This summer's NBA free-agency class doesn't lend itself to grand ambitions. Genuine star power is in short supply, and you can count the number of teams with access to max spending power on one hand.
We're taking the reins of each team and swinging for the fences anyway.
Do not confuse "ambitious" in this case to mean "every squad should pursue paths to signing Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine or Deandre Ayton." This brand of keyboard GMing aims to balance aggression with feasibility.
Free-agent targets will be suggested relative to each team's cap sheet, roster needs and stylistic leanings. Suitors with meaningful space will for the most part be tethered to big names, because such cases are so few we need—we must—make the most of them. Pretty much everybody else will be shopping on the margins with the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($10.3 million), mini mid-level exception ($6.4 million), bi-annual exception ($4.1 million) or lesser offers.
Incumbent free agents will not be eligible for this exercise. That's not as fun. But presumed commitments to players who teams want back will absolutely factor into their spending power and, therefore, the outside free agent chosen for them.
Atlanta Hawks: Victor Oladipo
Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk sounds like someone ready to shake up a roster he largely kept intact last offseason. The most substantive of those changes, though, will have to come via trade(s).
Kevin Huerter and Trae Young will be entering the first year of their respective extensions next season. Even if the Hawks waive Danilo Gallinari ($5 million guaranteed), they'll be working with the nontaxpayer mid-level. The math gets tighter if they hold onto him for salary-matching purposes on the trade market, or if they're married to bringing back Delon Wright.
Victor Oladipo is probably the ceiling on Atlanta's talent acquisition. His injury history is no doubt troublesome; he's averaged under 25 appearances per season over the past four years. But he's shown flashes of being the same downhill threat and capable defender since returning from his most recent right leg issue.
Slotting him alongside Young serves dual purposes. Oladipo's defensive peak is still useful (just ask James Harden), and he invites the Hawks to get their megastar floor general moving off the ball in the minutes they log together.
Clamor for higher-end (or historically healthier) options if you please. They aren't in Atlanta's price bracket. Oladipo is high-risk, high-reward and, equally important, presumably lower cost.
Boston Celtics: Ricky Rubio
Outfitting the Boston Celtics with a more quote-unquote traditional point guard isn't totally necessary. Jayson Tatum and a healthy Marcus Smart do a good job running the offense, and the meat and potatoes of the rotation is loaded with high-IQ talent and understated tertiary passers.
Some extra direction still couldn't hurt, and offensive-stewardship-on-the-potential-cheap doesn't get much better than Ricky Rubio.
Latching on to a 31-year-old who just tore his left ACL for the second time in his career carries implicit risk. In this case, it's also the entire point.
Boston won't have access to the bigger mid-level exception unless it waives and stretches the $14.5 million guarantee on Al Horford's 2022-23 salary. But he has become so valuable on both sides of the floor and could plausibly see his guarantee increase to $19.5 million if the Celtics win this year's title. There's a very real chance they just keep his entire $26.5 million expiring contract on the books.
Dependable playmakers seldom cost under $7 million per year, but Rubio's timeline for return remains unclear. He had surgery at the end of December. A nine-month recovery would put him back in September—right around training camp. The Celtics are among the potential suitors who can slow-play his integration. And while he wouldn't do anything for their floor spacing, his passing on the move fits what they need, and his defensive activity fits what they've already built.