Free agency in the NBA: rumors flying left and right, Adrian and Shams fighting for Twitter bombs, approximately 47,000 notifications—the usual protocol. Like always, the 2022 open season hasn’t failed to disappoint. There actually haven’t been too many egregious contracts doled out yet, so I’ll be fairly strict when scrutinizing certain deals. With that being said, let’s look at some of the highlights, lowlights, and most interesting signings and rumors of 2022 NBA free agency.
Good: Knicks paving the way for their new franchise point guard
The Knicks broke ground on Thursday afternoon—even before the moratorium period officially ended at 6 p.m.—as they inked Jalen Brunson to a four-year, $104-million deal. Drafted 33rd overall by the Mavericks in 2018, Brunson emerged as an offensive threat in last season’s playoffs. He averaged an astounding 32.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists on 50.7 shooting overall in the three first-round games Luka Doncic missed due to injury.
Team president Leon Rose and company did a nice job clearing the cap space necessary to improve the 2022-23 Knicks roster. They were by far the busiest team on draft night, fervently swapping picks and players to ultimately clear $18 million from the books. It’s yet to be seen what Brunson’s ceiling is in the NBA—he has yet to make an All-Star appearance and has averaged 11.9 points per game during his four-year career. The Knicks are banking on his upside, but Brunson is a steady presence that should stabilize an organization that has struggled to find relevance since Carmelo Anthony’s departure in 2017.
Bad: Dallas overpays for a backup center
Once the star of Shaqtin’ a Fool, JaVale McGee has continued to find his niche in the NBA. The 34-year-old will join the Mavericks, his ninth organization, on a three-year, $20.1 million deal. He played for the Suns last season on a one-year, $5 million contract and averaged 9.2 points and 6.7 rebounds as Deandre Ayton’s backup. Now, he will presumably be a third-string center in Dallas behind the newly-acquired Christian Wood and Dwight Powell.
It’s clear what direction the Mavericks have taken in the offseason, bolstering their roster with big men. But adding McGee was a bit redundant, especially since he’ll be 37 years old by the time his contract expires. He should benefit from Luka Doncic’s proficiency in the pick-and-roll, but he brings little else to the table.
Questionable: The Thunder break the bank for Lu Dort
This is not a slight toward Dort or who he is as a player. He’s a fantastic defender, staking his claim as one of the league’s best as a rookie in the 2020 playoffs. In the Thunder’s first-round playoff series against the Rockets, Dort was a force guarding James Harden, who had averaged 34.3 points per game in the regular season. He earned both Harden’s respect and a reputation as a lockdown defender; the latter remains true today.
However, for the level of offense Dort provides right now, $87.5 million over five years is a slight overpay. He did average a career-high 17.2 points per game last season, but it came on an inefficient 40.4 percent shooting overall and 33.2 percent from deep. There’s still plenty of time for Dort to prove that he deserves this kind of money. It’s widely known that the Thunder are actively rebuilding, so they have plenty of cap space to re-sign their homegrown talent. As long as his defense remains stellar and he continues to develop his offensive game, Dort’s extension could prove prudent by Oklahoma City’s front office.
Good: All-Stars getting the bag
What do Nikola Jokic, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal have in common? They all got a lot richer on Thursday afternoon. Jokic, coming off back-to-back MVP seasons, inked a five-year, $264 million supermax extension with the Nuggets. It’s the largest contract in NBA history, and every penny is well-deserved. Jokic is a generational talent, blending elite passing, scoring, and defense into one player. He’ll look to win his first championship with the Nuggets, the team that drafted him 41st overall in 2014.
The Suns extended Booker with a four-year, $214 million supermax, locking down their offensive engine until his age-30 season in 2027. This was also a no-brainer, as Booker and Chris Paul led Phoenix to the playoffs for a second straight season. They fell to the Mavericks in disappointing fashion in the second round, but the Suns have a core that can compete for a title for years to come.
Finally, Beal rejoined the Wizards on a five-year, $251-million extension. This one is a bit of a head-scratcher—Beal has been involved in trade rumors for years, yet he continues to express his loyalty to Washington. You can’t fault him for chasing the bag, but the Wizards have been so painfully mediocre that it’s difficult to envision them making waves in the league anytime soon. But hey, money is money. We don’t see many NBA players who value loyalty over rings these days, so we should appreciate Beal’s decision for what it is.
Bad: P.J. Tucker fleeces the Sixers
P.J. Tucker can shoot corner threes. That is a true statement. P.J. Tucker is 37 years old. That is also a true statement. The fact of the matter is that the Sixers are paying Tucker $33.2 million over three years to stay in the corner until he’s 40 years old. If that sounds like a remotely good deal to you, I don’t know what to tell you. He’s lost the athleticism that once allowed him to play small-ball center for the Rockets, tormenting big men six inches taller than him.
Plus, he hardly shot the ball in Miami last season, averaging just 2.7 three-point attempts per game. Tucker hit 41.2 percent of those threes, but compare that to his three seasons in Houston, where he attempted 4.2 deep shots per game (36.6 percent)—that’s about league-average. It’s just a poor financial decision by the Sixers, who are feeling the pressure from star center Joel Embiid to construct a Finals-caliber roster.
To Be Seen: Durant, Irving want out of Brooklyn
Here we go again. At about 3 p.m. on Thursday, Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that Kevin Durant would like to be traded from Brooklyn. It was soon revealed that Miami and Phoenix are preferred destinations, but that the Nets would trade Durant to the team that offered the best package in return. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst suggested that the Lakers might have a trade package that could land both Durant and Irving.
It’s pure chaos surrounding the two teammates, like it has been for most of their three-year tenure in Brooklyn. The Durant-Irving-Harden experiment was an all-around disappointment, but it offered glimpses of greatness. In the 727 possessions that the trio shared the floor, the Nets had an offensive rating of 129.1. That’s an absurd number, as well as a taste of what could have been accomplished in Brooklyn. But with Harden in Philadelphia and Durant and Irving likely off to new teams, the Nets’ “Big Three” is no more.