5 players to watch entering 2023 NBA free agency
Jun 28, 2023, 2:00 PM | Updated: 2:00 pm
Just like that, 2023 NBA free agency is officially upon us!
Despite the free agency window officially opens Friday at 3 p.m. PST, the NBA has already seen a few deals get over. Center Naz Reid and the Minnesota Timberwolves agreed to a three-year, $42 million deal this week, while center Nikola Vucevic is also nearing a deal with the Chicago Bulls on a three-year, $60 million contract Wednesday.
It’s the offseason in the NBA, but the rumors are just starting to heat up as we move closer to free agency. With that being said, here are five players to watch across the landscape of the league over the next week.
Every offseason there seems to be a Damian Lillard move on the horizon, and every offseason, nothing happens. This time around is no different, with rumors of Miami and Brooklyn being the preferred destinations for Dame Dolla.
Well not so fast.
The Portland Trail Blazers met with Lillard and his agent Aaron Goodwin Monday to discuss the team’s outlook for the year. After keeping the No. 3 overall pick in last week’s draft to take Scoot Henderson, some speculated if now was the time for Lillard to ask for a trade away. But that doesn’t appear to be the case.
“I met with Dame and Aaron Goodwin this afternoon. We had a great dialogue. We remain committed to building a winner around Dame,” general manager Joe Cronin said, via team statement Monday.
"From what I understand, the tender of the meeting was that he doesn't want to put pressure on the Blazers… it did take some people… by surprise that [Damian Lillard] didn't go forward with what everyone was expecting him to do."
— Brian Windhorstpic.twitter.com/2oQSKGkkfc
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) June 27, 2023
Whether you believe them or not, all signs continue to point to the partnership carrying on into the foreseeable future. In fact, Lillard has made it clear to the front office that he wants to wait & see what they do in free agency over the next week or so, being even more patient with the organization.
“He doesn’t want to be on a team where it’s just 3 All-Stars or 3 superstars…He just wants a team that has a shot,” Chris Haynes said on a podcast recently about Lillard.
But at the end of the day, is that enough?
Depending on what Portland does over the next two weeks could change the mind of their franchise guy. If the team is unwilling to make big moves or sign big names, could he then ask for a trade elsewhere?
"Dame knows the Blazers can't build a champion in the next week. … The moment that Scoot Henderson was drafted, and you didn't trade that pick for a veteran, was the moment the decision was made, 'we need to turn the page.'"
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) June 27, 2023
Point being: There’s still some murkiness around the whole situation. Like the saying goes “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”, and something tells me the organization has something up their sleeves.
— Jusuf Nurkić 🇧🇦 (@bosnianbeast27) June 27, 2023
Only time will tell what that truly is, but for now, a Lillard move can’t be ruled out this summer.
Oh KAT, where to begin.
Hailed as Minnesota’s cornerstone to a new era back in 2015, his NBA tenure has been rocky to say the least. Him & Jimmy Butler didn’t click, he struggled to impact the team in a winning manner for years, and now he’s being superseded by Anthony Edwards for the top spot on the Timberwolves.
It’s time for a change of scenery for the former No.1 overall pick. But that doesn’t mean everyone feels the same, including Towns.
Speaking to GQ Sports in New York recently, KAT explained his stance as he enters a free-agency period where he could be dealt by the NBA franchise that drafted him. His thoughts may surprise a few, but they actually kind of make sense too.
“I just know I can control what I know and how my mindset is,” Towns told the magazine. “I’ve said I want to do great things in Minnesota and nothing in my mind has changed that. They’re the ones with the cards. They’ll let me know how they look at me in my eyes and that’s where we’ll go from.”
Translation: I know I can still be that guy for Minnesota, but they may haver other plans.
"I believe that it's time for the Minnesota Timberwolves to move on from Karl-Anthony Towns… That franchise belongs to Anthony Edwards… KAT has had his time & his opportunity to take over this franchise & he hasn't."
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) June 26, 2023
If the Timberwolves are going to move off one of their stars, now would be the time. Already strapped to $144 million, before free agency, is terrifying for a team that struggles to get out of the first round of the playoffs. And after taking for Rudy Gobert last summer, Minnesota’s options are limited to move money off the books.
The biggest calling card for Towns’ impeding departure is resigning big man Naz Reid to a three-year, $42 million deal this week. GM Tim Connelly and the front office love what Reid did last season with limited minutes, going for 11.9 points and 4.9 rebounds in 18 minutes a game. Per 36 minutes, that equals to 22.5 PPG and 9.6 RPG, which is better than what KAT did last season.
It’s a hard pill to swallow for the T-Wolves, but it’s time. Edwards is your star, you have to build around him with complementary pieces that will help them make deep runs in a few years. For now, trade Towns and recoup some draft assets and players lost in the Gobert trade.
Teams like the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks or Portland Trailblazers should be considered as destinations that have what Minnesota will be looking for in a potential deal.
After 12 years, the enforcer of the Golden State Warriors is on the market.
Declining his player option for $27.9 million next season means Draymond Green is looking for his last big NBA contract before he hits his mid-30s. That could mean a potential move to a new team, with both in-state and out-of-state teams vying for his services over the next week.
Brian Windhorst thinks the Pistons and Kings are the teams with enough to offer to pull Draymond Green from the Warriors 🗣️
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) June 26, 2023
There are two reasons the Warriors wouldn’t re-sign Green this offseason, and none of them have to do with his play. 1. The new CBA makes life hell for teams over the second luxury tax apron, unable to trade draft picks or use the mid-level exception. 2. The internal conflict between him and Jordan Poole.
After Green KO’d Poole during a practice, the season felt lost for the team. All the momentum from winning their fourth title in 10 years was washed away with one punch.
The tension only built as the season went on, with the rest of Warriors reportedly alienating Poole in support of Green. That hostile led to a weird year where the young prospect took a step back in his development, so much so that was practically unplayable in the postseason.
Ultimately, it led to Poole being shipped to Washington D.C. for Chris Paul last week.
Now with that headache gone, the Warriors can focus on re-signing their guy to a long-term deal. While the question remains for how long and how much, all signs say he’ll be back in the Bay next season.
“All indications continue to point to Green returning to the franchise he’s won four championships with”, Yahoo Sports’ Jake L. Fischer wrote recently.
Although, that won’t stop Green from looking at the market to make sure he gets what he’s worth. While Sacramento has emerged as a potential destination, the Trail Blazers are another team that reportedly has interest in the defensive stopper.
“I just got a text… [Draymond Green] is in Portland tonight meeting with [Damian Lillard] at a restaurant. A friend had reservations & was told Dame rented out the restaurant & they had to cancel his reservation."
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) June 28, 2023
It’ll be interesting to see how his next move shakes out over the coming days.
Maybe an unlikely domino to fall but where Khris Middleton ends up could have ripples across the league.
The former NBA champion has been a model citizen for the Milwaukee Bucks for years, creating a dynamic trio with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday that has led to sustained success.
The key word there being “sustained”, as that’s been hard to come by over the years for the Deer. Which is why it’s most likely he returns to the city that made him.
Opting out of his player option for $40 million raised some eyebrows, but it probably means he has a deal waiting for him to sign when NBA free agency opens Friday. Whether that’s with the Bucks or another team remains to be seen, but most believe he’ll be staying put.
“Sacramento going after Bucks All-Star guard Khris Middleton has been a popular theory floated by league figures, but all signs are pointing to Milwaukee and Middleton finalizing a new agreement once free agency begins Friday after Middleton declined his 2023-24 player option last week,” Fischer wrote.
Three-time All-Star forward Khris Middleton has declined his $40 million player option with the Milwaukee Bucks to become a free agent, his agents Mike Lindeman and Jeff Schwartz of @excelbasketball tell ESPN. pic.twitter.com/k0sO5qhSk6
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 22, 2023
So it looks like he’s staying with what he knows, hoping to win one more title in Milwaukee. The team may feel different though.
The Bucks are at a fork in the road, if you can believe it. After crashing out of the postseason in the first round, Milwaukee can look to replace their aging small forward with a younger option. Turning 32 when the season starts, Middleton has struggled with injuries, only playing in 33 regular-season games last season. That usually doesn’t get better with age, and with other teammates hitting the market (Brook Lopez), could this be a time to move off of their guy?
Those questions will be answered in short order, but my money is on a reunion between the two sides.
Maybe the final big domino to fall this week: What to do with James Harden?
After a rocky Brooklyn tenure, Harden’s time in Philly has been both good & bad to say the least. On the one hand, he’s formed a formidable one-two combo with NBA MVP Joel Embiid that should equal to sustained success for the next few years. On the other hand, how far can they really go with an aging Harden.
Entering age 34 in August, the Arizona State alum’s best days are clearly behind him, no longer the offensive juggernaut he once was in Houston. But that doesn’t mean he has no value whatsoever, finishing with 21 points and 10.7 assists per game last season. It’s taken some adjusting but Harden seems to have finally accepted the role as second fiddle on a team.
The trick now is how much is he worth on the open market?
.@WindhorstESPN weighs in on Harden's future with the 76ers:
"The indications are that James Harden is going to remain in Philadelphia." pic.twitter.com/WggFUxGHb8
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) June 28, 2023
While he has until Thursday to decide on his $35.6 million player option, many speculate that he’ll decline that for more money long-term. This is likely Harden’s last big contract of his career, and he hasn’t been shy about wanting more money over the years.
But does that mean the Sixers have to give him what he wants?
Harden is eligible for a four-year, $210 million max deal if he signs with Philadelphia. Spoiler alert: He’s likely not getting that. But, the 76ers have made it clear they want to re-sign a guy they traded a lot for over a year ago. So now it comes down to a negotiation for both price, and longevity.
While some experts believe a two or three-year deal is in the cards, don’t be shocked if Daryl Morey sells out for his guy by giving him a four-year guarantee. Especially with the Rockets reportedly interested in a reunion, Philly may have to pay a premium to keep him there.
But then again, he’s 33-years-old and on the decline. We know it and he knows it (maybe).
So the question remains: What’s it going to take to get a deal done?