2022 NBA Free Agency: What’s Left?
This year’s NBA offseason merry-go-round is all but done … or is it?
The draft is done and dusted, most of the big-name free agents have inked new deals and there has been a smattering of trades, so we’re now at the back end of it all, right?
Well, not quite. Between a pair of quite high-profile trade requests, a team firing up the ol’ tank and a few remaining free agents yet to be signed, we still have dominoes to fall.
Let’s take a look at the what’s left to resolve.
Donovan Mitchell — and the Jazz in general
When Trader Danny Ainge started his teardown of Utah’s roster, there were two schools of thought, both based on Ainge’s Celtic past: he would rebuild around a singular young star, like he did at the end of the 2003 season, moving on from Antoine Walker (amongst others) to create a team around Paul Pierce; or he would strip the team down altogether, like he did when moving on from an aging Pierce along with Kevin Garnett in 2013. Either way, the perennially disappointing Jazz were to be reset.
Initially, the Jazz publicly stated that they were going to keep their remaining star in Donovan Mitchell around. Now they’re reportedly listening to offers, though expect the price to be exorbitantly high.
Miami have been touted as a possible destination, though they don’t have anything like the draft capital that Utah would want, despite Ainge’s well-known appreciation of Tyler Herro. There’s also the slight issue of Ainge and Pat Riley utterly hating each other.
Brooklyn remain a possibility. Mitchell’s long made it known that he’d like to play in New York at some point and the Nets could out together a package based – ironically – around Ben Simmons.
The favourite, though, remains Brooklyn’s crosstown rivals, the New York Knicks. They have both the trade capital, the tradable contracts and the young talent to facilitate a trade to Utah’s liking. It’s worth noting, however, that the Knicks’ behaviour where Mitchell is concerned has the Jazz brass mightily annoyed.
Whilst the deal is more than likely to get done, talks won’t be cordial.
If/when Mitchell is traded, the Jazz still have a plethora of veterans to move. Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley, and Jordan Clarkson join the newly acquired Patrick Beverley and Malik Beasley as players that will likely not be with the Jazz by the trade deadline.
Utah is embracing the tank. Shipping out Mitchell won’t be the last of their moves.
Will Kevin Durant ever find genuine happiness as a pro athlete? This writer has no doubt that Durant would see the court as a sanctuary, but he has yet to find any sort of peace in the harsh spotlight of an NBA arena.
His recent trade request sees KD check out on all three of his NBA homes. A trade, though, appears reasonably unlikely at this stage. Durant himself nominated Phoenix and Miami as his preferred trade destinations. The Suns would have to build a deal around Deandre Ayton – more on him below – which is a non-starter for the time being after Phoenix matched the offer sheet Ayton signed with Indiana.
Durant only wants to go to Miami if they retain Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and Bam Adebayo. That’s fair enough from Durant’s perspective but makes a deal almost impossible to construct. Tyler Herro, Max Strus and some picks are not getting it done.
Regardless of the destination, there are of course a pair of rather large obstacles standing in the way of KD and the Brooklyn exit door.
Durant recently signed a four-year extension with the Nets, signaling his apparent contentment with what the Nets were building around him. That feeling, clearly, has passed. Nonetheless, that contract means Durant’s future is not in his own hands. Nets general manager Sean Marks can hold out for as much as he wants in a trade, for as long as he sees fit.
That ties directly into the second barrier: the Gobert trade.
The remarkable haul that Utah extracted from the Timberwolves in moving on from Gobert resets the trade market in a way that suits Sean Marks just fine. There is no way that the Kiwi would want to tear down the team he so meticulously built so – barring an offer he simply can’t refuse – keeping Durant in Brooklyn Black won’t keep Marks up at night.
In contrast to the Mitchell situation, expect the Durant drama to continue on for some time to come.
Unlike Durant, his Nets running mate Kyrie Irving is in the final year of his deal and the Nets also seem more than willing to come to an arrangement. That said, Kyrie – a proven flight risk – will only appeal to a team that he wants to move to. That narrows the market quite considerably to just one team, in fact: the Los Angeles Lakers.
After five years apart, Kyrie has realised that playing off of LeBron James is a pretty sweet deal. The issue, however, is that the Lakers paying close to Warriors’ money for very much sub-Warriors results. To bring Irving – a great fit, by the way – on board they’ll need to ditch Russell Westbrook. That will take draft capital thrown in to sweeten the deal.
The Lakers understand this and are prepared to give up a future first rounder. The Nets want two of those, or for LA to take on Joe Harris’ $20 million per season contract.
Until the impasse is, uh, passed, there will be no Irving deal. Perhaps a three-team deal is on the cards?
In signing an offer sheet – and seeing it matched almost immediately – the Suns appeared to put the Ayton soap opera to bed. Whilst that may be the case for the time being, in reality, Phoenix have only managed to kick the can down the road a little.
Whilst the offer sheet theoretically ties Ayton to Phoenix, the team have a series of bridges that need rebuilding after continually refusing to offer the former first overall pick an extension over the past two years.
Ayton is ineligible to be traded until January 15 and can veto any trade until next July, which moves any potential Durant-to-Phoenix talk to the back burner. That does give the club a chance to rebuild their relationship with the Bahamian.
To Ayton’s credit, he put together an excellent 2022 season despite being openly upset at not getting an appropriate contract extension last offseason. He’s shown he can compartmentalize. That said, it’s easier to put up with a situation when you think you’re not coming back. Now that he knows he’s coming back to Arizona, will his mood and commitment remain as professional?
Collin Sexton looked like he had the world at his feet after a breakout 2021 season. A knee injury limited his follow up campaign to just 11 games – his form wasn’t exactly stellar in those matches, either.
Both the player and the Cavs are keen on sticking together, though an apparently healthy Sexton is looking for a long-term deal in the vicinity of $20 million per year. That seems unlikely.
Given that the market has dried up somewhat, the Cavs are the clear front-runner to ink Sexton to a contract. The intrigue lies in the dollars and years.
Does Sexton take a longer-term deal for less money now, knowing intimately that the health of a professional athlete can be fleeting? If so, does $60 million over four years get it done?
Alternatively, Sexton could bet on himself by taking his $7.2 million qualifying offer and potentially playing himself into a big money deal this time next year. If that’s the case, would the Cavaliers risk losing Sexton as an unrestricted free agent in 2023?
Bridges was going to command a deal in the range of $25 million per year this offseason, until his wife rightly went public with his abhorrent behaviour towards her. Bridges has been charged with felony domestic violence. This writer would also like to link this, the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Now, Bridges’ NBA career is hanging by a thread. He has been extended a qualifying offer by the Hornets, making him a restricted free agent. In theory he can sign an offer sheet with any NBA team, though it would be PR – and possibly locker room – suicide to take on Bridges whilst such serious charges are still pending.
Bridges is due to appear in court on July 20.
The veteran trade candidates
Outside of the high-profile players covered above, there are a handful of NBA veterans that, despite expectations that they would be moved, still remain with their current teams.
Orlando duo Terrence Ross and Gary Harris were both expected to be shipped out to create playing time for the Magic’s raft of young guards. Both are effectively on expiring deals this season (Harris is on a two-year contract, through that second season is largely unguaranteed) and can still do a job on good teams. Both are on reasonable deals in the $10-15 million range. If both start the season on the Magic roster, expect them to be gone by the trade deadline.
Similarly, Sacramento has a pair of veterans that don’t seem to fit in with their current plans. Harrison Barnes is a fine player, often underrated, but at 30 years old he’s not really on the same timeline as the Kings current core. In addition, there is a whole lot of positional overlap with fourth overall pick Keegan Murray. Barnes is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2023 season and would surely be a huge addition to a contender.
Richaun Holmes is massively overqualified in his current role as the 15 minute-per-game backup to Domantas Sabonis. A versatile defender with great touch around the basket, Holmes is a starting centre in the NBA. A contender with concerns at the pivot position would be mad not to see what it would take for the Kings to move on from the 28-year-old.
There are so many rumours around the future of D’Angelo Russell that it’s almost become a cottage industry of its own. On paper, he’s a great fit at both ends next to the newly acquired Gobert and is famously tight with Karl-Anthony Towns. So why is Russell always headlining the rumour mill? He’s on an expiring deal worth $34 million.
Minnesota’s roster just got a whole lot more expensive, and, in any case, Russell has proven that he’s not worth that sort of money. If both sides approach negotiations with sensible expectations, a deal should be reached. If not, the Wolves risk losing a locker room leader and fine point guard for nothing.
SUBSCRIBE to the Vendetta YouTube Channel!
SHOP for Vendetta Merch!
SUPPORT Vendetta on Patreon!