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Free-Agency Matchmaker

Can teams find the players they’ve been looking for on the open market this summer? We nominate a few fits that are too perfect to pass up.

J.J. Redick, Enes Kanter, and Trevor Ariza Getty Images/Ringer illustration

This summer, fewer teams than usual have enough money to make big splashes or go on spending sprees. Yet that doesn’t mean there isn’t a perfect home for every one of the prospective free agents out there. Here are some of the matches made in heaven (er, this blog) that make the most sense.

Clint Capela: Mavericks

I wrote about this recently, but I can’t emphasize it enough: A core of Dennis Smith Jr., Luka Doncic, and Clint Capela in Dallas is too perfect to pass up. The East has its exciting win-now-and-later teams in Boston and Philadelphia, but it’s about time we got one out West too (besides the Lakers, if they land a major free agent). Capela would make a perfect rim-runner companion to Doncic’s dazzling passing, and he and Smith Jr. would terrorize players around the basket with an array of dunks. Of course, this will happen only if the Mavs force the Rockets’ hand with an offer sheet too rich to match.

Aaron Gordon: Suns

Phoenix has an exciting intriguing guard-wing combo in Devin Booker and Josh Jackson, as well as a potential superstar center in Deandre Ayton. Adding the dynamic Gordon to the mix would be tantalizing for many reasons. He’s a developing 3-point threat (33.6 percent last season), a quality Jackson and Ayton have yet to show, and also quenches the team’s thirst for versatile players who can contribute on both ends right away. By trading away Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder to the Sixers on draft night, it’s clear that even with one of the youngest teams in the league, Phoenix wants to be competitive now. Prying Gordon (a restricted free agent) away from the Magic and putting him next to Ayton would give them a great chance to do just that.

Trevor Ariza: Warriors

Pardon me for perpetuating the notion that the rich will only get richer, but Ariza would be perfect for the Warriors should they be looking for wing depth, and should he be prioritizing a ring. He’s a younger Andre Iguodala with a more reliable 3-point shot, which is exactly the type of player they need to ensure the Western Conference finals isn’t close again. The rational side of me would understand this move for both sides, but the irrational side of me wants Ariza to stay in Houston and topple Golden State instead.

J.J. Redick: A One-Year Deal Wherever LeBron Signs

Redick feels like he’s destined to end up as a shooter on a LeBron-led team sooner or later, so let’s make it happen this offseason. Even if the move needs to be on another one-year deal, Redick would be one of the best catch-and-shoot options LeBron’s ever played with.

Isaiah Thomas: Magic

The Magic need scoring, and they couldn’t nab Trae Young at the draft, so why not try to see if the Boston-era Isaiah is still in there, somewhere? D.J. Augustin is currently their only point guard on the depth chart. Thomas doesn’t exactly fit Orlando’s movement toward long athletes or its rebuilding timeline, but at some point it will need to balance out all of its defenders with a proper ball handler and scorer. Thomas could be that at a cheaper price than what he expected to get following last season.

Will Barton: Sixers

I want to speak this one into existence. When the Sixers faltered against the Celtics in the second round of the playoffs, it was almost like they needed a young combo guard who could create their own shot, or at least be unafraid of taking and making one. With Ben Simmons as its point guard, Philly cannot have enough scorers. Whatever happens with Markelle Fultz shouldn’t factor into this. Barton is the perfect guy to come off the bench and fuel a second unit, or even play crunch-time minutes if the Sixers are in need of a crucial shot.

Julius Randle: Spurs

Randle is a restricted free agent, but with so much in flux regarding the Lakers and their possible free-agent acquisitions, he feels like the fifth bullet point on Magic Johnson’s to-do list. The big man feels like he has one foot out the door anyway; he doesn’t seem as valued as, say, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, or Lonzo Ball, either because his forthcoming salary upgrade will make it tougher to sign two max free agents or because his skill set is less conventional. So why not go to a place where he will be valued? He may not have a choice, especially if the Lakers sign-and-trade him to the Spurs as part of a deal for Kawhi Leonard. San Antonio would be a perfect landing spot for Randle, a place where he could grow and contribute right away for what would be a Spurs youth movement.

Jabari Parker: Jazz

The Jazz are a defensive fortress, which makes them one of the teams able to take on an offensive-minded player and hide him in their scheme. Should Derrick Favors leave in free agency, Parker could slot in right next to Rudy Gobert and, if healthy, provide a level of offensive firepower Utah was getting from only Donovan Mitchell last season. Parker hasn’t looked the part of a no. 2 overall pick since returning from his two ACL tears in the same knee, but the Jazz could badly use another player who can create his own shot, and Parker can still do that.

Enes Kanter: Celtics

Kanter has yet to decline his $18.6 million player option with the Knicks and enter free agency, but if he does, the market for him is unclear. Kanter, everyone’s favorite internet goofball, may not play much defense, but his rebounding and post scoring can still be valuable on a contending team. I’d even venture to say he might have been more helpful to the Thunder than Carmelo Anthony was last season. On the Celtics, he could be a fine backup to Al Horford should they not re-sign Aron Baynes (which seems unlikely) and should they let Robert Williams develop in the G League. It would require Kanter to take a pay cut, since the Celtics will likely have only the $8.6 million midlevel exception available, but it might be worth it for the chance to play for a title. I don’t doubt Brad Stevens could work wonders with him.

Luc Mbah a Moute: Lakers

I love this fit for the Lakers regardless of what happens with LeBron or Paul George or Kawhi Leonard. Mbah a Moute makes them better defensively right away, and he shouldn’t come at too steep of a price tag. Houston should probably keep him (the Rockets should keep the entire team and make another run at GSW), but if it doesn’t, Laker Land should welcome the anti-KCP with open arms.