NBA free agency 2022: Breaking down the biggest signings, opt-ins and extensions of the summer

NBA free agency 2022: Breaking down the biggest signings, opt-ins and extensions of the summer

NBA free agency is here, and stars are making some big-money moves.

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Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving opted into his $36.5 million player option for the 2022-23 season. But although his decision removes the possibility of Irving leaving the Nets via free agency this summer, questions will continue to surround Irving and Kevin Durant's future after the latter requested a trade hours before the 6 p.m. ET start to free agency.


The Dallas Mavericks have been informed that guard Jalen Brunson intends to sign with the New York Knicks in free agency, sources told ESPN's Tim MacMahon.

John Wall, who was slated to make $47.4 million after exercising his player option with the Houston Rockets, has reached a buyout with the team and will join the LA Clippers.

Bradley Beal will stick with the Washington Wizards on a five-year deal, while Zach LaVine is staying put in Chicago. Russell Westbrook, meanwhile, will exercise his $47.1 million option with the Los Angeles Lakers, sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Which remaining free agents will change teams this summer?

How are the latest deals impacting the NBA landscape? Kevin Pelton is breaking down the biggest signings, opt-ins and contract extensions.

LaVine strikes max deal with the Bulls

As announced by his agency, Klutch Sports, Zach LaVine joins Bradley Beal as the second free agent this offseason to sign a deal for his maximum salary. Because LaVine has just eight years of experience to Beal's 10, that maximum is slightly smaller -- although still massive -- at $215 million over five years.


LaVine was making far less than the max on his previous contract, signed when he was coming off an ACL tear and still hadn't established himself as an above-average starter. Because of that, the Chicago Bulls were unable to sign him to an extension and did have to sweat out unrestricted free agency. Ultimately, there was little question LaVine would stay after Chicago reached the playoffs, the first time he's played in the postseason.

Still just 27, LaVine has made the past two All-Star Games thanks to his transformation from volume scorer to offensive engine. Having never previously posted a true shooting percentage better than .576, LaVine leaped to .634 in 2020-21 and stayed at .605 last season despite dealing with persistent knee soreness.

Per Stathead.com, LaVine was one of just eight players in the league last season -- the other seven of whom had already signed max deals -- to have a usage rate of at least 28% of their team's plays and a true shooting percentage of better than .600.

LaVine's knee -- the same one in which he suffered an ACL tear in 2017 -- is the biggest concern for the Bulls going forward. Chicago indicated there was no structural damage at the time of the injury, but LaVine underwent arthroscopic surgery in May. LaVine should be closer to full strength after surgery, but the Bulls will want to manage his workload to keep LaVine healthy over the life of this contract.

Nets re-sign key contributors as Durant trade looms

Had you somehow missed the news that Kevin Durant has requested a trade and the Brooklyn Nets plan to work with him to find one, as reported by our Adrian Wojnarowski, the rest of their action Thursday looked like business as usual. After adding Royce O'Neale in a trade with the Utah Jazz just prior to the start of free agency, the Nets subsequently re-signed key reserves Nic Claxton and Patty Mills.

Coming off a three-year deal at the minimum as a second-round pick, Claxton got a nice raise on a two-year, $20 million deal per Wojnarowski. That values Claxton around the non-taxpayer midlevel exception, appropriate for a versatile center who is just 23. Claxton's ability to switch on defense pairs well with his high-percentage finishing (67% last season, a career high) on a contending team. Claxton has to also like the ability to get into unrestricted free agency at age 25.

After declining a $6.2 million player option, Mills returned on a two-year deal for $14.5 million using non-Bird rights. Mills was invaluable the first half of the season as Kyrie Irving's replacement in the starting five, averaging 13.4 PPG on 42% 3-point shooting before the All-Star break. He struggled thereafter, dropping to 6.4 PPG and 33% from 3-point range.

A starting role was an adjustment for Mills after years of the San Antonio Spurs managing his minutes as a reserve. The 29.0 MPG Mills averaged -- including 35.4 in December and 32.3 in January after Joe Harris underwent ankle surgery -- were a career high. Whatever the Nets look like after trading Durant and likely Irving, they ought to reduce the strain on Mills to get the most out of him.

Lakers prioritize young talent

In a marked contrast to the start of last year's free agency period, when the Lakers brought in a number of veteran stars to fill out their bench at the minimum salary, their moves on the opening day of 2022 free agency prioritized youth. None of the four players they added Thursday are older than age 29.

I was surprised the Lakers were willing to commit their taxpayer midlevel exception -- the one avenue for spending more than the minimum to add a free agent -- to former San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV. The Spurs allowed Walker to become an unrestricted free agent after drafting a pair of shooting guards (Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley) to go with a third (Josh Primo) taken in the first round last year.

After starting 38 games in 2020-21, Walker saw his playing time drop last season, although he averaged a career-high 12.1 PPG. The flashes are there for Walker, but he's yet to put them together on a consistent basis. The Lakers are surely hoping he can repeat the success Malik Monk had for them at a similar point in his career last year. However, this is a place I would have prioritized a reliable veteran because of the Lakers' desperate need for two-way contributors.

For Walker to become that player, he'll have to start with improved shooting. He's a career 34% 3-point shooter and hit just 31% beyond the arc last season. Walker also must improve on defense.

I really like the Lakers adding Troy Brown Jr. as one of their three minimum pacts. As with Walker, Brown has never quite put things together. He's also a career 34% 3-point shooter but a good passer for a wing who can defend multiple positions at 6-foot-6. At the price, this is exactly the kind of shot the Lakers should be taking on finding a breakout player.

Before free agency, I highlighted Juan Toscano-Anderson as a low-cost option for teams looking to add a combo big. Though the Lakers already have one of those in Anthony Davis, no harm in adding another. Toscano-Anderson's feel for the game, honed in the Golden State Warriors' system, should help L.A.'s frontcourt.

As for the traditional big role, the Lakers addressed that with Damian Jones, who played briefly for them in 2020-21 before catching on with the Sacramento Kings. Jones knows his limitations, making him a high-percentage finisher (including 16-of-17 during his eight games with the Lakers). Jones is turnover-prone and a subpar defensive rebounder -- there's a reason the Kings let him go -- but I'd rather have him than another aging former star.

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