This past summer’s NBA free-agency period was a little different than most. With very little cap space available throughout the league, several teams were limited to exceptions and sign-and-trades as their only avenues to landing new talent.
That squeezed a lot of players, including some high-profile ones, out of the market entirely.
Free agency doesn’t end when the season starts, though. Teams can add talent throughout the season, and a few front offices may see themselves differently than they did two months ago.
A couple of organizations that may have previously entertained a rebuild are playing better than expected. Would they consider supplementing the current roster?
A couple of others are playing poorly after solid starts to the season. Tearing down the roster and rebuilding may be something they should think about, but there’s no guarantee they will. If they’re committed to chasing a playoff berth, there are free agents who might help them.
Those four teams and players who could fit them are found below.
This summer, Kevin Durant issued a trade request to the Brooklyn Nets and then an ultimatum. As if that wasn’t enough, there were rumors about Kyrie Irving winding up on the Los Angeles Lakers, too.
Had the Nets desired, they could have collected as many assets as possible and steered aggressively into a rebuild. A 1-5 start to the campaign may have inspired the same decision.
The Nets are now flying up the standings, though. If they simply stand pat and wait for the roster to get healthy, they should be on their way to the postseason.
The problem is that good health hasn’t been the norm in Brooklyn.
Kyrie’s availability has been dubious, at best, especially since he joined the Nets. Ben Simmons, who sat out all of 2021-22 with back and mental health concerns, has already missed 10 games with various ailments this season. Patty Mills is 34 years old.
Another playmaker who could fill in when one or more of the above are out could help, and 28-year-old Kris Dunn is making a case for himself in the G League.
Through 10 games with the Capital City Go-Go, Dunn is averaging 14.3 points, 5.6 assists and 1.8 steals in 25.5 minutes while shooting 64.4 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from three.
His NBA shooting marks (42.0 percent overall, 29.9 percent from deep) suggest the G League efficiency wouldn’t stick, but the Nets likely wouldn’t need him to do much scoring anyway.
Dunn is a good perimeter defender who could be deployed alongside Durant. If he can simply eat some minutes, help the defense and score as a cutter, he’d fit.
Of course, Brooklyn may also be short a big man, too—even with the roster healthy. The answer could be as simple as Hassan Whiteside or DeMarcus Cousins (more on them later).
After hovering around .500 through the first 12 games of the season, the Chicago Bulls are now comfortably below that line. With $86.4 million committed to DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević, a below-.500 finish would be pretty disappointing.
Chicago could get in front of the potential headache by pursuing the oft-rumored “DeRozan and Vučević for Russell Westbrook and future assets” trade with the Los Angeles Lakers, but that would obviously signal a rebuild.
If the Bulls aren’t willing to go there, a veteran floor spacer could shore up their chances to get to the playoffs.
Carmelo Anthony is coming off a solid 2021-22 in which he averaged 13.3 points in 26.0 minutes off the bench for L.A. Over his past three seasons, he’s shooting 38.9 percent from deep.
Despite being 38, he could command some respect at the three-point line. While his defense may lead to some problems for Chicago, if the Bulls have to prioritize one side of the floor over the other, they should lean toward bolstering their offense.
The Bulls are 20th in the league in points per 100 possessions and eighth in points allowed per 100 possessions. Additionally, their point differential is significantly better when current starting 4 Patrick Williams is off the floor.
A third of the way into 2022-23, the 15-win Utah Jazz are already about two-thirds of the way to their preseason over-under of 23.5.
Even if they do nothing transactionally for the rest of the season, they’ll probably smash that total and compete for a playoff berth.
Much like the Nets, though, there are some concerns with durability for the current backcourt.
Mike Conley is 35 and has already missed 11 games this season. Collin Sexton missed most of 2021-22 with a torn meniscus. He appears to have fully recovered, but you can never be too careful with knees.
If one or both were to go through another extended absence, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jordan Clarkson might be fine, but another playmaker wouldn’t hurt.
Frank Jackson’s NBA career hasn’t lived up to the high profile he had as a high school recruit, but he may be rehabbing his value a bit for Utah’s G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars.
Through eight games, Jackson is averaging 21.6 points, 3.0 threes and 2.8 assists while shooting 40.0 percent from deep.
And while he certainly wouldn’t maintain that kind of production after a call-up, a 40.7 three-point percentage in the NBA in 2020-21 suggests he can at least provide some floor spacing in the show.
The Washington Wizards are in a situation similar to the Bulls. After a solid start, the team is now well below .500.
Gauging the markets for Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porziņģis and Kyle Kuzma makes plenty of sense, but the front office has been reluctant to pursue a full-scale teardown during what we’ll call the Beal era.
If Washington is still inclined to push for the playoffs, it would help to add another playmaker alongside Monte Morris. With Porziņģis’ injury history, adding a big man might be wise, too.
But if we look at the blueprint laid by the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics over the past few years, the most obvious route to competitiveness may be continuing to add combo forwards who can shoot.
Positionless basketball continues to be all the rage, and Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, Corey Kispert and Kuzma give Washington some players who fit within that philosophy.
Rodney Hood could add to the depth there. Falling out of his teams’ rotations in 2020-21 and 2021-22 seemed to hurt his rhythm as a shooter, but Hood shot 38.4 percent from deep over three seasons from 2017-18 to 2019-20.
If the 6’8″ wing can recapture that prowess from the outside, he’d be a boost to a Wizards team that’s currently tied for 22nd in threes per game and 20th in three-point percentage.
If injuries or other struggles create needs (or roster spots) around the league, a handful of other current free agents might be worth a call.
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