Top-flight guards highlight 2023 NBA free agency
USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt breaks down what we can expect to see when free agents officially become available in the NBA.
Sports Seriously, USA TODAY
The Houston Rockets want to spend and have the salary cap space to do so. The Phoenix Suns want to add more high-level talent but don’t have the salary cap space to do that without another major trade.
Free agency opens Friday at 6 p.m. ET, and several teams will look to improve their roster in hopes of elevating to playoff contender or championship contender. They may have to do that via trade, as may be the case for James Harden, who opted into the final season of his Philadelphia contract with the idea the Sixers will trade him.
Who will make the right moves? That will unfold during free agency via signings or trades.
Let’s take a look at free agent news as USA TODAY Sports keeps you updated:
All-Star guard Kyrie Irving will return to the Dallas Mavericks on a three-year, $126 million contract, a person familiar with the deal told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly until the deal is official.
Forward Draymond Green, one of the best defenders in the league and a four-time All-Star, plans to sign a four-year, $100 million contract with the Golden State Warriors, a person familiar with the agreement told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly until the deal is official.
Khris Middleton will return to the Milwaukee Bucks on a three-year, $102 million contract, his agent, Jeff Schwartz, confirmed to USA TODAY Sports.
Gabe Vincent is headed to Los Angeles after agreeing to a two-year, $22 million deal that includes a team option on the second year of the deal, a person familiar with the deal told USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity. Vincent averaged a career-high 9.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists during the regular season for the Miami Heat and averaged 11.4 points during the 2023 NBA Finals.
Cam Johnson is staying put in Brooklyn. Johnson and the Nets agreed to a four-year, $108 million deal, according to ESPN. Johnson averaged a career-high 16.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.1 assist in 25 games for Brooklyn last season after the Phoenix Suns dealt Johnson to the Nets in February in the Kevin Durant trade.
Center Jakob Poeltl is staying in Toronto, agreeing to a four-year, $80 million contract with the Raptors, a person familiar with the terms told USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity. Poeltl, whose new deal includes a player option, averaged 13.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks last season after he was traded back to the Raptors by the Spurs.
Forward Yuta Watanabe has agreed to a deal with the Phoenix Suns, according to The Athletic. Watanabe averaged 5.6 points per game last season and shot 44% from the 3-point line with the Brooklyn Nets.
Guard Tre Jones is returning to San Antonio, agreeing to a two-year, $20 million deal with the Spurs, according to ESPN. Jones averaged career highs in points (12.9) and assists (6.6) per game last season.
Guard Jevon Carter has agreed to a three-year, $20 million contract with the Chicago Bulls, a person familiar with the terms told USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity. Carter averaged a career-high 8 points with the Milwaukee Bucks last season.
Georges Niang is headed to Cleveland. Niang agreed to a three-year, $26 million contract with the Cavaliers, a person familiar with the terms told USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity. Niang spent the last two seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers. He averaged 8.2 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1 assist last season.
The Los Angeles Lakers plan to offer restricted free agent Austin Reaves a four-year, $52 million contract, according to ESPN. Other teams can offer Reaves as much as $100 million, but, since he is a restricted free agent, the Lakers can match any offer to retain the guard, who broke out during L.A.’s Western Conference finals run last season.
Forward Taurean Prince has agreed to a one-year, $4.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, according to ESPN. Prince spent the past two seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he averaged 8.1 points per game.
Forward Troy Brown Jr. has agreed to a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves, according to ESPN. Brown averaged 7.1 points per game last season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Forward Jerami Grant reached a deal to return to the Portland Trail Blazers on a five-year, $160 million contract, a person familiar with the terms told USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity.
Bruce Brown, who played a pivotal role in Denver’s championship run, agreed to a two-year, $45 million deal with the Indiana Pacers, a person familiar with the terms told USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity. The Nuggets couldn’t offer Brown that much and other teams who wanted to sign him, such as the Lakers, only had the mid-level exception at $12.4 million per season to offer Brown.
Kyle Kuzma is returning to Washington. Kuzma agreed to a four-year, $102 million deal Friday to remain with the Wizards, a person familiar with the agreement told USA TODAY Sports. Kuzma averaged 21.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists last season on the Wizards, a team that appeared to be in rebuild mode after offloading several players this offseason, including Bradley Beal. But Kuzma will not be one of them.
Forward Trey Lyles will return to the Sacramento Kings on a two-year, $16 million deal, a person familiar with the agreement told USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity so that they could speak freely before the deal is official.
Guard Caris LeVert is staying in Cleveland after agreeing to a two-year, $32 million contract with the Cavaliers, per ESPN.
Guard Coby White has agreed to a three-year, $40 million contract to stay with the Chicago Bulls, according to ESPN.
The Detroit Pistons acquired guard Joe Harris from the Brooklyn Nets in a trade, a person familiar with the details told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly until the deal is official. The Pistons will also acquire two second-round picks (2027 and 2029) in a deal that removes the final season of Harris’ deal at $19.9 million from Brooklyn’s books. Harris will be an unrestricted free agent following next season. The Nets created a $19.9 million trade exception to use in the offseason or next season.
Who is available?
Controversial guard Kyrie Irving, who spent the last part of 2022-23 with the Dallas Mavericks after a trade from the Brooklyn Nets, is an unrestricted free agent. Golden State’s Draymond Green and Toronto’s Fred VanVleet also are available. See the other big-name free agents here.
James Harden will not become a free agent
Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden will opt into the final season of his $35.6 million contract with the idea that the Sixers will trade Harden, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly until there is a resolution. Harden, the 2017-18 regular-season NBA MVP, was expected to become a free agent with the possibility of re-signing with Philadelphia or returning to Houston.
Harrison Barnes, Kings agree to extension
Forward Harrison Barnes reached a three-year, $54 million extension to remain with the Sacramento Kings. Barnes averaged 15 points and 4.5 rebounds and shot 47.3% from the field last season. The 31-year-old Barnes started every game last season – one of only three NBA players to do so – and helped the Kings reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Josh Hart commits to Knicks for 2023-24
New York Knicks guard Josh Hart, who had a productive season, including some strong games in the playoffs, picked up the option year on his contract for $12.9 million, ESPN and The Athletic reported. Hart averaged 10.4 points and 7.4 rebounds and shot 47.9% from the field in 11 playoff games.
What we’re hearing about free agency
Harden’s decision not to become a free agent and find a trade out of Philadelphia will alter the landscape of the 2023-24 season. …
Irving plans to meet with the Phoenix Suns once free agency opens, but the Suns do not have the salary cap space, according to Chris Haynes of TNT and Bleacher Report. It would have to be a significant sign-and-trade, and regardless of Irving, who also could return to Dallas, watch for Phoenix center Deandre Ayton’s name to come up in trade scenarios, too. …
VanVleet will get paid. The Rockets are willing to offer a two-year deal in the neighborhood of $80 million, and while the Raptors have interest in retaining the All-Star caliber guard, the Raptors are closer to a deal in the three-year, $90 million range as they weigh other financial obligations, present and future. …
The Rockets are willing to spend money as they try to expedite their rebuild under first-year coach Ime Udoka. They also have interest in Brook Lopez, but as veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein reported, it looks like Lopez will re-sign with Milwaukee, which also wants to bring back Khris Middleton. …
The Magic are an interesting team to watch. They have solid young players in 2022-23 Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero and 2021-22 All-Rookie performer Franz Wagner, and they had a strong 2023 draft, selecting Anthony Black No. 6 and Jett Howard No. 11. The Magic were in the play-in hunt until late in the season and were close to a .500 team the second half of the season. Don’t be surprised if they spend some money on a short-term deal to preserve salary cap space beyond 2023-24. …
Green plans to keep an open mind in free agency as Golden State would like him back. Figuring out salary and length of contract are the main issues. Three or four years at $25 million per season could get that deal done between Green and Golden State. Outside of the Warriors, Sacramento and Detroit are expected to have interest. New Suns owner Mat Ishbia, who like Green played basketball at Michigan State, would love to add Green, but that would require a significant sign-and-trade. …
The night Denver won the title, key reserve Brown said money wasn’t the only thing. However, he declined the final season of his deal to become a free agent this summer, and he will have interest including some from the Lakers, who lost to the Nuggets in the Western Conference finals. …
It’s out there to some degree, but the Kawhi Leonard-Paul George pairing could be coming to an end as the Clippers explore trade possibilities, especially now that Harden is available via trade.
Which teams have considerable salary cap space?
San Antonio Spurs
Oklahoma City Thunder
What is an unrestricted free agent?
The most common free agent is an unrestricted one. Simply put, an unrestricted free agent can sign with any team they wish. Once that contract is officially signed, the player is part of the new team.
What is a restricted free agent?
This is where it gets a little complicated. A restricted free agent can sign an offer sheet with any team, but the player’s original team has the chance to retain the player by matching the offer.
For example, if restricted free agent Austin Reaves is offered a contract by the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Lakers have the right to match the offer and retain Reaves. The NBA says the original team has the “right of first refusal.”
Restricted free agents exist in these situations: following the fourth year of a rookie contract for former first-round picks; veteran free agents who have three seasons or less of experience; and a player coming off a two-way contract who previously spent at least 15 days on an NBA roster the prior season. (A two-way contract allows a player to suit up for an NBA team or its G League affiliate).