What started with an explosion of Woj bombs has settled to a simmering pause. Kyrie was only a free agent for a hot second before signing his extension. KD never was, even if it felt like it. LaVine never left town. It seems like with Deandre Ayton’s deal done, the usual free agency frenzy has frozen. Everyone is in a holding pattern to see if Durant is dealt for a package worthy of Rudy Gobert.
It’s not like the 2022 free agent class is lacking in significant names behind the 2018 NBA Draft #1 overall pick. There are other former top selections like Jabari Parker (2nd, 2017) and Blake Griffin (1st, 2003)! Hall-of-Famer Carmelo Anthony is right there, waiting to be subbed into a Rucker Park game! Josh Jackson was a Top-4 talent—Josh Jackson still needs a home!
Is there not a minimum-level deal out there to get the ball rolling? Won’t someone think of the mere tens of millions in career earnings compared to the $100 million players get today? No. Me neither. This free agent class is starting to smell like old trash behind Collin Sexton, who is going nowhere.
With things in a holding pattern after a blistering start, the MMH hoops crew took a few moments to reflect on the high and low lights of the recent signings. Here are ten of the most interesting free agency signings thus far, and our predictions of the best and worst possible outcomes.
2021-22 Team: Phoenix Suns
2022-23 Team: Phoenix Suns
Contract: 4yrs/$133 million
Best Case: Ayton will likely continue to improve over the course of this contract. If he’s not clearly a max guy now, this still could be a bargain deal by the end. Phoenix moved quickly to sign Indiana’s offer sheet. They clearly had a plan.
Maybe they’ve mended all the fences, and without the contract hanging over him, Ayton comes out like the force he looked to be in the 2021 playoffs. In this scenario, his expanding offensive game takes some pressure off of the aging Chris Paul, he guards the best centers in the league well, and he anchors their defense. Phoenix bounces back strong, once again competing for a top seed in the West.
Worst Case: Ayton may not have been snatched away by Indiana, but that doesn’t mean that Phoenix truly wooed Ayton back by matching the offer sheet quickly. After not signing him to the initial extension, whatever kerfuffle happened as Phoenix flamed out of the playoffs, and knowing he was offered in a KD deal, it’s possible the relationship has truly soured.
If Ayton is unmotivated, Phoenix may be back in the same uncomfortable situation of looking for a deal once he can get traded again after January 15. This time they will be trying to move a $30 million dollar contract, however, and even if they find a partner, Ayton can veto any potential trades for a full year from his signing. On the court, if Ayton and the guards aren’t meshing, it won’t take long for the Suns’ title window to slam all the way shut.
2021-22 Team: Dallas Mavericks
2022-23 Team: New York Knicks
Contract: 4yr/$104 million
Best Case: For the first time in many an offseason, the Knicks got their man. If Jalen’s non-Luka 2021-22 numbers are his floor (20.5 pts, 7.5 assists, 3.9 boards on 49% shooting), and speculation of his continued growth prove founded, the one true New York team may have finally found the anchor for their squad.
Jalen’s a stouter presence than many his size, and likely won’t be the defensive sieve that many at his position and stature are. His contract, while pricey, leaves plenty of room to build around. Pair him with a bonafide all-star (ideally one with some two-way chops, all apologies to Donovan Mitchell) and continue the development of whatever young core remains, and the Bing Bong family could finally have a roster that lives up to the hype.
Worst Case: While I’d personally be thrilled for a late-onset growth spurt to push me up to Brunson’s 6’1” mark, within the world of the NBA the newly acquired PG is notably undersized. We’ve seen how that can be taken advantage of by the longer squads in the NBA during the postseason, and the two teams at the top of the east are perfectly primed to do just that.
If Jalen’s numbers don’t take a step forwards, or worse, if they prove to have been an outlier and begin to fall once other teams can gameplan to stop him, the Knicks would be stuck with a chunk of their payroll dedicated to a guard who doesn’t crack the top 10 for his position. That all but guarantees them remaining stuck outside the closing doors of the playoff picture
2021-22 Team: Washington Wizards
2022-23 Team: Washington Wizards
Best Case Scenario: The popular sentiment about Bradley Beal has been the same for as long as I can remember: “great scorer, not a winner.” Basketball fans would love to see Beal integrate himself as a second or third option on a legitimate contending playoff team.
If he truly adores Washington (as his no-trade clause seems to suggest), a best-case scenario would mean the Washington formerly-Bullets find a way to bring an even brighter star to pair with Beal (no, Porzingis certainly does not count), allowing him to have his cake and eat it too. More realistically, Beal and Washington would likely both be better off mutually agreeing to find him a new home that is both a better basketball fit.
Worst Case Scenario: That may be difficult, because, for Beal, Washington is the perfect scapegoat for his missteps. The All-Star can blame all of his regular season woes on his team being terrible, and he might be right. Still, it’s an easy way to excuse volume scoring and a max contract with little tangible success to point to. In my eyes, Beal is like Hornets-era Kemba Walker with an ego.
The worst-case scenario is that he continues to eat up Washington’s cap room in exchange for minimal post-season progress, and leverages his ill-advised no-trade clause to limit the franchise’s ability to shift in a new direction. That won’t do his legacy any favors—but who needs legacy when you have $251 million?
2021-22 Team: Brooklyn Nets (lol), Philadelphia 76ers (oof)
2022-23 Team: Philadelphia 76ers
Contract: TBD, rumored to be short-term at less than available max.
Best Case: In the grand scheme of things, we’re not so far removed from a James Harden whose perennial MVP candidacy was all but guaranteed. His willingness to take a team-friendly discount this offseason allowed for the acquisition of PJ Tucker, and seems to indicate a newfound “one for all” mentality that bodes well for the franchise and his potential resurgence.
Perhaps this time the annual whispers of “James is taking his offseason conditioning very seriously” will prove founded. Perhaps the heralded Harden/Embiid P&R will translate to a deep playoff run. The top of the east isn’t going away anytime soon, but perhaps this is the moment the Sixers can finally put it all together.
Worst Case: We’re even less far removed from a Harden post-season collapse so disastrous it felt like a troll job. Whispers of offseason conditioning could prove as ephemeral as they have in seasons past. It seems hard to believe the shooting guard would deliberately damage his legacy even further by forcing his way out of a third team in three seasons, but it’s plenty plausible that his focus and team-friendly attitude could decline precipitously if things don’t break the right way.
Hell, maybe Sean Marks, pushed beyond the brink by the shitstorm in Brooklyn, calls upon the league to investigate the remarkably convenient missed extension deadline that opened the door for Harden to re-sign for less, and the league decides to drop the hammer. His discounted contract saved Philly from what could have been a contractual albatross if things go sideways, but you have to imagine another disastrous post-season could lead to some shakeup within the organization.
Best Case Scenario: Life comes at you fast in the NBA, but it seems that (for now) LaVine has found a home in Chicago. I’m really happy to see Zach LaVine finally settle down with a half-decent roster and a thriving team culture. Learning to be the second scoring option is the best thing to ever happen to the high-flying two guard.
For as dynamic as LaVine can be, DeMar DeRozan holds the steadier hand in both gameplay and leadership. LaVine is best utilized as the offensive bridge between starters and the bench unit. Need to extend a lead? LaVine can wear down defenders and get to the rim at will, and feels like an automatic two points each time he enters the paint. Need to get back into a game? LaVine can adapt to become a historically great three-point shooter and fastbreak spark plug. As the summer sun gets hotter, the grass does not get any greener than Chicago for Zach LaVine.
Worst Case Scenario: Second options don’t always stay satisfied as second options, and the world in which LaVine decides he wants a bit more of the spotlight is not one Chicago fans want to live in. Neither is the one where DeRozan leaves after his current contract or forces his way out prematurely.
Despite his growth as an efficient scorer and decision maker, LaVine remains ill-suited as the number one option on a winning team. If circumstance or ego push him back into that position, Chicago might find itself with a $215 million problem on its hands.
2021-22 Team: Brooklyn Nets
2022-23 Team: Denver Nuggets
Contract: 2yrs/$13 million
Best Case: There were stretches of Brooklyn’s brief playoff run where Bruce Brown was the best Net on the floor. Though that is likely more telling of the team’s struggles than indicative of future first-option potential, it is a reminder of Brown’s high floor as a versatile two-way weapon.
Playing next to Jokić will maximize his capabilities as a cutter and give him some of the easiest looks he’s had in his brief career. Meanwhile, his on-ball prowess will be a boon to a Nuggets squad that’s long been in need of some lockdown perimeter defense. If Murray and MPJ are able to come back at near-full strength, the Nuggets could be a scary team this coming season.
Worst Case: Thankfully for Denver, this is one of the lower-risk contracts of the offseason. Brown could always struggle to thrive in a lineup headlined by someone not named Kevin Durant, or could ultimately want a bigger role than the roster affords him behind Jokić, Murray, MPJ, and Gordon.
But if the fit doesn’t take, Brown’s 2-for-13 contract is highly movable, and could likely fetch a healthy return. Ultimately, the worst-case scenario for Denver is less of a loss and more of a postponement of progress–the mark of a well-made deal.
2021-22 Team: Milwaukee Bucks
2022-23 Team: Milwaukee Bucks
Contract: 4yrs/$49 million
Best Case: For at least 41 nights a year, Milwaukeeans can witness the 2x MVP and arguably the greatest athletic specimen in the NBA since Wilt Chamberlain, Giannis Antetokounmpo, firsthand. His gameplay is near flawless, his personality is charming, and his story couldn’t have been written by Hollywood’s best producers. It’s impossible to even imagine taking your eyes off of the Herculean seven foot freak–that is, until you enter Fiserv Forum and hear only one chant: “BOB-BY! BOB-BY! BOB-BY”
Bobby Portis’ increasingly aggressive serenade from the home crowd is what made his free agent deal worth every penny. Few players can have their hand on the pulse of a hometown audience the way Bobby does. The stocky PF has the eyes of an owl, the ability to stretch the floor and defend multiple positions, and can work a crowd like Shawn Michaels in 1997. For as long as he maintains that relationship with fans, he’ll never leave the city.
Worst Case: Much like Brown-to-Denver, Portis’ relatively affordable deal is a high-floor proposition. A proper worst-case scenario would probably require a Nikola Mirotic return to Milwaulkee, or one of Portis’ bulging eyes finally achieving its lifelong mission of escaping its socket and landing on the court, only for Giannis to slip on it and irreparably damage his so-far indestructible body in the subsequent fall. Shy of that, this deal is probably going to work out just fine.
2021-22 Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2022-23 Team: Portland Trail Blazers
Contract: 4yrs/$100 Million
Best Case: Ever since being drafted, Simons has been heralded by the Blazers as a player destined to pop, and last year he finally had his coming-out party. Though he put up a relatively pedestrian 17.3/2.6/3.9 stat line on the season, his numbers post Lillard’s season-ending injury lept up to 23.8/2.7/5.8 on 45.6% and 42.3% from three.
The CJ McCollum trade was a bet on Simons continued improvement, and if it pays off, the Blazers could once again have a dominant backcourt on their hands. As Lillard ages out of his prime, Simons youth could prove to be a franchise-sustaining force Portland so desperately needs.
Worst Case: We’ve quite literally seen this show before, following McCollum’s surprise 2015-16 breakout. Pair Dame Lillard with another undersized, offensively gifted but defensively limited partner, and the results are unlikely to be a net positive. If Simons’ defense can’t reach even a Steph Curry level of adequacy, the Blazers might have spent $100 million to ostensibly run back the Lillard/McCollum era. It’s hard to imagine they’d magically have better results this time around.
2021-22 Team: Houston Rockets (sort of)
2022-23 Team: Los Angeles Clippers
Contract: 2yrs/$13 million (2nd-year team option)
Best Case Scenario: I’m actually optimistic about Wall’s impact on the Clippers. He is an excellent passer, especially in the pick & roll, and a team like the Clippers needs that type of facilitator. If Wall has been humbled by his last several seasons, he can absolutely contribute as a backup and occasional starter. If he has more juice than expected, he could earn an even bigger role. I can easily see a playoff game where Wall comes off the bench and steals a game. After his buyout from Houston, it’s also a relatively low-risk move for the Clippers.
Worst Case Scenario: John Wall got a DNP-Sat Out or Asked To Go Home last year, and he missed all of the 2020 season as well. He only played 40 games in 2021. This man will be looking to prove himself. Unfortunately, the Clippers go 12 deep with real NBA players, and the team has title dreams. That means that every player has to play their role. If Wall isn’t able to do that, he may find himself back on the wrong end of the bench.
2021-22 Team: Miami Heat
2022-23 Team: Philadelphia 76ers
Contract: 3yrs/$33 million (third-year player option)
Best Case: Last year with Miami, Tucker was an integral part of their run to the first seed in the East. He averaged his most points per-36 minutes since 2014-15! This is a direct result of his escalating efficiency. He shot his highest true shooting percentage of his career (including 41% from three, also the highest mark of his career). Philly signed him to a three-year deal.
At age 37, that’s a risk, but if his efficiency and toughness stay level, he will be a valuable contributor to the 76ers title hopes. He also already has chemistry with Harden from Houston, and has played with a dominant big in Milwaukee, so he will be able to compliment Embiid.
Worst Case: He’s 37. By the time this deal is done, he will be 40. $11.5 million is a lot of money to pay to someone at that age who has taken a beating banging with bigger players throughout his career. Even if he’s in the Udonis Haslem role, Philly may ultimately wish they had that money to put towards Harden and Embiid.
Best Of The Rest: Donte DiVincenzo, Golden State Warriors: 2yrs/$9.3 million
Biggest “Yikes!” Left On The Board: Lu Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder: 5yrs/$87.5 million