Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Here’s the thing about this year’s NBA free agency: There might not be a lot of unrestricted free-agent movement. There won’t be many big free agents, nor will there be many suitors (at the moment). At the time of writing, only the Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, and Orlando Magic are have a significant amount of cap space†
Does that mean nothing will happen after the free agency officially kicks off on Thursday at 6pm EST? Absolutely not, this summer should provide us with plenty of storylines, whether they revolve around free agent signings, blockbuster deals, or just general franchise upheavals.
1) Has the drama in Brooklyn For real past?
Possibly the biggest story of the summer has already been crushed. Just a few days ago, it looked like the Brooklyn Nets were on the brink of splitting up as it was rumored that Kyrie Irving would waive the $36.9 million player option, possibly signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. for the exception of $6 million at the mid-level.
Finally, Irving pulled out the calculator and realized it was significantly less than $36.9 million and signed in until the last year of his Brooklyn deal. This was a relief to the Nets, who were concerned that Kevin Durant was asking if Irving was leaving.
However, now that Irving has signed up, it’s still possible the Nets may have a sign and trade with another team (including the Lakers† It’s also not impossible that Irving’s unreliability has led Durant to question whether the whole Nets experiment is worth it. Or, yes, and there’s also the question “can Ben Simmons actually play basketball”. The Nets have cleared one hurdle, but more are sure to come.
2) Can the Lakers improve their roster?
We can argue about the wisdom of the Lakers who added Irving to their roster—the last time LeBron James and Irving were teammates with the Cleveland Cavaliers ended in a public brawl, and Irving has only caused more controversy since then—but it would have been a defensible bet at $6 million. They also would have liked to get John Wall after the Houston Rockets bought out the point guard, but all reports say he’s going the Los Angeles Clippers†
The good news for the Lakers is that Russell Westbrook is signing his contract. The bad news for the Lakers is that, well, Russell Westbrook is opting for his contract and he’s going to… cost them $47 million† The best version of Westbrook could definitely help this team, but we haven’t seen that version of the 33-year-old in a while.
After last season’s failure to make the playoffs, the Lakers could use some big changes. But they are good at the luxury tax and may need to get creative to get something done this summer. Can they unload Westbrook and get him some? It doesn’t hurt to explore that option.
3) Is Jalen Brunson the answer in New York?
on tour day, the Knicks made the curious decision to skip round one altogether and trade their picks to clear up cap space. Then they traded Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks for two second round picks and money for even more cap space†
The reasons, it turns out, aren’t so obscure as they prepare to offer a maximum contract to Dallas Mavericks point guard Jalen Brunson. If they do, it’s unlikely Dallas will be willing to match that offer on a player looking to make another All-Star team.
It’s a risky move for a team burned in the past by handing out huge contracts to non-superstars. There’s a good chance this will be a classic move that doesn’t make the Knicks much better, makes the Mavericks significantly worse, and puts Brunson in an unfortunate place with a non-negotiable contract. In other words, a bad deal for everyone. Here in the biz we call it “Knickery.”
4) Who exactly will be the best free agent this summer?
Then again, maybe the Knicks are just aware of how lean the crop is this summer. At the moment it is not quite sure who will be the best free agent. Should James Harden waive the $47.4 million he is owed by the Philadelphia 76ers, he probably is. That seems unlikely, to say the least when you consider how poorly last season ended in Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards could turn down his option for next year and become an unrestricted free agent. But if he does, Washington may just be offering him a bigger maximum deal than anyone else. It could be a no-brainer for him to remain a wizard.
Likewise, Zach LaVine will be an unlimited free agent, but according to reports, he will remain in Chicago the face of the bulls (not a bad legacy move, considering who else has had that title). In addition to LaVine, we’ve already covered the likely destinations of both Brunson and Wall.
The most intriguing name could be the Phoenix Suns’ Deandre Ayton, to whom the Suns have submitted an eligible offer of $16.4 million. As a restricted free agent, the former No. 1 overall pick could either take it – become a restricted free agent next year – or refuse to look for a bigger contract elsewhere.
If he chooses the second option, the Suns can match any offers they get for him. It’s believed they’d rather do that than let him walk, but there’s a possibility they’ll do a sign-and-trade if the situation in Phoenix seems untenable (and it could†
5) The Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics in different situations
What about our two NBA final opponents? Well, one of them might be due for a major lineup makeover while the other might be all set unless they decide otherwise.
The Golden State Warriors World Champion could lose important pieces including Kevon Looney, Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr, who are all slated to become free agents. All three players were a vital part of their final win over the Boston Celtics – indeed of their entire postseason run – and have certainly increased their value. Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins are also eligible for overtime, so the Warriors have a lot of decisions to make about how to spend their money.
However, the Celtics don’t need to make big strides with their core four of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Robert Williams all under contract and Al Horford is likely to return. All points indicate that they will mainly look at reinforcing a thin sofa rather than: make big movesbut this wouldn’t be the first offseason they shock the NBA.