In Free Agents We Trust

This is a guest post by Tim Adkins.

It’s here.

We are mere hours away from the most precious day of next season for all the teams who did not win a championship two weeks ago: the first day of NBA free agency.(*)

If you’ve spent any time perusing the NBA rumor-sphere, you have no doubt heard many interesting ideas regarding which players may or may not be changing jerseys. We’d like to consider a few of them—along with their plausibility.

Keeping Marc Gasol

It can be easy to dismiss Memphis as a fatally-flawed contender. They can defend. And they can control tempo. But they can never seem to find enough shooting. Or good health. But they are a nemesis to multiple Western Conference contenders. And that matters. If they can find enough good health, the franchise is in position to make a Finals run. So long as they keep Marc Gasol. Which is all but guaranteed to happen.

Where Is the Love?

We know Portland could have a need should they lose LaMarcus Aldridge. Boston and Houston are both still seriously courting the stretch four. It’s essentially a desperation move for the Celtics as they need someone to come and take their money. While Portland is home, the retooling franchise might offer only a marginally better situation than Love left in Minnesota. Houston, on the other hand, could get pretty lethal with a three-headed iconoclast trying to prove they can win a championship despite all the numbers that say they probably shouldn’t be able to. That makes it a coin flip for Love vis a vis his options to chase a ring. Cleveland or Houston? Heads says Cleveland. Heads, it appears to be.

The Passion of Dwyane Wade

The guy has left a lot of money on the table in service of the franchise’s best interests. He wants to be reimbursed in some way. That makes sense. So everything we hear about Wade negotiating with the Heat sounds like posturing. But what if he feels deeply wronged by management’s best offer? What other team makes sense for him at this point? The Lakers would be good brand alignment for him. The Knicks would offer him a possible path to contention in a perennially weak conference. And the Cavs would be the most direct path to another title. Doubtful any of those teams sincerely pursues him, though. Wade will be a 305 guy for life.

Testing the Limits of Jimmy Butler’s Faith

Butler is restricted. So his freedom to move is limited. Chicago has offered him both short-term and long-term deals. He famously declined an offer last year because he believed himself to be a max guy. Will he do it again? Does he believe the Bulls are the right franchise for him? Smart money says Jimmy Buckets makes another short-term bet on himself so he can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Brandon Knight v. Eric Bledsoe

When Phoenix shuffled combo guards at last year’s trade deadline, conventional wisdom suggested they were merely trying to right the wrong of their odd gamble on Isiah Thomas. They signed him last summer as insurance against losing Bledsoe. When they wound up keeping Bledsoe, they had a glut of unhappy campers. Moving Thomas and Goran Dragic to bring in Brandon Knight was supposed to solve that. But there are an unusual amount of trade rumors swirling around Bledsoe suggesting that maybe the Suns are giving up on their two-PG strategy. Bledsoe’s contract is a monster, and won’t be easy to move. Expect this one to turn into a collaboration between the two young guards instead of a one-must-go-scenario.

Reggie Jackson v. Brandon Jennings

Jackson, you may remember, was the mid-season acquisition made by the Pistons following Jennings’ achilles injury. Jackson is restricted. So this pairing has potential to get testy next season. Especially since a rehabbing Jennings isn’t moving any time soon. But Jackson? There are a few teams that could use some help in the backcourt and one of them may make it difficult to keep Mr. Not October. Maybe a desperate Dallas team? Extra added emphasis on maybe. Look for this competition to become a reluctant collaboration as well.

Stealing LaMarcus Aldridge and Wes Matthews

It appears that Dallas and Toronto both have this idea as both are scheduled to meet with the two long-time Portland Trail Blazers. Makes much more sense for Toronto than Dallas. And Toronto might be able to maneuver just enough to keep the strongest parts of their nucleus while also offering substantial deals to the newcomers. This one is doubtful. But among the most interesting ideas floating around as it would immediately make the Eastern Conference a legit two-horse race.

Pairing LaMarcus Aldridge with DeAndre Jordan

Another idea shared by multiple franchises: the Mavericks, Knicks, and Lakers. All three have enough cap space to be able to concoct some funky contract mechanics making it worthwhile for both big men. The Mavericks and Knicks both have such unsettled back court situations that it’s hard to imagine both Aldridge and Jordan teaming up in Dallas or New York. But the Lakers? Year one of D’Angelo Russell plus year twenty of Kobe Bryant isn’t the most inspired backcourt option. But it would be among the most intriguing. And that’s probably part of why the dynamic-duo-that-could-be is meeting with the Lakers. Mitch Kupchak has been known to pull off title-altering moves like this. Sadly, this one is a long shot even for him as Aldridge and Jordan appear destined to remain apart with one likely staying with the Clippers and the other on his way to San Antonio.

Greg Monroe: Safety Big

He’s meeting with both the Knicks and Lakers. He might favor the Knicks. But what happens if Aldridge spurns the Lakers? He’d be a strikingly similar match with Jordan if the defensive savant chooses to change locker rooms at Staples. Even if Jordan spurns the Lakers as well, Monroe makes sense as a short-term gamble for the Lakers as they have both money to spend and a massive need in the front court. He’s not gonna anchor your defense, but he can rebound and help make your offense hum. With Al Horford and Joakim Noah both potentially available next summer, help could be coming soon. If Monroe doesn’t sign with the Knicks early, watch for the Lakers to make an aggressive run at their safety big.

Stealing Danny Green

Assuming that Aldridge dons a Spurs jersey next season, San Antonio is unlikely to be able to keep their second-best perimeter defender. No way they let Kawhi Leonard walk. Especially since he’d help make Aldridge’s life considerably easier for the duration of his new contract. Look for a peripheral Eastern conference team to swoop in and steal Green. New York and Detroit are the most likely destinations. The Knicks, unable to win any other free agent bids, get the kind of big guard with which Phil Jackson has always been enamored.

(*) With some apologies to the NBA draft.

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