1 Bold 2022 Offseason Prediction for Every NBA Team

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 27, 2022

1 Bold 2022 Offseason Prediction for Every NBA Team

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    It's kind of remarkable that with speculation about the draft, offseason trades and free agency spanning the full NBA calendar these days, summertime somehow still brings surprises galore.

    For example, who had DeMar DeRozan landing with the Chicago Bulls in an $85 million sign-and-trade deal last August? And then—double surprise!—who could have foreseen his ensuing career year?

    That's perfect proof that you just never know what an offseason will bring.

    Bold predictions shouldn't have high hit rates. Most of these forecasts will be wrong. But all of them should be plausible with at least a shred of logic behind them. And if history is any guide, a few of them won't be bold enough.  

The Atlanta Hawks Will Trade John Collins

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    It's hard not to love the idea of Rudy Gobert coming aboard via trade to rescue an Atlanta Hawks team in desperate need of defense. This prediction presupposes the Hawks can't get anything of consequence—including Gobert—with a trade package built around Clint Capela, De'Andre Hunter/Kevin Huerter and picks, and that the team instead pivots to giving up its second-best player.

    Whether that's in a trade for Gobert or not is beyond the scope here. This is just a guess that whatever deal Atlanta swings to upgrade its defense will involve John Collins.

    The Hawks should be hesitant to part with Collins, who's only entering his age-25 season. Remember, this is a guy who looked like a surefire future All-Star when he put up a 20-10 line with 40.1 percent three-point shooting at age 22.

    But if this team is ever going to improve a defense that continues to fail superstar Trae Young, neutralizing his contributions as one of the game's elite offensive engines, it's going to cost something significant.

    Atlanta general manager Travis Shlenk has pledged not to repeat the mistakes of last offseason, when the team relied on the status quo and organic growth. If the Hawks are eyeing a meaningful shake-up, it makes sense that they'd look into moving one of their big names.

The Boston Celtics Will Sign Ricky Rubio

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    The Boston Celtics already have a hellacious defense. That means their search for offseason improvement will come on the other end of the floor, where they should focus on adding low-cost players who can keep the ball hopping on offense.

    When Marcus Smart rejoined the Celtics lineup in late January after missing time in health and safety protocols, he embraced the distributing role of a true point guard. From that point on, Boston had the highest offensive rating in the NBA.

    It's clear that better passing and more ball movement are critical to the Celtics being the most dominant version of themselves.

    Ricky Rubio tore his ACL in December, so he'll only be a partial-season participant in 2022-23. But everyone knows what he brings. He ranked in the 97th percentile in assist percentage at his position in 2021-22 and has long been one of the best setup men in the league.

    Maybe it doesn't seem bold to predict that a smart team will sign someone who addresses an obvious need. But this level of specificity has to count for something—not to mention Rubio's injury making him far from a no-brainer addition.

Kyrie Irving Will Not Play Another Game for the Brooklyn Nets

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    The beauty of this bold prediction lies in the number of outs it affords.

    Kyrie Irving's history of unavailability suggests he could make it come true whether he's technically still a member of the Brooklyn Nets or not. After all, he was on the roster and healthy but didn't suit up until January this past season.

    There's also the possibility of Brooklyn trading the seven-time All-Star, which would be bold on the organization's part.

    The Nets can't replace Irving in free agency, and there's plenty of logic to handing him a max deal this offseason and hoping his value climbs while the number of potential suitors increases during the 2022-23 campaign. Then again, general manager Sean Marks' recent comments about the organization prioritizing players who are selfless and available read like clear callouts of Irving, who hasn't fit either description during his time with the team.

    On Wednesday, Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News reported Brooklyn may be "outright unwilling" to offer Irving a new contract at all.

    Irving has a great deal of control over what happens this summer. He can pick up his $36.5 million player option and then explore unrestricted free agency in 2023, or he can decline it, re-sign with the Nets as a free agent and then angle for a trade if/when it suits him. Don't forget everyone's favorite overly complicated option, the sign-and-trade.

    Even with Irving maintaining a lot of agency, it feels as if the Nets could exercise some of their own this offseason. After last season, they should know the roster needs better balance and buy-in. Moving Irving could improve both.

The Charlotte Hornets Will Win the Offseason

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    The Charlotte Hornets won't just have a good summer. They're going to have the best one.

    When everyone starts putting together their list of offseason winners and losers, they're consistently going to put the Hornets in the former category.

    Pencil in a bargain signing of restricted free agent Nic Claxton for less than the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception. Freed from the fraying Nets, he'd be an ideal 23-year-old addition to a young core and will bring rim-running thunder and no shortage of shot blocking to a team that needs both. Then add a market-rate deal to retain their own restricted free agent, Miles Bridges, who'll go on to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists next season, trumping his breakout 2021-22 campaign.

    And finally, watch out for the Gordon Hayward draft-night trade that nets younger pieces and cleans up the long-term books in preparation for LaMelo Ball's max extension down the line.

    Charlotte knows where its weaknesses are, has the means to address them and will be led by team president Mitch Kupchak, who just got a new extension. Job security has a way of emboldening executives, so we should expect fireworks from Charlotte on the draft, trade and free-agency fronts.

The Chicago Bulls Will Lose Zach LaVine

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    Any time you align your predictions with LaVar Ball's, you know you're being bold.

    Much to the Chicago Bulls' dismay, the five-year, $212 million max contract that they can offer Zach LaVine in free agency won't be enough to retain him.

    An unrestricted free agent for the first time, the 27-year-old hinted to reporters that his return isn't a lock: "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."

    Even if signaling a lack of commitment is the best way to make sure the Bulls push the full $212 million offer across the table, LaVine's words may be more than a leverage play. If he's interested in being his team's top option, Chicago, which saw DeRozan seize that title last year, may not be the spot.

    The Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic both have the flexibility to make LaVine four-year max offers, and he would slide into alpha status on either of those squads.

    It's rare to see a player turn down a contract as large as the one for which LaVine is eligible, especially one who's coming off knee surgery. But a few other teams could also max him out, which creates just enough uncertainty to make a LaVine departure possible.

The Cleveland Cavaliers Will Pass on Collin Sexton

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    To be even more specific, the Cleveland Cavaliers will have the chance to retain Collin Sexton for $15 million per season in restricted free agency...and they'll say "no thanks."

    The parting of ways will come about for a handful of reasons.

    First, the Cavs will correctly view Sexton as a reserve going forward. Darius Garland is in firm control of the offense now, and he needs a bigger running mate in the backcourt than Sexton, who stands 6'1" and isn't noted as a defensive stopper, even if he has the performative intensity of that role covered.

    Second, the free-agent options at the guard position are laughably thin. If Jalen Brunson is off the table and the bigger names extend with their current teams, cap-space holders could move Sexton to the top of their lists. The discrepancy between what those suitors might be willing to pay Sexton, who scored 24.3 points per game in his last healthy season, and what the Cavs are willing to spend should create a scenario in which an offer sheet goes unmatched.

    That'll be a tough blow for the Cavs, who could lose the guy whom they picked eighth in the 2018 draft for nothing (barring a sign-and-trade). But allowing Sexton to walk would inspire confidence that Cleveland understands how best to build around the cornerstones that emerged in his absence.

Jalen Brunson Will Get At Least $110 Million from the Dallas Mavericks

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    Jalen Brunson will be 26 before the 2022-23 season begins, and he will enter that campaign having started only 127 of the 277 career regular-season games in which he's played.

    That isn't the typical profile you'd associate with a nine-figure deal, but the Dallas Mavericks may have no choice but to spend an exorbitant amount to retain the combo guard.

    Luka Doncic's latest playoff performance once again validated his elite superstar status. There is no longer any question whether he can be the best player on a championship team. What's in doubt is the quality of his supporting cast.

    That's precisely why Dallas will be loath to let Brunson, who is arguably Doncic's most important running mate, get away.

    The most another team could pay Brunson is $131.2 million over four years. The Mavericks won't have to beat that number, and they have the advantage of adding a fifth season to the deal, which they may need to do to come out ahead.

    Let's lock it in at five years and $112 million. Giving Brunson that amount might wind up being a mistake, but the Mavs don't have the luxury of pinching pennies.

Michael Porter Jr. Has Played His Last Game for the Denver Nuggets

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    Former Denver Nuggets executive Tim Connelly is now making twice his annual salary and holding ownership equity to do the same job for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Let's use that piece of recent front-office news to conjure up a case for the Nuggets trading Michael Porter Jr.

    Perhaps surprisingly, it isn't all that difficult.

    MPJ missed most of last season after undergoing his third back surgery since 2017, and his absence didn't just hurt the Nuggets in the short term by robbing them of one of the NBA's most talented young scorers. It also cast a shadow over the five-year, $172.6 million extension he signed in September.

    That contract immediately took on massive downside risk. Back surgeries are a big deal, and Porter came into the league with red flags because he'd already had two of them.

    Connelly is not only the executive who presided over the decision to draft Porter, but he's also the one who paid him. Calvin Booth, who'll step into Connelly's vacated role, may not be quite as tied to the young forward.

    Add to that the Nuggets' need for reliable depth on defense (which even a healthy Porter wouldn't provide), plus the urgency to field a winner right now as Nikola Jokic is racking up MVPs, and it isn't so hard to see Denver cutting bait on Porter.

    Moving him now would be selling low, but who's to say where the bottom is on his future value?

The Detroit Pistons Will Pick Twice in the Top 5 of the Draft

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    The disappointment of slipping to fifth in the 2022 NBA draft will dissipate when the Detroit Pistons find themselves selecting twice within the first five picks.

    Veteran Jerami Grant is just sitting there on an expiring deal, the Sacramento Kings are in a never-ending chase to make the playoffs and, well...you can see where this is going.

    A rebuilding Detroit squad should have no interest in extending Grant for $100-plus million and will risk losing him for nothing in the 2023 offseason if it doesn't move him by February. The Kings desperately need wings and combo forwards, and there's a reasonable expectation that they'll move their No. 4 overall pick.

    Is Grant on an expiring deal enough for that fourth pick? Under normal circumstances, you wouldn't think so. But the Kings traded away their best young player in Tyrese Haliburton at February's trade deadline, so there's at least some recent precedent for the idea that Sacramento isn't all that future-focused.

    The Pistons will come out of the draft with not one, but two cornerstones in place alongside Cade Cunningham.

The Warriors Won't Lose Any Key Free Agents

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    Whenever a team wins a bunch of games or advances deep into the playoffs, it typically gets significant performances from inexpensive role players along with the costlier members of the roster. However, those value deals eventually disappear as retention prices soar or other teams fork over more than the incumbent team can handle.

    So it would stand to reason that some or all of Otto Porter Jr., Kevon Looney and Gary Payton II won't be playing for the Golden State Warriors next season. That free-agent trio demonstrated much more value than their current (expiring) contracts reflect.

    Porter and Payton are both on minimum deals. There's no way that all other 29 teams will view them as being worth that little after this season. Meanwhile, Looney is getting MVP chants and swinging playoff series at a mere $5.2 million.

    All three should be in line for raises, and one could imagine the Warriors seeing Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody and James Wiseman essentially being ready to slide right into those rotation roles next season.

    Nope. The tax-hit Warriors will spend what it takes to bring the band back in its entirety, and it may not cost as much as you'd think. Other clubs will be concerned with the niche fits of Looney and Payton, two players who've figured out how to succeed in Golden State's unusual system (thanks in large part to the stars that make it work), and Porter's health history will make teams wary.

    The Dubs will bring them back on modest raises, perhaps after hanging a banner, and either move them when the kids are ready or—and this would be the wildest hypothetical—ship out the Wiseman/Kuminga/Moody trio for veteran help in a push for a title repeat.

John Wall Will Remain with the Houston Rockets

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    In situations like the one between the Houston Rockets and John Wall, predicting inaction is bold enough.

    As soon as Wall arrived in Houston via the Russell Westbrook swap of 2020, he seemed ticketed for a quick exit. What use did a rebuilding team have for a veteran point guard with a long injury history and a max contract? The first-round pick that came from Washington with Wall was the prize, not the player himself.

    Yet here we are, two seasons later, prognosticating that Wall won't change teams this offseason.

    Why? Well, for starters, Wall's trade value remains negative, and the Rockets shouldn't be in the business of paying a premium to get an unwanted deal off their books. Wasted salary (assuming Wall continues to sit) has its benefits. It's easier to tank when $47.4 million is on the bench.

    A buyout is the most likely outcome, but you don't have to go out on a limb to predict one of those. Instead, let's go with the Rockets actually keeping Wall through the offseason, playing him in the hope that he showcases good health, and then moving him for another team's slightly less onerous contract(s).

    Houston has already waited this long. What's another few months?

The Indiana Pacers Will Be Big-Time Sellers

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    You need only know the Indiana Pacers' recent draft history to grasp their aversion to doing what we're predicting. Their No. 6 pick in the 2022 draft marks the first time that they've selected in the top nine in more than three decades.

    While they're previously refused to go young, strip down and start fresh, it's time to go for it now.

    Myles Turner is in extension-or-trade territory as he enters the last year of his deal, and Malcolm Brogdon profiles as a hot trade commodity in an offseason where available point guards are exceptionally scarce. The Pacers have a chance to recoup serious value for both of them, hand the reigns to Tyrese Haliburton and their incoming No. 6 pick and then find themselves right back at the top of the draft in 2023.

    A two-year rebuild plan might seem way too brief for clubs like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons and the rest of the league's up-and-coming operations. But for the Pacers, even a single season of consolidation and youth-focused development (at the cost of winning) would be shocking.

    It would also probably be for the best.

The LA Clippers Will Acquire Kyrie Irving

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    Sure, the Los Angeles Clippers have the best odds of being Kyrie Irving's next team if he doesn't return to the Nets. But plus-200 technically still suggests the Clippers are unlikely to acquire him. 

    Plus, consider what we're saying here: Irving, who has a player option for $36.5 million and a chance to get more money on a new contract from the Nets than any other team, will somehow wind up being traded across the country to a team that already has two superstars, a soaring luxury-tax bill and, seemingly, a fixation on all-wing lineups.

    If that's not bold, what is?

    The Clips need an upgrade at the point and have ample mid-tier salaries to throw together, which should appeal to a Nets team that needs size and depth. Norman Powell, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac, Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard should all be on the table for a player of Irving's caliber. And we know the Clippers couldn't care less about their tax bill. Every move they've made over the last year indicates that money isn't a concern.

    Irving sliding into a third max slot probably wouldn't cause team governor Steve Ballmer to blink.

    If the Clippers are serious about making a championship run, they could be motivated to swing big on an ace offensive engine to operate alongside Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. 

LeBron James Will Ask the Los Angeles Lakers to Trade Him

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    Humor me for a moment.

    Let's say you're LeBron James, which means you're 37 years old, possibly the NBA's GOAT and possess more experience playing high-level basketball with high-level teammates than anyone else currently active in the NBA. In this hypothetical, you know what a championship roster looks like.

    You also know you're nearing the end of your days as one of the best players in the league. Your time to get one last ring is running short. You cannot under any circumstances waste another year on a team that seems more likely to make the lottery than the Finals.

    The Los Angeles Lakers have no promising young players likely to ascend, no depth, virtually no first-round picks to trade, no reason to believe Russell Westbrook will be better in his 15th season than he was in his 14th and no legitimate chance to contend—now or in the near future.

    Don't you, LeBron James, think long and hard about engineering an exit?

The Memphis Grizzlies Will, Sadly, Not Spend Lavishly

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    We all want the rising Memphis Grizzlies to spend whatever it takes to keep unrestricted free agents Tyus Jones and Kyle Anderson. Failing that, they should let those two walk as part of a plan to clear cap space for outside talent acquisitions.

    That might be exactly what happens.

    Team governor Robert Pera is the league's third-richest owner, and ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported: "The Grizzlies have been consistent with their message: When the time is right, Pera will spend what it takes."

    Then again, Memphis already has Jaren Jackson Jr. inked to a nine-figure deal, Ja Morant is a great bet to sign a supermax contract in July, Desmond Bane will command high-end starter money when his turn comes, lottery pick Ziaire Williams will be a big earner if his progress continues, Brandon Clarke is extension eligible this offseason...and on and on and on.

    The Grizzlies are already committed to spending huge amounts of money over the next handful of summers if they intend to keep this core together. Maybe we shouldn't expect them to operate with a blank-check approach this offseason.

    To put a finer point on this bold prediction of small-market buzzkill, Memphis will let both Jones and Anderson get away.

The Miami Heat Will Acquire Bradley Beal

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    The Miami Heat's ambition for acquiring stars has no upper limit, so it isn't big news that they're viewed as a "legitimate suitor" for Bradley Beal, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.

    But it would send shockwaves through the league if they actually got him.

    The logistics alone, which would most likely require a complex sign-and-trade, are daunting. Add to that the long history of Beal and the Washington Wizards seeming to be in lockstep on continuing their association. Then sprinkle in the sheer absurdity of a Heat team currently in the Eastern Conference Finals after running up the best record in the conference adding a talent like Beal, and the whole thing seems impossible.

    With that said, if Beal makes it known to Washington that he wants to play elsewhere, and if the Wizards agree to play ball and engage in a sign-and-trade, Miami stands out as an ideal destination. The team is built to win right now, it needs a half-court shot-creation threat with range out to the three-point line, and it has the pieces to make a compelling offer.

    The Heat are no strangers to swinging big. Don't be surprised if they connect on this one.

The Milwaukee Bucks Will Shop Brook Lopez

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    Brook Lopez is integral to the Milwaukee Bucks defense, but the team is so badly in need of wing and guard depth that it'll have no choice but to shop him this offseason.

    As it is, Milwaukee is likely looking at raises for Pat Connaughton and Bobby Portis when both enter free agency by declining their respective player options this summer. Merely bringing back the same shallow core of the roster that fell short in the Eastern Conference Semifinals will cost more than it did a year ago, which will make the search for depth an even trickier endeavor.

    Khris Middleton's return will obviously help, but he's entering the twilight of his prime. The Bucks will need more able bodies to ease the burden on their 30-year-old wing. Is Lopez, 34 and coming off back surgery, enough to bring back a rotation player or two? Maybe not, especially with his $13.9 million expiring salary making him a rental for any acquiring team.

    But the Bucks don't have any other enticing mid-sized contracts to dangle as a means toward better depth. Giannis Antetokounmpo seems likely to play more and more center as he ages, and the Bucks know they can't rely solely on George Hill, Wesley Matthews (a free agent) and Grayson Allen to produce in the biggest moments.

The Minnesota Timberwolves Will Shop D'Angelo Russell

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    Whenever a new decision-maker takes charge, the breadth of a team's offseason options expands. New Minnesota Timberwolves team president Tim Connelly will bring fresh eyes and, just as importantly, no ties to the players currently populating the roster.

    With the exception of former Nuggets guard Malik Beasley, Connelly didn't draft, sign or trade for any of these guys. Sentiment won't prevent him from making tough decisions.

    One of those pertains to D'Angelo Russell, whose expiring 2022-23 salary makes a trade likelier. It's similar to the situation that franchises run into with lame-duck coaches: They tend to either re-up before that final year or move on quickly.

    Russell's minutes dipped in the Wolves' brief 2022 playoff run, and Anthony Edwards upped his assists per game from 2.9 in 2020-21 to 3.8 this past season. Connelly and Minnesota could rightly view Ant as the team's primary creator of the future and seek to deal Russell during an offseason when there is more demand for point guards than there is supply.

    D-Lo is only 26, has made an All-Star game and possesses career averages of 17.7 points and 5.6 assists. That isn't the typical profile of a player whom an up-and-coming team tries to trade, but the Wolves might prefer to do that over using a huge salary slot to retain someone who may not feature in their long-term plans.

Zion Williamson Won't Sign an Extension with the New Orleans Pelicans

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    Deandre Ayton couldn't get a deal done last offseason, so the idea of a No. 1 pick failing to ink a rookie extension at the first opportunity isn't totally novel. But Zion Williamson is a different type of player than Ayton, and his clear superstar potential (which he reached for most of 2020-21) is the kind that every small-market team grabs ahold of with both hands.

    That isn't how it'll go down this offseason, though.

    Williamson missed all of the 2021-22 season and has a well-documented history of injuries and poor conditioning. Those factors are what make Pels lead executive David Griffin's comments to Christian Clark of NOLA.com so interesting.

    "Obviously, that conversation is going to be one that will be a challenge," Griffin said of offseason extension talks. "When it's time to have that, we'll have it. And right now what we're focused on is him being healthy, and (being in) kind of elite condition to play basketball and we'll start there."

    Griffin's language could be read as an invitation for Williamson to prove he's fit and ready before the franchise pays him in 2023 restricted free agency. There's always the possibility that New Orleans creatively crafts a max deal with tons of built-in protection against injury, but that's too practical to be bold.

The New York Knicks Will Acquire D'Angelo Russell

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    Donovan Mitchell would probably be the New York Knicks' first choice, but it's difficult to imagine the Utah Jazz moving him when so many less drastic revamping options are available.

    Besides, we already predicted the Wolves would shop D'Angelo Russell. Why not go a step further and guess the buyer?

    New York needs a point guard as badly as any team in the league. RJ Barrett is overstretched as a playmaker, and the notion of Julius Randle running the show has its downsides. The Knicks offense flopped last season after its shooting luck from 2020-21 predictably regressed.

    Russell is on an expiring deal and may not be part of the long-term picture in Minnesota. It'd be strange to see a rising Wolves outfit cut bait with a 26-year-old former All-Star, presumably for a package from the Knicks that would include some iffy contracts (think Evan Fournier and maybe Kemba Walker).

    But there's just enough combined need on New York's end and expendability on Minnesota's to get Russell into a Knicks uniform.

The Oklahoma City Thunder Will Trade 1st-Round Picks Away

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    Over the last few years, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been in the business of stockpiling other teams' first-round picks, acting as a waystation for unwanted contracts in exchange for draft equity. They now have 17 first-rounders spread across the next five drafts.

    Even for them, that's too many.

    Oklahoma City is finally going to reverse course and consolidate. Bet on general manager Sam Presti packaging some combination of No. 12, No. 30 and No. 34 in the 2022 draft to move up and, potentially, make a pair of selections in the top 10.

    If the Thunder really wanted to get ambitious, combining some of those assets with Luguentz Dort and future draft considerations could be enough to extract the Portland Trail Blazers' No. 7 selection, or perhaps even the Sacramento Kings' No. 4 pick.

    It's time for the second phase of OKC's rebuild. The Thunder are going to shock us all by sending out first-rounders instead of bringing more in.

The Orlando Magic Will Trade the No. 1 Pick

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    The No. 1 overall pick has been traded twice since 2014 but only three times in the last 35 years. So while we've seen that top selection change hands, calling for it to happen this year feels sufficiently brave/stupid.

    The Orlando Magic will enter the 2022 NBA draft in the driver's seat. They can take whichever player they want at No. 1 and leave feeling total satisfaction. No need to haggle, put out smoke screens or towel off a single drop of stress sweat.

    Conversely, they could bluff.

    If Orlando broadcasts a false intention to take Chet Holmgren, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, picking second, decide they can't possibly go on without landing the willowy, multi-skilled rim-protector from Gonzaga, the stage for a draft-day trade could be set.

    The Magic could squeeze OKC for its No. 12 pick, future first-round assets or some combination of the two. With those extra goodies in hand, Orlando could grab Jabari Smith Jr. after Holmgren is off the board, possibly getting the guy it wanted all along.

The Philadelphia 76ers Will Trade Tobias Harris

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    It's hard to believe Philadelphia 76ers president Daryl Morey didn't have a contingency plan if his James Harden acquisition turned out to be, let's say, more than a little disappointing.

    The Sixers' top executive, a man of math and cold analytical thinking, has to recognize Harris isn't worth the $76.9 million he'll earn over the next two seasons. And he also has to recognize that after the disappointing early returns from Harden, Joel Embiid might be getting a little impatient.

    The problem for Morey and the Sixers is that both of those things are obvious to the other 29 teams, too.

    Harris was already going to be difficult to trade because of his production-to-salary ratio. Potential partners in the exchange will now try to squeeze even more out of Philadelphia, knowing a Harris move is the only way for the Sixers to carve out meaningful cap space.

    Where there's a will, there's a way. Philadelphia should be extremely motivated to improve its roster, and teams with cap space should be amenable to taking on Harris' salary with heaps of sweeteners attached.

Deandre Ayton Will Return to the Phoenix Suns

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    If there wasn't tension between Deandre Ayton and the Suns after failing to reach a preseason extension agreement, there certainly is now.

    "Things will work out for Deandre. He's a valuable player," Ayton's agent, Bill Duffy, said on SiriusXM NBA Radio. "There's other teams in the league as well."

    Duffy's right, but there aren't many other teams in the league with enough cap room to pay Ayton this offseason. And the Suns will have the right to match any offer sheet that the big man signs.

    If Phoenix wants to retain the guy whom it drafted first overall in 2018, it can. All we know for sure is that the organization didn't believe Ayton was worth $177 million over five years—a richer and longer deal than any other team can give him this offseason.

    Ayton didn't improve on his sterling 2021 playoff performance, and his removal after 17 minutes in the Suns' series-ending loss to the Dallas Mavericks is cause for concern. But none of the factors pointing to a breakup should outweigh a simple reality: The Suns are in control of this situation unless Ayton takes the nearly unprecedented step of accepting the qualifying offer to hit unrestricted free agency in 2023. Even then, Phoenix would still have the ability to trade him.

    Last offseason's impasse was just the Suns choosing not to pay more than necessary. Ayton is 23 years old, with career averages of 16.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. That isn't a player whom any franchise willingly gives up on.

    Phoenix will either match another team's four-year max offer sheet or give Ayton a deal worth that much before he has a chance to test the market.

The Portland Trail Blazers Will Sign T.J. Warren

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    The Portland Trail Blazers cannot get their high-wire, quick-turnaround retooling wrong. The notion of dipping into the lottery only once and then building a contender around Damian Lillard is ambitious, and it cuts against the more common approach of deliberate, protracted rebuilds.

    That's why the idea of signing T.J. Warren, who's played only four games over the past two seasons, is equally terrifying and intriguing.

    The Blazers will have to get value out of every dime if they're going to deliver Lillard the competitive supporting cast he needs, and Warren's health history brings major downside risk. Considering the dearth of quality combo forwards on the market, the eight-year veteran could easily command the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception of $10.3 million.

    Portland won't be able to land Warren for the minimum and escape unscathed if he's ineffective or unavailable. Of course, it also can't afford not to target high-variance players just like him because it's going to take some big bets to construct a competitive roster in the West.

    Pursuing Warren is dangerous, maybe even reckless. The Blazers will go after (and get) him anyway.

The Sacramento Kings Will Think a Few Steps Ahead

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    Ascribing more than a few months of foresight to the Sacramento Kings has long been a mistake. They've basically proved that the best way to lose for two decades is to try to win today at all costs.

    Trading Tyrese Haliburton in a package for Domantas Sabonis is proof of that.

    We've already set up a hypothetical in which the Kings send their No. 4 pick to the Detroit Pistons for Jerami Grant, a typical win-now exchange. But here, we'll predict Sacramento pairs that move with deals sending Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes elsewhere, bringing back guard depth and youth while avoiding the possibility of overpaying to keep Barnes.

    The real look-ahead aspect of that kind of move is financial. Barnes is entering the last year of his deal, and if we assume Grant (nearly two years younger) is the Kings' longer-term priority, it makes sense to move Barnes ahead of his foray into unrestricted free agency in 2023.

    Holmes and Barnes are both useful rotation players, and Barnes has been a solid starter for 10 full seasons. The Kings, shockingly, will move both to build a more complete and balanced roster.

Gregg Popovich Will Retire as Coach of the San Antonio Spurs

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    Michael Gonzales/Getty Images

    We've heard (or not heard) the typical radio silence on Gregg Popovich's future coming from the historically tight-lipped San Antonio Spurs organization.

    The man himself has predictably said nothing definitive about his intention to coach the Spurs in 2022-23, which would be his 27th season in that role.

    Back in April, NBA reporter Marc Stein cited people in Spurs circles who expected the legendary coach could return for "at least one more season." But Popovich is 73, the Spurs have missed the playoffs for three straight years and, well...everything comes to an end eventually.

    It used to be that betting against San Antonio making the playoffs was a fool's errand. Until it wasn't. The new version of that wager is on Popovich continuing to coach.

    Plus, he's going to be busy enough heading up the Popovich-Kerr presidential ticket in 2024.

    What? Too bold?

The Toronto Raptors Won't Sign a True Center

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    This is admittedly as much a wish as it is a prediction, but wouldn't it be an incredible act of norm-defiance if the Toronto Raptors leaned even harder into like-sized, fully switchable lineups? That approach would mean eschewing the concept of conventional centers, a risky move after a season that indicated they needed a few of them.

    No risk, no reward, right?

    It isn't so hard to imagine a future in which NBA lineups look a lot like the ones Toronto often trotted out this past season—all rangy, multi-skilled forwards somewhere between 6'6" and 6'9". Last year suggested the Raps are very much interested in being innovators on that front, and early adopters tend to reap the biggest benefits.

    Failing to address a clear weakness—frontcourt sizecould backfire. It'd be a bad look if the Raptors ran it back or added more switchy wings and forwards, only to get hammered in the post and on the boards again. Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo are still in their conference.

    Still, Toronto feels like an organization that likes being on the vanguard. If anyone's going to be the first to call it quits on old-school bigs, it'll be the Raptors.

The Utah Jazz Won't Trade Rudy Gobert or Donovan Mitchell

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    Matt Kelley/Associated Press

    Momentum has been building toward a breakup of the Utah Jazz's top two players for the better part of two years now, with reports of tension between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert dating back to 2020.

    Multiple disappointing playoff exits, plenty of additional accounts of a rift and a few subtweets later, there seems to be only one thing left to do: trade one or the other.

    There may be a second option: not doing that.

    Winning cures what ails, and the Jazz could easily make the kind of postseason run that would calm all their internal inflammation if they just addressed the real problems with their roster. The Jazz lack athleticism and perimeter defense, something they should have fixed after 2021's playoff flop.

    Replacing Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson and Royce O'Neale with younger, more mobile defenders (ideally a few who can shoot) won't be easy. But shouldn't the search for solutions start with the least drastic and franchise-altering ones and then progress from there?

    Why is the first option total detonation?

    Maybe Gobert and Mitchell's relationship is even worse than we think. It's possible this thing isn't salvageable. The Jazz should and—since we're boldly predicting it'll happenwill try to remake their roster without trading their cornerstones this offseason.

The Washington Wizards Won't Offer Bradley Beal the Full Max

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    Stephen Gosling/Getty Images

    Why is everyone so sure that the Washington Wizards will fork over as much money as is allowed to Bradley Beal at their first opportunity?

    Oh, right, because they've done it whenever they've had the chance in the past, and general manager Tommy Sheppard did everything but promise Beal would be back shortly after the 2022 trade deadline.

    And yet it still feels like the intervening months should have forced Sheppard and the Wizards to confront a few realities.

    Beal is entering his age-29 season with a ton of NBA mileage on his legs and an average of 52 games played over the last three years. He's made one All-NBA third team, has never finished in the top 10 in MVP voting and has never been the best player on a team that got out of the first round.

    Beal is really good when healthy. But $245 million contracts should be reserved exclusively for caveat-free greats.

    This is a bet that Washington will realize paying Beal the full boat isn't good business. Whatever happens from there—a shorter sub-max deal, a sign-and-trade swap, an opt-in by Beal without an extension—is harder to forecast. Good thing we don't have to do that.

    We've taken a big enough risk just by saying Beal won't get the contract that has seemed like a foregone conclusion for so long.


    Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Accurate through 2021-22 season. Salary info via Spotrac.