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We’re still more than a month away from the NBA’s planned late-July reboot in Orlando, Florida, but it’s never too early to start speculating about the offseason.
Year after year, teams around the league use the summer (or, in this season’s case, the fall) to reevaluate, restock or restart altogether.
Free agency is often a key component of any offseason approach. And each of the NBA’s 30 teams has a vision, player or organizational structure it can sell to prospective signees.
The best sales pitches for all 30 follow.
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We have a Stephen Curry/Steve Nash hybrid who loves to pass and will command your defender’s attention.
It’s not hard to see why a free agent might want to play with Trae Young. He should be at the center of any pitch from the Atlanta Hawks.
The soon-to-be third-year guard has a gravitational pull on defenses thanks to shooting range that extends well beyond the three-point line. His 73 makes from 28-plus feet trailed only Damian Lillard’s 86, and he has vision, flair and a willingness to pass reminiscent of the seven-seconds-or-less version of Nash.
Put both traits together and you have one of the most productive young players of all time. Young’s 29.6 points per game are tied for the seventh-highest mark in league history for an NBA sophomore. His 9.3 assists are tied for the 10th-highest average for a second-year man.
It shouldn’t be hard to see why a free agent would want to play with someone who is on track to be a legitimate superstar point guard.
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Feel free to look back at our past, which includes 17 NBA championships, or forward at a future that includes Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. We have both directions covered just fine.
Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Larry Bird, Paul Pierce and more helped add to the Boston Celtics’ NBA-best 17 titles. Free agents who fancy themselves students of the game would certainly be intrigued by the legacy of this team and the potential to add to it.
And with Tatum and Brown on the roster, presumably for the next several years, it isn’t difficult to imagine a future in which additions are indeed made to an already loaded history.
Boston and head coach Brad Stevens were ahead of the trend on positionless basketball. Those two, along with Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker, make the Celtics a dynamic offensive squad that can attack from just about any angle. And the three wings make them one of the most switchable teams on the other end.
Plenty of free agents should be eager to fit into this team-first, historically significant organization.
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Having Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving makes us instant title contenders. And, as a bonus, they seem to enjoy philosophical discussions.
One has to wonder what KD might look like when he returns from his ruptured Achilles. The injury has been a death knell for multiple basketball careers, and Durant turns 32 in September.
But if he’s even 80-85 percent of the player he was before the devastating setback, the Brooklyn Nets should compete for top-of-the-East status. They’ll have two of the game’s very best shot creators.
Even a slowed-down Durant has a jumper few can challenge (just think about how late into his career Dirk Nowitzki, who was never as mobile as KD, remained effective). And Irving has made countless defenders look silly with his seemingly endless trove of dribble moves and finishes, even on the game’s brightest stages.
To be the No. 3 alongside these superstars, or even a rotation cog, will intrigue plenty.
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You can hang around Michael Jordan. Not good enough? Well, we have two solid young-ish guards and some moderately intriguing youngsters.
Few situations around the league are quite as uninspiring as that of the Charlotte Hornets. They’ve been mediocre for years, and there isn’t much on the roster to suggest that’ll change anytime soon.
Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier both had decent campaigns as the primary scoring options, but both failed to even register an average effective field-goal percentage.
There’s plenty of young talent around those two, including Miles Bridges and Malik Monk, but it’s tough to imagine a future superstar among the bunch.
Is the biggest selling point on this roster somehow P.J. Washington? The rookie taken with the 12th pick of the 2019 draft averaged 12.2 points and shot 37.4 percent from three this season.
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Our roster is better than our record suggests. We promise.
They have a built-in excuse with Otto Porter Jr.’s injury woes, but the Chicago Bulls were one of the league’s bigger underachievers in 2019-20.
In theory, a lineup of Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Porter, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. makes plenty of sense.
Satoransky is a ball-moving 1 who can space the floor off a ball-dominant 2 like LaVine. Porter has been one of the league’s consummate glue guys for years. Markkanen is ostensibly a modern big who pulls defenders out of the paint. Carter has the potential to be a solid defensive anchor with some playmaking ability.
But again, Porter only appearing in 14 games torpedoed Chicago’s shot at being competitive in plenty of contests. When he shared the floor with LaVine, rare as that was, the Bulls were plus-2.0 points per 100 possessions (63rd percentile).
So, the selling point here is that with the addition of one or two missing ingredients and relatively good health, this team should compete for a playoff spot right away.
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Collin Sexton has All-Star potential, and there’s a job opening to be his copilot.
In some ways, this pitch is similar to Atlanta’s (just on a smaller scale). Sexton isn’t Young. There’s no way to know whether he’ll ever move a team’s needle as far as Young already has for the Hawks. But 2019-20 was proof Sexton can be a bona fide top scorer.
He averaged 20.8 points and 1.5 threes while shooting 38.0 percent from deep. And there really isn’t a clear No. 2 on the roster.
Kevin Love was Cleveland’s second-leading scorer this season, but the Cavaliers should be shopping him this offseason. Andre Drummond could be a nice pick-and-roll partner, but it’s fair to wonder how well his more traditional game works in the modern NBA.
Younger players like Darius Garland, Cedi Osman and Kevin Porter Jr. are still, in many ways, offering more potential than results.
This could be where a potential free agent fits in. Sexton has a lot of work to do improving his playmaking for others, but that could be expedited by signing a dynamic scoring option to play alongside him.
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Have you watched Luka Doncic play basketball?
This might be the most obvious sell of any in this article. Doncic is one of the most dynamic playmakers the league has ever seen, regardless of experience level.
When you throw in the fact that he’s just 21 years old with plenty of room to improve (particularly as a shooter), wanting to play for the Dallas Mavericks should be a no-brainer for plenty of free agents.
Doncic is like Patrick Mahomes, possessing vision that allows him to see the entire floor and confidence that empowers him to make passes few others would dare.
Sure, he shoots a lot, but his 16.3 potential assists per game are tied for fourth in the NBA, and his aggressive mentality forces defenders to key in on him. That means more open looks for supporting players, which should appeal to free agents who may be interested in the Mavs.
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Have you watched Nikola Jokic play basketball?
Like Doncic, Jokic is essentially an oversized point guard who can survey the entire floor and hit receivers on time and on target. His impact as both the team’s lead scorer and lead playmaker is undeniable.
Over the course of his career, the Denver Nuggets’ net rating is plus-5.2 with Jokic on the floor and minus-4.3 with him off, per PBPStats.com. He’s sixth in NBA history in career box plus/minus. And no one in league history matches or exceeds his marks for points (21.6), rebounds (12.4) and assists (7.0) per 75 possessions.
Who wouldn’t want to play with a point center unlike any we’ve seen before?
Jokic is one of the handful of NBA players who truly makes his teammates better. If you’re willing to move, he’ll find you, and he almost always makes the right read.
“The good thing with Jok is, he makes the right play, every play,” teammate Will Barton told the Denver Post‘s Michael Singer. “I don’t know if [there has] been a player in NBA history that does that. Like, every play he makes the right play. … I’m serious.”
If we think of his 6.9 assists divided by his 10.9 potential assists per game as a completion percentage, he’s at 63.3 percent. For context’s sake, that’s the top mark among players averaging at least 5.0 assists. Domantas Sabonis’ 61.0 percent is second.
If you want easy buckets, few stars will spoon-feed you more.
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We’re the first team that gave you a real shot. Let’s keep building what we started.
You’ll notice this is the first time the first-person perspective addressed an incumbent.
After a breakout season in which he averaged 22.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.5 threes and 1.5 blocks per 75 possessions, ranked 33rd in box plus/minus and rocked a plus-11.0 net rating swing that ranked in the 96th percentile, Christian Wood is headed to free agency.
As a modern center who can space the floor, roll to the rim and protect the paint, Wood needs to be surrounded by shooters and playmakers who’ll allow him to continue his upward trajectory. The Pistons should make sure that happens in Detroit, and they can tug at heartstrings in search of a contract that works for everyone.
Wood played for the Philadelphia 76ers, Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans over the course of his first three seasons. They all moved on without giving him much of a role.
The Pistons trusted Wood, and he delivered.
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We’ll be back.
Thanks to Kevin Durant’s departure, Klay Thompson’s torn ACL and Stephen Curry’s broken hand, 2019-20 was a gap year for the Golden State Warriors, who had represented the Western Conference in each of the last five NBA Finals.
KD is not walking through that door, but Thompson and two-time MVP Curry will be back. Draymond Green should look more like his old self with the superstar scorers in the lineup, and Andrew Wiggins may finally be in the right role, something that could do wonders for his infamously inefficient game.
But here’s the rub: Golden State’s books are already overflowing with $148.9 million in salary committed to next season’s roster. That means minimums and exceptions are the only deals the Warriors can offer free agents, and the lure of the Bay Area may not be quite as strong as it was at the height of the dynasty.
Still, having two of the game’s most selfless superstars in Thompson and Curry should attract attention from veterans looking to contend for a title in the twilight of their careers.
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We have one of the greatest offensive players of all time. His mere presence means loads of open threes for you.
James Harden (5.96) is fifth in NBA history in career offensive box plus/minus and just a few hundredths of a point behind third-place Kevin Durant (6.01) and fourth-place Stephen Curry (6.0).
And though he and Russell Westbrook dominate the ball on the majority of the Houston Rockets’ possessions, their teammates never have to face schemes designed to slow them down. The result is the third-most wide-open threes of any team in the league this season, a rank that’s even more impressive when you consider that Harden leads the league (by a wide margin) in tightly contested threes.
When he or Westbrook control the middle of the floor, opposing defenses are naturally drawn toward them. That means precious extra time for shooters when they catch kick-outs from the lead guards.
Another selling point here is Mike D’Antoni, though that depends on whether he’s still there. Throughout his career, D’Antoni has helmed high-powered and exciting offenses, but his current contract is set to expire after this season.
“I think I have one of the NBA’s great coaches in Mike D’Antoni,” Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta told the Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen. “And I think I have one of the best basketball ops groups, Daryl [Morey] and his whole team. Personally, I love Mike. But I’m going to leave it up to the general manager. I surely would like to have Mike back. If Daryl wants to have Mike back, I’m sure Mike is going to be back.”
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We’re on the verge of a breakthrough. And every member of our core is 28 or younger.
Injuries have ravaged this season’s Indiana Pacers. Victor Oladipo had only played 13 games when the season shut down in mid-March. Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb had missed a combined 36 games, and Myles Turner was out for another 10.
And yet, Indy is currently fifth in the Eastern Conference and within two games of the fourth-place Miami Heat. It also has a 24-year-old All-Star center who’s averaging 5.0 assists per game.
If it can stay relatively healthy next season, this group—and whoever joins it in free agency—is going to be a problem in the East.
Even when they had four core players—Brogdon, Turner, Sabonis and T.J. Warren—on the floor without Oladipo, the Pacers were plus-8.0 points per 100 possessions (91st percentile).
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We have one of the greatest playoff performers in league history. Join us and you’ll compete for titles.
In 2019, Kawhi Leonard proved that he’s one of the very rare players across NBA history whose mere presence almost guarantees title contention.
In his lone season with the Toronto Raptors, Leonard totaled 7.7 wins over replacement player (value over replacement player times 2.7). That’s tied with 2009 LeBron James for the seventh-most in a single playoff run. LeBron, Tim Duncan, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan are the only players ahead of Kawhi on the all-time list.
Think back to those couple of months in which Leonard led Toronto to a title win over the Golden State Warriors. He seemed to be in complete control of every game. He brought a feeling of inevitability that felt reminiscent of some of Jordan’s title runs. He gave us one of the game’s most memorable buzzer-beaters in a Game 7 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
And now, with the Los Angeles Clippers, he has a supporting cast that includes Paul George, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Marcus Morris Sr., just to name a handful of teammates.
There’s a bit of uncertainty with Kawhi’s contract potentially ending in the 2021 offseason (if he doesn’t pick up a player option for 2021-22), but there’s almost no doubt L.A. will be in the hunt for the game’s top prize as long as he’s there.
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LeBron James and Anthony Davis will be on our team for the foreseeable future. Oh, and we’re the Los Angeles Lakers.
This is essentially the same argument as the Clippers having Kawhi. As long as the Lakers have their current top two, they’ll be in the title discussion.
But this franchise has the added bonus of organizational history rivaled only by the Boston Celtics. And even though the Lakers have one fewer title than Boston, they have more recent success with the Shaquille O’Neal-and-Kobe Bryant and Kobe-and-Pau Gasol teams that won 5 titles since 2000.
So, if there are free agents who are drawn to both historical prestige and modern dominance, there may not be a more desirable landing spot.
In terms of the basketball, anyone coming in would likely be no higher than No. 3 on the totem pole. LeBron is one of the two or three best players of all time. AD is arguably top-five in the league right now. But even in what might be a reduced role for some, No. 3 status on this team could mean a chance at increased efficiency.
There should be open looks aplenty with defenses having to focus on the super-duper-stars.
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The average age of the Memphis Grizzlies this season is 22.8. We’re the youngest team in the NBA. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. are 20 years old. Brandon Clarke is 23. And we’re already in the pole position for the eight seed in the West. We might have the most exciting young core in the league.
After years as perhaps the game’s prime example of grind-it-out basketball, the front office and head coach Taylor Jenkins remade the Grizzlies into a much faster squad and entrusted the whole experiment to a dynamic rookie point guard.
All this has led to a slightly below-average offense in 2019-20, but we have to remember this is just Year 1 of the Morant era. The fact that the team is already in the hunt for a playoff spot is encouraging. Experience for the younger players should lead to a more efficient attack.
And if there’s a young-ish free agent who wants to join a team that may be nearing its peak right when the current powers are starting to slide down theirs, he should probably take a look at Memphis.
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We should probably mention at the top that the Miami Heat may be poised to essentially pass on free agency. It’s not a robustly talented class, and the only guaranteed money on the books for 2021-22 is Jimmy Butler’s $36.0 million and KZ Okpala’s $1.8 million.
That means plenty of cap space for the summer of 2021, in which Bam Adebayo will be a restricted free agent and Giannis Antetokounmpo could enter unrestricted free agency.
“Everything they’ve done, any call that goes through them, it starts with, ‘How does this affect 2021?'” a general manager told Heavy’s Sean Deveney. “They want to be able to make that good pitch, with Jimmy Butler and [head coach Erik Spoelstra] and Pat Riley, that’s important to them. And it starts with Giannis.”
Prying Antetokounmpo away from the Milwaukee Bucks is going to be tough, but it’s not hard to imagine a Big Three with him, Butler and Adebayo dominating the Eastern Conference.
The pitch to 2020 free agents has a lot to do with the opportunity to play with these stars. If Miami doesn’t want to hinder its 2021 pursuits, it’ll be going after lower-level free agents this summer. And those role players should be very interested in the culture that transformed players like James Johnson and Dion Waiters, as well as the idea of playing with Butler, Adebayo and whomever Riley might land in 2021.
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How would you like to play with a hybrid of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James?
I’m not sure we fully appreciate what Giannis Antetekounmpo is doing this season.
He’s averaging 32.9 points, 15.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists per 75 possessions, a level of production that is literally unprecedented. And his 10.9 box plus/minus over the last two seasons matches the mark Stephen Curry put up over the course of his two MVP campaigns.
As long as he’s around, the Milwaukee Bucks will be a title contender. And the opportunity to play alongside him should make the team’s free-agency targets borderline giddy.
With Antetokounmpo controlling the middle of the floor and Khris Middleton spacing things, life is significantly easier for any other Buck in the game.
Of course, we just hinted at Giannis’ 2021 free agency, a topic that is sure to generate plenty of conversation and speculation unless—or until—he re-ups with Milwaukee. That might be cause for concern for a potential signee, but there’s little doubt that the 2020-21 version of the team will be among the game’s best.
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Let’s stay on this path together.
Like the Pistons section, this one focuses on the team’s own free agents. Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez, both of whom broke out in their abbreviated time with the Minnesota Timberwolves, look like good fits alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell.
For his career, Beasley averaged 7.4 points and shot 38.2 percent from three before he was traded to Minnesota. He averaged 20.7 points and shot 42.6 percent from three once he was on the Timberwolves.
Hernangomez saw a similar bump, going from 4.7 points per game and a 34.9 three-point percentage in Denver to 12.9 points per contest and a 42.0 three-point percentage in Minny.
Flanking Russell-KAT pick-and-rolls with the shooting of those two feels like a recipe for offensive success.
And while some teams are likely to chase these two in restricted free agency, Minnesota will have the ability to match any offer sheet they sign. If they can preempt that hunt by locking both into reasonable deals, even better.
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We’re a lot more than Zion Williamson.
Playing alongside Zion figures to be a good draw for free agents throughout the foreseeable future. The 19-year-old forward is averaging 27.5 points per 75 possessions, a mark that ranks 11th this season and second all-time among rookies.
The New Orleans Pelicans are plus-10.2 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor and minus-2.0 when he’s off, giving him a plus-12.2-point swing that ranks in the 97th percentile.
But again, this is far from a one-man show.
Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are all under contract for next season. All-Star Brandon Ingram is a free agent, but he’s restricted, which means New Orleans can match whatever deal he signs.
If he’s back, the Pelicans should absolutely compete for the playoffs in 2020-21. When Ingram has shared the floor with Zion, New Orleans is plus-14.1 points per 100 possessions (99th percentile).
This is another young core that free agents should have plenty of interest in joining. And its top two, Zion and Ingram, may be further ahead of schedule than Morant and JJJ.
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Help us bring basketball glory back to Madison Square Garden.
The New York Knicks have been to the playoffs five times in the last 20 seasons. During the same stretch, they have the league’s worst regular-season record.
But believe it or not, this particular group may include some slivers of hope.
Over the course of his two NBA seasons, Mitchell Robinson’s box plus/minus is tied for 35th in the league. He’s first in blocks per 75 possessions. And the Knicks’ net rating is 5.2 points per 100 possessions better when he’s on the floor.
His teammate, RJ Barrett, was one of the league’s least efficient players this season, but if you squint, you can see hints of a modern point forward’s game that should fit well alongside Robinson.
Frank Ntilikina showed flashes of defensive potential this season, posting an above-average defensive box plus/minus. And Kevin Knox remains raw but intriguing as a floor spacer who can theoretically cover multiple positions.
If a free agent is looking for a team on the rise, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are likely higher on his list, but New York may come close to leveling the playing field by touting its market.
Or maybe it’ll just trade for Chris Paul and use him as the free-agent draw.
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With or without CP3, we’re on the way up.
If the Oklahoma City Thunder hang onto Chris Paul through the offseason, the pitch is simply to come and play with one of the greatest point guards of all time.
In 2019-20, Paul has shown he still has it. Actually, he may have more than it.
The 35-year-old floor general is averaging 17.7 points and 6.8 assists with a 60.9 true shooting percentage and a box plus/minus that ranks 16th in the NBA. OKC is plus-6.7 points per 100 possessions with CP3 on the floor and minus-6.7 with him off, giving him a plus-13.4 swing that ranks in the 98th percentile.
Few players in the history of the league command possessions as effectively as Paul, who always seems to know where every defender is and exactly which play to make.
If the Thunder want to continue on this current trajectory, they’ll almost certainly be in the postseason again.
If, on the other hand, they want to move the aging point guard for assets to add to their already bursting-at-the-seams trove, they should still be a desirable landing spot for free agents.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a rising playmaker who actually topped Donovan Mitchell in a blind poll pitting the two guards’ numbers against each other. He has superstar potential and is in the middle of a crash course in team management from CP3.
With him and the mountain of future picks the Thunder have at their disposal, this team is primed for one of the brighter futures in the NBA.
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We have Disney World?
Nikola Vucevic is better than people realize. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the only player in the league who matches or exceeds his averages for points (23.3), rebounds (23.4) and assists (4.4) per 75 possessions over the last two seasons.
Aaron Gordon is an athletic marvel who still seems like he has another level or two to get to as a basketball player. If he can improve his scoring efficiency and continue to progress as a playmaker and passer, he has a chance to be one of the league’s better contributors on both ends.
Then there’s Markelle Fultz. Despite an opening two seasons shrouded in mystery, he’s still just 22 years old and has had a mini breakout in his first campaign with the Orlando Magic.
But even with solid players and no state income tax in Florida, it may be tough for free agents to look at this roster and imagine an easy exit from the treadmill of mediocrity.
Orlando has hovered between a 24.4 and 51.2 winning percentage through the nine seasons since Dwight Howard left, and there doesn’t appear to be a surefire future superstar who can pull the Magic out of the doldrums.
Maybe they can sell a free agent on being that player.
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Join the process.
It wasn’t all roses, but Sam Hinkie’s process paid off for the Philadelphia 76ers. It landed the team Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, who rank 23rd and 18th, respectively, in box plus/minus over the last five seasons.
Say what you will about the fit between the two, but there’s no denying the raw talent there.
Simmons’ playmaking, rebounding, finishing and Swiss Army knife defense make him one of the game’s most versatile players. Embiid is a foul-drawing machine who is among the game’s top defensive anchors.
The problem may be the supporting players.
Over the course of JJ Redick’s two seasons in Philly, the Sixers were plus-13.8 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor with Simmons and Embiid. They have been plus-2.0 points per 100 possessions with the two stars on the floor this season.
Truly elite floor spacing is the key to making this duo work. Finding it is easier said than done, though.
If there are any shooters on the market who want to help a team go from fringe contender to powerhouse, they should be interested in joining the process.
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Our core is already good. Help get us over the top.
The Phoenix Suns have been plus-9.5 points per 100 possessions (94th percentile) when Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Ricky Rubio are all on the floor. But their minus-1.7 overall net rating ranks 20th in the NBA.
The obvious point to be made is that things fall apart when the stars aren’t in. If Phoenix can find free agents who could even help the reserves hold steady against opposing second units, the Suns would have a shot at the 2020-21 postseason.
Now, that might not be the most appealing pitch to many free agents, but Phoenix probably won’t have the cap space to go after big names anyway. It should pursue the mid-tier guys and hidden gems who can bolster the bench.
And for those guys, the chance to play with rising stars like Booker and Ayton should be intriguing.
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Damian Lillard is an offensive powerhouse and one of the game’s most loyal and effective leaders.
It could mix in some franchise history, the local culture and a handful of solid supporting players (or near-stars), including CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, but the beginning, middle and end of any sales pitch from the Portland Trail Blazers should focus on Damian Lillard.
He is ninth in NBA history in career offensive box plus/minus and has embraced his smaller-market team in a way few superstars ever do.
“I wanna be the one, the star that wants to be here,” Lillard told Complex’s Adam Caparell in August 2019 of his desire to stay in Portland. “I wanna be the one that embodies all of those things and then be a part of the rise from ‘we haven’t won since ’77, and now we won, and Dame’s everything to our city.'”
The devotion to team and city is admirable, especially during an age in which player movement is more common than it’s ever been.
If a free agent is interested in the Blazers, knowing that Lillard will be there through thick and thin can only make the option more appealing.
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Don’t forget our young core.
The 2018-19 Sacramento Kings were a pleasant surprise, competing for a playoff berth far later into the season than many expected. Stagnation, or perhaps even a slight step back, seems to have taken them off the minds of plenty of fans in 2019-20.
But De’Aaron Fox has been markedly better this season, posting increases in box plus/minus, true shooting percentage, rebounding percentage and assist percentage.
The Sonic-fast point guard is another up-and-coming star with whom free agents should be eager to team up. He can get to the rim in a heartbeat, forcing defenses to collapse and creating open looks for teammates.
At 27, shooting guard Buddy Hield is a bit older, but he’s another King to whom potential signees should pay attention. This season, Hield is taking 9.7 three-point attempts per game, the 10th-highest mark in NBA history. Stephen Curry is the only player in league history to exceed his marks for both three-point attempts per game and three-point percentage.
That combination of volume and accuracy from deep makes Hield one of the game’s top floor spacers, pulling defenses away from the paint and giving bigs like Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley III easier looks inside.
Sacramento may have stalled a bit in 2019-20, but there’s still plenty of room for growth for many of its key players. It wouldn’t be tough to see why a solid free agent might want to join for the ride.
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This isn’t the end.
The San Antonio Spurs have made 22 consecutive trips to the playoffs, a streak that will almost certainly end this season. FiveThirtyEight‘s most recent projection gave them a 2 percent chance to get in.
The downturn has stemmed from a series of moves that simply didn’t work out, from hefty extensions for LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol to the Kawhi Leonard trade that netted them DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl to the dreadful deal that sent Davis Bertans to the Washington Wizards, where he was instantly unleashed and become one of the NBA’s top floor spacers.
But even over a few years with tough-to-justify moves, the Spurs have picked up some younger players who still have plenty of potential.
Lonnie Walker IV is 21, Dejounte Murray is 23, and Derrick White is 25. And though all three appear to have the defensive chops to join the positionless revolution and play together, head coach Gregg Popovich has given the trio just nine non-garbage-time possessions.
Unless it’s appealing to nostalgia or its once-storied ability to prolong the careers of veterans, San Antonio should shift to a youth movement. Tell prospective free agents that it’s looking to the future and planning to modernize behind its intriguing young guard corps.
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We’re the new organizational standard.
Over the last few years, the Toronto Raptors have become one of (if not the) standard-bearers for organizational stability, player development and year-to-year excellence.
Since 2013-14, president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri’s first full season at the helm, Toronto has the third-best winning percentage in the league. Limit the sample to the last three seasons and it jumps up to first.
And, of course, the Raptors are the reigning NBA champions.
But the most striking illustration of this team’s consistently stellar performance may actually be what it’s done this season. Despite losing one of the game’s premier three-and-D wings (Danny Green) and a future Hall of Famer (Kawhi Leonard) last summer, the Raptors have the exact same record that they did at the same point last year.
The number of injuries they’ve battled makes that even more impressive. Toronto has lost the third-most wins over replacement player due to injuries in 2019-20.
This is another hallmark of the Raptors’ system. Whether it’s Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam or Marc Gasol, regardless of who goes down, there is someone in place who’s ready to carry a heftier responsibility.
Plus, Toronto plays like a team ready to defend its crown when everyone is in action. When Lowry, OG Anunoby, Siakam and Gasol are all on the floor, the Raptors have been plus-13.0 points per 100 possessions (98th percentile).
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We’re one of the league’s most stable organizations, have a selfless superstar in Rudy Gobert and boast a rising lead scorer in Donovan Mitchell.
Under the direction of a front office led by Dennis Lindsey, a bench led by Quin Snyder and a defense anchored by Gobert, the Utah Jazz have been one of the NBA’s steadiest presences over the last four seasons.
Over that stretch, Utah is fourth in simple rating system (which combines point differential and strength of schedule), trailing only the Rockets, Raptors and Warriors.
Among players on the roster, Gobert is the biggest reason for the success. Since he became the full-time starting 5, Utah has been plus-6.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and minus-0.8 with him off.
Few stars are as selfless as Gobert. Over the last five seasons, he’s second in the league in true shooting percentage, sixth in win shares per 48 minutes, 24th in box plus/minus and…269th in usage rate. When your best player doesn’t demand tons of touches and shots, it’s easier to keep everyone happy.
That’s part of how Mitchell has been able to seize such a massive portion of the team’s offense during his young career. As he continues to develop, the Jazz should have one of the league’s better top twos, assuming they can stay on the same page.
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Bradley Beal is one of the game’s best offensive players. John Wall will be back. And we have an intriguing group of younger players to support them.
Like several of this season’s sub-.500 teams, the Washington Wizards have had some lineup combinations that were actually pretty successful.
In the 2,000-plus possessions in which Beal and Davis Bertans have both been on the floor, Washington has scored an eye-popping 121.7 points per 100 possessions (99th percentile) and outscored opponents by 2.4 points per 100 possessions (65th percentile).
Next season, if that duo is supplemented by a healthy Wall, a one-year-further-along Rui Hachimura and a solid free-agent acquisition, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wizards as a comfortable playoff team in the Eastern Conference.