NBA free agency 2022: Start date, primer on top players, teams with salary cap space, rumors, predictions

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NBA free agency takes center stage with the 2022 NBA Finals and draft behind us. With Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook already making their decisions on player options and John Wall working toward a buyout with the Houston Rockets, the focus is now on James Harden, Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine and Deandre Ayton. Decisions on player options are due by 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, with free agency opening at 6 p.m. ET Thursday. Here's a primer on everything you need to know leading up to free agency.

When does 2022 NBA free agency begin?

Thursday, June 30, at 6 p.m. ET.

Which NBA teams have salary cap space?

Only the Detroit Pistons (a little more than $40 million), San Antonio Spurs (roughly $33 million), Orlando Magic ($28 million), Indiana Pacers ($26 million) and New York Knicks ($25 million) are projected to have significant cap space this summer. The Memphis Grizzlies could join them if they lose key free agents.

A boon in sign-and-trade transactions for star players over the last few years leaves room for other teams to negotiate with free agents, but they face the prospect of parting with assets for their seat at the table.

Who are the biggest-name NBA free agents?

That depends.

James Harden

The 32-year-old, one-time MVP can become an unrestricted free agent, but that would mean declining his $47.4 million option to play for the Philadelphia 76ers for next season, which he is not expected to do. Multiple reports suggest the Sixers will offer him a two-year extension once he opts in.

James Harden of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts against the Miami Heat during the first half in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals of the NBA playoffs at FTX Arena on May 10, 2022 in Miami.
Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden could become an unrestricted free agent. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Bradley Beal

The 29-year-old three-time All-Star for the Washington Wizards, can decline a $36.4 million option for next season and seek a starting salary of $43 million in free agency. While other suitors can offer a four-year, $184 million maximum contract, the Wizards can sign him to a five-year, $248 million max deal. Beal, with his 64 million guaranteed reasons to remain in Washington, is expected to stay put this summer.

Zach LaVine

The 27-year-old two-time All-Star guard for the Chicago Bulls, will be unrestricted when free agency begins. Bulls general manager Marc Eversley told reporters last week, "We’re prepared to do what it will take to bring Zach back in the fold," which in essence means presenting him with a five-year, $212 million maximum contract offer. Multiple reports indicate LaVine will accept that offer to stay in Chicago.

Deandre Ayton

The 23-year-old No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, is a restricted free agent for the Phoenix Suns. He did not receive the maximum contract extension he wanted — and many of his Class of 2018 peers received — prior to last season, which caused some friction between him and his incumbent team. He now has one of four options: 1) re-sign with the Suns; 2) sign an offer sheet elsewhere, which Phoenix can (and should) match; 3) seek a sign-and-trade deal to another team; or 4) play the final season of his rookie contract on a $16.4 million qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent next season.

Jalen Brunson

The 25-year-old former second-round draft pick, is an unrestricted free agent. His stock is peaking on the heels of a productive playoff performance. The New York Knicks, who opened $18 million in salary cap space on draft night and could clear more this summer, are expected to make Brunson a sizable four-year offer at the start of free agency, league sources told Yahoo Sports. The Dallas Mavericks, who drafted Brunson No. 33 overall in 2018, are the only team that can give him a fifth year on his next contract.

Miles Bridges

The 24-year-old 20-point scorer for the Charlotte Hornets, is a restricted free agent. He reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million extension offer from the Hornets prior to this past season and submitted a yearlong audition to be paid twice that by potential suitors. Charlotte is the only team that can offer him a fifth guaranteed year, but the Hornets may balk at matching a four-year offer sheet in the $120 million range, should Bridges find one elsewhere, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.

John Wall

The 31-year-old five-time All-Star, agreed to a buyout of the final year of his contract with the Houston Rockets, according to Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes. Wall, who did not play in Houston last season and has played just 40 games since the 2018 calendar year for reasons both injury- and tanking-related, is expected to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers once he clears waivers, Haynes reported.

Who are the other intriguing NBA free agents?

While the marquee may not be filled with headliners, there are plenty of would-be contributors to playoff teams available in free agency. That, too, depends on what needs a team is willing to fill and at what cost. Many of these players will be competing to fill available salary-cap space or one of the league's 30 midlevel exceptions, mostly ranging from a starting salary of $10.2 million (non-taxpayer) to $6.33 million (taxpayer).

Anfernee Simons and Collin Sexton

A pair of productive 23-year-old scorers, are respectively restricted free agents of the Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers. Either may command $20 million annually.

Kevon Looney, Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica

They rounded out the rotation for the reigning champion Golden State Warriors and are all unrestricted free agents. "We’ve kept all the players we want to keep, so I don’t see that changing," Warriors general manager Bob Myers told Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill, even if any contract they sign will cost team ownership multifold in luxury tax penalties.

Goran Dragic, Andre Drummond and Victor Oladipo

The trio of former All-Stars turned veterans for hire are unrestricted free agents at varying stages of careers in decline. Dragic is 36 years old, nearing the twilight of his career. Andre Drummond is still only 28, manning center in a league that values his position less and less. Oladipo turned 30 and has not played more than 36 games in a season since 2017-18.

Kyle Anderson, Bruce Brown, Jevon Carter, Montrezl Harrell, Gary Harris, Isaiah Hartenstein, Danuel House Jr., Tyus Jones, Malik Monk, Jusuf Nurkic, Bobby Portis, Mitchell Robinson and T.J. Warren

All unrestricted free agents yet to reach their 30th birthdays who could command real playoff minutes.

Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Ricky Rubio, P.J. Tucker and Thaddeus Young

All 10-year veteran unrestricted free agents who have been meaningful contributors to playoff teams for several years running.

Nic Claxton, Donte DiVincenzo, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin

All under-27 restricted free agents who earned minutes for winning teams on their rookie contracts, likely warranting raises on their next deals.

Which NBA players are due a contract extension?

That list is richer than any other.

• Members of the 2019 draft class are eligible for rookie-scale contract extensions, headlined by nascent All-Stars Darius Garland, Ja Morant and Zion Williamson. They are eligible to sign for five years and $186 million, a number that would balloon to $223 million for any of them who make an All-NBA team in 2023.

• Other Class of 2019 draftees who could land big extensions this summer: Tyler Herro, Jordan Poole, RJ Barrett, De'Andre Hunter, Cameron Johnson, P.J. Washington, Keldon Johnson and Grant Williams.

Nikola Jokic, the NBA's two-time reigning MVP, is eligible for a five-year, $260 million supermax extension. The Denver Nuggets have said they will offer him that deal, and he has said he will accept it.

Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns, with All-NBA selections this past season, are now eligible for four-year, $211 million supermax extensions from the Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves, respectively.

• Most veterans become eligible for extensions when they have two or fewer years remaining on a long-term deal. That list includes LeBron James, who is eligible for a two-year, $97.1 million extension from the Los Angeles Lakers. He could also use his 2023 free agency as leverage against the struggling Lakers.

• Other notable players who are eligible for nine-figure extensions: Harden, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Khris Middleton, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, D'Angelo Russell, Pascal Siakam, CJ McCollum, Fred VanVleet, Nikola Vucevic, Kevin Love and Jerami Grant.

What's up with Kyrie Irving?

Who knows?

The short answer: Irving exercised his $36.9 million option for the 2022-23 season, meaning he will, in all likelihood, play this season for the Brooklyn Nets and become an unrestricted free agent next year.

He had previously secured permission to seek sign-and-trade opportunities elsewhere, which would have called Kevin Durant's commitment to the Nets into question, but the lack of interest outside a paltry Lakers package made the decision for Irving. The mercurial seven-time All-Star, who has turned his back on every NBA franchise he has ever known, seemingly on a whim, now has another season to resurrect his value.

Let us not get too deep into the long answer. The Nets can still trade Irving or extend him. His partnership with fellow unpredictable stars Durant and Ben Simmons could either produce a championship or another first-round playoff sweep in Brooklyn. Anything is on the table for a player who upon opting into his contract told us, "Normal people keep the world going, but those who dare to be different lead us into tomorrow."

And that, my friends, is your 2022 NBA free-agency primer.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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