Top 3 Realistic Landing Spots for NBA's Best Free Agents
The NBA's 2020 offseason will be unlike any the league has experienced because of the unfortunate circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With as much as $450 million lost in gate revenues alone, each NBA franchise's salary-cap structure is almost certain to be diminished. With reduced spending power, the frequent hopping of NBA superstars from squad to squad will almost certainly skip the 2020 offseason.
However, Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus outlined the few teams that still possess the resources to make a splash just in time for Halloween. In addition, there may always be teams willing to push their chips into the middle of the table with a sign-and-trade to make a Finals run in 2020-21.
Understanding that teams will be ready and willing to spend even in new, unprecedented times, here are the offseason's top projected free agents and their most likely realistic landing spots.
5. Danilo Gallinari
Oklahoma City Thunder
Following up on what was a career year with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2018-19, Danilo Gallinari has once again flourished during his first season in Oklahoma City. As one of just six players to shoot 40.9 percent from three while scoring 19 points per game, he has cemented himself as one of the NBA's most efficient volume scorers.
Gallinari and OKC have experienced success with one another, and the Thunder have the resources to re-sign him thanks to his Bird rights. If they decide to embrace a rebuild and move on from Chris Paul, retaining the 32-year-old veteran may become less of a priority. However, if they defy the odds and make a brilliant postseason run, doubling down on their current fortunes with a short-term deal may become the play.
The Miami Heat made their desire for Gallo known at the trade deadline when they actively sought to add him to the deal that brought in Andre Iguodala.
"I like Gallo," Heat president Pat Riley said, per Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald. "And I think he would have fit in here really well, but it didn't work out."
Either Riley did not meet Oklahoma City's asking price or Gallinari was not pleased with Miami's extension offer. After all, a season like his could have earned him near-max money in a typical offseason. Once he surveys the new financial landscape, the $20.9 million available to the Heat might allow for a more appealing offer, even if that deal is a short-term one.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers may quickly become one of the most desperate franchises in the NBA.
While they have CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard under contract through 2023-24 and 2024-25, respectively, each of those stars may soon regress due to age and wear and tear. The return of Jusurf Nurkic and Zach Collins will help, but they will not provide the punch they need to contend with the power of the two Los Angeles teams.
Making a move for someone like Gallinari could change that. Portland still has all its first-round picks in addition to moveable contracts in Trevor Ariza (expiring) and Collins. Packaging those two plus draft capital could be enough to execute a sign-and-trade.
4. Montrezl Harrell
Los Angeles Clippers
Both reliable and durable, Montrezl Harrell has emerged as one of the most efficient and electric young rolling bigs in the NBA. At just 26, he is the only player to average over 16 points per game while shooting 58 percent from the field during each of the last two seasons. This year, he's one of just three to score over 17 points per game on 58 percent shooting (Zion Williamson, John Collins).
The Clippers need someone of Harrell's ilk. They have no means to replace him beyond exceptions or trade and have very few resources after packaging their picks to the New York Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder.
However, according to an Eastern Conference executive who spoke to B/R's Eric Pincus, they may not see Harrell as a starter long-term: "Harrell isn't a starter. His numbers against frontline centers aren't good. He and [Ivica] Zubac can't play together."
While Zubac is under contract for three more years, Harrell's scoring punch off the bench earns him nearly 10 more minutes per game. However, Zubac has a more affordable contract, making just over $7 million in average annual value.
And with $115 million locked up in 10 players, it's hard to imagine the Clippers will have the flexibility to bring Harrell back at his desired numbers. Also, it's worth mentioning that other franchises will probably offer him more money and a starting position.
New York Knicks
With newly appointed president Leon Rose, the Knicks may have improved their odds of landing a big fish in free agency.
True, they have plenty of help in the frontcourt with Julius Randle, Taj Gibson (team option), Mitchell Robinson and Bobby Portis (team option) under contract for the 2020-21 season. However, none can lift their offensive ceiling quite like Harrell could. The Knicks finished 28th in offensive rating and 29th in scoring in 2019-20. Harrell could help with that.
He can get his own shot, having graded in the 96th percentile for both total isolations and isolation impact per 75 possessions, per BBall Index. When he does shoot, he often does so at the rim. He graded in the 99th percentile for both unassisted field-goal attempts at the rim per 75 possessions and overall finishing talent, also per BBall Index.
With $41.5 million available this offseason, according to Yahoo Sports' Keith Smith, the Knicks could utilize their spending power on Harrell, as well as the next player on our list.
The Charlotte Hornets appear to be a perfect match for Harrell's services after finishing 28th in offensive rating. He would immediately inject the scoring punch they have been lacking.
With $22.5 million available to spend, it would be in Charlotte's best interest to make a splash for a well-known free agent. Few teams possess the cap space necessary for such a move, so the Hornets find themselves in an enviable position.
They could also sell Harrell on the development of Devonte' Graham and Terry Rozier, each of whom averaged 18 points per game while shooting well above league average from three. P.J. Washington could also emerge as the perfect frontcourt partner after shooting 37.4 percent from three in 2019-20.
The Hornets could allow Harrell to continue coming off the bench if they prefer to start veteran anchor Cody Zeller, or they could move Zeller to the bench. Either way, the marriage would appear to make a lot of sense for both parties.
3. Fred VanVleet
Fred VanVleet's value has skyrocketed since his breakout performance in the 2019 NBA Finals. After Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green left for the Los Angeles Clippers, his workload has increased, and he has responded in impressive fashion by scoring 17.9 points with 6.7 assists per game while shooting 39.5 percent from three. No one has exceeded him in each of those numbers.
At 26 years old, VanVleet should be a long-term keeper for the Raptors, who can fit him in with an impressive core of Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby and Terence Davis. With Kyle Lowry set to turn 35 in March 2021, the reins will soon become VanVleet's.
It's unclear what sort of price tag VanVleet will draw given the uncertainty surrounding the 2020-21 salary cap. However, if one team is bold enough to make a max-level offer, it may prove too rich for the Raptors to match.
One team that could assume the risk is Detroit. In fact, it's already tossed around the idea of signing the point guard, per James Edwards III of The Athletic.
The Pistons are desperate for help in the backcourt following the departure of Reggie Jackson and the imminent exit of Brandon Knight. Though they could undergo a full-scale rebuild, it's unlikely they'd be able to do so with Blake Griffin on board.
Though 2019-20 was yet another season shortened by injury, Griffin isn't too far removed from one of his most impressive campaigns in 2018-19. He reached a career high in scoring (24.5 points per contest) and expanded his game beyond the three-point line, where he buried 36.2 percent of his seven deep attempts per game.
The Pistons would still have a long way to go toward contention. But if they can nab a promising young player in the draft, re-sign Christian Wood and add VanVleet, they may take a step toward relevance.
One dark-horse contender for VanVleet's services could be the Miami Heat.
Goran Dragic has had an exceptional season. However, at 34, he hardly fits the timeline of Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson. Jimmy Butler will turn 31 in September but doesn't appear to be slowing down, averaging 20.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.1 assists in just 34.2 minutes per game. In terms of playing time, that's his second-lightest workload since 2012-13.
The Heat are said to be looking for a bigger swing in the form of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bradley Beal or Jrue Holiday. However, if they're looking for a sure thing who fits their timeline, they could make a move for VanVleet.
2. Brandon Ingram
New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans have the right to match any offer Brandon Ingram receives in restricted free agency, and it appears to be a near certainty he will return following his first All-Star campaign. Ingram is one of two players to score at least 24 points per game while shooting 38.4 percent from three this season.
Ingram has stepped forward as the richest reward in the trade that sent Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers. Allowing him to leave after just one year would reflect the instability the franchise has exhibited over nearly two decades and could undo all the goodwill executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin has earned in his tenure.
The Hornets don't have nearly enough to propose a max offer, but they can get there with relative ease. Moving Malik Monk's $5.3 million salary for 2020-21 would bring them to the doorstep.
The Hornets are 29th in offensive rating and 30th in scoring. Ingram would immediately emerge as their most critical offensive player and would give them a lineup that should immediately challenge for a playoff spot.
With a starting group of Terry Rozier, Devonte' Graham, Ingram, P.J. Washington and Cody Zeller, they would boast one of the most fun young groups in the NBA with shooting at every position. A move like this would also restore excitement for a fan base that saw Kemba Walker depart in free agency because the Hornets could not stomach a maximum offer sheet.
The Atlanta Hawks have more than enough resources to chase the 22-year-old All-Star. As the richest player in the 2020 free-agent landscape with as much as $43.2 million available to them, according to Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports, they should look to add some big help this offseason.
If they added Ingram to John Collins, who's extension-eligible this summer, and Clint Capela, the move would immediately improve the NBA's No. 26 offense and create one of the league's most exciting young frontcourts.
Ingram's 24.1 points per game and secondary playmaking could marry perfectly to Trae Young's game. His ability to stretch the floor (38.5 percent from three) may make things even easier for Collins and Capela, who both converted over 58 percent of their field goals in 2019-20.
It's unlikely the Pelicans would let Ingram walk regardless of the offer. However, the Hawks have the space to make a play for him should New Orleans have any concerns about locking in the 2016 No. 2 overall pick on a max contract.
1. Anthony Davis
Los Angeles Lakers
Teaming up with LeBron James has already given Anthony Davis his single best regular season while allowing him to potentially receive individual accolades that eluded him amid the losing that transpired with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Davis seemingly has what he wants in Los Angeles, and there is no reason for him to depart should the Lakers properly challenge for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. He has never offered any indication that it's championship or bust for him in L.A.
As long as LeBron stays healthy and the Lakers perform admirably, they should be considered the favorite to win his services this October.
If there is one franchise outside L.A. that has seemingly piqued AD's interest, it's Chicago. Born and raised on the South Side, Davis played out his high school career in the Windy City before committing to Kentucky in 2010.
"I am a free agent next year ... but we will see," Davis said when asked whether he'd consider a return, per Eric Woodyard of ESPN.
Should Los Angeles experience an early playoff dismissal or should LeBron suffer a significant injury, Chicago would likely emerge as a favorite to land his services.
While the Bulls are unlikely to be a cap-rich team, moving him in a sign-and-trade would be quite easy. Packaging Otto Porter Jr. and draft capital would work. If the Lakers wanted more, there's a litany of young talent Chicago may be willing to part with in order to get Davis on their books.
Rich Paul, Davis' agent, liked the idea of his client going to New York if the Lakers had failed to acquire him, per Marc Berman of the New York Post.
While the Knicks have the cap space to sign him outright, Davis has been clear about his desire to win. That should propel him to the other New York team, on which Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving currently reside.
The Brooklyn Nets don't have the space to make a free-agency deal, but they have plenty to unload in a trade. A package built around Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen should be enough to get the Lakers to sign on the dotted line, seeing as they could potentially lose him to New York or Atlanta for nothing. Even the Miami Heat could make a move for AD by moving Andre Iguodala.
If Davis does appear set on leaving, the Lakers would be hard-pressed to find a better outcome.
Preston Ellis covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @PrestonEllis.