What's next in NBA offseason? Four biggest questions remaining, including top 10 free agents still available

Most of the biggest movement of the NBA offseason has predictably come and gone. LeBron James has re-signed. Paul George and Klay Thompson have changed teams. This is how the offseason calendar tends to work. We come into the summer with a certain group of big names whose futures are settled between the draft and the first few days of free agency. Things slow down from there, but that doesn’t mean they stop.

Remember, Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday were traded right around the start of training camp a year ago. The Donovan Mitchell saga lasted several months as well. The NBA isn’t going to stop on a dime the moment the Olympics roll around. After all, Dwight Howard was literally traded while playing for Team USA during the 2012 Olympics. There is still movement on the table this summer.

So what business is left to be settled? Here are four questions that need to be answered between now and opening night.

1. Will Markkanen or Ingram be traded?

The best player still seemingly available through trade is Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen. While there is no hard deadline for Utah to make a decision, the date that is looming in these talks is Aug. 6. That is when Markkanen becomes eligible to renegotiate-and-extend his contract. The Jazz have the cap space to take him up to his max right away, and if they do so, he would be off-limits for trade purposes until six months have passed. That could get him back on the market before the trade deadline, but it’s more likely that the Jazz either move him before Aug. 6 or plan to keep him. At present, his relatively low $18 million cap number means that almost any team in the NBA could fit him onto a balance sheet.

A number of teams have reportedly spoken to the Jazz about possible Markkanen trades, with the Golden State Warriors reportedly the most aggressive among them. Golden State is having trouble on two fronts for the time being, though. The first relates to their reluctance to include promising young forward Jonathan Kuminga in a deal. The second ties back to their 2030 first-round pick, which is currently owed to the Washington Wizards with a top-20 protection. Even if Golden State is likely to keep that pick, the mere possibility that they might lose it prevents them from trading their 2029 or 2031 picks because of the Stepien Rule. There are workarounds, of course. The Warriors could trade for that pick back. It’s not especially valuable given that top-20 protection. There are more complicated sidesteps available as well. But for the Warriors to get him, they’ll probably have to include all or most of their available draft capital as well as several young players, possibly including Kuminga.

The Kings were reportedly among the suitors. Their trade for DeMar DeRozan probably rules them out, though they still control most of their picks. The Spurs, Heat and Pelicans have been mentioned as possibilities as well. Markkanen is among the more versatile offensive forwards in the NBA, and he plays for Danny Ainge’s team. He won’t come cheap.

The second star that appears to be a likely trade candidate is Brandon Ingram, but his future is murkier. He is eligible for a four-year, $208 million max extension. The Pelicans, by all accounts, do not want to pay it. The trouble is that there are no obvious suitors out there who do. The Kings were in the mix before getting DeRozan. Atlanta was a frequently mentioned possibility, but the Hawks just traded Dejounte Murray to the Pelicans without getting Ingram back. Cleveland is another possible fit given its guard- and big-heavy roster, but for now, the Cavaliers appear set on keeping their core four together.

The Pelicans are motivated to find a trade now for a few reasons. They obviously don’t want to risk Ingram walking for nothing in free agency, but they’ve also lost both their starting center (Jonas Valanciunas) and backup center (Larry Nance Jr.) in the past two weeks. An Ingram trade was their best chance at replacing them. Right now, their depth chart at center is No. 21 overall pick Yves Missi and not much else. The Pelicans could potentially extend Ingram at a lower number and solve the center problem later, but this roster is in win-now mode. It’s hard to imagine them leaving such a gaping hole anywhere on the roster. Perhaps a C.J. McCollum trade could solve the center issue on a short-term basis?

The Markkanen situation is building to Aug. 6. Ingram has no timetable. He could extend tomorrow. He could play this season out without a deal and enter free agency next summer. But provided there is a suitor out there we haven’t identified, he is probably the big name that is likeliest to move before opening night.

2. What smaller deals will go down?

There are certainly teams waiting out the Markkanen situation before making bigger swings in the trade market. However, there will inevitably be other trades that come in the next few months. Here are a few of the likelier moves:

  • The Nets have taken an aggressive step toward rebuilding by trading Mikal Bridges to the Knicks, but more importantly, they swapped several valuable Phoenix picks to the Rockets for their own picks back from the James Harden trade. That enabled them to tank properly, and given the price they paid to do so, they are going to be aggressive about it. Holding veterans like Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Dennis Schroder into the season makes no sense. Even if you can extract better returns at the deadline, that value is mitigated by the games they’d help you win between October and February. Almost anyone could use Johnson’s shooting or Finney-Smith’s defense. They will have wide markets. Schroder is more of a niche fit for a team that needs ball-handling, but he’s played well in the playoffs in the past and is among the league’s best backup point guards.
  • The Lakers are going to do something. It might be as simple as paying some other team to take on one of their minimum players like Christian Wood, Cam Reddish of Jaxson Hayes so they have the roster spots needed to sign another free agent or two. It might be something bigger involving their two tradable first-round picks (2029 and 2031). But it’s hard to imagine the Lakers will essentially roll last season’s roster over into next season, with the only changes being Dalton Knecht and Bronny James for Taurean Prince and Spencer Dinwiddie.
  • We have a few positional logjams on teams that could use a bit of roster balancing. Notably, the Kings have too many offense-first perimeter players (De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Huerter), and they could probably stand to flip Huerter for some more defensive-oriented front-court help. The Blazers are heavily invested in three centers (Deandre Ayton, Donovan Clingan and Robert Williams III). This one could drag into the season, but given the limited minutes available here, it would probably make sense to try to move Williams now.
  • There are still teams looking to make cap dumps. The biggest is the Chicago Bulls, who would love to get off of the last three years of Zach LaVine’s max contract and the last two years of Nikola Vucevic’s expensive deal from last offseason if possible. No takers thus far. We’ll see if the Bulls can offer enough to get anyone to bite.
  • There are also teams that wouldn’t mind using their cap space to accept another team’s cap dump in exchange for assets. There are several teams that could do so through trade exceptions. The Jazz have plenty of cap space to do so if they want to, but for now appear set on holding that space for a possible Markkanen deal. The Pistons still have nearly $25 million in cap space and there aren’t many free agents left to spend it on, so they are presumably open for business as well.
  • The Clippers are reportedly looking for a new home for Russell Westbrook. The Denver Nuggets are the only known suitor at this time.

There are going to be trades we can’t predict as well, but these are the ones that make the most sense.

3. Who are the top free agents on the market?

DeRozan may have been the last free agent signed this offseason to get more than the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, but here are 10 of the most important free agents left to be signed:

  1. Kyle Lowry. The 76ers still need a backup point guard, and the chance to compete for another championship with his hometown team will likely be enticing. However, if he was set on taking a minimum deal, he would have done so by now. Keep an eye on the Knicks, who employ basically every other Villanova product in the NBA and still have their taxpayer mid-level exception to use.
  2. Gary Trent Jr. Trent is one of the best overall scorers still on the market, but there doesn’t appear to be a non-taxpayer mid-level exception deal out there for him. Might he be this summer’s Kelly Oubre, a player who tries to wait for a market that doesn’t arrive before ultimately signing with a contender for cheap to try to rebuild value for next offseason?
  3. Tyus Jones. Jones is one of the NBA’s best backup point guards, but backup point guards aren’t drawing big contracts this offseason, and there’s still a starting job waiting for him in Washington if he wants it. He’ll probably either re-sign in Washington or work with the Wizards to build a sign-and-trade.
  4. Isaac Okoro. The best restricted free agent left on the market, Okoro is in the difficult position of playing for an expensive team. Cleveland has less than $10 million in room below the luxury tax line, and Mobley’s extension will make them even more expensive a year from now. Okoro is Cleveland’s best perimeter defender and an improving 3-point shooter. Someone should try to nab him in a sign-and-trade at a more manageable number.
  5. Luke Kennard. The Grizzlies also have tax problems. Right now, they have around $6 million in room beneath the line. They cut Kennard loose hoping to bring him back at a more manageable number, but his shooting makes him attractive to just about anyone still looking for free agency help.
  6. Landry Shamet. The Wizards waived Shamet for financial reasons, but he remains valuable as a bench shooter in a league increasingly focused on 3-pointers. Any team on Kennard should sniff around Shamet as well.
  7. Markelle Fultz. He’s not quite as promising as he was as the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, and his 3-point shot will likely never recover, but if you’re looking for a point guard that does practically everything else, Fultz is your man. He remains a stellar athlete that can defend, rebound, make plays and get to the basket. 
  8. Gordon Hayward. He was a disaster in Oklahoma City. He was better than that in Charlotte on the increasingly rare occasions in which he was healthy. Does someone take a shot on a former All-Star shot-creator with wing size at the minimum?
  9. Daniel Theis. Big men that can credibly defend and shoot 3’s, even if only in bench minutes, are in short supply. Theis will have suitors for the minimums. (Update: Theis went off the market shortly after this initially published, reportedly agreeing to a deal with the Pelicans).
  10. Paul Reed. Philadelphia only waived Reed to create the cap space to sign Caleb Martin. He commanded $7 million per year last offseason on a deal that was unfortunately not guaranteed. He won’t get that this time around, but he’s a credible backup center that is still relatively young. 

Some of these free agents will sign in the coming days. Others will take weeks or months. But there is still talent to be found on the market.

4. Who will get a big-money rookie extension?

Given the financial fear the new second apron has instilled in teams thus far this offseason, there was some thought that front offices might be a bit more frugal in handing out rookie extensions this offseason. Thus far, we’ve seen only three reported agreements. All three have been max deals. They went to Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Scottie Barnes, who went No. 4, and Franz Wagner, who went No. 8.

Barnes was an obvious max candidate given his All-Star selection last season. Cunningham, given his counting stats and pedigree as the top choice, also made sense on a max deal. Wagner is the barometer here. There are going to be a lot of other players in this draft class who consider themselves either more valuable or of similar value. Evan Mobley. Jalen Green. Alperen Sengun. Jonathan Kuminga. If their original teams weren’t planning to max them out, they may be in for tough negotiations.

Mobley will almost certainly get maxed in the end. Kuminga’s future will be uncertain until the Markkanen negotiations settle. Green and Sengun are in the precarious situation of potentially needing to wait. Houston has pathways to max cap space next offseason, but getting there will require keeping Green and Sengun on low cap holds rather than re-signing them to new deals right away. This is the same tactic Philadelphia used with Tyrese Maxey to create the cap space that allowed the 76ers to sign Paul George.

The Bulls are basically boxed into a hefty extension for Josh Giddey. They wouldn’t have traded Alex Caruso for him without planning to pay him. Trey Murphy is watching the Ingram situation very closely. The widespread expectation this offseason had been that New Orleans would trade Ingram to create a starting spot for Ingram. If the Pelicans do so, Murphy becomes significantly more valuable. If not? Things get uncomfortable. Murphy is overqualified for bench duties in his fourth season. Jalen Johnson will get a big payday from the Hawks, who are seemingly refocusing the roster around its young wings. Cam Thomas is about as aggressive a shot-hunter as exists in the modern NBA. He brings very little else to the table, and that makes determining his market nearly impossible.

The deadline for rookie extensions is the day before the start of the regular season, so these negotiations may take months, and those who don’t re-sign will become restricted free agents next offseason.

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