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2022 NBA free agency: Resetting the market 10 days later, starting with Deandre Ayton

·12 min read
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Much of the NBA's summer business is done, save for the whole Kevin Durant thing. One of the 15 greatest players in the history of basketball requesting a trade as free agency opens has a tendency to muck up the process, but everyone else still plunged forward with billions of dollars worth of contracts.

All-Stars Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, Darius Garland, Nikola Jokic, Zach LaVine, Ja Morant, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zion Williamson signed deals that could net them a combined $2 billion by 2028. All stayed put. We covered each signing in great detail. Just click on their names if you are so inclined. You can also follow early winners and losers of free agency and details of every transaction in our tracker and from our experts.

Jalen Brunson has been the biggest name to change teams in free agency, accepting a $104 million offer from the New York Knicks. Rudy Gobert, Dejounte Murray and Malcolm Brogdon also headlined a trio of potentially seismic trades to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics, respectively.

So, what's left? Well, you have come to the right place because here is your 2022 NBA free-agency reset.

SALARY CAP SPACE

Only three teams still have — or could create — significant salary cap space. The San Antonio Spurs, with $32.1 million, have just enough to offer the only possible maximum contract player still available a starting salary of 25% of the $123.655 million salary cap ($30.9 million). And we will get to that player in a moment.

The Indiana Pacers, with $26.4 million, could get there, too.

The Detroit Pistons entered free agency with more cap space than any other team, but they used much of it to help the New York Knicks create room to sign Jalen Brunson and Isaiah Hartenstein in exchange for draft picks. As dust settled on trades that sent Kemba Walker, Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel from New York to Detroit, the Pistons have a little more than the non-taxpayer midlevel exception ($10.5 million) to offer in free agency. The Knicks have a little less than a taxpayer midlevel exception ($6.5 million) still available.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Deandre Ayton

The recent No. 1 overall pick's value was at an all-time high last summer, when his two-way performance at the center position helped the Phoenix Suns reach the 2021 NBA Finals. He was bound for a max deal, but myriad factors over several months — a reported quarrel with Suns head coach Monty Williams, Phoenix's Game 7 collapse against the Dallas Mavericks and Kevin Durant's trade request — complicated his status.

The Suns are among the favorites to land Durant, and Ayton would be a centerpiece of any sign-and-trade offer to the Brooklyn Nets (all of them complicated). Ayton could remove himself from that conversation by signing an offer sheet with the Spurs or Pacers, all but eliminating Phoenix from the Durant sweepstakes.

Multiple reports have indicated Indiana is the biggest threat to sign Ayton. The Suns will still have 48 hours to match any deal he receives, but once ink hits an offer sheet, he cannot be traded for at least six months.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - APRIL 22: Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns reacts against the New Orleans Pelicans during Game Three of the Western Conference First Round NBA Playoffs at the Smoothie King Center on April 22, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Former No. 1 draft pick Deandre Ayton could be on the move this offseason. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Collin Sexton

Sexton and the Cavaliers have expressed interest in keeping him in Cleveland. With few suitors left to make a significant offer, the market has been kind to the Cavaliers, who can match any offer he receives or negotiate a sign-and-trade deal. Sexton is unlikely to secure the $20 million starting salary he is reportedly seeking, and Cleveland is almost surely offering less than the $15 million they have left under the luxury tax.

Sexton, who missed all but 11 games this past season with a left knee injury, could also rebuild his value on a $7.2 million qualifying offer and re-enter free agency as an unrestricted player next summer. Keep in mind, he is still only 23 years old and averaged 24.3 points on 48/37/82 shooting splits in his last healthy season.

Miles Bridges

Bridges was supposed to command a sizable offer from a team with cap space, and then he was arrested on a felony charge on the eve of free agency. His wife subsequently shared disturbing images of an alleged domestic assault. Bridges is due in a Los Angeles court July 20. His status is pending criminal and NBA investigations.

The Charlotte Hornets have until Friday to rescind Bridges' $7.9 million qualifying offer for next season.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

James Harden

Harden has not technically re-signed with the Philadelphia 76ers, but all signs point to him soon taking a $15 million pay cut for this coming season, signing a two-year deal with a player option for the 2023-24 campaign and reentering free agency next summer, when he can attempt to recoup some of his lost value.

Harden's deal has allowed the Sixers to maintain flexibility under the $159 million hard cap that comes with signing PJ Tucker to the non-taxpayer midlevel exception. It also might draw attention from the league office, where eyebrows should raise when a player turns down a massive extension from one team, forces his way to another and "forgets" to pick up a $47 million option, which happens to benefit the executive with whom said player has a familial relationship and is not supposed to be discussing such matters.

Montrezl Harrell

Harrell is also facing legal issues in his pursuit of a new contract. He was arrested in Kentucky in May for allegedly possessing 3 pounds of marijuana and is due for an arraignment Wednesday.

The 28-year-old has played for the Hornets, Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Lakers since winning Sixth Man of the Year honors with the L.A. Clippers in 2020. Harrell averaged 11.4 points and 4.9 rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench over 25 post-trade deadline appearances for Charlotte this past season.

Could-be retirees

LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Iguodala, Paul Millsap, Rajon Rondo and Lou Williams remain unsigned. They are facing the choice between chasing a $2.9 million veteran minimum contract or entering retirement. Williams' career earnings of $87.5 million are the lowest of those aged stars.

Track-record veterans

Other veterans with established careers who are still available at league minimum for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health: D.J. Augustin, Kent Bazemore, Avery Bradley, Eric Bledsoe, Wayne Ellington, Blake Griffin, Rodney Hood, Dwight Howard, Jeremy Lamb, Ben McLemore, Markieff Morris, Eric Paschall, Elfrid Payton, Austin Rivers, Tomas Satoransky, Dennis Schroder, Tony Snell and Hassan Whiteside.

If none of them strike your fancy, how about Facu Campazzo, Tristan Thompson or Jake Layman?

Now, you are starting to understand where we are in free agency during an NBA era of increased young talent. There will be players whose names you recognize entering next season without a guaranteed roster spot.

Bo Cruz

The Utah Jazz waived Juancho Hernangomez, breakout star of Netflix's "Hustle," in June. Fans of the movie are clamoring for him to reunite with co-star Anthony Edwards on the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Recent lottery picks

Josh Jackson and Jarrett Culver, respectively drafted fourth overall in 2017 and sixth overall in 2019, are both unrestricted free agents. Neither has come close to meeting his potential, but youth is on their side, and a team that believes in its player development might see what upside remains untapped.

ROOKIE EXTENSIONS

R.J. Barrett

The All-Stars from the 2019 draft class — Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and Darius Garland — all received designated player contract extensions worth either $193 million or $231 million, depending on their All-NBA status in 2023. Barrett would sure like to see the same kind of money as his classmates, and he averaged 20 points per game this past season, but his performance has not matched their peaks and/or consistency.

The Knicks have infamously failed to reach a longterm contract extension with a first-round draft pick since Charlie Ward in 1999, but offering the max just to end that streak is not prudent business practice, either. It could be wise for both sides to let this coming season play out before reaching an agreement next summer.

De'Andre Hunter

The Atlanta Hawks issued massive extensions to Trae Young, John Collins, Clint Capela and Kevin Huerter in 2021. They just traded Huerter and have been trying to deal Collins for what seems like his entire career. Capela might also be available. How all that impacts Hunter's next contract remains a mystery. His size and versatility are quietly incredibly important assets on a roster now built around Young and Dejounte Murray.

Hunter's agent surely understands that, which means they are operating from a negotiating position of power, but Atlanta also does not want to hand out another contract it will have to unload for less value in the near future. Not reaching middle ground also runs the risk of disgruntlement in a locker room that has big goals for the 2022-23 campaign. Ask the Suns how that worked with DeAndre Ayton this past season, when they signed all of their best players to extensions but the rising star center who tied them together.

Tyler Herro

Miami Heat president Pat Riley made clear his negotiating stance on Herro's next contract when he told reporters at his exit interview last month, "If you want to win a championship, and you want to be a starter, you really have to become a two-way player." The league's reigning Sixth Man of the Year is not a max player at this point in his career, even if he carries the confidence of one, but he could play his way into the discussion. We will know more about how much he believes in his ability if he enters the season unsigned.

Jordan Poole

Poole's breakout season with the Golden State Warriors ensured he will receive a hefty raise. His team sounds willing to wait until next summer to strike that deal. As Warriors executive Bob Myers insisted to Yahoo Sports regarding Poole's extension, "We’ve kept all the players we want to keep, so I don’t see that changing." Golden State owner Joe Lacob cautioned The Athletic, "There’s no rush on all that," and, "Next summer, we’re going to be faced with more issues with respect to the cap and luxury tax and all that."

EXTENSION-ELIGIBLE VETERANS

Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins

Three more members of Golden State's championship team are also up for extensions this summer. Giving them all nine-figure deals would send Lacob's luxury tax bill into another stratosphere for the foreseeable future, and even a billionaire will not pay that if his team falls out of contention for any number of reasons.

The Warriors let Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. walk this summer for more money elsewhere. With no more major decisions pressing this offseason, it would not be surprising to see them wait until next summer to see if Poole, Thompson, Green and Wiggins are still all worth as much as they want in the wake of a title.

LeBron James

The 37-year-old legend is eligible for a two-year extension from the Lakers worth close to $100 million on Aug. 4. He will otherwise be an unrestricted free agent in 2023. Trying to decipher what each side wants from the relationship beyond then is a conversation that neither James nor the Lakers may want to broach just yet. Committing to two more years of what we just saw from the Lakers feels like a mistake right now.

That could change under a new head coach, and the Lakers could have more roster-building flexibility next summer, when Russell Westbrook's massive contract will presumably come off their books. Signing now would cede some of James' influence over the team's direction next offseason, and that is not something he has often done in his career. The Lakers might benefit from forcing James to reaffirm his value, too.

Khris Middleton

The 30-year-old three-time All-Star can become a free agent next summer, when he holds a $40.4 million player option to remain with the Milwaukee Bucks. Middleton is tied to the team by a career-long working relationship with Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the two produced a title together in 2021, so there is less of a threat of him leaving. His injury absence from a seven-game Eastern Conference semifinals loss to the Boston Celtics also reinforced his value to the franchise, so an extension should still be mutually beneficial.

A three- or four-year deal annually worth roughly $50 million would extend Middleton's commitment to the Bucks beyond the end of Antetokounmpo's current deal. Tying them together for at least the next three seasons might be a scary proposition anywhere else but Milwaukee, where finding and keeping players of Middleton's caliber — who want to and can be Antetokounmpo's No. 2 — is harder than in larger markets.

Jaylen Brown

During a short window in October, the Celtics can offer Brown a three-year extension starting at 120% of his salary for the 2023-24 season, or $34.2 million. That is far below the maximum salary he will command on the open market in 2024 — or even the extension for which he will be eligible next summer. Such a deal is not financially prudent for Brown, and declining it indicates nothing more than a bet against serious injury.

Surely, Boston sports talking heads will take that into account when discussing his commitment to a team he and Jayson Tatum just led to the Finals — and not act as though this is his first step to spurn the Celtics.

Jerami Grant

The Detroit Pistons traded Grant in anticipation of his desired extension, which could reach $113 million over the four years after this coming season. He is not eligible to sign that with the Portland Trail Blazers until six months after this month's trade was officially completed. He is currently restricted to a two-year, $45 million extension, so you can expect to hear some more news on this front in January, barring disaster.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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