Remember when it seemed like most of the teams in the NBA were trying to clear cap space, obsessed with the idea of recruiting a star — or stars — in free agency? In recent years, that has gone out of style. Elite players are still changing teams, but they are increasingly doing it via trade rather than hitting the open market.
There will, however, still be some signings (or sign-and-trades) every summer that qualify as game-changers. This year, the festivities begin on June 30 at 6 p.m. ET, at which point the following 40 players will officially be able to negotiate with prospective teams (provided that the few player/team options mentioned here are not exercised):
The biggest names in free agency
Eight years into his career, the 27-year-old LaVine is coming off his first playoff appearance. To get there, the Bulls made several win-now moves: the trade for Nikola Vucevic at the 2021 deadline, then the acquisitions of DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso a few months later. They had the best record in the Eastern Conference halfway through the regular season, and their subsequent slide can be attributed to injuries. If he stays in Chicago, he could sign a five-deal max contract worth $212 million. Would he really leave now? For a moment, it seemed like the answer was a resounding maybe! — he was non-committal in his end-of-season press conference, and NBC Sports Chicago mentioned the Lakers, Blazers, Mavericks and Hawks as possible destinations, according to the gossipy attendees of the draft combine. Since then, however, such speculation has dwindled, and Bulls GM Marc Eversley said after the draft that they are “prepared to do what it will take to bring Zach back in the fold.” A departure would be a surprise.
Harden has a $47.4 million player option. If he opts in, he will be eligible to sign an extension worth up to $223 million over four years. If he becomes a free agent, he could, in theory, re-sign with the 76ers for up to $270 million over five years. Given, however, that he’ll be 33 before the start of next season and is coming off a confusing, uneven season, that kind of offer is unlikely. Neither Harden nor the Sixers have much incentive to end their partnership, so they should be able to work out a short-term, non-max deal that gives him some security and gives both sides some flexibility — he’ll want to capitalize if he bounces back to his pre-injury form, and the team will want to be protected if he doesn’t. He could even, as Marc Stein noted, decline his option in order to take a pay cut in 2022-23 and give the front office more immediate financial flexibility.
Bridges has said he loves being in Charlotte, and general manager Mitch Kupchak said the team intends to keep him long-term. He is coming off a career year, and he is in line to sign a much more lucrative contract than the four-year, $60 million extension that was on the table heading into the 2021-22 season. Are the Hornets willing to max him out, though, and pay him a starting salary of $30.5 million? That might be a bit much, and The Athletic reported that they would hesitate to match a max offer sheet. Losing a homegrown, versatile, 23-year-old forward would be disastrous for Charlotte, and, according to Bleacher Report, the Pistons and the Pacers will likely try to poach him.
Ayton turns 24 in July and is in the exact same position as Bridges, and it’s no secret that he wanted a max extension last offseason. If the Suns max him out now, it’ll cost them $177 million over five years. If they don’t, and he will not accept any less, then he’ll have to play the offer-sheet game or try to figure out a sign-and-trade. He has come a long way as a defender and as a short-roll threat in the past couple of seasons, but his development has taken place in an environment tailor-made for his particular skills. Neither a go-to guy nor a dominant rim protector, Ayton is an interesting free agent because it’s difficult to disentangle how much he means to Phoenix and how much Phoenix means to him. (Recent reports from The Athletic indicate that Ayton is likely leaving and that Atlanta is one of the teams interested in acquiring him.)
Brunson was picked 32 spots after Ayton in the 2018 draft, but they might end up signing for similar money. In 61 regular-season games as a starter, Brunson averaged 17.5 points on 58.7 percent true shooting, 4.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists in 33.3 minutes. This suggested that he could thrive with both increased minutes and increased usage, and the playoffs proved it — without Luka Doncic next to him, he led the Mavericks to two victories against the Utah Jazz, scoring a combined 72 points on 27-for-47 shooting. Dallas surely wishes it had offered Brunson the four-year, $55.5 million extension he was eligible to sign before his breakout — according to Marc Stein, the front office thought when the season ended that it could retain him on a four-year deal worth $85-88 million, but the Knicks are now likely to offer him north of $100 million. The Mavs can pay him more than anybody else and are the only team that can offer him a five-year deal, but it’s unclear how far they’re going to go.
Beal could have been this summer’s single most interesting free agent, but it continues to look like there is nothing to discuss here. All signs continue to point to him opting out of the $36.4 million he’s owed next season and re-signing with the Wizards for five years and $248 million. Beal, who turns 29 on June 28, has been the subject of trade speculation for years, but he has consistently said he’d prefer to win in Washington than anywhere else. He might even announce on his birthday that he plans to stay.
Non-stars of intrigue
Sexton tore his meniscus 11 games into the season, and reasonable people can disagree about how he fits into the Cavs team that made the play-in tournament without him. A high-usage scorer who averaged 24.3 points on 57.3 percent true shooting in 2020-21, he happens to play for a team that might be able to handle his defensive limitations, given that Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley will be behind him. He also happens to play for a team that has another 6-1 guard in the backcourt, and the other guy is now an All-Star. His qualifying offer is $8.6 million, and, if he can’t find a deal commensurate with his pre-injury numbers, it might make sense for him to simply take it.
Blazers GM Joe Cronin called Simons a “core piece” in an interview with the Washington Post in February. If that is to remain the case, Portland will have to pay up. Simons, who just turned 23, averaged 22 points and 5.5 assists with .452/.415/.871 shooting splits in 30 games as a starter, the most encouraging stretch of his four-year career. Like Sexton, though, he is a defensive liability, at least at the moment. Are the Blazers committed to Damian Lillard and Simons sharing the backcourt for the foreseeable future?
Payton finally found an NBA home in Golden State after five years on the fringes — cool story, someone should write about it — and immediately won a championship. A perfect fit in the Warriors‘ read-and-react offense and one of the best point-of-attack defenders in the league, the 29-year-old will have the chance to sign a long-term, guaranteed contract for the first time. Payton wants to stay where he is, and the Warriors have his Early Bird rights, meaning they can offer him a two-to-four-year deal starting at about $13 million. Given how the Finals changed when he came back from his elbow injury, it seems like the only way he winds up elsewhere is if a team with cap space bursts in and offers him way more money.
The season before Payton broke into the rotation for the eventual champs in the Bay Area, Brown established himself as the NBA’s first guard-sized roll man for a Nets team that had the same sort of ceiling. When he signed a one-year, $4.7 million deal to return to Brooklyn last summer, it seemed like a precursor to a long-term arrangement. Ben Simmons’ presence makes the fit more complicated now, but this is not the type of organization that should be in the business of losing good players for nothing. Brown turns 26 in August.
Claxton, 23, has only played 94 regular-season games in the three seasons since the Nets drafted him, but the potential was obvious from the start. He loves to switch onto guards and wings, and, with improved strength, he has made strides as a finisher and interior defender. In the playoffs against Boston, Robert Williams III provided a glimpse of what Claxton might turn into down the road. He’s an even worse fit with Simmons than Brown is, though, so Brooklyn has some stuff to figure out.
DiVincenzo’s per-minute numbers in 25 games for the Kings weren’t much different from his numbers in 2020-21, the season in which he was an every-night starter for the team that won the championship (after his ankle injury). He came off the bench and averaged slightly fewer minutes in Sacramento, and The Kings Beat reported that his camp thought the organization was trying to limit his value in free agency. Now DiVincenzo is in a weird spot — at 25, his two-way skills should appeal to just about everybody, but he’s a career 34.7-percent shooter from 3-point range. He might need a full, healthy season in the high 30s to get the kind of contract he wants.
If you’re enough of a basketball nerd to be reading this blurb, you probably already love Hartenstein. He earned himself a big raise with his rim protection, passing and nice touch around the rim. Bigs who have signed for the midlevel in the past few offseasons don’t have a great track record, but, if he gets that kind of deal, he might be the exception. Hartenstein turned 24 in May.
Anderson is not a snug fit on every roster, particularly after his 3-point volume and accuracy declined this past season. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Grizzlies — and a return looks less likely after they drafted forwards Jake LaRavia and David Roddy — then ideally he’d go to a team that has minutes for him at power forward and needs him to handle the ball a fair bit. He’ll help any team defensively, and he’s a better midrange shooter than he showed this past season.
Like Anderson, Jones was an important part of one of the NBA’s best benches. Always a steady floor general, it was not a coincidence that Memphis went 19-5 without Ja Morant in the lineup in the regular season. In 23 games as a starter, Jones averaged 12.7 points and 6.6 assists in 30.3 minutes. He almost never turns the ball over and made 41 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s last season. Are the Grizzlies willing to pay him more than the MLE to back up Morant?
At 30, Wright is older than you think, but that doesn’t mean he has stopped improving. His defense has never been better than it was this past season. Caught in a logjam, however, his usage rate fell to a career-low 10.1 percent. The counting stats are unimpressive, but it’s notable that he played more in the playoffs — the Hawks learned over the course of the season that they needed him on the court.
Quietly, Harris attempted 3s at the rate that he did four seasons earlier and made them at a 38.4-percent clip. His usage declined, playing a 3-and-D role on a team full of young guards, but this could be a feature rather than a bug for teams looking for guys who can stay on the court in the playoffs. It helps that Harris played more than 60 games for the first time since 2017-18. (Orlando has his Bird rights, and if the front office thinks he’ll have positive trade value making more than the mid-level, then it could re-sign him, provided that it doesn’t care about cap space and he doesn’t mind staying with a rebuilding team.)
Monk might have played his way out of Los Angeles. He signed a minimum contract last summer, which means the most the Lakers can offer without using their taxpayer midlevel exception is a starting salary of $2.5 million. That taxpayer midlevel is $6.3 million, and, after averaging 13.8 points on 57.8 percent true shooting, both career highs, Monk should be looking for more than that. (Also, as effective as Monk was offensively, if Los Angeles is trying to return to contention right away, it might need to use that taxpayer midlevel on a 3-and-D type. Aside from trades and minimums, this is the only resource the front office has.)
Robinson is another long, athletic center who could, in theory, do what Williams is doing. The No. 36 pick in 2018, he remains eligible for the same extension as Brunson is (four years and $55.5 million), but The Athletic and SNY reported that the Knicks were not close to offering him that much. Robinson became one of the premier offensive rebounders in the league this season, and showed some improvement defending on the perimeter. He made just 48.6 percent of his free throws, however, and that number has been trending in the wrong direction since he shot 60 percent as a rookie.
Looney should be a Warrior forever. He’s been with Golden State since he was 19 years old, and at 26 he’s a completely different kind of player than the one it drafted: A low-usage, no-maintenance center who sets good screens, gobbles up offensive rebounds and knows Steve Kerr’s system inside and out. Looney did not miss a single game this season, which not only validates all the work he has done to stay healthy, but makes him more valuable to the Warriors. It doesn’t hurt, either, that he essentially won them Game 6 of the Memphis series, held his own when switching onto Luka Doncic in the conference finals and was on the floor instead of Draymond Green down the stretch of Game 4 of the Finals.
In a way, Oladipo’s 2021-22 season was a massive success: He came back from his second quad surgery, and, after starting the playoffs with three straight DNP-CDs, became a regular in the rotation, to the point that he was on the floor at the end of Game 7 of the conference finals. Oladipo brought the Heat (extremely) physical perimeter defense, and he had his moments offensively. He shot 17-for-62 (27.4 percent) from 3-point range in the playoffs, though, and took some questionable off-the-dribble jumpers in big moments. Miami has his Bird rights, but it’s unclear whether or not it will be willing to put the ball in his hands.
Brooklyn presumably wants a bigger backcourt next season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Mills won’t stick around. He made 40 percent of his 3s last season, and, at 33, played more minutes than ever before, holding together shooting-starved lineups when Irving and Joe Harris were unavailable. He has a $6.2 million player option for next season, and, according to ESPN, he is undecided about picking it up. It’s also worth noting that he’s close with Simmons. (One strange thing: Mills shot 41.9 percent from deep on high volume before the All-Star break, but only 33.1 percent in 23 games after that, and this was not an anomaly: His 3-point percentage declined by more than four percentage points after the break in seven of the last eight seasons.)
Declining his $7.3 million player option made sense for Tucker regardless of his feelings about the Heat — he can re-sign there for a starting salary of $8.4 million. According to Marc Stein, though, he is now expected to reunite with James Harden in Philadelphia on a three-year, $30 million deal. Getting three guaranteed years would be unusual for a 37-year-old, but Tucker has proven that he’s still capable of defending superstars and he’s coming off his best all-around offensive season in years — Miami unlocked his floater and his passing ability by putting him in short-roll situations.
RFAs of note
Martin solidified himself in Year 3 with the Hornets, more than doubling his 2020-21 minutes total thanks to a massively improved shot. He remains a low-usage offensive player and a low-volume shooter, but if his 38-percent shooting is real, then he brings more than enough on the defensive end to justify a multi-year commitment from Charlotte, a team that needs to approach all of its offseason roster moves with defense in mind.
Caleb put up even better numbers than his twin brother, and shot slightly more accurately from 3-point range (41.3 percent). He was not a constant presence in Miami’s rotation, but after starting the season on a two-way contract, he earned himself a standard NBA deal. On the one hand, his lack of gravity in the playoffs will be fresh in the memories of potential suitors. On the other hand, he was playing meaningful minutes in the playoffs, for a team that almost made the Finals.
Detroit didn’t give up two second-round picks for Bagley to watch him walk in free agency. He scored efficiently in his first 18 games with the Pistons, and it’s not impossible for them to re-sign him and chase other free agents — they could decline their options on Hamidou Diallo, Frank Jackson and Luka Garza and they’ve already dumped Jerami Grant. Bagley, 23, still has upside, but he also has a shaky jumper and issues on defense. With the addition of rookie Jalen Duren, Detroit probably has to choose between Bagley and Isaiah Stewart at some point.
Bamba had (by far) the best season of his four-year career right before hitting restricted free agency, averaging 10.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 25.7 minutes. It was his best season in terms of 3-point shooting (38.1 percent), defending without fouling (3.6 fouls per 36 minutes) and simply playing with energy. Bamba might not be long for the Magic, though, because he’s a poor offensive fit with Wendell Carter Jr., they just used the No. 1 pick on an extremely talented frontcourt player and they still have Jonathan Isaac on the roster.
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Vets of note
Batum, 33, is declining his $3.3 million player option, per ESPN, which was expected because he is the better role players in the NBA. He’ll likely return to the Clippers, who have his Early Bird rights, meaning they can re-sign him on a starting salary up to $10.9 million for a minimum of two years. If they retain him, they will have perhaps the most versatile roster in the NBA next season. If for some reason they do not, other contenders will be lining up.
Portis signed a team-friendly deal after winning the 2021 title, and there’s no reason for him to give the Bucks another discount. He’s likely to come back, though — in early June, Marc Stein reported that prospective suitors were assuming that they had no shot of convincing him to leave Milwaukee. The Bucks can sign him to a multi-year deal with a starting salary of up to $10.9 million, using Early Bird rights. Portis started for most of the season and some of the playoffs, and while he didn’t shoot as well as he did in his first year in Milwaukee, the rebounding remained strong.
The champs have to be thrilled with how Porter has fit in on both ends, and he has to be thrilled in general. Not only did Porter win a title, he played in 63 regular-season games, the first time he passed the 60-game mark since 2017-18. There are great basketball reasons for him to stay with the Warriors — basically, he’s a smart, unselfish veteran — but they only have his non-Bird rights, so he’d have to accept only a slight raise unless they dip into their taxpayer midlevel exception to keep him. (All of this applies to Nemanja Bjelica, too.)
Remember the NBA bubble? Warren sure was incredible there, but he has only played four games since then, and by the time next season starts, more than two full years will have passed since he went wild at the Wide World of Sports. I have no idea how NBA teams are supposed to value him after having foot surgery and then essentially missing two seasons, but, at his best, he could pile up points in a hurry, especially at the 4 spot.
The Raptors moved down in the draft in order to get Young and his Bird rights at the deadline. At 6-9, with length and the ability to guard multiple positions, he is their type. He both contributed to and was harmed by their poor spacing, though, and this resulted in him struggling to finish around the rim. Still a smart passer and cutter, and still making those little flip shots.
Boucher turned his season around after a rough start, and, while he only made 30 percent of his 3-point attempts, he helped Toronto dominate the offensive glass and force a ton of turnovers. There is nothing conventional about Boucher, so he makes sense on the Raptors’ unconventional roster, as long as the price is right and another team doesn’t outbid them. Any team that plays an aggressive style of defense and/or plays lots of zone should have noticed the disruptive plays he can make.
Harrell has played for the Hornets, Wizards and Lakers since winning Sixth Man of the Year with the Clippers in 2020, but, aside from his minutes and shot attempts, he’s been essentially the same player the entire time. His perceived value, however, has declined, as doubts remain about his ability to hang in the playoffs. Harrell is a 6-7 center who hits the offensive glass, finishes around the rim, has good touch from floater range, makes plays in the short roll and posts up smaller defenders. He’s not a rim protector, though, and not really a switch big, either. It felt like the Lakers got a steal when he signed for the full midlevel a couple of years ago; now it’s unclear if he’ll command that much.
Cronin said in April that Nurkic, 27, is “just scratching the surface of his prime and he’s the type of player that we definitely want to build around.” Even if he isn’t necessarily the Blazers’ center of the future, though, it might make sense for them to work out a new deal. Portland tanked the end of the season, but it is not in rebuild mode. Unless it is going to renounce all of its free agents and try to make a huge splash in free agency, it should try to avoid losing Nurkic for nothing. He’s coming off something of a bounceback season, in which he played 56 games before being shelved with plantar fasciitis. Nurkic is no more switchable than Harrell is, but he’s a skilled passer from the high post and in the short roll.
I’m still not sure why the Lakers didn’t re-sign Matthews, and, given how important he was to Milwaukee this past season, I imagine it will not make the same mistake. He said that he’s not retiring and wants to return to the Bucks, which means this should be pretty simple … as long as a bidding war does not ensue for the 35-year-old 3-and-D guy. Milwaukee only has his non-Bird rights.
The Celtics got much better after they traded him, but that doesn’t mean Schroder can’t help a team that needs playmaking. I’m just not sure how much those teams will be willing to pay for it. If only he had kept making 38.5 percent of his 3s, like he did that one year in Oklahoma City.
Is Green really going to return from his torn ACL and LCL by next season’s All-Star break? I believe that he believes it, but that sounds ambitious. Regardless, that shouldn’t determine whether or not Memphis guarantees his $10 million salary — the Grizzlies might simply want the contract on the books to use in potential trades. If they choose to waive him and save the money, then he’ll be in a weird spot. Every contending team would love to have him if healthy, but how many would be willing to invest more than the minimum right now?
Ingles is in a similar situation to Green, except he tore his ACL in February rather than May and he is definitely not going to be an unrestricted free agent. The Blazers have his Bird rights, and he said he’ll give them a chance in free agency.
Another one. Rubio tore his ACL in December, ending what started as an awesome season with the Cavaliers. I’m sure they’d love him back, but they don’t have his Bird rights, having traded him to the Pacers in the Caris LeVert deal at the deadline.
Other familiar names who will (or might) be free agents: LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony, Kent Bazemore, DeAndre’ Bembry, Bismack Biyombo, Eric Bledsoe (non-guaranteed), Bol Bol (restricted), Jevon Carter, DeMarcus Cousins, Dewayne Dedmon, Gorgui Dieng, Goran Dragic, Andre Drummond, Bryn Forbes, Blake Griffin, Aaron Holiday (restricted), Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala, James Johnson, Derrick Jones Jr. Jeremy Lamb, JaVale McGee, Mike Muscala (team option), Frank Ntilikina (non-guaranteed), Taurean Prince, Rajon Rondo, Austin Rivers, Jalen Smith, Tristan Thompson, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Lonnie Walker IV (restricted), Lou Williams
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