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The completion of the 2022 NBA draft has helped paint a better picture of how we should expect free agency to now unfold.
From the Detroit Pistons trading back into the lottery to acquire Jalen Duren, the Washington Wizards choosing to keep the No. 10 overall pick instead of flipping it for veteran help, the New York Knicks’ decision to trade out of the first round entirely or other draft night drama, the ripple effects will now surely carry over into the next stage of the NBA offseason.
Based on what went down during the draft, don’t be surprised if these spicy free-agent predictions now come true.
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Following a horrific season with the Knicks where Walker was in and out of the rotation and eventually shut down for the year in mid-February, the Knicks were able to get off the veteran guard’s contract Thursday night.
As part of a three-team trade, Walker was shipped to the Detroit Pistons in a salary-cap-saving move by New York. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Pistons and Walker are expected to discuss a contract buyout that will allow the 32-year-old to become a free agent.
While teams like the Washington Wizards, Brooklyn Nets (depending on Kyrie Irving’s future), Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers could all use another ball-handler off the bench, Walker will undoubtedly receive a lot of recruiting from the boys in purple and gold.
With Russell Westbrook’s future with the Los Angeles Lakers in doubt and Kendrick Nunn missing the entire 2021-22 season because of injury, Walker could come in and help stabilize the point guard position next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. If nothing else, he’s a much-needed spot-up shooter who hit 40.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes with the Knicks this past season.
The Lakers are extremely limited in what they can spend, so getting Walker on a minimum deal would be a great value, even if he’s no longer close to being the All-Star we saw as recently as the 2019-20 season.
Look for Walker to get his buyout from the Pistons and sign with the Lakers for the veteran’s minimum while still getting paid by the Oklahoma City Thunder and now Detroit as well.
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After trading Jerami Grant to the Portland Trail Blazers in a move that opened up roughly $20 million in additional cap space, the lukewarm Ayton-to-Detroit rumors became red-hot.
As The Athletic’s James L. Edwards III wrote, “Per sources, Detroit is heavily expected to pursue Phoenix Suns big man and 2018 No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton in the open market.”
This was before draft night, however, when the Pistons gave up the 2025 first-round pick (via Milwaukee Bucks) they received in the trade for Grant in order to pick up an additional 2022 lottery pick. Detroit landed Memphis big man Jalen Duren at No. 13 overall, the first true center taken in the draft.
Given that the team still has Isaiah Stewart, the 16th overall pick in 2020, at center as well, would the Pistons still want to give Ayton the max? Their money may be better spent elsewhere.
Miles Bridges, a Flint, Michigan, native who played his college ball at Michigan State, could be a surprise target here instead of Ayton. With Grant gone, Bridges would become the team’s new starting power forward after averaging 20.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists while shooting 49.1 percent with the Charlotte Hornets last year.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that “there’s hesitancy from Charlotte to match a max sheet” for Bridges, who, like Ayton, is a restricted free agent.
For a Pistons team that still possesses max cap space even after adding Duren and taking on Kemba Walker in a trade, Detroit should make a huge offer to Bridges instead.
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The Detroit Pistons ending up with Jalen Duren should put an end to Ayton’s chances at getting a max contract offer from Detroit.
There’s another destination out there that could make sense for the 2018 No. 1 overall pick, and perhaps one even more ready to win than the Pistons.
Ayton to the Spurs should be a real possibility.
San Antonio can give Ayton the max contract he seeks (with about $32.6 million in cap space, per Spotrac’s Keith Smith) and has a potential need at center with Jakob Poeltl entering the final year of his deal.
It’s worth noting that the Spurs had three-first rounders in the 2022 draft and declined to take a center with any of them, even with Poeltl’s contract situation. San Antonio selected forward Jeremy Sochan out of Baylor with the No. 9 overall pick when Duren was still available.
The Suns won’t let Ayton just walk for nothing, however.
Phoenix should push for Poeltl back in a sign-and-trade deal, including anything else it can get from the Spurs. A core of Dejounte Murray, Ayton, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Josh Primo, Sochan and Malaki Branham (selected at No. 20 overall) should be in the West playoff picture next season.
The Pistons now have two young centers on rookie contracts to build around. The Spurs have none.
Ayton will end up a Spur and become the next great big man to wear the black and silver.
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The Knicks will either come away from the 2022 NBA draft looking like prophets or there could be another complete overhaul in the front office. This year’s free agency will help to decide which.
Despite being able to take an impact rookie with the No. 11 overall pick, New York traded out of the first round entirely. The Knicks’ reward was three protected 2023 first-round picks from the Oklahoma City Thunder, although the Knicks gave one up to dump Kemba Walker’s expiring contract on the Detroit Pistons while also picking up a 2025 first via the Milwaukee Bucks.
When the dust finally settled, New York cleared $9.2 million in cap space and will now have between $16 million and $18 million to spend in free agency.
With no franchise point guard on the roster, the Knicks will now go all-in for Brunson, even if it means clearing additional salary.
While it’s true the 25-year-old could make more money and sign for a fifth year with the Dallas Mavericks, he’ll never be the primary ball-handler with Luka Doncic around. Although RJ Barrett and Julius Randle will do their share of playmaking, this could be Brunson’s offense to run, especially with his dad, Rick, now working as an assistant coach for Tom Thibodeau.
The Knicks may need to shed one more contract (Nerlens Noel or Alec Burks would be the easiest), but Brunson will eventually sign with New York and get to play the role he never would have in Dallas.
The Knicks get their point guard, now have four first-round picks in 2023 (most are protected) and have an additional one owed in 2025.
Not bad for giving up their pick now.
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Despite needing a true floor general more than any other NBA team, the Wizards decided to keep their 10th overall pick and select Wisconsin 2-guard Johnny Davis instead.
This wasn’t a bad pick, but it could have an impact on Bradley Beal’s future with the franchise.
Davis isn’t a point guard. He averaged more turnovers (2.3) than assists (2.1) last season and shot just 42.7 percent overall. While the 20-year-old is a good defender and talented rebounder, that’s not what the Wizards need next to Beal.
Trading the pick in a deal for a win-now, proven point guard a la Malcolm Brogdon would have sent a far better message to Beal. Even picking up a player like De’Anthony Melton, who was traded from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Philadelphia 76ers for Danny Green and the No. 23 overall pick, would have been a big improvement for the Wizards.
Now, Beal has 248 million reasons to return to Washington on a five-year deal, but the Wizards’ lack of urgency to win should have him seriously considering sign-and-trade opportunities. He’s already admitted to being recruited “a lot,” according to The Athletic’s Josh Robbins, and claims he’s already made up his mind about his playing future, although that was before seeing what Washington did on draft night.
A sign-and-trade would cost Beal some significant money (he could max out at four years and $184 million), although it would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent again around his 33rd birthday with one more big deal likely to come.
Teams such as the Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies would offer a real chance at a championship next season and shouldn’t be worried about being hard-capped in a sign-and-trade.
For a player who’s already secured $180 million in NBA checks and will get a minimum of $184 million more over the next four years, Beal could actually turn down a max deal with the Wizards and push for a sign-and-trade to a contender instead.
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