1 Early Free-Agency Prediction for Every NBA Team

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    Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

    NBA free agency is always a good time.

    The buildup to the market’s actual opening can be just as enjoyable.

    It’s speculation season when basketball junkies unite in our love of tea-leaf reading, cap-space computing and the glorious game of player-team matchmaking. While many spots on the hoops calendar can make a decent argument for the most wonderful time of the year, this one is pretty great.

    With that said, let’s get the speculation started with a free-agency prediction for all 30 teams.

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    Wendell Cruz/Associated Press

    Things could get uncomfortable at the negotiating table quickly when John Collins, a restricted free agency, sits down with the Atlanta Hawks this summer.

    In March 2020, Collins told The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner he sees himself “in max contract contention.” When the Hawks offered Collins an extension before the season, it was “in excess of $90 million,” per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst (h/t B/R’s Adam Wells). That’s a massive amount of money, but not what Collins was after, and he declined it.

    Atlanta has loaded up the frontcourt over his tenure through trade (Clint Capela), free agency (Danilo Gallinari) and the draft (Onyeka Okongwu). The Hawks have options, and they know it. When general manager Travis Schlenk discussed Collins’ future with Kirschner this March, the executive gave his club some wiggle room by saying, “I don’t see a restricted free agency situation where we would just let him walk for nothing.”

    If some team wants to give Collins the max, the Hawks may well let him walk. But that feels too rich for someone who’s not a shot-creator and has some defensive limitations. Assuming he lands in a more reasonable range (probably between $80 million and $100 million), it’s best for Atlanta to make the investment and keep him either as a long-term contributor or a future trade chip.

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The Boston Celtics came into this campaign with championship expectations and exited it with their first opening-round loss since 2016. That kind of disappointment can spawn significant changes, and the Celtics have already seen a biggie with former president of basketball operations Danny Ainge retiring and former coach Brad Stevens being promoted to the role.

    More major moves could be in the works, but it’s complicated. The Celtics already have more than $132 million on next season’s payroll, so external free-agency shopping is limited and would almost certainly come with a luxury-tax hit. Trades are tricky, too, since Kemba Walker’s value can’t be great after an injury-riddled year, and Marcus Smart might mean more to Boston than whatever he would bring back.

    That could mean Boston’s biggest investments are made in-house. Evan Fournier, acquired from the Orlando Magic at the trade deadline, might be a top priority to re-sign.

    Once he was healthy enough to contribute, Fournier showed the impact he can make as a complementary scorer, shooter and playmaker. Even if the Celtics are confident Walker can get back to his old form—and that’s an enormous if—they need support pieces on offense. That’s why they got Fournier in the first place, and why they’ll likely bite the bullet to bring him back.

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Spencer Dinwiddie barely broke a sweat with the new-look Brooklyn Nets, suffering a partially torn ACL in his right knee in late December.

    He may never get the chance. While he hasn’t been ruled out of the postseason, it’s far from guaranteed he’ll have an opportunity to contribute to Brooklyn’s current championship chase. As for future title pursuits, those are complicated by the Nets’ enormous roster costs (already over $154 million tied up between just seven players for next season) and his plans to decline his $12.3 million player option for 2021-22.

    “I’m gonna be more than healthy by the time free agency starts, so just from a dollars perspective, you kind of have to,” Dinwiddie told Forbes’ Shlomo Sprung. “$12 million isn’t market value for a starting point guard. … So, obviously, it’s pretty concrete that I’m gonna opt out.”

    The fact Dinwiddie references starting point guard rates seems telling, since the Nets will roster both Kyrie Irving and James Harden for at least another season. Brooklyn might want Dinwiddie back (either as a spark plug or a trade chip), but he’ll likely find more minutes, shots and money elsewhere.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    There are 99 reasons to get excited about the Charlotte Hornets, but their center rotation ain’t one.

    That was true this season when Cody Zeller posted his second consecutive negative box plus/minus, Bismack Biyombo had his worst player efficiency rating since 2012-13 and P.J. Washington manned the middle as a 6’7″, 230-pounder. It’s even more glaring going forward, since Zeller and Biyombo are both ticketed for unrestricted free agency.

    The Hornets could have roughly $20 million in cap space this offseason. That’s more than enough to upgrade their roster’s biggest weak spot.

    Andre Drummond might be the most notable name likely on the radar, though Charlotte could probably find a better fit. Richaun Holmes or Daniel Theis would be sneaky-good investments. Depending on how Montrezl Harrell and Serge Ibaka handle their player options, they might be options, too.

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    A summer of change is brewing in the Windy City. Even if the Chicago Bulls don’t make another swap as substantial as their deadline deal for Nikola Vucevic, they’re already bracing for a busy offseason.

    “We’ll have a ton of roster spots,” Bulls executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas said, per NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson.

    In the not-so-distant past, Lauri Markkanen looked like a building block for the Bulls and would’ve been spared from this discussion. But over the course of the 2020-21 campaign, he became the living embodiment of life coming at you quickly. His name bounced around the rumor mill at the deadline, and he lost his starting spot after proving a poor fit with Vucevic as both are offense-first bigs.

    In the eyes of the right suitor, Markkanen’s restricted free agency will appear as a risk worth taking. The 7-footer owns career marks of 36.6 percent three-point shooting and 19 points per 36 minutes. That’s enough to get him noticed and fetch a deal richer than whatever Chicago will be willing to pay.

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    No tea-leaf tracing or crystal-ball clairvoyance is needed for this prediction.

    Back in January, the Cleveland Cavaliers smartly nudged their way into the James Harden blockbuster to acquire Jarrett Allen. They knew the budding big man needed a new contract after this season and went through with the swap anyway because they “definitely see” him as a part of their future, as general manager Koby Altman told reporters.

    Nothing should have softened that stance. Over 51 games in Cleveland (40 starts), Allen packed 13.2 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in his 30.3 minutes per game while shooting 60.9 percent from the field.

    The 23-year-old is an effective rim runner who protects the paint, cleans the glass and rarely steps outside of his role. He should be easy to build around going forward, regardless what other young pieces the Cavs retain.

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Since we’re focused on free agency here, we’ll spare Kristaps Porzingis another round of speculating about his future with the Dallas Mavericks. Instead, we’ll turn the spotlight to Tim Hardaway Jr., much as the sharpshooter has when looking back upon the Jan. 2019 blockbuster that brought him and Porzingis to the Mavericks from the New York Knicks.

    It was Hardaway, not Porzingis, who proved to be the best second-fiddle for Luka Doncic against the Los Angeles Clippers in the opening round. Hardaway, who needs just a sliver of space to get off his nearly automatic three-ball, ranked second to Doncic in points (17.0), shots (14.4) and threes (3.3) in the series.

    Assuming the Mavs make all of their roster moves through the prism of making life easier on Doncic, Hardaway’s three-point stroke and the mere threat of it is close to an essential for this offense. He has the fifth-most triples since the start of last season (411) and a top-50 splash rate among the 202 players with 100-plus threes over that stretch (39.4).

    When Dallas initially dreamed of 2021 free agency, it planned on aiming higher than Hardaway. But a thinned-out player pool should have revamped those plans to now make him the priority target.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Considering the Denver Nuggets have pushed their way into the second round without Will Barton logging a second since April 23, they could conceivably talk themselves into being OK without him. That mentality, in turn, might spark some debates should he opt out of his $14.7 million player option for next season.

    But the whole concept is flawed. Under the same logic, the Nuggets would have to be totally fine minus Jamal Murray, who tore the ACL in his left knee in mid-April. That obviously isn’t the case. They have masterfully masked both absences so far—thanks in no small part to the offensive excellence of MVP Nikola Jokic—but no Murray almost certainly means no championship this season.

    A full-strength Nuggets squad has the weaponry to go title chasing in 2021-22, though. That upside should be what compels them to be on the hook for Barton’s next big-dollar contract after he opts out of this one.

    His defense, shot-making and off-the-dribble verve are enough to net him a better pact in this market. That’s why he’ll decline the option in search of a high salary, more years or both. Whatever he wants, Denver should be prepared to give him (within reason, of course). Put him and a healthy Murray in the fold next season, and the Nuggets will be ready to continue their climb to basketball’s mountaintop.

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Hamidou Diallo was a relative unknown to many when the Detroit Pistons picked him up from the Oklahoma City Thunder ahead of the deadline. But not to Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, who was an assistant general manager with the Thunder when they traded for him at the 2018 draft. He knew the type of player he was getting, and it was one he wanted to build with.

    “He fits what we’re trying to do here,” Weaver said, per Omari Sankofa II of the Detroit Free Press. “Tremendous mindset, tremendous competitor. Defensive mindset, athletic. … He fits the bill going forward for us.”

    Weaver tipped his hand about Detroit’s intentions for Diallo’s restricted free agency. That’s fine, since Diallo’s play in Detroit (11.2 points on 46.8 percent shooting across 20 contests) signaled the 22-year-old deserved keeper status, anyway.

    The question is how high his next contract could go, and the answer might surprise some. Given his age, explosiveness, defensive versatility and developing offense, he’ll collect what an intriguing, young swingman should with an average annual salary at or above $10 million.

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Eight players logged 1,000-plus minutes for the Golden State Warriors this season. Six made the squad statistically better with them than without. Andrew Wiggins was one who didn’t with a net differential of minus-2.9 points per 100 possessions.

    The other was Kelly Oubre Jr. His net differential was—look away if you get squeamish—an atrocious minus-11.6.

    Whatever was supposed to click for Oubre in Golden State never did. While Wiggins at least showed growth as a shooter and off-ball defender, Oubre did the opposite. His player efficiency rating dipped to a three-year low (13.3). His true shooting percentage (52.9) and box plus/minus (minus-2.1) were his worst since 2016-17.

    For whatever reason, he doesn’t fit with the Dubs. That won’t change next season, especially if he’s shoehorned into a reserve role he doesn’t want. Ideally, Golden State will sniff out a way to sign-and-trade him out of town and get something back in return, but even if that doesn’t happen, it seems this relationship has already run its course.

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Kelly Olynyk’s deadline trade away from the Miami Heat and to the Houston Rockets made him initially appear like a fish out of water. He was a near-30-year-old in the heart of his prime, and they were essentially starting from scratch without James Harden.

    But Olynyk hit the ground sprinting, scoring 16 points in his Rockets’ debut and 25 in his second outing with the team. By year’s end, his 27 contests with the Rockets featured per-game averages of 19.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.8 three-pointers. Those are numbers that could get him noticed by a win-now shopper, but they also point to a clean fit with this club.

    “It’s been great here,” Olynyk said, per Rockets Wire’s Ben DuBose. “The opportunities, players, coaches—I’ve really enjoyed it. Obviously, it’s shown on the court.”

    The Rockets are aiming to be more competitive next season, and despite Harden’s absence, they aren’t positioned for a top-to-bottom rebuild with vets like John Wall, Eric Gordon and D.J. Augustin on the roster. If Houston puts a competitive offer on the table, Olynyk might find the best combination of money and minutes in his current digs.

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Indiana Pacers already have more than $115 million on next season’s payroll with multiple roster spots to fill. Once those vacancies are taken care of, this club will come dangerously close to crossing into luxury-tax territory, which is where no one wants to be after a sub-.500 season that fell short of the playoffs.

    Unless the Pacers clear out significant space, bargain shopping will be a must. That will almost surely squeeze out Doug McDermott, whose breakout season positioned him several aisles over from the clearance section.

    The sharpshooter posted several personal-bests in 2020-21, including 13.6 points, 24.5 minutes and 53.2 percent field-goal shooting. For the fourth consecutive season, he averaged more than a triple per game with a 38-plus percent splash rate. Only 11 other snipers have matched that feat.

    Indiana needs shooting, but so does every other team in the modern NBA. That will drive up McDermott’s price point past where the Pacers can cover it.

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    After a rash of early extensions removed nearly every elite from the potentially historic 2021 free-agent class, Kawhi Leonard now stands alone as the biggest prize on the market. That’s why 29 other fanbases collectively groaned when his Los Angeles Clippers avoided disaster and escaped the opening round with a Game 7 win over the Mavericks.

    Leonard never seemed super likely to leave his hometown, but a first-round flop might have made him think. Even then, though, the safe money said he was staying.

    In 2019, the L.A. native joined the Clippers after winning a title with the Toronto Raptors. He hand-picked Paul George as his running mate. And while Leonard didn’t match George with an early extension, it was the smarter financial play not to. Once Leonard declines his $36 million player option this summer, he’ll be eligible for the 35-percent max contract as a 10-year veteran.

    It hasn’t been the smoothest ride for Leonard and the Clippers so far, but there’s nothing that suggests the former is ready to split from the latter. Star-gazing shoppers won’t want to hear this, but Leonard is going nowhere.

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers have five players under guaranteed contracts for next season. They are collectively owed more than $110 million.

    Before they even get to the negotiating table, their bargaining power is almost non-existent. If their free agents walk, they won’t have the means to replace them. Even if certain players command more than the Lakers think they’re worth, they might feel obligated to foot the bill if for no other reason than to have the salary slots to help facilitate future trades.

    Having said that, there probably isn’t enough coin to keep all three of Dennis Schroder, Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker. Each seems likely to fetch a big payday for different reasons: Schroder for his shot-making, Caruso for his low-maintenance, high-impact two-way role and Horton-Tucker for his tantalizing upside.

    Of those three qualities, Horton-Tucker’s might be the one deemed expendable given the narrow window to make another title run with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. If someone puts a massive amount of money on the table for Horton-Tucker, L.A. could be hesitant about ponying up for someone who played fewer than 50 playoff minutes.

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    There’s an alternate universe in which Justise Winslow, the 10th overall pick in 2015, is thriving (if not starring) in the NBA. In that realm, he avoids the injury woes that have plagued him the past two seasons and emerged as a 6’6″ playmaker on offense and five-tool defender at the other end.

    But that’s not this reality. Not for Winslow nor the Memphis Grizzlies, who hold a $13 million team option on him for next season.

    As it stands, that option would actually make him the second-highest paid Grizzlies player in 2021-22. That doesn’t seem possible for a lightly used reserve who was out of the rotation by May, but Memphis has a ton of young, cheap talent on the roster. Perhaps that’s an argument for “splurging” on Winslow and hoping he can stay healthy enough to realize his full potential.

    It’s worth asking, though, how much room is left before he hits his ceiling. He has six NBA seasons under his belt. Projecting major growth in his seventh seems like a bad wager in a vacuum. Attach a $13 million price tag to that bet, and it’s just a smart business move to stay far away.

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    The Miami Heat have substantial flexibility this summer but perhaps no obvious ways to use it. Assuming Kawhi Leonard stays put, there isn’t another superstar on the market. They could get decent mileage out of a Kyle Lowry or Chris Paul signing for the next few years, but they aren’t landing a long-term, transformational piece without brokering a blockbuster trade.

    In the past, the Heat have effectively rolled over their cap space by bringing a lot of their players back on short-term contracts. That option probably isn’t available for restricted free agents Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn, who should both rank favorably among the best young players on the market.

    “We like both of them,” Heat president Pat Riley told reporters at his end-of-season press conference, “and we’ll see what happens with them when it comes to the market.”

    Robinson and Nunn are each in line for major pay raises, and given the Heat’s need for an external upgrade, they may not want to pay both. Robinson’s lethal long-range shooting means more to this roster than Nunn’s scoring, so Miami might pay up for the former and try to find a cheaper replacement for the latter.

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    In 2019, Bobby Portis scored a two-year, $31 million deal from the New York Knicks. But the second season was a $15.8 million team option, which the Knicks declined.

    Back on the market in 2020, Portis settled on a two-year, $7.5 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. The second season is a $3.8 million player option, which he should swiftly decline.

    He spent this entire campaign boosting his bank account. He shot a career-high 47.1 percent from deep. He posted a personal-best 19.9 player efficiency rating. He crammed 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds into only 20.8 minutes per night, which converts to per-36-minutes averages of 19.8 points and 12.2 rebounds.

    Those are massive numbers—more than Milwaukee can afford, frankly. Portis should be on the hunt for a significant salary, and the Bucks, who have $119.2 million tied up between only Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez, can’t give it to him.

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Timberwolves could have a sleepy summer. Well, sleepy outside of draft lottery night, when they learn whether they keep their top-three protected pick or owe it to the Golden State Warriors.

    As far as free agency goes, though, there’s almost nothing to do. The Wolves have 10 players and nearly $128 million in guaranteed contracts already on next season’s books. Tack on team options for Naz Reid and Jaylen Nowell, and Minnesota will be closing in on the luxury-tax line with three roster spots to fill.

    The Wolves cannot pay the tax next season. Not after going 23-49 with the league’s fifth-worst net rating.

    That financial crunch will have Jarred Vanderbilt and Jordan McLaughlin hooping elsewhere next season. Even if Minnesota wants to keep one (or both), neither player should have to settle for a discounted deal. Vanderbilt is a hyperactive rebounder and versatile defender. McLaughlin is a steady shooter from distance who takes care of the basketball. Both should command more than the Wolves have to spend.

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    There may not be a more interesting player on this year’s free-agent market than Lonzo Ball. And that’s not solely because everything about him and his family is usually interesting.

    Instead, it’s the impact his restricted free agency will have not just on the New Orleans Pelicans, but also two of the more high profile teams in this league.

    The Chicago Bulls have him on their radar, and he has fans in the New York Knicks’ front office. An offense featuring Ball setting the table for Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic could be all kinds of fun. Imaginations run wild at the thought of Ball and Julius Randle reuniting in New York and helping the Knicks return to consistent relevance.

    And yet, the likeliest scenario sees the Pelicans paying whatever it costs to keep Ball. He’s a 23-year-old floor general who moves the basketball, makes open shots and defends multiple positions. That’s the kind of player in which lottery teams need to invest. More importantly, though, Zion Williamson wants him back, which should be all the Pelicans need to hear.

    “Me, Brandon [Ingram] and Zo, the three of us have a great relationship,” Williamson said, per ESPN’s Andrew Lopez. “I really would want Zo to come back. He knows that. … He’ll make the decision that’s best for him. The only thing I can say is, I hope he stays.”

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    Could this prediction spoil one for a different squad? It might. But the New York Knicks have the cap space (nearly $60 million) and perhaps the market influence to spoil someone’s summer.

    They also have a years long point guard problem that needs to be fixed this offseason. With all of the resources now at New York’s disposal, there are zero excuses for not finding a floor general.

    The Knicks don’t have to break the bank for a big name, though that option is available should they pursue it. Chris Paul makes sense for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is the fact his former agent, Leon Rose, is now the team’s president. Kyle Lowry, Dennis Schroder, Spencer Dinwiddie and Lonzo Ball could all collect substantial sums from this club.

    Moving down a tier, New York could target someone like Devonte’ Graham or Kendrick Nunn. Each will likely command an eight-figure salary, but they won’t approach max-contract territory range. They also aren’t as ball dominant as the traditional lead guards above, which could be appealing if the Knicks want to bring back Derrick Rose and maintain or increase the playmaking responsibilities of Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    No team has more buying power than the Oklahoma City Thunder. Even if they are comfortable taking the long road with their roster rebuild, they should still throw some financial muscle around.

    It has to be the right kind of free agent, of course, as players who aren’t on the timeline of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort and Darius Bazley wouldn’t make much sense. But the young crop of restricted free agents offer intriguing enough fits for OKC to place some bids.

    At worst, the Thunder tie up their cap space for a few days, miss out on players they were unlikely to sign anyway and force clubs to pay at or above market rate to retain their players. At best, OKC adds another young building block or two to the core.

    The Thunder, which have just $46 million on the books for next season ($19 million to players not named Al Horford), have the funds to find someone who fits. Their nucleus is versatile enough that almost any of the restricted free agents would work, including John Collins, Lonzo Ball, Duncan Robinson, Gary Trent Jr., Talen Horton-Tucker and Josh Hart.

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    Otto Porter Jr. already served his purpose for the Orlando Magic.

    His expiring $28.5 million salary made the deadline deal sending Nikola Vucevic to Chicago work, both by matching salaries and offering Orlando financial relief. The veteran swingman made just three appearances for the Magic before left foot pain ended his season.

    It likely ended his tenure in Orlando, too.

    The Magic are in the middle of a full-scale overhaul. Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier were sent packing at the deadline. Former coach Steve Clifford split from the franchise after the season. Orlando is restructuring around Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz, a pair of 23-year-olds coming off of serious knee injuries.

    Porter is 28 years old and, if he can stay healthy, ready to contribute to a playoff participant, if not a title contender. The Magic may not be either for several years to come. It doesn’t make sense for either side to want to keep this going.

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia 76ers could go a lot of different directions this offseason. It’s possible what transpires between now and then will dictate their activity.

    If they win the title, they might run back the same crew to defend their throne. If they’re ousted by the Atlanta Hawks, then everything up to and including a Ben Simmons mega-swap could be on the table.

    The wide range of outcomes makes this situation hard to project, but a homecoming for Kyle Lowry has been discussed enough for us to believe it. The Sixers pursued Lowry at the trade deadline, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and they plan to give chase again this summer through a sign-and-trade, per The Athletic’s Sam Amick.

    When the Sixers are full strength, they have almost no weaknesses. But a perimeter shot-creator looms as the one piece missing from the puzzle. Lowry can scratch that itch, add value as an off-ball sniper and hold his own defensively. If he wants to chase championships in his hometown, the Sixers should make it happen.

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    It wasn’t too long ago the idea of Chris Paul picking up his enormous $44.2 million player option for next season felt like a formality.

    But then he proved his game can age gracefully, and his Midas touch can travel. For the second successive campaign, Paul’s club dramatically exceeded expectations. While last year’s Thunder were a plucky playoff participant, these Suns are a full-fledged title contender. He’s a big reason why. In his age-35 season, he came incredibly close to 50/40/90 enshrinement (49.9/39.5/93.4) and more than quadrupled his 2.2 turnovers with 8.9 assists.

    He was the Point God, in other words, and had such an incredible season he’s now expected to decline that option in pursuit of a longer deal, per B/R’s Eric Pincus. Paul will have other suitors, but he won’t find a better situation. He is contending with a young roster that will only get better, living within a short flight from his family in Los Angeles and playing for a coach, Monty Williams, he has a long history and close relationship with.

    “Monty was at my wedding,” Paul told Amick. “There’s an unbelievable trust there that goes deeper than just a coach.”

    Paul and the Suns just seem right for each other. Look for both to realize that and come together on a new deal that keeps him in the desert for several years to come.

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Four first-round exits in five years could lead to substantial changes for the Portland Trail Blazers. Already, it’s brought about a split from former skipper Terry Stotts and sparked a rash of speculation about the future of Damian Lillard.

    Unless the Blazers opt for a full reset, though, their summer path probably won’t lead them away from Norman Powell.

    They have effectively been on the hook for his next contract since acquiring him from the Toronto Raptors in March. They knew then he was likely to decline his upcoming $11.6 million player option and still sacrificed promising young swingman Gary Trent Jr. to get him. That signaled some level of interest in keeping Powell past this season.

    In fact, he can probably name his price to stay in Portland. If he bolted in free agency, the Blazers wouldn’t have more than the midlevel exception to replace him, which removes nearly all of their leverage here. Assuming they want to keep competitive, they’ll attempt to do so by showering Powell with cash.

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    In a perfect world, the Sacramento Kings would re-sign Richaun Holmes and lock him into their long-term core alongside De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton.

    But as any Sacramento fan can attest after suffering through a 15-year playoff drought, this world ain’t perfect.

    The Kings should want to keep Holmes. He protects the paint, controls the glass and always has his motor revved up. But finances could force their hands. Sacramento holds his “Early Bird” rights, but that only helps them make an offer of roughly $50 million for four seasons. A source told NBC Sports Bay Area’s James Ham that Holmes is hoping to land in the four-year, $80 million range.

    The Kings would need to clear a ton of cap space to make that offer. In a nutshell, that would involve sending out on-court contributors for nothing in return. Teams can’t make that kind of sacrifice for a non-star, especially not after finishing 10 games below .500.

    Holmes has earned a big raise, and he’ll deservedly take the money and run.

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    The San Antonio Spurs could have reset themselves this season. They could have cleaned house at the trade deadline. They didn’t. They could have gone head-first into a youth movement. They brought in 31-year-old Gorgui Dieng off of the buyout market instead.

    It isn’t easy, then, to forecast an organizational direction change, no matter how many arrows point to that conclusion. But even the Spurs must recognize the ink has run dry on this chapter.

    DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills are all unrestricted free agents. So is Dieng, if anyone was wondering. That’s not all the quartet has in common. They’re all on the wrong side of 31, too.

    This is a line-in-the-sand offseason for San Antonio. One side offers the chance to run it back and go for broke chasing the play-in tournament again. The other is a door to the future ushered in by Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker IV, Devin Vassell, Jakob Poeltl and whatever San Antonio pulls from the draft lottery.

    The Spurs have long chased maximum competitiveness, but they have to know it’s in their best competitive interests long-term to let the next generation take over.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Let’s just rip the Band-Aid right off here, folks.

    The Toronto Raptors shouldn’t bring back Kyle Lowry. They should make an offer, of course, and he should listen, but both should quickly come to the realization that what’s best for them isn’t best for the other.

    At 35 years old, Lowry is fighting against the clock to expand his jewelry collection. He’s too good to label as a ring chaser in the traditional sense, but he needs to be aware of his next employer’s proximity to the title.

    Toronto is nowhere near another championship run. The Raptors were 18 games below .500. They trailed 18 teams in net rating. Even if they think they are better than their numbers suggest, they are multiple leaps away from rejoining the elites. It doesn’t make sense for them to invest heavily in Lowry at this stage of his career.

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    If the Utah Jazz are willing to pay the luxury tax, they can keep Mike Conley around.

    The Jazz should be ready to foot that bill. They stood atop the league at regular season’s end, and they may well be doing the same when the dust settles on these playoffs.

    Conley doesn’t drive that success on his own, but the Jazz built their system in a way that no one should have to. The spotlight is there when Donovan Mitchell wants it, but the support staff can take over at a moment’s notice. Conley was one of five Jazz players to average between 12.1 and 18.4 points per game. That balance is what has the point guard convinced Salt Lake City is the place for him.

    “I don’t think I can go anywhere else that plays the way we play,” Conley told The Athletic’s Tony Jones. “… This team is so unique in the way we play. And everyone has bought into what we want to do on both ends of the floor.”

    Conley doesn’t sound like someone who wants to seek out a new home this summer. The Jazz shouldn’t give him any reason to consider it. Locking him in at a reasonable rate for the next few seasons will help Utah become a perennial contender.

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    The Washington Wizards’ 2021-22 ledger already shows nearly $80 million tied up between Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook, plus another $16 million going to Davis Bertans. They have to penny-pinch on necessities and bypass luxuries.

    For our purposes, that means there isn’t enough to go around for Robin Lopez and Alex Len.

    Not even the world’s leading big-man enthusiast could classify third and fourth centers as essentials. And yet, those are the labels that could be attached to Lopez and Len if they were to stick around in the same center rotation as Daniel Gafford and Thomas Bryant.

    Perhaps the Wizards could want one more player in the interior mix to cover for Bryant’s recovery from an ACL tear in his left knee, but that’s not a given. It’s also possible (if not probable) that Lopez and Len played well enough to earn more than the minimum contract Washington should be using to fill that role.

    All stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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