Every NBA Contender's Top Free-Agent Target This Summer

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2020

Every NBA Contender's Top Free-Agent Target This Summer

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Most of the NBA's championship contenders are currently hard at work, well, contending for a championship. Free agency is definitely not the furthest thing from their minds, but they have more pressing matters that need tending. Their focus won't shift entirely until their season ends, and the manner in which it concludes will shape how they approach the open market.

    And yet, all of these teams know enough about themselves to concentrate on the moment while still looking ahead. Front offices have already given serious consideration to prospective free-agent targets.

    Let's join them.

    Next year's championship-hopeful field figures to be deeper than this one. Our scope of inclusions will reflect as much. Exclusivity will come in the form of tiers. Teams will be separated based on the likelihood that they emerge from their respective conference next year. New contenders will be added as necessary, but we will not presume the demise of current ones. That's bad form.

    Pretty much every contender will be working with the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($9.8 million) or mini MLE ($6 million). Though the current cap projection ($115 million) will inevitably change to account for the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, we can still ballpark each squad's spending power and proximity to the tax. That outlook will determine top-target suggestions.

    Free agents will also be chosen by measuring a team's willingness to spend the money available to them. The Utah Jazz, for example, could brush up against the tax if they re-sign Jordan Clarkson at an annual number compared to this year's salary. The quality—or mainstreamness—of their suggested target will be chosen accordingly. Ditto for franchises that might want to hoard flexibility for later offseasons.

    Selections will likewise vary in ambition. We won't wonder whether an impact veteran will take a pay a cut to play for a non-glamour market or team not firmly entrenched in the top tier of contention. Choosing free agents that mandate a squad opens cap space is fair game, but only if it entails non-extreme salary dumps.

The 'If They're Healthier Next Year' Contenders

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Brooklyn Nets: Maurice Harkless

    Where the full-strength Nets fall on the contender ladder is decidedly unknown. Getting an entire season of availability from Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving should vault them into Tier 1, but will they actually get an entire season of availability from either?

    Irving's right shoulder injury isn't chronic, but his overall health is a serial question mark. Durant is coming back from a ruptured right Achilles, a potentially devastating injury. How many maintenance nights will he need? Will he play both ends of back-to-backs? And most critically, what does he look like post-recovery?

    Brooklyn's offseason outlook isn't impacted by any of this uncertainty. It has to fancy itself a contender. That was the whole point of bringing in Kyrie and KD. More than that, their cap situation isn't changing. The Nets will have the mini mid-level exception whether they re-sign Joe Harris or let him walk. Any major moves must come via the trade market—though Caris LeVert is doing his damnedest to implore the team to stand pat.

    Beefing up the frontcourt rotation is priority numero uno. Brooklyn needs someone who affords them defensive optionality across the 2, 3 and 4 spots and won't heavily knife into the usage of Durant, Irving, LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie (assuming the latter two remain on the roster).

    Jae Crowder or Paul Millsap would be divine. They're also unrealistic. The Nets don't have the cap equity to outbid rival suitors, and they're not the no-brainer title hopeful who can sell veterans on accepting less for a chance to win the chip.

    Maurice Harkless is far more feasible. He can be moved around on defense according to how Brooklyn wants to use Durant, and more than 59 percent of his field-goal attempts this season came without taking a dribble. His three-point shooting can be spotty, but he knocked down 37 percent of his treys with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Nets are stocked with a similar number of stud ball-handlers who can feed him gimme looks.


    Golden State Warriors: Justin Holiday

    Golden State's immediate outlook is more divisive than consensus following its gap year in the weeds. Paint me as less concerned.

    Draymond Green will perform better and work harder when surrounded by stars and up against actual stakes. Klay Thompson's torn left ACL is concerning but shouldn't be career-altering relative to his play style. Stephen Curry, in case you didn't know, is still Stephen Curry. Andrew Wiggins is...OK, yeah, I get the concern.

    Still, the Warriors remain stacked at the top. They feel closer to Tier 1 than Tier 2, even in the big, bad, brutal Western Conference.

    That's different from saying they have the juice to reel in a marquee name at a cut rate. They can only peddle the taxpayer's mid-level exception. If they can get Marc Gasol or Paul Millsap for that money, then by all means, they absolutely should. Chances are they'll have to think smaller. Striking gold with a plastic shovel is reserved for the surer things, a la the Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, etc.

    It might make sense for the Warriors to prioritize a big if they're going to use their mini MLE on one player. Then again, if they're open to using the $17.2 million Andre Iguodala trade exception, the list of potentially gettable 4s and 5s is bound to be frothier. Teams aren't usually in the business of sending out impact wings without receiving something glitzy in return—like this year's Golden State pick or the Minnesota Timberwolves' 2021 first.

    Justin Holiday seems most in line with the Warriors' price point and needs. They're thin on proven wing depth, and he does a lot more than meets the eye. He closed the regular season banging in 39.7 percent of his spot-up triples even after a rutty bubble stint, can make waves in transition and has the bandwidth to guard up to power forwards if he's spending a lion's share of his time on the second unit or beside a stout center.

    To be honest, Golden State might need a little luck to land Holiday, who played for them during the 2014-15 season. The Indiana Pacers can pay him about mini-MLE money without dipping into their own mid-level, and more than a few other non-taxpayers could be willing to beat the Warriors' top dollar. Their best bet is peddling a three- or four-year offer that might edge out other overtures in sum.

Strings-Attached Contenders

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Dallas Mavericks: Jerami Grant (player option)

    Upgrading the Mavericks to Tier 2 isn't egregious, but the Western Conference demands a certain exclusivity. They're not there yet. And they might be a hair more than one player away.

    Sure, they'll be fine if they inject a high-level shot-creator into the rotation who alleviates the burden—particularly in crunch time—on Luka Doncic. But that player isn't walking through the door in free agency. The Mavericks don't profile as a cap-space team unless Tim Hardaway Jr. declines his $19 million player option, which he shouldn't do. And even if he did, Dallas would still be left with a combination of sub-max money and a lackluster free-agency class on which to spend it.

    Next summer—or whenever the 2021 offseason ends up being—poses more of an opportunity. With some strategic bookkeeping, the Mavericks can enter the running for max stars. In the meantime, they should focus on getting more stops.

    Dallas ranks 24th in points allowed per 100 possessions since Christmas, during which time the perimeter defense has been extremely wobbly. Jerami Grant remedies some of the biggest issues without jeopardizing floor balance. He can defend every single wing spot, in addition to certain bigs and point guards, and is shooting 39.3 percent from beyond the arc over the past two seasons.

    Offering him the full nontaxpayer mid-level exception probably won't fly. His player option is worth about as much ($9.3 million), so he's unlikely to hit the open market without the promise of getting more. Dallas can meet that asking price by salary-dumping one of its mid-priced reserves.

    Offloading money might prove difficult amid the coronavirus pandemic and the financial squeeze that comes with it. But finding a taker for, say, the final two years and $17.5 million on Delon Wright's contract shouldn't cost more than a minimal sweetener. And while only a handful of squads have cap space to facilitate a full-on dump, four of them—Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit, New York—could use the defense and rim pressure Wright provides.


    Indiana Pacers: Jae Crowder

    Feel free to throw the Pacers in Tier 2 if you know for a fact Victor Oladipo will party like it's 2017-18 next season and they don't shake up the roster at the expense of win-now talent (i.e. the Domantas Sabonis-Myles Turner partnership).

    Related: No one can guarantee this trajectory.

    Indiana will instead enter the offseason on the fringes, a could-be, might-not-be contender. Its free-agency aim shouldn't change either way. Loading up on wings who are unafraid of three-point volume and can hold their own defensively is the Pacers' forever need.

    Jae Crowder checks both boxes. His reputation has long since exceeded reality, but he's someone who can be thrown at 3s and 4s, and he hasn't missed a three-pointer since getting traded to the Miami Heat. (He's actually shooting 44.5 percent from distance, but still.) Crowder also has the confidence to take and (occasionally) make off-the-dribble jumpers. That'll come in handy with Jeremy Lamb recovering from a torn left ACL.

    One hangup: The Pacers will have to get in line. Crowder is among the best non-bigs who might be gettable for the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception. (Tangential spoiler: This is why he's the only free agent to make multiple appearances here.) Indiana won't be the only team slinging it. Miami may offer more. If the Pacers want to maybe, possibly distinguish themselves, they should bait him with four years at the full MLE.


    Oklahoma City Thunder: Kent Bazemore

    Another forward-looking analysis, another reminder that the Thunder will tumble out of fringe contention if they decide to let Danilo Gallinari leave in free agency and/or explore trading Chris Paul and the two years, $85.6 million left on his contract.

    Sentimentalists like myself will beg this team to stay together. They're fun and unexpected. But even if executive vice president Sam Presti doesn't break up the band, he won't have much to dangle in free agency. They are in the luxury tax for this season, and re-signing Gallinari could leave them close enough to it that unloading the full MLE is out of the question.

    Oklahoma City also figures to hedge against its future uncertainty. Keeping Gallinari and Paul doesn't mean they won't be traded later. The same goes for the soon-to-be expiring contracts of Steven Adams or Dennis Schroder. Doubling down on this core with a semi-significant multiyear commitment could be counterintuitive to the direction the Thunder eventually travel.

    Targeting someone who fills a need without breaking the bank is right up their alley, and Kent Bazemore is just the guy. Oklahoma City needs wings who can hit threes and dribble, and he...sort of does both. Bazemore converted just 34.4 percent of his triples this season, but that clip climbed to 38.4 percent following his trade to the Sacramento Kings, and he's always been a tad underrated as a tertiary playmaker—not someone you trust to initiate the offense in full, just a capable ball-handler who won't bog down the half-court machine.

    Price point shouldn't be an issue with which the Thunder have to grapple. Bazemore isn't getting the full MLE. He might not even get the full mini MLE. That ensures he'll have a bunch of other suitors, but Oklahoma City can technically offer him a starting spot (sorry, Luguentz Dort) or at least the chance to consistently play more than 25 minutes per game.

Tier 2 Eastern Conference Contenders

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Miami Heat: Danilo Gallinari

    Every certified championship contender will be working with some form of the mid-level exception entering the offseason.

    Except for the Heat.

    Just how much cap space they'll have remains up in the air. The NBA will inevitably adjust (read: lower) its initial projections, and Miami has expensive free-agent holds for Jae Crowder ($14.8 million), Goran Dragic ($28.8 million) and Meyers Leonard ($16.9 million). Derrick Jones Jr. is set to hit the open market as well, but his placeholder salary amounts to virtually nothing.

    Dragic and Leonard aren't bagging their cap holds in yearly salary. Crowder might. Max room is off the table if the Heat carry his hold and Kelly Olynyk picks up his player option. That's fine. This year's free-agency class isn't worth spending that kind of coin.

    Miami instead has a chance at keeping Crowder and having enough left over to throw an offer north of $18 million per year at Danilo Gallinari, the exact type of shot-creating complement who should thrive in head coach Erik Spoelstra's offense. If a sub-$20 million salary isn't enough to pry him from Oklahoma City, the Heat have a few other avenues to wait on—mainly Crowder's final cost (is he cheaper than expected?) and Olynyk's player option.

    Looming over this suggestion: Giannis Antetokounmpo. Signing Gallinari would eat into Miami's 2021 cap space, and you better believe team president Pat Riley has designs on poaching someone from the smorgasbord of superstars slated to be available.

    This allegiance to big-name hunting is mutable. Antetokounmpo throws the 2021 free-agency class for an unflattering whirl if he signs a supermax with the Bucks. So many of the other players set to hit the market—Paul George (player option), LeBron James (player option), Kawhi Leonard (player option)—are most likely not going anywhere.

    Plus, this is the Heat we're talking about. They move salary around at their convenience, and Gallinari shouldn't be untradeable on his next contract. Miami has a larger obligation to Jimmy Butler's window, which is now. Optimize next year's roster, and figure out the rest later.


    Philadelphia 76ers: Austin Rivers (player option)

    Sticking the Sixers in Tier 2 feels a little generous at the moment. Or maybe they belong in Tier 1. Probably not. But maybe.

    Don't bother revisiting this after the playoffs. Ben Simmons is done for the season with a dislocated left knee. We're not going to learn anything new about the Sixers' future. They will remain a frustratingly, lopsidedly talented enigma into the offseason, at which time heads could roll.

    There is likewise the possibility Philly does very little because it's not set up to do much more. Shopping Simmons or Joel Embiid is a last resort's last resort. The Sixers aren't there yet. Gauging the market for Al Horford (three years, $81 million; $69 million guaranteed) or Tobias Harris (four years, $147.3 million) should be in play, but this presumes either will have one.

    Short of packaging Matisse Thybulle and future picks alongside salary filler—or getting the no-longer-Vlade-Divac-GM'd Kings to take Horford as part compensation for Buddy Hield—Philly's best offseason tool will be the mini mid-level. That's...not enough to acquire a high-end ball-handler who can stretch the floor and put pressure on the rim. It should be enough to get a crack at Austin Rivers.

    For anyone who's laughing right now: Chillax. Rivers is not a punchline. He canned an acceptable number of his spot-up treys this season (36.6 percent) while maintaining that accuracy on pull-up treys (36.3 percent). He doesn't generate a ton of looks at the rim or free throws, but he can jump-start the offense for bench-heavy units and offers some resistance on guards and certain wings at the defensive end.

    Philly should be prepared to look elsewhere if he takes up the full MLE. His player option is cheap enough ($2.4 million) and the cap market bare-bones enough that a slight raise might do the trick. At the same time, the Sixers don't have the money at their disposal to spend themselves into another mistake. If Rivers runs the full mini MLE for two or three years, then so be it.

Tier 2 Western Conference Contenders

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    Kim Raff/Associated Press

    Houston Rockets: Paul Millsap

    Houston needs a little help to enter the Paul Millsap discussion. Retaining access to the non-taxpayer mid-level will be prickly under the current original cap projections—and essentially impossible if the team isn't willing to pay the tax at all. It'll get even harder if the NBA lowers both the cap and luxury-tax threshold.

    The Rockets front office has toed finer lines in the past. And if they can offer the full MLE, Millsap is an intriguing fit: a 6'7" combo big who doesn't play offense like a big. He can attack from the outside and, despite a complicated relationship with three-point shooting, has buried enough of his deep balls since 2013-14 (34.9 percent) to qualify as a floor-spacer. His 43.5 percent clip from distance this season suggests he's ready for more volume.

    Millsap isn't quite positionless on defense, but he can play alongside Robert Covington and PJ Tucker without crimping Houston's driving lanes. A lineup featuring these three, James Harden and Danuel House Jr. has the potential to be a five-out nightmare that sacrifices nothing at the defensive end.

    Adding another 35-year-old to the fold (Tucker is 35) might be a turnoff—especially if Millsap gobbles up the nontaxpayer MLE. He turns 36 in February and has battled wrist, ankle, quad and knee problems over his three seasons with the Denver Nuggets. He might not be good for many more minutes than the 24.5 per game he averaged this year.

    This shouldn't be a deal-breaker. The Rockets don't need another body to log 30-plus minutes. Someone like Jae Crowder is a cleaner fit but will be more in demand and could fetch above the MLE. And unlike most wing-sized players, Millsap can absorb minutes at the 5, versatility that translates to functional relief for both Covington and Tucker.


    Utah Jazz: Jevon Carter (Early Bird Restricted)

    Jazz fans have permission to think bigger. Utah will have the nontaxpayer mid-level to burn if it shows Jordan Clarkson the door.

    Things get thornier if he comes back. Matching his salary this year ($13.4 million) doesn't preclude the Jazz from using the entire MLE, but it could mandate they enter the tax to do so. It isn't clear whether that's a viable option with Donovan Mitchell one year out from receiving a gargantuan raise and Rudy Gobert up for a new deal in 2021 as well (he's extension-eligible this offseason, like Mitchell).

    Plumbing the market for cheaper options aligns more with Utah's payroll, and though Jevon Carter might seem like a concession as the team's top free-agent option, he's really not. The Jazz could use a snarling full-court defender who splashes in threes. Carter picks up opposing ball-handlers in the parking lot, and he drilled 42.5 percent of his deepies during the regular season while showing the capacity to sponge up a heavier workload in the bubble. He shot 55.2 percent from downtown at Disney on 3.6 attempts per game.

    Stealing him from the Phoenix Suns won't be easy. They have the flexibility to match whatever he receives since no team can pay him more than the nontaxpayer's MLE in the first year of his contract. Ponying up that full amount certainly gives the Suns reason to think thrice, but the Jazz, again, must warm up to the tax, sign Clarkson for much less or allow him to walk if they're going to put Phoenix in that position.

Tier 1 Eastern Conference Contenders

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Boston Celtics: Chris Boucher (Early Bird restricted)

    Pinpointing a top target for the Celtics includes more mental gymnastics than it should. They only have the mini mid-level to work with, which limits their pool of options, but their biggest need is a matter of interpretation.

    Boston's roster could use more reserve wings at first glance. That changes upon further review. Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum all start, and Marcus Smart, while just 6'3", is nearly positionless.

    A similar tug-of-war ensues when looking at their playmaking and big-man spots. Do the Celtics need to prioritize a point guard when they have Hayward, Smart, Tatum, Kemba Walker and Brad Wanamaker (Early Bird restricted)? Or a center when they have Daniel Theis (non-guaranteed), Robert Williams III, Grant Williams and Enes Kanter (player option)?

    Other people will default to Boston adding a perimeter player. No arguments here. But the quality of talent available at those slots for the mini MLE isn't great. Going after a big allows the Celtics to zero in on potential market inefficiencies. Impact 4s and 5s always slip through the cracks.

    Chris Boucher would be a friggin' steal if Boston can get him. He stretches the floor well enough to play power forward and is a frenetic shot-blocker around the rim. Opponents are converting 51.6 percent of their point-blank looks when being challenged by him, one of the 13 stingiest marks among 118 players facing at least three such attempts per game.

    Prioritizing Boucher would be a gamble for anyone looking to demonstratively expand his minutes. He fouls a lot—too much. But the Celtics have Theis and RWIII. Boucher is more of a swing-for-the-fences addition they can plug in as needed.

    Write off Boston as a landing spot if other teams start foaming at the mouth for his services. Non-taxpayers and cap-space squads can pay him more—Boucher isn't subject to the Gilbert Arenas Rule since he has three years of experience—and his incumbent Toronto Raptors may not hesitate to match a contract worth the mini MLE.

    On the flip side: Maybe they would. Team president Masai Ujiri might blanch at any multiyear offer if Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn't sign a supermax extension and he's able to retain one of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka on an inflated one-season deal.


    Milwaukee Bucks: Dario Saric (restricted)

    Dario Saric is an ambitious pick for the Bucks. And that tracks. They must default to ultra-aggression until they win a title or Antetokounmpo signs his next contract.

    "Ambitious" is not to be confused with "totally unrealistic." Milwaukee forecasts as a nontaxpayer-MLE team unless it's compelled to handsomely pay Sterling Brown (restricted), Pat Connaughton (Early Bird) or Wesley Matthews. Spending all that money might entail entering the tax if Robin Lopez (player option), Ersan Ilyasova (non-guaranteed) and some combination of the Bucks' own free agents all return, but nabbing Saric would be worth it.

    Phoenix revived his Philadelphia-era stock in the bubble by bringing him off the bench and letting him cook as a second-unit headliner. He responded by averaging 14.8 points on 57.4/52.4/87.9 shooting splits while adding a touch more facilitation and exponentially increasing his free-throw-attempt rate.

    Milwaukee needs someone to take that role even with Donte DiVincenzo on the come-up. Saric should first and foremost be deployed as a 4, but the Bucks can scrape by if he's at the 3. Phoenix has even experimented using him at the 5 in limited bursts. That at least opens up the possibility of Antetokounmpo-Saric frontlines when Milwaukee feels frisky enough to play without a conventional big.

    Restricted free agents worth a damn usually aren't obtainable for the MLE. That might be the case here. It all depends on how much the Suns value him moving forward. They need to elevate their shot creation around Devin Booker—just as the Bucks need to diversify their half-court options—and may be prepared to match a multiyear pact worth a hair under $10 million annually. Milwaukee should still find out. Sights can always be lowered after the fact.


    Toronto Raptors: Glenn Robinson III

    Taking stock of the Raptors' cap situation and contender status is a mental labyrinth. They could end up as a taxpayer if they bring back Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet. They could be a cap-space team if they all leave. They will fall somewhere in between if two stay and one bolts.

    Letting all of their own free agents go compromises Toronto's standing in the East. But assuming demolition is never the sensible decision—not when the Raptors, as currently constructed, are the biggest threats to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference.

    Banking on a middle ground is safest. Toronto should have the non-taxpayer MLE unless it spends a ton on incumbent free agents. But 2021 is once again a factor. The Raptors will be in the running for Antetokounmpo if he hits the open market, and even if he signs an extension this offseason, they might be reticent to tack on multiyear commitments from an unsavory free-agency class and when Kyle Lowry himself will be up for a new deal in 2021.

    Glenn Robinson III would be akin to an unspectacular swing—the result of the Raptors standing pat, preserving future flexibility and wishing to acquire someone who doesn't mess with the development of Terence Davis, Matt Thomas and, apparently, Stanley Johnson (player option).

    Perhaps Toronto will favor a pricier player who puts more pressure on the rim in the half court. Goran Dragic makes sense. But Robinson downed 40 percent of his three-pointers with Golden State and made noise in transition all year. He fits with how the Raptors play, shouldn't command a contract that dents the bank account and will fit with whatever this nucleus looks like beyond next season.

Tier 1 Western Conference Contenders

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    Denver Nuggets: Jae Crowder

    Two hiccups crop up right off the bat: Does Jae Crowder bring the level of shooting Nikola Jokic's passing deserves? And can the Nuggets afford him?

    Crowder's shooting is by far the smallest concern. His career three-point splits are a roller-coaster ride, but he has been blisteringly hot since joining the Heat and won't want for quality outside looks orbiting Jokic and with defenses devoting so much attention to Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.

    Affording Crowder is tougher to reconcile. The Nuggets have a few in-house free agents to make calls on, including Torrey Craig (restricted), Jerami Grant (player option), Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee. Re-signing all four and giving chase to Crowder is a non-starter. Denver needs the full mid-level exception to have a prayer at poaching him, and the math will be uncomfortably tight if retaining both Grant and Millsap is a top priority.

    Grant can simplify matters by opting in and signing an extension or opting out and inking a deal with a similar annual price point. That should allow the Nuggets enough wiggle room under the tax to pay him, re-sign Millsap and then court Crowder. (Dipping into the tax while staying below the apron is, as ever, an option but not one that feels especially likely.) Miami can pay him more but might balk at a three- or four-year offer if it wants to maintain maximum plasticity for 2021 free agency.

    Sign me all the way up for a roster that would include Crowder, Grant and Millsap. The Nuggets could trot out supersized lineups with all three and Jokic. The ability to play Porter while almost always having him beside two of Crowder, Grant and Millsap would be huge. Granted, the aforementioned trio doesn't promise a ton of off-the-dribble bucket-getting, but Porter's emergence outfits Denver with enough shot-making, and Grant, Millsap and Miami-era Crowder are swishing an enviable number of their triples this season.


    Los Angeles Clippers: Marc Gasol

    Too much doubt has been assigned to the Clippers' center rotation. Ivica Zubac is faster than the perception of him, Montrezl Harrell is really good, and JaMychal Green-at-the-5 arrangements are sitting in head coach Doc Rivers' back pocket—as are Marcus Morris-at-center combinations. The Clippers can hold serve up front and be perfectly awesome.


    Marc Gasol represents an appreciable defensive and passing upgrade over all the Clippers' current center options. Contrary to Harrell and Zubac, he allows them to play five-out. And unlike Green and Morris, he does so without surrendering any size.

    Investing in what will be Gasol's age-36 season is too risky for certain teams. The Clippers aren't one of them. He'd be signing for the mini mid-level exception—no doubt a discount relative to the rest of his market. Maybe he isn't interested in taking less to compete for a bonafide title contender. He already has a ring. The Raptors might also be slinging a one-year balloon payment to stick around and chase another championship with them.

    Even so, Gasol is among this free-agency class' potential ring chasers. And if he's at all considering a pay cut to buoy his chances of winning a second title, the Clippers have to be on his list.


    Los Angeles Lakers: Goran Dragic

    Shoring up the LeBron James-less minutes on offense will top the Lakers' offseason to-do list no matter how this year ends. Having the non-taxpayer's mid-level, plus two superstars on which to sell free agents, should allow them to do just that.

    Some will want to go in a different direction. Certain numbers back that train of thought. The Lakers have sustained an above-board offensive rating without LeBron on the court. But that averageness has come by the skin of their teeth and is predicated on feasting in transition. Their half-court efficiency without him places in the 25th percentile, down from an already flimsy 57th percentile when he plays.

    Goran Dragic can help navigate set defenses both with and without LeBron. He's 34 and battled injuries the past two seasons, but he's averaging 16.2 points and 5.1 assists off Miami's bench this year while draining 50.5 percent of his twos and 36.7 percent of his threes.

    Rajon Rondo's probable return (player option) shouldn't dissuade the Lakers from giving Dragic a look. He hits enough of his catch-and-shoot treys to place next to other ball-handlers—although he's at just 31.1 percent since the All-Star break—and he's a bigger off-the-dribble threat than either Rondo or Alex Caruso.

    Kyle Kuzma's sweet, sweet shooting in Disney might convince the Lakers they don't as desperately need another scorer. That'd be a mistake. Kuzma is doing a lot of his damage off the catch—which, for the record, is just what Los Angeles needs—and cannot double as table-setter. Dragic brings the entire offensive package: from-scratch scoring, playmaking and floor spacing, all of which the Lakers still need in much, much heavier supply.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball Reference or Cleaning the Glass. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball InsidersEarly Bird Rights and Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Adam Fromal.


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