1 Player Every NBA Team Needs to Chase in 2020 Free Agency
Selections for every squad are based on a combination of roster needs and financial situations. Since we don't yet know where next year's cap will fall, this year's $109.1 million marker will be our default.
More ambitious targets will be given for teams that have the means and motivation to chisel out additional spending power or chase sign-and-trade scenarios. These instances will be the exception, not the standard.
Assumptions will be made for each roster. Will the Phoenix Suns renounce Aron Baynes or Dario Saric? Will the Portland Trail Blazers guarantee Trevor Ariza's salary? Will Evan Fournier pick up his player option with the Orlando Magic? Etc, etc, etc. These decisions will shape each team's cap outlook and be explained in turn.
Please do not consider this a glance at every squad's should-be No. 1 priority. This is more about identifying players who fit with what franchises can spend; their current rosters and directions; who, in some cases, will best allow them to go about other offseason business unimpeded; and who will realistically be available to them.
That last part is most important. Around two-thirds of the league could technically be shopping with the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception. Names will be recycled ad nauseam if the presumption is everyone has an equitable shot at wooing players who fall into that price range. Adding more context is paramount for the sake of variety—and plausibility.
Atlanta Hawks: Joe Harris
Targeting Joe Harris won't do much for the Atlanta Hawks if they're looking to alleviate Trae Young's ball-handling responsibilities. That's fine. They need shooting, too.
Harris brings plenty of functional sniping. His 43.9 percent clip from deep over the past three seasons comes amid a mixture of standstill looks, in-motion firings and the occasional off-the-dribble jumper. He has even added a smidgen of creation to his game, beyond just attacking closeouts. He can probe off the bounce while navigating some traffic and tosses a few nifty passes.
That's not enough to get Young moving off the ball in the half-court, but it's optionality the Hawks aren't guaranteed from any of their other wings. If nothing else, Atlanta desperately needs his consistency from the beyond the arc after placing dead-last in three-point efficiency this past season.
Signing Harris won't come cheap. It might not even be possible. Fortunately, the Hawks don't face a ton of competition.
Teams with the mid-level exception will come calling, but it'll take more than that to poach Harris. Atlanta is one of the scant few squads slinging real space, and with a war chest that will clear $40 million even against a lateral cap, it has the financial juice to tender him an offer that makes the incumbent, luxury-tax-bound Brooklyn Nets more than a little uncomfortable.
Boston Celtics: Alec Burks
Choosing a free agent for the Boston Celtics to lust after is an exercise in second-guesses. You can talk yourself into their needing a big. Or a backup point guard. Or some wing depth. You can also convince yourself they don't need to address any of those spots. They are all at once, somehow, the most pressing priorities and not of real concern.
Big men will be the most popular suggestions. Meh. The Celtics are keeping Daniel Theis (non-guaranteed) and have dabbled in more Robert Williams III minutes. Enes Kanter is probably picking up his player option, and more Grant Williams-at-the-5 stints feel inevitable. Vincent Poirier is also on a guaranteed deal for next season. Do not forget about Tacko Fall.
Prioritizing additional wing depth is hardly blasphemous. The top of Boston's rotation is packed with star power, but it thins out after Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum. At the same time, Marcus Smart is essentially positionless, and this year's wing market sort of blows. Armed with the taxpayer mid-level exception as their best spending tool, the Celtics won't have sway to add the best available perimeter talent.
Settling on another guard who can create his own shot while playing off everyone else feels right. Brad Wanamaker isn't an afterthought, but he's a restricted free agent (Early Bird) and more of a power driver who can knock down looks off the catch.
Alec Burks can do more with the rock. He drained 39.4 percent of his pull-up threes during the regular season, a top-seven mark among 64 players to get off at least 100 such attempts. His efficiency fits neatly into an offensive ecosystem that depended on these looks more than any team outside Houston, and he shouldn't gum up the pecking order. He fares well enough on spot-up treys (37.7 percent) to work in tandem with other ball-handlers but should be a boon for the stretches in which Tatum and Kemba Walker are both on the bench.
The upshot? Boston may end up with more first-round picks—Nos. 14, 26 and 30—than open roster spots. Romeo Langford could also compete for minutes in this role next year. But the Celtics are championship hopefuls now. The bet is they do something to consolidate their crowded docket and will want to add a more proven presence to the backup rotation. Burks can be that guy.
Brooklyn Nets: Moe Harkless
Pinning down viable free-agent options for the Nets comes back to one question: Who can they nab for the mini mid-level exception to deepen their forward rotation and fit cleanly beside Spencer Dinwiddie, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert?
Pickings are slim. Brooklyn will be priced out of the top bigger wings: Jae Crowder, Jerami Grant (player option), Marcus Morris Sr., etc. Moe Harkless might even be a stretch. The Nets could be better off pursuing a veteran on the back of his career who will prioritize a (possible) starting spot and championship proximity over money.
Paul Millsap springs to mind when weighing the latter category. He has put together a less-than-sterling performance following the NBA's restart, and at 35, coming off a three-year, $90 million contract, he won't necessarily be on the prowl for a huge payday.
Harkless is the better option anyway. He offers more positional flexibility on defense, across the 2, 3 and 4 spots. Millsap will be more attractive if Brooklyn finds itself in the market for a combo big after striking a trade that includes Jarrett Allen.
Loading up on bigger-wing defenders probably remains the smarter play even then. The Nets cannot be sure what Durant looks like following his recovery from a ruptured right Achilles. They certainly won't want to overburden him on defense yet don't have a ton of alternatives. LeVert, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (non-guaranteed), Joe Harris and Garrett Temple (player option) are undersized versus certain 3s, let alone 4s.
Operable options start to trail off after Taurean Prince. Harkless adds another body to that conversation. His three-point shooting is touch-and-go, but he drilled 37 percent of his triples before getting traded from the Los Angeles Clippers. Playing next to Brooklyn's smorgasbord of crafty ball-handlers will afford him higher-quality looks than he enjoyed with the New York Knicks.
Charlotte Hornets: Christian Wood
Declining cap projections impact the Charlotte Hornets' spending power but don't torpedo it. They'll have close to $20 million in room should they renounce all their own free agents, and their wiggle room will increase if the rookie scale gets adjusted and the No. 3 pick winds up costing less.
Figuring out where to funnel this cash isn't a mindless matter. Giving the Hornets money to burn is typically terrifying. It might still be. But the market isn't flush with big-name pitfalls. Charlotte isn't about to unload near-max money on Bogdan Bogdanovic (restricted), Danilo Gallinari or Fred VanVleet...right?
Christian Wood represents a nice middle ground. It'll cost more than the mid-level exception to pry him away from the Detroit Pistons, but it shouldn't stake stupid-ridiculous money. Perhaps this changes if Motor City is feeling frisky. The Pistons will likely need cap space to re-sign Wood, an Early Bird free agent, but they have plenty of it. Carving out $30 million is still on the table.
Charlotte should be eyeing Wood until Detroit actually goes nuclear. (And again: It might not.) Taking James Wiseman with the No. 3 pick may curtail interest in adding another big, but this isn't a cut-and-dry case. Wood has three-point range and the mobility to guard 4s. With Cody Zeller coming off the books in 2021 and no other combo bigs under contract for next season—I'm not counting Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington in this discussion—the Hornets can stand to both select Wiseman and sign someone like Wood.
Shelling out substantial money for anyone might not sit right when Charlotte seems so far away from playoff contention, even by Eastern Conference standards. But Wood is timeline-proof. He'll be 25 when next season starts, and his offensive game is scalable. His 22.0 points per 36 minutes this year came amid a nice blend of standstill triples, slips to the basket, transition opportunities, closeout attacks and even some in-traffic creation.
Chicago Bulls: Sterling Brown (Restricted)
Whether the Chicago Bulls are angling for a playoff berth or preparing to start semi-over under executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas doesn't particularly matter. They'll be working with the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception unless Otto Porter Jr. declines his player option.
Peddling what will be the NBA's most common spending tool doesn't do much for the Bulls when addressing their biggest need: wings. They won't be able to wow the likes of Jae Crowder or Jerami Grant (player option) with their contract offers. The money will be equal elsewhere, and the chance to win will be greater.
Spotting potential bargains is more in line with Chicago's position—preferably underappreciated wings with a semblance of a jump shot.
This rules out Derrick Jones Jr. His motor on defense and in transition are nice, but he'll have other suitors, namely admirers in Cleveland, and the Bulls should want someone less hopeless from beyond the arc.
Sterling Brown is a solid dice roll. At 6'5", he has the strength to match up with everyone from point guards to some small-ball 4s. And while his three-point touch isn't automatic, he canned 36.3 percent of his catch-and-fire deepies this season.
Twenty-five-year-old restricted free agents aren't usually gettable for teams with the mid-level exception. Brown is different. The Milwaukee Bucks aren't entering a bidding war for him. They need wing depth behind their starters, but Brown logged under four minutes during their playoff push. Chicago should only balk if he ends up running the full MLE—a scenario that's beyond unlikely.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Derrick Jones Jr.
Derrick Jones Jr. has been on the Cleveland Cavaliers' tangential radar for a while. They need defensive-minded wings who won't break the bank, and he's a workaholic with positional range who, well, shouldn't break the bank.
Housing Jones can come at an offensive cost. He's a career 28.2 percent three-point shooter. But the hustle he injects into lineups at both ends is worth the trouble.
He can chase around 2s, 3s and 4s and will obliterate wide-open spaces off the dribble. His commitment to getting out on the break would be a welcomed addition to a team that ranked 29th in transition frequency this past season. He averaged 1.50 points per possession in these situations, the highest mark among 215 players who attempted at least 50 such shots.
Closely aligning his minutes with Collin Sexton and, as long as he's around, Kevin Love would help with the spacing concerns. Actually affording Jones is the bigger issue. The Cavs won't be working with more than the non-taxpayer mid-level unless Andre Drummond declines his player option (he won't). They're not nabbing him if he solicits a bunch of richer offers.
Related: He probably won't. Around 22 to 25 teams should be limited to the mini or non-taxpayer mid-level exception. Among the squads with guaranteed cap space—Hawks, Hornets, Pistons, Knicks—not one registers as an obvious fit. If any of them do come calling, the Cavaliers can separate themselves by offering more minutes.
Granted, the Miami Heat can render any overtures meaningless. But they'll be reticent to dole out any multiyear deals if they still expect to go big-game hunting in 2021. And since he's factored only sparingly into the playoff rotation, they may default to letting Jones walk before even considering a one-year balloon payment—all of which is good news for Cleveland.
Dallas Mavericks: Danilo Gallinari (Sign-and-Trade)
Let's put on our dare-to-dream hats on, shall we?
Danilo Gallinari isn't signing with the Dallas Mavericks outright. That would entail accepting the non-taxpayer's mid-level, and even in a cash-poor market, he'll get more.
But the door is open for the Oklahoma City Thunder to facilitate his exit. Their mutual parting with head coach Billy Donovan, on top of a postseason farewell from Chris Paul that was dripping in finality, implies they're pivoting into a more gradual rebuild. Ponying up to keep a 32-year-old Gallinari wouldn't jibe with that direction.
Dallas can see this as an opportunity to broker a sign-and-trade. A lot depends on Gallinari's price point, but building an offer around Justin Jackson, Delon Wright and the No. 31 pick would allow for a $17.6 million starting salary. That number would climb above $19.7 million if Jalen Brunson is included instead (or in addition) to No. 31.
Weighing the opportunity cost here for the Mavericks is complicated. On the one hand, they need another shot creator to pair alongside Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. Even after a rough go in the postseason, Gallinari checks that box.
On the other hand, the Dallas offense is great outside crunch time. Getting stops is a larger problem, and Gallinari doesn't help tighten up the defense. The Mavericks can explore cheaper ways to augment their offense (Alec Burks?).
This says nothing of the salary-cap gymnastics of the 2021 offseason. Dallas has a window to dredge up max room before Doncic's next contract. Tacking on Gallinari to that payroll would theoretically remove them from the Giannis Antetokounmp discussion.
Except, actually, it wouldn't. The Mavericks will have to trim salary before having max room next summer. Adding Gallinari only lengthens that process, putting them on the hook for rerouting at least two of Seth Curry, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell. That's not an impossible position. It amounts to their optimizing the fringe title window Doncic has already manufactured while acknowledging they'll have to grease the wheels of salary dumps in 2021 if a superstar chooses to join them.
Denver Nuggets: Jae Crowder
Jae Crowder is an ambitious end goal for any team. He's a candidate to receive an ultra-lucrative one-year offer from the Heat as they strive to keep their books clean ahead of 2021 free agency. They might even elect to re-sign him for more than one year if that's what it takes. He is shooting 40 percent from downtown in the playoffs and was among their primary Giannis Antetokounmpo defenders during the semifinals.
For the Denver Nuggets' part, they're not just battling Miami. They're also juggling a very to-be-determined cap sheet. They should have access to the full mid-level exception, but the math gets thorny if Jerami Grant declines his player option and they look to retain some combination of him, Torrey Craig (restricted), Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee. It gets even hairier if Denver is trying to not just stay below the apron but also entirely out of the tax.
Assuming the Nuggets have and are offering the full MLE, they won't be alone. Close to 20 teams will have identical spending power, and Crowder's skill set, maddening off-the-dribble heat checks in mind, works just about anywhere.
Denver's best bet is to toss four years his way. He might prefer the chance to re-enter free agency sooner, but he's 30, and this is both his first and, potentially, last chance to net an average annual salary in the eight-figure range. A long-term commitment could remove Miami from the equation if it's trying to sell him on, say, a one-year, $20 million pact.
Insofar as he's obtainable, Crowder would be a huge boon for the Nuggets. Their wing rotation is still missing some two-way panache, even with Grant and Gary Harris in the fold.
Craig doesn't provide enough spacing, and despite flashes of frantic, engaged rotations, Michael Porter Jr. isn't a good enough defender to sustain he-plays-both-sides billing. Crowder is another body who can be thrown at larger wings, and Denver's defensive appeal would be infinitely higher if he's in a rotation that also includes Grant and maybe Millsap, too.
Detroit Pistons: Josh Jackson
Having near-max cap space is not a license for the Pistons to unload all their money. They're sort of entering a rebuild—or at least not actively avoiding one. They should be obsessing over youngsters, cheap fliers and, market-pending, the chance to soak up unwanted deals attached to sweeteners via trade.
By all means, Detroit is free to inflate the price tag of restricted free agents. Maxing out Brandon Ingram would be fine, but he'll get that somewhere else before the New Orleans Pelicans match, if not from the Pelicans themselves. The Pistons would be better off forcing the Sacramento Kings to pay out the wazoo for Bogdan Bogdanovic or thrusting the Minnesota Timberwolves into an uncomfortably expensive decision on Malik Beasley.
Josh Jackson would be a more prudent target when Detroit is shopping for keeps. I must confess: I watched exactly zero minutes of his play with the Memphis Hustle, the Memphis Grizzlies' G League affiliate, but he flashed more disciplined and opportunistic off-ball defense during limited run with the parent club.
Though his jumper remains a work in progress—he shot 31.9 percent from with the Grizzlies and 60.3 percent from the foul line with the Hustle—he connected on 38.0 percent of his treys in the G League. He also seems like he's more under control and equipped to finish at the rim.
Stealing Jackson from the Grizzlies shouldn't cost that much. They declined his fourth-year team option worth $8.9 million, and while they can still offer that money, they hardly appear married to him.
Golden State Warriors: Paul Millsap
Mea culpa time!
I initially posited the Golden State Warriors wouldn't be able to bag Paul Millsap for the taxpayer's mid-level exception. Then the playoffs continued to happen. And his detonation in the third quarter of Game 5 against the Clippers notwithstanding, Millsap has looked his age, which is—wipes down non-prescription eyeglasses—35.
Courting him with the mini MLE may still be a fool's errand. Denver could consider giving him a one-year windfall. Non-taxpayers might fork over a bigger chunk of, if not their entire, MLE. Millsap could, in fact, accept the mini MLE but opt to sign with a team he deems closer to a title.
And in that scenario, who could blame him? The Warriors are subject to a certain fragility. Klay Thompson is working his way back from a torn a left ACL. The broken left hand Stephen Curry suffered isn't chronic, but he's 32. Was Draymond Green's 2019-20 performance purely gap-year apathy or a harbinger of downside? And who does Golden State have after them? Eric Paschall, Andrew Wiggins, Marquese Chriss (non-guaranteed), Damion Lee, Jordan Poole, Ky Bowman (non-guaranteed) and a will-he-ever-be-healthy-again Kevon Looney?
Forgive me; we're getting too far ahead. Besides, the Warriors have the No. 2 pick, the Andre Iguodala trade exception and Minnesota's 2021 first-rounder (top-three-protected). They've got a seismic move or two in them. And even if they stand pat, three stars plus a highish-end prospect and whatever Wiggins becomes with them isn't nothing.
Millsap would have the opportunity to start for Golden State as it stands. His presence feels like it would balance warring inclinations: head coach Steve Kerr's desire to roll out a big and the Warriors playing at their peak with a less-conventional frontcourt. Millsap is only 6'7", but a frontline captained by him and Green will have IQ to spare and won't be easily overpowered.
If Millsap brings his 43.5 percent three-point clip from this season with him, even better. Forever sort of light on shooting beyond its historically molten backcourt (and Kevin Durant), Golden State would have zero trouble playing four out when Green is on the floor.
Houston Rockets: Justin Holiday
Switching head coaches—Mike D'Antoni has informed the organization he'll be exploring other opportunities—will not change the Houston Rockets' free-agency course. Microball will live on, according to ESPN's Tim MacMahon.
Ergo, bringing in more wings is a must.
Higher-end options who can rumble with fringe bigs and actual bigs, such as Jae Crowder and Marcus Morris Sr., would be perfect. The Rockets cannot afford them. They should have room enough below the apron to use the non-taxpayer mid-level, but the math is tight to start and only gets hairier if Jeff Green and Austin Rivers (player option) command more than afterthought salaries.
Justin Holiday should fall into Houston's price range regardless—so long as it's prepared to use whatever version of the MLE available. And though he's not going to hold up against actual bigs or the largest wings, his length allowed the Indiana Pacers to extract backup 4 minutes from him. The Rockets will have no trouble doing the same. (Also: Don't forget about David Nwaba, who has a team option.)
Holiday's prospective fit is buoyed even further on offense. More than 55 percent of his attempts with the Pacers came as catch-and-fire threes, on which he shot 40.1 percent. And his utility on the break meshes nicely with a team that will (probably) still be looking to empower Russell Westbrook. Holiday's 1.24 points per transition possession this season ranked in the 77th percentile and included ample looks from beyond the arc.
Indiana Pacers: Wes Iwundu (Restricted)
Dream bigger for the Pacers at your own risk.
Hawking the non-taxpayer's mid-level can probably net a better player than Wes Iwundu, an Early Bird restricted free agent, but that assumes its unloaded on one target. The Pacers might not have that luxury. Justin Holiday is must-keep, and they don't have his Bird rights. If he costs more than $5.7 million to retain next season, they'll need to dip into their MLE.
Guaranteeing Holiday can be re-signed using his non-Bird rights only changes part of this thought process. Indiana would be free to circle glitzier options, but deepening the wing rotation should top its to-do list. That's a big ask when so many other teams will be in the same boat.
Perhaps someone from the Jae Crowder-Joe Harris-Jerami Grant-Marcus Morris Sr. tier ends up taking the mid-level exception. The chances they'll land with the Pacers aren't great. So many other suitors can offer the same amount of money, and Indiana has only stood above the field when it has more cash to offer.
Examining cheaper options serves dual purposes. It permits the Pacers to make a high-upside play, and it should allow them to save some money in the event they want to split the MLE among two players.
Iwundu would be a calculated dice roll. He's an active defender at all the wing spots—the Magic put him on Giannis Antetokounmpo for spurts in the playoffs, out of necessity—and started hitting more of his threes as 2019-20 wore on.
From just after the turn of the calendar through the end of the regular season, he buried 42.9 percent of his long-range looks on 2.0 attempts per game. He needs to sustain more volume before he's considered a three-and-D specialist, but at 25, he has time to elevate his usage. Calling him a "specialist" might even do a disservice to the depth of his armory. He can beat guys off the dribble with his right hand and is comfortable pulling up for jumpers after turning a corner.
One hangup: Orlando might value Iwundu more with Jonathan Isaac's torn left ACL expected to cost him all of next year. Al-Farouq Aminu and Chuma Okeke should be joining the rotation, but the Magic aren't especially deep on the wings in the first place. They'll be thinner if James Ennis III (player option) and Evan Fournier (player option) test the open market.
Early Bird rights would give Orlando the inside track to keep Iwundu away from prying eyes. The Pacers could go nuclear and offer the full MLE, but that's a gamble-and-a-half—and the Magic could still match. Lowering their sights and chasing an Ennis-type player would be the pivot in that instance. Yet with the work Indy's done developing a handful of mid-career wings, including Holiday, signing Iwundu could go down as one of free agency's most underrated moves.
Los Angeles Clippers: Marc Gasol
Talk about bad timing. Marc Gasol is coming off a 19-minute, six-point, minus-19 clunker in the Toronto Raptors' Game 7 loss to the Celtics.
Actually, on second thought, maybe that makes this good timing...for the Clippers.
They'll be working with no more than mini MLE in free agency. Gasol is 35, but he played an integral part in Toronto's championship run last season and looked far from washed for most of this year. He should still have offers worth more than the taxpayer's MLE, but he also wasn't, how would you say, eminently playable versus the Celtics.
Bad matchups exist for every traditional big. Boston was one for Gasol—and the Raptors in general. They were forced to lean on Pascal Siakam-at-the-5 arrangements more than usual.
Gasol still has value as a passer, floor-spacer and interior defender. Sign the Clippers up for all that. This isn't an indictment of Ivica Zubac, who has defended his tail off and played well on offense during the postseason. But the Clippers cannot play five out without going to JaMychal Green at the 5 or downsizing to Marcus Morris Sr. in the middle. Gasol would help them get there without forfeiting size or girth.
Keeping tabs on him would also be good Montrezl Harrell insurance. They are two vastly different players, but the latter's free agency will be fascinating. So few teams have cap space it might not matter, but if one blows him out of the water with an offer far and away above the mid-level—gulp, Charlotte?—the Clippers can talk themselves into going a different, cheaper direction.
Los Angeles Lakers: Goran Dragic
Wracking my brain for a more creative option proved unsuccessful. Goran Dragic makes too much sense for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Stabilizing the half-court offense in LeBron James' absence—and even during his minutes—continues to be an issue. Postseason Rajon Rondo is not a permanent cure-all. The Lakers ranked in the 24th percentile of half-court efficiency without LeBron during the regular season. They only cracked the 57th percentile with him.
Stocking the roster with more high-volume shooters would go a long way. Snagging a playmaker who also spaces the floor would go even further.
Dragic is the latter. He averaged 16.2 points and 5.1 assists per game during the regular season while putting down 50.5 percent of his twos, predominantly as a bench player. He's fared even better as a starter in the playoffs, putting up 21.1 points and 4.7 assists per game while hitting 51.1 percent of his twos and 38.1 percent of his threes.
Playing him independent of LeBron would be a godsend for the offense. The same goes when they operate in tandem. Dragic has the touch to work off other ball-handlers—he's converting 45.0 percent of his spot-up threes in the playoffs—and having that second half-court prober who isn't reticent to finish possessions would only open more doors for LeBron.
Miami looms as the wild card in this discussion. Inking Dragic, 34, to a long-term deal is out of the question if 2021 cap space remains a priority. But if the Heat are OK punting on wiggle room now, they can offer him a near-max one-year deal that would equal roughly what he'd earn over three years at the full mid-level exception.
That's not a pitch the Lakers can beat. They need Miami to head in a different direction for Dragic to fear he'll be used as a salary anchor in a trade (though he'd have veto power if he signs a one-year deal using his Bird rights).
Memphis Grizzlies: Glenn Robinson III
Completing the trade for Justise Winslow and extending Dillion Brooks chewed through all the Grizzlies' projected cap space. They will now join the non-taxpayer-mid-level exception melee.
They're probably better off. This isn't the offseason to have cap space, unless you're anticipating a frothy salary-dumping market. It is too easy to stumble into a bad deal when burning flexibility on a singular player in a lukewarm market. Having only the MLE protects the Grizzlies against doing the inadvertently drastic—like reading too much into almost making the playoffs in a Western Conference that'll be even deeper and less forgiving.
Exhausting the wing market would be Memphis' best play. Perimeter firepower is an annual hole around these parts, and Winslow, assuming he remains healthy, wouldn't plug the void on his own.
Similar to other squads who aren't concretely title-bound, the Grizzlies won't have the clout to reel in a Joe Harris or Jerami Grant (player option) at the MLE. Nor, for that matter, may other suitors. Incumbent teams should be considered heavy favorites to retain the best available wings at higher pay grades.
Memphis needs to think a little smaller, which is perfectly fine, since the jury remains out on where this group stands relative to the rest of the West. Glenn Robinson III would be an ideal get: a 26-year-old wing who knocks down threes, offers some defensive optionality and shouldn't price himself out of the MLE field.
Now might even be the best time to go after him. Hip and oblique issues limited him to just 14 appearances after he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. That could demote him to biannual exception territory. The Grizzlies should only be looking at his performance with the Warriors. He averaged 12.9 points through 48 appearances while putting in 40.5 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes. Ja Morant could use another beyond-the-rainbow outlet such as him.
Miami Heat: Chris Boucher (Restricted)
Digging into the Heat's list of prospective targets is a lot less entrancing. They can open up more than $25 million in room if they renounce all their free agents except for Derrick Jones Jr., and that flexibility would increase should Kelly Olynyk decline his player option.
The latter has never been especially likely. The former has joined it.
Almost no one picked Miami to make the Eastern Conference Finals. It's there now, a mere four wins from an NBA Finals cameo. That would change things. It wouldn't derail any 2021 free-agency ambitions, but letting Jae Crowder and Goran Dragic walk feels like self-sabotage.
Who are the Heat going to grab with their cap space anyway? Danilo Gallinari remains an attractive fit, but he'll (probably) command a multiyear deal. Miami is better offer trying to sell Crowder and Dragic on one-season agreements that drastically exceed their market value.
That means holding on to their cap holds. Factoring in those placeholders—$14.6 million for Crowder and $28.8 million for Dragic—would eat up all the Heat's potential space and then some. It doesn't matter if Dragic costs less than his cap hold or Olynyk explores the open market. Miami will be left to spend the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception if this is the route it goes.
Identifying best-fit options is a little trickier under those circumstances. The MLE should go a long way in this year's market, and the Heat are a destination. But they can't promise players with widespread interest a spot in their closing lineup, and too many of the most popular MLE targets figure to want multiyear deals that would slice into Miami's 2021 cap space.
Adjusting the scope and poking around someone such as Chris Boucher would be cleaner. The Raptors have his Early Bird rights, but they're unlikely to fuss over his return if they're also trying to maintain flexibility for 2021. And the Heat could use another frontline body even if neither Olynyk nor Meyers Leonard (unrestricted) leaves town.
Boucher seems like someone who would instantly click in Miami. His three-point shooting is rocky, but he has the range to unlock five-out combinations or play next to another big. Supersized lineups featuring him and Bam Adebayo would guarantee plenty of switchability and verticality at the rim. Opponents shot 52 percent from point-blank range in the regular season when being challenged by Boucher—a top-20 mark among 130 players to face at least three such attempts per game.
Milwaukee Bucks: Glenn Robinson III
It is tempting to demand the Bucks explore shinier free agents via sign-and-trade. They need another perimeter-scoring punch, and someone along the lines of Bogdan Bogdanovic (restricted), Danilo Gallinari or Dario Saric (restricted) would raise the ceiling of their half-court offense.
But their starkest swings are best saved for the trade market. They have eyes for Chris Paul, according to the New York Times' Marc Stein, and without many top-tier assets, they're more appealing partners to teams looking to get off money rather than players they could let walk for nothing.
Confining Milwaukee's search to MLE options doesn't encourage indulging an alternate need. Wings are still the priority. Sterling Brown (restricted), Pat Connaughton, Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews (player option) are all free agents. Any combination of them could leave, and running it back wouldn't sit quite right given how the team flamed out of the second round.
All the usual suspects are most likely out of reach—Jae Crowder, Joe Harris, Marcus Morris Sr. et al. The Bucks are only in play if their incumbent squads cut them loose and any of the cap-space admirers have no interest in paying them. You can bet your last cent Atlanta and New York, specifically, would be willing to pay all of them.
Lowering expectations is also in service of keeping Matthews. Milwaukee doesn't own his Bird rights and may need to knife into its biannual or mid-level exceptions keep him.
Glenn Robinson III jibes with either scenario, since he shouldn't cost the entire MLE. He doesn't infuse from-scratch creation into the rotation, but he splashed in 40.5 percent of his standstill treys through 48 appearances with the Warriors this season. If he's given the all-clear following hip and oblique injuries with the Sixers, he's an impactful rotation player who should allow the Bucks enough breathing room below the luxury-tax apron to make a real play for Paul and his $41.4 million salary.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Justin Holiday
Building around the Karl-Anthony Towns-D'Angelo Russell duo mandates the Timberwolves hoard defensive aces. Their two stars should coalesce into offensive Nirvana, but aside from the three to four weeks every year during which KAT teases significant defensive improvement, they're going to hemorrhage points at the other end.
Insisting Minnesota amass two-way wings is some real Captain Obvious stuff. Every team wants and needs to want those players. But the Timberwolves' setup is more precarious. Nearly all their wings foist them into either-or decisions.
Josh Okogie's confidence is next-level, but he needs to polish his jumper before meeting two-way criteria. Malik Beasley defends his derriere off in fits and bursts. Jarrett Culver needs to be more of a consistent offensive presence. (His 38.0 percent clip from downtown over his final final 30 games was encouraging.)
Justin Holiday would bring more of a two-way punch than any wing Minnesota already has in tow. He is very much plug-and-play on offense. He capitalized on transition opportunities in Indiana, and even after an ice-cold showing at Disney World, he closed the regular season swishing 40.1 percent of his spot-up treys.
The defensive presence he provides is far from lockdown. But he's long and good at using space to his advantage. The Pacers lined him up against backup 4s, and he stood his own. That range would make for an interesting defensive partnership alongside Culver and Okogie, and it'd render him a nice fit next to Beasley, who's not really built to guard up.
Affording Holiday wouldn't be a concern. Leaguewide interest is a different story. He shouldn't command more than the non-taxpayer mid-level the Timberwolves have to offer, but he'll be a scorching-hot commodity in a market that wants for quality wings.
New Orleans Pelicans: Kent Bazemore
Kent Bazemore isn't going to make Pelicans fans feel warm and fuzzy. He is on the less ambitious end of the spectrum, someone who shouldn't come close to gobbling up the non-taxpayer mid-level they'll have and should instead be gettable at the biannual exception.
Feel free to theorize bigger. The Pelicans could fancy themselves win-now and look to add a more expensive stretch big (Serge Ibaka, Paul Millsap) or re-sign Derrick Favors and then aim higher on the available wing scale. They have the assets to punch above their MLE. Sign-and-trades for a higher-end wing (Jae Crowder, Jerami Grant) are absolutely a possibility if their incumbent teams are willing to play nice.
But, like, are the Pelicans set on fighting for a playoff spot next season? Their Disney World exit leaves room to debate.
Zion Williamson can plead being a rookie, in addition to the absence of continuity. Between his knee injury at the beginning of the year, the hiatus and having to leave the bubble, his NBA debut was essentially a tale of, approximately, nine seasons. But he has an awful long way to go on the defensive end and doesn't yet have the conditioning to be a 30-plus-minute-per-game player.
Not that this is just about him. New Orleans' offensive pecking order was in shambles by the end of the regular season. Lonzo Ball's jumper left him. Brandon Ingram faded in and out of prominence. Jrue Holiday turned in a 2-of-12 showing during his final game of the season, when the Pelicans' playoff hopes were on the line. Favors is a viable defensive backbone but never appeared fully healthy, and this team needs a big with more stretch to better complement Williamson.
Uninspiring closing kicks should not be interpreted as be-alls. New Orleans has the depth chart appeal to prioritize immediacy. Likely maxing out Ingram this summer will only support that urgency. But the Pelicans are also a work in progress. Which is fine. They're supposed to be. That does little to dull their outlook. They just need a better idea of what they're working with before doubling down.
Lower-key additions such as Bazemore—or, go with me, Chris Boucher (restricted), if they want a stretchier big—would work with that uncertainty. New Orleans needs more wings who can shoot, dribble and defend. Bazemore can do at least two of those things, and he's an adequate defensive body in the backcourt and against some 3s. Going after him would make sense even if the Pelicans are lusting after a bigger splash. His offense is translatable; in both price and skill, there won't be a version of New Orleans he doesn't fit.
New York Knicks: Jevon Carter (Restricted)
Clever commenters will point out that Jevon Carter is not Fred VanVleet. Good eye. That's also sort of the point.
Spin this as an implicit prediction that the Knicks will trade for Chris Paul if that makes you feel better. Really, it's more so about VanVleet not being worth what it'll take to get him out of Toronto while staving off Detroit (and maybe Atlanta).
This lukewarm take will self-destruct if the Raptors straight refuse to pay out multiyear deals in advance of 2021 free agency. But they don't need to let VanVleet walk to afford a certain Bucks player next summer. The math can work with him and Pascal Siakam on the books. That malleability is Toronto's leverage, an edge that implies it'll take max or near-max overtures to poach VanVleet.
Coughing up anywhere near $27.3 million—or even $20ish million—for someone who probably can't be the second-best player on a title contender is too much of a risk. That's a move you make when you already have your No. 1 in place. The Knicks do not.
Looking past VanVleet is tough. New York is desperate for B-plus-or-better point guard play. But restraint is mission critical when you're not anywhere near out of the rebuilding woods. The Knicks aren't in position to pay a finishing piece as a collective incomplete.
Carter is not a mail-it-in suggestion. Promise. He is a teeth-gnashing defender; he both stifles and strangles. And he makes threes. He found nylon on 42.5 percent of his long balls during the regular season and proved capable of ferrying a heavier workload when Phoenix entered the bubble—as he just so happened to bury 55.2 percent of his triples.
Going after Carter would take zero maneuvering on the Knicks' part. They don't need to worry about their glutton of non-guaranteed salaries. He's an Early Bird restricted free agent, so no team can pay him more than the non-taxpayer's mid-level in the first year of his next deal.
The Knicks have the open-ended timeline to go that high. Carter will only be 25 when next season tips off and would work as a means of beefing up the point guard spot for a rebuilding team or as a secondary option behind a bigger-name trade acquisition. The Suns' right to match would be the sole complication. But they have a ton of money tied up in Devin Booker and Ricky Rubio, not to mention other free agents to worry about in Aron Baynes and Dario Saric. They might not be inclined to go as high as the full MLE for someone who, while a comfy fit, doesn't appreciably expand their shot-creation ranks.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Garrison Mathews (Restricted)
Garrison Mathews' entry into this discussion is borne almost purely from the Thunder's ambiguous future.
Parting ways with head coach Billy Donovan infers a commitment to starting over. They will trade Chris Paul; move on from Danilo Gallinari; shop Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder; and rebuild around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley, postseason superstar Luguentz Dort and the treasure trove of picks in the coming years they acquired as compensation for shipping out Paul George and Russell Westbrook.
This is a reasonable hunch. It's also not a matter of fact. Oklahoma City was supposed to pivot this season and instead kept the band together, finished fifth in the West and came a few bounces away from advancing to the second round of the playoffs. This latest signal toward beginning anew feels stronger, but nothing's known for sure until it's final.
Opting to leave the core intact post-Donovan would alter the Thunder's scope. They'd be in the market for veterans to complement Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander and Co. That might even be their inclination should they move CP3. Adams, Bazley, Dort, SGA and whomever they get back in a hypothetical Paul trade isn't exactly a tanker's delight.
Nor is it playoff-bound. More than that, Oklahoma City will have a harder time entering proven veteran discussions if it moves or communicates the intention to move Paul. Many of the more entrenched options might be looking for multiyear agreements, and the Thunder, post-CP3, would be a team operating on a fluid year-to-year timeline, waiting for its cachet of draft obligations.
And so, I present Garrison Mathews, a 23-year-old, 6'5", non-Bird restricted free agent who can shoot the crap out of the ball.
More than 70 percent of his looks in limited run with the Washington Wizards came as catch-and-launch triples, of which he canned 37.5 percent. These weren't standstill bunnies, either. Matthews fired off-balance jumpers and ultra-deep treys. His confidence level is through the roof, even off the bounce. He peppered in some off-the-dribble jumpers and flashed moxie attacking the basket, and his ability to draw fouls is a thing.
Logging just over 225 minutes, across 18 appearances, is barely anything off which to go. But Oklahoma City will be in flier-taking mode if this is the inception of a rebuild and has pretty much always needed better spacing from its 2-3 carousel. So long as he's afforded the agency to fire at will, Mathews can potentially provide it.
Orlando Magic: Jeff Teague
Determining the Magic's free-agency price range isn't the least bit challenging. They'll be among the throng of teams with the non-taxpayer's mid-level, even if Evan Fournier declines his $17.2 million player option and they renounce him.
Highlighting must-haves is similarly simple. They need a floor general and shooting. End of story.
Parlaying that information into an actual target is where things get messy.
Orlando's direction comes off a tad murky following Jonathan Isaac's torn left ACL. With him likely out for next season, Fournier's contract coming to a head by 2021 at the latest (barring a new one), Markelle Fultz extension-eligible, Aaron Gordon destined to draw unceasing trade interest and D.J. Augustin, Michael Carter-Williams and Wes Iwundu (restricted) all set to hit free agency, now might be a good time to reset the roster.
Then again, the Magic signed Al-Farouq Aminu, Terrence Ross and Nikola Vucevic to long-term deals last summer, and they've shown no obvious sign they're contemplating a reinvention. Even dangling Gordon in trade talks, on its own, won't hint at a rebuild. They have other combo forwards with Aminu and the eventual debut of Chuma Okeke and could re-sign Iwundu.
Treading water has also remained this franchise's M.O. since the Dwight Howard trade. It makes little sense to assume Orlando will break character now.
Jeff Teague is a solid target for a team in this position. The Magic will need reinforcements in the backcourt even if they bring back Augustin, and the MLE isn't getting them Fred VanVleet or Goran Dragic. Kris Dunn (restricted) or De'Anthony Melton (restricted) could be interesting, but they're non-shooters, and their squads may not hesitate to match MLE offers. (The MLE is Melton's max.) Jevon Carter (restricted) is a better three-point marksman and tenacious defender but not someone who should be entrusted with running an offense.
Choices plunge in quality after them. Teague is the best of what remains. His three-point splits have seesawed his entire career, and he's a coin-toss finisher around the basket, but he's still a steadying game manager who doesn't need to dominate the ball on every possession. The Magic could start him next to Fultz or bring him off the bench. And if the former role is on the table, he might be willing to sign a stopgap contract for one year in exchange for the minutes associated with it.
Philadelphia 76ers: Bryn Forbes
Functional shooting should top the Sixers' wish list. They don't just need guys who can spritz in threes off the catch; they need ball-handlers who can create their own looks but aren't rendered futile when moved away from the rock.
Philly will not have the pick of the bunch. Teams armed only with the taxpayer's mid-level never do—unless they're bona fide title contenders impact veterans will accept pay cuts to join, which the Sixers are not. They'll more than likely be left to scoop up whichever names fall through the cracks or are squeezed by a bare-bones market.
Plenty of names will be thrown around in that context. Langston Galloway, E'Twaun Moore, Wesley Matthews, even Trey Burke—you name the low-cost shooter, and Philly will probably consider them. This should include Bryn Forbes, a hardly whispered-about option with understated appeal.
Prying away starters isn't usually a hallmark of mini-MLE spenders, but his minutes with the San Antonio Spurs bounced around this season, and they're teeming with talent on the perimeter. A right quad injury prevented Forbes from playing at Disney, which paved the way for more Lonnie Walker IV, in addition to the core of DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White.
Letting Marco Belinelli go in free agency may leave the Spurs with the rotation bandwidth to play Forbes, but their immediate outlook is in unspoken lurch. They just missed the playoffs for the first time in 22 years, and DeRozan, Mills, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay are all entering the final season of their deals. They're speeding toward a crossroads, if not there already, and reinvesting in their own players, including Jakob Poeltl (restricted), may not take precedence.
Forbes should be on the Sixers' radar either way. Almost half of his shot attempts came as catch-and-shoot threes this season, of which he nailed 39.5 percent, and he put down 40.0 percent of his pull-up triples while also converting a respectable 52.7 percent of his looks on drives. His defensive effort is inconsistent, and he doesn't have the physical tools to make up for an inconstant motor, but Philly isn't hurting for stoppers. It has the cast of lock-down try-hards, for now, to task someone such as Forbes with scoring like hell and little else.
Phoenix Suns: Jerami Grant (Player Option)
Jerami Grant isn't an especially safe option for the Suns. He's also not particularly pie-in-the-sky.
Call him aggressively realistic.
Phoenix doesn't project as a cap-space team if it carries free-agent holds for Aron Baynes and Dario Saric (restricted). Chasing Grant with the non-taxpayer's mid-level won't do it. His player option is worth about the same amount, and he figures to be in the market for a more lucrative salary if he declines it.
The Suns can dredge up cap space, but not without collateral damage. Renouncing both Baynes and Saric would barely give them more than the MLE to spend. Passing on Frank Kaminsky's team option would get them past $15 million in room, but that flexibility would come at a relatively steep cost given the breadth of bodies they'd show the door. Losing Saric would also come as a major hit to their secondary shot creation after his performance coming off the bench at Disney.
Rerouting Kelly Oubre Jr.'s expiring contract for a substantially cheaper salary or, more preferably, future pick would be cleaner. Exchanging him purely for cap space while declining Kaminksy's team option won't put them squarely in Grant range, but they'll inch much closer if Baynes ($10.4 million) and Saric ($10.5 million) cost less than their cap holds.
Coming in at, say, $12 million still probably doesn't get the Nuggets to flinch. It might take moving Oubre, bidding farewell to Kaminsky and choosing between Baynes and Saric to get the job done. Losing Baynes would be preferable, depending on cost. The Suns have Deandre Ayton, and center value is easier to approximate on a budget.
Grant can also take on backup 5 minutes while spending more time beside Ayton at the 4. And his fit with Phoenix verges on idealistic. He almost doesn't have a defensive position, is shooting 39.1 percent from three on moderate volume over the past two seasons and can finish straighter-line plays off the dribble.
Picture a rotation featuring him, Ayton, Saric, Mikal Bridges, Devin Booker, Jevon Carter (restricted), Cameron Johnson, Cameron Payne (team option) and Ricky Rubio. And once more: There might still be room for Baynes. That's a playoff threat even by Western Conference standards.
Portland Trail Blazers: Jae Crowder
Rolling with Jae Crowder for the Blazers is not at all revolutionary. They are, seemingly, forever in need of two-way wings. Crowder just guarded Giannis Antetokounmpo for approximately half a playoff series and is threading twine on well over 40 percent of his three-point attempts since joining the Heat.
Rocket scientists aren't needed to crack this code.
Less certain is Crowder's path to Portland. The Blazers will have no trouble using the non-taxpayer's mid-level even if they guarantee Trevor Ariza's contract, but that's less than half the battle.
Like the Nuggets before them, any pursuit of Crowder depends on how the Heat handle his free agency. If they don't have an issue footing the bill for a multiyear deal or can convince him to sign for one season at an inflated price tag, it's game over. The door only opens for the Blazers—and other MLE squads—if Crowder wants a three- or four-year pact worth more in sum than Miami is willing to pay him next season alone and if the Heat are so obsessed with 2021 free agency that they refuse to saddle themselves with longer-term money.
These are shaky terms of engagement. Miami is in the Eastern Conference Finals. It might make the NBA Finals. Team president Pat Riley has always paid players and finagled a way to move them later if need be, and coming so close to, if not outright, winning a title will only embolden the front office to preserve the active nucleus and reverse course in 2021 should another star wish to join their cause.
Still, Crowder could tumble down to the MLE ranks. This offseason is weird. The Heat are always star-hunting. And none of the other teams with cap space have immediate relevance going for them; they'll only seem like a danger to those offering the full non-taxpayer MLE if they go over the top and back again.
In the event Crowder is available within their price range, the Blazers will have to contend with, roughly, everyone else. He fits just about everywhere. Offering a four-year pact might separate them, but that could also be the standard. Their ability to offer a starter's spot and accompanying minutes, along with the fact they have player-you-want-to-play-with Damian Lillard captaining their ship, will do more for their sales pitch than the dollars and cents.
Sacramento Kings: Torrey Craig (Restricted)
The Kings' free-agency approach isn't really impacted by shrinking cap forecasts. They still project to have the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception after factoring in Bogdan Bogdanovic's restricted free-agent hold and eventual salary, Jabari Parker's player option and Nemanja Bjelica's non-guaranteed money.
Sacramento's marching orders should be straightforward: Sign a prized wing defender. The rotation doesn't have one at the moment, because no, Harrison Barnes doesn't count. Only four teams allowed threes more frequently this season, and while the Kings weren't flat-out burned by that volume, no defense fared worse at protecting the rim.
One player isn't going to change the tenor on the less glamorous end—particularly a wing. But good perimeter defense can be a form of rim protection, by way of dissuading downhill attacks to the basket. (Full disclosure: Sacramento was 12th in the frequency with which opponents attempted shots at the hoop.)
Spare yourself some trouble and write off all the primary options. So many squads will have the bigger MLE at their disposal. The edge goes to contenders and postseason formalities if the money's equal for Jae Crowder, Jerami Grant (player option) and Marcus Morris Sr., all of whom, again, may price themselves well out of this range anyway.
Torrey Craig won't prompt Kings fans to throw confetti, but he's gettable. Whisking away restricted free agents is always a hairy endeavor, especially when rival admirers don't boast cap space, but the Nuggets have more pressing matters to address, namely the futures of Grant and Paul Millsap. Sacramento may be able to pick up Craig without using all of its MLE.
Adding him would come with an offensive trade-off. He's a career 32.0 percent shoot from distance and canned just 33.3 percent of his wide-open threes this season. But he matches up defensively with guards, wings and select bigs. The Kings need that type of firepower, even if it comes at the expense of their spacing.
San Antonio Spurs: Harry Giles III
Getting a feel for how the Spurs will handle free agency is prickly.
Not only is their direction up in the air, but a lateral salary cap hurts them more than most. They'll be agonizingly close to the luxury tax line if DeMar DeRozan picks up his player option, they guarantee Trey Lyles' salary and they keep cap holds for Bryn Forbes and Jakob Poeltl (restricted). This doesn't even account for any (unexplainable) attachment they might have to Marco Belinelli.
Too many scenarios are within the realm of possibility. The Spurs could wind up with enough room below the tax—the assumption is they don't want to pay it—to use the bigger mid-level. They could use part of the mid-level. They could trim salary via trade and spend all of it. They could spend none of it.
Beyond that if-then tug-of-war is the matter of whom they'll target. They have plenty of guards but could use a pass-first floor general. They're amply stocked with wings following bubble emergences from Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV, but teams can never have too many of those. Their big-man rotation behind and beside LaMarcus Aldridge gets iffy if they waive Lyles or don't pay Poeltl.
Zeroing in on the frontline is most interesting when looking at the Spurs' limited spending power. They, in all likelihood, need to pursue lower-cost options who don't soak up the MLE. Role-player bigs tend to be cheaper, and Harry Giles III feels like a good bargain-bin candidate after the Kings declined his fourth-year option and given the relatively limited sample size he's cobbled together over the past two seasons.
Giles' vision is extremely Spursy. He can pick apart defenses from standstill positions and has thrown some nifty one-handers in motion. His own scoring tendencies are deeper than advertised. Throwing it to him in the post isn't a great option, but he can both roll and pop on screens, and he's flashed the first step and handle to blow by defenders off the dribble.
Giving him a look won't seem as necessary if the Spurs bring back Aldridge, Lyles, Poeltl and lay out big plans for Luka Saminac. But next year's frontcourt rotation should have at least moderate room for someone who can eat up minutes at both the 4 and 5. And if he's only costing what his team option was worth ($4 million) or a tad more, taking a flier becomes a no-brainer.
Toronto Raptors: Wesley Matthews (Player Option)
Offseason suggestions for the Raptors are subject to change, if not self-destruct. Having both so many free agents this summer along with a vested interest in the future of Giannis Antetokounmpo is a recipe for ultra-fluidity.
Will they bring back most of Chris Boucher (restricted), Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet? Are they only open to offering one year deals? Do they pay VanVleet no matter what? Is letting everyone walk for the sake of squeaky clean books in 2021 a possibility? What would that mean for next season? Would they still be trying to contend? Or does Kyle Lowry, in that scenario, hit the trading block?
Team president Masai Ujiri has no doubt simulated every potential hypothetical in his head at least a dozen times. Defaulting to the Raptors operating as an over-the-cap shopper, with an intent to retain some of their own and continue jockeying for position near the top of the East, would be safest.
This is different from assuming they'll hand out multiyear deals worth the full non-taxpayer's MLE. Flexibility will be at a premium regardless of the roster turnover. VanVleet is, logistically, the lone exception.
Wesley Matthews' skill set would work just about anywhere, but Toronto intrigues more than the average team if remaining in contention is the goal. Pascal Siakam should need to play more 5 next year, in part because it's unlikely both Gasol and Ibaka are back, but also because more and more matchups will push him in that direction, a la the Celtics one during the Eastern Conference semis.
The Raptors need more wings to float those arrangements over additional time. OG Anunoby, Terence Davis, Norman Powell and Matt Thomas give them a base, but individual defensive matchups can get tedious after Anunoby. Matthews' range spans 1 through 3. He just did a solid job, when head coach Mike Budenholzer actually allowed him to, pestering Jimmy Butler in the second round of the playoffs.
Investing in Matthews can be an adventure. He hit 37.7 percent of his catch-and-fire threes in Milwaukee, but he fancies himself a more-than-occasional off-the-dribble jump shooter, and his infrequent post-ups aren't what they used to be—or always, shall we say, necessary. Toronto has room to withstand all his heat checks. His defensive motor is worth such minor baggage, and the Raptors could use another floor-spacing valve for their work-in-progress half-court offense.
Utah Jazz: Nerlens Noel
Most armchair free-agency searches will insist the Utah Jazz grab another wing or two. That's fair. They need at least one who can go up against larger covers without surrendering as much size as the 6'4" Royce O'Neale.
But the Jazz's options won't be too splashy in that department. They should have the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception to dangle, but without knowing whether Jordan Clarkson stays and his price point, on top of how a lower salary cap impacts the luxury-tax line, we can't yet say for sure what they can spend. Their wish list will be far less ambitious if they're consigned to mini-MLE money.
And even if they're not, the Jazz may want to split their MLE among two players if they don't have enough room below the apron (or tax in general) to use the biannual exception.
Counting on Tony Bradley to be the every-night answer next season is a little too bold. Nerlens Noel offers much more reliability. He won't replace Gobert's screening to a T—who can?—but is a dependable rim-runner and active paint defender, and he has the foot speed to stay in front of ball-handlers. Utah can live with the gambles he takes—and sometimes successfully completes—in passing lanes if he's going up against opposing backup 5s.
Washington Wizards: Shaquille Harrison (Restricted)
Centers will be popular targets for the Wizards. Ian Mahinmi is coming off the books, and neither Thomas Bryant nor Mo Wagner is a stout interior presence. (Aside: I think Wagner moves better than credited on the less glamorous end.)
Bringing back Davis Bertans is a given, after they didn't flip him at the trade deadline, but his minutes at the 5 are an opposing offense's best friend. Using Rui Hachimura at center with any semblance of consistency isn't a thing. Good luck finding someone who can muster strong feelings about Anzejs Pasecniks.
Making the 5 spot a priority is totally acceptable. It shouldn't be the priority. The Wizards need more depth on the perimeter. Hachimura, Isaac Bonga, Troy Brown Jr., Garrison Mathews (restricted) and Admiral Schofield are the extent of their wing options—and that's if you stretch the conceptuality of a wing. That's not going to cut it.
Spending the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception on one player could get Washington into some interesting conversations, but its foggy outlook is a roadblock when pitching coveted veterans. It doesn't matter if the plan is to keep Bradley Beal. The Wizards won't know what they are until getting a sample size from post-Achilles injury John Wall. They aren't winning sweepstakes in which the money will be equal (or better).
Focusing on possible diamonds in the rough is more their speed. Shaquille Harrison qualifies. He held up defensively while tallying more true wing minutes with the Bulls this year—Luka Doncic and Caris LeVert were two of his five highest-volume assignments—and his active length allows him to match up with certain 4s. Among everyone to log at least 2,000 minutes over the past three seasons, only Kris Dunn and De'Anthony Melton own higher steal rates.
Chicago has Early Bird rights on Harrison, so retaining him will be its prerogative. But his sub-2,000 minute sample in two years with the team leaves plenty of room for debate. Any investment in him will be a gamble, particularly on offense. His 38.1 percent clip from downtown this season tantalizes, but it came on just 42 attempts. He's a career 29.3 percent shooter from long distance.
Washington doesn't have to be as concerned about Harrison's limited experience and offensive unknowns. Its rotation is hard up for defensive-minded wings, period. Paying for a look at Harrison, within reason, is right up its alley.