Free agency is far from over, but several NBA stars have already solidified their immediate future ahead of the 2023-24 season.
The NBA’s free agency negotiation period officially kicked off on Friday, ahead of the league’s annual moratorium period, which began Saturday. Deals can be agreed to during this period but can’t be officially signed until Thursday.
Among the biggest deals, Toronto Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet agreed to a three-year, $130 million contract with the Houston Rockets, and point guard Kyrie Irving re-signed with the Dallas Mavericks for three-years and $126 million.
Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball and Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards both agreed to reported five-year rookie max extensions worth up to $260 million. Meanwhile, superstars like Damian Lillard and James Harden have yet to find a new home. Will the Miami Heat find a way to land Lillard?
Our insiders dissect the biggest storylines from free agency and answer questions still lingering ahead of the campaign.
What has been the best move of the offseason so far?
Tim MacMahon: The Washington Wizards trading Bradley Beal to the Phoenix Suns, a move clearly signaling that Washington would begin a long overdue rebuilding process under new team president Michael Winger. Yes, the return for Beal was underwhelming, but you can’t blame the Wizards’ new regime for being handcuffed by the no-trade clause that was inexplicably included in Beal’s supermax contract. The Wizards got a bundle of second-round draft picks, some pick swaps and, after flipping Chris Paul, a young scorer in Jordan Poole and a future first-round pick. Most importantly, after years of being stuck in the middle, Washington wisely hit the reset button.
Tim Bontemps: The Milwaukee Bucks bringing back Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez. No team had more at stake this summer than Milwaukee, which needed to have Middleton and Lopez in the fold to remain one of the favorites to win the title, thus ensuring it’s a place Giannis Antetokounmpo will want to be moving forward. Milwaukee paid up to do so, and it is the best bet to come out of the Eastern Conference next season as a result.
Jamal Collier: The Golden State Warriors, for adding Paul and trading Poole. Golden State got to swap out Poole — who was, at best, redundant with the rest of its shooters — with Paul, who has the chance to play the perfect role late in his career as a reserve and a distributor to help set up the offense and generate open 3s.
Kendra Andrews: The Warriors re-signing Draymond Green. Without Green, the Warriors’ championship hopes would have plummeted to zero. By bringing him back, their core remains intact, Stephen Curry keeps the Robin to his Batman and the Warriors keep their heart and soul.
Marc Spears: The Rockets landing VanVleet was a major pickup and a statement move for a rebuilding and young, struggling franchise. They had major salary cap space and were able to land one of the top free agents for new coach Ime Udoka.
What has been the most surprising move of the offseason so far?
MacMahon: The Boston Celtics giving up Marcus Smart as part of the Kristaps Porzingis trade. It’s a deal that looks good on a spreadsheet for the Celtics, considering Porzingis’ statistics last season and the pair of first-round picks Boston received in the deal. But Smart was the Celtics’ heart and soul for the past several years, and Porzingis’ fit as the third offensive option could be awkward.
Bontemps: Dillon Brooks getting both four years and $80 million from Houston. While Brooks is a terrific defensive player, he has real offensive limitations and didn’t seem to have a huge market. This deal was more than I anticipated when free agency began.
Collier: Oh, it’s going to be weird watching Smart not play for the Celtics.
Andrews: The Celtics giving up Smart. He had been an integral part of their team and was an anchor on the court. And getting Porzingis back doesn’t give Boston the player it needs to go to the next level.
Spears: Respectfully, Jerami Grant signing a five-year, $160 million contract with the Portland Trail Blazers was stunning to me. Grant is an outstanding player, but I didn’t expect that number. Kudos to him.
Which team has done the most to improve its title chances for 2023-24?
MacMahon: The Heat might end up having the final say here, but for now, it’s the Suns. Phoenix added significant offensive firepower by dealing for Beal — doubling down on the win-now window created by the Kevin Durant trade — and did an excellent job of constructing a respectable supporting cast in the veterans minimum market. It remains to be seen if the Suns can find decent value in the trade market for Deandre Ayton, but count on them to continue trying regardless of what they say.
Bontemps: The answer to this will likely depend on the outcomes of the Harden and Lillard situations. As of now, most of the contending teams largely either stood pat or made significant changes that will take time to settle out. Harden and Lillard, however, will have the ability to rapidly swing the fortunes of the teams they land on.
Collier: The Los Angeles Lakers. None of their offseason moves individually will blow anyone away, but they didn’t rest on their laurels following a Western Conference finals appearance and tried to improve the team around the margins. They have a rotation in place that looks solid enough to be a true contender from day one in the West next year.
Andrews: The Suns. Their biggest weakness last season (after trading for Durant) was their lack of depth. But they have done an overhaul of their bench, and Phoenix has been a prime landing spot this summer. The Suns now have a much deeper roster, with a decent variety of skills and talent.
Spears: Outside of firing Monty Williams, I really like what the Suns have done this off-season. Obviously, adding Bradley Beal to what is now a Big Four with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton is scary. I assume, at the moment, Beal will be point guard. But what Phoenix has also done is added a nice supporting cast with newcomers Eric Gordon, Yuta Watanabe, Chimezie Metu, Keita Bates-Diop and Drew Eubanks.
Should the 76ers go all-in for Damian Lillard?
Zach Lowe breaks down why a 76ers-Blazers trade would be more difficult than it seems.
At the start of the season, Damian Lillard will be playing for _____?
MacMahon: The best bet is that Lillard will get his wish and wind up in Miami. But let’s discuss an intriguing sleeper: the Utah Jazz. If Danny Ainge decides to roll the dice, the Jazz can make the most attractive offer to the Trail Blazers, thanks to all the picks Utah accumulated over the past year in trades with the Timberwolves, Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers. Would it be worth it to add a 33-year-old superstar (who happened to play college ball in Utah at Weber State) to a core that includes 25-year-old All-Star forward Lauri Markkanen and All-Rookie center Kessler?
Bontemps: The Philadelphia 76ers. I think this is a two-horse race that could easily see Lillard winding up in Miami. But with Philadelphia having the most attractive trade option on the board — rising star guard Tyrese Maxey — I’ll bet on 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey finding a way to land yet another star.
Collier: Miami. Eventually, superstar players get what they want in this league. And the Heat have been waiting for a long time to land this kind of player.
Andrews: There isn’t much leverage for the Blazers, so chances are Lillard ends up in Miami — his preferred destination — even if it’s not what Portland really wants.
Spears: Damian Lillard wants to play for Miami and only Miami, I have been continually told since Saturday. Certainly, it’s easier said than done. I’m told that while Portland isn’t happy with potential packages, there are over five teams interested in a potential multiteam trade that could get it done. It won’t be today or tomorrow or perhaps the next day, but I believe it will ultimately end up with Lillard going to Miami. While Lillard does not have a no-trade clause, it doesn’t make sense to trade for a future Hall of Famer who doesn’t want to be there.
Which player has flown under the radar in free agency but will be a big storyline come February’s trade deadline?
MacMahon: There has been some discussion about Towns, but it shouldn’t be a surprise if that gets much louder as the trade deadline nears. The face of the franchise for the Timberwolves has transitioned to Edwards, fresh off signing a new potential supermax extension. If Minnesota is going to make another major change, it would need to be by trading Towns.
Bontemps: Donovan Mitchell. Cleveland has to try to prove over the next year it’s worth having Mitchell sign up long term or will have to consider moving him with a year on his deal next offseason. If the Cavaliers struggle next season, Mitchell’s name could come up.
Collier: Towns. Minnesota did not live up to expectations last season, and had Towns not missed such a significant portion of the campaign with an injury, there might already be more questions surrounding that roster.
Andrews: Luka Doncic. He is six years in, he missed the playoffs last season and the Mavs haven’t made any moves to drastically improve so far this offseason. Morale was so low by the end of last season — particularly in how the team decided to handle Doncic’s final game — the star could decide he wants to see what else is out there.
Spears: If Grant’s salary weren’t so high, I could see him as a potential player for the rebuilding Blazers to move. I’m keeping an eye on Towns; it’s the Anthony Edwards show now.