What the NBA’s 2020 free-agency period may lack in superstar power, it could make up for in surprise and intrigue as we prepare for transactions to begin on Nov. 20.
This cycle’s top available player, Anthony Davis, is expected to opt out of his current contract with the Los Angeles Lakers but immediately re-sign with the reigning champions on what should be a medium-term deal.
But besides Davis, there are other intriguing pieces set to be available (here are our 2020 free-agent rankings, for reference), including Brandon Ingram, Fred VanVleet and DeMar DeRozan, as well as a plethora of very solid role players who are going to undoubtedly pique the interests of the NBA’s top contenders.
Below, we are going to make predictions for what every single team is going to do in 2020 free agency, using both their most aggressive and conservative possible paths.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: $43.9 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Sign Brandon Ingram to a max offer sheet, use the left-over cap space to go after Davis Bertans.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Offer Bertans a sizable deal and go after Bogdan Bogdanovic and Derrick Jones Jr. afterward.
If anyone is going to make major moves this offseason, it could be the Atlanta Hawks, who will be able to open up nearly $44 million in cap space, more than any other team in the league.
And with one young All-Star already locked up for the future in Trae Young and an impressive frontcourt built around him in Clint Capela and John Collins, Atlanta’s aggressive approach to the offseason could include chasing more young difference-makers, specifically on the wing, where the team could use an influx of talent if they want to make a playoff push in 2020-21.
The top available wing this offseason will be Ingram, and though the New Orleans Pelicans will likely re-sign him to a max contract without much drama, if there’s any sort of delay in that happening, the Hawks could swoop in and offer the talented playmaker a max offer sheet and put the pressure on New Orleans. The biggest deal Atlanta could offer Ingram will be one worth four years and $117.3 million, starting at $27.3 million in 2020-21.
That would leave the Hawks with more than $16 million to offer their next top wing target, Bertans, whose sharpshooting ways are a perfect fit for how general manager Travis Schlenk has been building Atlanta’s roster. There have already been rumors reported about the Hawks being interested in Bertans, so this isn’t pure speculation on our part.
Meanwhile, our conservative offseason prediction for Atlanta includes making an even more sizeable offer to Bertans, one that the Washington Wizards might balk at (we’re talking north of $20 million annually here) and using the remaining cap room on Bogdanovic, who’d fit nicely next to Young at the 2, and the Miami Heat’s Jones Jr., who the Hawks reportedly have interest in.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$36.0 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade Gordon Hayward to the Indiana Pacers for Myles Turner and Doug McDermott, use mid-level exception on Derrick Favors.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Offer mid-level exception to Aron Baynes, trade three first-round picks (No. 14, 26 and 30) to move up for Onyeka Okongwu.
The Boston Celtics project to be a tax-paying team this year, which isn’t all that surprising when you look at their payrolls and see they’re paying Kemba Walker north of $34 million next year while owing Jaylen Brown $23.9 million, Marcus Smart $13.5 million and Jayson Tatum $9.9 million.
As such, Boston doesn’t have much maneuverability as far free agency goes, so their aggressive projection for this offseason includes trading Hayward and the $34.2 million he’s owed to the Indiana Pacers, who reportedly have interested in bringing him home, in exchange for Turner and McDermott, two solid-to-good players who would mesh well with the Celtics. Turner, in particular, would fill a huge hole Boston has in the frontcourt, one that really hurt them in their latest playoff run.
For good measure, in the aggressive prediction, we also have the Celtics offering their mid-level exception ($5.7 million since they’re projected to be a tax team) to Favors, a sturdy backup big man with playoff experience.
Our conservative approach to Boston’s offseason has them using their three first-round picks to try and move into the Top 5 for Okongwu out of USC, who the Celtics reportedly like a lot, and using their mid-level exception to bring back Baynes, a solid starting or reserve option who did well during his previous stint with the team.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$42.0 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade a package centered around Spencer Dinwiddie to the Pelicans for Jrue Holiday and re-sign Joe Harris.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Re-sign Harris and stand pat otherwise.
Could a Dinwiddie-for-Holiday swap be in the works? Holiday’s ability to play on or off the ball would make him an outstanding fit next to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and his elite defensive prowess could make him an upgrade over Dinwiddie for what the Brooklyn Nets might need next season.
Although a straight Dinwiddie-Holiday swap wouldn’t work financially (Dinwiddie is owed $11.5 million while Holiday is due $26.1 million), the Nets can make an offer including Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, Garrett Temple and one of Rodions Kurucs or Dzanan Musa that would work, one that would give New Orleans the backcourt scorer they’d be lacking without Holiday and a proven center in Allen to play next to Zion Williamson.
There are rumors out there that the Nets want a third star, and though Holiday isn’t on Durant’s or Irving’s level, he’s likely their most realistic option, and his skillset fits perfectly in Brooklyn.
If Brooklyn opts to for a quieter offseason after hitting a grand slam in the summer of 2019, they could choose to just re-sign Harris, their sharpshooter who will have plenty of suitors to choose from this offseason, and keep the rest of their roster as is.
Either way, they should catapult into the NBA’s elite in 2020-21 just with the impending returns of Durant and Irving.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: $15.7 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade up in the draft for James Wiseman and go after Jae Crowder
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Stay at No. 3, take the best player available, and sign James Ennis.
If the Charlotte Hornets are going to be aggressive this offseason, it’ll likely be related to their NBA draft approach and not free agency, because the player Charlotte is reported to like the most, Wiseman, is pretty likely to be off the board with one of the Top 2 picks, so there are rumors that the Hornets might be willing to trade up.
Whether that costs them a Miles Bridges or a Malik Monk remains to be seen, but the Minnesota Timberwolves or Golden State Warriors surely would want something of value for either the No. 1 or No. 2 pick this year.
What’s more, the Hornets aren’t historically a free-agent destination, and $17.5 million in cap space probably won’t be enough to change that. However, with Nicolas Batum’s albatross of a contract – paying him $27.1 million in 2020-21 – set to come off their books next summer, Charlotte would be wise to conserve cap space for 2021, which will be a better free-agent class and one that the Hornets will have a lot of cap space to attack.
Nevertheless, Crowder could be a good, not-that-expensive option for Charlotte this offseason, as the team lacks wing depth around their solid backcourt of Terry Rozier and Devonte Graham, and frontcourt of PJ Washington and potentially Wiseman.
Forwards like Crowder or James Ennis wouldn’t break the bank for the Hornets and could help them see steady improvement next year.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$20.0 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade Otto Porter’s contract and Lauri Markkanen for Russell Westbrook, draft Okongwu No. 4 overall.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Split their mid-level exception between Shabazz Napier and Torrey Craig, draft Deni Avdija No. 4 overall.
One of our boldest takes of this entire piece features the Chicago Bulls theoretically trading the final year of Porter’s contract ($28.5 million) and former No. 7 overall pick Markkanen for Westbrook, who some think could be on the move this offseason, especially following Daryl Morey’s departure from the Houston Rockets.
Not only is Westbrook still owed a boatload of money (he’s under contract through 2022-23 and will be the second-highest paid player in basketball next season), his fit next to James Harden simply never made much sense with the two guards requiring so much of the ball to be effective. Now under a new regime featuring Rafael Stone and Stephen Silas, Houston might look to move on from the former league MVP.
A suitor that makes sense are the Bulls, who badly need a playmaking lead guard and an upgrade in overall talent, period, heading into their first season under newly hired head coach Billy Donovan. Acquiring Westbrook would reunite the former Oklahoma City Thunder star with his old head coach and give Chicago a legitimate star to help guide them back into the playoff picture as soon as next season.
In the aggressive scenario, we have the Bulls taking Okongwu instead Avdija because in Markkanen’s absence, the team could use a new hybrid-4 to play next to Wendell Carter and wouldn’t have as big of a need for a lead playmaker like Avdija.
On the other hand, in the conservative Bulls offseason, we have them splitting up their mid-level exception between Napier – a floor general that they’re sorely lacking – and Craig – a relatively young swingman with playoff experience to help Chicago improve defensively.
In this scenario, the Bulls would be picking Avdija fourth overall, who many believe will be the favorite to come off the board when Chicago is on the clock at No. 4.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$35.8 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade Kevin Love and minor draft capital as a salary dump to the Hornets for the final year of Cody Zeller’s deal and let Tristan Thompson walk.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Re-sign Thompson and sign Josh Jackson.
Without any sort of breathing room on their salary books, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ options are quite limited this offseason, so as far as an aggressive approach for them, we went with a Love salary dump to a team in the Hornets that could actually use his services and wouldn’t need to send back a ton of money to make it work financially.
Love would limit Charlotte’s cap space moving forward but for one, Batum is about to come off their books in a year so Love would just take his place in the cap sheets (and he’s still an above-average, playable NBA player, unlike Batum), second, the Hornets would still have plenty of cap space even absorbing Love’s deal through 2022-23 and third, Charlotte is far from a free-agent destination, so odds are, they’d struggle to fill that cap space with stars anyway.
From Cleveland’s perspective, getting rid of Love without having to add sweetener to the deal while only taking back one season of the younger Zeller brother could be seen as a victory for the front office, and help the team truly bottom out ahead of the 2021 NBA Draft, which is prognosticated by many to be much stronger than the 2020 batch of prospects.
Meanwhile, though some expect Thompson to re-sign with the Cavaliers, Cleveland already has Larry Nance Jr. and most likely Andre Drummond on the roster, so why spend big money on a third big man for 2020-21, when the team likely won’t be close to a playoff spot. Letting Thompson walk and opening up more future cap space might be the better bet for the Cavs.
Or, as our conservative approach indicates, Cleveland could just choose to re-sign 2016 champion Thompson and try and use a minimum offer to upgrade their current talent base by going after the high-upside Jackson, a former elite prospect who showed signs of turning things around last season.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: $17.6 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade Seth Curry, Dwight Powell and Justin Jackson for Victor Oladipo.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Sign Danilo Gallinari on a one-year balloon offer, let JJ Barea, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Courtney Lee walk.
It’s been heavily reported that the Dallas Mavericks are open for business this offseason, as the team badly wants a third star to place around Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. To that end, Dallas reportedly has made every non-Luka and non-Kristaps player on their roster available for trade.
The question is: What star could the Mavericks actually land using their good-but-unspectacular supporting cast? And would they even want to bring someone in who has years left on their deal – thus lessening their 2021 cap space when they plan to be suitors for Giannis Antetokounmpo?
The answer to the latter query is almost certainly not, meaning Dallas has to be targeting a star-level talent heading into their contract year… perhaps someone like Oladipo?
The Indiana Pacers 2-guard hasn’t performed at an All-Star level in years primarily due to injuries, but on a one-year gamble – one in which the Mavericks wouldn’t have to send too much to Indiana to entice them – he might be a worthwhile bet for Dallas. Oladipo’s defense, in particular, would be a huge help for a Mavericks team that gave up way too many points last season.
If Mark Cuban and Co. decide to go more conservative this offseason, they still have the cap space, north of $17 million (and maybe even more if Tim Hardaway Jr. decides to opt out, which is somewhat possible) to make a solid one-year balloon offer on a player like Gallinari, who would make an already-potent Mavs offense even deadlier.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$58.8 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade Gary Harris and Vlatko Cancar along with high-end draft capital to the Pelicans for Holiday.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Re-sign Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee.
The Denver Nuggets are a team that has been rumored to be interested in Holiday for months now, so in our aggressive version of their offseason, they finally get their man after giving up a package that includes Harris, Cancar and a future unprotected first-round pick.
Holiday would immediately upgrade the Nuggets’ perimeter defense and his tidy scoring would likewise give the team a boost alongside Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. Would it be enough to put Denver over the top in the West? Tough to say now, but if the leap we saw from Murray in the bubble is legit, then it’s certainly possible.
Then again, the Nuggets did make an impressive run deep in the Western Conference playoffs as presently constructed, so the likelier outcome for their offseason is probably that the team choose to just re-sign their top impending free agents – Millsap, Grant and Plumlee – and hope that Michael Porter Jr. takes a leap next season.
If he does, and we saw impressive flashes of it in Orlando, Denver might be good enough as is to contend again for the West, and maybe more.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: $27.1 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Re-sign Christian Wood and sign Fred VanVleet.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Re-sign Wood and sign Justin Holiday.
The Detroit Pistons are miles away from fielding a playoff team, so their top priority this offseason should be to keep their best young talent by just about any means possible.
That doesn’t mean they have to give Wood a max contract, but bringing back the promising young big man has to be No. 1 on their to-do list this offseason, which is why we built both our aggressive and conservative approach to their offseason around him. It won’t be easy, either, not with the number of suitors – both contending and rebuilding – reported to have interest in Wood, but the 25-year-old showed he is worth the investment with his play last season.
It’s Detroit’s second move where we differ in our two approaches: In the aggressive route, we have them going after VanVleet, the top point guard on the market who they can afford to overpay seeing as they’re one of the few teams projected to have considerable cap space this offseason. VanVleet recently told The Ringer that since he has his ring already, he’s ready to ‘cash out’, so don’t discount the possibility of the 2019 champion taking the best financial offer, even if it’s not from the most talented team on his radar.
In the conservative route, we have the Pistons complementing their Wood re-signing by going after a mid-level piece in Holiday, who, with a strong first half of the season with Detroit, could become a solid trade chip for the Pistons. Holiday’s shooting and defense will undoubtedly appeal to contending teams by that point.
Golden State Warriors
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$44.8 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade Andrew Wiggins and the No. 2 pick to Cleveland for Love and No. 5, take Isaac Okoro fifth.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Keep the No. 2 pick and take Wiseman, guarantee Marquese Chriss’ contract.
There has been a steady stream of rumors regarding the Golden State Warriors and whether or not they’re going to keep their No. 2 pick or trade down, and about their potential interest in acquiring a proven, star-level frontcourt player.
The name that has come up most recently on the Warriors front is LaMarcus Aldridge, but the math for an Aldridge-to-Golden-State trade is tricky, and trading the No. 2 pick for him seems borderline preposterous, especially with the San Antonio Spurs not picking until No. 11.
So we went a different route for an aggressive Warriors offseason and have them trading Wiggins and the No. 2 pick to Cleveland for Love and the No. 5 pick. Not only would it be fascinating to see Love and Wiggins dealt for each other for a second time, but the pick swap here is also more sensible since choosing fifth in this draft class isn’t that much worse than picking second.
Plus, Love’s rebounding and outside shooting would fit fantastically with the Warriors, and playing alongside Draymond Green would help hide his defensive deficiencies. The 2016 champion would answer a lot of questions about Golden State’s frontcourt.
With the fifth pick in this scenario, we have the Warriors taking Okoro, a defensive-minded wing who some have compared to Andre Iguodala and who would help the team improve defensively right away.
Then again, with a returning Curry, Green and Klay Thompson, along with the influx in wing athleticism that Wiggins will bring, Golden State should be pretty good as constructed. In that case, standing pat and drafting Wiseman second overall might not be such a bad idea, as the big man is a player who can both help the Warriors now as well as be a potential building block for the future.
Guaranteeing Chriss’ deal and continuing to help develop him as they did last season could be another subtly savvy move for the Warriors.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$21.0 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers for Ben Simmons, Mike Scott, Matisse Thybulle and the No. 21 pick and another future first-rounder and trade Westbrook to the Knicks for the No. 8 pick, Julius Randle and Kevin Knox.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Sign Aron Baynes using the MLE, re-sign Jeff Green and guarantee Ben McLemore’s contract.
Unlike any of the previous teams we’ve discussed here, the Rockets’ aggressive approach would feature them actively trying to get worse in the short term.
That’s because all of the recent reporting on the Houston front has been negative, Westbrook has already requested a trade and Harden has been ignoring calls from the team, so our thinking is: Might it be time to fully blow it up?
The Harden-era Rockets had a great run and though it never culminated in a title, we still can’t call it a bust. Even so, with Morey and Mike D’Antoni’s departure, it might be the perfect time for the team to initiate a rebuild. And what better team to negotiate with for Harden than the Sixers, where Morey is calling the shots now?
A package including Simmons, Thybulle and Scott for Harden checks out financially, gives the Rockets a proven star to build around who’s still just 24 and, in our fictional trade, also gives them two first-rounders, which we know Morey is never hesitant to part with.
And for Westbrook, landing a Top 8 pick, even in this relatively weak draft class, could be considered a coup, especially when you throw in the 21-year old Knox who still has some upside as a wing scorer, as well as Randle in the deal.
Or new general manager Rafael Stone could ignore the behind-the-scenes heat, stand pat, use the Rockets’ MLE to go after Baynes to shore up the frontcourt after Morey got rid of every useful big man on the roster, and re-sign Green, who excelled playing small-ball big for the team last season.
Odds are, the Rockets’ offseason will look like the middle ground of the two approaches we listed here.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$23.6 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade Turner, TJ Leaf and Edmond Sumner to Boston for Hayward, trade Oladipo to the Miami Heat for Kendrick Nunn, Kelly Olynyk and the No. 20 pick.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Keep Oladipo, build up his value and try to trade him later, sigh Mo Harkless.
Things have gotten to the point of being toxic in Indiana (just read this back and forth on Twitter between Turner and Oladipo’s sister for proof), so splitting the team up in multiple directions would be the way to go in the aggressive sense.
Sending Turner to Boston would give the Celtics the big man they covet and net the Pacers Hayward, who is from Indianapolis and was a star at Butler and will have a chance to shine without having to share the ball with two other wings in Tatum and Brown.
And sending Oladipo to Miami, who has been rumored to be interested in the 2-guard in the past, would get Indiana the second-place finisher in Rookie of the Year last season, Kendrick Nunn, and a Top 20 draft pick. (The Heat would have to add their $7.5 million trade exception to make this work.) That’s a solid return considering it’s been years since we’ve seen the All-Star form of Oladipo.
Starting over with a team featuring Malcolm Brogdon, TJ Warren, Jeremy Lamb, Hayward and Domantas Sabonis would undoubtedly keep the Pacers in the playoff picture while getting rid of some of the butting heads on the team.
Or the Pacers could choose to go conservative, keep Oladipo and hope he can return to All-Star form – maybe to trade him for even more value later – and sign a 3-and-D wing like Harkless to bolster the team’s defense.
Either way, Indiana should have a relatively strong Eastern Conference team in 2020-21.
Los Angeles Clippers
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$43.7 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade Paul George to Houston for Westbrook, sign Baynes using the MLE.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Keep George and Kawhi Leonard together, re-sign Marcus Morris, Montrezl Harrell and use the MLE on Rajon Rondo.
Westbrook has asked out of Houston and one of the teams rumored to be interested is the Los Angeles Clippers, who reportedly have wanted to bolster their backcourt since the offseason began.
Shipping George to Westbrook would be one way to make that happen. George’s positional overlap with Leonard proved awkward at times last season, and his inability to draw fouls at an elite level really hurt him offensively when his shot wasn’t dropping (which pretty much describes his entire playoff run). Couple that with the fact he reportedly also rubbed some teammates that wrong way, and sending out George starts to make more and more sense.
Despite his flaws, Westbrook still posted a 27.2/7.9/7.0 stat line last season and can without a doubt produce like a top player. Maybe being paired with a wing like Leonard could lead to him having team success as he did with the Oklahoma City Thunder playing off of Durant.
In this scenario, we also have the Clippers going after Baynes using their MLE, a player they have been tied to in the past who is coming off the best season of his career. After how their playoff run ended, it’s clear Los Angeles could use a bruising big man down low to help shore up the defense.
As their conservative approach, we have the Clippers choosing to run it back, re-sign impending free agents Morris and Harrell and using their MLE on a playmaker they could use, Rondo, who obviously wants a raise from the minimum salary he made last season.
For the moments their offense stagnated in the postseason, and some of those cold streaks were downright ugly, having a point guard like Rondo could help open things up for the Clippers.
Los Angeles Lakers
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: $6.6 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Re-sign Anthony Davis, use MLE on Serge Ibaka.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Re-sign Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and DeMarcus Cousins, sign Wesley Matthews.
The reigning champs top priority this offseason, obviously, will be to re-sign Davis, something that will reportedly go down without an ounce of drama as soon as it’s allowed.
Besides that, we already have some movement on the Lakers’ front, as it was reported on Sunday that the team would be trading Danny Green and the No. 28 pick in Wednesday’s draft for Dennis Schroeder.
That leaves Los Angeles without their most tradable salary (while netting them a Sixth Man of the Year finalist last year), though the team could still package JaVale McGee, Avery Bradley (if they opt in – big if), Quinn Cook, Kyle Kuzma and Talen Horton-Tucker and have around $20 million in salary right there to use on another trade.
With the uncertainty of McGee and Bradley’s impending free-agent decisions, however, it becomes difficult to project L.A. making any other sort of big trade this offseason.
So for their aggressive path, we have them now using their MLE to add another piece to their starting lineup in Ibaka. With Davis preferring to play the 4 full time, a frontcourt of Ibaka and Davis would have scary potential thanks to the former’s floor-spacing, rim-protecting expertise and the latter’s all-world capabilities.
If the Lakers go conservative from here on out, they can still re-sign Cousins and Caldwell-Pope while trying to land Matthews on a vet minimum deal. There are already reports out there that Los Angeles is planning to do just that, using Matthews as a replacement for Green, so this wouldn’t be far-fetched whatsoever.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$4.2 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Use the MLE on Marcus Morris and don’t rock the boat otherwise.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Sign E’Twaun Moore to the minimum.
Few teams are better positioned for future success than the Memphis Grizzlies, who have the reigning Rookie of the Year on the roster in Ja Morant, an excellent young modern big man in Jaren Jackson and solid pieces such as Jonas Valanciunas, Dillon Brooks and Justise Winslow surrounding them.
In fact, we’re so high on Memphis that we ranked them No. 2 on the list of non-playoff teams from 2019-20
So why rock the boat much, if at all?
As such, in our aggressive offseason plan for them, we simply have them using their MLE on Morris, a move that would be pretty aggressive for a small-market team like the Grizzlies. Even if a big-market team is able to use their MLEs without thinking twice, that’s not the case for teams like Memphis.
Morris’ outside shooting, defensive prowess and ability to play the 3 or the 4 at a high level would fit perfectly on most teams, but especially the Grizzlies, who were just one more piece from making the playoffs in Morant’s first season.
Morris could be that piece.
If the Grizzlies would rather not use their MLE this offseason, they could instead go after a player like Moore, who likely won’t get many offers much richer than the minimum. Even at that price, Moore’s career 39 percent three-point shooting would give a Grizzlies team that ranked 23rd in outside shooting accuracy last season an important, much-needed upgrade in that department.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: $20.9 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Renounce cap holds to all free agents, make balloon offers to Gallinari and Millsap, trade Nunn, Olynyk and the No. 20 pick for Oladipo.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Bring back the same group that made the Finals, re-signing Dragic and Crowder, sign Matthews.
The Heat are one of the few teams with the ability to open up large amounts of cap space this offseason, nearly $21 million worth, in fact, if they renounce the cap holds to all of their impending free agents.
If Miami were to do that, they’d have enough money to make competitive one-year offers to players like Gallinari, who they were awfully close to trading for this past deadline, and Millsap, both improving the team in the short-term and leaving their 2021 cap space untouched. That’s when guys like Antetokounmpo and Leonard will be free agents and Miami projects to have max cap space.
Gallinari’s elite offensive game would give the defending Eastern Conference champs a leg-up come playoff time next season and Millsap’s versatile defense would pair wonderfully with Bam Adebayo in the frontcourt.
And if Oladipo is to round back into elite form, losing Nunn, Olynyk and a first-round pick for him would look like a coup in hindsight.
Of course, the far likelier approach for Miami will be a conservative one in which they run it back with the majority of the team that got them to the Finals in 2019-20, bringing back Dragic and Crowder, hope for further development from Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson and wait for 2021 to make their big free-agent moves – all while keeping an eye on the trade market to see if someone interesting, like a Bradley Beal, pops up.
Taking that route, the Heat will still be able to make tweaks to their rotation using minimum deals. One player who’d make sense for them is Matthews, yet another player out of Marquette, who would fit nicely within the team’s culture and fill the need for another wing defender.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$19.4 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade Eric Bledsoe and the No. 24 pick as a salary dump to the New York Knicks for a protected second-round pick, trade Brook Lopez and Donte DiVincenzo to the Sacramento Kings for Bogdan Bogdanovic in a sign-and-trade, use MLE on Morris.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Re-sign Matthews, use MLE on Gallinari.
Unless Antetokounmpo shocks the basketball world and agrees to a super-max extension this offseason, a huge season lies ahead for the Bucks.
Another early postseason defeat could lead to Antetokounmpo taking free-agent meetings in 2021 and potentially leaving the team. Winning a title, on the other hand, all but puts those concerns to bed for good.
As such, Milwaukee will probably be as aggressive as possible this offseason, using both the trade market and free agency to find upgrades to the roster.
One path they could take will be to salary dump Bledsoe, along with the No. 24 pick this year, on a team like the Knicks, who have been rumored to be interested in taking salary dumps as long as they come with assets, and take back nothing in return. The Pistons would make sense here, too.
Milwaukee could then pivot to targeting a player they have reportedly been interested in for months, Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic’s off-the-dribble scoring and outside marksmanship could help take the Bucks’ offense from the Top 8 (where they ranked last year) into the elite of the league. A package including Lopez and DiVincenzo could be enough to entice Sacramento to facilitate a sign-and-trade there.
Milwaukee could then cap their aggressive offseason by using their MLE on Morris, whose shooting and defense would fit perfectly with the Bucks.
If Milwaukee chooses to be conservative, after re-signing Matthews, they still have the MLE they can use on a player like Gallinari, who has said competing for a title comes before signing for the most money this offseason.
This would be a far less hectic offseason for the Bucks, but one that could still be a hugely positive one if they’re able to land the Italian sharpshooter, an elite offensive player for a team needing more scoring punch come playoff time.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$9.0 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade the No. 1 pick to the Hornets for the No. 3 pick and Bridges. Use the pick on LaMelo Ball. Sign Ennis.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Keep the No. 1 pick, take Anthony Edwards; sign Torrey Craig.
Without any cap space to use, by far the most interesting thing the Minnesota Timberwolves have going for them is finding out what they’re going to do with the No. 1 pick.
Are they really going to trade down? If so, how far down? If they keep the top pick, who are they taking?
In our aggressive scenario for Minnesota, we have them trading down from No. 1 to No. 3, with the Hornets, in a deal that also nets them the high-flying, rim-rattling southpaw, Miles Bridges. Considering how sorely the Wolves need help on the wing, adding the 22-year-old Bridges could be big.
With the No. 3 pick, the likeliest bet is that Wiseman (who the Hornets are rumored to love) and Edwards will likely be off the board, leaving the best player available at the spot as the youngest Ball brother, LaMelo.
Would his fit be perfect in Minnesota? Far from it; his playstyle is a bit similar to that of D’Angelo Russell’s. Does it matter, though? Not at all. At that point, you take the best player available and try to make it work from there. Especially in this draft with so few elite prospects available at the top.
If the Timberwolves, on the other hand, choose to keep the No. 1 pick, we think the best move would be to take Edwards, who’s more of a natural shooting guard and would have an easier time acclimating to playing with Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns.
As far as free agents the team could target, it’s tough to see them using their MLE, so their options will be of the minimum variety. And considering we already discussed their dearth of competent wing play, we could see them going after an Ennis or a Craig, two experienced swingmen who know their roles, defend and don’t try to do too much on offense.
New Orleans Pelicans
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: $15.4 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Lock up Ingram for the long-term, trade Holiday for Dinwiddie and LeVert, sign Baynes and Caldwell-Pope.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Lock up Ingram long-term, keep Holiday, sign Ibaka and Justin Holiday.
First and foremost, the Pelicans’ top priority in either approach will be to lock up Ingram for the long-term. This shouldn’t be a very dramatic free agency, as Ingram is 23, coming off the first All-Star campaign and a cornerstone for the team after the Davis trade. Both sides will probably agree to a max deal early on in free agency.
After that, however, is where the approaches differ.
If New Orleans is actually willing to trade Holiday, sending him to the Nets, a team reportedly interested in him, for Dinwiddie and LeVert could be a great deal for both sides. Both players can provide high-level scoring and have the playoff experience most of the Pelicans’ young roster is lacking.
After that, we could see the Pelicans reuniting two former Stan Van Gundy players with their old head coach, Baynes and Caldwell-Pope. With Favors set to hit free agency, New Orleans could need a new center, preferably one that can space the floor around Zion Williamson, and a player like Baynes would fit that role well without breaking the bank.
The Pelicans can then use the rest of their remaining cap space on Caldwell-Pope, who really proved himself over the course of the 2020 playoffs, and use his 3-and-D backcourt skills to help the team finish off their postseason push in 2020-21.
If New Orleans chooses to go conservative, after re-signing Ingram, they can also keep Holiday and use their cap space to go after Ibaka in free agency and cap things off with one of the younger Holiday brothers, Justin.
Ibaka would be a fantastic fit at the 5 for the Pelicans alongside Williamson thanks to his rim protection and three-point shooting, two areas of weakness for the Duke product. And the younger Holiday brother’s shooting and scoring off the bench could help a New Orleans reserve crew that struggled at times last season.
New York Knicks
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: $40.1 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Overpay to sign VanVleet and Bertans, bring back Justin Holiday.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Focus on the draft, avoid taking on monstrous salaries and continue to build from within. Target younger free agents like Kris Dunn and Harry Giles while bringing back Carmelo Anthony.
The Knicks hold all the cards this free agency with over $40 million available in cap space. Unfortunately, they’re holding all the cards in a game with a minimal pot, as it’s overall a fairly weak free-agent class.
Still, if New York wants to be aggressive, there are a few paths they can take.
They can trade for Westbrook or Hayward – two big-name players who could be dumped by their current teams this offseason but are still productive in their own ways – or they can overpay top free agents and try to build up their talent that way.
Two guys who’d make sense for the latter route are VanVleet and Bertans. The former would be the team’s best floor general in, well, a very long time, and the latter, one of the best shooters in the league, would help open up driving lanes for RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson (out of the pick-and-roll). For a New York team that had the fourth-worst three-point percentage last season, either player would be a huge help.
Or, the Knicks could instead continue to develop internally, choosing to give big minutes to all of the players they acquired highly in the past few drafts and focus on younger free agents to join them. Taking that path, guys who’d make sense would be types like Dunn and Giles. Dunn, despite his offensive deficiencies, is one of the best guard defenders in the league and Giles is still just 22, and as a former mega prospect, he could be worth the gamble for the Knicks.
Also, for nostalgia purposes, we have the Knicks bringing back Carmelo Anthony in this scenario for one final run before he heads into retirement. Anthony is reportedly interested in signing with his former team this offseason.
Nevertheless, New York feels like a potential wildcard team this offseason, and they could shake things up and make matters interesting once teams are available to start maneuvering again – particularly in the trade market.
Oklahoma City Thunder
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$1.9 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade Chris Paul to the Suns for Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre and the No. 10 pick.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Trade Paul to the Suns, let Gallinari and Andre Roberson walk.
Both paths here are fairly similar, and that’s because one thing about the Thunder’s upcoming offseason is clear: After putting it off for a year, the full rebuild is actually set to begin in Oklahoma City.
We’ve already gotten our first glimpse of that with the team trading Schroeder to the Lakers for draft capital, and it will only continue, likely with Paul getting shipped elsewhere.
It’s no secret that the team has been shopping Paul heavily since their time in the bubble ended, nor is it unknown that odds are, they’re going to let Gallinari walk without putting up much of a fight.
As far as what return a Paul trade might get, if he were to get shipped to Phoenix, for example, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them get the No. 10 pick in the 2020 draft, which, even in a weak class, is a pretty solid return for a 35-year-old guard with huge money left on his deal.
The team will likely look for a trade partner for Green, though even if they can’t find one, which could depend on how he shoots the ball leading up to the trade deadline, Green has just one season left on his contract so picking him up won’t be so detrimental to the team’s rebuild.
Perhaps come the trade deadline, a contender could get desperate enough for shooting and defense to make the Thunder an offer for the 33-year-old. Waiting until then to find a Green suitor might even suit Oklahoma City better than trading him now.
Regardless, even after a great 2019-20 campaign, it’s obvious the Thunder need to acquire more young talent to develop alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley, because outside of those two, Oklahoma City doesn’t have many young game-changers on the roster as of yet.
Of course, with how much draft capital they already own and are about to receive in potential Paul and Schroeder deals, that should change soon.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$14.8 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade Aaron Gordon, Terrence Ross and Khem Birch for Westbrook, sign Nerlens Noel.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Sign Austin Rivers and Jeff Teague.
With Westbrook reportedly available, one suitor who we recently discussed as making some sense for him are the Orlando Magic, who have lacked above-average point-guard play since the Jameer Nelson days. Here’s what we had to say about it in a recent article:
With Jonathan Isaac likely to miss the season, the Magic are going to have to do something bold to stay in the playoff picture in the East, and with minimal cap space, it’ll have to be the trade market they attack. A target like Westbrook would make a lot of sense. He’d be able to be his team’s No. 1 playmaker again, something he is reported to covet, and his pick-and-roll game paired with a talent like Nikola Vucevic should thrive. Vucevic would be the most talented big man Westbrook has played with in years, if not ever.
Westbrook would help keep the Magic firmly in the playoff picture in the East and wouldn’t cost them too much in a trade since interest in the explosive point guard doesn’t appear to be all that high at the moment. Plus, when does Orlando ever attract elite free agents anyway? It’s not like they need to save their cap space for something else down the line.
Just going for it behind a Westbrook/Vucevic partnership could be fun.
After losing Birch in this theoretical Westbrook trade, the team is going to need a backup rim-protector to fill the void. Mo Bamba could still be that guy, even despite how poorly his first two seasons have gone, but if the team doesn’t think so, a big man like Noel could make sense in that role.
If Orlando would rather stay conservative, however, they’re still going to need help at the point guard position, especially if they don’t re-sign DJ Augustin. That’s where Rivers – a central Florida native – and Teague could make sense.
Both could almost certainly be had at the minimum and the two would help the team offensively right away.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$40.5 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade Simmons, Scott, Thybulle and multiple first-round picks for Harden.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Re-sign Alec Burks and Raul Neto, sign Reggie Jackson.
We’ve gone over this in the Rockets section, but it’s still just about the boldest move the Sixers could possibly make this offseason, and that’s pulling off a trade for Harden.
It seems unlikely at the moment, especially with Harden making it known via The Athletic that he’s locked in with Houston for next season, but we know how quickly these things can change, and if Harden sees the team is headed towards a rebuild, he won’t even have to ask out before the Rockets find a suitor for him.
And that suitor could be Philadelphia, who have the draft capital and All-Stars to make a worthwhile offer for Harden.
Harden, thanks to his three-point shooting and scoring ability, would be a way better fit next to Joel Embiid than Simmons has been, even if the defense might suffer a bit. There’s no way to deny it: A Harden-Embiid tandem could be among the best 2-guard/center duos we’ve ever seen, and if they were to land him, it’d automatically make Philadelphia a powerhouse.
Nevertheless, even if the Sixers aren’t able to pull a deal of that magnitude off, just running it back with their current team and adding a lower-level free agent like Jackson could be enough to contend in the East under first-year head coach Doc Rivers. The team may have its flaws, but they’re still loaded with talent.
Perhaps Rivers will do a better job of getting more out of that group than the fired Brett Brown did in 2019-20.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$4.6 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade Rubio, Oubre and the No. 10 pick in the draft for Chris Paul.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Re-sign Dario Saric, offer MLE to Gallinari.
The hottest trade rumor heading into the offseason involves the Suns trading for Paul, though it may not be as done of a deal as it was made out to seem.
Regardless, sending Oklahoma City Rubio and Oubre (while renouncing the rights to Baynes and not exercising Frank Kaminsky’s team option) for Paul works financially, and adding the No. 10 pick in the draft might be enough to drive a deal home.
Adding Paul to a lineup that already has Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges on it should definitely help the young team take the next step and could even get them into the playoffs as soon as next season. If Paul was good enough to get the Thunder into the postseason as a five-seed, why wouldn’t he be able to do it on a more talented Suns team next season?
Of course, there’s always the chance that a Paul trade could fall through or that another team could snake their way into the picture and take the future Hall-of-Famer instead.
If that does happen, we could see Phoenix choosing to go conservative and re-sign Saric while offering their MLE to Gallinari, who’d be the perfect floor-spacing 4-man next to Ayton.
After seeing how well the Suns performed in the bubble, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them keep that up next season and fight their way into the playoff picture, with or without Paul.
Portland Trail Blazers
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: $1.3 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade CJ McCollum and Zach Collins to the Celtics for Brown and Daniel Theis and Vincent Poirier, sign Jeff Green.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Re-sign Trevor Ariza and Carmelo Anthony.
McCollum has been a common trade candidate for seasons now, even if the Portland Trail Blazers haven’t shown much actual interest in dealing him to this point.
Regardless, in our aggressive approach for Portland, we have them finally shipping McCollum out, in this case, along with Collins to the Celtics for Brown and Theis, two players who give the Blazers more balance in their starting five.
Brown would immediately become Portland’s best wing while Theis could be a good backup for Jusuf Nurkic, who could even play spot minutes next to the big Bosnian. Brown’s defense and improved outside shooting could make the Blazers an even more formidable squad in the West and finally give Damian Lillard the slasher to play off of he’s been missing his whole career.
Plus, with Gary Trent Jr.’s emergence last season, this move would allow the sharpshooting 2-guard to move back to his natural position full time and slot in as the starter between Lillard and Brown.
Finally, signing Jeff Green for the vet minimum would give Portland another hybrid wing/big to play off the bench and further improve their forward rotation.
If Portland decides to be more conservative this offseason, we could see them choosing to stand pat and re-sign Ariza and Anthony, the former of whom was shooting the ball well with the team before opting out of the bubble and the latter of whom proved he has something left in the tank last season.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$15.0 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade Buddy Hield and Jabari Parker to the Sixers for Al Horford, Josh Richardson and a 2022 first-round pick, re-sign Bogdanovic.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Guarantee Nemanja Bjelica’s deal and re-sign Bogdanovic.
It’s well-known that Hield is unhappy in Sacramento after being benched by head coach Luke Walton last season and would prefer a trade. One popular rumored trade destination for the sharpshooter is with the Sixers, who now have a shot-caller who isn’t afraid of making splash deals if he thinks they can improve his team.
We broke down the possibility of a Hield-to-Philadelphia deal around six weeks ago, but a lot of what we said still applies today:
A deal with the framework of Hield and Jabari Parker (who is likely to opt into the final year of his deal which will pay him $6.5 million next year) for Al Horford (who has three years and $81 million left on his deal) and Josh Richardson (two years and $22.5 million left on his contract) would work financially, but would still require for Philadelphia to add draft capital (like their 2022 unprotected first-round pick) for Sacramento to be interested since Horford’s deal is looking like a major negative asset at this point.
Even despite his struggles last season having to play more of the 4 than he should be at this point in his career, Horford is still a top-notch big man with loads of playoff experience, two things Sacramento is lacking on their current roster. Landing Horford would give the Kings a center to play next to Marvin Bagley at power forward, one who can teach him the intricacies of the NBA game at the highest level.
What’s more, Richardson’s wing defense would form a nasty point-stopping tandem with Fox on the perimeter.
If the Kings choose to go conservative and keep Hield, though, their likeliest path will see them guaranteeing the final year of Bjelica’s deal and re-signing Bogdanovic to a deal that will keep the young shooter in Sacramento for the long-term.
San Antonio Spurs
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$25.6 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade DeRozan to the Lakers for a package including Kuzma and Green, trade Aldridge to the Blazers for Ariza, Collins, Mario Hezonja and the No. 16 pick.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Re-sign Jakob Poeltl and Bryn Forbes.
Rumors have been swirling heavily this offseason about the Spurs being up to something big, which could mean trading their two All-Stars and finally accepting its time for a full rebuild.
DeRozan could be sent to the Lakers for a package including Kuzma and Green as we already discussed while Aldridge being traded back to Portland, where he started his career, could be interesting for both parties. To make the latter happen, the Blazers would have to send San Antonio Ariza, Collins, Hezonja and probably their first-round pick for the Spurs to accept.
Collins would give Gregg Popovich a young big man to try and mold while Hezonja still has some potential as a playmaker, ball-handling wing with great size.
Or San Antonio could run it back with the same group, re-signing Poeltl and Forbes and try to make the playoffs behind strong play from Aldridge and DeRozan.
We think it might be time for the Spurs to start over, though.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$2.5 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Re-sign VanVleet, Ibaka and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, use MLE on Christian Wood.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Re-sign VanVleet, Ibaka and Hollis-Jefferson, sign Meyers Leonard.
The Raptors may not have repeated as champions last season, but they did enjoy one of their most successful seasons ever before falling to Boston in Round 2 of the playoffs. So why rock the boat too much?
Our aggressive ideas for them include bringing back their three top free agents – VanVleet, Ibaka and Hollis-Jefferson – while letting Marc Gasol walk, and trying to use the MLE on Wood.
That may not be enough to land the talented 25-year-old, but it would still be a huge raise from what he has earned so far in his NBA career. A Wood/Ibaka frontcourt would be able to space the floor, protect the paint and give the team plenty of length down low.
Even in our conservative approach for Toronto, we have them re-signing the trio of VanVleet, Ibaka and Hollis-Jefferson while shoring up their frontcourt rotation sans Gasol by using a vet minimum offer on Meyers Leonard, a 7-footer with floor-spacing capabilities.
Will that be enough for them to get back into the championship picture? Probably not, but it would help them maintain their status as a Top-6 regular-season team who will be a very tough out come playoff time.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$9.3 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Trade Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale and the No. 23 pick for Aaron Gordon. Sign Bobby Portis.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Re-sign Jordan Clarkson, guarantee Georges Niang and Rayjon Tucker’s contracts.
Without an injured Bojan Bogdanovic last playoffs, the Utah Jazz were unable to make it out of the first round of the playoffs, capping a disappointing campaign following an offseason that many thought would make the team even better than they had been in years prior.
Even with a healthy Bogdanovic, the team had a bit of an up-and-down regular season, one in which they actually regressed in net rating from the campaign before (+5.0 in 2018-19 to +2.5 in 2019-20). Particularly disturbing was the team falling from second in defensive rating last season all the way to 13th this past year.
Clearly, something is missing in Utah.
Part of it could be common first-year struggles after adding two major pieces in Bogdanovic and Mike Conley, but something else that might be lacking is athleticism on the wing to help improve perimeter defense and transition scoring.
Hence, a piece like Aaron Gordon could make some sense for the Jazz. Next to Rudy Gobert, Gordon would be able to play a more perimeter-oriented role, and alongside an elite shooter like Bogdanovic, Gordon’s own shooting struggles could be hidden a bit. Finally able to play power forward full-time, Gordon’s elite athleticism would infuse a level of dynamism that’s been missing from Utah’s wing rotation for a long time.
Plus, with the signing of Bogdanovic, Ingles’ role on the team last year was awkward, so balancing out the roster with a player in Gordon who provides something different from Bogdanovic/Ingles could be savvy.
On top of that, we could see the Jazz also getting back into talks with Portis, who they were interested in signing last year, and who reportedly might not be picked up by the Knicks for a second season.
Or Utah could go conservative and just re-sign Clarkson and try and run it back with the same team from last season. Perhaps after a full year and another offseason together with Conley and Bogdanovic, the team might be able to regain their 2018-19 form.
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE: -$14.7 million
AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: Re-sign Bertans and Napier, guarantee Isaac Bonga’s contract, use MLE on Crowder.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH: Re-sign Bertans and Napier, guarantee Isaac Bonga’s contract, sign Plumlee.
ANALYSIS: Wizards’ brass has stated on multiple occasions that their top priority this offseason will be to re-sign Bertans, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone considering the power forward has turned into one of the best shooters in world over the past couple of seasons.
Getting a healthy John Wall back to go with an elite 2-guard in Beal and a shooter at the level of Bertans could be enough to Washington back in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Add a tough-nosed defensive-minded wing like Crowder into the mix, at a position where Washington currently isn’t very deep, and the Wizards will be worlds ahead of where they were last season, especially if Wall can at least slightly resemble his old self.
Even if we go conservative for Washington, their path will likely not look all that different from their aggressive approach, since their biggest pickup for next season will simply be to get Wall back, but as far as a new signing, we could also see them fortifying their frontcourt with a Plumlee-type player on a minimum contract.
Plumlee’s screen-setting and playmaking skills at center would give Washington a good backup for Thomas Bryant, since Plumlee could be a different but still-effective complement for the Wizards’ emerging big man.