Bruce Brown and Fred VanVleet Cole Burston/Getty Images

Top Landing Spots for NBA's Most Intriguing Free Agents

Dan Favale

Vast amounts of intriguing scenarios await us in 2023 NBA free agency.

Indeed, extensions and trade requests have largely neutered what the Association's end-of-June (formerly start-of-July) tumult used to be. The most consequential players now frequently find their way to desired destinations before ever hitting the open market.

Still, the flames of chaotic possibilities continue to burn bright, their brilliance far from extinguished.

Our mission is to spotlight the most interesting and credible of those possibilities.

The Process

Unlike similar exercises, this won't purely focus on the flashiest talents. Household names populate the entire list, but players have been chosen based on how impactful they are and how unsettled their futures might be.

Basically, any projected flight risk with a market that's guaranteed to exceed three teams is eligible for selection. This weeds out anyone overwhelmingly likely to stay put (Draymond Green, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez) as well as free agents with more finite options (Kyrie Irving, Nikola Vučević, Russell Westbrook).

Certain selections won't seem like flight risks at first glance. In these cases, they crack the list because they'll have among the biggest breadth of prospective suitors.

And finally, the top landing spot provided for each player will assume they're leaving their current digs while looking for the best possible basketball fit.

Do not confuse these with concrete predictions. They are, instead, "Hey, if Player X leaves, this destination makes a lot of sense" musings.

Bruce Brown Jr. (Player Option): Utah Jazz

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Bruce Brown Jr. is contributing at an incredibly high level for perhaps the NBA's championship favorite. The Denver Nuggets are fortunate to have his secondary ball-handling, rim pressure and defense. His standstill jumper has come a long way, too—the playoffs notwithstanding.

And yet, the Nuggets probably can't afford to keep him. He has played well enough to decline his $6.8 million player option, and the most Denver can offer is a starting salary just below $8 million—a hair more than the projected taxpayer's mid-level exception.

Going on 27, Brown should have offers in the non-taxpayer's MLE range, putting him in line for a 2023-24 salary above $12 million. His ability to blend the lines between guard, wing and big will be coveted among contenders, but his versatility makes him a tantalizing fit for any team on the prowl for perimeter reinforcements.

Enter the Utah Jazz.

They have gobs of cap space and a dearth of wings. Brown, at 6'5", isn't a conventionally sized wing, but he can defend the part. And Utah's ultra-spacey lineups should adequately unlock his offensive utility. Denver uses him like a point guard. The Brooklyn Nets deployed him like an undersized big. The Jazz can do both, depending on who's manning the 5 spot.

Life gets a little crowded in Utah if Ochai Agbaji, Jordan Clarkson (player option), Kris Dunn (non-guaranteed), Talen Horton-Tucker (player option) and Collin Sexton are all back. That's fine. The Jazz's roster is not etched in stone, and they don't currently have someone with Brown's positional range on defense.

Other Potential Destinations: Dallas (if Kyrie Irving leaves), Indiana, Phoenix (must shed salary to unlock bigger MLE)

Jerami Grant: Sacramento Kings

Jerami Grant Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Jerami Grant's free agency could be a non-issue. He said during his exit interview that he expects to re-sign with the Portland Trail Blazers.

The 2023 draft lottery results don't change anything. Portland jumped to the No. 3 spot but apparently doesn't have designs on rebuilding. League executives expect the team to shop that selection in hopes of optimizing Damian Lillard's timeline—a path that includes keeping Grant, according to ESPN's Zach Lowe.


Grant is an unrestricted free agent. He has plenty of say in the matter. And in a market devoid of wing depth, he'll have no shortage of admirers.

One of them could be willing to pay the 29-year-old more than the Blazers. Or he might just prefer another team's proximity to playoff contention.

The Sacramento Kings can be that team.

Renouncing Harrison Barnes (unrestricted) and compensating another squad to take on the final two years and $24.9 million left on Richaun Holmes' deal would leave them with more than $30 million in space. That should be enough coin to get a seat at the bargaining table.

Maybe Portland is willing to go higher. It can pay up to Grant's max salary ($40.2 million). Sacramento will be hard-pressed to create that much room. But if the money's similar or equal, and if the Blazers don't flip the No. 3 pick for a high-impact veteran, the Kings can offer third-option offensive volume and a chance to play games that matter.

Other Potential Destinations: Indiana, Miami (sign-and-trade), Phoenix (sign-and-trade)

James Harden (Player Option): Phoenix Suns

James Harden and Joel Embiid Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

For a while, James Harden's foray into free agency seemed decidedly uninteresting. He would decline his player option and re-sign with the Philadelphia 76ers or reunite with the Houston Rockets. End of story.

But then his postgame presser following a semifinals loss to the Boston Celtics happened. And not long after that, he threw another curveball into the mix.

"The Houston Rockets have long been a rumored destination," Bleacher Report's Chris Haynes wrote, "but sources say Harden will only entertain suitors that present a competitive roster and the basketball freedom for the star to be himself."

Is it purely a coincidence that the 33-year-old ended the first round touting the importance of his financial and functional sacrifice only to exit the second round in search of "basketball freedom?" Who's to say, really?

This could all be a negotiating ploy. Harden took $15-plus million less to help the Sixers maximize flexibility last summer. This might be his way of telling team president Daryl Morey "Max or nothing."

If that's the case, Harden's leverage is diluted by his own leanings. Most of this year's cap-space squads won't field a "competitive roster" without overhaul. Then again, sign-and-trades are always a possibility.

Which brings us to the Phoenix Suns.

Forbes' Bryan Toporek expertly outlined how Harden could land on the Suns via sign-and-trade. And it's tough to find a better fit if The Beard wants to both contend and have absolute freedom.

Phoenix's depth would be obliterated (again), but Devin Booker and Kevin Durant provide plenty of offensive cover without requiring Harden to concede his on-ball proclivities.

Other Possible Destinations: Houston, New York (sign-and-trade), Washington (sign-and-trade)

Kyle Kuzma (Player Option): Memphis Grizzlies

Kyle Kuzma Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Kyle Kuzma is in line for a serious payday upon declining his $13 million player option. His outside shooting remains shaky, but he has developed into a solid defender and jacked up his driving and playmaking this year while effectively incorporating some change-of-pace sweep-hook-layup-type shots.

Even after dispensing with general manager Tommy Sheppard, the Washington Wizards have every incentive to re-sign the 27-year-old. They should have flipped him at the trade deadline if they weren't going to keep him. Letting him walk now, for nothing, would be a disaster.

At the same time, Kuzma should have his pick of the litter. Select cap-space spenders can easily talk themselves into prioritizing his services. Equally important, he has the leverage to coax Washington into sign-and-trades if he prefers a destination that can't scoop him up outright.

Hello, Memphis Grizzlies.

This marriage makes almost too much sense—for both sides. The Grizzlies already needed combo-wing depth. They need it even more after telling Dillon Brooks to hit the road.

Kuzma skews more combo forward than true wing. That's OK. Frontlines featuring him, Steven Adams and Jaren Jackson Jr. can still work, and the Kuz-JJJ 4-5 minutes would be divine.

Whether Memphis has the spacing to buoy Kuzma's offensive strengths is debatable. It's a lot closer after parting ways with Brooks and acquiring Luke Kennard at the trade deadline.

Affordability is a potential roadblock, just not a big one. The Grizzlies don't have cap space but boast the goodies necessary to engage the Wizards in sign-and-trade talks.

Other Potential Destinations: Indiana, Sacramento, Utah

Fred VanVleet (Player Option): Orlando Magic

Fred VanVleet Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images

Fred VanVleet is not at risk of being forced off the Toronto Raptors. Team president Masai Ujiri's comments on the heels of firing head coach Nick Nurse imply a continued commitment to the immediate timeline. The Raptors still better be prepared to fend off rivals.

Though VanVleet isn't the most formidable table-setter or self-creator, his atypical strengths are part of his charm. So many teams can use a point guard who doesn't need to dominate the ball and will bust his butt on defense.

This includes organizations outside the contender's clique. The 29-year-old is a high-profile veteran who accelerates your window without infringing upon the development of bigger-picture prospects. Teams seemingly eons away from contention can pay him without thinking twice—Houston, San Antonio, even Detroit.

The Orlando Magic represent a nice middle ground. Their core is young, but they just spit out a top-11 defense while flashing ample offensive optionality.

Bake in another year's worth of development for Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs, along with the progressing stylings of Wendell Carter Jr. and Markelle Fultz, and the Magic arguably have the infrastructure to party-crash the middle-top of the Eastern Conference by just adding VanVleet. (This says nothing of their two top-11 picks in the draft.)

For VanVleet's part, he would be adequately insulated against too much creation responsibility with Banchero and Wagner in tow. And he shouldn't have to concede any earning potential.

Orlando has a relatively wrinkle-free path of to $30-plus million in room if it's not married to Gary Harris or Jonathan Isaac.

Other Potential Destinations: Brooklyn (sign-and-trade), Houston, San Antonio

Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Spotrac.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and subscribe to the Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes.


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