Surprise Landing Spots for Top 2022 NBA Free Agents

Greg Swartz@@GregSwartzBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterMay 5, 2022

Surprise Landing Spots for Top 2022 NBA Free Agents

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    NBA free agency is less than two months away, with plenty of big names potentially hitting the market.

    Unfortunately for fans of star players switching teams, it's unlikely many will actually go anywhere. Players like James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Zach LaVine, Bradley Beal, Deandre Ayton and others are already in comfortable situations, can make more money staying put and/or are restricted this summer.

    While this could make for a somewhat boring free-agency period, there are other destinations out there that would make sense for some of the league's available stars, should some wish for a change of scenery.

    Whether it be through an outright signing or a sign-and-trade to a team that lacks cap space, these top-10 NBA free agents should at least consider the following landing spots.

Mitchell Robinson, C: Golden State Warriors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    FA Type: Unrestricted

    How He'd Get to Golden State: Sign-and-trade, possibly in deal for James Wiseman

    With Kevon Looney hitting free agency and James Wiseman having played just 39 total games in two years, the Warriors should be on the hunt for center help this offseason.

    While they don't have the cap space to sign Robinson outright, a sign-and-trade deal featuring Wiseman would be an intriguing possibility.

    As good as the 21-year-old center could be, Wiseman hasn't been reliable following knee surgery and subsequent swelling that caused him to miss the entire 2021-22 season. Robinson suited up 72 times for the Knicks this year, including 62 starts.

    After four years in the league, it's clear Robinson isn't going to develop into a real offensive threat, and in Golden State, he wouldn't have to be. The Warriors would just need him to protect the rim, rebound and roll hard to the basket looking for lobs from Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and others.

    He'd also be a much cheaper option than exploring a trade for a player like Rudy Gobert, while bringing a similar (although, still a far lesser) skill set.

    The Warriors and Knicks could explore a sign-and-trade based around Wiseman, as New York can afford to be more patient with his development.

Collin Sexton, G: Dallas Mavericks

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    FA Type: Restricted

    How He'd Get to Dallas: Sign-and-trade

    The Cavs can match any deal Sexton receives in free agency and are a projected $23.5 million away from the luxury-tax line, so they'll almost certainly want to bring the 23-year-old combo guard back.

    Dallas doesn't have the cap space to sign Sexton outright, but it could be interested in a sign-and-trade for another ball-handler this summer if Jalen Brunson leaves as an unrestricted free agent. While he's not a true point guard, Sexton could thrive in a scoring role next to Luka Doncic after averaging 24.3 points and 4.4 assists in 2020-21, his last full season before tearing his meniscus on Nov. 7, 2021.

    The Mavs have a package of players who could interest Cleveland, including Tim Hardaway Jr., Maxi Kleber, Reggie Bullock and/or Josh Green. Dallas could include draft capital as well to try and entice the Cavs to agree to a sign-and-trade deal.

    While Dallas should be interested in Sexton (especially if it loses Brunson), it would be surprising to see the Cavaliers willing to give him up already. It would likely take a financial dispute on a new deal for the Cavs to actually agree to trade Sexton, something the Mavericks should be paying close attention to.

Anfernee Simons, G: Orlando Magic

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    Cameron Browne/Getty Images

    FA Type: Restricted

    How He'd Get to Orlando: Portland Trail Blazers decline to match offer sheet or via sign-and-trade

    Simons should have received more love for the NBA's Most Improved award, although only playing in 57 games may have hurt his chances.

    The fourth-year guard jumped from 7.8 points per game in 2020-21 to 17.3 points this past season, including averages of 22.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists and a 41.5 percent mark from three in 30 starts. He'll likely be a key piece in the Blazers' retooling around Damian Lillard, assuming Portland is ready to open up its wallet to properly compensate him.

    One team that could pursue the 22-year-old guard? Simons' hometown Magic.

    Having been born just roughly 20 minutes north of Orlando in Longwood, Florida, Simons could join a talented collection of guards that includes Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs.

    The Magic are one of the few teams that actually possess significant cap space this summer—approximately $28.1 million per Spotrac's Keith Smith. They could throw most, if not all, of it in an offer sheet for Simons and hope the Blazers choose not to match. A sign-and-trade could always be worked out as well, with Orlando potentially offering players like Mo Bamba (also a restricted free agent), Jonathan Issac and/or Terrence Ross.

    A potential return to Florida should be enough for Simons to at least sign an offer sheet with the Magic, one that Portland would likely end up matching in the end.

Miles Bridges, F: Utah Jazz

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    FA Type: Restricted

    How He'd Get to Utah: Sign-and-trade, possibly in deal for Rudy Gobert

    The Hornets should have signed Bridges to a reasonable extension last offseason when they had the chance.

    His breakout this season (20.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 49.1 percent shooting) should result in a hefty new deal for the 24-year-old, making this Hornets roster more expensive by the day.

    As a restricted free agent, Charlotte does have the right to match whatever offer Bridges receives, with only the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs possessing the necessary cap to produce a sizable contract.

    The Jazz are a sneaky landing spot, however, especially if the Hornets want to make a trade offer for Gobert to address their center and defensive woes.

    Bridges would be a good fit in Utah as well. He's a terrific athlete who could finish off lobs from Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley Jr. while also improving their lackluster wing defense.

    The Jazz don't have the cap space to sign Bridges outright, but working out a swap where Bridges (and Mason Plumlee plus filler) go to Utah and Gobert lands with the Hornets could be explored this offseason.

Jalen Brunson, PG: Washington Wizards

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    Stephen Gosling/Getty Images

    FA Type: Unrestricted

    How He'd Get to Washington: Via sign-and-trade

    Perhaps no player has made more money for himself this postseason than Brunson, who took advantage of Luka Doncic missing time to push his averages to 25.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.0 assists while shooting 47.2 percent this postseason.

    While the Mavs will undoubtedly want to bring him back, Brunson should have a strong market among teams looking for ball-handlers.

    With Dallas and the New York Knicks (who have Brunson at the top of their wishlist, per Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer) in pursuit, the Wizards could be an option as well.

    After trading Spencer Dinwiddie at the deadline, Washington only has Ish Smith under contract at point guard next season, and even his $4.7 million deal is non-guaranteed.

    Given their lack of cap space and a new deal for Brunson likely exceeding $20 million a year, this would likely have to be a sign-and-trade. The two front offices have worked together before, of course, with the Kristaps Porzingis for Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans trade being one of the biggest at this year's deadline.

    Dallas could ask for a combination of players out of a group of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija, piecing together salaries to match Brunson's new deal.

    This would be a last-resort effort for the Mavs, however, who should absolutely try to re-sign Brunson first, even if it means diving deeper into the luxury tax.

Kyrie Irving, PG: Los Angeles Clippers

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    FA Type: Unrestricted (player option)

    How He'd Get to Los Angeles: Via sign-and-trade

    Irving could be one of the most fascinating free-agency cases we've seen in years.

    Going off pure talent alone, he's the best player in this class. Irving's a 30-year-old wizard of a point guard who averaged 27.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.4 steals with a true shooting mark of 59.2 percent as a second option.

    Of course, everything with Irving seems to be complicated, and teams should be wary of giving him a full four-year max (or five, if you're Brooklyn). Be it injuries or his stance against receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, Irving hasn't played more than 67 games in a season since 2016-17 when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    While Irving has stated on record that he won't leave Kevin Durant, one has to wonder if the Nets actually want to keep him if the cost is a full five-year, $245 million max deal.

    If Brooklyn is looking for a trade partner that would be willing to take a gamble on Irving for all-in pursuit for a title, the Clippers would be an intriguing option.

    Joining Kawhi Leonard and Paul George would presumably be an attractive destination for Irving, who would also be reunited with former head coach Tyronn Lue.

    For Brooklyn, getting back a collection of starters and role players (a package of Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard would make the money work) to place next to Durant should at least be considered as well, especially if Ben Simmons can return to be the team's starting point guard.

    Irving will almost certainly be staying in Brooklyn on some sort of deal, although the Clippers make sense should either side want a split.

Deandre Ayton, C: Detroit Pistons

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    Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

    FA Type: Restricted

    How He'd Get to Detroit: Phoenix Suns decline to match offer sheet or via sign-and-trade

    Ayton and the Suns failed to come to terms on a contract extension last offseason, as Phoenix was unwilling to give the 2018 No. 1 pick the five-year max he desired.

    We'll see if that changes this summer, as Ayton has put up another strong season with averages of 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and a 63.4 percent shooting mark, helping carry Phoenix to the NBA's best record and the No. 1 seed in the West.

    If the Suns want to low-ball Ayton, he could turn to the Pistons for leverage.

    Detroit could clear max cap space relatively easily, and it should be extremely interested in pairing Ayton with 2021 No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham, even with Isaiah Stewart on the roster. Whether Ayton would actually want to leave a championship contender to join a rebuilding Pistons team is iffy, although this at least represents a path to a max deal by forcing Phoenix to match.

    If the Suns are dead-set on avoiding the max, they could always explore sign-and-trade offers instead. Players like Jerami Grant, Kelly Oynyk and Stewart should all be of interest to the Suns if they were to lose Ayton.

James Harden, G: Miami Heat

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    FA Type: Unrestricted (player option)

    How He'd Get to Miami: Via sign-and-trade

    Back in October 2020 when Harden was still a member of the Houston Rockets, there were three teams he had interest in joining.

    While he's since been traded to two of them (the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers), Harden also spoke to his inner circle about the Miami Heat, according to Bleacher Report's Farbod Esnaashari. Heat star Jimmy Butler had even approved a potential trade at the time.

    As unlikely as it is that Harden leaves Philly now, Miami, the No. 1 seed in the East, should still be on the table.

    This scenario likely only comes to fruition if the Sixers don't want to give Harden a full five-year max deal, especially with Joel Embiid's four-year, $196 million supermax extension kicking in by 2023-24. Tyrese Maxey is heading toward his own massive payday while Tobias Harris still has two years and roughly $77 million left on his deal.

    A sign-and-trade would prove costly for Miami, however. Such a deal would likely have to include the contracts of Kyle Lowry and Duncan Robinson, with Philly understandably asking for sweetener (Tyler Herro?) as well.

    That may be too much even for a star-driven franchise like the Heat, especially with Harden showing signs of slowing down now at age 32.

    Philly is likely to remain Harden's home for the foreseeable future, although Miami is a dark horse destination should financial issues arise.

Bradley Beal, SG: Brooklyn Nets

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    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    FA Type: Unrestricted (player option)

    How He'd Get to Brooklyn: Via sign-and-trade, possibly in deal for Ben Simmons

    Beal is about to be paid like a top-five player in the NBA, even though he didn't even make the All-Star Game this season. As brilliant of an offensive player as he is, the Wizards should absolutely be wary of giving Beal a five-year, $245 million max deal—a salary that puts him among MVPs and No. 1 options on championship teams.

    Working out a sign-and-trade that gets Beal to a contender where he can be a second or third option and nets the Wizards young talent and/or draft picks may simply be the best path for all involved.

    After trading James Harden at the deadline, Brooklyn should be very interested in adding another dynamic shooting guard alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving (if he re-signs). Before injuries doomed their run, the Nets looked like the best team in basketball during the 2021 playoffs behind their three stars.

    A deal based around Simmons would make sense, as Washington desperately needs point guard help. The Nets also have players like Cam Thomas, Joe Harris and Nic Claxton (a restricted free agent) they use to try to patch together a trade.

    Keeping Beal in Washington on a max deal feels like basketball purgatory for the Wizards, who should consider all options with the star shooting guard this summer.

Zach LaVine, SG: San Antonio Spurs

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    FA Type: Unrestricted

    How He'd Get to San Antonio: Outright signing or via sign-and-trade

    After making the playoffs for the first time in his career and playing alongside the most talented crew he's ever experienced, LaVine will certainly re-sign in Chicago this offseason, right?

    He didn't exactly leave Bulls fans feeling very confident with his comments going into unrestricted free agency.

    "I plan to enjoy free agency. We're going to have to experience A through Z without making any fast decisions. I think that's something me and [agent Rich Paul] are going to go through and experience," LaVine said.

    "You guys have been a really, really soft spot in my heart," he added. "I have to do this as a business decision, as a man, to not just be viewed one way and be like I'm automatically coming back or I'm automatically leaving."

    Of the few teams that possess the cap space to sign him to a max or near-max deal, the Spurs could be a sneaky landing spot.

    Already with an All-Star at point guard in Dejounte Murray and a ton of other young talent on the roster, adding LaVine to a team that reached the play-in tournament this year could make the Spurs a rising force in the West next season.

    Let's not forget that LaVine's already experienced success under head coach Gregg Popovich, helping the U.S. men's national team to Olympic gold last summer while also playing next to Keldon Johnson.

    While he's meshed with DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and others just fine, the Spurs would give LaVine more of an offensive green light after his scoring and efficiency dropped this season.

    If LaVine ends up wanting out of Chicago and still wants to get paid, San Antonio is a strong option.