The NBA’s attention now turns to the offseason and free agency with a few notable names at the top of an otherwise lackluster class of impactful free agent players. What could be of note is teams trying to get below salary cap restrictions set forth in the new collective bargaining agreement. Here’s what you need to know about NBA free agency.
When does NBA free agency begin?
Free agency opens at 6 p.m. ET Friday.
What is the 2023-24 NBA salary cap?
The NBA’s most recent projections peg the salary cap for the 2023-24 season at $136 million and the luxury tax at $165 million, according to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. That sets the dreaded second apron around $182.5 million. Teams exceeding that figure are restricted from certain roster-building machinations under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement. Teams spending beyond the second apron reportedly lose salary-matching flexibility in trades, the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5 million) and the ability to sign players on the buyout market. The penalties become more punitive in years to come. Beginning in 2024, teams crossing that threshold reportedly cannot trade cash, aggregate salaries in deals or swap first-round draft picks seven years out. Picks for repeaters in 2025 reportedly will drop to the end of the first round.
The second apron is as close to a hard cap as the NBA has ever come. Currently, the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks are all projected to exceed that number, assuming those five teams retain most of the players currently in their rotations.
How much will players get paid this summer?
The starting salary for a …
35% max contract (10+ years of service): $47.6 million
30% max contract (7-9 years of service): $40.8 million
25% max contract (0-6 years of service): $34 million
Non-taxpayer mid-level exception: $12.4 million
Room mid-level exception: $7.7 million
Taxpayer mid-level exception: $5 million
Bi-annual exception: $4.5 million
Veteran minimum (10+ years of service): $3.2 million
What teams will have significant cap space?
Eight teams are currently in position to create more salary cap space this summer than the $12.4 million mid-level exception for non-taxpaying teams (if they so choose), according to Spotrac’s projections:
Houston Rockets ($60.9 million)
San Antonio Spurs ($38.6 million)
Sacramento Kings ($35.6 million)
Indiana Pacers ($32.2 million)
Detroit Pistons ($30 million)
Utah Jazz ($28.4 million)
Orlando Magic ($23.9 million)
Oklahoma City Thunder ($16.6 million)
Who are the big-name unrestricted free agents?
JAMES HARDEN, Philadelphia 76ers
Word around the league leans heavily toward Harden and Irving re-signing with their respective teams.
Harden’s dalliance with a return to Houston is real, but the Rockets are prepared to move forward with an alternative plan — and one that makes more sense for their current roster — if the 10-time All-Star is merely using his former team’s salary cap space as leverage to secure a more lucrative deal from his current team.
The market is tepid for both Harden, a soon-to-be 34-year-old whose health and performance has set a sub-championship ceiling for would-be contenders the past three years, and Irving, a 31-year-old whose unreliability has left three contenders bewildered by his willingness to leave them in his wake on a whim. That should lower both from a full five-year max contract ($276 millIon), which opens the door to outside possibilities, but the sense is that Harden, Irving and their current teams will meet in some middle ground.
KHRIS MIDDLETON, Milwaukee Bucks
DRAYMOND GREEN, Golden State Warriors
The same can be said of Middleton and Green, both of whom are also expected to re-sign with their teams.
Middleton turns 32 years old in August and has not been the same player since spraining his left ACL in the first round of the 2022 playoffs. He also required left wrist surgery last summer and arthroscopic surgery on his right knee this summer. Middleton’s decision to decline a $40.4 million option for next season indicates he has more money guaranteed to him in free agency, and the Kings are expected to make a play for him. It is more likely that Sacramento’s interest only drives up the price for Milwaukee to retain a distressed asset.
Sacramento and Detroit are both rumored suitors for Green, a Michigan native who grew up a Pistons fan. He would be a culture-setter, for better or worse, in any team’s attempts to establish relevancy. Whether the 33-year-old’s leadership, which can spill into the absurd on the court and erupted into violently punching a teammate in the face at practice, would galvanize another roster the same way it once did the Warriors is a legitimate question. Green has made it clear he wants well more than $100 million for anyone to find out.
Golden State’s recent trade of Jordan Poole for Chris Paul cleared both the air of that punch and enough money from future cap sheets to more comfortably retain Green. His defense and playmaking as a small-ball center have been vital to four titles, and it appears the Warriors are willing to pay what it takes to ensure Stephen Curry‘s championship window remains open. It is hard to imagine Green playing anywhere else.
Houston’s contingency plans for a failed Harden reunion include VanVleet, who may well entertain a sizable short-term offer from the Rockets at the start of free agency. He has long been a threat to leave the team he helped to a title in 2019, and he is certainly the most likely recent All-Star to change teams in free agency.
Other former All-Stars whose names are notable on the market, even if they have phased out of max-salary range: Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks; Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Clippers; Nikola Vučević, Chicago Bulls; D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers; Kevin Love, Miami Heat; Derrick Rose, New York Knicks; Victor Oladipo, Miami Heat; Blake Griffin, Boston Celtics; DeAndre Jordan, Denver Nuggets.
Who are the next-best unrestricted free agents at every position?
PG: GABE VINCENT, Miami Heat
Vincent proved his value in the second half of this past season, taking over Miami’s starting point guard job from veteran Kyle Lowry in coordination with the team’s turnaround. He averaged an efficient 15.7 points and 4.9 assists per 36 minutes in the playoffs before injuring his ankle in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, and those numbers do not account for his defensive impact. Vincent’s ability to operate on or off the ball and complement high-usage stars at other positions should attract most every team with cap space.
The high-priced Heat want to keep Vincent at a low fixed cost, especially as they await Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard‘s availability on the trade market, but at a base level the $12.4 million mid-level exception for non-taxpayers clears the path for more teams to recruit him away from Miami in the meantime. His decision might come down to how close the Heat come to matching his most lucrative offer.
Honorable mention: Patrick Beverley, Chicago Bulls; Dennis Schröder, Los Angeles Lakers; Reggie Jackson, Denver Nuggets; Jevon Carter, Milwaukee Bucks (player option); Dennis Smith Jr., Charlotte Hornets.
SG: BRUCE BROWN, Denver Nuggets
Both Brown and Nuggets head coach Michael Malone made clear at Denver’s championship parade their desires to run it back next season, but Brown declined his $6.8 million option for the 2023-24 campaign and can only re-sign for a starting salary of $7.8 million. (A second-year player option allows Brown to re-up again in 2024 for in excess of $12 million, much like Bobby Portis did in his post-title return to the Bucks.)
Much like Vincent, this is Brown’s first big shot at a guaranteed long-term contract, and he could hardly be blamed for prioritizing the comfort of cap space or a $12.4 million mid-level starting salary elsewhere. Any team could use his two-way play from the guard position, knowing he will not succumb to playoff pressure.
SF: JERAMI GRANT, Portland Trail Blazers
Grant has been knocking on the door of stardom for several years running. He turned 29 years old in March and may never gain entrance, but he is already an efficient 20-point scorer and a versatile long-armed defender. He could command a starting salary north of $30 million, and the Blazers better meet that price if they still plan to build a winner around Lillard. Losing him would generate ripple effects across free agency.
PF: HARRISON BARNES, Sacramento Kings
The Kings attached a first-round pick to Richaun Holmes‘ salary in a draft-night trade that created $35 million in projected cap space. Logic suggests that move is meant as a precursor to upgrading the forward position that Barnes has occupied in Sacramento since 2019. If neither Middleton nor Green jump at that sum, the question becomes: What other wings are worth the investment? Grant fits that bill. Kyle Kuzma might, too, although neither is enough of an upgrade over Barnes to make the Kings a serious title threat.
Barnes played for Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle in Dallas and mentored both Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield in Sacramento, so Indiana makes sense as a suitor with the cap space to sign him if the Kings have a wing waiting on their $35 million. If Sacramento whiffs on its efforts to improve, the team will likely pivot to re-signing Barnes, extending All-Star center Domantas Sabonis and tinkering around the margins.
Honorable mention: Christian Wood, Dallas Mavericks; Georges Niang, Philadelphia 76ers; Trey Lyles, Sacramento Kings; Jeff Green, Denver Nuggets; Dario Šarić, Oklahoma City Thunder.
C: JAKOB POELTL, Toronto Raptors
The draft capital the Raptors paid to add Poeltl to their 41-win team in February — a top-six protected 2024 first-round pick and a pair of second-rounders — would make losing the 27-year-old 7-footer difficult to swallow, especially if VanVleet also leaves in free agency. Still, Poeltl is the best rim protector available, and plenty of teams will inquire about his availability. Toronto could benefit from the fact that the eight teams with cap space all have financial commitments at the center position, unless a suitor unclogs its logjam.
Honorable mention: Mason Plumlee, Los Angeles Clippers; Thomas Bryant, Denver Nuggets; Bismack Biyombo, Phoenix Suns; Mike Muscala, Washington Wizards (team option); Moritz Wagner, Orlando Magic.
Who are the best restricted free agents?
AUSTIN REAVES, Los Angeles Lakers
RUI HACHIMURA, Los Angeles Lakers
Reaves and Hachimura played well enough on a trip to the Western Conference finals that the Lakers will want to retain both. Whether either warrants the kind of high-cost contracts that were floated during the hysterics of a Los Angeles playoff run will depend on discovering teams that are willing to freeze cap space for the window between Reaves and Hachimura signing offer sheets and the Lakers deciding to match.
The Spurs are resistant to committing long-term money in the dawn of the Victor Wembanyama era, but if the Lakers are intent on re-signing Reaves at any cost, as Marc Stein reported, why shouldn’t San Antonio make its longtime rival pay $100 million to keep him? Someone should force L.A. to overpay Hachimura, too, but that could take another team more interested in stunting the Lakers than fleshing out its own roster.
CAMERON JOHNSON, Brooklyn Nets
GRANT WILLIAMS, Boston Celtics
Johnson and Williams both helped teams reach the Finals on their rookie contracts. They defend multiple positions — Johnson with his length and Williams with his girth — and count themselves among the NBA’s best floor spacers. Johnson is a career 39.3% shooter from 3-point range, and Williams is a few ticks closer to 40% over the past three seasons. Both have also shown flashes of their untapped playmaking potential.
Williams reportedly turned down a four-year extension offer from the Celtics last year worth close to the current non-taxpayer mid-level exception, and Johnson declined a more lucrative deal from the Phoenix Suns. Johnson could command closer to $100 million — especially if teams looking for rangy wings whiff on Middleton, Grant and Kuzma — but the Nets are expected to match any offer the 27-year-old receives.
Williams’ situation is more complicated. Given Boston’s finances, there is a figure his incumbent team is willing to walk away from, but is there a team willing to commit more than the $12.4 million he was offered a year ago? Cap space dries up awfully quick when other forward options do not come with a restricted tag.
P.J. WASHINGTON, Charlotte Hornets
Washington has the tools to be a floor-spacing shooter and versatile defender in a similar mold to Williams. He just has not done it for a winner yet. There is mutual interest to keep Washington in Charlotte, but if a contender believes he could help, the Hornets are far enough from relevancy that draft compensation and an expiring contract in return for a sign-and-trade might be all the incentive they need to let him walk.
Other restricted free agents: Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago Bulls; Coby White, Chicago Bulls; Matisse Thybulle, Portland Trail Blazers; Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans Pelicans; Paul Reed, Philadelphia 76ers; Jock Landale, Phoenix Suns; Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Minnesota Timberwolves; Cam Reddish, Portland Trail Blazers.
Who is eligible for a rookie-scale extension?
ANTHONY EDWARDS, Minnesota Timberwolves
TYRESE HALIBURTON, Indiana Pacers
Expect Edwards and Haliburton to secure maximum contract extensions as soon as free agency opens. Already All-Stars, they could increase their five-year max figures from $207.1 million to $248.3 million with an All-NBA appearance in 2024 (based on a $142.8 million salary cap projection for the 2024-25 season).
LAMELO BALL, Charlotte Hornets
Considering the Hornets passed on drafting point guard prospect Scoot Henderson with the No. 2 overall pick, preferring Brandon Miller’s fit as a wing alongside Ball, they seem fully prepared to build around their second overall pick from the 2020 draft class. Ball also has an All-Star appearance under his belt, but his health — 74 missed games in three years and a season-ending fractured right ankle in February — and style of play make a $200 million commitment harder to stomach than it does for Edwards and Haliburton.
DESMOND BANE, Memphis Grizzlies
TYRESE MAXEY, Philadelphia 76ers
Bane and Maxey have flashed All-Star potential, but their teams would probably like to see them realize it fully before making max commitments a year from their restricted free agency. If the Grizzlies or Sixers can secure a commitment from Bane or Maxey for anything less than the full max, it is probably best to lock the potential savings in now, for fear either could take offense to playing on a prove-it contract this season.
Others: Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks; Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks; Jaden McDaniels, Minnesota Timberwolves; Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls; Devin Vassell, San Antonio Spurs; Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic; Deni Avdija, Washington Wizards; Josh Green, Dallas Mavericks; Precious Achiuwa, Toronto Raptors; Saddiq Bey, Atlanta Hawks; Killian Hayes, Detroit Pistons; Aleksej Pokusevski, Oklahoma City Thunder; Isaiah Stewart, Detroit Pistons; Obi Toppin, New York Knicks; Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers.
Which potential 2024 free agents are eligible for a max extension?
JAYLEN BROWN, Boston Celtics (2024)
After earning All-NBA honors this season and leading the Celtics to a fifth conference finals appearance in his seven seasons, Brown is expected to receive and agree to a five-year, $290 million supermax extension option at the start of free agency. If Boston or Brown balk, expect the team to start shopping the 26-year-old two-time All-Star, but the alternatives would bring both parties no closer to championship contention.
ANTHONY DAVIS, Los Angeles Lakers (2024)
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst, both tied into the Lakers and the Klutch Sports machine that drives them, are split on whether Davis will receive the three-year max extension for which he’s eligible. Both he and LeBron James can become free agents in 2024, and signing the 30-year-old Davis through the 2027-28 season would remove some of the pressure that comes with the catastrophic risk of losing both.
DOMANTAS SABONIS, Sacramento Kings (2024)
New rules in the collective bargaining agreement increase Sabonis’ max figure to roughly $120 million over the four years beyond the $19.4 million he is owed in 2023-24, and the expectation is that he will sign it.
KLAY THOMPSON, Golden State Warriors (2024)
Thompson expects to receive a four-year max extension this summer, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, but the future of the Warriors is in flux. Committing another $230 million to Thompson through his 38th birthday is no easy decision, considering he has not returned to All-NBA form since missing two entire seasons to a ruptured ligament and then a tendon. That kind of commitment would be more emotional than rational.
PASCAL SIAKAM, Toronto Raptors (2024)
According to the Toronto Star’s Doug Smith, Siakam “put word out that he would not entertain contract extension talks with any team that might have traded for him in the lead-up to Thursday’s draft,” since he “would like nothing better than to finish his career here as the longest-serving Raptors player.” That may have been an attempt to counteract reports of Atlanta’s considerable efforts to acquire him. Either way, it complicates discussions on an extension. Another All-NBA appearance this coming season would qualify Siakam for the same $290 million supermax extension Brown expects to sign, but a trade would nix that.
Other extension-eligible stars in the …
2024 free-agency class: Dejounte Murray, Atlanta Hawks; Kristaps Porziņģis, Boston Celtics; DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls; Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee Bucks.
2025 free-agency class: Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans; Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers, Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers; Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers; Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks; Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat; Aaron Gordon, Denver Nuggets; Julius Randle, New York Knicks; Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz.
2026 free-agency class: Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers; Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat; De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings.
Source: Yahoo Sports