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NBA free agency still has some notable players left on the market, with some potential bargains to be found as well.
Deandre Ayton has yet to find a home, and could be tied to a certain superstar’s trade request. Collin Sexton is the best guard still available (assuming James Harden is a lock to return to the Philadelphia 76ers) while some notable veterans and players coming off injuries look to secure their next contracts as well.
Heading into Day 4 of the 2022 free agency season, here’s where some of the most notable names left could land.
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After using their entire taxpayer mid-level exception on Lonnie Walker IV, the Lakers are now limited to minimum contract deals.
One potential target? The 24-year-old Bryant, who began his career in Los Angeles in 2017-18.
As the LA Times’ Brad Turner reported, “Lakers have a strong interest in reuniting with free-agent center Thomas Bryant, but with LA just having the veteran minimum to offer he’s in no rush to make a decision. Plus, the Lakers have competition for the services of Bryant, as Toronto is also interested.”
Bryant showed strong potential as a rim protector and three-point shooter before tearing his ACL as a member of the Washington Wizards in January of 2021 but was able to make his return to the court this past January.
While the Lakers may not have the contract he desires, they could promise him something no other team could: a starting job.
If Anthony Davis doesn’t start at center, Los Angeles has just newly-signed Damian Jones as an option. Veteran Dwight Howard is still a free agent.
Bryant could attempt to rehab his value as a starting center in LA on a minimum deal and look to cash in next offseason. Before tearing his ACL, he was averaging 14.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 0.8 blocks and shooting 42.9 percent from three in his first 10 games 2020-21.
Adding a floor-spacing big man in the frontcourt next to Davis would give everyone more room to operate, especially if Russell Westbrook returns.
Look for Bryant to eventually take a one-year deal from the Lakers and try to up his value for next year.
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With Jalen Brunson, Ricky Rubio, Tyus Jones, Delon Wright and other point guards off the board, the market for floor generals is quickly drying up.
Even at age 36, Dragic still has some gas left in the tank as a veteran backup on a contender.
One team that could use an additional point guard is Dallas, who just saw Brunson leave for the New York Knicks. Marc Stein reports that the Mavs have shown interest in Dragic and have an open roster spot still available.
Of course, there’s the Luka Doncic connection. The two both hail from Slovenia and are currently playing together this summer in Qualifiers for the 2023 FIBA World Cup. If Doncic wanted to do some offseason recruiting, he wouldn’t need to go far.
With Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie now the only true playmakers on the Mavs roster, getting Dragic as a backup to play 10-to-15 minutes a night and continue to serve as a mentor to the young superstar would be an ideal situation for everyone involved.
While Dallas only has veteran minimum contracts left to offer, this should be enough for Dragic, who could be entering the final season of his career.
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It was surprising to see Schroder stick with the Rockets after the trade deadline, as he seemed like an ideal buyout candidate to go join a contender. While he finished out his contract in Houston, The Athletic’s Kelly Iko reports he’ll likely sign elsewhere now:
“With regards to their own free agents, Dennis Schroder is liked in Houston, but he’s expected to have a new home for the 2022-23 season, sources told The Athletic. Schröder arrived at the February trade deadline and brought professionalism, experience and speed to a team in need, but with Daishen Nix on tap, as well as Porter, Christopher and Green, there’s a real need to clear minutes for the roster’s developing young talent. Schröder is 28, in the prime of his career, expecting to play big minutes and compete deep in the playoffs.”
Of the teams with at least the taxpayer mid-level exception left, Miami makes the most sense for Schroder.
Kyle Lowry had a rocky first season with the Heat, as the 36-year-old missed 19 games and averaged his lowest scoring output since the 2012-13 season (13.4 points per game). While third-year guard Gabe Vincent did an admirable job filling in, Miami could use another veteran ball-handler as insurance for Lowry and to help keep him fresh for the playoffs.
Schroder averaged 13.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists between the Boston Celtics and Rockets and is just two years removed from winning Sixth Man of the Year with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He’d be a backup to Lowry here but could still receive good minutes for a team that just made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Look for Schroder to sign a one-year deal at the taxpayer mid-level of $6.5 million in Miami to help keep Lowry fresh.
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The number of teams left who can pay Sexton above a mid-level exception is down to two, providing more evidence that the 23-year-old guard will be back in Cleveland.
Only the San Antonio Spurs ($38.5 million) and Indiana Pacers ($27.9 million) have more than the $10.5 million mid-level exception, per Spotrac’s Keith Smith. The Cavs only have part of their mid-level remaining after signing Ricky Rubio, but have Sexton’s bird rights and can go over the salary cap to keep him.
The Spurs could technically use a guard after trading Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks, but this franchise looks to be in full tank mode heading into the 2022-23 season. Signing Sexton would help them win, which may not be the goal right now.
Indiana already has its backcourt of the future with Tyrese Haliburton and rookie Bennedict Mathurin, meaning Sexton would likely be signing on to become the team’s sixth man along with Buddy Hield.
Cleveland is in a much better position to win than either team after coming within one game of reaching the playoffs last season and could promise Sexton his job as the starting shooting guard.
Sexton, although also repped by Klutch Sports Group, isn’t going to get a max deal like his backcourt mate Darius Garland just received. He and the Cavs could even negotiate a shorter deal that allows him to become an unrestricted free agent earlier, similar to the three-year, $52.5 million deal Caris LeVert signed with the Brooklyn Nets in 2019.
With cap space drying up, look for Sexton to stay with the Cavaliers.
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The buzz around Ayton has been suspiciously silent lately, which means there could be more at play here.
With Kevin Durant officially requesting a trade, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that the Phoenix Suns are at the top of his list.
Now, this doesn’t mean Ayton would be going to Brooklyn, as a sign-and-trade would hard cap a Nets team that already has $173.8 million in salary. For any Durant-to-Phoenix trade, a third team would almost have to be involved.
This is where the Pacers come in.
Indiana could be a home for Ayton with Myles Turner possessing just a single year left on his contract. Given Turner’s three-point shooting ability, the two could play alongside each other as well.
There’s a base of a three-team trade to be found here where Durant goes to the Suns, Ayton is signed and traded to the Pacers and the Nets receive a package based around Mikal Bridges, Turner and a whole lot of first-round picks and additional players.
As offers continue to pour in for Durant, don’t be surprised if Ayton’s free agency drags on for a while longer as the Suns keep their options open. Ultimately look for Ayton to land with the Pacers to join a young core that features Tyrese Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin and Chris Duarte.