Grading Biggest Deals From 2022 NBA Free Agency Day 1
Free agency for the 2022-23 NBA season is underway, and it took almost no time for the first wave of deals to hit the internet.
Within minutes, multiple max deals were reported by the most notable news breakers. Within hours, dozens of names were already off the board.
Throughout the whirlwind of activity, we'll keep you posted on the biggest deals with analysis and letter grades. The grades are from the perspective of the team, not the player.
This post will be updated throughout the night with the most notable signings.
Knicks Go All-in for Jalen Brunson
The biggest team-changing deal of the day was likely the New York Knicks' addition of Jalen Brunson, a move they'd clearly been eyeing since before the draft.
Trading this year's first away and subsequently unloading Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel into the Detroit Pistons' cap space gave New York the room to add Brunson. And on Thursday, it pounced.
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
Free agent guard Jalen Brunson has agreed to a four-year, $104 million deal with the New York Knicks, his agents Aaron Mintz and Sam Rose of <a href="https://twitter.com/CAA_Basketball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CAA_Basketball</a> tell ESPN. The deal includes a player option on the final season.
In this market, an average salary of $26 million for a starting point guard actually isn't too bad. And in a different context (like that of the Dallas Mavericks, for example), it'd be fine for Brunson.
But in this context?
How far is a core of Brunson, RJ Barrett and Julius Randle going to get you? After weeks of cap gymnastics to create a spot for him, how confident can New York be that Brunson will even make an All-Star team?
He had a strong playoff run, but New York appears to be turning the franchise over to someone who just posted career highs for points (16.3) and assists (4.8) that really don't leap off the screen (at least until Barrett is ready to take that wheel).
Of course, New York is likely banking on Brunson being closer to the player he was when Luka wasn't in the game this season. In those situations (including the postseason), Brunson averaged 24.9 points and 7.5 assists per 75 possessions.
If those numbers carry over into this new context, the deal will look fine. As one follower pointed out, maybe there's a Kyle Lowry-like trajectory in play here, but it feels like an awful lot of wishful thinking.
Nikola Jokic Becomes the Highest-Paid NBA Player of All Time
This certainly wasn't a surprise.
Nikola Jokic is the back-to-back reigning MVP. Michael Jordan is the only player ahead of him on the all-time box plus/minus leaderboard. He's the Denver Nuggets' best scorer, rebounder and passer, and he's probably their best defender too.
There was no way the team was going to let him get away. And now, he's the highest-paid player in league history.
Shams Charania @ShamsCharania
Two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic has agreed to a five-year, $264 million supermax contract extension with the Denver Nuggets, the richest deal in NBA history, sources tell <a href="https://twitter.com/TheAthletic?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TheAthletic</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Stadium?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Stadium</a>. Fifth season (2027-28) will be a player option at $60M.
Deals of this size, regardless of how good the player is, can make team-building tricky. Jokic is worth it.
As long as he's in his prime (which he will be for the duration of this contract) and healthy, any team with him on the roster will be competitive.
Last season, even with Jamal Murray out for the entire season and Michael Porter Jr. missing for all but nine games, the Nuggets had a point differential around that of a 62-win team when Jokic was on the floor (compared to that of an 18-win team when he was off).
Bradley Beal Back to the Wizards
After eclipsing 30 points per game in both 2019-20 and 2020-21, Bradley Beal is heading back to the Washington Wizards on a massive extension.
At least, he's heading back for now.
For months (maybe even years), Beal has floated in and out of trade rumors. If his partnership with Kristaps Porzingis doesn't immediately click and the Wizards underwhelm, expect that chatter to surface again.
General uneasiness about trades aside, a healthy Beal is one of the game's most explosive scorers (though his average dropped to 23.2 points in 40 appearances in 2021-22).
There should be plenty of usage available to both him and KP too (after all, one of those 30-point-per-game seasons came alongside Russell Westbrook).
Offensively, and from an asset-management standpoint (Washington couldn't let him walk for nothing), this move makes sense.
Beal isn't the kind of ceiling raiser that other max players are, though. He isn't a high-volume playmaker and has to be covered for on defense.
It's far from entirely his fault, but he's had a negative net rating in each of his last four seasons.
Devin Booker Re-Ups with the Suns
Devin Booker is another guard who secured a massive contract in the opening moments of free agency, and it's a little tougher to nitpick his deal.
Shams Charania @ShamsCharania
The Phoenix Suns and All-NBA guard Devin Booker are finalizing a four-year, $214 million supermax contract extension that he’s set to sign as soon as next week, sources tell <a href="https://twitter.com/TheAthletic?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TheAthletic</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Stadium?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Stadium</a>. <br><br>Booker will also be the cover athlete for NBA 2K23, per sources.
Booker is over three years younger than Beal, has made significant strides on defense in recent years and has played in Chris Paul's school of playmaking since the start of 2020-21.
Coming off his first selection to the All-NBA first team, there's reason to believe the 25-year-old is on the verge of a prolific peak.
With Chris Paul presumably nearing the end of his career and Deandre Ayton possibly leaving in free agency this summer, the Phoenix Suns will need that peak to remain relevant.
They couldn't afford to let him go.
Anfernee Simons Extends with Portland
The Portland Trail Blazers ended the Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum era by trading the latter to the New Orleans Pelicans last season, presumably to look for a bigger, more defensive-minded 2 to play alongside the face of the franchise.
After Day 1 of free agency, Portland is paying another small-ish combo guard starter-level money.
This feels like another "had to do it" situation, though.
In a vacuum, that's a reasonable deal for Anfernee Simons. After efficiently averaging 23.4 points and 4.4 threes after Lillard left the rotation with an injury, plenty of teams surely would've been happy to bring the 23-year-old on board.
And if the Blazers want to start Josh Hart as that bigger 2, an average salary around $25 million for a star sixth man isn't bad either.
Knicks Add Isaiah Hartenstein
Isaiah Hartenstein was one of 2021-22's most underrated and versatile big men.
He was top 20 in box plus/minus and averaged 17.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.5 steals per 75 possessions.
Hartenstein provides a little bit of everything. And if the last couple of years are any indication, he'll do so with an abundance of effort and little griping over touches.
Now, he'll bring all of that to one of the game's brightest stages.
Shams Charania @ShamsCharania
Free agent center Isaiah Hartenstein has agreed to a two-year, $16 million-plus deal with the New York Knicks, sources tell <a href="https://twitter.com/TheAthletic?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TheAthletic</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Stadium?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Stadium</a>. Fully guaranteed deal for Hartenstein.
The only concern here is his lack of shooting. The New York Knicks figure to be in the RJ Barrett and Julius Randle business long-term. Both had below-average three-point percentages last season.
Barring some improvement from the outside (something that feels far more likely for Barrett, who hit 40.1 percent of his three-point attempts the year before), things could get a little cramped when Hartenstein is on the floor.
For a contract of this size, that's not enough of a risk to scare anyone away from his well-rounded game.
P.J. Tucker to the 76ers
P.J. Tucker is 37 years old. He first logged an NBA minute back in the 2006-07 season. He's played professionally in five countries outside the United States.
Surely, the second-round pick in the 2006 draft has to be nearing the end of what has unquestionably been a successful NBA career.
But that didn't stop a team from signing him to a deal that could take him to his 40th birthday.
Shams Charania @ShamsCharania
Free agent PJ Tucker is finalizing a three-year, $33.2 million fully guaranteed deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, his agent Andre Buck (<a href="https://twitter.com/andrebuck14?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@andrebuck14</a>) told <a href="https://twitter.com/TheAthletic?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TheAthletic</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Stadium?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Stadium</a>.
Right now, there are only 31 players in league history who appeared in a game in their 40s. Tucker could make it 32, as his new three-year deal is fully guaranteed and his age-36 campaign was encouraging.
After posting a way-below-average box plus/minus in 2020-21, Tucker swung back above zero there and hit 41.5 percent of his three-point attempts in 2021-22.
On a team with James Harden and Joel Embiid, he won't be asked to do much more than stand outside on offense, take catch-and-shoot threes and do his best to stay in front of opposing forwards on the other end.
Kings Add Malik Monk
There weren't many bright spots for the 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers, but Malik Monk was certainly one of them.
After struggling through much of his rookie contract with the Charlotte Hornets, Monk averaged a career-high 13.8 points and shot 39.1 percent from three in 2021-22.
He looks like a high-volume floor-spacer and can even be trusted to do a little self-creation in a pinch. And now, he'll be deploying his developing game for another Pacific Division team.
The Sacramento Kings have an interesting point guard-center combo in place with De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, and this signing helps them fill out the rest of the lineup with outside shooting.
Slotting Monk, Keegan Murray (who shot 39.8 percent from three at Iowa last season) and Harrison Barnes (a career 37.9 percent three-point shooter) in between those two gives Sacramento the foundation for a strong offense.
And getting the shooting guard in that group for $19 million over two years is a very reasonable price.
Bobby Portis Returns to Milwaukee
Brook Lopez's back injury wasn't ideal, but it did give Bobby Portis a chance to start and break out for the Milwaukee Bucks. That obviously helped him, and it may have helped the Bucks too.
Portis averaged a career-high 14.6 points per game and shot 39.3 percent from three in 2021-22.
His floor spacing from the 5 was more than helpful in lineups with Giannis attacking driving lanes. And now, the Bucks have him on board on a below-market deal (for a starting-caliber center) for the next few years.
Between Portis and Lopez, the Bucks are paying their top two 5s a little more than Nikola Vucevic will make next season (and a little less than Al Horford).
That's excellent value for a team paying big money to Giannis, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.
Memphis Brings Back Tyus Jones
The Memphis Grizzlies have one of the game's most dynamic young point guards in Ja Morant. And now, they've secured possibly the best backup 1 in the league for at least the next two years.
This season, Jones had a significantly better net rating than Morant, shot 39.0 percent from three and took care of the ball about as well as a primary playmaker can.
Among players who appeared in at least 20 games and played 20-plus minutes per game, Jones' 7.04 assist-to-turnover led, and it was well clear of Chris Paul's second-place 4.59.
The question now may be how much more can coach Taylor Jenkins play Morant and Jones together. With the latter's more pass-oriented game, the fit should be fine on offense, and Memphis was plus-14.9 points per 100 possessions when they shared the floor in 2021-22.
Thunder Secure Luguentz Dort
The Oklahoma City Thunder are clearly still in the middle of a rebuild. They just added 20-year-old Chet Holmgren to a core that includes Josh Giddey (19) and Aleksej Pokusevski (20). Their veteran, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, isn't even 24 yet.
At a certain point, though, every Process-like rebuild hits a point where you have to start making decisions on the young players, and OKC is there with Luguentz Dort.
At first glance, that might look like a lot of money for a 6'3" wing who's struggled to stay on the floor (he's averaged 46.3 appearances per year) and has shot just 39.5 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three in his career.
And if those shooting numbers hold, the contract probably won't age well.
The average salary comes in at less than 15 percent of the 2022-23 salary cap, though. If the Thunder believe he's a long-term starter on the wing, that's a fine investment.
He's already a solid defender. If he becomes even an average three-point shooter, he's probably a plus player overall. And even if that takes the full five years of this deal, it's probably not a huge deal. OKC isn't contending anytime soon.
Minnesota Maxes KAT
Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the most talented and productive offensive players of all time.
Over the course of his career, the Minnesota Timberwolves have scored 9.1 more points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor.
And now, they'll have him around to carry their offense for a while longer.
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns has agreed on a four-year, $224M super max extension, his agent Jessica Holtz of <a href="https://twitter.com/CAA_Basketball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CAA_Basketball</a> tells ESPN. Deal begins with the 2024-25 season and delivers Towns’ total contract value to six years and $295M.
Of course, Minnesota hasn't had a ton of team success during Towns' career. And he hasn't looked like a bona fide defensive anchor at many points.
But the arrival of Anthony Edwards seems to be just what the big man needed. With a little bit of the scoring and leadership pressure off his shoulders, the Timberwolves look ready to take step forward in the franchise's next era.
Ja Morant Extends in Memphis
In just his third NBA season, Ja Morant more than broke out with 27.4 points, 6.7 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 threes.
In the playoffs, he averaged 9.8 assists.
The indicators that he's on his way (or already at) superstardom are all over his statistical profile (not to mention his social media footprint).
So it should come as little surprise that the Memphis Grizzlies are maxing him out.
There's still work to do, though.
The Grizzlies were significantly better with Morant off the floor this season. That was largely due to subpar defense, but the egalitarian nature of the non-Ja offense was a little less predictable too.
For a 22-year-old, neither criticism is unusual. And Morant has plenty of time to address both.
Even with his weaknesses, this deal is a no-brainer.
Gary Payton II Is Headed to Portland
Gary Payton II appears to be the first big luxury-tax casualty for the 2022-23 Golden State Warriors.
After breaking out with 7.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, a 61.6 field-goal percentage and some of the best perimeter defense in the league in 2021-22, a Western Conference foe has snatched him up.
And Golden State might regret letting him go.
"Yes, the Warriors' luxury tax bill is exorbitant," The Athletic's Steve Berman wrote. "But Gary Payton II came back from a broken elbow extremely early to immediately rejoin an NBA Finals rotation and gives them something no one else does. If they're serious about repeating, they shouldn't get cute here."
Apparently, they got too cute, and the Portland Trail Blazers took advantage.
Now, his new team is surely hoping for a similar defensive boost alongside offensive star Damian Lillard.
Defense has long been an issue for lineups with Lillard. Next season, they can play him alongside Payton, Josh Hart and Jerami Grant.