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ONE37pm’s Sports Vertical Previews The 2022 NBA Free Agency

*This article was written prior to the news of Kevin Durant requesting a trade from the Brooklyn Nets early Wednesday afternoon.

As much action is filled on the court every NBA season, the same is said for off of it. Through the growing nature of free agency and trade talks, it’s become common for NBA fans and media to speculate about the future of players and teams. And that development will play out again as the 2022 NBA Free Agency begins at 6 PM EST tonight.

While this year’s free agency isn’t defined by its star power, it includes impactful contributors (Jalen Brunson, Zach LaVine, and Deandre Ayton) who have enticed teams that are determined to improve. Before the start of free agency, ONE37pm’s Sports Vertical came together and shared their expectations for this time of year.

Will there be any surprises? Is there a certain signing each team should make? Continue reading to find out more!

What is your biggest expectation for free agency this summer?

Justin Cohen: I think there will be a lot of player movement. I don’t expect a lot of blockbuster trades, but I expect teams to buff out their rosters and add depth with impactful role players. The CBA is set to expire at the end of this season, so I’m intrigued about how that may affect teams signing players to longer-term contracts. 

Martino Puccio: My biggest expectation is a team like the Lakers to make some sort of move that doesn’t waste time on the partnership of LeBron and AD. Whether it’s getting rid of Westbrook or adding great role players. They have the most pressure to figure it out

Which teams do you expect to be the most and least active?

Jack Tien-Dana: Considering the Knicks have already made three trades and loosened up $30 million in cap room, it’s hard to imagine a team being more active than them. To a degree, this activity is necessary—the Knicks have 22 draft picks over the next seven years and can’t possibly add that many guys to a roster that already has a critical mass of developing young players.

Continuing their decades-long trend, the Knicks will be confusing at best and smooth-brained at worst. Whereas the Knicks chronically do too much, Oklahoma City is devoted to never doing anything. With mega-prospect Victory Wembanyama looming as the prize of next year’s lottery, the Thunder are in no rush to try to be an actual team for the foreseeable future.

Justin Cohen: A team like the Miami Heat will be extremely active this free agency. Miami Heat president Pat Riley is never satisfied, and a loss in the Eastern Conference Finals surely left a fire burning in his seat.

I expect them to try and target another superstar to pair with Butler and Adebayo. I don’t think the Warriors will be active in acquiring new players but instead will focus on resigning players. 

Jael Rucker: I expect Brooklyn to be very active {laughs}.

If there’s a signing that makes TOO much sense, what would it be?

Bo Templin: You know what signing makes a lot of sense? The MASSIVE 5-year deal for the St. Louis product, Bradley Beal. Go get that bag.

The other fit that seems nice is PJ Tucker going to the Sixers. He’s played with Harden and would be an outstanding voice for that team.

Jack Tien-Dana: Mo Bamba to the Lakers. Despite having two of the very best players alive, the Lakers are a sclerotic team without many avenues to improve. Accordingly, Mo Bamba (of “Mo Bamba”  fame) is the sole realistic option who could make a meaningful difference.

An expert shot-blocker and budding marksman, Bamba was one of only four players to average more than 1.5 threes and 1.5 blocks per game. And he’s somehow rumored to be available for just the $6.5 million mid-level exception. Still only 23, Bamba offers an enticing package of immediate production and future promise.

Justin Cohen: Blake Griffin to the Clippers. Yes, this wouldn’t be the most impactful or even the best fit, but to see Blake Griffin in a Clippers jersey one more time would be beautiful.

It would also be quite poetic to see Griffin win a championship with the franchise he brought back from the dead. 

Martino Puccio: A signing that would make too much sense to me is Brunson to NYK. For the Knicks to move all these mountains and for him to get insane money for just four years is something that should be a no-brainer, IMO.

Speaking of Jalen Brunson, do you believe he’s worth a max contract?

Bo Templin: While I think Jalen Brunson is a very solid player, I’m not sold on him being a max contract player on a championship-contending team. He would help the Knicks, sure. But what would really change? A first-round exit maybe?

Jael Rucker: Yes! Give Jalen Brunson what he deserves!

Justin Cohen: When dissecting who ‘deserves’ a max contract, the context of player availability is crucial. I don’t think there are many great point guards slated to be free agents this summer and Brunson has proved he can put up wins in the postseason.

I’ve personally gotten the opportunity to watch Jalen grow since his freshman year of high school and the progression he continues to show is worth a max in my mind. 

Given the likelihood of James Harden and Bradley Beal resigning with their teams, do player options carry as much weight as they use to?

Bo Templin: This is a really interesting question. I think the player options only hold weight if the dominoes fall in your favor. Every off-season, it feels like there is a 1-2 domino falling process that really kickstarts everything else.

People with options have the luxury of waiting. So I think they still hold weight with the timing of the offseason.

Jack Tien-Dana: Player options are the most basic, effective way that players can control when and what they’re paid. Since Bradley Beal is opting out of his deal, the Wizards have no choice but to lavish him with a quarter-billion dollars to stick around—by turning down his $36.4 million option for next year, he’s now positioned to make $50 million for the next five.

Conversely, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving all exercised their options because it guarantees them a payday they wouldn’t receive otherwise. What teams are lining up to throw a max deal at two guys who are probably bad now and another guy who’s a terminally flighty weirdo? More than Brechtian trade demands or sub-tweet melodrama or podcasting, player options are how players are empowered.

Jael Rucker: Yes and no. I think it depends on the player, the team, and the situation. I will say that I think owners are kind of starting to take control back of situations.

Justin Cohen: They do because it’s just another way to give the players more freedom. I really like James Harden taking a page out of Tom Brady’s book and taking a pay cut to allow the 76ers flexibility with their cap space.

With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire at the end of next season, we could see a change in how player and team options work. 

Martino Puccio: I think these player options don’t hold as much weight depending on the situation, but the money for these superstars after the tv deals are so great that they have so much flexibility.

Seeing what an Evan Fournier can grab via FA these guys know the leverage they have so they probably don’t stress the options.

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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From November 29th-December 5th

As everyone’s focus is to either improve or build upon what happened during the first quarter of this NBA season, the quote “iron sharpens iron” becomes a living reality. Whether it’s conference-leading teams going toe to toe or young stars taking on their idols, the season’s second quarter becomes a proving ground before the All-Star break. Below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action!

The league’s past, present and future are having memorable battles

It’s normal for the league to have its first heavy slate of important matchups when the calendar turns to December, but it doesn’t make it less exciting. Now on a nightly basis, there’s a matchup that pits any cominbation of the league’s past, present, and future stars against each other. Accordingly, on Sunday night, we watched an incredible duel between guards Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell.

Garland, the third-year Cleveland Cavalier who’s having a breakout year, had 31 points and five assists, and Mitchell, the Utah Jazz’s soon-to-be superstar, finished with 35 points and six assists in a 109-108 thrilling Jazz victory. As the game inched closer to its conclusion, both players weren’t shy to score and guard each other in the clutch while already being the two best players on the court.

The NY Knicks are struggling to build upon last season’s success

After being one of the league’s biggest surprise stories last season, the Knicks have struggled to regain that spark as they’re currently 11-12 and sitting outside of the Eastern Conference playoff race due to their ongoing three-game losing streak. And while this season’s Knicks team is more talented, they certainly don’t have the determination and focus that powered last season’s team to a surprise playoff appearance.

“We gotta look ourselves in the mirror and decide what we want the season to be,” Julius Randle said after the team’s 113-99 loss against the Denver Nuggets last Saturday. “I know what I want it to be. I know what the guys want it to be. But we have to commit to it, and that’s just really what it is.”

CanWill Damian Lillard find his swagger before it’s too late?

To say it’s been a crazy handful of months for Lillard is an understatement. In between readjusting to a new head coach, daily rumors surrounding his unhappiness with the Portland Trail Blazers, and him and the team’s constant struggles, Lillard now has one more problem: injuries.

The multi-time All-Star will be out of action for at least ten days due to an abdominal injury, and it couldn’t have happened at the worst time. Despite averaging his lowest points per game average since his third NBA season (2014-’15), Lillard was beginning to regain his previous form, as witnessed by his 39 and 32-point performances against the Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings between November 20th-24th.

The Thunder are simply bad and there isn’t much to say about that

While it’s already unfathomable that the Oklahoma City Thunder lost by 73 points last Friday, it’s crazier when you realize they lost by 57 points less than six months ago. And even though the NBA can’t do anything about the Thunder and their rare, historic losses, some say an eye should be kept on their performance moving forward.

In the spirit of competitiveness and further eliminating the thought of tanking, which at one point plagued the mind of sports fans, the Thunder must turn the corner in that department, even if it doesn’t produce a more wins.

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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From October 26th-31st

Are you not entertained? After witnessing a great opening week to the 2021-’22 NBA regular season, the league’s second week in action managed to raise the stakes even more. At one point, we had three undefeated teams. The defending champs dropped below .500. New York City, by way of midtown Manhattan, is witnessing high-level basketball again. And Jimmy Butler is getting early hype as league MVP! So down below are my four biggest takeaways from it!

How about those Knicks?

Listen, we know most teams, including the NY Knicks, are only six or so games into their new season but can we acknowledge how great they looked? After having a surprising home loss against the Orlando Magic to conclude their opening week, the current No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference went 3-0 between last Tuesday-Sunday, with every win being a statement win.

Although Julius Randle has struggled to maintain his All-NBA form from last year, the Knicks have been buoyed by contributions from their lesser stars. Despite murmurs that the Knicks overpaid for him in free agency, Evan Fournier has emerged as a fearless wing scorer with his combination of on-ball chutzpah and off-ball craftiness. Even more promising, RJ Barrett has solidified the gains he made as a shooter last year while also emerging as an elite defender.

Lastly, Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose are providing the Knicks with the most stability, they have had in their backcourt in two decades.

Carmelo is making a run for Sixth Man of the Year

While NBA fans have debated whether the Los Angeles Lakers can overcome their roster’s oldness and awkward construction, one undeniable truth has emerged: Carmelo Anthony still is a bucket. In his first season as a Laker, the future Hall of Famer is averaging 16 PPG and has made himself an early, viable candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. Moreover, Anthony has scored with remarkable efficiency, shooting 50 percent from the field and 52% from long range.

Whether it’s as a shooter, scorer, or simply another body on the floor, Anthony’s presence has created the spacing and dynamism the Lakers’ offense often lacked last season.

Jimmy Butler for MVP?

If any player was looking to bounce back from a lackluster season, it was Jimmy Butler. After leading the Heat to the NBA Finals one year ago, Butler and Co. came back to Earth with an inconsistent regular season performance (Their 40-32 record landed them the sixth seed) before getting swept in the first round. But now? It’s Butler’s time for payback.

As his Heat stands at 5-1 after winning four consecutive games, including a pair of impressive wins over the Nets and Hornets, Butler is arguably playing the best basketball of his career. The Marquette product is currently averaging career-highs in points (25), rebounds (7.0), and steals per game (2.8), and field-goal percentage (52.9%) while also having the league’s third-highest player efficiency rating (30.69).

And who are the two players in front of Butler? The last-two MVP winners, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Wizards may have figured something out!

Amid the action during the NBA’s first two weeks, the Washington Wizards and their 5-1 record have flown under the radar. Even if it’s extremely unlikely that the Wizards will be able to sustain this pace, they deserve credit for what they’ve accomplished so far.

Bradley Beal has upped the ante as a complete player, bouncing back from a slow start to average 31 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists per game over his last two games. In addition, the Wizards’ trio of summer additions in Spencer Dinwiddle, Kyle Kuzma, and Montrezl Harrell have played the kind of basketball that provides a second wind in most players’ careers.

If you’re wondering who the Wizards have beaten this season, say hello to the Celtics (twice), Hawks, and Raptors, with two of those wins being on the road.