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The Danilo Gallinari Sweepstakes Will Be Heated

Every NBA team could use a versatile sharpshooting forward who also moonlights as a small-ball 5. Gallo might not be the biggest name in free agency, but he might have the most suitors.

It’s too early to know what to expect in this NBA offseason. So many of the specifics governing it remain unclear, from the post-Finals audit to determine how much money the league made (or lost) this season and therefore next season’s salary cap and luxury tax lines, to when free agency will actually start. But while the overarching uncertainty could reduce the likelihood of league-shifting trades and signings in the next few months, it could also create worlds of opportunity for players who might not sit at the top of the market, but have the plug-and-play capability to fit into just about any team framework.

Like, for example, Danilo Gallinari, a big sharpshooter who’s perfect for just about every modern offense, and who might find himself on an awful lot of wish lists.

The veteran marksman hasn’t ruled out a return to the Thunder, for whom he averaged 18.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game during a stunner of a season in OKC after coming over from the Clippers in the Paul George blockbuster. But general manager Sam Presti seems to be leaning toward bidding a fond farewell to last season’s feel-good surprise; head coach Billy Donovan is leaving Oklahoma City and moving on to Chicago, and the rumblings about Chris Paul trades are once again cranking up.

If the Thunder are shifting into the rebuild signaled by shipping out George and Russell Westbrook before the 2019-20 season, it might not make much sense for Presti to pony up to retain Gallinari—who seems to be enjoying his first trip to the open market since inking a three-year, $65 million deal with the Clippers in 2017. Consider, if you will, this tweet:

Gallo goes all in: the pin-drop emoji, the ominous “Where to next?” message, a delightful photo illustration including four pictures from his past, a pensive shot of himself with the team nameplate on his jersey erased, and what appears to be enough ambience-creating smoke to make you think that Batman stole away into the night to evade capture just moments before all those Italian forwards showed up. Suspenseful!

Exhibit B: Gallinari’s comments during a recent appearance alongside fellow Italian NBA players Marco Belinelli and Nicolò Melli at the Festival dello Sport conference cosponsored by the Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport. An interviewer asked Gallinari if he considers the opportunity to play for an NBA championship more important than making the top dollar on his next contract as he enters unrestricted free agency. His answer, as translated by Sportando: “Yes. At this time, yes. I’m not 20 anymore.”

Far from it: Gallinari, in fact, just turned 32, and is heading into his 13th NBA season. Factor in the four pro seasons he played in Italy before coming to the U.S., and all the time he’s lost to injuries through the years—most notably the back injury that limited him to 28 games as a rookie and required surgery, and the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that prematurely ended his 2012-13 season and cost him all of 2013-14—and you can understand why Gallinari, who has yet to advance past the opening round of the playoffs, might prioritize winning over paper-stacking. (Especially since he’s already cleared more than $135 million in his career.)

That preference should be music to the ears of top-heavy and cash-strapped contenders across the league. Unlike some older ring-chasing vets of years gone by, Gallinari still has the goods to be a major contributor—a high-volume, high-efficiency frontcourt floor spacer who can produce points in a variety of ways.

Only 17 players have made more 3-pointers than Gallinari has in the past two seasons; only five (fellow unrestricted free agents Joe Harris and Davis Bertans; and Stephen Curry, Bojan Bogdanovic, and JJ Redick) have done so while shooting a higher percentage than his 41.8 percent mark in that span. He’s an excellent spot-up option away from a play’s primary action, ranking sixth in the league in catch-and-shoot triples last season and ranking in the 77th percentile in spot-up shooting efficiency.

The Thunder scored 15.3 more points per 100 possessions with Gallinari on the court last season, according to Cleaning the Glass, and while some of that potency stemmed from getting to feast on open looks created by the three-headed monster of Chris Paul, Dennis Schröder, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Gallinari can also do damage by himself. Gallo has the precise footwork and wiggle off the bounce to maneuver his way into the airspace he needs ...

… which, at 6-foot-10 with a high release point, a quick trigger, and more than enough willingness to fire in the face of an onrushing defender, isn’t much:

He’s smart about moving without the ball to create passing lanes and catch ball watchers napping. He’s a problem for slower-footed defenders on the perimeter, with a pump-and-go game that can get him into the lane and the shooting range to either force defenders to stick with him on pick-and-pops or torch them for going with the ball handler. Serving as the roll or pop man wasn’t a huge part of his offensive diet last season—he finished just 80 such possessions, according to Synergy Sports tracking data. But he was lethal when he fired after setting a screen, shooting 41-for-76 (good for a blistering 71.7 effective field goal percentage) and generating just under 1.5 points per possession, slotting him in the 94th percentile in the entire league among point producers on those plays.

Gallinari can also flash a bit of a nasty streak after he sets that screen. Put a smaller defender on him and he’ll march right down to the post, put that wing or guard on his back, and spin his way to the front of the rim:

Gallinari logged 142 post-up possessions last season, 27th most in the league, according to Synergy. Among those who set up on the block at least that much, only Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and Brook Lopez produced more points per post-up possession than Gallinari. Those low-block trips aren’t what any coach wants to build his offense around in 2020, but it’s nice to have a way to punish switches and hunt mismatches in your back pocket; Gallinari provides that while also drilling 3s at a 90th percentile clip for a big man, which is a pretty solid combination.

Beyond serving as a playoff-caliber starting power forward, Gallinari has also spent some time in the past couple of seasons moonlighting as a small-ball 5, with mixed results. Those lineups have poured in points, scoring well over 120 points per 100 possessions in the past two regular seasons and postseasons, according to Cleaning the Glass. They’ve been hit-or-miss on the other end, though: Gallinari is a solid positional defender who can still move his feet pretty well, but he’s always been a pretty dismal rebounder (in the 3-point era, only nine players his size have posted lower career rebounding rates) and opponents have made at least 60 percent of their shots at the rim with him as the closest defender in each of the past six seasons.

Only about a half-dozen teams are likely to have significant salary cap space this offseason. Only one of them made the playoffs this season: the Miami Heat, who rampaged through the bubble to the Finals, and who just so happen to have made a major push to land Gallinari at February’s trade deadline. That deal fell apart when he declined to sign a one-plus-one contract extension—the kind that Andre Iguodala agreed to—that would’ve kept Miami in the mix to make a max-salaried addition in the 2021 offseason.

“I like Gallo, and I think he would have fit in here really well,” Heat team president Pat Riley told reporters in February. “But it didn’t work out. And somewhere you have to sort of draw a line in the sand for your team.”

One wonders whether now, with backstop starting 4 Jae Crowder also set to hit the unrestricted market, if Riley’s prepared to redraw his line—and how much Gallinari might be willing to redraw his. (Especially if he considers this a short-term play before dipping back into a post-pandemic version of unrestricted free agency for one more big score.)

How big of a haircut off last season’s $22.6 million salary will Gallo take if the situation is right? Is going all the way down to the midlevel exception—which paid a shade under $9.3 million on teams not in the luxury tax, and just over $5.7 million for taxpayers—on the table? If so, Gallinari could have his pick of contenders. The Bucks, Celtics, Warriors, and Nuggets all seem like teams that could benefit from his skill set in the frontcourt. After major injuries to starters Dwight Powell and Kristaps Porzingis, maybe the Mavericks want some insurance to knock down those Luka Doncic kick-outs. Maybe the prospect of spending a stint as an overqualified sixth man backing up LeBron James and Anthony Davis for L.A.’s big brother agrees with the former Clipper. Perhaps the post–Daryl Morey Rockets suddenly find themselves starving for a player taller than 6-foot-7, and owner Tilman Fertitta suddenly finds himself willing to risk the luxury tax to get one.

If Gallinari is willing to take a pay cut, he could also try to enlist Presti in a sign-and-trade that locks in a more respectable salary, gets Oklahoma City some more assets for the rebuild, and still lands him with a contender. If the right opportunity doesn’t emerge there, Gallo could always change his mind on the whole “money’s not that big a deal anymore” thing, try to get a bag from a team with cap room, and see if a contender comes calling via trade once the season starts to shake out.

Gallinari will have options, and he sounds pretty psyched about it; as he recently told Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, “The part I love [about free agency] is that I have the chance to look at everything.” The bet here is that he will like what he sees.

The post originally misstated the title of an Italian newspaper. It is Gazzetta dello Sport, not Gazzetto dello Sport.