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NBA free agency opens… sort of. Here are seven players to watch this week

Report: Siakam, Pacers to sign $189.5M max deal
The Dan Patrick Show crew weighs in on reports that All-Star forward Pascal Siakam, 30, plans on signing a four-year $189.5 million maximum contract with the Indiana Pacers.

It’s one of the most consequential changes in the new CBA, right up there with the 65-game rule for awards and the luxury tax second apron:

As soon as the NBA Finals end, teams can officially start negotiating with their own free agents and extension-eligible players. To use a big-name example, the Los Angeles Lakers can officially start talking to LeBron James about a contract extension. However, the Philadelphia 76ers cannot officially talk to LeBron about leaving L.A. to come to Philly.

Unofficially, nothing changes — tampering was already happening and will continue. In the above example, the Lakers and LeBron’s agents would have already been talking anyway, now it’s just legal and a deal can be announced. You can be sure the 76ers front office at least lobbed a call to LeBron’s people to gauge interest.

Here are seven names to watch in the next week where deals could be announced.

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Nobody around the league thinks LeBron James will leave Los Angeles and the Lakers. He and his family appear settled, with two of his children (Bryce and Zhuri) in school in the area. However, he might be the player on this list least likely to strike a deal this week because history suggests that LeBron will use his potential free agency to pressure the Lakers for roster upgrades. And maybe selecting a certain guard out of USC with the No. 55 pick in the NBA draft next week.

The Lakers reportedly want LeBron back on whatever kind of contract he wishes. LeBron has until June 29 to decide whether to opt into the $51.4 million he is owed next season or to become a free agent. If he opts in, he can sign a two-year max extension with the Lakers worth $164 million over the three years. (No team can offer LeBron more than three years because of the over-38 rule.) If LeBron opts out and re-signs with the Lakers, he gives up two million — a max of $162 million over three years — but he could get a no-trade clause. Not that he’s leaving, but for the record if LeBron became a free agent another team can offer up to $157 million over three years.

A deal keeping LeBron in Los Angeles is coming, the only questions are when and for how much.

Pascal Siakam, Indiana Pacers

Update: Minutes after this story went live, the deal was announced

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This is another case where nobody in league circles thinks he is hitting the free-agent market. Siakam guided his way from Toronto to Indiana and the second that happened teams around the league erased him from their free agency whiteboards (not that anybody uses whiteboards, but the visual is better).

The Pacers and Siakam are already close to a deal, reports Scott Agness of the Fieldhouse Files. The only question is years (four or five… probably four) and how much money. A max contract for Siakam would start at $42.3 million, but he may be just a little below that or have incentives to reach the pure max. Just expect this to be one of the first deals announced.

OG Anunoby, New York Knicks

Another player who, when traded from Toronto at the deadline, was expected to reach a deal to stay with his new team. However, the Knicks offer reportedly was below what Anunoby expected and he could be headed to free agency, reports Brian Windhost at ESPN. That leak could be a negotiating tactic, or he could genuinely feel lowballed.

Anunoby will opt out of his $19.9 million player option for next season because his new contract will start closer to $35 million. From the outside, it feels like a deal gets done here — New York knew what he wanted as a free agent when they traded for him. It feels like an offer of around four years, $150 million, gets a deal done, but the talks appear to have stalled a little.

James Harden, Los Angeles Clippers

A deal gets done here because both sides need each other and don’t have other great options. As Harden found out when trying to force a trade out of Philadelphia, the market for his services around the league is not that robust. The Clippers traded for him, are way over the cap, and if they don’t re-sign Harden they have no good way to replace him — and owner Steve Ballmer wants a competitive team moving into his new Intuit Dome building next season. The only questions now are how much and how many years? Three years, $90-$100 million seems about right.

Nic Claxton, Brooklyn Nets

Athletic, rim-protecting centers have a real value around the league — how much did Dereck Lively II matter to Dallas this playoff run? — and as a 25-year-old free agent Nic Claxton is about to get paid because of it. Brooklyn wants to keep him — it still wants to attract stars to add to Mikal Bridges and him — but there are cap space teams out there, such as Charlotte or Toronto, that could throw a lot of money at Claxton if he hits free agency June 30th. Claxton would arguably be the second-best center on the free agent market (behind Isaiah Hartenstein, unless you’re a big Jonas Valanciunas fan) and could bet on himself if he doesn’t like the Nets offer.

Claxton could see the kind of numbers rumored for Hartenstein —four years and more than $80 million, maybe closer to $90 — and Brooklyn will have to pay up to keep him.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Denver Nuggets

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract, worth $15.4 million, because he can make at least $5 million more a season and get the security of four or five years with a new deal. Denver wants him, and he reportedly wants to stay.

This is where the luxury tax and its second apron complicate things. Denver has about $147 million committed to just four players (Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr.), which is $6 million over the salary cap already. Re-signing KCP will essentially send the Nuggets over the second apron—into heavy taxes and team-building restrictions.

While the Nuggets need KCP on the court, every dollar spent on him hits the pocketbook hard. Can Denver convince him to opt into his contract and give him more money on the back end? Probably not, because suitors like the 76ers and Magic would be lined up (the Lakers have interest, too, but not the cap space). The Nuggets lost Bruce Brown in free agency a year ago and that lack of depth was evident in the playoffs. They can’t let Caldwell-Pope just walk, they may need to give him four years and close to $100 million and deal with the consequences later.

Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers

This is an easy one — the 76ers are going to max out Maxey at five years, $205 million and he’s going to sign it. The only questions are if that number goes up because he makes All-NBA next season and if the fifth year is a player option or locked in. Philly wants to get this deal done so it can turn its focus to landing Paul George and putting him next to Maxey and Joel Embiid.