The 2023 NBA free agent class is going to be rather interesting with new Dallas Mavericks star Kyrie Irving and former MVP James Harden headlining things.
Irving was acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in a blockbuster in-season trade. His future in Big D is firmly up in the air after team-wide struggles following said trade.
Current Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden has a player option for next season. He”s going to opt out and has been linked to a Western Conference bottom-feeder.
As the 2023 NBA Playoffs continue, let’s take a look at the top projected NBA free agents for this summer. But before we do that, let’s check in on some FAQs regarding NBA free agency.
When does NBA free agency start?
Teams can begin to negotiate contracts with NBA free agents on June 30. They can’t enter into official agreements until July 6. That week window allows teams to discuss contracts with players on other teams. A lot of the time, verbal agreements are made during this week window with reports of signings being imminent.
What’s the difference between restricted and unrestricted NBA free agency?
When an unrestricted free agent hits the open market, he can sign with another team without his former team having a say. Current teams can match any offer another team makes to a restricted free agent. We saw that last summer when the Phoenix Suns matched the four-year, $132.93 million contract offer the Indiana Pacers made to center Deandre Ayton.
Can NBA free agents be traded?
Recently, teams have used the sign-and-trade as a part of the NBA free agency process. It does two things. This enables the team losing a free agent to acquire something of substance. Generally, it also enables the team signing said free agent to add other players to the mix by moving off current contracts.
This was utilized back in the summer of 2019 when the Brooklyn Nets pulled off a sign-and-trade for Kevin Durant with the Golden State Warriors. Brooklyn dealt away D’Angelo Russell to Golden State in the trade. The team was able to use that to sign other free agents to build around KD and Kyrie Irving. In turn, Golden State got something for Durant instead of losing him for nothing once he opted to sign with Brooklyn.
What are exceptions in NBA free agency?
The NBA allows for the midlevel exception, both from a taxpayer and non-taxpayer perspective. Teams that are over the luxury tax can sign a player for up to three years at $6.479 million per season. Those under the luxury tax (more on that below) can sign a player for up to four years at $10.49 million. This incentivizes teams to sign role players without it impacting their salary cap health.
What is the NBA luxury tax?
In addition to the soft cap, the NBA utilizes a luxury tax system that’s applied once a team exceeds a payroll higher than the salary cap. These teams pay a penalty for each dollar their salary cap exceeds the tax level. For example, the Warriors luxury tax number last season was $242.722 million.
What is the 2023-24 NBA salary cap?
The soft cap for the 2023-24 season is an estimated $134 million with a luxury tax threshold of $162 million. As of right now, only four teams are under the projected 2023-24 cap with NBA free agents set to hit the open market in weeks.
Related: 2023 NBA Playoff schedule
1. James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers (player option)
Harden has a $35.64 million player option for next season. When he signed his current deal in Philadelphia, most believed that Harden would opt in. Now, that seems unlikely.
In reality, it seems as if the former NBA MVP wants to cash in on one final long-term deal in his career. Harden is 33 years and in the back end of his prime. He averaged 21.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG and 10.7 APG during the 2022-23 regular season. Harden’s performance has not dropped off a lot. As of right now, he’s being linked to his former Houston Rockets team on a near never-ending loop.
2. Kyrie Irving, Dallas Mavericks
After picking up his option for the 2022-23 season, Irving appeared set to play out his final season in Brooklyn. But Irving suddenly requested a trade a week before the NBA trade deadline and got sent to the Dallas Mavericks to pair with Luka Doncic back in February.
Irving’s future in Dallas is now in question after some major struggles with Doncic in Big D. Despite this, the 31-year-old guard is going to be one of the top NBA free agents this summer. After all, he still averaged 27.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG and 5.5 APG on 49% shooting.
3. Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors (player option)
VanVleet has a player option of under $20 million for next season, one that the former All-Star will certainly decline. Despite some issues shooting the ball this past season (39%), the guard is going to draw a nice amount of interest. Since the start of the 2020-21 campaign, VanVleet is averaging nearly 20 points to go with 6.6 assists and 1.7 steals. Some team will back up the Brinks Truck for the veteran.
4. Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls
Acquired by Chicago midway through the 2020-21 season, Vucevic has not seen the same production that defined his Orlando Magic career. Last season saw the skilled big average a nine-year low 17.6 points. It even led to speculation that he could’ve been moved ahead of the in-season NBA trade deadline.
It was surprising that the Bulls didn’t deal Vucevic ahead of the in-season NBA trade deadline. While they will look to re-sign him, there’s going to be a strong market for someone who can drop a 20-10 double-double while being able to distribute from the low post.
5. Jerami Grant, Portland Trail Blazers
Set to become one of the top NBA free agents this summer, Grant is vastly underpaid in the grand scheme of things. In fact, the three-and-D wing earned a mere $20.96 million in 2022-23. That will change big time once the summer comes calling. Grant averaged north of 20 points on a career-best 40% shooting from distance this past season.
Related: Updated 2023 NBA power rankings
6. Kristaps Porzingis, Washington Wizards (player option)
It was back in 2018 that Porzingis found himself as one of the best young players in the game. Fast forward nearly a half-decade, and that’s no longer the case. Injuries coupled with ineffective defense had seen his stock drop big time.
Not so much right now.
Porzingis, 27, had a career year in 2022-23. That included shooting 50% from the field (39% from distance) while averaging a resounding 23.2 PPG. Washington would like to retain Porzingis, but that’s not a foregone conclusion.
7. Kyle Kuzma, Washington Wizards (player option)
One of the centerpieces in the Russell Westbrook deal to the Los Angeles Lakers back in the summer of 2021, Kuzma took off big time this past season in Washington. The forward averaged 21.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 3.7 APG.
Kuzma also plays stellar defense out on the perimeter. Needless to say, Kuzma will decline his $13 million option and hit NBA free agency during the summer. He’ll also have a strong market.
8. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors (player option)
The 33-year-old Green is now likely to opt out of his contract rather than return to Golden State at a cost of $27.59 million in 2023-24. To an extent, he’s returned to form as one of the best all-around defenders in the game.
Green averaged 8.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists on a solid 53% shooting from the field. This represented Green’s best statistical season since back in 2017-18 when playing with Kevin Durant in the Warriors’ frontcourt. The question here is whether Green’s on-court attitude and specific fit with Golden State will turn some teams off.
9. D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers
The subject of trade rumors this past offseason, Russell is now a member of the Los Angeles Lakers following a blockbuster three-team trade with Minnesota and Utah. He’s done well to up his stock in NBA free agency with the Lakers. The expectation here is that Russell will return to Southern California on a long-term contract during the summer. Though, a certain situation during the NBA Playoffs could change the dynamics some.
10. Josh Hart, New York Knicks (player option)
Pretty much an afterthought in the blockbuster Anthony Davis trade to the Lakers back in 2019, Hart has morphed into a darn good player. The 28-year-old wing averaged nearly 20 points per game on 50% shooting with Portland after being acquired in the CJ McCollum trade last February. He did his thing in New York this past season and will draw a ton of interest on the open market.
2023 NBA free agents: Veteran options
11. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks (player option)
It’s safe to say that Middleton will pick up the $40.4 million option on his contract for next season after major struggles in 2022-23.
The wing averaged a seven-year low 15.1 PPG on 44% shooting from the field this past season. At 31 years old, one has to wonder whether regression is the name of the game for Middleton. Despite this, at least one Western Conference team is showing interest in him. Look for Milwaukee to entertain Middleton trade offers as an embarrassing first-round exit in the NBA Playoffs.
12. Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Clippers
An enigma during his short time with the Los Angeles Lakers, Westbrook turned it around big time after being picked up off the buyout market by the Clippers. The 34-year-old former NBA MVP averaged 15.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 7.6 assists on 49% shooting with the Clips during the regular season. He pushed those averages to 23.6-5.8-7.6 in the postseason. Los Angeles would love to retain Westbrook in free agency. But the team will have competition.
13. Cameron Johnson, Brooklyn Nets – (Restricted)
Acquired by the Brooklyn Nets in the Kevin Durant trade, Cameron Johnson is blossoming in an expanded role. While he started for the Phoenix Suns, Johnson only averaged around 25 minutes per game with the Western Conference contender. Now, he is a focal point of everything the Nets are doing. Johnson averaged 16.6 points and 4.8 rebounds on 47% shooting in 25 games with the Nets.
14. Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings
As underrated as they come, the 30-year-old Barnes just performs at a high level on a consistent basis. He’s averaged 15.7 points and 5.2 rebounds on 39% shooting from distance in five seasons with the upstart Kings. They will likely look in another direction, leading to Barnes joining yet another contender this summer.
15. Jakob Poeltl, Toronto Raptors
Re-acquired by Toronto at the NBA trade deadline, Poeltl remains one of the most-underrated big men in the game. He’s averaging 12.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists since the start of the 2021-22 season. The 7-foot-1 center has also shown improvement on defense with a positive defensive plus-minus every season outside of his rookie campaign back in 2016-17. He’s one of the most intriguing NBA free agents of the cycle.
16. Al Horford, Boston Celtics
Horford was merely a means to an end when Boston re-acquired him while moving off Kemba Walker’s contract ahead of the 2021-22 season. It seemed that the five-time All-Star had seen his best days.
Not so fast. En route to helping Boston to the 2022 NBA Finals, Horford averaged 12.0 points and 9.3 rebounds while connecting on an otherworldly 48% of his three-point shots in the playoffs. The 36-year-old responded by shooting 45% from distance this past regular season.
17. Gary Trent Jr., Toronto Raptors (player option)
There was some talk about Trent Jr. being dealt ahead of the trade deadline. The wing has an $18.56 million player option for the 2023-24 season. He’ll likely decline it. Even as a one-dimensional player, Trent Jr. provides what teams look for from a scoring standpoint. He’s averaging 18.5 points on 38% shooting from distance over the past two seasons. At issue here is lackluster defense (1.4 defensive win shares in 2022-23) and a lack of other production (2.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists).
18. Christian Wood, Dallas Mavericks
Acquired by Dallas in a blockbuster trade with Houston last offseason, it appears that Wood will be one and done in Big D. He didn’t fit in well with Luka Doncic and other moving parts.
After averaging a combined 19.1 PPG in his final two seasons with Houston, Wood saw that number dip to 16.6 in 2022-23. It’s not yet known what type of market Wood will be met with, but some team will take a chance on a big that can shoot from distance (38% career mark from 3-point range).
19. Donte DiVincenzo, Golden State Warriors (player option)
This former hero at Villanova signed a two-year, $9.23 million contract with the defending champs last summer. Said deal included a player option ($4.73 million) in 2023-24. Given what we saw from DiVincenzo this past season, it’s safe to say that he’ll opt out. The wing was tremendous for Golden State during the regular season, averaging 9.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals in just 26 minutes of action per game. He’s also shot a career-high 40% from three-point range. Unfortunately for Golden State, it will not be able to re-sign him in free agency.
20. Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks
One of the NBA Defensive Player of the Year finalists in 2023, Lopez continues to play inspired basketball at the advanced age of 35. He averaged 15.9 points and 6.7 rebounds while shooting at a 37% clip from distance this past season.
21. Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz (player option)
At this point, it stands to reason that Clarkson will opt out of his contract and become one of the most underrated NBA free agents of the cycle. He’s set to earn $14.26 million in 2023-24 and continues to outplay that number. The former NBA Sixth Man of the Year averaged a career-best 20.8 points to go with 4.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists while hitting on 44% of his shots from the field.
22. Dillon Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies
Call him an enigma. Say he doesn’t have great shot selection. That’s fine. We are also talking about one of the better wing defenders in the game and someone who brings passion to the court. At issue here is Brooks’ antics for Memphis during the 2023 NBA Playoffs and the fact that he won’t be brought back. Will some team show interest in Brooks in free agency? We’re not too sure.
23. Moritz Wagner, Orlando Magic
A first-round pick of the Lakers back in 2018, Wagner has actually seen his game improve leaps and bounds recently. Since the start of the 2021-22 season with Orlando, the Michigan product is averaging 9.8 points and 4.1 rebounds while hitting on nearly 50% of his shots. Teams will have interest in a 25-year-old big who has his game on an upward trajectory.
24. Naz Reid, center, Minnesota Timberwolves
Speaking of upward trajectories, what this former undrafted free agent out of LSU has done in Minnesota is nothing less than extraordinary. Over the course of his career, Reid is averaging nearly 10 points and 4.3 rebounds. This past season alone, he shot 54% from the field and averaging north of 11 points in just 18 minutes of action. Some team will give him an expanded role on the open market.
25. Caris LeVert, Cleveland Cavaliers
A severe leg injury and other health issues have impacted LeVeret’s progression on the court. He’s now 28 years old and looking to find a home in free agency while coming off his worst season since the wing was a rookie back in 2016. Even then, we’re talking about a guard who averaged nearly 19 points and 4.6 assists from 2019-22. There will be a market.
The best of the rest: Top 2023 NBA free agents by position
- Derrick Rose, New York Knicks (team option)
- Reggie Jackson, Denver Nuggets
- Cory Joseph, Detroit Pistons
- Patrick Beverley, Chicago Bulls
- George Hill, Indiana Pacers
- Ty Jerome, Golden State Warriors
- Dennis Schroder, Los Angeles Lakers
- Jevon Carter, Milwaukee Bucks (player option)
- Dennis Smith Jr., Charlotte Hornets
- Gabe Vincent, Miami Heat
- Miles McBride, New York Knicks (team option)
- Malik Beasley, Los Angeles Lakers (team option)
- Will Barton, Toronto Raptors
- Terrence Ross, Phoenix Suns
- Josh Richardson, New Orleans Pelicans
- Talen Horton-Tucker, Utah Jazz (player option)
- Alec Burks, Detroit Pistons (team option)
- Victor Oladipo, Miami Heat
- Seth Curry, Brooklyn Nets
- Shake Milton, Philadelphia 76ers
- Lonnie Walker, Los Angeles Lakers
- Justin Holiday, Dallas Mavericks
- Kendrick Nunn, Washington Wizards
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Minnesota Timberwolves
- Josh Okogie, Phoenix Suns
- Max Strus, Miami Heat
- Danny Green, Cleveland Cavaliers
- Kelly Oubre, Charlotte Hornets
- Jae Crowder, Milwaukee Bucks
- Joe Ingles, Milwaukee Bucks
- Rudy Gay, Utah Jazz (player option)
- Otto Porter Jr., Toronto Raptors (player option)
- Torrey Craig, Phoenix Suns
- Stanley Johnson, San Antonio Spurs
- Keita Bates-Diop, San Antonio Spurs
- Derrick Jones, Chicago Bulls
- Justise Winslow, Portland Trail Blazers
- T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns
- Kevin Knox, Portland Trail Blazers
- Herbert Jones, New Orleans Pelicans (team option)
- Jalen McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers
- Kevin Love, Miami Heat
- Dario Saric, Oklahoma City Thunder
- Danilo Gallinari, Boston Celtics (player option)
- Jeff Green, Denver Nuggets
- Georges Niang, Philadelphia 76ers
- Markieff Morris, Dallas Mavericks
- Trey Lyles, Sacramento Kings
- Taj Gibson, Washington Wizards
- JaMychal Green, Golden State Warriors
- Blake Griffin, Boston Celtics
- Dwight Powell, Dallas Mavericks
- Nerlens Noel, Detroit Pistons (team option)
- Mason Plumlee, Los Angeles Clippers
- Dewayne Dedmon, Philadelphia 76ers
- Mike Muscala, Boston Celtics (team option)
- Nick Richards, Charlotte Hornets
- Andre Drummond, Chicago Bulls (player option)
- Robin Lopez, Cleveland Cavaliers
- Bismack Biyombo, Phoenix Suns
- DeAndre Jordan, Denver Nuggets
- Thomas Bryant, Denver Nuggets
2023 restricted NBA free agents
- Coby White, guard, Chicago Bulls
- Tre Jones, guard, San Antonio Spurs
- Austin Reeves, guard, Los Angeles Lakers
- Coby White, guard, Chicago Bulls
- Matisse Thybulle, guard, Portland Trail Blazers
- Ayo Dosunmu, guard, Chicago Bulls
- Keldon Johnson, guard, San Antonio Spurs
- Rui Hachimura, forward, Los Angeles Lakers
- Cam Reddish, forward, Portland Trail Blazers
- Cameron Johnson, forward, Brooklyn Nets
- P.J. Washington, forward, Charlotte Hornets
- Grant Williams, forward, Boston Celtics
- Jaxson Hayes, center, New Orleans Pelicans
This article was originally published on Sportsnaut.com and is republished here with permission.