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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 15th-21st

While we’re still at a relatively young point of this current NBA season, just about 20 percent of the season has elapsed and it’s becoming increasingly clear what fate holds for each team. Down below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action!

Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan are the league’s best duo

To some, this first takeaway may be absurd, but it’s not if you’ve watched LaVine and DeRozan play consistently. Even in a league where dynamic duos are as common as foul calls and slam dunks, there hasn’t been a better and more impactful duo than the Bulls’ pair of likely 2022 All-Star selections.

Between the two leading the league in fourth-quarter points (DeRozan has 126 and LaVine has 111) and being the fastest duo in 59 years to produce ten games with 25+ points apiece, DeRozan and LaVine have lifted the Bulls’ ceiling from fringe-playoff team to a viable title contender.

The Bucks are beginning to bounce back

Even though the reigning world champion’s 6-8 start had a few people questioning their chances of repeating, the Bucks have righted the ship after winning three consecutive games. Giannis Antetokounmpo is not only going beast mode as he’s averaging 33 points, 16 rebounds, and five assists per game during the Bucks’ winning streak but so is the rest of their roster as key players recover from injuries.

With the return of fellow All-Star Kris Middleton (COVID-19) and Bobby Portis and Jrue Holiday regaining their productive form, the Bucks have the opportunity to rack up wins during a soft portion of their schedule; until December 8th, the Bucks only face four teams with a winning record (Charlotte, Cleveland, Denver, and Miami), and two of them are battling injuries as we speak (Cleveland and Denver).

Rudy Gay is going to fit in nicely in Utah

Sure, the 11-5 Utah Jazz already have a plethora of talent, but that doesn’t mean they can’t receive additional help. While receiving reliable and all-around production from their regular cast of contributors, the Western Conference competitor received a sizable bump in scoring and size when veteran forward Rudy Gay made his season debut on Saturday night.

The former San Antonio Spur delivered 20 points in his first game as a Jazz and has added another dimension to the team’s offense. At 6-foot-8, Gay is comfortable playing on the perimeter and is able to create his own shot from any area of the court because of his ability to shoot over defenders. This development is massive for a Jazz team that enjoys having as many shot-creators as possible, especially in the postseason.

The Lakers can’t be any worse than what they just were

The last three weeks have certainly been a roller-coaster in La-La land, but you know what? Even at 9-9, the Los Angeles Lakers are pretty much at their nadir as a team, and, for them, that’s a good thing. Even while enduring a recent Lebron-less three-game losing streak and randomly getting blown out by the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Lakers showed just enough promise of what they could become soon.

And while it’s easy to look at Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook as the primary reasons for such optimism, the most promising development has been the improvement of third-year wing Talen Horton-Tucker. Through his first five games, Horton-Tucker has offered the Lakers a needed jolt of energy and athleticism; head coach Frank Vogel has to keep him involved no matter what.

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Sports Strength

Why This Chicago Bulls Roster Is Their Best in Years

Some arenas occupy a special spot in hoops lore and the United Center—the house that Michael Jordan built—is no exception. Unfortunately, despite their vaunted court, the Chicago Bulls haven’t managed to attain that same success since Jordan retired in 1998. Until… now?

This season feels like a whole new ballgame for Bulls fans. With a completely revamped roster, new coaching and a front office that makes actual well thought-out decisions, there’s a chance that this year, Bulls fans will be watching their team play important games in May.

Over the summer, Arturas Karnišovas and the rest of the Bulls’ recently installed front office conducted a full make-over of Chicago’s roster; only two players (Zach Lavine and Coby White) remain on the roster from the despairing GarPax days. In their first major move of the off-season, the Bulls addressed their long standing need for a pure point guard by trading for Lonzo Ball. Although Ball lacks the ball-handling fluidity to be a permanent lead guard, he’s an intelligent and willing passer who will spring fast break opportunities for explosive wings like Lavine, Derrick Jones Jr. and Alex Caruso. 

If acquiring Ball helps juice their transition attack, sign-and-trading for DeMar DeRozan was done with an eye on their half-court offense. Although DeRozan ostensibly overlaps with Lavine in both form and function, DeRozan was primarily used as a power forward last year in San Antonio. As such, DeRozan’s abilities as both a scorer and facilitator poses a matchup nightmare for the opposing power forwards who will be tasked with guarding him. 

Similarly, Nikola Vucevic, their marquee addition at last year’s trade deadline, offers a surfeit of skill at the center position. Besides Nikola Jokic, no other big man in the NBA has the same level of fluency with the ball as Vucevic, who’s able to score at all three levels. 

With most of Chicago’s recent moves focused on bolstering their offense, the Bulls are relying on sophomore forward Patrick Williams to anchor their defense. In many ways, Williams is the archetypal defensive stud in 2021. Although Williams has neither the size to be a true rim protector nor the spindliness to navigate screens on the perimeter against guards, he’s tremendously versatile and instinctive. Most of all, he’s an event-creator off the ball, wreaking havoc by lurking in passing lanes for steals or sliding over for blocks from the weakside. Playing alongside mediocre defenders like Lavine, DeRozan and Vucevic, Williams will be tasked with plugging leaks whenever and wherever they arise. 

What To Expect 

Up-tempo offense and smart defensive plays/rotations will be the Bulls’ calling card. Last season, the Bulls’ defense was threadbare at best, with almost no movement or rotations. Still, in their four preseason games, the Bulls now look like a revamped team with an aggressive new defensive scheme: with no free lanes given, every enemy drive to the basket yielded attacks on the ball. 

Offensively, Chicago seems equipped to unload from well beyond the arc; with guys like Lavine and Vucevic shooting above 40 percent from deep, this is a team that has some serious three-point shooting artillery. Equally exciting is how many former dunk champions are on the team: Demar Derozan, Derrick Jones Jr., Zach Lavine. And those high-flying dunks will look even better coming off alley-oop assists from Ball and Caruso.

Ceiling And Floor For This Team 

Ceiling: Three-seed in the East. The Bulls have what it takes to dominate in the East, although they probably can’t quite hang with Brooklyn or Milwaukee yet. Nonetheless, a three-seed would be a sizable win for the Bulls, who haven’t seen the playoffs in nearly five years.

Floor: Play-in tournament. Missing the playoffs will be a failure for this team; in fact, even finishing eighth would be disappointing. 

Overall, this team has untapped potential, particularly as Zach Lavine comes into his own. Don’t be surprised if, all season, the buzz is about the madhouse on Madison.