Hollinger: What's next in the NBA's transaction landscape? (2024)

So … now what? Do we just chill until NBA opening night in three-plus months?

Not exactly.

The draft and the initial feeding-frenzy days of free agency are over, but we aren’t “done” either. There’s still a lot of transactional water left to go under the bridge between now and the Boston Celtics’ ring night in October, and I’ll get into that in a minute.

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Nonetheless, if something feels different this year, that’s partly because of the absence of something that has come to define recent summers: unhappy star hostage dramas. We still might get our turn here eventually, but thus far, there is neither a Kevin Durant nor a Damian Lillard demanding an exit while fans of their would-be suitors foam at the mouth and light up message boards with trade ideas.

Hollinger: What's next in the NBA's transaction landscape? (1)

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Meanwhile, the signings of DeMar DeRozan and Miles Bridges this weekend marked the unofficial end to free agency. Of the top 25 free agents by my BORD$ values, 22 have signed new contracts, including the entire top 13, and this wasn’t exactly a star-studded class to begin with. Of the three left, one is injured (Saddiq Bey) one is in limbo (more on that below) and one was probably overvalued by my formula (Spencer Dinwiddie).

Don’t worry, though. As the entire NBA gets ready to descend on Las Vegas for Summer League, and the Olympics looming just around the corner, there’s still plenty of transactional at-bats on deck this offseason.

Trades

There are two common windows for offseason trades. The first is to set up things for free agency, just ahead of July 1, and tend to be concentrated right around the draft. During this year’s window for example, we saw Brooklyn agree to deal Mikal Bridges, Chicago trade Alex Caruso and Washington arrange to swap Deni Avdija.

However, the second window is right now in mid-July. With free agency largely completed, teams are exhaling for a minute and taking stock, re-evaluating and addressing roster issues both large and small.

For some teams, necessity will almost force them to make moves. The New Orleans Pelicans, for instance, have eleventy-seven wings and no starting center. Other clubs have odd leftover pieces from other trades (Larry Nance Jr. in Atlanta, Malcolm Brogdon in Washington, Bruce Brown in Toronto, Robert Williams in Portland) that are better off being packaged for a more appropriate-fitting piece. Finally, the “Sag for Flagg” campaign for 2025 should see teams like the Brooklyn Nets, Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards shed additional useful players.

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And finally, there’s that wicked second apron. The Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers could do nothing in free agency with their hands tied by the more complex collective bargaining agreement of 2023. Now they’re left to work the phones and try to organize their remaining contracts into a more functional whole.

GO DEEPERLauri Markkanen is a unique NBA talent. Will the Jazz trade him?

As ever, there is a hierarchy to how this works. The first, most important domino is Lauri Markkanen in Utah. Even if much of the league thinks the Jazz are on a fishing expedition right now and won’t really trade him unless they get a Gobertian return, it has the benefit of a clear expiration date: Aug. 6.

That is both the first date the Jazz can sign him to an extension, with a salary bump built in using their cap space, and the last date they can sign him and still have him trade-eligible on the date of the Feb. 6 trade deadline. The Jazz need to know exactly what they’re doing with Markkanen when they wake up that morning.

Markkanen makes a pittance for a player of his caliber — just $18.4 million — but will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. He can make much, much more next summer — likely a four-year max worth $200 million if he changes teams or up to five years and $270 million if he doesn’t.

The unique carrot Utah can offer, using its trove of cap space, is a bag of at least $15 million but no more than $24 million attached to his 2024-25 salary, followed by a four-year, $209 million extension Markkanen can lock in risk-free right now. With a 27-year-old star signed for half a decade, Markkanen theoretically becomes a more valuable trade chip for the Jazz come February.

Or maybe not. Fitting in Markkanen’s current $18 million salary in July is a much easier pull than absorbing a cap number somewhere between $33 million and $42 million midstream in February. The universe of potential acquirers may never be greater than it is now. Markkanen has some agency here too, as he can nod in the direction of franchises where he’d be willing to re-sign.

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So … there are a lot of moving parts here, and it may hold up the rest of the league’s business for a bit.

Most notable among that business is New Orleans’ situation with Brandon Ingram. He only has one year left on his deal, and the Pels could always sign him to an extension, but the team’s moribund 2024 playoff loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder seemed to be a turning point. The Pels traded multiple first-round picks for another perimeter creator (Dejounte Murray) and lost center Jonas Valančiūnas to a sign-and-trade, leaving them heavy on guards and light in the middle.

GO DEEPERWith trade options dwindling, Pelicans' Brandon Ingram dilemma becomes harder to solve

Additionally, the de facto “hard cap” in New Orleans of the luxury tax line would make accommodating market-rate extensions for both Ingram and forward Trey Murphy seem … challenging. That’s before we even attempt to add a real center to the mix.

Seemingly, the best resolution would be to trade Ingram for a quality center … but who? And more importantly, when? It’s easy to dream up a list of teams that maybe could use Ingram, but most of them will be waiting on Markkanen first, so the Pels likely must wait their turn. Ditto for other teams that might make moves with big wings, such as Washington with Kyle Kuzma or Portland with Jerami Grant.

(Side bar: My two favorite fake trades.)

  • First: Philadelphia acquires Markkanen by sign-and-trading Kenyon Martin Jr. on a three-year max deal, with only the first year guaranteed, and adding Ricky Council IV and four firsts (one unprotected from the LA Clippers in 2028, one in 2026 that is likely Oklahoma City’s, their own unprotected in 2029 or first year available and their own unprotected in 2031 if available); that keeps the Sixers just under the second apron, and they can do this wacky contract because Martin has full Bird rights and hasn’t signed yet.
  • Second: Ingram and Cole Anthony to Cleveland; Darius Garland to Orlando; Wendell Carter Jr., Jett Howard and Caris LeVert to New Orleans. OK, carry on …)

Even after the Markkanen and Ingram situations resolve, we still have to sift through the rest of the trade market. Brooklyn’s game of Capture the Flagg will likely see it part with veterans like Dennis Schröder, Dorian Finney-Smith and Cam Johnson if the price is right, but this may take time to play out. Ditto for Brogdon and Kuzma in Washington, Jordan Clarkson in Utah and Grant and Deandre Ayton in Portland.

While all that happens, the Heat will take all your calls on Tyler Herro, the Lakers will see what D’Angelo Russell can fetch and the Bucks will continue to explore how to turn one of their bigs into two rotation players.

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And that’s not all…

Staring contests

I mentioned above that most of the free agents have signed … but not all of them. And the ones who haven’t are kind of stuck, because most of the cap-room money is gone. The Detroit boogeyman is still sitting out there for agents to use, but beyond that, it’s a low-leverage environment.

Thus, restricted free agents such as Cleveland’s Isaac Okoro are playing a waiting game, hoping for an offer sheet that might not ever come and left with playing chicken against the Cavs’ front office. These deals can often drag until near training camp.

Other players aren’t restricted but are nonetheless seemingly playing poker against their most recent employers. Tyus Jones wants to be a starter and wants to do it for a team better than the Wizards, but he might have to settle for 50 percent of those goals.

Luke Kennard and Memphis don’t have an agreement yet after the Grizzlies declined his $14 million team option, but the Grizzlies have a clear need for him, and Kennard might not have anything better on the market. The Knicks seemingly need Precious Achiuwa to fill a hole in the frontcourt but don’t seem inclined to bid against themselves. Josh Okogie has full Bird rights in Phoenix but no deal with the Suns yet.

And finally, there’s Bey, who comes off a poorly timed ACL tear that may cost him much of this coming season. His best move might be to re-sign for the minimum in Atlanta, giving him full Bird rights next summer, but there’s understandable reluctance to settle for that just yet.

Hollinger: What's next in the NBA's transaction landscape? (5)

Extensions for Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert could get interesting. (Bill Streicher / USA Today)

Extensions

Finally, there’s the extension market, both for the 2021 draft class and for veterans. A couple of teams already jumped the gun with max deals off rookie contracts, including Scottie Barnes in Toronto, Franz Wagner in Orlando and Cade Cunningham in Detroit.

Those might be the only max deals in this class, but we’re still going to see more nine-figure extensions at some point between now and late October. Notable big-dollar extension candidates include Evan Mobley in Cleveland, Jalen Green and Alperen Şengün in Houston, Jalen Suggs in Orlando, Jalen Johnson in Atlanta, Josh Giddey in Chicago, Jonathan Kuminga in Golden State and the aforementioned Murphy in New Orleans.

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Additionally, several veterans become extension-eligible this July or August, and some deals have already been agreed to (Donovan Mitchell in Cleveland, most notably and consequentially). While a few mid-tier players are likely to ink deals between now and opening night (keep an eye on Ivica Zubac with the Clippers, eligible for a four-year extension worth $78 million and worth every cent of it), I find three potential big-money-extension situations particularly interesting.

The first is that of Joel Embiid in Philadelphia. He can sign a three-year, $193 million extension starting Aug. 17, one that would void his player option in 2026-27 and keep him signed through 2028-29, when he’ll be 35.

On one hand, Embiid can make more money (not to mention keep the pressure on the Sixers) by waiting another year and signing a four-year, $266 million deal in the summer of 2025. Who doesn’t want $73 million for their age 35 season?

The question, of course, is how Embiid feels about the risk factor that is his own body. The Sixers seemingly are all-in enough that they can’t worry about the downside danger; pay the man or risk him leaving and everything collapsing.

The second one is the Nuggets’ Aaron Gordon, who can’t sign an extension until Sept. 27. It would be much more palatable to bear the Nuggets losing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope if they can at least cough up the funds to keep Gordon, but it will cost them. Gordon is eligible for a maximum of four years and $143 million. In the absence of an extension, he can opt out his contact next summer and become an unrestricted free agent.

Gordon will turn 30 next September, but if he maintains his level of play this season, he’ll be among the top free agents on the 2025 market. If the Nuggets lose him one year after Caldwell-Pope’s departure, that’s a brutal one-two punch.

Finally there’s Rudy Gobert in Minnesota. The reigning Defense Player of the Year is technically eligible for a four-year, $243 million extension. No, he’s not getting that. What is interesting is whether the Wolves can slowly land the plane on the back half of his career by signing an extension that massages their impending giant luxury tax bill.

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Having Gobert opt out of his $46.7 million due in 2025-26 and extend for a more manageable number over a four-year span is one of the more palatable exits from their current cap situation. But at what number? Something like $100 million in new money would see his cap number dip to $32.5 million in 2025-26, which would almost certainly allow Minnesota to skip the second apron and avoid having its 2033 draft pick frozen.

Of course, they don’t have to do that right now; the two sides could even wait until next summer. But it would be an interesting way for the Wolves to get in front of their financial situation.

(Top photo of Joel Embiid, Lauri Markkanen and Brandon Ingram: Cooper Neill, Tim Nwachukwu, Rich Storry / Getty Images)

Hollinger: What's next in the NBA's transaction landscape? (6)Hollinger: What's next in the NBA's transaction landscape? (7)

John Hollinger ’s two decades of NBA experience include seven seasons as the Memphis Grizzlies’ Vice President of Basketball Operations and media stints at ESPN.com and SI.com. A pioneer in basketball analytics, he invented several advanced metrics — most notably, the PER standard. He also authored four editions of “Pro Basketball Forecast.” In 2018 he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Follow John on Twitter @johnhollinger

Hollinger: What's next in the NBA's transaction landscape? (2024)

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