2022 NBA free agency: Dream scenarios for Deandre Ayton, Miles Bridges - Sports Illustrated

2022 NBA free agency: Dream scenarios for Deandre Ayton, Miles Bridges – Sports Illustrated

NBA free agency tips off on June 30, and while a bunch of superstar movement isn’t expected, there are some players available who can absolutely help change the fortunes or direction of a franchise. So now seems like a good time as any to play some free agency matchmaker! Here are a few free agents who could be on the move this summer, where I would like to see them play next, and why I think this new team could be a great fit.

Deandre Ayton, Raptors

Okay, let’s get down to business here. The Suns decided not to extend Ayton last summer, and now he’s a restricted free agent. Phoenix can match any offer Ayton signs and bring him back. Another option would be to move him in a sign-and-trade, and that’s how I have Ayton headed to Toronto. The Suns can get valuable players in return, and the Raptors can acquire someone they otherwise wouldn’t have the space to sign.

The specifics aren’t easy. Could the Suns somehow pry both OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa from Toronto? Would the Raptors ever be willing to part with Pascal Siakam to bring in Ayton and open up more responsibility for Scottie Barnes? Whatever the particulars are, Toronto needs a big, and the Suns need rotation players who are ready for the postseason. There’s some combination in here that would be sensible for both sides.

I like Ayton’s fit with the Raptors for a few reasons. After all the winning in Phoenix the last two seasons, I think Ayton would be better suited to join a team trying to contend soon as opposed to a rebuilding team like the Pistons. Nick Nurse is also a creative offensive mind who could find interesting ways to use Ayton’s various offensive skills. And Fred VanVleet would still provide a worthy pick-and-roll partner.

Considering how poorly last season ended for Ayton personally, a change of scenery could be what he needs to continue the upward trajectory of his career. Entering a relationship with the Raptors could be the most beneficial option for all parties involved.

Miles Bridges, Pistons

Another restricted free agent, Bridges turned down an extension offer from the Hornets last year, then put together a spectacular season that earned him a lot of money. Bridges is a two-way forward with elite athleticism. His three-point shot waxes and wanes, but other than that he can score in a variety of ways, perhaps most importantly with a willingness to screen and play off the ball. The Pistons, meanwhile, are putting together an exciting young roster. Cade Cunningham is an emerging star, most draftniks are high on Jaden Ivey, Saddiq Bey can fill it up, and Marvin Bagley is looming as a potentially high-reward reclamation project.

Bridges, meanwhile, is from Michigan and only 24 years old. He would seemingly be excited to play in Detroit, and a four-year max deal would take him through only the early stages of his prime. Even if a max seems like a lot for Bridges, the Pistons don’t have to worry about paying anyone else for a few years, and so far in his career Bridges has shown improvement every season. Would Charlotte match a four-year max for Bridges? Likely yes, and for good reason. Bridges remains a great fit with the Hornets, particularly because of his growing chemistry with LaMelo Ball. But with Cunningham becoming one of the game’s most intriguing young players in his own right, Bridges has good options on where he could be a high-flying running mate.

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Tyus Jones, Grizzlies

With the Wizards and Knicks both appearing to have solved their point guard problems with Monte Morris and Jalen Brunson, respectively, Jones and the Grizzlies should really try to work something out. Jones has been rock solid in Memphis, and while he may be stuck behind Ja Morant on the depth chart, he will always be an important rotation piece for the Grizz. I understand Jones may want an opportunity to start, but I would hate to see him sign with an ultimately irrelevant team for the chance to do so. Memphis also shouldn’t take Jones for granted. The Grizzlies’ depth was a key ingredient to their success in 2022. After already shipping out De’Anthony Melton, I would like to see Memphis keep a steady vet in Jones around its up-and-coming group.

Gary Harris, Lakers

This one may not really be possible. Malik Monk will likely command the Lakers’ taxpayer mid-level exception, and that would leave Los Angeles with minimum slots to fill out the roster. As great as Monk was for Los Angeles, I would be tempted to offer the mid-level to Harris and see if he’s willing to take a one-year, prove-it deal, perhaps with a player option attached. Harris could probably make more on the open market, but I think him and the Lakers are perfect for each other. Harris is a 3-and-D player who was a budding star until some injuries in Denver derailed his progress. Harris is used to playing off a ball-dominant star, and at the same time he can do more than just spot up around the three-point line offensively. For all of Monk’s offensive success last season, he would still be a target for opponents as a defender in the playoffs.

In this scenario—which is admittedly a little ruthless for me to cast Monk aside—Harris signs a one-year deal, and balls out playing off LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He becomes their most valuable two-way role player, shoots lights out from three, and finally restores some sense to the Lakers’ supporting cast. The Lakers get a player who can actually help them in a deep playoff run, and Harris perhaps re-enters the market next summer with even more teams vying for his services.

I know the Hornets recently hired Steve Clifford, but if you told me they could only have one of either a head coach or a center, I would’ve said Charlotte needs to sign a big. Looney won’t have the same value to the Hornets as he does to the Warriors. But he’s the kind of high-floor center the team desperately needs. With a new Bridges’ contract a possibility, it could be difficult to pry Looney away. If Charlotte were able to somehow dump Gordon Hayward and take on very little money in return, that would make it much easier to give Looney say the full non-taxpayer mid-level.

P.J. Tucker, Nets

Tucker seems almost certainly headed to Philadelphia, which means Brooklyn seemingly can’t sign him. But his size and toughness are exactly what the Nets need alongside Kevin Durant and (presumably) Kyrie. 

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