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Heat, Nets, Bucks are among teams that need to be major players as NBA free agency opens

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NBA games are won and lost during the regular season and playoffs.

But how those games are determined happens in large part in the offseason with free agency and trades.

The Los Angeles Lakers reached a deal on a big move, acquiring Russell Westbrook from the Washington Wizards on NBA Draft day. But the Lakers still need more help, and they’ll try to improve the roster once free agency begins at 6 p.m. ET Monday.

Other teams looking to win a championship or contend for a spot in the conference finals will also be looking to add to their rosters.

Here are teams who need to make some moves in free agency:

P.J. Tucker (left) was instrumental in Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks winning the NBA title.
P.J. Tucker (left) was instrumental in Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks winning the NBA title.

Milwaukee Bucks

There is little rest for the champions. Right back at it. Maintain and/or add to a roster that won a championship. First, the good news: the Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday signed for at least the next two seasons. Now, the tough news: P.J. Tucker, Bobby Portis, Bryn Forbes and Jeff Teague, all of whom played important roles at various times during the regular season, are free agents. Bucks GM Jon Horst has done a wonderful job turning over the roster until he found the right combination. He and his staff will need to do the same in free agency this offseason.

Spencer Dinwiddie could command as much as $20 million a year in free agency, which could be too rich for the Nets.
Spencer Dinwiddie could command as much as $20 million a year in free agency, which could be too rich for the Nets.

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are approaching multi-year extensions for Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden that will total a half billion if all three get what they want. That doesn’t leave much spending left, so GM Sean Marks must be savvy and find value and depth on the right players at center, wing and guard spots. Among Brooklyn’s own free agents: Spencer Dinwiddie, Blake Griffin, Jeff Green, Bruce Brown and Mike James.

After he averaged just 11.9 points and shot just 34.2% from the free-throw line in the first-round playoff loss to Atlanta, the 76ers reportedly are looking to trade Ben Simmons (25).
After he averaged just 11.9 points and shot just 34.2% from the free-throw line in the first-round playoff loss to Atlanta, the 76ers reportedly are looking to trade Ben Simmons (25).

Philadelphia 76ers

Resolution with Ben Simmons is at the top of Philadelphia’s list, and if it trades Simmons, the 76ers need to get a point guard with a good shooting touch to play alongside All-Star center Joel Embiid. After that, shooting at all positions is a priority plus a backup to Embiid. Dwight Howard is a free agent, along with Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz and Mike Scott. The Sixers don’t have a lot of spending availability, so front-office execs Daryl Morey and Elton Brand need to be smart if they’re going to field a team that can contend for a title.

Miami will make a strong push to acquire Kyle Lowry but will have plenty of competition.
Miami will make a strong push to acquire Kyle Lowry but will have plenty of competition.

Miami Heat

The Heat are a full season removed their 2020 Eastern Conference championship, and Miami president Pat Riley is intent on getting back to the Finals after a disappointing season derailed by COVID-19 health and safety protocols and injuries. Miami is looking to add point guard Kyle Lowry, but it will have competition from (and not as much money as) New Orleans and Dallas. But that’s not the only target: a stretch four – perhaps Atlanta's restricted free agent John Collins – is also on Miami’s list. The Heat have one of the best and most savvy front offices in the league, so they will look to pull off moves to get back into upper half of the East.

The Celtics could bring back guard Evan Fournier (94), who they acquired at the 2021 trade deadline.
The Celtics could bring back guard Evan Fournier (94), who they acquired at the 2021 trade deadline.

Boston Celtics

Change is happening in Boston, from the front office to the coaching staff to the roster. Brad Stevens moved from coach to president of basketball operations, replacing Danny Ainge, who stepped aside. Stevens hired Ime Udoka as head coach, and Stevens has already made roster changes with trades. The Celtics have some salary cap flexibility with a mid-level exception, bi-annual exception and trade exception, and bringing back free agent Evan Fournier, who they acquired at the 2021 trade deadline, is a possibility. Regardless, Boston may look different as Stevens constructs the roster.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers need to acquire a shooter in free agency, and J.J. Redick could be a realistic option.
The Lakers need to acquire a shooter in free agency, and J.J. Redick could be a realistic option.

The Lakers already made their biggest off-season move by acquiring All-Star guard Russell Westbrook from the Washington Wizards. But they still have plenty of unaddressed needs. The main ones? Nothing other than needing more depth, 3-point shooting and defenders. Unfortunately for the Lakers, they only have a taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.9 million) and veteran minimum deals to do so.

Expect them to retain some of their own free agents in Alex Caruso and Talen-Horton Tucker, two promising young talents that the Lakers don’t have to worry about overspending since they have their Bird Rights on one (Caruso) and a restricted free agent (Horton-Tucker) with another. As for what’s available on the open market? J.J. Redick and Wayne Ellington seem like the most realistic options to upgrade their outside shooting at a decent price.

The Clippers are expected to retain Reggie Jackson (1) and Nicolas Batum (33), although both will attract offers elsewhere.
The Clippers are expected to retain Reggie Jackson (1) and Nicolas Batum (33), although both will attract offers elsewhere.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers maintain optimism that they will re-sign Kawhi Leonard at whatever contract he wants even after he declined his $34 million player option. They aren’t as certain, however, about Leonard’s availability after needing off-season surgery to treat a torn ACL in his right knee. So the Clippers enter free agency having to presume they are constructing a roster next season without Leonard.

The Clippers also hope to retain Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum, both of whom should attract offers elsewhere. Other than that, the Clippers might a tougher selling point toward established players willing to take the veteran’s minimum in hopes to win an NBA title. That’s because the Clippers are no longer considered a NBA title favorite because of Leonard’s health. Beyond keeping their own free agents, expect the Clippers to target specific needs so they have a bunch of solid role players to make up their lack of star power.

Chris Paul (3) was the catalyst for the Suns reaching the NBA Finals, and retaining him will be a top priority.
Chris Paul (3) was the catalyst for the Suns reaching the NBA Finals, and retaining him will be a top priority.

Phoenix Suns

The Suns’ could have either an easy offseason or an incredibly difficult one. There’s no in between. Chris Paul declined a $44 million player option, and now the Suns need to negotiate with Paul to keep him on a long-term deal. Even at 36 years old, Paul has remained durable and played at an All-Star level. Now is not the time to worry about his age. Re-sign him, while also granting rookie extensions to Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges. The Suns offer Paul the best opportunity to win an NBA title while still making top dollar, so it’s on the Suns not to screw it up.

The Pelicans are not expected to retain Lonzo Ball (2) in free agency.
The Pelicans are not expected to retain Lonzo Ball (2) in free agency.

New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans’ main free agency priority? Upgrade their roster to make life easier for Zion Williamson. So with $37 million in cap space, the Pelicans should have enough to find enough shooters to give Williamson space to operate and defenders to shield his weaknesses. The main priority entails finding a point guard, and all signs point to New Orleans making a run at veteran All-Star guard Kyle Lowry. Although point guard Lonzo Ball became more dependable as a shooter, Ball will likely look elsewhere. He could attract anywhere between $15-$20 million in the open market, and the Pelicans could match that offer just to perform a sign-and-trade. Though the Pelicans want to make changes to ensure they can make the playoffs while Williamson plays for his third coach in his third NBA season, expect them to try to retain role player Josh Hart because of his dependable hustle, athleticism and shooting.genc

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Heat, Bucks, Suns among the major players as NBA free agency begins