The 2021-22 NBA season is over, but the league’s new year is just around the corner. Players have already started accepting player options for 2022-23, but many big names are still considering their options. Restricted free agents can sign offer sheets as early as July 1, and some hard-hitting fantasy assets could switch teams. We’ll go over seven of the most important names to watch ahead of the upcoming season here.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards (option joueur)
Beal missed the back half of 2021-22 with a wrist injury and will be one of the hottest targets in the free agency market if he opts out of his $37 million player option for 2022-23 . The Washington Wizards fullback remains one of the league’s elite scorers and has grown as a playmaker over the years. Beal’s mindset will likely determine his Fantasy value next season. If he just wants a big payday, he can reject his option and see which fringe team is looking to give him big bucks while he fills out the stat sheet. However, signing up would make a successful trade more realistic and help him join a more talented team like the Boston Celtics. Beal will probably be one of the top five shooting guards in Fantasy as long as he’s healthy, but I think stepping down will do the most for his cap.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (sans restriction)
The Chicago Bulls pulled out all the stops to create a contender for the 2021-22 season, and LaVine thrived with the most talented group he’s ever played with. The dynamic combo guard was one of the top eight players at his position in the leagues in points despite the addition of DeMar DeRozan, who averaged 27.9 points per team and led the team in total assists . LaVine can surely replicate last year’s stats in the same situation, but he could step up to another level if he decides to sign with a team with fewer high-level Fantasy assets. All signs point to LaVine re-signing right now, but he’s worth watching until he agrees to an extension.
Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Lakers (player option)
Westbrook was one of Fantasy’s top five point guards in a down year last season and it’s unclear if he will stay in La La Land for a second run with the Lakers. The point guard is on the wane but can still get you closer to a nighttime triple-double from the hustle alone. He’s been an elite asset for four different teams in his previous four campaigns, and that’s unlikely to change in 2022-23 no matter where he plays. Westbrook should probably be considered an early-to-mid second-round talent in the 2022 NBA Fantasy Draft.
Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns (restreint)
The Phoenix Suns have a big decision to make regarding Ayton’s future this summer. They didn’t offer the big man an extension until the 2021-22 season and are at a crossroads after failing to make it back to the NBA Finals. Ayton has averaged a double-double for a fourth consecutive season but may not be worth the counterattack he is looking for. Several teams are looking to make major improvements to all five. The Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs are among the teams that could benefit the most from his solid play at the position. He’s borderline top 10 when healthy and his best years may still be ahead of him.
Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers (restreint)
Darius Garland’s spectacular second season has made Sexton an afterthought for most of 2021-22, but the Cleveland Cavaliers guard is still capable of filling it. He was more productive than Fred VanVleet, Ben Simmons, Jrue Holiday and Malcolm Brogdon from a fantasy perspective, posting 24.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game in 2020-21. Sexton has been cleared for full speed basketball activities since tearing his meniscus last season. Garland will likely become Cleveland’s long-term lead guard after an All-Star season, but Sexton can be more than helpful with the Cavs or elsewhere.
Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets (restreint)
Bridges bet on himself when he turned down a four-year, $60 million extension last season. He might have been right to do so en route to his best campaign yet with the Hornets. While reports suggest Charlotte may be hesitant to come up with a max offer, other teams would love to bring in a versatile wing who can bounce back and score from three levels. Charlotte is rumored to be interested in bringing in Westbrook to free up money for a Bridges extension. Moving other forwards like Gordon Hayward and PJ Washington through this process could help Bridges retain his status despite the addition of such a ball-dominating guard in the backcourt.
Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets (player option)
Irving still has superstar talent, but his vaccination status and issues with the Brooklyn Nets set back his fantasy basketball output last season. He impacted the Nets in all 29 regular season games he played in 2021-22. His demands for a max contract have been met with skepticism, but he’s a top 10 point guard in Fantasy when healthy. I expect Irving to return to the limelight as a full-time player in 2022-23. NBA cities have eased into allowing unvaccinated players to dress down, so Irving is more likely to be an active member of whatever team he joins. However, I would still exercise great caution when writing it.