The thing about free agency 2022 is that we’ve had a ton of action already given that we haven’t even hit the free agency part of the schedule yet. Despite this, player deals come and go in the form of player swaps and contract extensions, though no one can accept a deal until 6 p.m. ET on June 30. (Wink, wink.)
Plus, we have a little more mystery this time around. There’s no guarantee we’ll know the destination of every major free agent by 6:01 p.m. like we did a year ago. For one thing, some games are at least lightly chastised by the league docking of second-round picks from the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat following the 2021 debacle. More importantly, though, many of these situations can take a little longer to unfold.
Most notably: the future of Deandre Ayton. This year’s top restricted free agent in class has no obvious max contract contenders at the moment, with cap teams like the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs now pivoting to become dumping grounds for unwanted contracts. others in the past two days. These were supposed to be the two main stalking horses to get other teams to pay to re-sign their own players. Subtract them, and there’s a precious little wiggle room in the market to chase free agents above the $10 million per year mark. Without such an offer sheet, Ayton’s employers in Phoenix also don’t have a compelling reason to give him an expensive contract. The Suns would teeter on the edge of the luxury tax, if not beyond, with another max or near-max deal on their books.
With so little room in the market, where could a competing offer for him come from? Could the Indiana Pacers, probably rebuilding but maybe not, make a run at Ayton with their not-quite-max room, or in a sign-and-trade for Myles Turner? What about the Orlando Magic, which has money and motive, but apparently needs perimeter help more than another big? Could the Memphis Grizzlies enter the game with their excess assets and $22 million in cap space? (The Grizzlies’ front office, already ensconced in its familiar Utah Summer League bunker, isn’t letting up on the myriad options available to the team this summer.)
Ayton folks will beat the bushes for signs and trades, but is there one that really works? Will Ayton just sign the $16.4 million qualifying offer and try again next summer? It’s a weird situation. No one really thinks Ayton will be back in Phoenix…yet it’s getting harder and harder to build scenarios where he ends up somewhere else. Something has to give, you think, but it hasn’t happened yet.
As for the other first restricted free agent in this class, Miles Bridges, he was arrested the day before the start of free agency. It’s unclear how this will impact interest from other teams. The Hornets offered him a qualifying offer of $7.9 million to return to Charlotte.
Meanwhile, some teams on the sidelines at the moment are still trying to sneak into the game. The Minnesota Timberwolves continue to work on deals with D’Angelo Russell. The Sacramento Kings could have a $20 million cap if they find a home for Richaun Holmes. The Oklahoma City Thunder has 24 hours to use $23 million in cap. Philadelphia’s Matisse Thybulle is widely known for being available for the right asset; you can have Furkan Korkmaz just by asking nicely. And, of course, there’s Kyrie Irving from Brooklyn. He nearly broke the internet before agreeing to his 2022-23 contract for $36.5 million, but that doesn’t mean the situation has gone away. Just because the monster is submerged beneath Loch Ness right now doesn’t mean it won’t resurface later this summer.
On the other hand, several other free agent destinations are already well known. Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine, James Harden, Mitchell Robinson, Jusuf Nurkić and Nicolas Batum are almost certain to re-sign with their respective teams. Jalen Brunson, not so much. Donte DiVincenzo did not receive a qualifying offer even though Sacramento traded draft shares for him at the trade deadline, possibly as part of a Kings cap game that hinges on another trade first. (Or not… but that’s the best reason I have.)
There is also activity further down the market food chain. John Wall has been bought out and looks likely to become a Clipper via their Mid-Tier Taxpayer Exception, which likely means Isaiah Hartenstein will be getting his paycheck elsewhere. The Clippers will bring back Batum and Amir Coffey, but they, like the Heat, won’t leave a tight cap situation and few draw assets will keep them from circling the waters for other prey.
Harden’s opt-out in Philadelphia, and subsequent re-signing for a lower cap figure, as noted by Athleticism, is also important in this part of the market. That likely opens the door for the Sixers to sign PJ Tucker with their non-taxpayer mid-level exception, even if the rumored three-year deal for the 37-year-old appears to be tempting fate. (I say this as someone who has already signed a 37-year-old to a three-year contract for the full MLE.) It also opens up the Sixers’ half-year exception and possibly some signings and trades.
So with all that said… who is actually available to sign right now?
I’m glad you asked. I’ve already listed my top 25 free agents by BORD$ before free agency, along with the BORD$ values for each probable free agent at point guard, fullback, small forward, power forward and power forward. center. These links also contain descriptions of how player ratings were made and market differences for certain players.
This list has changed slightly as a result of decisions made in recent days. As we approach the opening minute of free agency, here’s what the “$DASHBOARD” of the top 25 free agents (and $DASHBOARD projections) looks like following some opt-ins and extensions. We’ll be following this as free agency moves forward:
- James Harden, SG, Philadelphia: $46,617,283 (was: 2)
- Bradley Beal, SG, Washington: $38,520,130 (3)
- Zach LaVine, SG, Chicago: $31,716,188 (4)
- Deandre Ayton, C, Phoenix (restricted): $31,406,061 (5)
- Miles Bridges, PF, Charlotte (restricted): $30,940,550 (6)
- Jalen Brunson, PG, Dallas: $29,371,294 (7)
- Chris Boucher, C, Toronto: $19,782,672 (8)
- Bruce Brown, SF, Brooklyn, $19,043,654 (9)
- Kyle Anderson, PF, Memphis, $18,990,342 (10)
- Mitchell Robinson, C, New York: $18,862,212 (11)
- Jusuf Nurkic, C, Portland: $17,414,518 (12)
- Otto Porter Jr., SF, Golden State: $16,603,510 (13)
- Malik Monk, SG, Lakers: $16,511,722 (14)
- Bobby Portis, C, Milwaukee: $15,793,989 (15)
- Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Sacramento: $15,551,549 (16)
- Montrezl Harrell, C, Charlotte: $14,730,416 (17)
- Delon Wright, PG/SG, Atlanta: $14,546,800 (18)
- Tyus Jones, PG, Memphis: $13,791,316 (19)
- Nicolas Batum, SF, Clippers: $13,734,340 (20)
- Jae’Sean Tate, PF, Houston (restricted): $13,343,341 (NR)
- Kevon Looney, C, Golden State: $12,533,705 (21)
- Cody Martin, SG, Charlotte, (restricted): $12,366,850 (22)
- Anfernee Simons, PG, Portland (restricted): $11,467,484 (23)
- Collin Sexton, SG, Cleveland (restricted): $10,816,788 (25)
- Isaiah Hartenstein, LA Clippers: $10,549,849 (NR)
(Photo by Deandre Ayton: John Hefti/USA Today)