The craziest part of the NBA season is about to commence with free agency poised to begin on June 30th. When it does, there are a number of players who will dictate how things unfold for the rest of the market and the flow-on effect could go a long way to determining which teams are the favourite for the 2022-23 championship. These 12 players listed below are part of that select group and while we have a fair idea of how things are going to unfold, their decisions will send ripple effects through the rest of the association.
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Kyrie Irving, Player Option
Best landing spots: Heat, Nets, Knicks
If you believe the recent reports surrounding Kyrie Irving then he appears set to stay in BKN for at least one more season. The star floor general has reportedly picked up his $36.5M option for 2022-23 and it appears as though the Nets are going to gear up for one more title run driven by Kyrie and Kevin Durant. However, there are still plenty of rumours swirling about Irving’s desire to join the Lakers and while a sign-and-trade appears unlikely, if L.A. can find a landing spot for Russell Westbrook we may still see Irving and LeBron rejoin forces.
Jalen Brunson, Unrestricted
Best landing spots: Knicks, Trailblazers, Mavericks
After a strong showing in the postseason, Jalen Brunson is bound to attract attention from rival ball clubs this offseason. The former Villanova standout averaged 21.6 PPG from his 18 playoff games and in the process boosted his value for the Mavericks which should lead to a contract worth more than $20M annually. New York appears destined to land Brunson if you believe the latest buzz, but I’m sure Dallas won’t let him walk without a fight.
Mitch Robinson, Unrestricted
Best landing spots: Bulls, Knicks, Thunder, Suns, Hornets
At just 24 years old, there is still a lot that a healthy Mitchell Robinson can offer an NBA team. Unfortunately, he’s been unable to stay on the court managing just 230 games in his four pro seasons to date. A rim-protecting and lob threat presence, Robinson shot an impressive 76.1% of his field-goal attempts last season and joining a team with title aspirations could see him excel in limited minutes.
Zach LaVine, Unrestricted
Best landing spots: Spurs, Heat, Bulls, Mavericks
The Bulls’ success last year didn’t equate to a lengthy postseason stay, although their high-flying guard Zach LaVine proved his worth during their 46-win season. DeMar DeRozan took flight as an MVP contender in his first season with the team, while LaVine emerged as a stable sidekick and performed well enough to earn another serious payday. I would love to see him join the Dallas Mavericks and team up with Luka Doncic, but all signs point to another multi-year contract with Chicago.
Anfernee Simons, Restricted
Best landing spots: Trailblazers, Pacers, Spurs
Of all the restricted free agents on the market, Anfernee Simons is my favourite. As a starter last season, the Portland young gun burst onto the scene with averages of 22.0 PPG and 5.5 APG while shooting 41.5% from three, stepping out of Damian Lillard’s shadow to become a potential franchise cornerstone. As Portland continues to evolve with a new coach and new front office leadership, and with doubts over Dame’s long-term future, matching any offer that comes for Simons to keep him in a Rip City uniform makes complete sense.
Image from sportskeeda.com
Collin Sexton, Restricted
Best landing spots: Spurs, Pacers, Cavaliers, Wizards
Even though a serious knee injury interrupted his 2021-22 season, it appears as though teams will have some interest in prying Collin Sexton away from Cleveland. Perhaps one of the league’s most underrated scorers, Sexton has shown that he can get buckets in the NBA, even if he has some glaring defensive shortcomings. The Cavs hold all the power in the bidding war for his signature and as long as the negotiations don’t rise above $18-$20 million annually, expect to see him stay with Cleveland.
Bradley Beal, Player Option
Best landing spots: Heat, Wizards, Celtics
Does Bradley Beal want to secure the bag or does he want to contend for a title? That’s the biggest question that will define his landing spot this offseason with Beal reportedly planning to opt-out of his player option and sign a mammoth $248M max deal! You can’t be mad at the 3x All-Star for chasing the paper, but it’s clear that leaving Washington would give him the best chance to win a championship. Conference rivals like the Heat and Celtics would love for him to depart DC, but Beal seems content to resign with the Wizards…for now.
Jusuf Nurkic, Unrestricted
Best landing spots: Suns, Trailblazers, Hornets
Before he was shut down last year and Portland focused on severely tanking, Jusuf Nurkic was playing some of the best basketball of his career. Prior to the All-Star break when the Blazers went on a four-game win streak, Nurkic was at the center of the action with averages of 21.5 PPG, 14.0 RPG and 4.3 APG. There is some interest around the association, however, it appears as though “The Bosnian Beast” will remain with Portland on a similar deal to the 4-year/$48M contract he signed in 2018.
Miles Bridges, Restricted
Best landing spots: Hornets, Spurs, Pistons
Following a breakout campaign, it’s hard to envision Miles Bridges playing anywhere else next season, especially because Charlotte has the right to match any potential bid for him. Bridges gambled on himself by turning down a deal that was reportedly worth $60M over a four-year period last offseason and that dice roll is set to pay off handsomely. The two-way forward is now an integral part of a rising Hornets franchise and it appears as though no matter what offer comes his way, they will be willing to match it to ensure he remains in Charlotte.
Deandre Ayton, Restricted
Best landing spots: Spurs, Hawks, Raptors, Hornets
One of the most perplexing players in this year’s free agent class is Deandre Ayton, with the future of the former No. 1 pick still very much up in the air. His name was thrown around heavily in trade rumours throughout the draft and after reportedly requesting a max deal from Phoenix, it seems as though his Suns tenure is over. There’s still a scenario where he remains in the desert and commits to a lesser deal, but should someone want to take him off of Phoenix’s hands, they appear happy to let him walk.
Image from valleyofthesuns.com
James Harden, Player Option
Best landing spots: Sixers, Heat
After being traded prior to last year’s deadline I would be absolutely stunned if James Harden wasn’t in a Philly uniform to start next season. Despite the chicanery surrounding his contract and opting into his $42.7M player option, Harden won’t be leaving the Sixers with a lucrative short-term extension expected to come his way in the coming days. Philadelphia are happy to build a winner around Harden and MVP threat Joel Embiid and even though the former award winner flamed out to close the 2022-23 season, keeping him around allows the 76ers to stay in the title hunt.
Kevon Looney, Unrestricted
Best landing spots: Hornets, Warriors, Kings
Playing his role on a title-winning Dubs team will lead to Kevon Looney earning a hefty payday during free agency. The Warriors are keen to keep their big man in a Golden State uniform, but as an unrestricted free agent, Looney can dictate his own future. Opposing teams like Charlotte and Sacramento are amongst the early suitors, with both franchises in a position to offer Looney more cash than the reigning champs. Playing every possible game last season only boosts his earning profile and I won’t be floored if he chases the dough and departs the Bay.
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