option, but his 19.3 assist percentage is fairly low by floor general standards.
Adding a veteran backup point guard in free agency should be a priority, and Goran Dragic serves as a perfect fit.
The 34-year-old has been terrific off the bench for the Miami Heat this season, averaging 16.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting 37.7 percent from three in 28.4 minutes per game. Plus, signing him away from Miami would be an added bonus for Philly.
Dragic could be the primary ball-handler in pick-and-rolls with Simmons, allowing the 6'10" guard to use his size and athleticism to get to the basket and finish at the rim.
Joel Embiid could use another quality point guard to get him the ball in his spots when Simmons sits. The 26-year-old All-Star is shooting just 27.5 percent off passes delivered by Neto.
In a locker room that could use more veterans, Dragic would solve the backup point guard problem while helping unlock Simmon's complete offensive game.
Paul Millsap to Brooklyn Nets with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving
A starting lineup with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant will likely also include Caris LeVert and either DeAndre Jordan or Jarrett Allen. Taurean Prince is the expected fifth starter for now, though he's a poor rebounder who's only shooting 37.6 percent from the field this season.
Prince's best role is probably as a backup combo forward, meaning the Nets could use a win-now starting power forward who can defend and bring a good veteran presence to the locker room. Floor-spacing is also critical as neither Jordan nor Allen leaves the paint on offense.
Millsap is 35 but is still playing at a high level with the Denver Nuggets this season. The team has been 11.4 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor, and Millsap is shooting a career-high 44.0 percent from three.
Still a good defender at his age, Millsap will soon make his 11th career trip to the playoffs in 14 seasons. He's been a well-respected member of every team he's been on and would set a strong leadership tone in Brooklyn.
The Nets could also use Millsap as a small-ball 5 in spurts, allowing for ultimate floor spacing around Irving's and Durant's driving lanes.
Meyers Leonard to Houston Rockets with James Harden and Russell Westbrook
No team makes or takes as many three-pointers as the Houston Rockets, yet none of their new "centers" is much more than an average outside shooter.
Going small by flipping Clint Capela for Robert Covington, Houston could benefit by adding a little size in Meyers Leonard (7'0" 260 lbs.), especially given his ability to run the floor and the spacing he would provide.
Only four centers (Leonard, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kelly Olynyk and Marc Gasol) are shooting better than 40.0 percent from three on 100 attempts or more this season. Of the four, only Olynyk has posted a higher mark than Leonard's 42.9 percent.
Playing with the Miami Heat, Leonard has benefited from the drive-and-kick ability of Jimmy Butler, timing his cuts to the rim or flailing out to the wings for open threes. He's shooting 52.2 percent from the floor off passes from Butler, a number that should only increase sharing a court with James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
The Rockets could go big if a playoff matchup calls for it, deploying Westbrook, Harden, Covington, P.J. Tucker and Leonard in a lineup that would create dream driving lanes for the All-Star backcourt.
If Houston realizes it needs a little more size but doesn't want to compromise its offensive DNA, Leonard would be an ideal center around whom Harden and Westbrook could operate.
Montrez Harrell Re-Signs in LA with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George
The Los Angeles Clippers are the only team on this list that should be more focused on retaining its own free agent than pursuing one from another organization. Montrezl Harrell has become that critical a part of the rotation.
Unlike other teams keeping their fingers crossed that their free-agent signings will blend in with the superstars already in place, the Clippers know that Harrell, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George lineups are successful.
In 247 minutes together this season, the three-man unit has posted a net rating of plus-10.4. Harrell also anchors a five-man unit of Leonard, George, Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley that's produced a net rating of plus-14.0 with a stingy 84.4 defensive rating, albeit in just 56 total minutes together thus far.
If Harrell leaves in free agency, the Clippers still won't have the cap space to sign a worthy replacement, either. L.A. has over $115 million in committed salary for next season without factoring in a new deal for Harrell or fellow free agents Marcus Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson.
One of the best sixth men in the NBA this season, Harrell needs to be the Clippers' top free-agent priority.
Davis Bertans to Milwaukee Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton
The Milwaukee Bucks roster doesn't have too many holes, but there's one specific lineup style the team probably needs to take advantage of more.
While Giannis Antetokounmpo is the NBA's best power forward, he has the size of most centers today (6'11", 242 lbs.) with the athleticism of a wing. Using him at center in spurts with shooters all around him has been a recipe for success this season, especially with Brook Lopez struggling from the outside (29.6 percent from three).
When the Bucks go small with Antetokounmpo at center and Khris Middleton and Ersan Ilyasova as the forwards, Milwaukee has produced a tremendous net rating of plus-36.3, albeit in just 60 total minutes.
This is where Bertans would help. The 27-year-old power forward averaged 15.4 points and 4.5 rebounds off the bench for the Washington Wizards this season, hitting over 42.0 percent of his three-pointers for the second straight year.
He'd be a huge upgrade over the 33-year-old Ilyasova, who hasn't even hit the 40.0 percent mark from deep since 2012-13. While Bertans would likely start games off the bench, a five-man unit of Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, Middleton, Bertans and Antetokounmpo would destroy teams with its outside shooting.
Money could be an issue after Washington chose to keep Bertans at the trade deadline in hopes of signing him to a large contract this offseason. If he's willing to take a little less for the chance to play on a championship-caliber team, he would be a terrific weapon off the Milwaukee bench.
Dwight Howard to Golden State Warriors with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson
With a healthy Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Golden State Warriors will once again be in the title chase next season. With Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins rounding out four-fifths of the starting lineup, they just need a center who can dominate on the glass and provide extra shot opportunities for the greatest three-point-shooting backcourt in NBA history.
Howard has been excellent off the bench at center for the Los Angeles Lakers this season and is second in the NBA in offensive rebound percentage, behind only Andre Drummond. His 14.6 percent mark is also the second-highest of his career, just behind 2016-17 (15.0 percent).
If Howard had enough field goals to qualify, his 73.2 percent shooting this season would rank as the second-highest mark in NBA history.
His role with the Warriors would be similar to the one he enjoys in L.A., allowing him to thrive as a screen-setter who crashes the boards and finishes shots around the rim. While the Lakers will surely want him back, the Warriors could offer a starting job and the chance to play with a pair of future Hall of Fame guards.
While signing Howard seemed risky a year ago, his successful season with the Lakers has validated his ability to adapt and even thrive in a limited role late in his career.
Joe Harris to Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James, Anthony Davis
If there's an area of improvement for the Lakers this offseason, it's shooting.
Despite holding down the No. 1 seed in the West, the Lakers are just 17th in three-point percentage (35.5 percent) and 22nd in makes per game (11.2).
Of the 10 most frequent three-point shooters on the Lakers roster, only one is making over 38.0 percent of his attempts: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at 39.4 percent. For a team with a passer like LeBron James, there needs to be more quality shooting on the perimeter.
Enter Joe Harris, a former teammate of James with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 28-year-old swingman led the NBA in three-point shooting last season (47.4 percent) and is averaging 13.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists while knocking down 41.2 percent of his threes this year.
The Brooklyn Nets are quickly laying claim to one of the most expensive rosters in the NBA. They already have over $141 million in committed salary next season without factoring in a new contract for Harris. As such, they may be forced to let him walk.
Harris would be a great fit between James at point guard and Anthony Davis at power forward, moving off the ball and keeping the floor spaced for both superstars.