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The 2022 NBA offseason is here.
If you thought the championship collision between the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics was wild, just wait to see what the summer could have in store.
There are multiple marquee free agents on the market, several top-tier teams that could be on the verge of major change and trade candidates galore.
So, how hectic could this get? To tackle that question, we’re turning the boldness setting on our prognostication machine all the way up to deliver five bold (but not impossible) predictions.
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Despite having the league’s MVP for a second consecutive season in Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets never seriously factored into the championship race. That’s because injuries robbed their centerpiece of a co-star, as Jamal Murray never suited up (torn ACL) and Michael Porter Jr. played only nine uncharacteristically unproductive games (back surgery).
While Denver could stand pat and hope for better fortune on the medical front next season, Porter’s injury history complicates that option. This was his third back surgery since 2017. It’s possible he’ll be damaged goods going forward, or at least someone who requires careful health maintenance.
Do the Nuggets want to take that risk? You could argue they shouldn’t. Not when Jokic is in the heart of an apparently generational prime. And especially not when Porter’s five-year, $172.6 million extension hasn’t even kicked in yet.
Denver would be selling low on a Porter swap this summer, but who’s to say that his value will get better from here? Besides, a team that can afford to be more patient than the win-now Nuggets might give up more in a Porter trade than you think.
When healthy, he’s a 6’10”, three-level scorer. He hasn’t celebrated his 24th birthday yet. He could be a dream get for the right rebuilder.
As for the Nuggets—who notably are no longer run by Tim Connelly, the executive who both drafted and later maxed out Porter—they might not require a king’s ransom. If they see enough star power between Jokic and Murray, they could use a Porter deal to balance out this roster with defensive-minded role players.
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During the most important stretch of their most important game of the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves decided they were better off without D’Angelo Russell. The former All-Star and max-money recipient was benched for the final 4:53 of their season-ending, Game 6 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, ceding his spot to undrafted, third-year player Jordan McLaughlin.
In case that decision didn’t make the writing on the wall completely legible, Marc Stein reported soon thereafter that “numerous rival teams expect the Wolves to try to trade Russell this offseason” (h/t Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk).
Despite the benching, dealing Russell would be a bold move. Minnesota just made only its second playoff appearance since 2004, and he was at the heart of that success. He paced the club with 7.1 assists and ranked third in scoring with 18.1 points. He also has a close friendship with face of the Karl-Anthony Towns franchise.
Having said that, Russell has only one year and $31.4 million left on his current contract. If the Timberwolves are unconvinced he can deliver when it matters most, they may not want to foot the bill of his next deal and could instead seek a way out this summer.
If Russell hits the trade market, the Los Angeles Clippers should be in hot pursuit. Their point guard position could use a lift, and they need more scorers and shot-creators around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Plus, Russell’s remaining salary and pending payday shouldn’t scare off team governor Steve Ballmer, who has the NBA’s deepest pockets.
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Before the Portland Trail Blazers even completed their race to the bottom, they made clear that they had zero intentions of staying there for long.
“This, theoretically is a really quick step backward,” general manager Joe Cronin said, per Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. “We’re not looking at two, three, four years of this.”
For the Blazers, who went 27-55 on the season and 2-21 after the All-Star break, to rapidly (and radically) rebuild around Damian Lillard, they should aim higher than oft-rumored target Jerami Grant.
Prying 2018 No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton away from the Phoenix Suns might do the trick. It could be doable, too, as B/R’s Jake Fischer relayed a belief around the Association that “Phoenix brass simply does not view Ayton, or any center, as a player worth greater than $30 million annually.”
If Ayton is obtainable—whether through an outright signing or a sign-and-trade—then Portland might be ready to pounce. The 6’11”, 250-pounder could be an ideal anchor and dynamic pick-and-roll partner with Lillard. Ayton’s offensive involvement has been up and down in Phoenix, yet he’s still sitting on four-year averages of 19.1 points per 36 minutes and 59.9 percent shooting.
If the Blazers can acquire Ayton without losing Anfernee Simons or Josh Hart, they could be right back in the mix of the Western Conference’s second-tier contenders.
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In the span of one season, the Memphis Grizzlies rocketed up from pesky play-in participant to the West’s No. 2 seed and a conference semifinalist. Given their wealth of 25-and-under talent, their most obvious path forward is talent retention and player development.
However, Memphis could blow the top off its ceiling by boldly acquiring an elite talent this summer.
If the Grizzlies delay a megadeal any longer, they risk lacking the resources to get one done. Ja Morant is extension-eligible this offseason, and his new, almost assuredly max-level wages will kick in for the 2023-24 campaign.
So, look for Memphis to be knocking on doors, blowing up phone lines and chasing big fish in free agency and via trades all summer. The Grizzlies have roughly $20 million to spend, plus they are overloaded with trade assets (including draft picks and a slew of prospects) to help broker a blockbuster.
If the Grizz want a dynamic perimeter scorer to take some heat off Morant, they could swing big for Bradley Beal or Zach LaVine. If they covet an upgrade on the wing, they could make a trade for 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 Myles Turner might be in the works.
Either way, they have options—and a ticking clock. The age of Memphis’ roster may not demand an acceleration, but the escalating cost of it sure does.
At this point, the simplest path would be using roughly $20 million in cap space this offseason to get the best free agent interested in joining the Grizzlies. That could be enough for someone who can help them immediately and for the long term.
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What seemed like a straightforward free agency between Zach LaVine and the Chicago Bulls now seems like anything but.
First, LaVine told reporters that he planned “to enjoy free agency” and that he had “to do this as a business decision, as a man, to not just be viewed one way and be like I’m automatically coming back or I’ m automatically leaving.” Then, NBC Sports Chicago’s KC Johnson reported LaVine’s return “no longer is considered the slam dunk it once was.”
This is exactly the kind of opening on which Heat president Pat Riley often pounces. His team also happens to need a half-court shot-creator in the worst kind of way—none of Jimmy Butler’s teammates averaged even 15 points in the playoffs—and his roster just happens to feature a massive sign-and-trade chip in Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro.
The fact there is already drama around LaVine’s free agency before it even starts leads one to believe there’s a good deal of fire beneath all of this smoke. That doesn’t prevent a return to the Windy City, but it’s debatable whether either LaVine or the Bulls should see championship potential in the other.
If LaVine looks for the exits, he should be open to sign-and-trades, since most of the teams with money to spend are farther from contention than Chicago. That’s where Miami could make its move, much as it did with Butler (coincidentally, a former Bull) back in 2019.
The Heat could decide that having the 32-year-old Butler at the helm means they don’t have the time to wait for Herro’s next level of development. The Bulls, who recorded one playoff trip and zero series wins across LaVine’s five seasons in Chicago, could be worried about spending too much too soon on a non-contender.
If those concessions happen, they could be followed by a handshake agreement sending LaVine to South Beach.
Statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Salary information via spotrac.