Offseason Preview

2022 NBA Offseason Preview: Golden State Warriors

After injuries scuttled not just the Warriors‘ title hopes but their playoff aspirations in 2020 and 2021, it took a while for the team to get back to full strength in 2021/22. Klay Thompson missed the first third of the season, Draymond Green went down right around the time Thompson made his debut, and Stephen Curry got hurt one game after Green returned. Incredibly, the Warriors’ three veteran stars played just 11 minutes together during the regular season.

It didn’t matter. Even without their full arsenal of weapons, the Warriors stormed out of the gate by winning 18 of their first 21 games and spent the entire season holding onto one of the Western Conference’s top four seeds, ultimately finishing at No. 3.

In the playoffs, the Warriors were finally back at full strength (Curry, Thompson, and Green played 455 postseason minutes together), and while they may not have been quite as dominant as they were with Kevin Durant in the picture in 2017 and 2018, they once again looked like a championship-caliber team.

Golden State made quick work of the shorthanded Nuggets, held off the upstart Grizzlies, and slowed Luka Doncic enough to shut down the Mavericks and reach the NBA Finals, where they came back from a 2-1 deficit to defeat the Celtics and secure their fourth championship in the last eight years.

Having faced scrutiny for maintaining a monster payroll and opting not to trade any of their young prospects or lottery picks for win-now help during their non-playoff seasons, the Warriors were vindicated by their 2021/22 success and won’t be satisfied to stop there. Management is hopeful that youngsters like James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, and Moses Moody will be ready to carry the torch and keep the team in title contention in the coming years as Curry, Green, and Thompson enter their mid-30s.


The Warriors’ Offseason Plan:

Two key Warriors role players are unrestricted free agents this summer, with Kevon Looney and Gary Payton II set to reach the open market.

Looney bounced back from a couple injury-plagued seasons to start 80 regular season games (and play in all 82) for the Warriors and proved his value as a versatile frontcourt defender who can play alongside offensive weapons without needing the ball himself. Looney’s stats don’t jump off the page, but centers who can stay on the court in playoff series against a variety of lineups are valuable assets in today’s NBA, so he’ll likely draw mid-level interest from teams in need of frontcourt help.

Payton, meanwhile, emerged as an important rotation piece in Golden State after a few years of brief minimum-salary auditions around the NBA. Like Looney, Payton doesn’t need the ball much on offense, but benefited from the attention defenses dedicated to players like Curry, Thompson, and Jordan Poole, making well-timed cuts to the basket and shooting 61.6% from the floor, an impressive mark for a guard. Of course, his primary contributions came on the defensive end, where he followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming one of the league’s top perimeter defenders.

Assessing the market for Looney and Payton is tricky, since they fit better in their defined roles with the Warriors than they might with a new team. Golden State has the cap flexibility to make competitive offers to both players – the team holds Looney’s Bird rights and Payton’s Early Bird rights – but the tax implications of giving either player a sizable raise would be substantial. If Looney and Payton don’t accept “hometown” discounts to stay in the Bay Area, it will be fascinating to see how high the Dubs are willing to go to retain them.

If Looney and Payton return, the Warriors would have seven of their eight most-used players from the postseason under contract for next season, with only Otto Porter Jr. facing free agency. The club did well to secure Porter and Nemanja Bjelica to minimum-salary contracts last summer, but Porter in particular will probably get an offer from another team that the Warriors can’t realistically match, since they only have his Non-Bird rights.

I suspect Golden State would welcome players like Porter, Bjelica, and Damion Lee back on minimum deals, but if the price goes any higher, the team may have to look elsewhere to fill those roster spots, perhaps trying to strike gold on the minimum-salary market again.

The Warriors hold the No. 28 overall pick in this year’s draft, but are reportedly looking into trading that pick, which makes sense. If they expect Wiseman, Kuminga, and Moody to take on greater roles next season, the Warriors don’t need to add another rookie to the mix, and they’d save some money by carrying another minimum-salary player instead of that first-rounder. Shopping the 28th pick to either acquire multiple second-rounders or a future protected first-rounder seems reasonable.

Besides addressing the potential holes in their 2022/23 rotation, the Warriors will have to start seriously thinking about the long-term futures of players like Poole and Andrew Wiggins. Poole is eligible for a rookie scale extension this offseason, while Wiggins is also extension-eligible as he enters a contract year.

Both Poole and Wiggins played important roles on this year’s title team and should be rewarded for that, but the Warriors are under no pressure to rush into a deal with either player. Neither player’s value is likely to get significantly higher during the 2022/23 season, so Golden State is in position to wait another year and assess its options at that point if either player drives a hard bargain during this year’s negotiations. But if the Warriors can get a team-friendly rate on either player – maybe $18-20MM per year for Poole or $23-25MM annually for Wiggins – they shouldn’t hesitate to complete an extension.

Green and Thompson are also extension-eligible this offseason, and if either player is extended in the coming weeks or months, I’d expect it to be Green — Thompson has two guaranteed years left on his contract and didn’t quite look like his old self on a consistent basis in 2021/22. There will be no urgency to give him another maximum-salary extension that begins at age 34 without seeing next season if he still has that All-Star level in him.

Green, on the other hand, has just one guaranteed year left, with a player option for 2023/24. He continues to provide value on both ends of the court despite not being a scoring threat, and I imagine the Warriors will want to do right by him, given that he has earned far less than Curry and Thompson (and Wiggins, for that matter) in recent years. Still, the Warriors won’t simply write him a blank check — if he picks up his ’23/24 option, a max extension would start at $33MM+ in his age-34 season, which may make the club nervous.


Salary Cap Situation

Note: Our salary cap figures are based on the league’s latest projection ($122MM) for 2022/23.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

  • None

Restricted Free Agents

Two-Way Free Agents

Draft Picks

  • No. 28 overall pick ($2,196,240)
  • No. 51 overall pick (no cap hold)
  • No. 55 overall pick (no cap hold)
  • Total: $2,196,240

Extension-Eligible Players

Note: These are players who are either already eligible for an extension or will become eligible before the 2022/23 season begins.

  • Draymond Green (veteran)
  • Jordan Poole (rookie scale)
  • Klay Thompson (veteran)
  • Andrew Wiggins (veteran)

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds

Offseason Cap Outlook

With $171MM in guaranteed money already committed to eight players, the Warriors are a lock to be operating above the projected tax line of $149MM next season. The only question will be how big their bill gets. By our count, they spent more than $345MM (in salaries and taxes) on their 2021/22 roster, and that number looks like a good bet to increase going forward.

Cap Exceptions Available

  • Taxpayer mid-level exception: $6,392,000 2
  • Trade exception: $1,782,621

Footnotes

  1. These cap holds remain on the Warriors’ books from prior seasons because they haven’t been renounced. These players can’t be used in a sign-and-trade deal.
  2. This is a projected value.

Salary and cap information from Basketball Insiders and RealGM was used in the creation of this post.

2022 NBA Offseason Preview: Boston Celtics

The 2021 offseason was one of change for the Celtics, who saw Danny Ainge step away from his longtime role as the team’s president of basketball operations and Brad Stevens move from the sidelines to the front office to replace Ainge in that role. First-time head coach Ime Udoka was hired as Stevens’ replacement, and Stevens’ first major roster move was to end the Kemba Walker era in Boston, sending him to Oklahoma City with a first-round pick for Al Horford.

If you watched the Celtics during the first half of the season, you could be forgiven for questioning the wisdom of those offseason maneuvers. Boston was still below .500 halfway through the regular season, as observers second-guessed the hiring of Udoka and speculated about the possibility of breaking up star wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Shortly after the season’s halfway point, however, everything began to click into place. From January 22 onward, the Celtics had the best record (28-7), best offensive rating (120.2), and best defensive rating (104.8) in the NBA, storming up the Eastern Conference standings to claim the No. 2 seed.

Some roster changes at the trade deadline – including essentially replacing Dennis Schröder, Josh Richardson, and Enes Freedom with Derrick White and Daniel Theis – helped matters, but the Celtics’ starters also made major strides over the course of the year, working hard to build chemistry and find the right roles for each player after Marcus Smart publicly called out Tatum and Brown for their play during the first month of the season.

Impressive series wins over Brooklyn, Milwaukee, and Miami earned the Celtics a spot in the NBA Finals, but after taking a 2-1 lead, the C’s ultimately came up short, falling to the Warriors in six games. While missing out on a championship was a bitter pill to swallow, the season in Boston has to be considered a huge success, given where things stood in January.


The Celtics’ Offseason Plan:

Of the 15 players who finished the season on standard contracts with the Celtics, 12 are under contract for 2022/23. Two – Sam Hauser and Juwan Morgan – have team options on their deals, while just one – Luke Kornet – is facing unrestricted free agency. Given that those three players logged a total of 247 minutes for Boston this past season, they’re unlikely to be major offseason priorities — perhaps one or two return, but not for more than the veteran’s minimum.

With no key players headed for free agency and no first-round pick, the Celtics’ list of pressing offseason tasks won’t be as long as it was a year ago, but the team will still have some roster decisions to make.

To start, three of those 12 players under contract for next season have non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed salaries. It will be an easy call to guarantee the remaining $7MM on Horford’s $26.5MM expiring deal, but Nik Stauskas and Malik Fitts, whose minimum-salary contracts are non-guaranteed, aren’t locks to return.

If the Celtics were to let Kornet, Morgan, and Hauser walk in free agency and waive Stauskas and Fitts before their salaries guarantee, they’d have up to five openings on their 15-man roster, opening the door for the front office to scour the market for veterans looking to compete for a title on minimum-salary deals.

With virtually all of their playoff rotation pieces set to return, Boston may not be able to offer a significant role to any free agent targets. Still, the opportunity to join a title contender has appeal, and the team will have the taxpayer mid-level exception at its disposal if it’s willing to use it — that could be a difference-maker for a veteran free agent who wouldn’t have interest in a minimum deal.

Exploring the trade market in search of a rotation upgrade is one path the Celtics could go down, especially since Stevens has shown a real willingness to wheel and deal since taking the reins in the front office. Boston has made nine trades since his promotion. However, given how well the current group jelled down the stretch and in the postseason, Stevens will likely be more cautious about shaking things up this offseason.

Even if their roster for 2022/23 doesn’t change much, the Celtics will have to begin considering what the team will look like beyond next season. Grant Williams is eligible for a rookie scale extension this offseason after proving in this year’s playoffs that he can play a key role in big games.

A year ago, Boston signed Robert Williams to a four-year, $48MM extension (plus incentives) that looked like a roll of the dice based on Williams’ injury history and track record at the time. If the Celtics are bullish on Grant Williams’ developmental path and can sign him at a similarly team-friendly rate, it would make sense to once again move early to avoid the risk of him getting significantly more expensive a year from now.

Brown and Horford are also extension-eligible this offseason, but there’s probably no rush to lock up either player. Brown is still two years away from free agency, while Horford just turned 36 years old. Extending a player at that age is generally an unnecessary risk, since you never know when he’ll lose a step and see his value sharply drop off.


Salary Cap Situation

Note: Our salary cap figures are based on the league’s latest projection ($122MM) for 2022/23.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents

  • None

Two-Way Free Agents

Draft Picks

  • No. 53 overall pick (no cap hold)

Extension-Eligible Players

Note: These are players who are either already eligible for an extension or will become eligible before the 2022/23 season begins.

  • Jaylen Brown (veteran)
  • Al Horford (veteran)
  • Grant Williams (rookie scale)

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds

Offseason Cap Outlook

After narrowly avoiding the luxury tax in 2021/22, the Celtics could theoretically try to do it again next season, but I’d be surprised if it’s a major priority after the club reaped the financial benefits of an extended postseason run.

Once Horford’s salary becomes guaranteed, Boston will already be at the projected tax line of $149MM for just 10 players. Even filling out the roster with minimum-salary players would put team salary well into tax territory, so ducking the tax would require at least one or two cost-cutting trades.

Cap Exceptions Available

  • Taxpayer mid-level exception: $6,392,000 5
  • Trade exception: $17,142,857
  • Trade exception: $6,907,815
  • Trade exception: $5,890,000
  • Trade exception: $3,804,360
  • Trade exception: $2,161,152
  • Trade exception: $1,910,860
  • Trade exception: $1,782,621
  • Trade exception: $1,669,178
  • Trade exception: $1,440,549
  • Trade exception: $500,000

Footnotes

  1. Morgan’s salary will remain non-guaranteed even if his option is exercised.
  2. Hauser’s salary will become partially guaranteed ($300K) if his option is exercised.
  3. Stauskas’ salary will become fully guaranteed after July 15.
  4. Fitts’ salary will become partially guaranteed ($50K) after September 1.
  5. This is a projected value. The Celtics could instead have access to the full mid-level exception ($10,349,000) and bi-annual exception ($4,050,000) if they remain below the tax apron.

Salary and cap information from Basketball Insiders and RealGM was used in the creation of this post.

Hoops Rumors’ 2022 NBA Offseason Preview Series

In advance of the NBA’s 2022 draft and free agent period, Hoops Rumors is previewing the coming offseason for all 30 teams, looking at their salary cap situations and the roster decisions they’ll have to make this summer

Our Offseason Preview articles are linked below, sorted by conference and division. This list, which can be found under the “Hoops Rumors Features” menu on the right sidebar on our desktop site, or on the “Features” page in our mobile menu, will continue to be updated as we complete our previews for all 30 teams.


Eastern Conference

Atlantic

Central

Southeast


Western Conference

Northwest

Pacific

Southwest

2022 NBA Offseason Preview: Miami Heat

Following a swift first-round playoff exit in 2021, the Heat brought in a handful of hard-nosed players with championship experience, completing a sign-and-trade deal for Kyle Lowry, using most of their mid-level exception on P.J. Tucker, and signing Markieff Morris to a minimum-salary contract. At the same time, Miami bet on young players like Gabe Vincent and Max Strus being ready for bigger roles after spending the 2020/21 season on two-way deals with the team.

While not every one of the Heat’s offseason moves paid huge dividends – a neck injury cost Morris most of the season and he wasn’t part of the playoff rotation – the club’s strategy was a good one on the whole. Lowry, Tucker, Vincent, and Strus all played key roles in complementing All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo and Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro, while other youngsters like Caleb Martin and Omer Yurtseven proved their worth on minimum-salary contracts.

Miami’s deep, well-balanced squad earned the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed with a 53-29 regular season record, then won a pair of playoff series over Atlanta and Philadelphia. Unfortunately, by the time the Eastern Conference Finals tipped off, the Heat’s roster was incredibly banged up, with Lowry in particular limited due to a hamstring injury that sidelined him for eight playoff contests. The club didn’t have enough left in the tank to get by the Celtics, losing to Boston in a seven-game battle that went right down to the wire.

While the Heat fell short of a title, you could make a case that their roster was championship-caliber, or at least very close to it. If a couple plays had gone a little differently, it might’ve been Miami and not Boston that represented the East in the NBA Finals. The front office’s task this offseason will be determining how best to keep the Heat at that championship level and then to find the missing piece that could help put them over the top.


The Heat’s Offseason Plan:

The Heat have five players on guaranteed contracts for 2022/23. Of those players, it’s safe to assume Butler and Adebayo aren’t going anywhere. That’s less of a sure thing for Lowry, Herro, and Duncan Robinson.

Lowry has always been a player whose value goes beyond his box-score numbers. He’s a talented defender who has a knack for taking charges, and his offensive creativity helps lead to baskets on which he’s not credited with points or an assist. However, he turned 36 years old this year, his sparkling analytics numbers have begun to decline, and his hamstring issues turned him into a below-average rotation player in many of the Heat’s biggest games this spring.

Based on his contract (two years, $58MM), Lowry may have negative value as a trade chip at this point, which means the Heat will probably hang onto him, since he’s still capable of providing more value on the court than he would as a trade asset. However, if Miami gets an opportunity to acquire a younger backcourt star and has to use Lowry as a salary-matching piece, I can’t imagine they’d hesitate to do so.

Robinson appears to be a more likely offseason trade chip, since his 2022/23 cap number ($16.9MM) is more manageable than Lowry’s. As a high-volume three-point shooter who has connected on 40.6% of his career attempts from beyond the arc, Robinson is a solid role player, especially during the regular season. But his defensive limitations were an issue in the playoffs, since he provided little on-court value when his shot wasn’t falling regularly.

If the Heat use Robinson in an offseason trade, they would need to include at least one additional asset in the package to have a chance to acquire an impact player. That asset is most likely to be a draft pick. Miami has the ability to move its 2022 first-round pick (27th overall) and/or its 2023 first-rounder, as well as at least one future first-rounder (no earlier than 2027). One or two of those picks might be enough to sweeten the deal for most of the team’s realistic offseason trade targets.

While the Heat are likely to dangle those first-round picks before making any of their young, inexpensive rotation players available, it’s worth noting that Herro will be entering a contract year and will be extension-eligible this offseason. He was terrific during the regular season, but struggled in the playoffs, where his scoring average dipped by eight points (20.7 to 12.6 PPG) and he made just 22.9% of his three-pointers.

That playoff performance – and the fact that Herro still has plenty of room for improvement on defense – might give the Heat pause as they enter negotiations on a rookie scale extension that could be worth in excess of $100MM for four years. Pat Riley has long resisted the idea of dealing Herro and I wouldn’t expect an abrupt about-face on that stance this summer, but if the right player is available on the trade market, I don’t think Herro should be entirely off-limits — it’s possible moving him now rather than investing heavily on his next contract would benefit Miami in the long term.

One or more of the Heat’s four players on non-guaranteed contracts – Strus, Vincent, Yurtseven, and Haywood Highsmith – could theoretically be added to a trade package, but I’d expect all four to be back. Strus and Vincent, in particular, are two of the Heat’s latest developmental success stories and will be major bargains next season, helping to offset the cost of high-priced veterans like Butler, Adebayo, and Lowry.

After handling the power forward role admirably in his first year in Miami, Tucker has the opportunity to opt out of his contract and become a new free agent. He and the Heat seemed like a good fit in 2021/22, so I wouldn’t expect Tucker to decline his player option in order to jump ship, but turning down the option and signing a new one-plus-one contract (potentially with a slight raise) would probably be in his best interest. As good as Tucker was this past season, he’s 37 years old and could start showing real signs of decline soon, so this may be his last chance to sign for more than the minimum.

If the Heat re-sign Tucker at a similar price to his option and keep their first-round pick, they’d still have about $13MM in breathing room below the luxury tax line to fill out three or four remaining roster spots.

Victor Oladipo and Martin are candidates to return and fill a couple of those roster spots, but negotiating a new deal with Martin could be tricky, since Miami only holds his Non-Bird rights. That means the Heat wouldn’t be able to offer him more than about $2.25MM for the 2022/23 season unless they’re willing to dip into the mid-level exception to increase their offer. Miami may decide that using some of the mid-level exception to re-sign Martin is the best way to maximize the MLE’s value, but if the team has that mid-level money earmarked for an outside target, Martin seems unlikely to return.

Since the Heat have Oladipo’s Bird rights, they have more flexibility to offer him a raise. Whether or not he returns will come down to how much interest he draws from rival suitors and perhaps how willing Miami is to go into the tax, depending on what other moves are made.


Salary Cap Situation

Note: Our salary cap figures are based on the league’s latest projection ($122MM) for 2022/23.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents

Two-Way Free Agents

  • None

Draft Picks

  • No. 27 overall pick ($2,209,920)
  • Total: $2,209,920

Extension-Eligible Players

Note: These are players who are either already eligible for an extension or will become eligible before the 2022/23 season begins.

  • Tyler Herro (rookie scale)

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds

Offseason Cap Outlook

If we assume the Heat will retain all of their players on non-guaranteed contracts, they’d be at about $126MM for nine players, so they’ll certainly operate over the cap. That would leave them with about $23MM in wiggle room below the projected tax line ($149MM) for the remaining five or six roster spots.

If Tucker and/or Oladipo return and the Heat use a major chunk of their mid-level exception, that wiggle room would disappear quickly, but the club certainly has the flexibility to stay out of the tax if that’s a top priority.

Cap Exceptions Available

  • Mid-level exception: $10,349,000 6
  • Bi-annual exception: $4,050,000 6
  • Trade exception: $1,782,621

Footnotes

  1. Strus’ salary will become fully guaranteed after June 29.
  2. Vincent’s salary will become fully guaranteed after June 29.
  3. Yurtseven’s salary will become fully guaranteed after June 29.
  4. Highsmith’s salary will become partially guaranteed for $50K on July 1, with that partial guarantee increasing to $400,000 after the first game of the regular season.
  5. The cap holds for Mickey and Wade remain on the Heat’s books from prior seasons because they haven’t been renounced. They can’t be used in a sign-and-trade deal.
  6. These are projected values. If the Heat approach or cross the tax line, they may not have access to the full mid-level exception and/or bi-annual exception and would instead be limited to the taxpayer mid-level exception ($6,392,000).

Salary and cap information from Basketball Insiders and RealGM was used in the creation of this post.

2022 NBA Offseason Preview: Dallas Mavericks

Halfway through the 2021/22 season, the Mavericks – still below .500 through 35 games – appeared headed for another middle-of-the-pack playoff spot and an early postseason exit. However, Dallas’ fortunes took a turn for the better when the team decided to give up on the Kristaps Porzingis experiment, sending him to D.C. along with a second-round pick in exchange for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans at the trade deadline.

The move raised eyebrows around the basketball world, given that Dinwiddie and Bertans were on pricey multiyear contracts and were having down years for the Wizards. The fact that the Mavericks couldn’t get more for the oft-injured Porzingis was a sign of how significantly his stock had dropped since Dallas acquired him from New York in 2019.

But the Mavs recognized that, besides being more consistently healthy than Porzingis, Dinwiddie and Bertans were better fits for the rotation, providing the sort of play-making and outside shooting that perfectly complemented Luka Doncic. The two veterans – particularly Dinwiddie – bounced back and played key roles in the the Mavs’ strong finish — the team posted the NBA’s second-best record (20-7) from deadline day onward.

The Mavs’ success carried over into the postseason, where they dispatched Utah and Phoenix in the first two rounds before running into the eventual champion Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. It was easily the deepest playoff run the club had made since winning the title in 2011, and it came at just the right time, with Doncic’s second contract set to go into effect in 2022/23. More moves will need to be made around the perennial MVP candidate to solidify Dallas’ spot as a true title contender, but this year’s success signaled things are headed in the right direction.


The Mavericks’ Offseason Plan:

The Mavericks have already made what will be one of the biggest moves of their summer, agreeing to send the No. 26 pick in this year’s draft and four bench players (Sterling Brown, Boban Marjanovic, Marquese Chriss, and Trey Burke) to Houston in exchange for big man Christian Wood.

Wood has established himself in recent years as one of the NBA’s most talented frontcourt scorers and rebounders, averaging 19.1 PPG and 9.9 RPG on .507/.384/.626 shooting in his 109 games with the Rockets. However, his defensive limitations, lingering character concerns, and contract situation (he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2023) hindered Houston’s ability to trade him for more than a late first-round pick and salary filler.

The Wood trade, which can become official after the Mavericks officially draft a player on behalf of the Rockets on June 23, accomplishes two things for Dallas.

For one, it gives the Mavs the sort of versatile offensive threat up front that they lost when they traded away Porzingis. Both Wood and Porzingis can hit outside shots, but Porzingis had a tendency to lean on post-ups and mid-range shots more than Dallas might have liked, while most of Wood’s two-point attempts come around the basket, making him a better pick-and-roll partner for Doncic. Given what he’ll bring to the offense, the Mavs will be happy to get even average production from Wood on the defensive end.

The four-for-one swap will also give Dallas some additional roster flexibility entering the offeason. Prior to the trade agreement with Houston, the Mavs had 14 players under contract for next season and wanted to re-sign Jalen Brunson to fill the 15th spot on the roster. Now, even if Brunson is re-signed, the club will have at least three openings on its 15-man squad.

Speaking of Brunson, his free agency will be the most crucial issue for the Mavs to address this offseason, especially now that the team has fortified its frontcourt by agreeing to trade for Wood. Brunson has steadily improved in each of his four NBA seasons, putting up 16.3 PPG and 4.8 APG with a .502/.373/.840 shooting line in the 2021/22 regular season and then boosting his scoring average to 21.6 PPG in the playoffs.

It’s a safe bet that Brunson will receive a four-year deal at least in the Fred VanVleet/Malcolm Brogdon/Lonzo Ball range ($80-85MM). The question is how much higher the bidding might go, with teams like the Knicks and Pistons reportedly interested in prying the point guard away from Dallas. The Mavs hold Brunson’s Bird rights and could go all the way up to the max if they need to, but they’ll pay a penalty for every extra dollar they spend, since their team salary projects to surpass the luxury tax line even without Brunson on the books.

Team owner Mark Cuban isn’t the type to pinch pennies and let Brunson walk to save money, so I’d be surprised if the point guard isn’t back with the Mavs next season. There are other players on the roster, including Dinwiddie ($20.2MM), Tim Hardaway Jr. ($19.6MM), Bertans ($16MM), and Dwight Powell ($11.1MM) whose contracts could be shopped if Dallas feels the need to keep the payroll in check.

Of course, the flip side of that argument is that the Mavs probably won’t be able to move players like Dinwiddie, Hardaway, Bertans, and Powell for anything of real value, and may have to attach assets to a couple of them to trade them at all. A sign-and-trade deal involving Brunson, meanwhile, could net one or two legitimate assets, and Dinwiddie gives Dallas a fallback option at point guard. While those are compelling reasons to at least consider the idea of a sign-and-trade, I don’t expect Brunson to be the odd man out on this Mavs roster.

As for how the team should fill its final roster spots, Theo Pinson is said to be a strong candidate to receive a promotion from his two-way deal to a standard contract, and the Mavs will reportedly explore the idea of signing Goran Dragic, adding another intriguing layer to the Brunson negotiations.

Maxi Kleber and Frank Ntilikina have non-guaranteed salaries for 2022/23 and it will be interesting to see whether the Mavs decide to part with either player. Kleber had perhaps his worst year as a pro this past season, but has been a reliable rotation piece in Dallas for most of the last five seasons, while Ntilikina’s defensive ability makes him a worthwhile investment at his price point ($2.04MM). Even if they both have their salaries guaranteed, they’ll be on expiring contracts and could be trade chips in the offseason or at the ’23 deadline.

If Kleber and Ntilikina are back and the Mavs are confident in Hardaway’s health and Josh Green‘s ability to play a regular role, the club could target one more frontcourt player to fill out the roster. A defensive-minded center to help Wood and Powell match up with the Nikola Jokics of the world would make some sense. One more wing would also be a fit.


Salary Cap Situation

Note: Our salary cap figures are based on the league’s latest projection ($122MM) for 2022/23.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents

  • None

Two-Way Free Agents

Draft Picks

  • None

Extension-Eligible Players

Note: These are players who are either already eligible for an extension or will become eligible before the 2022/23 season begins.

  • Maxi Kleber (veteran)
  • Dwight Powell (veteran)

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds

Offseason Cap Outlook

With $143MM+ already committed to nine guaranteed contracts, the Mavericks project to go over the projected $149MM tax line even if they fill out their roster with minimum-salary players. Guaranteeing Kleber’s salary and re-signing Brunson would push Dallas’ team salary way beyond that threshold.

Cap Exceptions Available

  • Taxpayer mid-level exception: $6,392,000 6
  • Trade exception: $10,865,952

Footnotes

  1. Doncic’s salary will be worth 30% of the salary cap. If the cap ends up above or below $122MM, this figure will be adjusted upward or downward.
  2. The Mavericks’ trade for Wood can’t be officially completed until draft night.
  3. Kleber’s salary will become fully guaranteed after July 3.
  4. Ntilikina’s salary will become fully guaranteed after July 4.
  5. The cap holds for Redick and Melli remain on the Mavericks’ books from prior seasons because they haven’t been renounced. They can’t be used in a sign-and-trade deal.
  6. This is a projected value. The Mavericks could instead have access to the full mid-level exception ($10,349,000) if they remain below the tax apron.

Salary and cap information from Basketball Insiders and RealGM was used in the creation of this post.

2022 NBA Offseason Preview: Phoenix Suns

Although the Suns finished the 2019/20 season by winning eight straight games, it was still their sixth straight season under .500, so when they followed it up by going 51-21 and making the NBA Finals in ’20/21, it came as a major surprise.

That ’20/21 performance put the Suns firmly in the conversation as contenders heading into ’21/22, meaning they didn’t catch anyone off guard with another hot start last fall. But not many league observers expected that hot streak to essentially last the entire regular season, as the club took yet another significant step forward by winning an NBA-high 64 games.

Phoenix’s rise came to an abrupt halt in the second round of the postseason, when the team failed to slow down Luka Doncic and fell to the underdog Mavericks in seven games. It cast a shadow over what was otherwise a terrific year and raises questions about where the club goes from here.

Are more roster upgrades needed to seriously contend for a title, or was this a championship-caliber team that just had a bad series? And how will Chris Paul‘s age, Deandre Ayton‘s free agency, and the ongoing investigation into team owner Robert Sarver‘s alleged workplace misconduct factor into the Suns’ outlook going forward?


The Suns’ Offseason Plan:

Let’s start with Ayton, the Suns’ only core player who isn’t already under contract for the 2022/23 season. He’ll be eligible for restricted free agency this offseason after failing to agree to an extension with the team last fall. Even though Phoenix was unwilling to give Ayton a five-year, maximum-salary contract a year ago, there had long been an expectation that the two sides would have an easier time reaching an agreement this summer — if not a max deal, then something very close to it.

However, since the night the Suns were eliminated from the playoffs – in a Game 7 in which Ayton was benched after playing just 17 minutes – one report after another has suggested that the big man’s return to Phoenix won’t be a foregone conclusion after all. Multiple reporters have identified the former No. 1 overall pick as potentially the biggest name to change teams this summer.

Ayton’s free agency will be fascinating for a few reasons. For one, despite the fact that the Suns apparently aren’t enthusiastic about paying Ayton $30MM+ per year on his next deal, all of those aforementioned reports have been adamant that the team won’t just let him walk away for nothing and will look to negotiate a sign-and-trade deal.

Given that so few teams have the ability to create enough cap space to sign Ayton outright, perhaps that’s how his free agency will play out. But it would be fascinating to see how Phoenix would respond if a rival suitor signs Ayton to a four-year max offer sheet. Would the Suns match it and plan on potentially trading Ayton down the road, despite the fact that his salary would put them well over the luxury tax line for the time being? The potential for a game of free agency “chicken” here is intriguing.

If the Suns do engage in sign-and-trade talks for Ayton, those negotiations will be complicated by the fact that base year compensation rules will apply to his new contract. On a maximum-salary deal, Ayton’s outgoing salary from Phoenix’s perspective would be just $15.25MM, while his incoming salary for a new team would be $30.5MM. Bridging that gap and making sure both teams are adhering to the NBA’s salary-matching rules will be tricky if Ayton’s new team is over the cap.

It’s virtually unprecedented for a free agent of Ayton’s caliber to accept his qualifying offer rather than negotiating a longer-term contract, but no player coming off a rookie scale contract has ever been eligible for a qualifying offer as lucrative as Ayton’s ($16.4MM), so it’s worth mentioning as a fallback option. If he were to accept that one-year QO, Ayton would be eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2023. It’s a long shot, but if the Suns play hardball with possible sign-and-trade partners and Ayton decides he doesn’t want to stay in Phoenix, it’s an option.

Based on the reporting to date, it sounds like the Suns’ preferred outcome would be to replace Ayton with a starting-caliber player earning in the $15-20MM range and to not spend maximum-salary money on their starting center. We’ll see if the right opportunity arises – for both Ayton and the Suns – to make that happen.

While resolving Ayton’s contract situation will be their top priority, the Suns will have to address their backup slots at point guard and center, where Aaron Holiday, Elfrid Payton, JaVale McGee, and Bismack Biyombo are all eligible for free agency. How Phoenix approaches those spots will depend in part on whether Ayton returns — or possibly on how much salary the team takes back in an Ayton sign-and-trade.

Sarver doesn’t have a reputation as an owner who spends big on player salaries and likely won’t be particularly enthusiastic about going deep into tax territory, so if Phoenix projects to be a taxpayer, I’d count on the team filling out its depth chart at point guard and center primarily with minimum-salary signings. If Ayton doesn’t return, the club would have more flexibility below the luxury tax line, opening the door to use its mid-level exception and perhaps to re-sign players like Holiday and McGee, who should command more than the minimum.

Devin Booker, Cameron Johnson, and Dario Saric are among the other Suns worth keeping an eye this offseason.

Booker qualified for a super-max contract extension when he made an All-NBA team this spring. If the Suns put a super-max offer on the table, it would add four more years to the two remaining on his current deal, starting at 35% of the 2024/25 cap. Even if we project a relatively conservative $130MM cap for ’24/25, that super-max contract would be worth in excess of $50MM per year.

There’s no guarantee the Suns move forward on that extension immediately, but it would cover Booker’s prime years (starting with his age-28 season) and Paul’s contract would be coming off the books by that point, so it would make sense for the two sides to get it done this summer.

Johnson will be eligible for a rookie scale extension this offseason and has probably earned a deal at least in the range of what fellow sharpshooter Kevin Huerter got from Atlanta a year ago (four years, $65MM). The Suns don’t necessarily have to push to finalize an agreement with Johnson before the 2022/23 season, since he’d be a restricted free agent next summer. But if they can get a relatively team-friendly price, like they did with Mikal Bridges, it’s worth pursuing.

Saric, meanwhile, will be returning from a torn ACL as he enters the final year of his contract. His $9.2MM expiring deal makes him a logical trade candidate, either in a salary-dump deal or in a package for a rotation player. However, at least one recent report suggested Phoenix is hopeful Saric can return to form as a frontcourt piece who can stretch the floor, and may not be looking to move him after all.


Salary Cap Situation

Note: Our salary cap figures are based on the league’s latest projection ($122MM) for 2022/23.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

  • None

Restricted Free Agents

Two-Way Free Agents

Draft Picks

  • None

Extension-Eligible Players

Note: These are players who are either already eligible for an extension or will become eligible before the 2022/23 season begins.

  • Devin Booker (veteran)
  • Jae Crowder (veteran)
  • Cameron Johnson (rookie scale)
  • Dario Saric (veteran)

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds

Offseason Cap Outlook

With $128MM in guaranteed money committed to nine players, the Suns will, at the very least, operate over the projected $122MM cap in 2022/23.

The Ayton situation will dictate whether they end up over the projected tax line ($149MM) as well, but that looks like a good bet at this point — even if Ayton doesn’t return, Phoenix could end up taking on upwards of $20MM in salary in a sign-and-trade deal.

Cap Exceptions Available

  • Taxpayer mid-level exception: $6,392,000 1

Footnotes

  1. This is a projected value. The Suns could instead have access to the full mid-level exception ($10,349,000) and bi-annual exception ($4,050,000) if they remain below the tax apron.

Salary and cap information from Basketball Insiders and RealGM was used in the creation of this post.

2022 NBA Offseason Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

After winning their first championship in 50 years in 2020/21, the Bucks followed it up with a stellar title defense in ’21/22.

Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo turned in another MVP-caliber performance, leading Milwaukee to a 51-win season. The Bucks had the third-best offense in the NBA, despite the fact that their three stars – Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday – all missed at least 15 games due to various injuries, while starting center Brook Lopez was limited to just 13 total appearances due to back surgery.

The Bucks entered the playoffs looking capable of making a deep run and quickly dispatched the Bulls in the first round, but Middleton sustained a knee injury during that series that ultimately ended his season, removing one of the team’s best two-way threats from the chess board for the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Milwaukee still made it a competitive series, but fell to Boston in a hard-fought seven games.

With Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Holiday all under contract going forward, the Bucks appear unlikely to make serious changes to their core, but will face some important decisions on members of their supporting cast.


The Bucks’ Offseason Plan:

A handful of key Bucks rotation players are eligible for free agency, including three wings: Pat Connaughton, Wesley Matthews, and Jordan Nwora.

While it’s possible Connaughton will simply pick up his $5.7MM player option and postpone his free agency until 2023, he’s coming off the best year of his career — he averaged a career-high 9.9 PPG and shot 39.5% from outside the arc in 65 games (26.0 MPG). He has earned a raise and the Bucks hold his Bird rights, so they have the cap flexibility to give it to him as long as they’re comfortable paying the associated tax penalty.

Matthews will be entering his age-36 season and can’t be counted on to play as big a role as he did earlier in his career in Portland and Dallas, but he and the Bucks have established a good relationship, so perhaps he’ll be back on a minimum-salary contract to fill out the roster.

Nwora’s free agency will be more interesting. Although he wasn’t part of the playoff rotation, the 23-year-old took some promising steps forward in his second NBA season, bumping his scoring average to 7.9 PPG and hitting 34.8% of his threes. An athletic forward with some defensive upside, Nwora could be a useful piece for Milwaukee going forward — the Bucks will have to hope no rival suitors aggressively try to pry the restricted free agent away from them.

In the frontcourt, Bobby Portis has played on a below-market deal in each of the last two seasons, but has certainly earned a raise, particularly after filling in for Lopez at center for much of 2021/22. Holding his Early Bird rights, the Bucks will be able to give Portis a deal starting up to approximately $11MM. It will be interesting to see whether they’re more inclined to pay up for Portis than they were for P.J. Tucker a year ago.

Even if the Bucks retain Portis, more changes at the center spot could be around the corner. Lopez is coming off back surgery, is 34 years old, and will be on an expiring $13.9MM contract in 2022/23, so I wouldn’t be surprised if his name pops up in trade rumors. While Lopez’s ability to hit three-pointers and protect the rim has value, the Bucks would probably love to have a center more capable of handling switches and guarding out to the perimeter.

In his prime, Serge Ibaka was that sort of player, but he’s coming off a back surgery of his own and didn’t look like his old self this past season. If his medicals look OK and he’s willing to sign at a bargain rate, perhaps a return to Milwaukee is possible, but otherwise I’d expect the club to look elsewhere for center depth.

While Bucks ownership has shown that it’s prepared to pay luxury tax bills, I don’t get the sense that they’re willing to go into Warriors or Clippers territory, so if Portis, Connaughton, and Nwora all seek raises, I wouldn’t necessarily count on all three returning — one of the wings could be the odd man out.

Depending on how much they spend to retain their own free agents, the Bucks may try to bring in another rotation piece using the taxpayer mid-level exception. It’ll be worth about $6.4MM, but spending it could cost exponentially more if team salary is well above the tax line.

One move to watch out for is the possibility of the Bucks trading down in the draft from No. 24 to the second round. Even though late first-round picks aren’t particularly expensive, second-rounders who are on minimum-salary contracts are significantly more affordable for tax purposes. So if, for instance, Orlando is willing to offer No. 32 and No. 35 to move up to No. 24, I think the Bucks would be intrigued by the idea, since locking in a couple low-cost roster spots may make them more comfortable about spending elsewhere.


Salary Cap Situation

Note: Our salary cap figures are based on the league’s latest projection ($122MM) for 2022/23.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents

Two-Way Free Agents

Draft Picks

  • No. 24 overall pick ($2,451,840)
  • Total: $2,451,840

Extension-Eligible Players

Note: These are players who are either already eligible for an extension or will become eligible before the 2022/23 season begins.

  • Pat Connaughton (veteran) 2
  • Brook Lopez (veteran)
  • Khris Middleton (veteran)

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds

Offseason Cap Outlook

With $140MM+ in guaranteed money committed to just six players, the Bucks are on track to go well beyond the projected $149MM tax line even if they just let all their free agents walk and trade their first-round pick. More realistically, at least one of those two free agents will be back and Milwaukee’s team salary will likely increase beyond the $160MM spent on player salaries this past season.

Cap Exceptions Available

  • Taxpayer mid-level exception: $6,392,000 4
  • Trade exception: $1,517,981

Footnotes

  1. Vildoza’s salary will become partially guaranteed ($500K) after the first day of the regular season.
  2. Connaughton would only be eligible if his option is exercised.
  3. The cap hold for Teague remains on the Bucks’ books from a prior season because he hasn’t been renounced. He can’t be used in a sign-and-trade deal.
  4. These are projected values.

Salary and cap information from Basketball Insiders and RealGM was used in the creation of this post.

2022 NBA Offseason Preview: Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies made the play-in tournament in 2020 and then earned the West’s No. 8 seed in 2021, making it clear they were a team on the rise. Still, not many of us expected that rise to accelerate as quickly as it did in 2021/22, when Memphis won 56 games, the second-most in the NBA.

While Ja Morant‘s ascent to an All-NBA level played a significant part in the Grizzlies’ own ascent up the standings – and earned him a Most Improved Player awardTaylor Jenkins‘ team exhibited an impressive ability to win even without its star point guard in the lineup. Memphis went 20-5 in games Morant missed, finding a way to get positive contributions from players far down on the depth chart.

The growth of a young squad like the Grizzlies isn’t always linear, so we shouldn’t pencil the team in for 60-plus wins in 2022/23. But with Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. around for the long haul and several solid supporting players around them, Memphis has a solid foundation to build on and, barring disaster, shouldn’t backslide into lottery territory anytime soon.


The Grizzlies’ Offseason Plan:

I referred above to Morant as “around for the long haul,” but he and the Grizzlies still need to make that official. That should be one of the first – and most straightforward – orders of business for the team this offseason. Morant will become eligible on July 1 for a maximum-salary rookie scale extension, and I expect Memphis to immediately put that offer on the table.

The Grizzlies’ offer will likely include Rose Rule language that allows Morant to earn a starting salary of up to 30% of the 2023/24 salary cap (instead of 25%) if he meets certain performance criteria. Even though he earned an All-NBA spot this year, Morant would have to make an All-NBA team again next season to qualify for the higher max — the Rose Rule criteria require a player to make All-NBA in either the season before his new contract goes into effect or in two of the three prior seasons.

About a week before they complete an extension with Morant, the Grizzlies will have some decisions to make on draft night. Namely, do they want to use their two first-round selections to add more young players to their current core, or is it time to start cashing in some of their draft picks for veteran help?

Memphis holds the 22nd and 29th overall picks this year and narrowly missed out on adding a third first-rounder in the lottery. The Grizzlies are perhaps the only one of 29 rivals disappointed by just how badly the Lakers struggled this season, since they would’ve acquired L.A.’s first-round pick if it had ended up outside of the top 10. The Lakers finished so far down the standings that their pick landed at No. 8 and went to New Orleans instead, denying the Grizzlies an opportunity to truly load up on 2022 draft assets. Instead of the Lakers’ first-rounder, they received a pair of second-rounders, including this year’s No. 47 pick.

Without that extra first-rounder, the Grizzlies won’t have as many options to take a truly big swing — neither the No. 22 nor No. 29 pick will bring back an impact player on its own, though perhaps the team will explore attaching one or both selections to a player like Steven Adams or Dillon Brooks in search of an upgrade. Adams, Brooks, and Brandon Clarke are among Memphis’ rotation players who will be entering contract years and will be eligible for extensions this offseason.

Keeping one or both first-round picks isn’t a bad fall-back option. After all, this Grizzlies front office snagged Desmond Bane with the 30th overall pick of the 2020 draft. A pick that successful won’t be easy to replicate, but it’s a reminder that finding a core piece late in the first round isn’t out of the question.

The Grizzlies also face major decisions on a pair of key free agents, Tyus Jones and Kyle Anderson, and it’ll be fascinating to see how the team approaches negotiations with two of its top ball-handlers.

Few point guards take care of the ball like Jones, who has led all qualifying players in assist-to-turnover ratio for four straight seasons. He also knocked down a career-high 39.0% of his three-point attempts in 2021/22.

Memphis would presumably like to bring Jones back, but the club should be wary of trying to outbid rival suitors if he’s offered more than mid-level type money. He averaged just 17.1 MPG in his 50 games as a reserve this season and doesn’t project to be part of the team’s starting or closing lineups going forward. If the Grizzlies are willing to go up to the neighborhood of $12-15MM per year for Jones, it’s likely because they have some concerns about Morant’s durability and view Jones as a reliable insurance policy.

Anderson, meanwhile, took a step back in ’21/22 following his best season as a pro a year earlier, but he has proven during his four years in Memphis to be a reliable secondary play-maker and a versatile defender, playing minutes both on the wing and as a small-ball power forward. The Grizzlies have enough depth that they shouldn’t feel pressure to overpay Anderson, but it would be nice to have him back, especially if there’s any uncertainty about whether 2021 first-rounders Ziaire Williams and Santi Aldama are ready for increased roles.

There are a couple other factors the Grizzlies must consider as they debate whether to bring back Jones and/or Anderson. One is their salary cap situation — the team could theoretically clear upwards of $20MM in cap space by letting those two players walk, which could come in handy in free agency or on the trade market.

The other factor to consider is Memphis’ roster count. Retaining John Konchar and using both of their first-round picks would leave the Grizzlies with 14 players under contract and only one open spot on their 15-man regular season roster. Making a consolidation (ie. two-for-one) trade or moving one or both of their first-rounders could help clear that logjam if the Grizzlies want to ensure there’s room for both Jones and Anderson without waiving any players on guaranteed salaries.


Salary Cap Situation

Note: Our salary cap figures are based on the league’s latest projection ($122MM) for 2022/23.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

  • John Konchar ($1,460,000) 1
  • Total: $1,460,000

Restricted Free Agents

  • None

Two-Way Free Agents

Draft Picks

  • No. 22 overall pick ($2,660,280)
  • No. 29 overall pick ($2,180,520)
  • No. 47 overall pick (no cap hold)
  • Total: $4,840,800

Extension-Eligible Players

Note: These are players who are either already eligible for an extension or will become eligible before the 2022/23 season begins.

  • Steven Adams (veteran)
  • Dillon Brooks (veteran)
  • Brandon Clarke (rookie scale)
  • John Konchar (veteran)
  • De’Anthony Melton (veteran)
  • Ja Morant (rookie scale)
  • Xavier Tillman (veteran)

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds

Offseason Cap Outlook

We’re assuming the Grizzlies will attempt to re-sign at least one of Anderson and Jones and will operate as an over-the-cap team, but they don’t necessarily have to go in that direction.

Memphis could open up nearly $20MM in cap space simply by letting their free agents walk, and could push that number even higher by trading one or both of their first-round picks or some guaranteed salary.

Cap Exceptions Available

  • Mid-level exception: $10,349,000 3
  • Bi-annual exception: $4,050,000 3
  • Trade exception: $4,054,695
  • Trade exception: $1,018,012
  • Trade exception: $119,844

Footnotes

  1. Konchar’s salary will become fully guaranteed after July 3.
  2. The Grizzlies can’t offer Culver a starting salary worth more than his cap hold, since his 2022/23 rookie scale option was declined.
  3. These are projected values. If the Grizzlies decide to go under the cap and use cap room, they’ll forfeit these exceptions (and their trade exceptions) and instead gain access to the room exception ($5,329,000).

Salary and cap information from Basketball Insiders and RealGM was used in the creation of this post.

2022 NBA Offseason Preview: Philadelphia 76ers

With his offseason trade request unresolved by the time the Sixers‘ season tipped off last October, the Ben Simmons saga was the dominant storyline looming over the franchise for the first half of 2021/22. The former No. 1 overall pick, citing mental health issues, didn’t just want to be traded — he didn’t want to ever play a game for Philadelphia again. He chose to sit out indefinitely and give up game checks while he waited for a deal to materialize.

The Sixers, led by a healthy Joel Embiid, held their own in the Eastern Conference playoff race without Simmons. And when they finally found a taker for him in February, they were able to pry former MVP James Harden away from the Nets, securing a more substantial return for their disgruntled All-Star than many league observers anticipated. With Embiid and Harden leading the way, the 76ers looked like legitimate title contenders.

Or that was the plan, at least. In actuality, Harden – perhaps bothered by a lingering hamstring injury – only occasionally looked like his old MVP self after arriving in Philadelphia, posting career-worst shooting averages (.402 FG%, .326 3PT%) in 21 regular season appearances as a Sixer and failing to elevate his game in the playoffs. Additionally, the 76ers’ depth, which was already somewhat lacking, took a hit in the Simmons deal when the team surrendered role players Seth Curry and Andre Drummond.

Embiid’s MVP-caliber play was enough to get the Sixers past the first round, but their season ended in the Eastern Conference Semifinals when they failed to solve Miami’s defense, registering an offensive rating (105.0) that was eight points below their regular season mark.

While the 76ers will be happy to have the Simmons standoff behind them, there are plenty of new questions for the front office to answer this offseason as Philadelphia attempts to get back to the NBA Finals for the first time in over two decades.


The Sixers’ Offseason Plan:

Harden was still an elite play-maker after joining the Sixers, averaging 10.5 assists per game down the stretch. But his shooting numbers and his relatively modest scoring average (his 21.0 PPG represented his lowest mark since he was a sixth man in Oklahoma City) are somewhat concerning for a 76ers team that will have to decide how significantly to invest in him this offseason.

You could talk yourself into the idea that Harden simply needed some time to adjust to a new team and a new system while dealing with the after-effects of a hamstring injury. And if you believe that, a long-term, maximum-salary contract this offseason is justifiable.

On the other hand, if you feel as if Harden’s declining numbers were more about his age (he’ll turn 33 in August) and you’re skeptical that he’ll ever recapture his Houston-era form, the prospect of paying him an average of $50MM+ per year for the next four or five seasons is worrisome, to say the least.

Harden has a $47.4MM player option for 2022/23 and will have to make a formal decision on it by June 29. Philadelphia’s ideal scenario might see Harden opting in for next season and giving the team an extra year to determine what his next contract should look like, but I suspect the 10-time All-Star won’t pick up that option unless he knows an extension is coming.

If the Sixers are reluctant about putting a lucrative long-term extension on the table, Harden could attempt to force their hand by opting out and becoming a free agent — he’d just need to be confident that at least one rival suitor would be prepared to seriously pursue him, creating leverage and putting pressure on Philadelphia to make a long-term offer.

Given how fond president of basketball operations Daryl Morey is of Harden, I expect the two sides will reach an agreement of some sort. It may not be a fully guaranteed five-year maximum-salary contract, but it feels like Harden has at least one more big payday coming this summer.

Re-signing Harden will ensure the Sixers operate well over the cap this offseason, so their options in free agency will be limited. Assuming Harden opts in or signs a new maximum-salary contract, Philadelphia would have to get creative in order to use the non-taxpayer mid-level exception or to acquire players via sign-and-trade (doing either would hard-cap team salary at around $155MM).

Taking the cap situation into account, the trade market may be Morey’s best bet to pursue roster upgrades, though the Sixers aren’t exactly loaded with trade assets either. The team has already sent out its 2023, 2025, and 2027 first-round picks and won’t want to part with breakout guard Tyrese Maxey.

Inexpensive young players like Matisse Thybulle, Jaden Springer, Shake Milton, Paul Reed, and Isaiah Joe would have value, but the 76ers may view some of those players as long-term keepers rather than trade chips. The club will soon have to make a decision on which category Thybulle, who is extension-eligible this offseason, falls into. Philadelphia has been reluctant to include him in trades to this point, but he hasn’t proven he can be a consistent two-way threat — he was a liability on offense in the postseason, barely warranting any attention from opposing defenses.

Of course, to acquire veteran talent, the Sixers will need to start with a more substantial salary-matching piece than those low-priced youngsters. Danny Green‘s $10MM expiring contract is one option, but it’s non-guaranteed, meaning it would count as $0 for outgoing purposes. The team could partially or fully guarantee that $10MM to make it more useful for salary matching, but the larger the guarantee, the less it’ll appeal to potential trade partners, since Green may not play at all in 2022/23 as he recovers from a torn ACL.

The Sixers have a more intriguing potential trade candidate in Tobias Harris, who is under contract for nearly $77MM for two more years. He’s far more expensive than Green and is on a multiyear deal, but he’s also healthy and would be a useful on-court contributor in ’22/23.

The 76ers would probably love to turn Harris’ salary slot into a more impactful third star, or perhaps into multiple rotation players with more reasonable cap hits, but doing so won’t be easy. At $38MM+ per year, Harris is – at best – a neutral value and will likely be viewed by most teams as a negative asset. Getting a solid return back for him would require the Sixers to attach young players and/or draft assets.

Because the Nets opted to defer their acquisition of the Sixers’ first-round pick to 2023, Philadelphia does have the No. 23 pick in this year’s draft, which could be used either in a trade or to add another affordable young player to the roster. I suspect Morey would prefer to trade the pick for a win-now piece — if the team goes that route, it’ll have to wait until after the draft to officially complete the deal, due to the Stepien rule.

Georges Niang and Furkan Korkmaz are two more possible trade candidates, though Korkmaz is coming off a down year and has two guaranteed seasons left on his contract, reducing his appeal to teams seeking flexibility.

Morey is known for his willingness to think outside the box, so it won’t be a surprise if the Sixers do some creative roster shuffling this summer and manage to add some solid complementary pieces, including perhaps a replacement for Green on the wing and a reliable backup center behind Embiid. But the team won’t have as much flexibility as it would like to make that happen.


Salary Cap Situation

Note: Our salary cap figures are based on the league’s latest projection ($122MM) for 2022/23.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

Team Options

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents

  • None

Two-Way Free Agents

Draft Picks

  • No. 23 overall pick ($2,553,960)
  • Total: $2,553,960

Extension-Eligible Players

Note: These are players who are either already eligible for an extension or will become eligible before the 2022/23 season begins.

  • James Harden (veteran) 3
  • Tobias Harris (veteran)
  • Isaiah Joe (veteran)
  • Shake Milton (veteran) 3
  • Matisse Thybulle (rookie scale)

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds

Offseason Cap Outlook

Letting Harden walk would actually open up a not-insignificant chunk of cap space for the Sixers, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where that happens. If Harden simply opts in, all that cap room goes away and Philadelphia will have over $136MM committed to just eight players, putting team salary well on its way to approaching or surpassing the projected luxury tax threshold of $149MM.

Cap Exceptions Available

  • Mid-level exception: $10,349,000 5
  • Bi-annual exception: $4,050,000 5
  • Trade exception: $1,669,178

Footnotes

  1. Green’s salary will become fully guaranteed after July 1.
  2. Joe’s salary will become fully guaranteed after the first day of the regular season.
  3. Harden and Milton would only be eligible if their options are exercised.
  4. The cap holds for Scott and O’Quinn remain on the Sixers’ books from prior seasons because they haven’t been renounced. They can’t be used in a sign-and-trade deal.
  5. These are projected values. If the Sixers approach or cross the tax line, they may not have access to the full mid-level exception and/or bi-annual exception and would instead be limited to the taxpayer mid-level exception ($6,392,000).

Salary and cap information from Basketball Insiders and RealGM was used in the creation of this post.

2022 NBA Offseason Preview: Utah Jazz

After posting the NBA’s best record (52-20) in 2020/21, the Jazz entered the ’21/22 season with championship aspirations and came out of the gate strong, winning 28 of their first 38 games.

In the second half of the season, however, injuries, inconsistently, and a frequently recurring inability to hold fourth-quarter leads plagued the Jazz, who went just 21-23 after their impressive start and failed to hit their stride in the postseason, falling in six games to Dallas in the first round.

It was a familiar script for Utah. The team has finished at least 14 games above .500 for six consecutive seasons but never won more than a single playoff series in any one of those years. The latest postseason exit will lead to more scrutiny than ever for the Jazz’s core, particularly since longtime head coach Quin Snyder stepped down from his role several weeks after the season ended, citing a desire to move on.

While the Jazz may be focused on their head coaching search for the time being, it’s safe to assume they’re also thinking long and hard about the extent to which the roster needs to be overhauled. It will be fascinating to see just how aggressive CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik decide to be this offseason.


The Jazz’s Offseason Plan:

Dating back at least to the time they both contracted COVID-19 in March 2020, there have been reports of tension between Jazz All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Although Mitchell and Gobert have repeatedly insisted publicly that there are no issues beyond occasional moments of ordinary on-court frustration, those whispers have persisted, leading to speculation that Utah will eventually break up the star duo.

Multiple reports so far this offseason have suggested the Jazz are shutting down inquiries on Mitchell, but appear more open to the idea of moving Gobert. If that’s true, it makes some sense. As terrific a rim protector as Gobert is – and he’s currently the NBA’s best – his impact on offense is limited and his game-changing defensive ability can be negated to some extent when Utah faces a five-out look.

The Jazz can live with those limitations, but doing so would be easier if Gobert wasn’t set to earn nearly $170MM over the next four years. The club would likely prefer to build a more flexible defense made up of several versatile, switchable players. Having a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate at the rim to back up those players would be ideal, but Gobert’s massive contract complicates the front office’s ability to acquire them — using him as a trade chip may be the best solution to diversify the roster.

Finding a suitable trade for Gobert won’t be easy. Other teams will be wary of his outsized cap hit and the things he can’t do on the court, so it may not be realistic for the Jazz to expect a massive return, especially since they’ll want players who can make an immediate impact, rather than prospects and draft picks. Teams with interest in trading for Gobert won’t be looking to give up multiple impact two-way players for him.

As they consider potential deals this offseason, the Jazz’s front office will likely have the Raptors on speed dial. Toronto has a hole at center and has several talented two-way wings and forwards on its roster, including Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, and Gary Trent Jr. — the Raptors won’t necessarily be willing to discuss all of those players (Barnes, certainly, isn’t going anywhere), but their abundance of starting-caliber forwards makes them an intriguing potential trade partner from Utah’s perspective.

Chicago has also been cited as a possible suitor for Gobert, but any deal between the Jazz and Bulls may hinge on how the two teams view former No. 4 overall pick Patrick Williams. The Bulls would have to be more willing to give him up than they were at the 2022 trade deadline, and the Jazz would have to like him enough to make him the centerpiece of a package for Gobert. I’m skeptical of the latter in particular.

The Jazz aren’t lacking in alternative trade candidates if they don’t find a Gobert deal they like. Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, Royce O’Neale, and Rudy Gay, among others, should all be available if the price is right.

Still, Utah will have to keep its expectations in check for what those veterans could realistically return — they’re solid rotation players and their contracts are reasonable enough, but they’re not major trade assets. None of them is going to be bring back two or three above-average rotation players like Gobert theoretically could. Any deals involving guys from this group would be more about swapping one veteran for another, creating a different look to the roster.

Of course, no Jazz player would warrant a more significant haul on the trade market than Mitchell, but it appears the organization won’t consider going down that path unless the former Louisville star says he wants out. There has been no indication that will happen this summer.

The Jazz’s ability to sweeten trade offers with draft picks will be limited. They have no selections in this year’s draft and have also traded away their 2024 first-rounder (top-10 protected). They could still trade up to two future first-rounders between 2026-29 as long as that ’24 pick doesn’t fall within its protected range for multiple years, but not every team will be swayed by draft assets so far down the road.

While most of Utah’s rotation players are under contract for 2022/23, some minimum-salary contributors will be free agents, including Hassan Whiteside, Danuel House, and Eric Paschall. If the Jazz can get them back at the minimum or something very close to it, it would make sense to do so, but the team already projects to be in the tax and will be reluctant to invest more heavily than that in players who are essentially eighth or ninth men. If Whiteside, House, or Paschall get offered substantial raises elsewhere, Utah will likely replace them with minimum-salary free agents.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the ongoing head coaching search represents one of the Jazz’s most important decisions of the offseason. Snyder was among the NBA’s longest-tenured coaches and was respected by his players. With the franchise at a crossroads, finding a Snyder replacement who is capable of coming in and demanding respect while creating stability would go a long way toward making sure the team doesn’t have to fully tear down its roster and start over within the next few years.


Salary Cap Situation

Note: Our salary cap figures are based on the league’s latest projection ($122MM) for 2022/23.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents

Two-Way Free Agents

  • None

Draft Picks

  • None

Extension-Eligible Players

Note: These are players who are either already eligible for an extension or will become eligible before the 2022/23 season begins.

  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker (rookie scale)
  • Bojan Bogdanovic (veteran)
  • Jordan Clarkson (veteran)
  • Juan Hernangomez (veteran)

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds

Offseason Cap Outlook

With over $148MM in guaranteed money committed to 10 players, the Jazz are on track to go well beyond the projected luxury tax line of $149MM. It’s possible they could avoid becoming a taxpayer if they make a cost-cutting trade or two, but there’s no realistic scenario in which they open up cap room. For now, we’re counting on them being limited to the taxpayer mid-level exception.

Cap Exceptions Available

  • Taxpayer mid-level exception: $6,392,000 2
  • Trade exception: $9,774,884
  • Trade exception: $1,517,981
  • Trade exception: $799,106
  • Trade exception: $567,564

Footnotes

  1. Hernangomez’s salary will become fully guaranteed after June 30.
  2. This is a projected value. The Jazz could instead have access to the full mid-level exception ($10,349,000) and bi-annual exception ($4,050,000) if they remain below the tax apron.

Salary and cap information from Basketball Insiders and RealGM was used in the creation of this post.