1 Player Every NBA Team Needs to Chase in 2022 Free AgencyApril 19, 2022
1 Player Every NBA Team Needs to Chase in 2022 Free Agency
For the NBA teams whose seasons are over, the focus has already shifted to next year. Even the squads still competing in the playoffs are getting a better idea of the holes on their rosters, as the postseason exposes weakness in ways that the regular season never does.
Free agency will be tricky this summer. Few clubs are currently projected to have salary-cap space, and big names will be hard to come by. That means many teams will be competing with one another for rotation pieces using similar resources—cap exceptions and minimum contracts—to try to lure players.
Every team will try to shore up some of its shortcomings in free agency. Here, we've come up with one player for every team to set their sights on.
Some of these suggestions will be ambitious. A few might seem underwhelming. But in every case, the featured player fits a role or occupies a position of great need.
Atlanta Hawks: Facundo Campazzo
Trae Young is an unabashed irritant, and the Atlanta Hawks should lean into the identity established by their best player.
Facundo Campazzo has a history of crossing the line between gamesmanship and unsportsmanlike play, and he's exactly the kind of aggravating physical presence whom the Hawks could use to supplement Young's less confrontational brand.
Atlanta could lose third guard Delon Wright in free agency, and Campazzo's incumbent team, the Denver Nuggets, will have Jamal Murray back at full strength next season. So while the Hawks have a need for the Argentine spark plug, the Nuggets might not prioritize retaining Campazzo in restricted free agency.
Bogdan Bogdanovic did the previously impossible this season by leading Young-less units to a stellar offensive rating, and he should still get the bulk of the backup point guard minutes for Atlanta moving forward. But Bogdanovic is also valuable off the ball in lineups that include Young.
That would leave room for Campazzo to set up teammates and annoy opponents—his two specialties.
Boston Celtics: Ricky Rubio
Defense turned the Boston Celtics' season around, with an assist from Jayson Tatum's annual mid-year offensive leap. But another quiet contributor to the Celtics' climb up the standings after the calendar flipped to 2022 was improved offensive flow.
In particular, Marcus Smart returned from health and safety protocols on Jan. 23 with an obvious intent to get the ball moving. From that point on, Boston had the best offense in the league, climbing from 22nd in assists per game prior to Smart's return to fifth afterward.
So if a key to the Celtics' dominance is better passing and more frequent setups, why not target a guy whose best skill is facilitation?
Ricky Rubio ranked in the 97th percentile in assist percentage among point guards prior to going down with a torn ACL this year, and he's been among the top 10 percent in five other seasons during his career. If there's one thing Rubio can do, it's feed teammates for easy buckets.
The Celtics will likely be in luxury-tax territory unless they waive and stretch Al Horford, but they shouldn't have to pay Rubio more than the $6.4 million taxpayer mid-level exception considering he's coming off his second career ACL tear. A minimum deal might be all it takes to ensure Boston's offense keeps humming.
Brooklyn Nets: Gary Payton II
Hypothetically, if Gary Payton II and Bruce Brown passed each other in the hallways of the Brooklyn Nets practice facility—the former coming aboard in free agency and the latter departing—it'd be indistinguishable from the Spider-Man pointing meme.
They'd recognize each other as former point guards who resurrected their careers by playing like dirty-work big men on teams loaded with star talent.
Brown shot a career-high 40.4 percent from three this year and outproduced Payton in points, rebounds and assists per game. Payton is the superior defender and finished second in the league in deflections per 36 minutes.
Because Brown's statistical profile is likely to command more interest in free agency than Payton's, the deep-in-the-tax Nets might not want to spend what it takes to keep Brown. They may have to investigate cheaper alternatives.
Payton should also draw significant interest now that teams understand how to use his unusual skills. He's a hellacious defensive presence. But if his price tag is a little lower than Brown's, and if Brooklyn doesn't want to ditch the option of having a guard dive down the lane in the pick-and-roll, he could be a perfect successor.
Charlotte Hornets: Nicolas Claxton
Nic Claxton is a switchable center who can defend the rim and provide vertical spacing as a lob threat. Other than an outside shot, the 23-year-old restricted free agent has everything a team could want in a big man.
For the Charlotte Hornets, who need a presence in the middle more than most teams, Claxton's athleticism and ability to run the floor would make him a perfect fit.
The Nets are also familiar with Claxton's abilities, but they've moved on from promising young centers in the past. Remember Jarrett Allen?
It's possible Brooklyn will view Claxton as similarly fungible, especially if the Hornets send over an offer sheet for the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception starting above $10.3 million. The tax-hit Nets would have a hard time justifying a match at that rate.
Charlotte needs a dynamic center that fits into the developmental curve of a core led by LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges. Claxton looks like an ideal option at a position of need.
Chicago Bulls: Juan Toscano-Anderson
The best version of this season's Chicago Bulls featured Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball wreaking havoc on defense and contributing to an offense that kept the ball zipping around. DeMar DeRozan turned into an incredible one-man show when those two went down with injuries, but the Bulls were better when they defended and kept the rock moving.
Though he fell out of the Golden State Warriors rotation as 2021-22 wore on, Juan Toscano-Anderson could give Chicago even more defensive punch and offensive connectivity. All he does is hustle, defend and pass. Even when he screws up in one of those areas, he immediately fixes it in another.
Bad pass? How about a chase-down block?
At 6'6", JTA can guard all five positions and play up top as an initiator on offense. The Bulls might prefer a splashier signing, but Toscano-Anderson would amplify the qualities that produced the best stretches of their season.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Caleb Martin
As long as the Cleveland Cavaliers bring back restricted free agent Collin Sexton, the lack of secondary shot creation that hurt them so badly in their play-in loss to the Atlanta Hawks shouldn't linger. But Sexton and the team couldn't reach an extension agreement prior to the season, so it isn't a given that they'll come to an accord this summer.
If Sexton gets an offer sheet too pricey to match, the Cavs should cross their fingers and hope their full MLE is enough to get Tyus Jones' interest. It might not be, but a backup point guard will be a must.
If they do re-sign Sexton, the Cavs should turn to Miami Heat restricted free agent Caleb Martin.
Signed to a two-way deal initially, the 6'5" wing put up 9.2 points on an above-average true shooting percentage while playing Miami's typical brand of high-energy defense. That performance earned him a guaranteed deal for 2021-22 and a spot on the playoff roster, but he could have an even larger role with the Cavs next year.
There's always a risk in targeting a player who goes to Miami, gets indoctrinated into Heat culture and performs like never before. But Martin offers a lot of the same hustle and intangibles Isaac Okoro does, plus a more reliable outside shot. He could fill out a wing rotation that looked a little thin in Cleveland this season.
Dallas Mavericks: Robert Covington
The Los Angeles Clippers have Robert Covington's Bird rights, and they have no issue spending deep into the luxury tax under team governor Steve Ballmer. Extracting the 31-year-old forward could be tricky.
That's too bad, because Covington would be a perfect addition to the Dallas Mavericks.
The only player with at least 100 steals and 100 made triples in each of the last two seasons, Covington is about as three-and-D as it gets. Perhaps overrated as a lockdown on-ball weapon, the 6'7" forward is a disruptive force in passing lanes and among the best non-center shot-blockers in the league.
It's difficult to imagine a role player better suited to can the open threes Luka Doncic creates while also problem-solving all over the court on defense.
Dallas cranked it up on D this year, finishing in the top 10 on that end for the first time since 2011-12. If you aren't excited by how much higher a small-ball 4-5 combo of Dorian Finney-Smith and Covington could push that ranking next season, check your pulse.
Denver Nuggets: Gary Harris
Remember the Gary Harris that had a mind-meld with Nikola Jokic, a connection that produced backdoor cuts on the baseline and pinpoint passes that seemed to happen simultaneously? The guy that shot 42.0 percent from three in 2016-17, then averaged a career-high 17.5 points per game the following year?
That version of Harris might not exist anymore, but the 27-year-old quietly averaged double figures and shot 38.4 percent from long range on 5.0 attempts per game for a go-nowhere 2021-22 Orlando Magic squad. Harris clearly still has some game, and maybe returning to the team that saw him at his best will unlock even more of it.
The Denver Nuggets could lose unrestricted free agent Bryn Forbes, and they'll need to replace some of that shooting. Bones Hyland can do that and more, but Harris would still profile as a quality two-way piece of a reloaded Nuggets rotation. He knows how to play with Jokic and Jamal Murray, and the homecoming vibes are just too strong to ignore.
I mean, come on. We all want this, right?
Detroit Pistons: Deandre Ayton
What's the use of being one of the only teams with cap space if you aren't going to get ambitious with it?
The Detroit Pistons are one of five clubs projected to have at least $20 million in cap room this offseason. That fact, along with their status as rebuilders in need of young talent, makes Deandre Ayton a prime target.
The Phoenix Suns can match any offer Detroit makes, so there's real risk in the Pistons tying up all of their available cash for two days while the Suns decide what to do. Detroit would need a strong sense of how the Suns would handle an offer sheet before giving one to Ayton—and that's to say nothing of whether Ayton would have any interest in joining a lottery team after playing for a contender.
Still, the Suns passed on the chance to lock Ayton up on a max deal prior to the 2021-22 season. That suggests their commitment to the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft is something less than total.
Detroit should look to capitalize on that, perhaps by enclosing little notes saying "Chris Paul doesn't like you; he told us" within their offer sheet to Ayton. If they whiff, the Pistons can still use their space to take on unwanted contracts with picks attached, which is a solid Plan B for a team in their position.
Golden State Warriors: Kyle Anderson
The real answer here should be "all of their own free agents," but that'd be cheating. Even if the Golden State Warriors should just prioritize retaining Otto Porter Jr., Gary Payton II, Kevon Looney, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damion Lee, Nemanja Bjelica and Andre Iguodala (if he doesn't retire), we have to turn our focus to free agents from the outside.
Enter Kyle Anderson, a savvy veteran forward who can do a little bit of everything—except run fast or jump high. With the tax-bound Dubs likely to lose many of the minimum-salaried contributors they inked last offseason, Anderson would work well as a stopgap in several regards.
First of all, he's a smart passer who has overcome his athletic limitations by understanding where to be and where to deliver the ball. Golden State puts a premium on high-IQ players because it takes smarts to figure out how to operate in its constantly moving offensive system. Anderson is averaging 4.0 assists per 36 minutes for his career.
He also has the size to play small-ball 5 and the defensive instincts to survive against switches. Though he shot only 33.0 percent from deep this season as his mechanics went haywire, Anderson has been a reliable long-range weapon in the past. His 2020-21 hit rate was a more palatable 36.0 percent.
The Grizzlies know they have Ja Morant's max deal coming down the pike, and Desmond Bane isn't going to be cheap to retain when he's up for an extension next summer. They can't keep everyone from this year's exceptionally deep roster, and Anderson is a little longer in the tooth than most of Memphis' core.
Golden State might be able to grab him for the taxpayer's mid-level exception.
Houston Rockets: Mitchell Robinson
The New York Knicks have Mitchell Robinson's Bird rights, and the Houston Rockets don't project to have cap space, but it's still possible to do some matchmaking here.
Robinson and the Knicks couldn't agree on an extension during the season, with the team being limited to an offer of no more than four years and $48 million. SNY's Ian Begley reported the Knicks didn't come close to offering that much.
If Robinson is salty over that perceived slight, maybe he'd be amenable to taking a similar amount from Houston via its full non-taxpayer MLE.
The Rockets allowed the second-highest conversion rate at the rim this past season, highlighting their need for interior defense. Since his debut in 2018-19, Robinson has the third-highest block percentage in the league (among players with at least 200 games played).
Christian Wood and Alperen Sengun have no shortage of offensive skill, but neither puts up any resistance on D. Robinson would give the Rockets the deterrent they lack inside.
Indiana Pacers: Otto Porter Jr.
The Indiana Pacers have their backcourt set, with Tyrese Haliburton, Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. McConnell, Buddy Hield and Chris Duarte all under contract for next season. The issue with their 2022-23 roster is going to be a lack of bigger wings, which is why the Pacers should focus on combo forwards in free agency.
Miles Bridges should top the list, but while Indy is one of the few teams with cap space, it likely won't have enough to compete with what may be a max offer from the Hornets.
Even if T.J. Warren comes back in free agency, Indiana should still put in a call to Otto Porter Jr., who took a minimum deal with the Golden State Warriors last summer and proved he could play a major role on a winner.
Porter produced the Dubs' second-highest positive net rating swing, trailing only Stephen Curry. In other words, he was Golden State's most positively impactful force among mortals.
A terrific rebounder who can play the 4, Porter's quick trigger forced defenses to honor his three-point shot. He also capitalized on aggressive closeouts by putting the ball on the deck and attacking, converting 72 percent of his shots at the rim and 45 percent of his mid-rangers.
It'll likely take more than the minimum to secure Porter's services since he's only 28 years old and has the portable plug-and-play game to fit on any team. Indiana, woefully short on forwards, has more need for what he brings than most.
Los Angeles Clippers: James Johnson
The Brooklyn Nets waived James Johnson ahead of the playoffs, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the veteran forward is nearing the end of the road. Maybe he's lost some fast-twitch athleticism at age 35, but rugged toughness and versatility tend to hang around a while.
The Los Angeles Clippers are capped- and taxed-out beyond belief, and that's before they spend whatever it takes to bring back Robert Covington and breakout backup Isaiah Hartenstein. That's why they have to keep their focus on minimum-salary vets, which Johnson is likely to be at this stage of his career.
The Clips look to be building a positionless rotation of 6'7" and 6'8" forwards who can guard multiple positions, pass and shoot. Johnson covers all those criteria, save the last one. He's a career 30.2 percent shooter from deep.
With that said, Johnson has shut down wings, banged with centers and even been an offensive initiator at various points in his career. That malleability fits right in with what the Clippers are doing, and it should come cheap.
Los Angeles Lakers: Bryn Forbes
Some might want the Los Angeles Lakers to aim higher, but they shot for the moon with the Russell Westbrook trade last offseason, and we all saw how that turned out.
This is a back-to-basics suggestion, a return to what we know works well for a team that employs LeBron James. Shooting is paramount for L.A., and Bryn Forbes is arguably the best gunner on the market.
The 28-year-old won't contribute defensively, but he's a 41.3 percent shooter from long distance for his career, and he's more than a standstill threat. Forbes' 2.5 points per game off screens with the Denver Nuggets ranked sixth in the league this season.
Don't overlook his value as pick-setter, either. Forbes can bring his smaller defender into the action up top, and the threat of him popping out pulls defenders toward him. That opens up driving chances for teammates.
If he can drag defenders away from Giannis Antetokounmpo, he can do the same thing for James.
Memphis Grizzlies: Aaron Holiday
Assuming the Memphis Grizzlies lose Tyus Jones to a big offer this summer, they're going to need a backup point guard who can replicate his reliable shooting and mistake-free play. That's going to be tough, as Jones was the only guy in the league to hit at least 39 percent of his threes while averaging over 4.0 assists and under one turnover per game.
Memphis may need to resign itself to accepting a poor man's substitute.
That description might sell Aaron Holiday short. He hit 37.9 percent of his threes while splitting time between the Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards this season. While his 2.4-to-1.1 assist-to-turnover ratio doesn't come close to Jones' elite figure, it's reasonable to expect some improvement from the 25-year-old, if only because Holiday pedigree suggests work ethic will not be an issue.
Ja Morant is inevitably going to miss time each season unless he throttles back his daredevil attacks on the rim. Holiday may be a little untested, but the Grizzlies are starting to look like one of those high-functioning franchises where players go to find the best versions of themselves. Holiday could be next.
Miami Heat: Kevon Looney
Bam Adebayo is key to the Miami Heat's operation on both ends. His switchability on D short-circuits the opponent's pick-and-roll game, while his uncommon passing skill allows for creative sets on offense.
The Heat can't be the best version of themselves for all 48 minutes because Adebayo needs a break once in a while. But what if they had a backup center who could do a credible Adebayo impression for a few minutes per game?
Please don't take this as an argument that Kevon Looney is in Adebayo's league as a do-it-all big man. But two of Looney's best attributes—holding up on perimeter switches and understanding how to keep the ball moving on offense—could allow the Heat to maintain their identity with Adebayo out of the game.
Looney feels like a Golden State Warriors lifer, and it would be difficult to pry him loose from the only team he's ever known. But the Dubs are projected to be a taxpayer next season, and might not be keen on giving Looney a raise on the $5.2 million he made this year, especially with James Wiseman (theoretically) in line to take over the first-unit center gig at some point.
Milwaukee Bucks: T.J. Warren
Somebody has to take a chance on T.J. Warren, who's logged a grand total of four games since playing the best basketball of his life in the bubble.
The Milwaukee Bucks, who can offer a major role on a contender and could later replace Warren with a buyout candidate if the gamble doesn't pay off, are exactly the kind of team that should consider the risk worth the reward.
When last healthy, Warren was one of the best two-way weapons in the league. Once regarded as an uncommitted defender, he got serious on that end. Paired with long-range hit rates above 40 percent in 2018-19 and 2019-20, the burly forward was playing like a star. If he's finally over the foot injuries that cost him so much time, he could be among the biggest bargains in the 2022 free-agent class.
That so few teams have cap space, and that so many of them are rebuilders who likely won't have interest in a 28-year-old coming off two injury-ruined seasons, gives the Bucks an edge in recruiting. If everyone's offering the non-taxpayer or taxpayer mid-level exception, Milwaukee's status as a surefire title threat with plenty of minutes to spare could distinguish it from the field.
Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, Warren, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez would be a terrifying starting/closing five.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Damion Lee
The one-way formula has worked for the Minnesota Timberwolves, with offense-first talents like Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell getting support from defensive-minded role players like Jaden McDaniels, Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt.
Consider Damion Lee a nudge toward better balance.
The veteran wing has averaged 20.6 minutes per game for the Warriors during his four years with the team, and he's been a reliable source of three-point shooting (35.7 percent for his career) and solid perimeter defense. The Wolves can count on Anthony Edwards' star continuing to rise, and Malik Beasley will keep chucking from deep until his arms go numb, but Lee profiles as a quality addition to a rotation that plays too many one-dimensional players.
A sharp off-ball mover, Lee ranked in the 81st percentile in points per possession on cuts this season. Though his numbers dipped a bit from deep in 2021-22, he also shot 40.5 percent on spot-up threes a year ago. Adding to the package, Lee has ranked in the top quartile at his position in defensive rebound rate during every year of his career.
Lee isn't a star, and he wouldn't be a starter in Minnesota. But he can do a little bit of everything, and the Wolves could use someone with his well-rounded profile.
New Orleans Pelicans: Delon Wright
Unrestricted free agent Delon Wright is coming off his first season with a minutes-per-game average under 20.0 for the first time since 2016-17, and his 4.4 points per contest don't exactly jump off the page.
But the 29-year-old combo guard shot 37.9 percent from deep while producing the best defensive box plus/minus of his career. An incomprehensibly low 10.3 percent usage rate reveals Wright's passivity, but the New Orleans Pelicans aren't going to need a get-buckets scorer. Next year's roster will feature CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and, hopefully, a healthy Zion Williamson.
Those guys can get the numbers that come to those who start and finish plays. Wright can handle the in-between stuff, defend and knock down the occasional wide-open shot.
New Orleans already has 14 players with guaranteed salaries for 2022-23, so it would probably take a roster move or two to justify adding a player like Wright, who'd cost more than the minimum. Still, his ability to play any spot from point guard to small forward while complementing stars would make him a clean fit.
New York Knicks: Tyus Jones
The New York Knicks cannot go into next season relying on Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker to handle 82 games' worth of point guard duties. They tried that this year, and 6'6" wing Alec Burks wound up logging 40 percent of his minutes as the Knicks' primary ball-handler.
New York should throw the full mid-level exception at Tyus Jones knowing, at worst, it will be paying market rate for a high-end backup who's played 358 of a possible 383 games over the last five years. That reliability should matter more than anything else to a team that knows how fragile Rose and Walker are.
Jones has never averaged double-digit points and hasn't logged more than the 22.9 minutes per game he saw in 2018-19. But he's as steady as point guards get, and the Knicks just need someone whom they can count on at the position. Even if Julius Randle somehow retains his overly large share of playmaking duties, Jones' value as a floor-spacer could help New York's biggest star find easier shots.
Lastly, Jones is heading into his age-26 season. He isn't some end-of-the-road game manager who gets by on old-man tricks. His dependable play in recent seasons should be viewed as a floor. There's every chance he could level up in a bigger role.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Isaiah Hartenstein
The word might already out on Isaiah Hartenstein, who was quietly one of the league's best backup centers this season. But the Oklahoma City Thunder should hope rival teams look at Hartenstein's underwhelming counting stats and move on. Averages of 8.3 points and 4.9 rebounds won't blow anyone away.
Admittedly, much of the reason to tie OKC to Hartenstein has to do with the joy of watching him work with Josh Giddey.
Hartenstein spent a short stint with Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets in 2020-21, and the experience helped transform him into a brilliant passer. He ranked in the 92nd percentile in assist rate among bigs this past season, and many of his setups had Jokic-esque flair. Pair this guy with Giddey, who is also a preternaturally gifted facilitator, and the Thunder's offense would make some sweet music.
OKC's real cap-space boom won't come until 2023, but it should act now. Other teams might not want to throw the full non-taxpayer MLE at the 23-year-old Hartenstein, but the Thunder should go for it.
Orlando Magic: Miles Bridges
Resign yourselves now, Orlando Magic fans. You probably won't get prized restricted free agent Miles Bridges.
However, Orlando's likelihood of having more cap space than any other team this summer means Bridges must still be the team's first free-agency call.
The 24-year-old would slot nicely into the Magic's youth movement, and his fit alongside Franz Wagner in an intriguing frontcourt is impossible to ignore. Wagner showed surprising star potential as a rookie, and Bridges, fresh off a scoring average of 20.2 points per game, would give Orlando some real two-way punch. Plus, with the young backcourt combo of Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony still struggling to play positively impactful ball, Bridges' underrated playmaking (3.8 assists per game) could lighten their facilitation load.
The Charlotte Hornets may just max Bridges out and be done with it, but like Collin Sexton in Cleveland, the opportunity to do that before the 2021-22 season came and went. Bridges blew up in his fourth year, so the Hornets now have more reason to believe he's worth a nine-figure deal.
Orlando should still throw its own max offer sheet at the hyper-athletic forward, hoping the Hornets still aren't convinced Bridges is worth it.
Philadelphia 76ers: JaVale McGee
The Philadelphia 76ers' chances at landing JaVale McGee may depend on the Phoenix Suns falling short of their lofty postseason expectations. If McGee's current team goes all the way, why would he consider accepting a similar backup role on the Sixers?
Whatever happens with the Suns, Philadelphia needs someone it can rely on behind Joel Embiid, who set a career high this season with 68 games played. And in a development that never seemed possible in McGee's early days, he's among the most trustworthy bigs in the league.
Averages of 9.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in only 15.8 minutes per game are just the beginning. McGee also shot 62.9 percent from the field and logged 74 games. At 34, he should be on the downside of the aging curve. But length is the 7-foot McGee's best attribute, and he's never going to lose that.
Philly got solid production from Andre Drummond before he departed in the Ben Simmons-James Harden deal, and neither Paul Reed (not ready) nor DeAndre Jordan (on his way out of the league) profiles as a sufficient replacement next year.
Phoenix Suns: Damian Jones
Let's continue with the hypothetical of Phoenix losing JaVale McGee to another team, replacing him with a younger and similarly late-blooming big man.
In his early days with the Golden State Warriors, Damian Jones, the No. 30 pick in the 2016 draft, looked like a lost cause. Defensive lapses, bad hands, zero feel or timing on offense—shortcomings typical of many young bigs but made more conspicuous in the Dubs' graduate-level offense. Jones had undeniable size, length and bounce, but he looked like a near-7-footer who didn't know what to do or where to be.
Four teams later (one of which was the Suns), he might have started to figure it out.
Jones, still only 26, averaged 8.1 points and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 65.8 percent from the field for the Sacramento Kings this season. He made 10 of the 29 threes he attempted and, most importantly, his passing reads from the elbows were shockingly solid. It once seemed unfathomable, but Jones can now be relied upon to find cutters and execute handoffs as an offensive hub.
Phoenix needed McGee to to catch lobs and deter shots inside. Jones, who's eight years younger than McGee, can do those two things and maybe a little more.
Portland Trail Blazers: Thaddeus Young
In-house business will consume most of the Portland Trail Blazers' offseason. Jusuf Nurkic (unrestricted) and Anfernee Simons (restricted) are both due new deals.
Once securing those two, Portland should look for a change-of-pace center to complement Nurkic's more conventional presence. And because interim general manager Joe Cronin intends the Blazers' step backward to be a temporary thing, the focus should be on a veteran small-ball 5 who can contribute to a playoff run immediately.
Thaddeus Young didn't get the same shine this season as he did in 2020-21 with the Chicago Bulls, but he's far from finished as a valuable rotation piece. If anything, his time with the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors showed the breadth of his skills.
In a minor role with the youth-focused Spurs, he was asked to score inside and facilitate, so he shot 60.2 percent from two-point range and averaged 2.3 assists in only 14.2 minutes per game. He attempted five three-pointers in 26 contests.
The Raptors used him in a completely different way as part of their spaced-out, positionless attack. So Young jacked up 43 triples in an identical 26 games, hitting 39.5 percent of them.
Portland could use both versions of Young to great effect.
Sacramento Kings: Derrick Jones Jr.
Shooting may always be among Derrick Jones Jr.'s weak spots, though he did hit a career-best 32.8 percent of his triples this past season with the Chicago Bulls. Maybe he'll get that stroke up to the league average after all.
Either way, the Sacramento Kings aren't in the market for an offensive boost. They need Jones and his high-wire athleticism to create some chaos on defense.
De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis have been around long enough to solidify themselves as minuses on that end. Fox's raw speed and deceptive strength will always make his lack of defensive punch a disappointment. With those two anchoring the roster, Sacramento needs someone to fly around and put out fires.
Davion Mitchell will lock up the opponent's most dangerous guard, and Harrison Barnes will be a solid-but-unspectacular performer. But Jones has shown the capacity to be disruptive in ways that might help the Kings actually accomplish something on defense.
After two straight years in the bottom four and nearly two decades in the bottom half of the league's defensive efficiency rankings, Sacramento has to make an effort to improve its stopping power in free agency.
San Antonio Spurs: Zach LaVine
As the last team (alphabetically) with significant cap space, the San Antonio Spurs are the only squad left with even a semi-realistic shot at landing the prize of 2022 free agency. Zach LaVine, 27 and a truly elite offensive weapon, is the surest thing on the market.
The Spurs should be drooling over the possibility of pairing LaVine in the backcourt with Dejounte Murray, where the former's incredibly efficient shooting could offset the latter's still-developing three-point shot. LaVine is an adept facilitator as well, which would allow the Spurs to occasionally use Murray as a cutter and screener in guard-guard pick-and-rolls.
Meanwhile, LaVine's suspect defense wouldn't be fatal with Murray on the perimeter and Jakob Poeltl down low.
Chicago has every incentive to bring LaVine back in unrestricted free agency, and the Spurs would probably have to trim some salary around the edges to offer the two-time All-Star the full max. But San Antonio has some developing youth that should improve, and it feels like it's a top-line scorer away from being a 50-win team.
LaVine is on a streak of four straight years averaging at least 23.0 points per game on true shooting above the league average. He can fill it up like few others.
Toronto Raptors: Andre Drummond
The Toronto Raptors had success this season by testing the limits of small ball—if that's even the right label for their "you must be between 6'7" and 6'9" to enjoy this ride" lineups.
Thaddeus Young and Chris Boucher could both be gone in free agency, and it would be asking a lot of Khem Birch, Precious Achiuwa and a bunch of combo forwards to man the 5 for all of next season and the playoffs.
Andre Drummond would give them the option to upsize. He's bounced between five teams over the last three years, and while his All-Star days are well behind him, the veteran center is still a dominant rebounder who can hold down the interior. He averaged a double-double and shot 61.0 percent from the field in 24 starts for the Brooklyn Nets this year.
Toronto might stick with its innovative approach and become the first team to give up on the concept of conventional centers. Or it might realize that size still matters—at least as a change of pace against certain matchups.
Utah Jazz: Victor Oladipo
Ahead of his age-30 campaign, having played fewer than 36 games in every year since 2017-18, Victor Oladipo might seem like an underwhelming target for the Utah Jazz. But while the two-time All-Star isn't what he used to be, he quietly averaged 20.6 points, 5.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds per 36 minutes in the eight games that he logged for the Miami Heat this season.
If he could give the Jazz 20 minutes of perimeter defense and supplementary scoring every night, it would be enough.
Pair him with Mike Conley, and Oladipo could spot up and make plays on the weak side. Put him out there with Donovan Mitchell, and the Jazz would have a pair of dynamic combo guards. Oladipo and Jordan Clarkson make even more sense as a tandem, as the former could cover for the latter's shoddy defense.
Sentimentally, Utah should try to bring Joe Inlges back. But practically, Utah still needs more defense from its guards and wings. Oladipo's past performance at least provides a non-zero chance that he could make an impact if he's finally healthy again.
Washington Wizards: Eric Bledsoe
The Washington Wizards badly need a point guard, and Eric Bledsoe might be their best realistic option.
A journeyman over the last few seasons, Bledsoe's production has fallen off. Charitably, we could chalk that decline up to trading his days with the contending Milwaukee Bucks for time on mid-tier operations with the Pelicans in 2020-21 and the injury-hit Clippers this year. Bledsoe wouldn't be the first player to lose his edge in lower-stakes environments.
Remember, we aren't all that far removed from Bledsoe racking up back-to-back All-Defensive team nods for some dominant 2018-19 and 2019-20 Bucks units.
He and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could cause some real trouble for opposing offenses, and emerging forward Deni Avdija (plus Bradley Beal, assuming he returns on a max deal) could ease the playmaking load on Bledsoe, who's never been the purest point guard.
This is all assuming the Blazers waive Bledsoe prior to July 10, in which case they'll only owe him $3.9 million of his $19.3 million 2022-23 salary. That he didn't play a second for Portland after coming over via trade from the Clippers suggests he'll be on the market, with the Blazers happy to save some cash.
Washington can't run it back with the Raul Neto-Ish Smith-Tomas Satoransky pu pu platter at the point.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Accurate through 2021-22 season. Salary info via Spotrac.