NBA free agency has slowed to an almost complete stop, as money has dried up around the league after an initial spending spree in the opening hours. As is always the case, there were a few players that cashed in early and a few others who have been left out in the cold, with no real opportunity at this point to recoup much money on the market.
As such, the priority for those younger players has to shift to finding the best opportunity and fit on a short-term deal in order to rebuild their value next season and, hopefully, cash in next summer and get the deal they hoped to this season. The rest of the veterans will be shopping their talents to contenders, looking to make a title run,
Here, we’ll try to find the best possible fit for the best free agents left on the market to shine in what could be yet another contract year in 2021-22.
Dennis Schröder: Dallas Mavericks
The unfortunate poster child for how betting on yourself can go horribly wrong, Schröder has gone from turning down a 4-year, $84 million extension to, likely, a mid-level deal at best. The initial thought was that, no matter what the market really presented, the Lakers with their cap situation would be so desperate to keep him he could get the same offer again this summer, but L.A. trading for Russell Westbrook (and not in a sign-and-trade involving Schröder) turned that on its head. Now, Schröder needs a place he can start and show why he’s deserving of a big-time deal.
The Mavs don’t have any cap space remaining, but they do have a $10 million TPE from the Josh Richardson trade that would allow them to offer a mid-level type 2+1 to Schröder (a sign-and-trade has to be three years) and send L.A. a second round pick for his services. I like Dennis’ fit in Dallas more than Boston, where he reportedly has an offer for the taxpayer mid-level, as I think it provides an opportunity to return to the role he thrived in with the Thunder. In Dallas, he’s the secondary ball-handler alongside Luka Doncic. He can look to show he can bump his three-point shooting back to his OKC efficiency and attack defenses off the dribble already in rotation. His defense at the point of attack would be a welcome addition for the Mavs, and for a team that needed to upgrade its point guard position, Schröder fits the bill. Even if it’s just for a year, he would be quite the stopgap in Dallas for a team looking to take a step forward as a contender.
Lauri Markkanen: OKC Thunder
The Thunder are one of the only teams that still has cap space, but that is likely reserved to take on a big veteran contract to help facilitate a trade in exchange for more draft picks as Sam Presti continues his quest to gather every future pick in the NBA. However, some of that space could also be used to take a flyer on Markkanen on a shorter deal (two or three years) and offer him a bigger role than he’ll find anywhere else on a team that could use someone else that can shoot. If Markkanen would agree to a three-year with a team option, he could spend a year in OKC putting up shots and proving his skill on a non-contender and then, likely, get shipped off to a different team next season in a trade.
The Thunder need frontcourt help, and while Markkanen has his questions, they really don’t matter for a team with no plans on competing immediately. More floor spacing for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would be helpful, and if Markkanen pops, he could fetch a decent price on the trade market. If he doesn’t, then he takes up some cap space for a couple years and the Thunder can cut bait.
Josh Hart: Portland Trail Blazers
If I’m Josh Hart, I would be looking very closely at what Bobby Portis was able to do last year in attaching himself to a contender and thriving in a smaller role. Portis reupped in Milwaukee on a hometown discount for the Bucks after winning the title, but he would’ve been in line for some full mid-level deals or more had he decided to open up his free agency. Hart is they type of player that is likely best served by being on a contender with his defensive skillset and spotty shooting history. Going somewhere that will get him better shots will likely make his shooting look improved (like Portis) and his defense can pop better.
The Blazers signing another guard/wing would get laughs, but I think Hart fills a role that they don’t really have anyone taking on that bench. They have plenty of scorers but having a versatile defensive wing would be very welcome in Portland. For Hart, he gets into a better situation and I think there would be ample opportunity for minutes given his ability to guard the two and the three, something Portland is rather desperate for even if their closing lineups will have the Dame/CJ/Norm trio out there most nights.
J.J. Redick: Miami Heat
Redick really wants to be in the northeast to be near family, but I’m not sure any of the teams in that area have a great desire to bring him on board. Brooklyn doesn’t even have a training camp roster spot right now, Philly has two veteran shooters in Danny Green and Seth Curry, the Knicks have a very crowded backcourt, and the Celtics would, I think, prefer to add a ball-handler to their backcourt rotation rather than just a shooter. From a sheer basketball perspective, the best fit for Redick at this point seems to be Miami. They have roster spots and, as a team that wants to contend for a title, have a need for a veteran shooter right now.
Redick would be that shooter, something they don’t have beyond Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro (and Redick is far more of a sure bet for shooting consistency than the latter). Miami just needs more guys they can trust in playoff spots in the backcourt with so much uncertainty about Victor Oladipo and Redick is about as good as they could hope for on a minimum. Whether he’d be amenable to that would remain to be seen, but in terms of contenders with a need for shooting, Miami fits the bill better than most any team.
Paul Millsap: Milwaukee Bucks
This one feels almost too easy. The Bucks need to add another veteran to the frontcourt after seeing PJ Tucker walk and still have their taxpayer mid-level after bringing Bobby Portis back on early Bird rights. Millsap and Mike Budenholzer have a terrific history together and while there’s some overlap in Portis and Millsap, that’s not a bad spot to have two quality players. Milwaukee is going to need to add some more frontcourt help and there’s not anyone on the market that would be a better get or a better fit than Millsap, who in turn gets to play in a system he’s very comfortable with and get on a genuine title contender.