NBA free agency is usually a weeklong frenzy. Deals get struck, then teams and players must wait a few days before they can sign those contracts. And from there, a few more months often pass before the player goes to work with his new club.
Not this year.
What promises to be a chaotic free-agent window opens in the NBA at 6 p.m. Eastern on Friday, just a couple days after the NBA draft, a mere 42 hours before signings can begin and about a week and a half before training camps around the league open. Asked what the player-movement landscape might look like in such a compressed timeframe, Philadelphia 76ers President Daryl Morey — looking exhausted early Thursday as the draft was winding down — offered a blunt prediction.
“Completely insane,” Morey said.
It’s hard to find anyone who’ll argue that.
Anthony Davis of the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers is the biggest name on the free agency board; he turned down his option for this season with the Lakers but isn’t expected to go anyplace else. The most likely scenario for Davis is a three-year deal worth as much as $105 million, the last year at his option. That way, when he completes his 10th year of service in 2021-22, he can cash in again for an even higher percentage of the salary cap than he can command now.
More than 100 other NBA players are unrestricted free agents; another 75 or so can be restricted free agents. That’s a lot of players, who might be doing a lot of moving, with a season coming up very quickly — and only a few teams have plenty of available salary-cap space to sign players easily.
Plus, teams are still figuring out coronavirus protocols for training camp. Nobody has seen the NBA schedule for a regular season that starts Dec. 22. Preseason games start Dec. 11; those haven’t even been announced yet.
It’s already hectic, and now free agency will ramp up the frenzy several more levels.
“With free agency starting as quickly as it does, we have some targets in mind there and we’ve got some other trade conversations going on as well,” said David Griffin, New Orleans’ executive vice president of basketball operations.
Really, things have already started. Plenty of names are already on the move, and the trade market is always an option for the teams that can’t just go sign a player into nonexistent cap space.
The Lakers already have a new point guard in Dennis Schroder, acquired in a trade with Oklahoma City. The Thunder sent point guard Chris Paul in a trade to Phoenix, and with a brief stopover-on-paper-only in Oklahoma City, Ricky Rubio wound up leaving the Suns and ending up where his NBA career began in Minnesota. Jrue Holiday is heading from New Orleans to Milwaukee, where he’ll play with two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo — and the Bucks still may wind up with restricted free agent Bogdan Bogdanovic as well.
“There’s a great many things happening all at one time,” Griffin said.
Al Horford has been traded from Philadelphia to the Thunder. The Mavericks got Josh Richardson from the 76ers, in a deal that sent Seth Curry to Philly — where he’ll play for new 76ers coach Doc Rivers, who just happens to be Curry’s father-in-law.
Houston’s star backcourt of scoring champion James Harden and former MVP Russell Westbrook have been mentioned in trade talks, though it would surely take a massive haul for the Rockets to part with either or both of those players. And Golden State may be very active on the trade market now, with the Warriors getting word Thursday that Klay Thompson — who missed last season with a torn ACL — will miss this season with a torn Achilles.
The Warriors have a $17.2 million trade exception that will soon expire. It could be a handy chip for general manager Bob Myers, especially if Golden State — which plunged to the bottom of the NBA last season with Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green out for most of all of the season — decides it needs to make a big move quickly.
“We have the green light to do that,” Myers said. “We had it. We have it. Klay or no Klay, depending on what we hear. So, it’s there. Got to find a way to make it work for us.”
Some players have even announced their free-agent plans: Udonis Haslem is going to re-sign with Miami for an 18th season, even though the Heat can’t technically talk to him about that until Friday. The Eastern Conference champions will be awaiting decisions from several key players, including point guard Goran Dragic, forward Jae Crowder and center Meyers Leonard. And Heat President Pat Riley hasn’t hidden his intention: He wants to bring the team from last season back as intact as possible.
“I have great faith in our guys. I think we have great chemistry. I think they have the same feeling themselves,” Riley said. “But now we’re getting down to the business side of things. And I totally get it. I totally understand what free agency means to players.”