2022 NBA free agency: Bold predictions that could impact Warriors repeat

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Bold predictions for free agency that could impact Dubs repeat originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Nothing beats watching playoff basketball.

But the NBA offseason, complete with wild rumors, drama, up-to-the-minute reports and plenty of eyeball emojis on Twitter, is a close runner-up.

Teams can officially begin negotiating with free agents at 3 p.m. PT Thursday, as front offices begin restructuring rosters and reinstating hope (or ... not) in fan bases around the country.

The Atlanta Hawks made the most significant move of the young offseason Wednesday, trading Danilo Gallinari and a haul of first-round picks to the San Antonio Spurs for All-Star point guard Dejounte Murray.

What could unfold once free agency begins Thursday afternoon?

Here are six bold predictions:

Heat shockingly scoop Brunson

New York is desperate for a point guard. Knicks fans were convinced their favorite team would somehow trade down and nab Purdue guard Jaden Ivey in the draft. Instead, New York spent draft night clearing loads of space to, apparently, toss stacks of cash cash at Jalen Brunson to lure him to Madison Square Garden.

Brunson reportedly is set to visit three teams as free agency begins, per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports -- the Knicks, Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks. While the Knicks seem set on acquiring Brunson no matter the cost (they even hired his father Rick Brunson as an assistant coach), Dallas, where he has spent the first four seasons of his career, can offer Brunson a five-year deal as owners of his Bird rights.

Bold prediction? Brunson gets cold feet and packs for South Beach to join Miami. He’s convinced by team president Pat Riley that Heat Culture is real, and Miami gladly moves on from Kyle Lowry in another trade.

In response to the Knicks and Mavs, Brunson steals a line from his (now former) boss Mark Cuban.

“And for that reason, I’m out.”

How it affects the Warriors: The Mavericks lose their second-best player and have plenty of work to do if they want to remain a serious contender in the Western Conference.

Ayton paces to Indiana

Deandre Ayton’s name has been thrown around in trade rumors for months. Since the trade deadline, really. Not wanting to commit long-term, the Suns finally find a sign-and-trade partner for Ayton in the Indiana Pacers and receive Myles Turner in a one-for-one swap.

Ayton’s biggest complaint with Phoenix was his decreasing role, as he averaged 26.8 minutes per game while the Suns lost to the Mavs in seven games in the conference semifinals. That won’t be an issue in Indiana. Ayton can be a consistent scoring threat alongside playmaking guard Tyrese Haliburton, Chris Duarte and No. 6 overall pick Bennedict Mathurin.

How it affects the Warriors: Championship jokes aside, Chris Paul will always be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason. Phoenix will miss Ayton’s athleticism but still boast plenty of scoring. The Suns remain a top-four team in the West.

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again

Desperate for a guard after missing out on Brunson, the Knicks trade for Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon. They package up one of those three (yes, three!) protected first-round picks acquired on draft night and maybe another small piece, helping Indiana clear room for a near-max deal to give to Ayton and the rest of the offseason.

How it affects the Warriors: A trade between two teams in the East? This wouldn’t affect Golden State much more than an annoying Twitter notification or two from national basketball reporters. 

LaVine stays home

You could qualify this prediction as not-so-bold. Chicago can offer Lavine a five-year contract and roughly $55 million more than any other team due to Bird rights. Coming off the Bulls’ best season since Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler were running the show, LaVine has no problem blowing off other offers and staying in the Windy City to cash big checks.

How it affects the Warriors: Chicago gets its top offseason priority to re-sign. The Dubs can only hope to do the same with their biggest in-house offseason priorities. Which brings us to …

GP2, Looney return to champs

All Golden State does is win. Both of the Warriors’ biggest wishes come true as Kevon Looney and Gary Payton II re-sign to stay in the Bay.

Looney had plenty to prove heading into the year, but he did that and more. The 26-year-old played in all 82 regular-season games and didn’t miss a single playoff contest, morphing into a restless monster on the boards in the postseason. He signs a well-deserved three-year deal worth around $30 million.

RELATED: Time to rediscover value of Warriors culture in free agency

Payton likely could get more money elsewhere, but he decides to stay with Golden State on a two-year deal worth $12.5 million. The Warriors keep their beloved burst of energy and elite perimeter defender on their championship roster. 

How it affects the Warriors: A couple of fan favorites return for an encore from this year's title. The Warriors keep as much of their championship roster intact as they can.

Otto drives to Motor City

Not all of the Warriors’ dreams work out, however. Otto Porter Jr., who signed for the $2.4 million veteran minimum last summer, cashes in on his role on the championship-winning Warriors on a three-year deal with the Detroit Pistons.

How it affects the Warriors: Golden State will miss Porter. There's no doubt. He led the Warriors with a 12.4 net rating in the postseason. But Golden State will survive without Porter, as youngster Jonathan Kuminga is champing at the bit for a bigger role next season.

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