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Free agency almost (and already) underway
The afterglow from the recent championship parade in Milwaukee, for some Bucks fans, lasted only so long. I have heard from several dismayed by the copious amounts of free-agent chatter that quickly began to circulate in the wake of Thursday's NBA Draft.
NBA free agency, of course, doesn't officially start until Monday at 6 p.m. ET. This has led to cries of inequity from a fan base that watched its team get punished for reportedly coming to terms with Sacramento and Bogdan Bogdanović on a sign-and-trade before free agency started last November and now sees so much coverage already about the Miami Heat's and other teams' intentions on the open market.
How the league ultimately reacts to the way this offseason has started — whether it sees a distinction between reports about various teams' plans and what was firmly reported as a done-deal acquisition of Bogdanović — remains to be seen. Yet it seems clear, given the constant player-movement scenarios flying around all weekend, that roughly 30 teams did not wait for the bell to move fully into free agency mode, even after the Bucks were forced to abandon their pursuit of Bogdanović nine months ago.
Also clear: We needed to do something different this week with free agency formally starting on a Monday night. So there will be no Tuesday newsletter extravaganza at lunch time like usual since, well, who would stop to read it just 18 hours into the frenzy? Let's proceed instead with one more roundup of what I’m hearing before the madness is actually allowed to begin.
The LA Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard and Phoenix’s Chris Paul are the biggest names in the marketplace, but both are widely expected to re-sign with their current teams, making Miami’s ambitious plans the early expected focus of free agency.
The Heat were perceived in some corners to have a mental edge over Milwaukee entering the teams’ first-round series after Miami handled the Bucks so comfortably in five games in last summer’s Walt Disney World bubble. Now the Heat are intent on aggressively remaking a roster that could not prevent a humbling sweep against the eventual champions in their Round 1 rematch.
We’ve been reporting for days that the Heat would be at the forefront of the chase for Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, but that’s merely where the ambition starts for Pat Riley. While Miami is expected by numerous rival teams to execute a sign-and-trade for Lowry with a package to the Raptors headlined by Goran Dragić’s $19.4 million expiring contract and Precious Achiuwa, who is said to be coveted by Riley’s Toronto counterpart Masai Ujiri, it also emerged Sunday that the Heat are exploring pathways to try to acquire San Antonio free agent DeMar DeRozan via sign-and-trade. Pulling that complicated move off would reunite Lowry and DeRozan, dear friends from their Toronto days, on South Beach alongside Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
The Heat, I’m told, are likewise strong favorites to re-sign restricted free agent sharpshooter Duncan Robinson with or without the addition of DeRozan and are believed to be attempting to make all of these moves without surrendering Tyler Herro via trade. Longtime Heat executive Andy Elisburg, regarded as one of the league’s foremost salary-cap savants, will only add to his legend if Miami can get all that done.
The lack of star power in a free-agent class of nearly 200 players — there are 195, to be precise, according to my pal @KeithSmithNBA — is offset somewhat by the numerous marquee players eligible for contract extensions this summer. There are almost too many to list and the forthcoming extensions they sign will give this August more weight than it would have otherwise carried.
Golden State’s Stephen Curry, I’m told, will soon be agreeing to a four-year, $215 million extension with the Warriors.
Dallas’ Luka Dončić has long been expected to finalize a five-year, $202 million extension at the earliest opportunity this summer, but league sources stress that no deal is expected until after the Olympics, with Dončić intent on keeping all his attention focused on Slovenia’s bid to win a medal in its first Olympic appearance in men’s basketball.
From the same 2018 draft class as Dončić, Atlanta’s Trae Young, Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. are all strong candidates for five-year deals worth $168 million starting at midnight ET. There is a strong expectation that the Thunder, despite suggestions they were open to trading him in connection with a move into the upper echelon of last week’s draft, regard Gilgeous-Alexander as a cornerstone to go with all of the draft picks they’ve amassed and indeed plan to extend him. Don’t forget that Oklahoma City, in a testament to the guard’s talent, was a surprisingly competitive 19-24 until Gilgeous-Alexander was shelved for the rest of the season in late March with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot.
Every member of Brooklyn’s Big Three is extension-eligible this summer: Kevin Durant ($193 million over four years), James Harden ($161 million over three years) and Kyrie Irving ($182 million over four years).
Miami’s Jimmy Butler (eligible for the same deal as Irving) will also be getting a mammoth extension as part of the Heat’s frenzy of moves, and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid ($191 million over four years) is extension-eligible, too.
In addition to what many regard as the inevitable return of Dwight Howard for a third go-round in Hollywood, San Antonio’s Patty Mills and Detroit’s Wayne Ellington are two prime free agents of interest for the Los Angeles Lakers as L.A. hunts for bargains (and shooters) to fill out the rest of its roster after trading for Russell Westbrook. Keeping Alex Caruso, though, will be very difficult for the Lakers given their extremely limited financial flexibility in the wake of the Westbrook deal and the considerable interest Caruso is expected to generate. … Boston, I’m told, has interest in an Isaiah Thomas reunion, with new Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens known to be one of Thomas’ biggest fans. … The Kings are said to be preparing an offer in the $50 million range to bring back in-demand center Richaun Holmes – with Holmes said to be seeking bigger numbers. … Chicago’s desire to sign New Orleans restricted free-agent point guard Lonzo Ball to an offer sheet was among the most frequently cited scenarios in discussions with various league executives throughout the weekend. … Rival teams interested in Bobby Portis are highly pessimistic that they can pry Portis away from Milwaukee, despite the Bucks’ financial constraints in trying to keep him, and Dallas is even more of a lock to re-sign Dončić’s close friend Boban Marjanović. Beyond the extension for Dončić, retaining Marjanović is the one certainty about the Mavericks’ offseason that has already seen them move away from a planned pursuit of Lowry.
The New York Knicks are projected to have more than $50 million in salary-cap space in a summer when few teams have meaningful room. The San Antonio Spurs are projected to have more than $40 million in space.
What those teams do with such rare and valuable resources ranks high among the league’s current mysteries. Evan Fournier to the Knicks? Restricted free agent Lauri Markkanen to the Spurs with San Antonio’s presumed No. 1 target, Atlanta RFA John Collins, billed now as such a strong bet to stay with the Hawks? Those are two oft-mentioned possibilities.
On top of everything going on in The Transaction Game, four men’s Olympic quarterfinals in Tokyo will be played Monday night into Tuesday morning U.S. time. Slovenia meets Germany at 9 p.m. ET, followed by the United States against Spain at 12:40 a.m.
Some notes from me, via Twitter, about the unexpectedly difficult road that an American team short on continuity faces to win a fourth successive gold medal: