Love is in the air, or at least the exchange of services after a negotiation about compensation. The NBA’s free agency period is rapidly approaching, and teams and players will both be looking for the perfect fit. Where should some of the summer’s more under-the-radar names sign? Who should the Lakers target with their cap space? It’s time to answer those questions and more in another round of my favorite summer project—let’s play NBA free agency matchmaker.
Kemba Walker | New team: Hornets
Let’s start with someone who shouldn’t go anywhere. I really hope Kemba Walker stays in Charlotte. As fun as he would be to watch on a star-studded team, I want Hornets fans to continue to enjoy his greatness. Walker stands to make huge money if Michael Jordan offers him the supermax, and Charlotte absolutely should step up and put that deal on the table for the face of its franchise. It’s the Hornets responsibility to put a winner around Kemba. I want him to give them another chance, and then hopefully management can figure out a way to maneuver the roster around him. Free agency is fun and seeing guys switch teams always adds intrigue to the league. Sometimes, though, it’s more satisfying when guys stay at home. I want Walker to play for a contender as much as anyone, I just want that team to be the Hornets.
Tobias Harris | New team: Mavericks
Dallas has some money to play with this summer, and the Mavs are lurking as a sleeper for a big-name target. If I’m Mark Cuban, I want to target a third star who won’t consistently need the ball in his hands. Much of the offense will be run through Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, so Dallas needs to find a complement. That’s why I like Tobias Harris here. Can the Mavs pry him away from Philly? Dallas would probably need to offer Harris a full max, but I think he makes more sense next to Luka and KP then a ball-dominant guard. Harris can play the four in lineups with Porzingis at center, and he’s a good guy to run offense through during the regular season when stars are on the bench. A Luka-Tim Hardaway-Courtney Lee-Tobias-KP lineup looks pretty fun on paper, and of course Dallas can round out the roster with other signings. Harris may not be as sexy an acquisition as someone like Walker, but the proper role is seemingly already carved out for him on the Mavericks.
More good Mavericks fits: Khris Middleton, Marcus Morris
Patrick Beverley | New team: Lakers
Rob Pelinka makes me so angry. There’s absolutely no excuse for the Lakers’ botched handling of the Anthony Davis trade. L.A. should have negotiated into the deal the timing of the transaction, in order to ensure it would end up with a max salary slot for free agency. The Lakers will have something closer to $23 million as opposed to $32 million in space, and that’s a big deal. L.A. doesn’t need to go star hunting this summer, it needs depth. With more room, the Lakers could have added two solid pieces in July, instead they’ll now have to get more creative.
D’Angelo Russell is being floated as a possibility, but I like the fit of Beverley here more. He’s tough, defensive-minded, a capable outside shooter, and he doesn’t need the ball in his hands. He basically checks every box a role player next to LeBron should. Similar to Dallas, L.A. shouldn’t be targeting another player who needs the ball in their hands to be effective. Beverley makes perfect sense next to two stars, and L.A. may even be able to time his contract so it expires next to LeBron’s.
And if Pelinka goes after Beverley instead of Russell, he could possibly still have some space left to sign another decent starter. The Lakers can’t be distracted by the big names. This most recent Finals was a glaring example of how important depth can be in the postseason. Los Angeles shouldn’t throw its eggs in the star basket. With AD and James already in position, filling out the roster with capable bodies (as opposed to cheap, over-the-hill vets and one other star) seems like a much more prudent path forward.
More good Lakers fits: Danny Green, J.J Redick
Bojan Bogdanovic | New team: Nuggets
Denver’s path to meaningful cap space includes convincing Paul Millsap to return at a lower number, and finding a place to dump Mason Plumlee. I touched on this in my intriguing teams column, but this summer is critical for the Nuggets, because as their young core gets more expensive, adding depth to the roster will become much more difficult. If Denver can get to $14-15 million in room, it could do much worse than adding someone like Bogdanovic.
BoBo ((how is that not his nickname?) would slot in very nicely at small forward for the Nugs. Will Barton played good minutes there last season, but I still think he makes more sense long-term as a high-end scorer off the bench as opposed to a starter. Barton is a scorer, and his impact is muted playing next to high-usage guys like Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. The opposite is true for Bogdanovic, a willing defender who is a great off-ball player. Bogdanovic shoots threes and moves well off the ball. He would provide a great outlet for Murray, Jokic, and Gary Harris while also staying out of their way. He’s the kind of player who makes life easier for stars, and he also gives Denver some much needed size on the perimeter.
More good Nuggets fits: Danny Green, Trevor Ariza
Brook Lopez | New team: Celtics
I like this move for Boston if they can get Lopez on a short-term deal, and I like it for Lopez if he can command a high salary for one or two years before re-entering free agency. The Celtics are going to have a massive hole at center if Al Horford walks, with Aron Baynes already traded away. Signing Lopez gives Boston a dependable veteran, a good locker room presence, and someone who won’t compete with the younger players. It also weakens a conference rival in the Bucks, who are facing a tricky situation with their free agents this summer. Lopez can help keep the Celtics competitive in the near future, and a shorter contract for big money would be mutually beneficial for both sides if they prioritize flexibility.
More good Celtics fits: Patrick Beverley, Robin Lopez
Thaddeus Young | New team: Kings
Roll out the De’Aaron Fox-Buddy Hield-Bogan Bogdanovic-Thad Young-Marvin Bagley lineup and thank me later. (Young is a very, very good defender who would be an egoless, veteran presence to an up-and-coming Sacramento squad.)
Nikola Mirotic | New team: Jazz
The Jazz can find their way to space if they find a taker for Derrick Favors’ unguaranteed contract. Favors has been a very good player for Utah, and maybe even a little underrated. But his fit alongside Rudy Gobert is complicated come playoff time, this team will need space for its backcourt to operate at its best. If Utah trades favors, I really like the fit of Mirotic here. He can play the four and basically takeover the role Jae Crowder played before he was sent to Memphis in the Conley deal. A Conley-Spida Mitchell-Ingles-Niko-Gobert lineup would give the Jazz their best spacing in a long time, and it should also be able to maintain the team’s hallmark defensive intensity.
More good Jazz fits: Marcus Morris, Trevor Ariza