NBA: Free Agents

As the summer starts to heat up, so too does the NBA as free agency is set to start on June 30th. From stars to role players, the offseason provides promise and excitement for every franchise as teams are jockeying for position to improve or maintain their success.

Free agency is a time in which signings can make or break a franchise.

Among the guys that can make or break an organization’s summer are Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving along with a barrage of other guys. For another group of teams, it’s about adding elite role players in guys like Trevor Ariza or Terrence Ross. And for the remaining teams, it’s about throwing down the anchor and not making a move.

With that being said, let’s observe the priorities each team should look to explore.

Atlanta Hawks

Priority: Veterans

The Hawks are coming off three straight years of bad seasons. On the flip side, they have built an exciting foundation through the draft.

Atlanta has drafted John Collins, Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Deandre Hunter, and Cam Reddish in the last three seasons, giving them arguably the best young core in all of basketball.

So, for the Hawks, you don’t bring in a star just yet this summer. You let the core continue to grow and find out just how high the ceiling is for this bunch. If they do anything at all, they need to just add veterans that will help mold these youngsters into winners.

Boston Celtics

Priority: Team-Oriented Players

One of the things that made that Isaiah Thomas-led Celtics special is they bought into Brad Stevens blue collar approach. It was a selfless bunch. With Kyrie Irving at the helm, it became a selfish team.

Quite frankly, Stevens might have been blindsided by the addition of Irving. Almost to the degree of someone pouring water on your back as your blindfolded and telling you it’s raining.

The Celtics should look to add no-nonsense veterans that complement Jayson Tatum’s game and will buy into Stevens’ blueprint. Kemba Walker and Nikola Vucevic are two guys that fit the bill.

Brooklyn Nets

Priority: Star(s)

Brooklyn has the luxury of ignoring D’Angelo Russell while they pursue the likes of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. They traded Allen Crabbe’s hefty contract ($18 million a year) to the Atlanta which allowed them to leapfrog the rival Knicks for the most cap space heading into free agency ($66.9 million).

Just last year, majority of the league was keen on signing both superstars. However, an Achilles injury to KD and moody behavior by Irving has limited their suitors. The team that has remained steadfast in their approach is the Nets.

With their concerted effort and openness about wanting both KD and Irving, Brooklyn might actually land both guys. Players love being vetted rather than casually chased.

The downside to not landing these two is if Brooklyn brings DLo back they might be getting a disgruntled star.

Charlotte Hornets

Priority: Get Younger

Let’s take a look at Michael Jordan’s career. Not as a player, but as an owner.

In 2014, Jordan overpaid Lance Stephenson who ended up on the bench before season’s end and was traded the summer after. Next, in 2015, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finessed him out of a contract extension without having learned how to shoot a consistent jumper. Finally, in 2016, the ever-so-declining Nicolas Batum received a deal worth up to $120 million.

MJ has three reasons to keep Kemba. The first is that he is one of the few draft picks that panned out in Charlotte. The second is he is box office and will bring people to the arena. The third is Kemba is a Jordan brand athlete and a favorite of MJ.

The smart thing to do for Jordan and the Hornets is to let Kemba walk and get younger.

Chicago Bulls

Priority: Stay Put

There isn’t much Chicago can do this summer as they have two young stars in Zach LaVine and Lauri Markannen. They have two promising players in Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. Otto Porter Jr. seems to be the linchpin in this equation while Kris Dunn could be in a new area code any day now.

Health is the biggest concern for this team as it has been for the last seven or eight years.

The Bulls just need another season of nurturing before we have a clear understanding of what’s brewing in The Windy City.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Priority: Acquire More Assets

While the Cavs have gotten younger in the back court with Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, and Kevin Porter Jr., they have to decide what to do with the aging duo in the front court of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.

It would be great to keep Love because he displays the professionalism needed to help the young trio as well as Dylan Windler. However, it’s fair to assume Love wants to compete for a ring at this point. As for Thomspon, he has a lot of drama off the court regarding his personal life.

Cleveland should explore the market and see what they can get for both guys. Picks would be great for Love while just unloading Thompson is a win itself for the new look Cavs.

Dallas Mavericks

Priority: Add Another Star

The unveiling of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis has to be one of the top five new duos to look forward to next season.

Yet this isn’t the early 2000’s where a star-studded duo can take you the distance on a yearly basis. You have got to have a third guy.

For the Mavs, they have to decide who that guys is with names like Kemba, Khris Middleton, and Al Horford being thrown around.

It’s important to remember that Mark Cuban is still capable of pulling a trick from up his sleeve like he did with landing KP.

Denver Nuggets

Priority: Stay Put

Denver is one of the beneficiaries of a wounded Golden State bunch out West. They have nothing they need to do this summer.

Michael Porter Jr. will be their key addition who, essentially, redshirted last season with a serious back injury.

Detroit Pistons

Priority: Cap Relief

The Pistons are in desperate need of cap relief as they are 24th in the league in financial wiggle room. Between Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson, and the newly acquired Tony Snell, that “fearsome foursome” (sarcasm) is chewing up $90.9 million. No sarcasm there.

“Fun times ahead” for Detroit to quote Draymond Green.

Golden State Warriors

Priority: Secure Stars

The absolute worst thing happened to the Warriors during that last week of the Finals as they lost Klay Thompson (ACL) and KD (Achilles) to title-crippling injuries.

The crazy thing is that these injuries might be a blessing in disguise.

Both guys might feel an increasing desire to stay to have the ability to recover in peace and still have the chance to compete after a season of rehabbing. It’s more likely Klay wanted to stay all along while KD would be doing it for his own personal gain.

Yes, Golden State would be well over the luxury tax, but it gives the team a chance to compete after what will be a tumultuous upcoming season. Also, they could always trade KD and go back to their original championship motto of “strength in numbers.”

Houston Rockets

Priority: Add Defenders

The Chris Paul and James Harden cold war is concerning, but liking your teammates doesn’t always correlate to wins. If they have a mutual understanding and want to win, the Rockets will be fine.

The bigger issue in Houston last season was their revolving door on the defensive end. They went from seventh in defensive rating in 2017-18 to 18th last season.

That is what happens when you let guys like Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute walk away. Houston can shore up things on that end by adding some individual, yet good team defenders like those two were.

If they can do that, Houston has to like their chances at making the Finals especially with Golden State, seemingly, out of the picture next year.

Indiana Pacers

Priority: Add Another Star

The Pacers tried the deep roster look last season and it got them as high as the third seed. Yet, that won’t cut it this year.

Indiana has got to add another star to the roster especially if Kawhi Leonard stays in the East. Players like Middleton and DLo make a lot of sense and, even though he isn’t quite a star, Tobias Harris too. The point being is a solo act of Victor Oladipo won’t cut it in Indy.

Los Angeles Clippers

Priority: Kawhi Leonard

Like something out of a M. Night Shyamalan movie, things went from good to scary for the Clippers. Just two weeks ago, they had a chance to land Kawhi or KD. Then, Kawhi won a title and KD got hurt.

The Clippers were supposed to have a splashy summer, but they are now on the verge of having nothing more than a slip-and-slide outing. It’s Kawhi or bust for LAC.

Los Angeles Lakers

Priority: Add Another Star

Unlike their down the hall rivals, the Lakers were supposed to be in for a disappointing offseason. One in which they struck out on every big name via free agent and trade.

All of that changed when they acquired Anthony Davis. It cost them an arm and a leg in young talent and draft picks, but it’s well worth the risk.

The Lakers could just fill out the roster around LeBron James and AD and have a legitimate shot at winning it all this year, but it’s bigger than one season. They’ve got to add another star in Kyrie, Kawhi, Kemba, DLo, or Jimmy Butler to compete beyond this year. After all, the Warriors will be back at full strength in two years.

Memphis Grizzlies

Priority: Stay Put

Memphis got the ball rolling when they dealt Marc Gasol at the trade deadline in February. They accelerated their rebuild when they sent Mike Conley to Utah. Things moved along even more when they drafted Ja Morant second overall in the recent draft.

The seeds have been planted in Memphis. Now, it’s time to let them grow.

Miami Heat

Priority: Cap Relief

It’s highly unlikely anyone would be willing to take on the contracts of Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk, Ryan Anderson, James Johnson, or Hassan Whiteside.

For that reason, it’s hard to imagine them getting any cap relief at least for another year. $63.9 million come off the books next summer when Whiteside, Anderson, and Goran Dragic’s deals come off the books.

Milwaukee Bucks

Priority: Retain Malcolm Brogdon

The Bucks shot themselves in the foot when they extended the contract of Eric Bledsoe. It’s hard to keep Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon without jeopardizing Giannis Antetokounmpo’s big payday.

Not making it to the Finals this past season has, seemingly, made the newly named MVP skeptical on being committed to the Bucks long-term.

So, to avoid being handicapped cap-wise, Milwaukee must save that other max slot and just keep Brogdon. Middleton was an All-Star, but he isn’t a perennial All-Star by any means. They should save that money and look to bring in a guy like Brad Beal down the line.

Stay tuned…

Minnesota Timberwolves

Priority: Sign D’Angelo Russell

DLo and Karl-Anthony Towns are good friends plus it just so happens Minnesota could use an upgrade at the lead guard spot. It would make for an exciting duo in pick-and-roll/pop scenarios.

The next thing to figure out after that is the role of Andrew Wiggins. But that’s for another day.

New Orleans Pelicans

Priority: Stay Put

David Griffin turned AD into Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Jaxson Hayes, and a whole lot more. Much like the other young teams on this list, New Orleans should stand pat.

New York Knicks

Priority: Sign Kevin Durant

Even though he is injured, signing KD would be a big win for the Knicks. It would reinvigorate a dormant fanbase and franchise. Also, it would be an attractive move by other free agents not only this year, but for years to come. Lastly, it would make them betting favorites in two seasons when he is back at full strength.

Heck, it would help the young core as they could learn from Durant especially RJ Barrett.

Missing out on KD and other stars would mean the Knicks went from a surefire slam dunk to another airball offseason.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Priority: Cap Relief

OKC has already made it clear that Adams, Dennis Schroder, and Andre Roberson are all available.

If only it were that simple.

Adams makes $25 million a year so it will be hard to move him while Roberson hasn’t played meaningful basketball in two years. Not to mention, Shaquille O’Neal shoots better jumpers than him.

Schroder seems like the only likely player to be moved as he has value as a starter or sixth man.

Orlando Magic

Priority: Retain Nikola Vucevic

Vuc was the engine that drove the Magic to the postseason last season. He was one of six players to average 20 points and 10 rebounds. Also, Vucevic earned his first All-Star nod.

Orlando can’t afford to let him walk away for free when he is clearly in his prime. They have to keep him in town. However, I urge you to look at Jimmy Butler’s situation when he re-signed in Chicago as well as Blake Griffin in Los Angeles. Those are two examples of guys who were coined as the franchise cornerstones, but were traded when the opportunities presented themselves.

So, Vucevic re-signing doesn’t mean much this day and age. It’s better for the Magic get his signature and get something for him rather than letting him leave. Unless, Orlando continues to grow with him leading the charge.

Philadelphia 76ers

Priority: Retain a Star Wing

The Sixers are another bad postseason away from finally realizing that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons won’t quite pan out. Yet, for the sake of remaining optimistic, the best move they could make this summer is bringing back Butler or Harris.

It’s important to have a third guy that can mitigate some pressure off the young All-Star duo.

Butler makes more sense with his proven desire to show up in big moments. He also became a fan favorite in the playoffs as he adopted the hardened persona Philly fans love.

Phoenix Suns

Priority: Sign D’Angelo Russell

DLo, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton is a fun trio to use on 2k, but it will be interesting to see if it could work in real life. The roster around them would have to flourish as well.

Portland Trail Blazers

Priority: Acquire Kevin Love

Spacing was a concern for the Blazers last season which is funny considering the fact that they have two sharpshooters in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Collectively, Portland finished 17th in three-pointers made per game.

The Blazers could use Love as he would add another element to the team. While he is a defensive liability, he could help spread the floor, secure boards, and guys in transition with easy outlet passes.

Love’s championship experience and calming presence would pay dividends as well. A big three of Dame, CJ, and KLo is more than respectable. and certainly in the thick of things out West.

Sacramento Kings

Priority: Acquire a Big

Sacramento finally has a core in which they believe could develop into a winning crop. The key is to get them to the next step and that is playing with consistency.

Thankfully, Harrison Barnes declined his $25 million player option and the Kings already made it clear they want to move on from Willie Cauley-Stein. That means they have some money to work with, but should focus on upgrading at center.

Big men like Adams, Horford, and Vuc make sense as steady veterans that won’t disrupt the growth of guys like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Marvin Bagley III. Another player that would fit nicely is Clint Capela who Houston has made available.

San Antonio Spurs

Priority: Trade DeMar DeRozan

It’s hard to see anyone taking on a lumbering big who can’t shoot threes which is what LaMarcus Aldridge is.

By default, DeRozan is the odd man out. His expiring contract will make a deal more likely too. Some contender in need of another scorer could use him.

Toronto Raptors

Priority: Retain Kawhi Leonard

Whatever stops Toronto needs to make to keep Kawhi, they need to do them and then some. They could win two or three more titles with the “Fun Guy.”

Toronto needs Kawhi more than Kawhi needs Toronto.

Utah Jazz

Priority: Sign Tobias Harris

The Jazz have $16.9 million reasons why they should decline their team option on Derrick Favors. They should instead look to add Tobias Harris who would help spread the floor in Utah. Although he struggles defensively, it wouldn’t matter when you have two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner Rudy Gobert roaming the paint.

When Utah added Mike Conley, they lifted their ceiling from a semifinals team to a conference finals threat. Adding Harris would put the Jazz on everyone’s radar as a team that could make it out the West. Especially if Donovan Mitchell elevates his game.

Washington Wizards

Priority: Figure Out the Beal

If John Wall was healthy, the Wizards priority for the summer would be to trade him. So, let’s focus on another pressing issue.

Bradley Beal is only 25, which means he is young enough to continue to build around. However, it’s unclear if he can lead a winning organization. He definitely screams Robin more than Batman.

The Wizards have made it clear that they want to keep Beal, but that doesn’t mean anything. They should give him a season to see if he can lead a team to winning basketball or if he is just a star with empty stats. If that’s the case, they can trade him and kick start a rebuild.

It’s a win-win for Washington.

All in All…

Certainly, free agency brings excitement for fans as they are looking for the splashy moves. But it is more than that for front offices. It’s about making the right move or, for some, not making many or any at all.

So, while the temperature rises because it’s summer, so too does the pressure on all 30 teams’ front offices.

Let the games begin.

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