A Quick Guide to NBA Free Agency

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Got ten minutes? Read our primer on the upcoming NBA free agency period starting June 30th at 6:00 PM Eastern. This list includes free-agent fits for teams destined for the lottery as well as the NBA Finals.

Please note that not all of these players will become free agents this offseason. A “TO” by a player’s name means there’s a “team option” on the player’s contract for the 2022-2023 season, so the team can choose to keep the player for one more year. A “PO” by a player’s name means there’s a “player option,” so that player can decide to either return to his team for another season or become a free agent this offseason. P.J. Tucker, for example, has already opted out of his contract to become a free agent this summer.

A Quick Guide to NBA Free Agency

All contract information is taken from Spotrac.

Superstars in Free Agency

The superstar-caliber players who could be free agents include James Harden (PO), Bradley Beal (PO), Kyrie Irving (PO), and Zach LaVine. All four are spectacular scoring guards with question marks. Harden scored just 21 points per game, his lowest average since coming off the bench in Oklahoma City. Beal just posted a career-low in three-point shooting. Irving has played in 45% of Brooklyn’s regular-season games the past three seasons. LaVine re-injured his left knee late this season after tearing the ACL in that knee in 2017.

Still, these All-Star caliber performers have proven enough that all should get deals at or near their maximum annual salary. It’s impossible to predict what Irving will want, but expect the others to re-sign with their teams. If they’re unhappy, they could look to follow the Paul George model. He re-signed with Oklahoma City in the summer of 2018, then requested (and received) a trade to the Clippers the very next year when Kawhi Leonard went to LA. That will be an option for these players, especially Beal (who has a limited injury history) and LaVine (who just turned 27 in March).

Restricted Free Agents

Restricted free agents are young players whose rookie contracts are ending. These players’ previous teams can keep them even if they sign an offer with a new team. The previous team just has to offer a contract with the same terms as the new team’s offer.

The Suns have had well-documented frustrations with DeAndre Ayton in the wake of their second-round playoff exit, and there are rumors that Charlotte is hesitant to give Miles Bridges a max offer sheet. Detroit, San Antonio and Indiana are teams with the money to offer large contracts and players at similar ages. Phoenix and Charlotte would push for a sign-and-trade to recoup assets; if they decide not to retain Ayton and Bridges, respectively. The new team would ensure their contract offer won’t be matched by agreeing to a sign-and-trade.

Trades sending Bridges to Atlanta (for John Collins and a young player), Memphis (for Dillon Brooks and Ziaire Williams), Miami (for Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson), or Sacramento (for the fourth pick and Harrison Barnes) could make sense if Charlotte finds any of those returns appealing. Bridges fits any team as a young, 6’6” shot creator who averaged an efficient 20 points per game last season. San Antonio and Indiana have starting-level centers to send in an Ayton deal, and Myles Turner should inspire intrigue in Phoenix.

Collin Sexton tore his MCL, and Darius Garland’s emergence makes him seem more like a luxury than a necessity for Cleveland. There are rumors that the Nets may not want to offer Nic Claxton a substantial contract. Donte DiVincienzo and Anfernee Simons likely won’t change teams, but twins Cody Martin and Caleb Martin can play for any squad as young reserve wings who can shoot and defend.

Available Veteran Defenders

There are a number of strong veteran defenders available in free agency this season. P.J. Tucker was mentioned above, and he’s joined by new champion Gary Payton II on this list as players with title rings. Tucker is one of the best defenders of wing scorers in the league, and the Sixers are already rumored to have an interest. Payton can both create steals and lock down opposing scorers one-on-one, and did well against Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum at moments in the Finals.

Like Tucker and Payton, Gary Harris and Nicolas Batum (a confirmed free agent who also excels as a help defender) have proven they can guard top perimeter players one-on-one in the playoffs. Kyle Anderson supplements tough defense with ball-handling and buckets against mismatches. Lower-level candidates include point guard defenders Delon Wright and Jevon Carter, limited shooters like Bruce Brown and Derrick Jones Jr., and guys who rejoined the NBA last season in Danuel House Jr. and Davon Reed.

Philadelphia is a good team with limited defenders around Joel Embiid, especially after Danny Green tore his ACL. Expect them to sign one or two names from this list to chase after perimeter scorers. Portland could have room to sign one of these players after waiving Eric Bledsoe, and Sacramento could sign someone to aid their playoff push under Mike Brown.

Point Guards in Free Agency

This is mostly an excuse to talk about Jalen Brunson. Brunson, who turns 26 on August 31, proved his bruising drives, patient postups, and high-arching floaters were efficient playoff offense. The Knicks have long been rumored as a destination for Brunson, and the Mavericks will surely want to keep him in Dallas long-term. Detroit and Brunson have been linked as well.

Brunson’s max contract with Dallas or another team starts in excess of $30 million in the first year; Brunson will surely be able to command at least $20 million in the first year of his next deal after leading Dallas to a 2-1 series lead against Utah without Luka Dončić. Ricky Rubio will attempt a comeback from a torn ACL, and Tyus Jones is a (very good) backup, but Brunson is the prize of this group.

Bench Scorers in Free Agency

There are solid options for teams lacking scoring punch off the bench like Boston, Miami, Toronto, Cleveland, and Phoenix. If T.J. Warren had been healthy the past two seasons, he’d be considered a starter; he’s an interesting low-cost option, probably on a one-year deal as he looks to re-establish himself on the court. Otto Porter Jr. might be the best player on this list, as he can hit threes, defend both big positions, and is coming off an excellent rebounding season.

Patty Mills (PO), Malik Monk, and Dennis Schröder offer different variations of the “small, scoring reserve guard” archetype. Montrezl Harrell is a former Sixth Man of the Year award winner but a defensive liability. Bryn Forbes, Carmelo Anthony, and Jeremy Lamb provide shooting at different positions. Taurean Prince intrigued by attacking closeouts during Minnesota’s first-round loss to Memphis, and could fit well coming off a contender’s bench.

Available Big Men

Charlotte, Sacramento, Brooklyn, Chicago, Toronto all could sign a center to help their defensive issues. Unfortunately, few centers profile as defensive difference makers. Jusuf Nurkić is less mobile after suffering a broken leg in 2019, but can help protect the rim. Kevon Looney is a tremendous defender but is limited offensively; he would be an intriguing fit surrounded by scorers in Brooklyn or Chicago.

Ivica Zubac (TO) might be the best overall player here, which is why he will likely stay with the Clippers. His backup Isaiah Hartenstein proved to be rotation-caliber last season, and is due for a raise with another team. Chris Boucher’s shot-blocking and shooting could intrigue some teams, but after him are all bigs who are either firmly backups (Robin Lopez, Bobby Portis (PO)) or could be out of the league (LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap).

“Second Draft” Candidates in Free Agency

“Second draft” candidates are young players who were drafted high and likely won’t re-sign with their current team. Marvin Bagley III was traded to Detroit last year and could re-sign there. Other players fitting this description could include Mo Bamba, Jalen Smith, Kevin Knox, and Lonnie Walker IV. Smith is the only unrestricted free agent in the group. Jarrett Culver, another unrestricted free agent, spent the past season with Memphis’ coaching staff after being traded from Minnesota. He couldn’t crack the Grizzlies’ deep rotation, but teams should find out if he has developed enough to play. This group should have interest from rebuilding teams like Houston, Oklahoma City, Detroit, and Orlando.