The 2022 NBA free agency period is less than one week old, yet most of the best players are already off the board.
Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine returned to the Wizards and Bulls, respectively, on five-year max contracts worth over $200 million, while Anfernee Simons remained in Portland on a four-year, $100 million deal. Jalen Brunson has been the biggest name to change teams via free agency, leaving the Mavericks for a four-year, $104 million deal with the Knicks.
Even a majority of the top role players have been scooped up. The 76ers lured P.J. Tucker away from Miami. The Trail Blazers (Gary Payton II) and Raptors (Otto Porter Jr.) each poached a key piece from the reigning champion Warriors. Malik Monk went from Los Angeles to Sacramento, Kyle Anderson departed Memphis for Minnesota and Bruce Brown left Brooklyn for Denver. Meanwhile, Bobby Portis (Bucks), Kevon Looney (Warriors), Nic Batum (Clippers), Mitchell Robinson (Knicks) and Gary Harris (Magic) all stayed put.
But even though the free-agent pool has been substantially thinned out, there’s still value to be had. Here’s a look at the best remaining NBA free agents:
James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers, unrestricted
Harden may not be on this list for long. It would be an absolute stunner if he and the Sixers didn’t reach a contract agreement in the near future. The 32-year-old Harden declined his $47.4 million player option to give Daryl Morey the flexibility to improve Philly's depth in free agency, and Morey did just that by landing ex-Rockets P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr. There have been rumors that Harden will sign a two- or three-year deal with a starting salary in the $35 million range, potentially with a player option after Year 1.
Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns, restricted
So …where is Deandre Ayton going? The Suns haven’t been willing to give Ayton a max contract and apparently no other team has swooped in with a suitable offer yet. Ayton looked headed for Detroit until the Pistons drafted Jalen Duren 13th overall. He then seemed like a prime piece to be moved to the Nets in a potential Kevin Durant trade, but Brooklyn reportedly doesn’t have interest in the 23-year-old center. The Pacers and Spurs still make sense as Ayton destinations, but do they want to pay up for him? Ayton does have the ability to accept the Suns’ one-year qualifying offer ($16.4 million), which would allow him to hit unrestricted free agency next summer.
Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers, restricted
The Cavaliers have locked up Darius Garland long term. Now what will they do with their other promising young guard? Cleveland surprisingly ripped off 44 wins in 2021-22 despite Sexton being sidelined for most of the season with a torn meniscus. Sexton, 23, can get buckets and in an efficient manner, as he put up over 24 points per game on 47.5/37.1/81.5 shooting splits two seasons ago. But, like Ayton, there may not be a big-money offer sheet out to force Cleveland’s hand. Sexton’s qualifying offer from the Cavs is worth $7.2 million.
Montrezl Harrell, Charlotte Hornets, unrestricted
Harrell is facing a felony drug charge stemming from a traffic stop in Kentucky on May 12 where authorities said they discovered a backpack containing three pounds of marijuana in vacuum-sealed bags. Harrell, who authorities allege “admitted to being in possession of marijuana and produced a small amount from his sweatpants,” is scheduled in court for a preliminary hearing on July 13.
Harrell’s attorneys told TMZ he “has never been a part of any form of marijuana trafficking or any other illegal activity.” They also claimed Harrell “was not driving the vehicle, and following the stop, he was only given a ticket to appear in court at a later date for a marijuana-related charge as were all occupants of the vehicle."
It wouldn’t be surprising if interested teams were waiting for more clarity surrounding Harrell’s legal situation. The 28-year-old big man appeared in 71 combined contests for the Wizards and Hornets last season, averaging 13.1 points and 6.1 rebounds in 23.1 minutes per game while shooting 64.5% from the field.
Carmelo Anthony, Los Angeles Lakers, unrestricted
The NBA’s ninth-leading scorer of all time is still available. Anthony, who turned 38 in May, averaged 13.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 26 minutes per game while shooting 44.1% overall in his first season as a Laker. After proving he can still knock down 3s on a high volume of attempts (37.5% on 5.8 per game), Anthony should draw interest from contenders. Melo is 308 points away from passing Shaquille O'Neal for eighth on the all-time scoring list.
Dennis Schröder, Houston Rockets, unrestricted
Schröder was considered one of the biggest free-agent steals last offseason when he signed a one-year, $5.9 million contract with the Celtics. The signing, however, didn't prove to be a massive coup. Schröder was shipped to Houston at the trade deadline after 49 games (and 25 starts) with Boston, as the C's brought in Derrick White to be their new lead guard off the bench. While Schröder’s days as a starter on a playoff team might be over, he certainly still offers value as a backup. In 64 total games last season, he averaged 13.5 points and 4.6 assists on 43.1/34.4/85.3 shooting splits.
DeMarcus Cousins, Denver Nuggets, unrestricted
Boogie Cousins is coming off a solid stint as the Nuggets’ backup center. After signing with Denver on a 10-day deal in January, Cousins averaged 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds in 13.9 minutes over 31 games, shooting 45.6% from the field and 32.4% from 3. He logged 11.4 minutes per game against Golden State in Round 1 of the playoffs, averaging 10.6 points and 3.4 rebounds on 65.5% shooting overall. Denver curiously reached a deal with veteran center DeAndre Jordan in the opening minute of free agency, so it doesn’t look like Cousins, who turns 32 in August, will be back with the Nuggets.