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NBA free agency 2024: Six players to watch who will define the market

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NBA free agency 2024: Six players to watch who will define the market

NBA free agency has lost its luster in recent years. Teams reach contract extensions with their best players, and the trade market tends to be how players move around, not free agency.

Who is left on the free agent market? Here are six players to watch. (Note: not included on this list are restricted free agents expected to re-sign with their team, such as Tyrese Maxey in Philadelphia.)

Paul George

For a long time, the expectation was that George and the Clippers would come to a deal on a contract extension — even George and the Clippers expected it — but the sides never were really close in terms of money or years. George wanted four years at the max the Clippers could offer ($221million) but the Los Angeles offer never got a about about what was offered to Kawhi Leonard, three years and $150 million.

George has decided to opt out and test free agency.

This means talks between George, the Golden State Warriors and Clippers didn’t get to a point a deal could be done (the Warriors were interested). Multiple teams that had interest in George could only get there with a sign-and-trade deal and that is now off the table.

Philadelphia has long been considered George’s top free agent destination, and many people around the NBA were skeptical when news leaked that the 76ers had cooled on PG13. Putting George between Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid makes the 76ers a huge threat in the East (if they can get all three to the playoffs healthy).

Orlando also has been mentioned as a destination, and the Clippers are still in the mix.

LeBron James

He is on this list because he opted out of his $51.4 million contract for next season and officially will be a free agent. However, we’re not spending much time on him because he’s not leaving the Lakers. Good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks he is bolting Los Angeles (where his son just got drafted and his podcast partner just got hired as the coach). He can re-sign with the Lakers for up to three years and $162 million with a no-trade clause and that will happen, although LeBron may let this hang out there a while to give the Lakers room to make moves — maybe use the mid-level exception — to add talent to the roster before he takes up a lot of cap space.

James Harden

Another case where he’s a free agent but nobody thinks he is leaving Los Angeles — the Clippers knew they would have to pay up when they traded for him. Plus, as he saw when he was forcing that trade, Harden realizes there is not much of a market for him outside Los Angeles. That said, he reportedly wants to see how the Paul George situation plays out before re-signing in Los Angeles.

The real questions are years and money. Considering the Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard to a three-year extension, and that’s all they would offer George, that’s likely what the Clippers offer 35-year-old Harden. Expect something like three years, $100 million, and everyone is happy (for now).

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

One of the most trusted role players in the league, KCP turned down his $15.4 million option for next season because he can make more money now and, at age 31, get the security of multiple years on the deal. Denver would love to keep a key player in their championship run, but the Nuggets are already deep into the luxury tax paying Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. and would be locked above the second apron with an extension. It’s expected that Caldwell-Pope will change teams.

Caldwell-Pope is a plus defender on the wing who shot 40.6% from 3 last season, ultimately scoring 10.1 points a game. Orlando and Philadelphia have been mentioned as having interest and either team could come in with a big two-year offer of something like two-years, $50 million (something similar to what the Pacers did to lure Bruce Brown out of Denver a year ago). KCP will likely want a third year.

Bottom line, Caldwell-Pope might be the best free agent to change teams this year.

Isaiah Hartenstein

Hartenstein is the best center on the free agent market — and Nic Claxton just set the price for that market, agreeing to a four-year, $100 million contract to stay in Brooklyn.

Hartenstein made himself some money during the playoffs when he anchored the Knicks defense and averaged 8.5 points a game on 59.2% shooting plus he grabbed 7.6 rebounds — the Knicks don’t make the run they did without him.

New York wants him back, but after trading for Mikal Bridges and re-signing OG Anunoby, it was expected the Knicks couldn’t keep both Hartenstein and Mitchell Robinson (the latter of whom is under contract for two more seasons at a total of $27.3 million). Depending on the final construction of the Bridges trade, New York could be hard-capped at the first tax apron, and they are just about $5 million below that number; they wouldn’t have the money to re-sign Hartenstein.

Even if they tweak the trade and avoid the hard cap, the most the Knicks can offer Hartenstein under the terms of the CBA is four years and $72.5 million. If another team offers more, they will lose him. If the market for centers falls apart and New York can trade Robinson, maybe they can get Hartenstein back at that number but all reports out of New York are that the franchise is pessimistic about its chances of retaining him.

Utah and Oklahoma City have long been mentioned as possible Hartenstein destinations.

DeMar DeRozan

The Bulls and DeRozan have discussed their mutual interest in getting a deal done, but here we are.

DeRozan is still a midrange assassin and bucket-getter who averaged 24 points and 5.3 assists a game last season for Chicago. He was also strong in the clutch. He can help many teams.

The question is years — DeRozan is 35 and showing some signs of decline. Would he agree to something like a two-year, $50-55 million contract, or will he demand a third year? Will any team give it to him? It also will be interesting to see the market for DeRozan because he’s not a 3-point shooter so he’s not going to work for every team (Boston and Oklahoma City would be poor fits, for example).

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