We’re officially two months away from 2022 NBA Free Agency
officially kicking off. Although the class is rather shallow —
especially on superstar movement — the headliners provide some
intrigue and there are endless possibilities in terms of the
potential domino effects.
Will Zach LaVine and Deandre Ayton be viewed as max-level
talents by their respective organizations? What will happen with
James Harden and Kyrie Irving? Will Bradley Beal once again commit
long-term to the Washington Wizards?
Let’s dive into my predictions on what the top-five projected
free agents will likely do this offseason, and how those moves
could alter the calculus of the entire NBA.
Player Option ($44.7 million)
Philadelphia 76ers president Daryl Morey accomplished his
long-awaited dream when he helped James Harden and Joel Embiid join
forces in Philadelphia earlier this season. When Harden wanted to
get out of Brooklyn (an era we'll look back on as a huge "what if"
in NBA history), the Sixers pushed their chips all-in on the
dominant inside-out duo’s potential.
However, having sent out Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond
and future draft capital to the Nets, it hasn’t gone as smoothly as
many expected for Harden. After a fast start with his new team,
Harden's production has tailed off. Now, with Embiid's postseason
status in jeopardy due to an orbital fracture, can Harden recapture
his form before another important career decision?
Harden averaged 21.0 points, 10.5 assists and 7.1 rebounds in 21
regular-season games with the Sixers, and through six playoff
games, has produced to the tune of 19.0 points, 10.2 assists and
Since these numbers aren't anywhere close to vintage-Harden
levels of offensive production, does Morey feel comfortable
shelling out a gigantic long-term extension to the 32-year-old,
high-usage guard? It feels like we’re entering into the next phase
of Harden’s career, and if that’s the case, he’s probably not a
It seems like Philadelphia is backed into a corner in this
situation though. After shipping off Simmons and future assets to
Brooklyn, the Sixers have committed to Embiid and Harden hopefully
delivering a championship within their short-term window.
Prediction: Harden opts out and re-signs on three-year
Player Option ($36.5 million)
Who knows what the future holds as it relates to Kyrie Irving?
Unwilling to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Irving cost the Nets
a realistic chance at competing for an NBA championship this
season; this should've never been an issue, but he had to try to
catch up and learn on the fly with his teammates.
Brooklyn still holds those championship expectations moving
forward, especially with Kevin Durant and Simmons alongside
Irving is the true wildcard to watch this summer. If he decides
to move on from the Nets, it
wouldn’t be a surprise at all. Honestly, even retirement wouldn’t
be a complete surprise with Irving. In the end, though, the Nets
are also married to this idea of competing for rings over the
extended window with Durant.
The reason why Durant joined the Nets was to play with his best
friend in Irving. It’s hard to envision Irving leaving Brooklyn,
and he echoed similar sentiments after the Nets’ disappointing
first-round exit against the Boston Celtics.
“There’s no way I’m leaving my man 7 anywhere,” Irving said
after the series.
The Nets should definitely reconsider their stance on handing
out a potential five-year max extension to Irving though.
Understanding his unpredictability, who knows what could happen in
the future with him? With Durant still dominating, Irving will
likely align his next contract on a similar path.
Prediction: Irving opts out and re-signs on four-year
Player Option ($36.4 million)
Will Bradley Beal really decide to stick around in D.C. for the
long-term? I have serious doubts on that idea, and Beal should as
well for his legacy. Even in a down year for the Washington Wizards
— one in which he was shut down due to a torn ligament in his left
wrist on Feb. 8 — he’s still a star-level player in the NBA.
Capable of dropping 30-plus points with ease at anytime, Beal has
consistently shown the team around him has been the main issue.
Carrying subpar teams on his back since John Wall left, Beal needs
to consider doing the greater good for his own individual
From Beal’s perspective, looking around at other options to win
right now would be the best-case scenario. While he's been very
loyal to the Wizards since being drafted by the organization, this
could become very awkward rather quickly once the offseason window
Washington has done a fantastic job retooling its team on the
fly since trading away Russell Westbrook. Rolling the dice on
Kristaps Porzingis at the trade deadline is a massive risk, but
he’s the closest thing to a star-level player who would be willing
to stay long-term. With Porzingis and a plethora of young talent
led by Kyle Kuzma, will Beal lock himself into this situation for
another four or five years?
The trade market will be the most realistic route to see star
movement in the summer. Beal is one of those names to watch via
sign-and-trade. If Beal opts out, don’t be surprised to see him
sign elsewhere while not leaving the Wizards high and dry with
nothing back in return. Beal seems destined to spread his wings
elsewhere and serve as the cherry on top of a true title
Prediction: Beal opts out and the Wizards pull off
sign-and-trade to recoup some assets
Unrestricted Free Agent
Zach LaVine is one of the more underrated players in the league.
He’s a highlight reel on the offensive end, but his defense leaves
so much to be desired. We’ve seen incremental improvements with
LaVine on that end with better talent around him, but will the
Bulls view him as a max-level player? Committing that type of money
to LaVine could be risky — especially with an upcoming offseason
knee surgery — but it’s the Bulls’ best bet to keeping their core
If the Bulls balk at paying LaVine, many teams with cap space
will come knocking on his door. San Antonio Spurs point guard
Dejounte Murray has already started recruiting LaVine on social
media with photoshops of him in their jersey, for example.
LaVine and DeMar DeRozan showed throughout this season that they
are a lethal scoring combination that is very difficult to contain.
Before injuries ravaged Chicago’s roster, they were one of the best
teams in the Eastern Conference. Maybe the Bulls try to move Nikola
Vucevic, who has a $22 million expiring contract; Rudy Gobert could be a name to
watch if the Bulls try to take their team to another level.
But LaVine is a different story.
A core in Chicago of LaVine, DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, Patrick
Williams and Alex Caruso is a fun one. Chicago runs it back and
doesn’t hesitate coughing up huge money to its star shooting
Prediction: LaVine signs a five-year max extension with
Restricted Free Agent
This is one of the more interesting situations to follow heading
into the offseason. After the Phoenix Suns shockingly decided not
to pay 2018 No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton before the season
began, questions are still bubbling under the surface on his
long-term future with the organization. Ayton hasn’t let this
impact his on-court performance though, as he's continued to be a
two-way anchor to the Suns’ immense success. The Bahamian big man
keeps proving his game is tailor-made for the postseason as
Will the Suns actually allow Ayton and his representation to
test the open market as one of the top free agents available? It
would be stunning, but it feels like we could be heading in that
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has mentioned that, in negotiations,
the Suns didn’t view Ayton as a max-level player at the time, which
stunned many executives around the NBA. Has Phoenix’s stance
changed after Ayton’s consistent performances throughout this
season and the playoffs?
Here’s a little nugget: According to a league source, Phoenix is
more than comfortable paying up and going deep into the luxury tax
as long as its roster is competing for championships. Ayton is part
of that puzzle, and 2019 lottery pick Cameron Johnson is eligible
for an extension this offseason. Do with that information what you
will, but it would truly be stunning to see Ayton playing elsewhere
Prediction: Ayton tests the market and signs four-year
max offer sheet elsewhere, which includes a player option; Phoenix
eventually matches the offer sheet and keeps him
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