NBA's top (potential) free agents: Zach LaVine, James Harden, Bradley Beal lead list
NBA free agency doesn’t begin until Thursday but one player’s decision has made an impact on the league’s offseason.
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving plans to exercise the option on the final season of his contract, meaning he won’t be a free agent. But that doesn’t mean Irving won’t be the subject of potential trades once free agency begins.
Chicago guard Zach LaVine is the most prominent unrestricted free available, and it would be a serious blow to the Bulls’ effort to compete in the Eastern Conference if he leaves.
One thing to consider as free agency begins is that there are not a lot of teams, especially contenders, with salary cap space to offer max contracts. So, it will be interesting to see what teams, especially the Los Angeles Lakers, can improve through trades in the offseason.
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Here is a look at the top (potential) free agents:
1. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (unrestricted)
At 27 years old, LaVine is one of the top unrestricted free agents available this summer. Last season, he averaged 24.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists and shot 47.6% from the field, 38.9% on 3-pointers and 85.3% on free throws. He regularly flirts with the coveted 50-54-90 shooting line. LaVine, a two-time All-Star, has been a big part of the Bulls’ resurgence alongside DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Nik Vucevic. Being able to offer LaVine a five-year deal (other teams can only offer four years), the Bulls have an advantage in their quest to re-sign him.
2. James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers (player option)
The Harden experiment didn’t go well in the short time it existed in 2022 following the Ben Simmons trade. But president of basketball operations Daryl Morey is a big believer in Harden from their days together in Houston. Like Irving, Harden has a Wednesday deadline to exercise his player option or become a free agent, and the likely scenario here is that Harden exercises his player option at $47.3 million for 2022-23 and becomes a free agent a year from now.
3. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards (player option)
Beal is likely to decline his 2022-23 player option for $36.4 million and become an unrestricted free agent. But that doesn’t mean he’s going anywhere. Just by becoming a free agent, he can re-sign with the Washington Wizards starting at $42.7 million next season. It’s an economic move, and one both sides seem to favor.
4. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns (restricted free agent)
The Suns declined to extend Ayton last offseason when they had the chance and now they’re faced with the possibility of losing him. Last season, Ayton averaged 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and shot 63.4% from the field. No matter how you feel about Ayton, he has been a vital part of the Suns’ past two seasons in which they reached the NBA Finals in 2021, and won a league-high and franchise-record 64 games in 2021-22. If Ayton signs an offer sheet with another team, the Suns can retain him by matching that offer under the rules of restricted free agency.
5. Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets (restricted free agent)
Bridges is coming off a season in which he averaged career highs in points (20.2), rebounds (seven) and assists (3.8) and shot 49.1% from the field and 80.2% on free throws. His 3-point shooting dropped a bit but he was asked to do more as a scorer and playmaker. Bridges and the Hornets couldn’t reach terms on an extension before last season, and that should pay off for Bridges in free agency.
6. Jalen Brunson, Dallas Mavericks (unrestricted)
Brunson is due for a significant pay raise. He’s coming off a four-year, $6.1 million contract, and he was a key player in Dallas’ 2021-22 season, including the playoffs. Brunson averaged 16.3 points, 4.8 assists and 3.9 rebounds and shot 50.2% from the field and 37.3% on 3-pointers. He scored 21.6 points per game in the playoffs, helping the Mavs reach the Western Conference finals. New York is expected to make a strong offer for Brunson, whose dad is expected to join the Knicks’ coaching staff.
7. Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Lakers (player option)
In a league where all things are possible, Westbrook will exercise the 2022-23 option on his contract worth $47 million rather than becoming a free agent. Now, that doesn’t mean Westbrook will be with the Lakers by the start of the season or all of next season. It just means he’s ensuring he gets paid.
8. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers (restricted free agent)
This will be an interesting situation for both sides, especially the Cavaliers who played well without Sexton last season after he sustained a knee injury. On one side, the Cavaliers saw what they would do without him. On the other, it’s hard not to imagine what a 20-point-per-game scorer could do in that offense with Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley, Kevin Love and Lauri Markkanen. Sexton will have interest from teams with salary cap space in need of a scoring guard.
9. Anfernee Simons, Portland Trail Blazers (restricted free agent)
Simons is one of the unheralded but really good young guards in the league. He made a major leap from his third to fourth season, averaging a career-high 17.3 points while shooting 44.3% from the field, 40.5% on 3-pointers and 88.8% on free throws. The Blazers drafted guard Shaedon Sharpe on Thursday, acquired Jerami Grant from Detroit in a trade and are doing what they can to build a contender with Damian Lillard.
10. Bobby Portis, Milwaukee Bucks (player option)
Portis is a fan favorite in Milwaukee and has been a strong contributor during the Bucks' 2021 championship run, and averaged a career-high in points (14.6) and rebounds (9.1) and shot 47.9% from the field and 39.3% on 3-pointers. Last offseason, he signed a team-friendly two-year, $8.9 million deal with Milwaukee because he likes it there so much. But he is definitely due a pay raise. Don’t be surprised if the Bucks retain him with that increase in salary.
11. Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers (unrestricted)
Nurkic is a solid big man who averaged 15 points and 11.1 rebounds and shot 53.5% from the field last season. There are other free-agent centers available but Nurkic provides familiarity and the potential for the Blazers to re-sign him at fair price. Based on recent social media engagement, Nurkic looks like he wants to return to the Blazers.
12. Malik Monk, Los Angeles Lakers (unrestricted)
Monk signed a one-year, veteran’s minimum with the Lakers last season, and he parlayed that into the prospect of a much bigger deal this offseason. Monk was one of the bright spots for Los Angeles, averaging 13.8 points and shooting 47.3% from the field and 39.1% on 3-pointers. While Monk has indicated he would enjoy a return to the Lakers, that bigger deal could come from another team if the Lakers don’t offer enough.
13. Bruce Brown, Brooklyn Nets (unrestricted)
Brown averaged nine points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals during the regular season and proved himself even more valuable at 14/4.8/2.8/1.3 while shooting 50.6% from the field and 40.4% on 3s. Brown will be sought after by teams looking for a two-way wing that can play guard or small forward.
14. P.J. Tucker, Miami Heat (unrestricted)
Tucker has shown his value for Houston (conference finals), Milwaukee (in a title season) and now Miami (conference finals appearance as a defender, rebounder, 3-point shooter from the corner and general nuisance to opponents). You’re not going to see Tucker’s value in traditional stats, but he makes an impact and Heat president Pat Riley said he would “love to have Tuck back next year.” Tucker seems to appreciate the way Miami operates, too.
15. Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks (unrestricted)
Robinson has been consistent with his play for the past three seasons – good for 8.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks while shooting 76.1% from the field last season. Mitchell could hit free agency to see what’s available, including from the Knicks, or he could sign an extension with New York before free agency.
16. Kevon Looney, Golden State Warriors (unrestricted)
Looney played a significant role in the Warriors’ championship, including during the Finals when his defense helped limit the Celtics to just 97 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court. Another player whose traditional stats don’t tell the whole story, Looney doesn’t score a lot but he rebounds, protects the paint and has an impact. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he wants to see Looney rewarded and hopefully with the Warriors.
17. Patty Mills, Brooklyn Nets (player option)
Due to make $6.1 million in 2022-23 if he exercises his player option, Mills can also decline the option and become a free agent. The Nets are a team with a lot of unknowns, and that could impact Mills. In his 13th season, he averaged 11.4 points (just off his career high) and shot 40% on 3-pointers.
18. Gary Harris, Orlando Magic (unrestricted)
Harris struggled at the end of his Denver days in 2020-21 but rediscovered his shot with the Magic, shooting 38.4% on 3s last season. For a team looking for a backup shooting guard, Harris is a solid option and he can probably be signed to a deal that isn’t onerous for a team.
19. Victor Oladipo, Miami Heat (unrestricted)
Since 2018-19, Oladipo has played in just 96 games due to injuries. While he may not be able to get back to his All-Star production, he showed he can still play during the playoffs as a defender and scorer in the right lineup. For the right team – and that could be Miami next season – Oladipo could be a good signing.
20. Otto Porter Jr. (unrestricted)/Gary Payton II (unrestricted), Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have several decisions to make in free agency, and Porter and Payton are right behind Looney in terms of priorities. Both made impacts during the season and during Golden State's successful playoff run. This could end up costing the Warriors in luxury taxes, but if they want to make a run at a second consecutive title, bringing back key players is vital.
Bonus free agent
John Wall, Houston Rockets (unrestricted)
Wall and the Rockets agreed to reach a buyout on the final season of Wall’s deal. Wall hasn’t played in a game since April 23, 2021, sitting out all of last season as the Rockets went in a direction that didn’t include Wall. The Rockets couldn’t find a deal for Wall at the February trade deadline, but now Wall can sign with the team of his choice. In the 40 games Wall played two seasons ago, he averaged 20.6 points and 6.9 assists and 44.4% from the field. Wall as a backup guard on a contender could be a solid answer.