The NBA Finals ended just a few days ago, but the Association’s schedule doesn’t stop for anyone.
This week, the next generation of players will be welcomed into the league when the Orlando Magic begin the 2022 NBA Draft Thursday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Then free agency and the summer league will follow, as teams begin to develop plans to catch up with the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
Will some of the biggest names to watch this summer – including Zach LaVine, Bradley Beal and Jalen Brunson – stay on their current squads? Where is the Deandre Ayton saga heading with the Phoenix Suns? How will the Los Angeles Lakers retool around LeBron James and Anthony Davis after last season’s playoff failure?
Golden State emerged from two seasons in the desert by winning a fourth title in eight years and re-establishing its dynasty. A fifth title, however, will require some costly decisions.
Kevon Looney, whose interior defense and offensive rebounds have been a vital part of the Warriors’ run, is expected to get a significant $5.2 million raise in 2021-22. The same could be true for Gary Payton II, the Warriors ace defenseman who, after years of struggling to carve out a solid footing in the NBA, looks set to get more than the minimum for the first time in his career. .
The Warriors will also have to make extension decisions, including on Andrew Wiggins, who has one year left on his contract, and Jordan Poole, who is one year out of restricted free agency. After spending a record $350 million on luxury salaries and taxes in 2021-22, the Warriors are on track to hit $400 million in each of the next two seasons.
When LeBron arrived in Los Angeles, he had reached the playoffs for 13 straight seasons. In four seasons with the Lakers, he missed the playoffs twice, and LA’s 33-49 this season was the worst of his career. To change this situation, it will take a lot of work this summer. It started with the recruitment of former Milwaukee Bucks assistant Darvin Ham to replace Frank Vogel as head coach.
Next ? Figuring out how to fill a roster that, once Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Nunn sign their contracts, as expected, will sit just outside the luxury tax line with just six players under contract. (That’s assuming Westbrook stays in Los Angeles next season, which seems like the most likely path for now).
Like last summer, the Lakers will be forced to fill the remaining nine spots on the roster with minimum players and the mid-level taxpayer exception. That might not be enough to keep one of their few strong points from last season, point guard Malik Monk.
And besides, James himself has a decision to make in August: whether or not to extend his contract. If he chooses not to, he can be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2023.
Where is the Jazz headed?
Utah was expected to have a tumultuous offseason after losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, and it began with coach Quin Snyder resigning after eight successful seasons. Now, after two back-to-back disappointing post-season outings, the focus will shift to how Jazz general manager Danny Ainge is going to reshape this squad for his first full season in charge, at whether that will include breaking Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert’s All-Star partnership after five seasons together.
Without a pick in Thursday’s draft, the Jazz don’t have many options to drastically change the roster. And of course, there’s the decision Ainge will make about who will succeed Snyder on the Utah bench, one of the two remaining coaching positions in the league.
What’s next for James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers?
After 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey was reunited with James Harden at the 2022 trade deadline, he was expected to begin an extended partnership in the City of Love fraternal.
And while that’s still likely, a disappointing run in the playoffs leaves both sides facing decisions. Will Harden choose to accept his $47 million option or will he go for free competition? Will the two parties agree to a longer-term contract for a lower amount to create greater financial flexibility for the future?
Elsewhere on the Philadelphia roster, Danny Green, likely out for all of next season with a playoff knee injury, has an expiring $10 million contract that can be used as bargaining chip – as well as the No. 23 pick in Thursday’s draft, after Brooklyn opted to take next year’s top pick in the Harden-Ben Simmons trade.
What’s next for Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets?
Irving and the Nets have the same set of options as Harden in Philadelphia. The Nets, meanwhile, have a lot of decisions to make after that as they try to improve on their disappointing first-round sweep from last season at the hands of the Eastern Conference champions Boston Celtics.
Patty Mills has a player option for next season, while one of the team’s top defensive players, Bruce Brown, will be an unrestricted free agent. Nic Claxton, a sideline presence at both ends and filling a need that Brooklyn lacks, is a restricted free agent.
The Nets, who must also fill several positions at the end of the bench, should once again be one of the most expensive teams in NBA history.
Will Deandre Ayton stay with the Phoenix Suns?
In June 2021, the Phoenix Suns were celebrating their first appearance in the NBA Finals in nearly 30 years, and Ayton was being praised for his pivotal role in achieving that goal.
But after being knocked out in the second round by the Mavericks following a stinging Game 7 loss – Ayton was on the bench for most of the second half – the future of the 2018 No. is not clear.
Will Phoenix agree to sign and trade with Ayton to reshape its workforce and do without it? Or will he sign a contract offer elsewhere, which would likely lead to the Suns lining up?
What are Zach LaVine, Bradley Beal and Jalen Brunson going to do?
All three guards, aged 20 to 30, will be unrestricted free agents next month. LaVine is recovering from knee surgery but is likely to have several maximum contract offers to choose from, although a return to the Chicago Bulls, who bought him five years ago, seems the more likely. There’s a good chance Beal will make a similar decision and re-sign with the Washington Wizards when he chooses to exit the final year of his contract by June 30.
The most interesting situation is in Dallas, where Brunson — a vital part of the Mavericks’ journey to the NBA Western Conference Finals — will be an unrestricted free agent at age 25. After agreeing to a trade for Christian Wood last week, a deal with Brunson could send the Mavericks plunging into the luxury tax.
The New York Knicks – an NBA team to which Brunson has strong ties, including through his father, Rick, who was hired into Tom Thibodeau’s coaching staff this season – could make an attractive offer to entice him. The same is true for the Detroit Pistons, who could offer him an interesting place next to Cade Cunningham, the first choice last year.