The free hand 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 began Friday, ahead of the league’s annual moratorium period, which began Saturday. Agreements can be made during this period, but the official signing will not take place until Thursday.
The biggest deals included Toronto Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet agreeing to a three-year, $130 million deal with the Houston Rockets and point guard Kyrie Irving agreeing again to a three-year, $126 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks signed.
Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball and Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards both agreed to a five-year rookie extension 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 sign Lillard?
Our insiders break down Free Agency’s biggest storylines and answer questions you may have as the campaign unfolds.
What has been the best move of the offseason so far?
Tim MacMahon: The Washington Wizards traded Bradley Beal to the Phoenix Suns, a move that clearly signals Washington would begin a long-overdue rebuilding process under new team president Michael Winger. Yes, the return for Beal was disappointing, but you can’t blame the Wizards’ new regime for being tied down by the no-trade clause that was inexplicably included in Beal’s supermax contract. The Wizards received a bunch of second-round draft picks, some pick swaps, and after switching from 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 are bringing back Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez. No team had more at stake this summer than Milwaukee, who needed to have Middleton and Lopez on the team to remain a favorite for the title, ensuring Giannis Antetokounmpo would want to progress in the position. Milwaukee paid for it, and it’s their best shot at getting out of the Eastern Conference next season.
Yamal Collier: The Golden State Warriors for adding Paul and trading Poole. Golden State had to replace Poole — who was, at best, redundant compared to the other shooters — with Paul, who has a chance to play the perfect late-career role as a reserve and distributor to help build the offense and generate open 3s.
Kendra Andrews: The Warriors re-sign Draymond Green. Without Green, the Warriors’ championship hopes would have been nil. By bringing him back their core remains intact, Stephen Curry keeps the Robin with his Batman, and the Warriors keep their heart and soul.
Marc Spears: The Rockets’ landing of VanVleet was a huge boost and a statement for a rebuilt and young struggling franchise. They had big salary caps and managed to land one of the best free agents for new coach Ime Udoka.
What has been the most surprising move of the offseason so far?
MacMahon: The Boston Celtics are giving up Marcus Smart as part of the Kristaps Porzingis trade. It’s a deal that looks good on a table for the Celtics given Porzingis’ stats last season and the two first-round picks Boston received as part of the deal. But Smart has been the heart and soul of the Celtics in recent years and using Porzingis as a third offensive option could be difficult.
Bontemps: Dillon Brooks gets four years and $80 million from Houston. Although Brooks is an excellent defensive player, he has real limitations on offense and didn’t seem to have much of a market. This deal was more than I expected when I started free agency.
Necklace: Oh, it’s going to be weird not watching Smart play for the Celtics.
Andrews: The Celtics give up on Smart. He was an integral part of their team and an anchor on the pitch. And the return of Porzingis doesn’t give Boston the player it needs to take it to the next level.
spears: With all due respect, I was blown away to see Jerami Grant signing a five-year, $160 million contract with the Portland Trail Blazers. Grant is an outstanding player, but I didn’t expect that number. Kudos to him.
Which team did the most to improve their 2023-24 title chances?
MacMahon: The Heat could end up having the last word here, but for now it’s the Suns. Phoenix greatly increased offensive power by playing for Beal – doubling the win-now window created by the Kevin Durant trade – and did an excellent job of building a respectable support line-up in the veteran minimal market. It remains to be seen if the Suns can find decent value for Deandre Ayton in the trade market, but rest assured they’ll keep trying regardless of what they say.
Bontemps: The answer to that will likely depend on the outcome of the Harden and Lillard situations. So far, most competing teams have largely remained silent or made significant changes that will take time to implement. However, Harden and Lillard will be able to quickly change the fortunes of the teams they end up on.
Necklace: The Los Angeles Lakers. None of their off-season moves are going to blow anyone’s mind on an individual basis, but they haven’t rested on their laurels after competing in the Western Conference finals and have sought to improve the team on the sidelines. They have a rotation that seems solid enough to be a real contender from day one in the West next year.
Andrews: The Suns. Her biggest weakness last season (after joining Durant) was her lack of depth. But they overhauled their bench and Phoenix was a prime landing spot this summer. The Suns now have a much more extensive roster with a respectable variety of skills and talents.
spears: Other than firing Monty Williams, I really like what the Suns have done this offseason. Obviously adding Bradley Beal to today’s Big Four with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton is scary. I’m assuming Beal will be the point guard for now. However, Phoenix also added a nice supporting cast with newcomers Eric Gordon, Yuta Watanabe, Chimezie Metu, Keita Bates-Diop and Drew Eubanks.
Should the 76ers move all in for Damian Lillard?
Zach Lowe explains why a swap between the 76ers and the Blazers would be harder than it seems.
At the start of the season, Damian Lillard will play for _____?
MacMahon: The best bet is that Lillard grants his wish and ends up in Miami. But let’s talk about one fascinating sleeper: the Utah Jazz. If Danny Ainge decides to roll the dice, the Jazz can make the Trail Blazers the most attractive offer thanks to all the picks Utah has accumulated in deals with the Timberwolves, Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers over the past year. Would it be worth adding a 33-year-old superstar (who happened to play in Utah at Weber State University) 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 where Lillard could easily end up in Miami. But since Philadelphia has the most attractive trading option in the game — rising star guard Tyrese Maxey — I’m betting 76ers basketball president Daryl Morey will find a way to land another star.
Necklace: Miami. Ultimately, superstar players get what they want in this league. And the Heat have been waiting a long time to sign such a player.
Andrews: There’s not much pressure for the Blazers, so there’s a good chance Lillard will end 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 for Miami, I’ve been told repeatedly since Saturday. It’s certainly 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 multi-team trade that could make it happen. It won’t be today or tomorrow or maybe the next day, but I believe it will ultimately end with Lillard going to Miami. While Lillard doesn’t have a no-trade clause, there’s no point in trading for a future Hall of Famer who doesn’t want to be in it.
Which player has flown under the radar in free agency but will be a big storyline by February’s trading close?
MacMahon: There has been some debate about Towns, but it shouldn’t be a surprise if these get louder as the trading deadline deepens. The face of the Timberwolves franchise has switched to Edwards, who has just signed a new potential Supermax renewal. If Minnesota wants to make another big change, it would have to be done by trading towns.
Bontemps: Donovan Mitchell. Cleveland must try to prove over the next year that Mitchell is worth signing long-term or consider signing him on a one-year contract next season off. Should the Cavaliers struggle next season, Mitchell’s name could come up.
Necklace: cities. Minnesota didn’t live up to expectations last season, and if Towns hadn’t missed so much of the season through injury, there might already be more questions about this roster.
Andrews: Luka Doncic. He’s been in charge for six years, missed the playoffs last season and the Mavs haven’t shown any signs of improving drastically this offseason. At the end of last season, morale was so low — especially with the way the team handled Doncic’s last game — that the star might 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 to join the burgeoning Blazers. I’m keeping an eye on Towns; It’s the Anthony Edwards show now.