Best and Worst Landing Spots for NBA's Top 5 Free Agents
Compared to recent offseasons, 2020 NBA free agency is shaping up to be a dud.
Few teams are projected to have significant cap space, and the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic could whittle down that list even further. There aren't many top-tier players set to hit the market, either.
While a majority of teams may stay largely dormant this offseason, those with cap space may decide to take risks on the top free agents. It's up to the players themselves to decide which destinations are worth their time and energy, and which are just offering the most money possible without the complementary talent or organizational structure.
Today, we're playing advisor to the league's top five 2020 free agents and making the case for their best and worst landing spots, respectively. We'll only be covering destinations that seem remotely realistic. As incredible as it would be to see, say, Anthony Davis on the Golden State Warriors, there's no chance of that happening for a variety of reasons.
B/R's Preston Ellis ran through the top free agents back in August, so we'll use his rankings to determine our selections here.
5. Danilo Gallinari
Best: Miami Heat
The Heat's insistence on pursuing Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021 is admirable, and "many in league circles" believe they're one of the front-runners if he leaves the Milwaukee Bucks, according to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports. But the two-time MVP might not move to South Beach, so Miami shouldn't plan entirely around his arrival.
Instead, they could rekindle talks with Danilo Gallinari, whom they attempted to acquire at the trade deadline, according to B/R's Michael Scotto. Why not offer the Italian a potential two-year deal with a second-year team option—giving them an out in 2021 if necessary—once free agency begins?
Gallinari is a three-level scorer, excels without the ball and has averaged at least four free-throw attempts per game in seven of his last eight healthy seasons. The 32-year-old could seamlessly take the place of Jae Crowder while helping Miami remain a title contender.
Worst: Atlanta Hawks
With more cap space than any team in the league, the Hawks are primed to offer somebody a big contract this offseason. Let's hope it isn't Gallinari.
Though his skill set should make him a hot commodity, Gallinari would be an awkward fit in Atlanta for a number of reasons. He isn't on this team's developmental timeline, he would take away minutes from its young players, and he overlaps with John Collins, Cam Reddish and DeAndre Hunter. Seeing Gallinari and Trae Young run pick-and-rolls would be exciting, but that's just about the only appeal of him on the Hawks.
Besides, Gallo has never even made the second round of the playoffs. Let's get him on a team ready to make a postseason run right now!
4. Montrezl Harrell
Best: Charlotte Hornets
Montrezl Harrell struggled during his time in the Orlando bubble, but he seemed to be at odds with the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this year, too. If the franchise's collapse rekindles those feelings, it might be best for him to move on.
In this case, Charlotte would be an appealing destination.
Not only is Harrell a North Carolina native, but the Hornets have enough cap space to sign him and need a center to complete their young core. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year wouldn't make the Hornets a contender on his own, but he'd give them a higher floor, put them in position for a low playoff seed and make their games more watchable.
Worst: New York Knicks
If the Knicks can't trade for a superstar, team governor James Dolan will likely want to throw money at the best available free agent. However, Harrell is possibly the worst signing New York could make.
Last offseason, the Knicks signed four power forwards—Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis and Marcus Morris Sr.—in free agency. Although Morris is now gone, adding Harrell would only exacerbate that logjam.
Gibson and Portis aren't locks to return, so fit may not be as much of an issue, but Harrell would also contribute to a spacing problem. RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson are the Knicks' two best prospects, but neither are reliable long-range shooters. Adding Harrell, who has made five career three-pointers on 50 attempts, would not solve that issue.
3. Fred VanVleet
Best: Toronto Raptors
Fred VanVleet is the top graduate of the Raptors' much-celebrated player development program, going from an undrafted free agent to earning an NBA Finals MVP vote within three seasons.
He's also a perfect fit up North. His simultaneously becoming a new father and hitting numerous big shots during the team's title run endeared him to the fanbase for life, and his in-your-jersey defense is similarly appealing from afar.
Toronto's roster might look drastically different soon, but VanVleet shouldn't be part of the team's turnover.
Worst: New York Knicks
If VanVleet doesn't re-sign with the Raptors, the Knicks and Detroit Pistons figure to be his top suitors. The Pistons could be a good fit, as they have his former coach in Dwane Casey and the outline of a competitive roster if Blake Griffin can stay healthy and productive (granted, that's a big "if").
The Knicks, however, remain a mess.
On paper, VanVleet appears to be a perfect fit for new coach Tom Thibodeau. Combining his work ethic with high-IQ play should make him a prime beneficiary of the coach's consistent emphasis on present results over future development. But as we saw in Minnesota, that mismatch of styles usually does more harm than good (even to veterans), and that Timberwolves team had much more talent than the current Knicks do.
VanVleet's individual stats could see a small bump, but they likely wouldn't result in any team success.
2. Brandon Ingram
Best: New Orleans Pelicans
Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin is on record stating that he intends to retain Ingram. He'll have the chance to prove that this offseason since the Pelicans will have matching rights on Ingram once he officially becomes a restricted free agent.
But New Orleans isn't just Ingram's best fit because he's likely staying put; he's also a key part of the franchise's future.
In taking a major leap this season, Ingram became a capable primary offensive option for a playoff-caliber team. This skill set will likely prove even more important in future seasons, with Jrue Holiday on the wrong side of 30 and Zion Williamson—as great as he hopefully will become—not currently suited to be a Draymond Green- or Bam Adebayo-style playmaker.
To fulfill their massive potential, the Pelicans will need Ingram's continued development.
Worst: Charlotte Hornets
On paper, this is a dream fit. Ingram would be the Hornets' best player, he's a North Carolina native, and general manager Mitch Kupchak took him in the 2016 draft when he was still running the Lakers.
However, the forward should avoid a homecoming.
Though every player surely dreams of having a franchise constructed around him, teams need a lot of ancillary pieces in place for that to work, and Charlotte isn't there yet. A newly minted All Star with more appearances likely in his future, Ingram should be aiming to get into the playoffs as soon as possible, and the Hornets are still years away from reaching that goal.
1. Anthony Davis
Best: Los Angeles Lakers
What reason would Anthony Davis have to leave the Lakers this offseason?
For the first time, The Brow has married his typically monstrous production with a deep playoff run, making both the All-NBA first team and the NBA Finals. He has years of his prime left in the league's second-biggest market on the NBA's golden franchise. Once LeBron James leaves, drops off or retires, Davis will be the sole face of that franchise and will continue the tradition of great Laker big men.
This isn't complicated. Davis' current situation is what most players spend their whole careers looking for, and he has it all at age 27.
Worst: Chicago Bulls
Davis has given no indication that he'll leave the Lakers. But the Chicago native's fit with the Bulls has attracted attention, and with the franchise turning over its front office and coaching staff this offseason, free-agency expectations might be high.
We're here to eagerly dissuade Davis from pursuing Chicago.
Davis is clearly ready to compete for titles, so new Bulls president Arturas Karnisovas would need to make major moves to accommodate such expectations. However, no player on Chicago's roster has enough trade value to return a second star.
As exciting as it would be for the Windy City to welcome home an accomplished son, Davis' presence on the Bulls might quickly become depressing if the front office couldn't properly build around him.