Ideal Landing Spots for Top 25 NBA Free Agents in 2022 Offseason
Whether they're in the playoffs or not, teams around the NBA are surely starting to think about a rapidly approaching offseason.
Some degree of roster turnover is a coming reality for everyone, so you can be sure free-agency big boards are already developing.
The thing about this summer, though, is that there is almost no cap space to speak of. The Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder are the only teams with any, and there isn't a max slot between them.
That means, outside of sign-and-trades, most players will have to be secured on minimum deals or cap exceptions. In a way, that might actually allow for a little more creativity on a slideshow like this.
For most who'll be free agents this summer, fit might have to be a bigger consideration than money. Since almost no one has any of the latter, plenty will be choosing between a mid-level exception from one team or others.
With that in mind, we can assume that most of the "ideal fits" listed below would be possible in this unique offseason.
As for who's actually on this top 25, a number of factors have to be considered. Age, health history, past production and projections are all weighed to varying degrees with everyone, but predicting the future is ultimately an exercise in subjectivity.
25. Ivica Zubac (Team Option): Denver Nuggets
The Los Angeles Clippers declining Ivica Zubac's team option feels unlikely, but if they do, he may have to think about accepting a different role elsewhere.
There aren't a bunch of starting center slots available, and the Denver Nuggets are a team that might be in the market for a backup. DeMarcus Cousins' arrival saved this second unit, but age and health concerns might limit his time there. Zubac's steady offense around the rim and solid positional defense could maintain this bench's late-season stability.
24. Mo Bamba (Restricted): Milwaukee Bucks
The same caveats explained for Zubac apply here. As a restricted free agent, Mo Bamba is likely to be retained by the Orlando Magic. And if he leaves, there's a decent chance he'd have to move to the bench.
A contender that could use Bamba's three-and-D game might be the Milwaukee Bucks. Bobby Portis admirably filled in for an injured Brook Lopez this season, but Bamba is a better shot-blocker and could bring some schematic continuity between the starters and the bench (and Portis has plenty of experience at the 4 too).
23. Nic Claxton (Restricted): Brooklyn Nets
Assuming everyone's healthy, the ideal lineup for the Brooklyn Nets next season is probably Kyrie Irving, Seth Curry, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons. But having a more traditional big man who can pull defenses to the paint with hard rolls to the rim will be important, and Nic Claxton can provide that.
Plus, he's nimble enough on the perimeter to survive on switches. So, whether it's him or Simmons at the 5, Brooklyn will be able to deploy largely positionless defensive schemes.
22. Ricky Rubio: Toronto Raptors
During his last two seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers, Ricky Rubio demonstrated an ability and willingness to come off the bench, and the Toronto Raptors could use his playmaking on their second unit.
Toronto is dead last in assists per game off the bench this season, and few players on the market could juice that mark more than Rubio.
21. Robert Covington: Los Angeles Lakers
After falling 20 wins shy of their preseason over-under, the Los Angeles Lakers have to be in the market for players who fit better alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and veteran three-and-D forward Robert Covington fits that description.
In lineups with Anthony Davis at the 5, the Lakers could deploy a forward tandem of Covington and LeBron James that could be plenty switchable on defense. And on the other end, Covington (a career 36.0 percent three-point shooter) would space the floor far better than the lumbering centers and ball-dominant point guard L.A. typically deployed with its two superstars in 2021-22.
20. Andre Drummond: Dallas Mavericks
This isn't necessarily ideal for the Dallas Mavericks, who have Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber and Marquese Chriss under contract for next season, but the point of the article is more about ideal fits for the free agents. And Andre Drummond being a rim-runner for Luka Doncic could revive his career even more than his brief stint with the Brooklyn Nets.
Few (if any) playmakers could create as many wide-open finishing opportunities for Drummond as Doncic.
19. Otto Porter Jr.: New Orleans Pelicans
After injury-plagued campaigns in 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21, Otto Porter Jr. had a nice bounce back with the Golden State Warriors this season. He averaged 8.2 points and 1.3 threes while shooting 36.9 percent from deep. And the New Orleans Pelicans are a team that could use his spacing ability in the frontcourt.
Assuming Zion Williamson is healthy, Porter would almost certainly have to come off the bench. But lineups with Zion as a point center will almost require a stretch 4, and Porter can provide that.
18. Russell Westbrook (Player Option): Minnesota Timberwolves
Russell Westbrook remaining with the Los Angeles Lakers beyond this season feels unlikely, but the same could be said of Russ declining his player option. If he does give up that $47.1 million, you'd think another team would have to be lined up with a sign-and-trade offer.
Any team willing to do that for Russ better be confident in its ability to surround him with shooters (particularly at the 5). With KAT, Edwards and Russell, the Minnesota Timberwolves could do just that.
17. Luguentz Dort (Team Option): Portland Trail Blazers
If the Portland Trail Blazers are torn between a traditional rebuild and trying to leapfrog that phase when Damian Lillard comes back next season, adding Luguentz Dort might be a way to sort of plant feet in both philosophical camps.
Over the last couple of years, it's become clear that the Blazers need to surround Lillard with better perimeter defenders, and Dort has shown the potential to be one of the best in that regard. Plus, he'll only be 23 when the 2022-23 season starts.
16. Bobby Portis (Player Option): New York Knicks
If Mitchell Robinson leaves this offseason (more on him later), the New York Knicks should consider a completely different type of center this offseason.
Julius Randle recently refuted reports that he wants a trade, and if he's still there, New York needs a shooter at the 5 to offset Randle's dreadful jump shooting (his 2020-21 looks like a dramatic outlier now).
Over the last four seasons, former Knick Bobby Portis has averaged 12.5 points and 1.4 threes while shooting 40.0 percent from three.
15. Isaiah Hartenstein: Golden State Warriors
Throughout Stephen Curry's career, the Golden State Warriors have been at their best with a 5 who plays defense, moves the ball and doesn't demand a ton of shots.
Isaiah Hartenstein has proved able to check all those boxes (or, if you remember the bubble tests of your youth, fill those circles in completely). This season, he's averaging 17.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals per 75 possessions, with a 65.8 true shooting percentage and a top-25 box plus/minus.
14. Gary Payton II: Atlanta Hawks
The Golden State Warriors should be intent on re-signing Gary Payton II. They're plus-15.4 points per 100 possessions when he shares the floor with Stephen Curry, compared to plus-8.8 when Curry plays without him.
But if Golden State lets him go, another team that could use his dominant perimeter defense is the Atlanta Hawks (who are bottom five on that end). With Trae Young as the face of the franchise, Atlanta needs someone outside who can spare him (and his team) from difficult defensive assignments.
13. Collin Sexton (Restricted): Cleveland Cavaliers
Since the start of 2020-21, Collin Sexton has averaged 23.0 points, 4.0 assists and 1.5 threes, but his box plus/minus remains below average because of his struggles as a defender. That sounds an awful lot like a heat-checking sixth man, which is exactly what he may be for the Cleveland Cavaliers going forward.
With Caris LeVert now on the team and Isaac Okoro having a bit of a breakout, Cleveland has bigger options to play alongside Darius Garland. But with his combo guard ability, Sexton should be able to coexist with all of the above. And because he's a restricted free agent, the Cavs can match any offer sheet he signs this summer.
12. Montrezl Harrell: Philadelphia 76ers
After trading Andre Drummond to the Brooklyn Nets as part of the Ben Simmons deal, the Philadelphia 76ers need a backup center. And Montrezl Harrell has filled that role about as well as anyone in the league for multiple teams.
Over the course of his career, Harrell has started just 29 games, but he has career averages of 12.9 points and 5.3 boards. And his teams have generally been better when he's on the floor.
11. Jusuf Nurkic: Charlotte Hornets
On paper, a lineup of LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, Miles Bridges and Mason Plumlee seems like one that should work, but the Charlotte Hornets actually have a negative point differential when that group is on the floor.
The center spot seems like the natural one to upgrade there, and Jusuf Nurkic can provide the passing that Plumlee does while also having a bit more varied offensive game.
10. Malik Monk: Detroit Pistons
With averages of 12.8 points and 2.1 threes and a 39.2 three-point percentage, Malik Monk has spent the last couple of years proving himself to be a capable catch-and-shoot threat.
That's exactly what the Detroit Pistons need around Cade Cunningham, who averaged 5.6 assists on a team that ranked 29th in the league in three-point percentage.
9. Anfernee Simons (Restricted): Portland Trail Blazers
There are other teams that could certainly use Anfernee Simons, but his play after Damian Lillard went down makes a departure seem highly unlikely. Again, there isn't a lot of cap space available, and if Simons signs an exception-sized offer sheet, Portland will almost certainly match it.
Though the presence of Lillard and Josh Hart means Simons will likely have to come off the bench, his 17.3 points, 3.1 threes and 40.5 three-point percentage in 2021-22 could make him an early candidate for Sixth Man of the Year next season.
8. Mitchell Robinson: Portland Trail Blazers
As noted in Dort's writeup, the Blazers need to prioritize defense for the rest of the Lillard era (however long that may be).
While Mitchell Robinson has had a couple of quiet seasons with Tom Thibodeau, he's still fourth in the league in block percentage over the course of his career. And not posting huge numbers means Portland might have enough space to sign both him and Dort before using Bird rights to bring Simons back.
7. Jalen Brunson: New York Knicks
Given what his 2022-23 salary could be, it'll take some cap wizardry to make this happen, but Jalen Brunson is "...at the top of New York's wishlist," according to Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer.
Despite doing a solid job at the 1, Alec Burks was undoubtedly playing out of position this season, and Brunson would walk into that situation as the clear lead playmaker and perhaps a second or third option as a scorer.
6. Deandre Ayton (Restricted): Phoenix Suns
As noted at the outset, finding a max cap slot this summer will be tricky, and that's probably what it would take to get the Phoenix Suns to decline to match an offer sheet Deandre Ayton signs with someone else.
For Ayton, that's probably a good thing. He's nobly taken a back seat to Chris Paul and Devin Booker over the last couple of years. On some nights, he even gets less shine than wings like Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson. But over the life of his next contract, as CP3 moves closer to 40, he'll be called upon for more offense again.
5. Miles Bridges (Restricted): Charlotte Hornets
The Charlotte Hornets can't possibly break up the LaMelo Ball-Miles Bridges pairing two years after it started. And with restricted free-agency rights to Bridges, they won't have to.
Sure, signing Bridges now figures to be more expensive than it would've been prior to this season, but it should still be worth it.
Ball-to-Bridges is this season's seventh most prolific assist combo, but the numbers don't begin to do that connection justice.
Ball is one of the game's most exuberant passers. Bridges is one of its most dynamic finishers. Having all of it called by Eric Collins makes for some of the game's absolute best highlights.
And the fact that the elder statesman in this duo (Bridges) is still under 25 means there's plenty of time for the chemistry to get even better.
4. Bradley Beal (Player Option): Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal would have to decline $37.3 million to enter free agency, but he's young and good enough to make that a legitimate possibility.
Some team would likely pony up a max offer for him, even if it meant the ramifications of a sign-and-trade (losing players and hard-capping yourself).
There are just too many hurdles to think that Beal will be with someone other than the Washington Wizards at the start of 2022-23.
If he's on an expiring contract and things go poorly again, though, the next trade deadline could be the end of Beal's run with the Wizards.
Between now and then, it's not hard to see how Beal might fit within the team's new context.
Washington can be largely positionless at the forward spots with Rui Hachimura, Kyle Kuzma and Deni Avdija. Kristaps Porzingis can stretch the floor at the 5. And slashing lanes to the rim should be there for Beal to exploit.
3. James Harden (Player Option): Philadelphia 76ers
- Harden with the Nets: 22.1 points, 10.0 assists, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 threes and 0.7 blocks per 75 possessions, 57.6 true shooting percentage, 4.1 box plus/minus, plus-1.6 net rating (plus-0.5 swing)
- Harden with the 76ers: 20.9 points, 10.2 assists, 7.2 rebounds, 2.2 threes and 0.2 blocks per 75 possessions, 60.1 true shooting percentage, 4.2 box plus/minus, plus-8.5 net rating (plus-7.6 swing)
There are some discrepancies here and there, but you could even argue that Harden has been better in Philadelphia.
And given everything the Sixers gave up to get him (Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, Ben Simmons and two first-round picks), losing Harden for nothing in free agency would be disastrous.
Could things go so poorly in the playoffs that Philadelphia could convince itself not to throw good money after bad? That's possible, but Daryl Morey and the 76ers are pot-committed here.
And since they've only had Harden since February, it's too early to fold.
2. Zach LaVine: Chicago Bulls
At the start of the season, it looked like the Chicago Bulls might crush expectations for the 2021-22 season. Then, injuries to Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso derailed them.
Those two, Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan are all under contract for next season. And though Zach LaVine is headed for free agency, it's hard to imagine Chicago letting the last piece of the puzzle go.
The sample size is probably too small for grand takeaways, but when those five were on the floor, the Bulls were plus-20.6 points per 100 possessions.
Over the course of the entire season, there didn't appear to be any tension between LaVine and DeRozan in terms of usage.
Running it back with LaVine on a deal that is certain to at least be close to a max will be expensive, but Chicago owes it to itself and its fans to see what happens in a healthy season.
1. Kyrie Irving (Player Option): Brooklyn Nets
His efficiency has tailed off a bit since he returned to full-time status, but Kyrie Irving has been one of the game's best offensive players this season. And the Brooklyn Nets need to see how the partnership between him and Kevin Durant looks when it's accompanied by Ben Simmons.
The theoretical lineup of those three, Seth Curry and Joe Harris presents incredible offensive potential.
Though there are a lot of mouths to feed there, Simmons' unselfishness should mean plenty of shots for Irving. He didn't have trouble getting his when he shared the floor with Harden, and Simmons has never used near as many possessions.
Add that to the connection between Kyrie and KD, and there's little to no doubt he'll be back in Brooklyn next season.
"It has always been about being comfortable loving where I'm at, and I love it here," Irving recently told the media. "Once that summertime hits, I know that we'll have some conversations; but there's no way I can leave my man seven anywhere."