The 1 Player Every NBA Team Needs to Target This Offseason
On paper, the NBA's 2020 offseason should be fairly uneventful. The general lack of cap space around the league, a dearth of star power in the free-agent class and an extremely truncated window to make trades all combine to eliminate many possible scenarios.
However, no team is perfect, and they can all explore avenues to improvement this fall. In this vein, we're providing one player for each club to target over the next few months (though if these general managers are smart, they're probably way ahead of us on this research).
Before diving in, let's acknowledge two logistical notes. First, we've provided 15 different free agents and 15 different potential trade acquisitions for the sake of variety. Who wants to read about Chris Paul or Fred VanVleet five times in the span of five minutes?
Secondly—and more importantly—these pairings are meant to be as realistic as possible. For instance, as much as the Internet may want the Houston Rockets to trade James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers for Ben Simmons, such a move seems incredibly far-fetched in reality and won't be discussed here.
Atlanta Hawks: Derrick White, G
In drafting Cam Reddish and De'Andre Hunter, the Atlanta Hawks have built effectively around Trae Young's limited defensive potential. They only need one more player to feel comfortable in such a strategy, and he might reside in San Antonio.
Atlanta could get this deal done by moving John Collins and Brandon Goodwin for Derrick White, Trey Lyles and a future first, and it's worth consideration for general manager Travis Schlenk. Though White can handle the ball and create for teammates, he's also succeeded without it—a necessity when playing with Young.
More importantly, however, are White's defensive capabilities.
He defended a who's who of the Western Conference's best scorers this year and did an excellent job on most of them, which might appeal to the Hawks. When your point guard is literally the worst defender in the NBA, your shooting guard almost needs to be somebody who's limited Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook.
The Colorado alum isn't a flashy name, and Hawks fans might be upset we suggested moving Collins for him. But White would bring two-way consistency, postseason experience and the wisdom of Gregg Popovich to Atlanta. What else can you ask for from a role player?
Boston Celtics: Myles Turner, C
After Daniel Theis, Grant Williams and the rest of the Boston Celtics bigs were overpowered by Bam Adebayo in the Eastern Conference Finals, it wouldn't be surprising to see general manager Danny Ainge explore the starting center market. One particular big man he should keep his eye on is Myles Turner.
Per Jared Weiss of The Athletic, Turner might be on his way out of Indiana, and if he indeed left, it wouldn't be shocking. His fit with Domantas Sabonis is tenuous, and if made to choose between the two, the Pacers would probably pick Sabonis, who made his first All-Star team in 2019-20.
However, while Turner's offensive stagnation has been the barrier between a middle-tier Pacers team and genuine contention, he'd be a luxury on that end for the Celtics, who need the big man more for rim-protection purposes. The Texas alum isn't as proficient a defensive switcher as hyper-modern Boston might prefer, but he's got enough going for him in other aspects of the game that such a shortcoming could be overlooked.
The Celtics are seemingly always lurking in the shadows of the trade market, but they've got real cause to make a major move this fall.
Brooklyn Nets: CJ McCollum, G
There's still no indication the Portland Trail Blazers will move CJ McCollum. But a package featuring Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and a first-round pick could be enticing, and such a move would solidify the Brooklyn Nets as legitimate title contenders.
McCollum would be a seamless fit on virtually any team, and Brooklyn would be no different. Playing with Damian Lillard, he's thrived off the ball, so being the third wheel to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving wouldn't be much of a stretch. On the occasions those two superstars rest due to injury maintenance, the Nets would still be in safe hands as McCollum has recently shown the ability to carry an offense on his shoulders.
An Irving-McCollum backcourt would have the same problems as a Lillard-McCollum backcourt (read: They wouldn't defend anybody), so Brooklyn might be better served trying to pursue an All-Defensive stopper like Jrue Holiday or Victor Oladipo. However, new head coach Steve Nash was an infamously bad defender during his heyday and still managed to lead a sustainable contender for the better part of a decade in Phoenix.
If this deal occurs, the Eastern Conference would have a new front-runner.
Charlotte Hornets: Montrezl Harrell, C
Casting Montrezl Harrell aside following his disappointing bubble performance is understandable. The Los Angeles Clippers face intense pressure to win a title with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and Harrell's playoff failures were arguably the biggest reason they fell short in Year 1.
However, it's just as easy to discount the big man's struggles. As George explained, the psychological toll of the bubble was significant for everyone, and he was also dealing with the death of his grandmother, a woman he called his "entire world."
All this is to say that if the North Carolina native was a priority for the Charlotte Hornets before the bubble began, he still should be.
While Harrell has clear shortcomings, he's also the reigning Sixth Man of the Year. The big man is a relentless scorer around the rim, grabs rebounds at an elite level and plays with contagious passion. He'd be a welcome source of upside and energy for a Hornets team that mostly consists of high-floor, low-ceiling role players.
Combined with whomever they choose with the third overall pick, signing the big man this offseason could put Charlotte on the fast track to a playoff return.
Chicago Bulls: Danuel House Jr., F
Otto Porter Jr. will likely pick up his $28.5 million player option this offseason. However, he's been injury-prone lately, and it's difficult to know if he'll return to form.
Even if Porter resumes playing at a high level, though, the Bulls lack defensive versatility. Kris Dunn received some All-Defensive votes this year, but the team's wings are largely subpar on defense and Wendell Carter Jr.'s impact on that end still trails his IQ.
All this is why Chicago needs to target wings, and one who could be available through a trade is Danuel House Jr.
After the 27-year-old was expelled from the bubble, it wouldn't be shocking to see new Rockets general manager Rafael Stone shop him, and the team could get a good return. With demand for three-and-D wings outpacing supply, a player like House who's shot 38.1 percent from three over the past two seasons while defending a variety of high-level scorers is immensely valuable.
The Bulls would have to move at least one future pick and prospects to get on Houston's radar, but new front office chief Arturas Karnisovas should be aggressive in pursuing the final pieces of a roster that's close to playoff contention.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Derrick Jones Jr., F
There's a reason Derrick Jones Jr. and the Cleveland Cavaliers have already been linked this offseason. This move would work for both sides.
Cleveland is a bit shallow on the wings, boasting just Cedi Osman and redshirt rookie Dylan Windler as natural positional fits. Jones wouldn't solve the Cavaliers' depth issues, but he'd be a seamless fit in numerous ways.
At age 23, the UNLV alum matches their current competitive timeline, could stand to receive more playing time and has shown consistent skill-based improvement to complement his world-renowned dunking ability, shooting 67.7 percent from two-point range in 2019-20.
In addition—roll your eyes all you want—Jones would likely bring some of the organizational and cultural teachings from Miami to this Cleveland team that desperately needs some sort of structure for its young players. It was tempting to discuss a potential Josh Jackson pursuit given his untapped upside, but we saw how he performed in a similar situation in Phoenix and, um, it didn't go well.
Jones is less talented than Jackson, but playing for the Heat has likely given him an insatiable work ethic—not to mention Finals experience—that could energize this rudderless group.
Dallas Mavericks: Goran Dragic, G
The buzz on these two sides getting together has dissipated over the past year, but not for a good reason. Goran Dragic still fits seamlessly with the Dallas Mavericks, and Rick Carlisle's club could absolutely use him.
Miami's offensive collapse in the Finals without Dragic, who suffered a plantar fascia injury in Game 1, makes a compelling case for him to stay put. But with the Heat prepping for 2021 free agency and players like Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson angling for bigger roles, the Slovenian's fit in Miami once again seems tenuous.
Dragic was nearly traded to the Mavericks last offseason, but the deal fell through at the 11th hour. That serendipity ended up working in Miami's favor as the team wouldn't have made the Finals without him. However, Dallas still needs a proficient secondary playmaker to complement Luka Doncic, and as Dragic is a longtime mentor to the wunderkind, their pairing almost seems inevitable.
The Mavericks seem destined to be one of the league's next great contenders, and that'll likely be true with or without Dragic. But bringing in a veteran who can still play and is close with their once-in-generation superstar is just a total no-brainer.
Denver Nuggets: Bradley Beal, G
Though they're coming off a Western Conference Finals appearance, the Denver Nuggets can't stand pat. With the list of established contenders presumably growing by two next year (the Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks), Denver can solidify its position by trading for a superstar like Bradley Beal.
Beal has repeatedly stated he wants to retire in Washington, but he can't seriously believe in a team that's pinned its playoff dreams on John Wall's injury-ravaged legs. If the guard gets fed up this offseason and demands a trade, there would be few better fits for him than the Mile High City.
Pairing the 27-year-old with Jamal Murray would immediately give Denver an elite backcourt, and he'd obviously thrive alongside Nikola Jokic. That trio wouldn't do a ton of defending, but a Murray-Beal-Will Barton-Jerami Grant-Jokic lineup could score with nearly anybody (assuming Grant is retained in free agency).
Though Michael Porter Jr.—the clear prize for the Washington Wizards in this trade, though he's been labeled untouchable—has star potential, Beal is a star right now with years of his prime left. He fits more cleanly in Denver's contention window, and if the team's front office truly wants to win a title, it'll take a risk and pursue a deal for the two-time All-Star.
Detroit Pistons: Christian Wood, C
If the Detroit Pistons don't go all-out to retain Christian Wood this fall, then they're even more directionless than we realize. As the team with arguably the bleakest future in the NBA, Detroit desperately needs to hold onto its one major source of untapped potential.
With 113 career games under his belt, Wood's track record isn't lengthy, but the upside he showed last season was tantalizing.
The UNLV alum stood out as Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin's backup, recording four double-doubles before New Year's Eve. Then he soon proved he could maintain that production in a larger role.
After Griffin underwent knee surgery and Drummond was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wood became the Pistons' offensive focal point and flourished, averaging 22.8 points and 9.9 rebounds on 56.2/40.0/75.7 shooting splits from Feb. 7 onward.
Detroit should be cautious of Wood's sample size, but it's not worth completely shying away from the big man. Though he can still improve as a distributor and defender, his scoring efficiency, prolific free-throw rate and work ethic suggest his recent performance might be sustainable. And if that's the case, the Pistons could have an All-Star-caliber player on their hands.
Golden State Warriors: Paul Millsap, F
Despite Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson's returns from injury, the Golden State Warriors are not guaranteed another Finals appearance. Since they lost to the Toronto Raptors, the Western Conference has gained several new legitimate title contenders, Curry has turned 32 and their depth has been decimated.
Previous Warriors champions relied on the basketball IQ and intangibles of veterans like Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West. In order for the team to recapture its recent glory days, it needs another one of those players.
Enter Paul Millsap.
The four-time All-Star's experience and selflessness would be eagerly welcomed in the Bay Area. Though past his prime, the 35-year-old seamlessly downgraded to "quality role player" status with the Denver Nuggets and is a consistent enough shooter to join Golden State's Death Lineup.
The best part of acquiring Millsap for the Warriors, however, would be his impact on their youth.
Eric Paschall, Marquese Chriss, Jordan Poole and even Andrew Wiggins—not to mention whoever is acquired with the second overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft—have the skill sets to become winning contributors in the future. With a mentor as competent and generous as Millsap, Golden State might soon be set up for playoff runs throughout the 2020s.
Houston Rockets: Nerlens Noel, C
ESPN's Tim MacMahon recently reported that the Houston Rockets almost traded for Nerlens Noel at the 2020 trade deadline, suggesting that even while former general manager Daryl Morey was committing to a roster construction that involved zero rotation players taller than 6'8", he understood the basic value of having a literal big man on his roster.
If a team-building maverick like Morey still grasped the value of centers, then you can bet that new Rockets general manager Rafael Stone will sign one this offseason. And why not pursue Noel again?
The 26-year-old would feast on alley-oops from James Harden and Russell Westbrook on offense, and as the only qualified player to average 2.5 blocks and 1.5 steals per 36 minutes this year, he could address some of the team's defensive shortcomings, too.
Noel shouldn't play a large role for Houston. Morey doubled down on small-ball in the first place to maximize Westbrook's at-rim finishing, and as the point guard finished the pre-pandemic season on a tear, the team should stick to that status quo.
But it would still be helpful for the Rockets to have a big man off their bench, and Noel provides a higher ceiling than somebody like Alex Len.
Indiana Pacers: Chris Boucher, C
As discussed earlier, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis don't necessarily make for a clean fit. So, given that the Pacers aren't a major free-agent destination and might be reluctant to trade Turner, let's look at a player who can operate alongside both big men.
After simultaneously winning the G League's MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2018-19, Chris Boucher broke out with the Raptors this past season, showcasing a rough outline of the classic unicorn skill set.
The Canadian's rail-thin frame and iffy basketball IQ made him a liability in the postseason, but his general appeal remains and could be valuable for a team like Indiana. His affinity for shooting would provide Sabonis with the proper amount of space, and though the 27-year-old's skill set might seem duplicative with Turner, you can never have too much spacing or rim protection in the modern NBA.
Between a Turner trade and whatever happens with Victor Oladipo, higher-profile moves are possible for the Pacers. But considering they're set to pay their top six players nearly $100 million combined during the 2020-21 campaign, smart moves around the margins are the best way for this team to make roster adjustments right now.
Los Angeles Clippers: Steven Adams, C
Tristan Thompson might seem like the obvious pursuit here. He's familiar with new Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue, would solidify their big man rotation and is already a known resident of Los Angeles. On the other hand, his history of drama both on and off the court is not a good fit with an already flammable Clippers team.
Instead, let's look at one of the most well-liked players in the entire NBA.
With Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari essentially posting farewell messages to Oklahoma City on social media and former head coach Billy Donovan now living in Chicago, the Thunder appear headed for a rebuild. As such, they might try to deal almost every contributing veteran, a strategy that would include Steven Adams.
Despite being a non-shooter, the Kiwi remained vital to Oklahoma City's success last year, recording career-best marks in rebounds and assists per 36 minutes and successfully defending numerous elite scorers.
After giving up a record-setting number of draft picks and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the Thunder last summer, the Clippers might be cautious about doing business with them again. But when the stakes are this high, they can't afford to pass on a potential ceiling-raising trade.
Los Angeles Lakers: Derrick Rose, G
The technically correct answer to this prompt is Anthony Davis. However, it certainly appears he'll be back, so let's look elsewhere.
Around the trade deadline, Los Angeles' interest in adding a playmaking guard was well documented, and one of the players the team was linked to most often was Derrick Rose. After they passed on a deal, rumors of this pairing died down, but they've now returned in a major way.
As a source recently told Sean Deveney of Heavy.com:
"I don't think the Lakers wanted to make a major move because they thought they could do something on the buyout market. And I don't think the Pistons wanted to make a major move because Derrick was happy there. You know, the Lakers wanted to be involved in case the Clippers got involved or someone else, the Bucks or the Nuggets, whoever. So there was interest but not too serious. Now, everything has shifted a little. Now, they're both in a position to where a deal is much more likely now."
With Rajon Rondo already garnering a free-agency market, the Lakers might have an open rotation spot for a player just like Rose.
Memphis Grizzlies: De'Anthony Melton, G
The Memphis Grizzlies don't need to do much this offseason. After preseason expectations had Taylor Jenkins' club near the bottom of the Western Conference, Ja Morant brought them within a game of the postseason as a rookie, a remarkable achievement under normal circumstances, let alone those of the 2019-20 campaign.
With this in mind, the Grizzlies should focus on in-house development this offseason. One way to accomplish that goal is to retain one of their incumbent breakout contributors.
Though Grit-and-Grind is now fully in the past, De'Anthony Melton's stellar play last season maintained the Grizzlies' connection to their blue-collar roots. While he's not a noteworthy offensive player, the USC alum is already a top-tier perimeter defender, hounding high-level scorers like James Harden and Trae Young and boasting one of the team's best defensive rating swings.
In fact, Melton was so effective on defense that Tony Allen himself sang the youngster's praises earlier in the year.
As great as Morant projects to be, he'll never profile as a stellar stopper. If the Grizzlies are to fulfill their potential over the next decade, then they'll need Melton's ferocious defense as a complement to Morant's explosive playmaking.
Miami Heat: Jrue Holiday, G
Yes, Miami Heat fans. We're aware that Pat Riley wants a clear cap sheet for 2021 free agency.
In addition, trading for 30-year-old Jrue Holiday would likely require the franchise to sacrifice at least one of Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn. After all three young guards shined at various points of the team's postseason run, their reputations are at all-time highs.
However, part of the reason Miami ultimately came up short in the Finals is that its young players weren't ready for prime time. Herro and Robinson, in particular, were relentlessly targeted on defense and couldn't create consistent shots for themselves on offense.
As Jimmy Butler is in the thick of his prime and because he plays a bruising style that likely won't age well, the Heat's time to win is now. Exploring trades for a proven two-way star like Holiday quietly feels more reasonable than an excited South Beach resident might want.
A tremendous teammate and two-time All-Defensive selection who can thrive both on and off the ball, Holiday's fit in Miami doesn't need much explanation. Slotting him alongside Butler and Bam Adebayo would make the Heat a serious threat to return to the Finals next year.
Milwaukee Bucks: Victor Oladipo, G
The two best players the Milwaukee Bucks should reasonably pursue this offseason are Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry. But they apparently don't want Paul, and it seems unwise for the Toronto Raptors to trade the greatest player in franchise history for a package likely headlined by Eric Bledsoe.
However, it appears that Milwaukee won't be completely silent this offseason. Per Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer, the team recently talked with the Indiana Pacers about acquiring Victor Oladipo.
Though Oladipo's future as a star-level player is in question, Milwaukee acquiring him would be worth the risk. If all went well, he would team with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton to form a dynamite defensive trio while scoring 20 points per night and effectively creating shots at the end of games.
And though both Giannis and Oladipo are free agents next summer, it's reasonable to assume they'd each want to re-sign if such high expectations were met in Year 1.
A lot of things would have to go right between this moment and the Bucks worrying about Oladipo signing an extension, but his potential presence is much too enticing for general manager Jon Horst to sit idly by this offseason.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Malik Beasley, G
In a more exciting year, the Minnesota Timberwolves might gain traction on a deal for the first overall pick. But given the lukewarm response toward this year's prospects, they should focus on retaining in-house talent like Malik Beasley.
Buried behind several guards, Beasley's production waxed and waned with the Denver Nuggets. But as soon as he arrived in Minnesota, concerns over such inconsistency dissipated.
Through 14 games with the Timberwolves, Beasley averaged 20.7 points and 5.1 rebounds on 47.2/42.6/75.0 shooting splits. We can't truly understand what those statistics mean yet as Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell only played one game together last season and would be Beasley's chief running mates, but numbers of that caliber are clearly a good sign.
However, it should be noted that Beasley was recently arrested on charges of felony threats of violence and drug possession after allegedly pointing an assault rifle at a family on a parade of homes tour. It's still early, but that will certainly affect any extension talks, and much could ride on the outcome of the case and the team's own due diligence.
New Orleans Pelicans: Brandon Ingram, F
Though Jrue Holiday is the team's best overall player and Zion Williamson will hopefully be the ultimate ceiling-raiser, the Pelicans aren't a playoff team going forward without Brandon Ingram's elite scoring and playmaking.
As Holiday is much older than New Orleans' young core and Zion is not a primary shot creator even when at his very best, Ingram will be the team's offensive focal point for years to come. If this past season is any indication, though, he's up to the task.
After struggling to fit in alongside LeBron James with the Los Angeles Lakers, moving across the country to a team that needed his skills freed Ingram up and saw him dominate night after night. The lanky wing won the league's Most Improved Player award for his troubles and should now be considered a perennial All-Star candidate until further notice.
Pelicans front office guru David Griffin stated early in the 2019-20 campaign that he intends to retain Ingram, a restricted free agent. And why wouldn't he? If we're assuming Anthony Davis will re-sign in Los Angeles, then Ingram is the best available player.
Keeping him in the Big Easy is an easy decision.
New York Knicks: Chris Paul, G
New York Knicks fans who don't want Chris Paul, we hear you. He's 35, has a gigantic contract and isn't on the same timeline as the team's prospects.
On the other hand, this fanbase is starved for success and deserves competence, even if it's obviously a short-term proposition.
The reasons Paul might fit in New York are myriad. His connections with new team president Leon Rose are well known, and the Knicks have lacked a franchise point guard for years. In addition, the Point God has eased into an elder statesman role. There's no doubt he was aware of the Oklahoma City Thunder's ceiling last season, yet he was still a fantastic mentor and teammate.
Paul could continue imparting his considerable wisdom to whichever Knicks prospects aren't traded for him. That includes RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr., the latter of whom already has a personal relationship with Paul.
Would somebody as competitive as Paul bristle at playing with the Knicks' talent-barren roster? Probably. He might not even get to experience the Madison Square Garden crowd, either. But in person or not, the fanbase would still embrace him and make his tenure in the Big Apple a memorable one.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Draft Picks
A cop-out selection? Perhaps. But the Oklahoma City Thunder project to be one of the offseason's biggest sellers, and unless they can acquire a young All-Star without giving up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, that's the right strategy.
Oklahoma City claims a historic number of first-round selections through the next half-decade, and it's positioned to gather even more. Chris Paul could garner at least one pick, while Steven Adams might fetch a late first-rounder, too.
The hypothetical and faraway nature of these myriad selections might alienate Thunder fans, who could accuse general manager Sam Presti of playing the long game at the expense of fielding a competent roster now. However, as we just saw, the scope of his asset stash affords him the opportunity to work on multiple timelines.
On one hand, we have Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort and Darius Bazley. They aren't the world's most enticing trio, but each was genuinely impressive at points throughout 2019-20 and has room to grow. They could then be complemented by Presti through both smart draft picks and trades for established starters.
Patience is obviously much duller than acquiring somebody like Ben Simmons, but it could pay major dividends for the Thunder over the next several seasons.
Orlando Magic: DeMar DeRozan, G
Despite rostering several well-known and statistically productive players, the Orlando Magic haven't had a passable offense since Dwight Howard's heyday.
However, they do seem to be aware of this fact. The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported last fall that the team had explored the acquisition of San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan, and not much has changed regarding its personnel needs.
The four-time All-Star should still be a main target this offseason.
This wouldn't be a perfect pairing by any means. The Magic have struggled to find proper spacing in recent seasons, and DeRozan's infamous aversion to shooting threes obviously wouldn't help. But if Orlando ever wants to give itself a shot at winning more than one game per postseason, the roster needs a high-level scorer who can dependably create shots in end-of-game situations.
On paper, adding DeRozan wouldn't make the Magic a significantly more formidable opponent in the Eastern Conference. However, they already have a borderline-elite defense, and he would likely raise their offensive floor. Merely improving from a bottom-10 offense to an average one might put Orlando on equal footing with a playoff stalwart like the Indiana Pacers over the next few seasons.
Philadelphia 76ers: Buddy Hield, G
Though new general manager Daryl Morey might move Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons, his affinity for stars means they'll probably stick around for at least another year. However, he is famous for his itchy trigger finger, so he's still likely going to think of some trades.
One player who should be near the top of his mind is Buddy Hield.
The sharpshooter has been unhappy with the Sacramento Kings for over a year and recently reiterated his disgruntled nature. Add in the fact that the Bahamian has shown interest in the Sixers and that Philly desperately needs shooting, and this is a natural pairing.
There are several obstacles to this trade getting finalized. Sacramento would have to acquire either Al Horford or Tobias Harris in return, and though the franchise has been known to overpay players, new general manager Monte McNair might not want to make such a high-risk move this early in his tenure. In addition, Hield just signed a contract extension with the Kings, sapping his leverage.
However, if the 27-year-old starts to vent publically, McNair might be forced to move him. In that case, the Sixers should be happy to swoop in and make a deal.
Phoenix Suns: Jerami Grant, F
Besides the Golden State Warriors, no lottery team has a brighter (sorry) future than the Phoenix Suns.
Devin Booker is now an All-Star, Deandre Ayton made career-defining strides on defense, Mikal Bridges quietly became an elite three-and-D wing and much more. It all culminated in a thrilling bubble stretch that saw Phoenix win all eight of its games, seven of which came against playoff clubs.
The last piece the Suns need is a versatile forward defender. That should be Kelly Oubre Jr., but his effort has always been inconsistent on that end. Thankfully, though, a perfect solution exists in the form of Jerami Grant.
The Denver Nuggets want Grant back and the feeling is mutual, per Shams Charania of The Athletic. But Phoenix has plenty of cap space and could offer him a slightly bigger offensive role than he'd get alongside Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and the rest of the Nuggets' deep roster. And besides, does the 26-year-old want to battle Michael Porter Jr. for playing time?
It's tough to make an argument against Denver after the franchise just had its best season in a decade. Grant re-signing there would make sense. But if he has a change of heart, the Suns should be ready to bring him into the fold and proceed with a postseason-ready rotation.
Portland Trail Blazers: Danilo Gallinari, F
On paper, the Portland Trail Blazers shouldn't be in the mix for Danilo Gallinari. The 32-year-old had a career year with the Oklahoma City Thunder last season and has attracted interest from more exciting teams, while Portland is already set to pay the luxury tax.
However, the Italian recently threw a wrinkle into his free-agency decision, saying he's now more interested in winning a championship than earning a big contract. And while athletes are frequently cagey around that debate, let's take Gallinari at his word.
The Blazers made the playoffs last year despite a lack of depth behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, so adding Gallinari just might vault them into Finals contention. Since LaMarcus Aldridge's departure, Portland has lacked a forward with shot-creation skills, so Gallinari's versatile scoring and ability to draw fouls would be welcomed.
It also helps that he's not a defensive liability like the team's other potential forward acquisitions would be. (Hey, Kevin Love!)
This is about as far-fetched as the pairings in this article will get. But if Gallinari is serious about taking a pay cut—and having earned nearly $140 million in his career, he wouldn't be seriously denying himself—he should consider Portland as a destination.
Sacramento Kings: Bogdan Bogdanovic, G
With two starting-caliber shooting guards and a general lack of roster talent elsewhere, the Sacramento Kings should move either Bogdan Bogdanovic or Buddy Hield. Thankfully, between Hield's consistently alienating behavior and Bogdanovic's career-best production in 2019-20, the choice appears to have been made for them.
While Hield's jumper is pretty and his best nights make for easily digestible social media clips, he's not as integral a team player as the Serbian. As Kevin O'Connor wrote about Bogdanovic for The Ringer way back in January:
"At worst, he'd be an excellent sixth man who can run the second unit, which was the role he occupied this season for the Kings until last week, when he took Buddy Hield's starting position. At best, he's a fixture in starting and finishing lineups because he can score and facilitate using pick-and-rolls and isolations, shoot off the catch, and defend with a competitive spirit."
Here's a memo to new Kings general manager Monte McNair: If contenders are lining up around the block to ask about one of your players, you should probably keep that player.
Sacramento has been a leaguewide laughingstock for 15 years, and in order for the franchise to extricate itself from that rut, it must first start thinking like a contender. Re-signing players as valuable as Bogdanovic are small steps in that direction.
San Antonio Spurs: Aaron Gordon, F
If it seems like we're pushing an Orlando Magic-San Antonio Spurs deal, it's because this trade, centered around DeMar DeRozan and Aaron Gordon, makes too much sense. The Magic would get a source of consistent shot creation, while the Spurs would land a big man of the future.
Though Aaron Gordon's situation in Orlando hasn't been as grim as it often seems—Jonathan Isaac's injury issues and Nikola Vucevic's improving jumper have made for more reasonable spacing—he'd still be better served without the clutter.
In 2020, a player like Gordon should be playing center, not small forward. On a Spurs roster where the primary big man is a 35-year-old impending free agent, he'd get ample chances to explore that possibility and many more with head coach Gregg Popovich.
After a few years coaching subpar defenses, Pop would surely be thrilled to mold someone with Gordon's defensive potential. The Arizona alum is still a below-average shooter, but in case you haven't heard, the Spurs are also pretty good at fixing jumpers.
It's unclear how much longer Popovich plans to coach, but giving the legend an athletic marvel like Gordon could make his final few years exciting, if not necessarily filled with the championship highs he's previously experienced.
Toronto Raptors: Fred VanVleet, G
With Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka becoming free agents this year and Kyle Lowry set to reach the open market in 2021, the Raptors may look very different in 18 months.
But their decision on Fred VanVleet is a pivot point. If he re-signs, then the team will remain a contender for the next half-decade. However, if the point guard departs, then Toronto's direction would suddenly become unclear.
All indications point to VanVleet re-signing. He said as much at the beginning of last season, he's beloved by the fanbase, and as a former undrafted free agent who earned a Finals MVP vote in 2019, he might be the top graduate of the franchise's player-development program. But until he signs on the dotted line, Toronto can't be too sure.
There's not much downside to paying VanVleet what he's worth. Considering how much the Wichita State alum has improved from season to season, he'll likely earn it, and if the team were to lose him and Lowry in consecutive offseasons, it might as well just trade Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, too.
Utah Jazz: Justin Holiday, G
Among other reasons, the Utah Jazz's lack of wing depth proved a key factor in their first-round collapse against the Denver Nuggets. And while Bojan Bogdanovic's return will address that weakness to a degree, he's just one player. Utah should still be using free agency to find playoff-tested wings like Justin Holiday.
As one of the best bench sharpshooters on the market, Holiday will likely attract numerous suitors.
After inexplicably waiting an entire month to be signed last summer, the Washington alum responded by sinking a career-best 40.5 percent of his threes and effectively guarding players as varied as Jayson Tatum, Tyler Herro and Joe Harris.
But Utah should stand out as a potential fit for the veteran. Quin Snyder's club can never have too many shooters (especially with Rudy Gobert clogging the paint at all times), and that previously mentioned dearth of established wings would guarantee Holiday a rotation spot.
The Jazz are already paying the luxury tax, and the Indiana Pacers have made their interest in re-signing the swingman quite clear, so this pairing seems more unlikely than most here. But at the very least, Utah should gauge Holiday's interest in returning to the Western Conference.
Washington Wizards: Davis Bertans, F
If the Washington Wizards are competitive next year, it won't be because of their defense. No, general manager Tommy Sheppard should try to retain the structure of his team's surprisingly competent offense, and that pursuit starts with re-signing Davis Bertans.
It's possible Bertans just had a historically excellent contract year. After all, only Stephen Curry has ever matched his combination of shooting efficiency and volume.
But even if the Latvian splits the difference between his production with the San Antonio Spurs and that supernova 2019-20 campaign, he would provide invaluable spacing for the Wizards and John Wall, who'll need as much help as he can get while re-acclimating to NBA game speed.
This won't be an easy contract to offer. Bertans will likely drive a hard bargain, and with the team already paying nine-figure deals to Wall and Bradley Beal, paying a one-dimensional shooter $15 million annually (as was reported this summer) might feel extreme. But Wall just turned 30, and given his recent injuries, he may have a truncated prime.
Even if they underachieve, the Wizards owe their franchise player a capable supporting cast for the remainder of his All-Star-level years, and bringing Bertans back is the cost of doing business.