Surprising but Realistic Landing Spots for NBA's Top 2020 Free Agents

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 3, 2020

Surprising but Realistic Landing Spots for NBA's Top 2020 Free Agents

0 of 5

    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Free agency is almost always a fascinating time in the NBA, but this year's iteration could be different.

    Few teams have major money to spend. Few players available are worth that kind of commitment, and most that are seem likely to re-sign with their current clubs.

    But if hoops history has taught us anything, it's to expect the unexpected once the market opens.

    We might think we know where the best players are headed, but we're here to plot less likely but still realistic routes for our top five free agents—ranked on production, potential impact and the eye test—to follow.

5. Danilo Gallinari: Phoenix Suns

1 of 5

    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Danilo Gallinari is a 6'10" swingman with handles and a fiery three-point shot. He'll have options in free agency, even as a 31-year-old with some injury issues in his past.

    The simplest solution would be sticking with the Oklahoma City Thunder, which he's already said he's considering. The most logical external option is joining the Miami Heat, who chased him hard enough to discuss a contract extension at the trade deadline.

    But the Thunder could be veering into a full-scale rebuild sooner than later. The Heat had a chance to get Gallinari already and chose future flexibility instead.

    This could be opportunity's knock for the Suns, who were linked to Gallinari in January by B/R's Eric Pincus. Phoenix appears in the market for a new 4—Dario Saric was shopped at the deadline and isn't a part of the long-term plans, according to Arizona Sports' John Gambadoro (h/t Bright Side of the Sun)—and Gallinari could have the same kind of lift that Ricky Rubio provided this season.

    The Suns need a spacer to keep the interior clear for Deandre Ayton and a scoring threat potent enough to prevent opponents from overloading on Devin Booker. Gallinari is up for both tasks. He has averaged at least 18 points in four of the past five seasons and owns the eighth-highest three-point conversion rate among the 202 players to hit at least 100 triples since 2018-19.

    Phoenix might offer Gallinari more money than anyone, and if this team keeps trending up, cashing out in the desert wouldn't necessarily cost him a trip to the playoffs.

4. Montrezl Harrell: Detroit Pistons

2 of 5

    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Montrezl Harrell has it good with the Los Angeles Clippers. He doesn't have a starting gig, but he's hardly lost in the shuffle—he's mentioned in (if not leading) any reasonable Sixth Man of the Year talks—and usually plays when it matters most.

    Still, he might seek a larger gig elsewhere. Or the Clippers might not be willing to pay him what he wants as they have more prominent players on the roster. If he's leaving L.A., he'd have to take a long look at the Charlotte Hornets. He's a North Carolina native, and they're in need of a 5. They also employ his college running mate at Louisville, Terry Rozier.

    But why couldn't the Pistons get in this conversation?

    Their future is hardly solidified at the center spot, and maybe they aren't looking to break the bank on Christian Wood for what was, essentially, a month-plus of bloated production on a bad team. Maybe they'd prefer Harrell, who might be an expanded opportunity away from stardom. His per-36-minutes averages say if he played that much he'd already provide 24.1 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

    He would get all the run he wants in the Motor City. The Pistons have four guaranteed contracts on next season's books. Two belong to oft-injured 30-somethings Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin. The others are rookie-scale pacts with Luke Kennard (bothered by knee tendinitis) and Sekou Doumbouya, a 19-year-old with a game as raw as organic granola.

    In other words, the runway is cleared for Harrell to take flight. He'd have all the shots he cared to handle, and in the short term, he should be a fun pick-and-roll screener for Rose or Griffin. Longer term, the spotlight is Harrell's to lose. He may not win in Detroit like he can in L.A., but the Clippers probably can't give him the shots, minutes or contract that the Pistons can.

3. Fred VanVleet: Miami Heat

3 of 5

    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    In an ideal world, Fred VanVleet says he'd re-sign with the Toronto Raptors. In terms of business, his best option might be taking the money and running to the rebuilder, like the New York Knicks or Detroit Pistons.

    But the 6'1" point guard could have his cake and eat it too by following the snowbirds' flight path from Canada to South Florida. Get him to Miami, and he might find a mammoth-sized salary (albeit on a short-term deal so the Heat can still go whale hunting in 2021) without sacrificing the ability to contend for a title.

    Miami might be the only win-now team with real money to spend this offseason, and the point guard spot could be the best place to invest those funds. Goran Dragic is 34 years old and entering unrestricted free agency. Kendrick Nunn is a rookie, but he's only a year younger than VanVleet and nowhere near as impactful as a defender or distributor.

    If the Heat want a substantial one-year lift, VanVleet could be the preferred choice to provide it.

    "VanVleet would fill in perfectly for them as their point guard of the present and future,"'s Scott Raffertry wrote. "He's the type of hard-nosed defender Heat president Pat Riley usually goes after in free agency, and he'd complement Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo as a shot creator and shooter in the backcourt."

    Put VanVleet on Miami's current roster, and he'd rank first in assists (6.7) and second in points (17.5). It's easy to see why the Heat would have interest. It's less easy to see the attraction from his side, since Miami trails Toronto in the standings and can't offer as much as New York or Detroit. But there's a non-zero chance he's helping next season's Heat escape the Eastern Conference.

2. Brandon Ingram: Charlotte Hornets

4 of 5

    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Brandon Ingram shouldn't have reason to look beyond the Big Easy in free agency. The New Orleans Pelicans need to be doing everything possible to put 20-year-old freshman phenom Zion Williamson into the best position for success, and the first order of business should be locking up his 22-year-old co-star.

    But what if Ingram, a first-time All-Star and 2016's second overall pick, isn't greeted with max money as soon as the market opens? He's never had numbers like these before—24.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game—and in a market short on cap space, not everyone thinks he's guaranteed to get a max offer.

    "I wonder if [Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin] will hardball [Ingram] and say, 'Get an offer,'" one executive told ESPN's Tim Bontemps. "Where is he getting it from?"

    If Ingram is looking outside of New Orleans, the Charlotte Hornets should enter the conversation.

    They're hunting for the face of their post-Kemba Walker era, and they need a focal point for their 28th-ranked offense. Ingram, a North Carolina native, could scratch both itches. His star power would get Buzz City...well, buzzing again, and his shot creation would immediately push him to the top of the offensive food chain. The Hornets have some interesting talent—Devonte' Graham, Terry Rozier, P.J. Washington—but none from Ingram's weight class.

    Charlotte probably needs Ingram more than he needs it, but there are elements of the organization that should hold some appeal.

1. Anthony Davis: New York Knicks

5 of 5

    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Before Knicks fans overindulge on optimism here, let's be clear: Anthony Davis leaving L.A. for anywhere—New York or otherwise—seems like the longest of long shots. He's a literal Hollywood star, and he's competing for the crown alongside actual NBA royalty. Life may never get sweeter.

    Who would want to give that up? Probably no one. So, while we're still backing the 'Bockers as our choice, understand that "realistic" in this case means merely "not impossible."

    Saying all that, if Davis did want a change of address—and didn't seek the Windy City homecoming he's hinted at in the past—the Big Apple might get his attention. He had eyes on the Empire State when he was orchestrating his trade away from the Pelicans, and the Knicks might have received a big reputation boost after handing front office control over to former agent-to-the-stars Leon Rose.

    On the court, New York's sales pitch barely registers as a whisper. There might be two long-term keepers on this roster, and that's only if Mitchell Robinson can learn to defend without fouling and RJ Barrett finds his offensive niche.

    Either player could fit with Davis (as almost anyone can), but the bigger basketball draw is the chance the Knicks snag a second star to pair with the Brow. He and Chris Paul could pick-and-roll opponents to death. If Rose could somehow land Devin Booker—dubbed New York's trade target "to watch out for most" by Marc Berman of the New York Post—Davis could have more room to breathe given the gravitational pull of his fellow Kentucky alum.

    While every crystal ball you'll find sees Davis re-upping with the Lakers, it's possible to plot his path to the Knicks without leaving the realistic realm.


    All stats courtesy of, Basketball Reference and Stathead unless otherwise noted.

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