Less than 10 games remain in the NBA season, which means shopping season is right around the corner for all 30 teams.
Decisions that could alter the landscape of the market are looming for the likes of Kyrie Irving, who holds a player option with the Brooklyn Nets, and James Harden, who didn’t trigger his option when dealt from the Nets to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Younger talent reaching free agency for the first time can be coveted more than top-dollar veterans, and Suns center Deandre Ayton stands atop the list of restricted free agents. Phoenix held back when it had the option of locking up Ayton last summer, and then its season ended in a Game 7 with the former No. 1 overall pick on the pine based on an “internal” decision from coach Monty Williams.
There are also All-Stars expected to stay home such as Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls who could instead be wooed via sign-and-trade.
All the elements are there for a dramatic July.
Here are the players to watch when the spending begins:
–C Deandre Ayton, Suns (restricted free agent)
What Ayton wants for his 24th birthday in July is a long-term extension, and he’s destined to get it — even if Phoenix doesn’t deliver. There are visible fault lines between the two sides, starting with last October’s very public decision to work the rookie extension with Mikal Bridges and let Ayton float in a prove-it year.
With very strong support from point guard Chris Paul, the Suns aren’t going to file for divorce. But not locking up Ayton paves the way for other suitors to come knocking.
–PG Kyrie Irving, Nets (player option)
Availability remains the buzzword with Irving. Nets general manager Sean Marks hardly extinguished the feeling that Irving could be gone this summer when he called out the need for him to go all-in. With just 103 games played in three years, Marks has no reason to sugarcoat his thoughts on the situation.
“We need people here that want to be here,” Marks said, “(that) are selfless, that want to be part of something bigger than themselves. And there’s an objective and there’s a goal at stake here.”
Irving, 30, played 29 games in 2021-22. His player option for next season is worth $36.5 million and a five-year max extension would cost the Nets $200 million.
Brooklyn also has a situation to resolve with Ben Simmons, who underwent back surgery after sitting out last season.
–SG James Harden, 76ers (player option)
Harden looked his age often last season and reports to his next training camp at age 33. If he exercises his option for 2022-23, Harden pockets $47.4 million.
The pairing with Joel Embiid could continue or ever-aggressive personnel maestro Daryl Morey could try to find a way to land Bradley Beal or Zach LaVine.
Harden was 17th in the NBA in scoring (22.0 per game) and second in the NBA in assists (10.3 per game), so it’s too early to claim he’s washed up entirely.
–SG Zach LaVine, Bulls
Adding DeMar DeRozan helped LaVine become a more consistent creator despite a number of injuries and two stints in the health and safety protocol. He required knee surgery after the season and the Bulls claim to want him back. Are they willing to go all the way to the ceiling ($200 million) to keep him?
He’s 27 and DeRozan played a perfect co-star role, pushing Arturas Karnisovas into a situation in which he almost can’t afford not to lock up LaVine.
–SG Miles Bridges, Hornets (restricted free agent)
Perhaps the two most intriguing under-the-radar cases in free agency are Bridges and Jalen Brunson (Mavericks). They showed to be ascending players at the right time and will rise to the top of the free agent heap if the bigger names stay put as expected.
Bridges averaged 20.2 points and is only 24 years old, meaning a four- or five-year deal sets him up for another massive payday.
–Other names to know:
–SF Anfernee Simons, Trail Blazers (restricted free agent)
–PG John Wall, Rockets (player option)
–SF Luguentz Dort, Thunder (team option)
–F Bruce Brown, Nets
–PG Collin Sexton, Cavaliers (restricted free agent)
–SG Malik Monk, Lakers
–F Mo Bamba, Magic (restricted free agent)
–F Kevon Looney, Warriors
–Field Level Media