0 out of 5
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The 2022 NBA offseason is here.
If you thought the championship clash between the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics was wild, just wait to see what might be in store this summer.
There are some outstanding free agents on the market, some top-tier teams that could be on the cusp of major changes, and plenty of trade candidates.
So how hectic can it be? To answer this question, we increase the boldness setting on our prediction machine to five bold (but not impossible) predictions.
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Despite Nikola Jokic becoming the league’s MVP for the second straight season, the Denver Nuggets have never seriously entered the championship race. That’s because injuries robbed their main character of a major role, with Jamal Murray never dressing up (anterior cruciate ligament tear) and Michael Porter Jr. only playing nine uncharacteristically unproductive plays (back surgery).
While Denver can stand still and hope for better luck on the medical front next season, Porter’s injury history makes that an option. This was his third back surgery since 2017. Perhaps in the future he will become a damaged product, or at least someone who needs careful maintenance of health.
Are the Nuggets willing to take that risk? You might argue that they shouldn’t. Not when Jokic is in the middle of a generational prime. And especially not when Porter’s $172.6 million five-year extension hasn’t even gone into effect yet.
Denver will sell Porter’s swap cheaply this summer, but who said its value will improve from now on? Also, a team that can afford to be more patient than the Nuggets who are winning right now could turn down a bigger Porter deal than you think.
When healthy, he is 6’10” tall and gains three levels. He has not yet celebrated his 24th birthday. He could be a dream come true for the right rebuilder.
As for the Nuggets, notably no longer managed by Tim Connelly, the chief executive who both drafted and later maximized Porter, they may not be seeking a royal ransom. If they see enough star power between Jokic and Murray, they could use the Porter deal to balance this lineup with defense-minded RPGs.
2 out of 5
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During the most important stretch of the most important game of the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves decided they were better off without D’Angelo Russell. The former All-Star and maximum money earner was sent to the bench for the last 4:53 of the final season in a Game 6 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies to make way for third-year undrafted Jordan McLaughlin.
Just in case the decision didn’t make the graffiti completely legible, Mark Stein revealed shortly afterward that “numerous rival teams expect the Wolves to try to trade Russell this offseason” (h/t Kurt Helin Pro Basketball Talk).
Despite being on the bench, a deal with Russell would have been a bold move. Minnesota had just made the playoffs for only the second time since 2004, and he was at the heart of that success. He led the club with 7.1 assists to finish third in scoring with 18.1 points. He also has close friendship with the face of the Karl-Anthony Towns franchise.
Having said that, Russell only has one year and $31.4 million left on his current contract. If the Timberwolves aren’t convinced he can deliver on what matters most, they may not want to pay the bill for his next deal and look for an exit this summer instead.
If Russell makes it to the trade, the Los Angeles Clippers should be in hot pursuit. Their point guard position could be improved and they need more scorers and shotmakers around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Also, Russell’s remaining paycheck and an expected payday shouldn’t deter team governor Steve Ballmer, who has deepest pockets.
3 out of 5
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Even before the Portland Trail Blazers ended their race to the bottom, they made it clear they didn’t intend to stay there for long.
“Theoretically, this is a really quick step back,” said general manager Joe Cronin. Aaron Fentress from Oregonian. “We’re not looking at two, three, four years of this.”
For the Blazers, who went 27-55 this season and 2-21 after the All-Star break, to quickly (and radically) rebuild around Damian Lillard, they need to aim higher than Jerami Grant is often rumored to be.
2018 #1 overall distraction Deandre Ayton from the Phoenix Suns could help. It could also be doable, as B/R’s Jake Fischer expressed the Association’s view that “Phoenix management simply doesn’t see Ayton or any other center as a player worth more than $30 million a year.”
If Ayton can be obtained—by direct contract signing or trade—then Portland may be ready to attack. The 6-foot-11, 250-pounder, would be the perfect anchor and dynamic pick-and-roll partner with Lillard. Ayton’s offensive activity has been up and down in Phoenix, but he’s still picking up his four-year average. 19.1 points in 36 minutes and 59.9 percent shooting.
If the Blazers can sign Ayton without losing Anferny Simons or Josh Hart, they could return to the Western Conference second tier contenders.
4 out of 5
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In one season, the Memphis Grizzlies went from being a pesky play-iner to a #2 seed in the West and a conference semi-finalist. Given their wealth of talent aged 25 and under, their most obvious path forward is talent retention and player development.
However, Memphis could be blown away by boldly acquiring elite talent this summer.
If the Grizzlies continue to delay the mega deal, they may not have the resources to complete it. Ja Morant is eligible for an extension this off-season and his new, almost certain maximum wage will work in the 2023-24 campaign.
So, expect Memphis to be knocking on doors, blasting phone lines and chasing big fish in free agency and through deals all summer long. The Grizzlies have about $20 million to spend, plus they’re overwhelmed with trading assets (including draft picks and plenty of prospects) to help build a blockbuster.
If the Grizz want a dynamic perimeter scorer to take some of the heat off Morant, they could take a swing at Bradley Beal or Zach LaVine. If they want to get a wing upgrade, they can trade OG Anunoby or try their luck with restricted free agent Miles Bridges. If center is their preferred target, then a deal for Rudy Gobert or Miles Turner could be in the works.
Either way, they have options—and a ticking clock. The age of the Memphis squad may not require speeding up, but the rising cost certainly does.
At this point, the easiest route would be to use about $20 million in the offseason to get the best free agent interested in joining the Grizzlies. This may be enough for someone who can help them immediately and in the long run.
5 out of 5
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What seemed like a simple free agency between Zach LaVine and the Chicago Bulls is no longer the same.
First, LaVine told reporters that he planned to “enjoy free agency” and that he was to “make it as a business decision, like a man, to not just look one way and be like I automatically come back or automatically leave.” Then NBC Sports Chicago KC Johnson reported that LaVine’s comeback “is no longer considered the slam dunk it once was.”
This is exactly the kind of discovery that Heat president Pat Riley often lashes out at. Also, his team badly needs a half-court shotmaker – none of Jimmy Butler’s teammates have even averaged 15 playoff points – and his lineup just has a huge chip to sign and trade in sixth place. Man of the Year Tyler Herro.
The fact that LaVine’s freedom of action was already underway with drama before it even started suggests that there’s a fair amount of fire lurking under all that smoke. That doesn’t stop a return to the Windy City, but it’s debatable whether LaVine or the Bulls see championship potential elsewhere.
If LaVine is looking for a way out, he should be open to signing and trading as most of the teams with the money are further away from the rivalry than Chicago. Here’s where Miami can make its move, as it did with Butler (coincidentally, a former Bull) back in 2019.
The Heat may decide that having the 32-year-old Butler at the helm means they don’t have time to wait for Herro’s next level of development. The Bulls, who have recorded one playoff appearance and zero series wins in LaVine’s five seasons in Chicago, may worry about spending too much on a non-contender too soon.
If these concessions come through, they could be followed by a handshake agreement sending LaVine to South Beach.