The 2023 NBA offseason isn’t over. If we’re being technical, it only just started. But aside from Damian Lillard’s likely move to Miami and an eventual resolution to the standoff between James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers, most of the league’s major business has likely already been conducted. Bradley Beal, Chris Paul, Jordan Poole, Marcus Smart, Kristaps Porzingis and Fred VanVleet all have new teams, with Lillard and Harden likely joining them in the near future.
We have a whole year to cover the ways in which those new players ultimately fit in with their teams and how those moves will impact the 2024 championship race, but inevitably, certain corners of the NBA will quickly turn its attention to the next round of significant player movement. And so, with the big moves of 2023 still fresh on our minds, let’s take a glance at what might be awaiting us in 2024. Who are the best players that could change teams, and where might they go?
The top free agents of 2024
Based on the sheer talent of this group, we need to kick things off with the stars that have player-options for the 2024-25 season. Buckle up, these are some of the biggest names in basketball: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and OG Anunoby. In most cases, these players are not going to be treated as typical free agents. They are powerful enough to simply select their next team and get there in whatever way is most advantageous to the parties involved.
James, for instance, will likely either be a Laker at a max salary or join whatever team drafts his son Bronny at whatever price that team is capable of paying. If James leaves the Lakers, Davis will likely have his choice of remaining in Los Angeles or working with the Lakers on a suitable trade. The Clippers have already reportedly explored George trades, and given his history, Leonard would almost certainly need to approve any trade if he does not ultimately earn an extension in Los Angeles. However, for the time being, all four Los Angeles stars appear likelier than not to stay put.
If anyone here is gettable, it’s Anunoby. The Raptors have developed a nasty habit of keeping players that they should trade only to watch them walk in free agency. The Raptors likely can’t extend him at a fair number based on the CBA rules governing veteran extensions, which would cap him at a 40% raise in the first year of a new deal. He reportedly wants to handle the ball more. Perhaps the loss of VanVleet allows him to do so, but more likely, without more change in Toronto, Anunoby will seek out a new home elsewhere.
Four players that have made an All-Star team in the past two seasons are currently slated for unrestricted free agency without options on their contracts in 2024: Harden, Pascal Siakam, DeMar DeRozan and Jaylen Brown. However, some of those players are likelier to actually change teams than others.
Brown is widely expected to agree to a five-year, $295 million super max extension with the Celtics. Such a deal would take him off of the market. Harden is expected to be traded this offseason. While he is not extension-eligible due to the two-year contract he signed last offseason, any team trading serious assets for him would likely expect to bring him back for the 2024-25 season.
Siakam is a bit harder to peg. According to Chris Haynes, Siakam’s camp intimated to teams interested in trading for him that he would not be interested in re-signing with any team besides the Raptors. It’s notable, however, that Siakam and the Raptors failed to agree to an extension last offseason and thus far have not this offseason. He also has a possible financial incentive to stay in Toronto. Siakam has earned All-NBA honors in two of the previous four seasons. That’s slightly off of the two-out-of-three pace required for a supermax deal, which he was eligible for last offseason but not this one. If he makes All-NBA next season, he can get a supermax deal from Toronto. No other team can give him one. Of course, the Raptors would have to actually want to pay him long-term for Siakam to get this deal, so for now, he’s a plausible free agent mover.
DeRozan is the likeliest to be available. He may have become a Laker in 2021 if not for the Russell Westbrook trade. The Bulls paid him handsomely to come to Chicago, but his interest in both competing for a championship and possibly returning to his native southern California was apparent then. DeRozan will be 35 when the 2024-25 season begins, so if he ever wants make a serious title push or check the Lakers or Clippers off of his bucket list, that would be the time.
After those four, there is a trio of decorated veterans coming off of max contracts worth monitoring in Klay Thompson, Tobias Harris and Gordon Hayward. Thompson is the only one of the three looking at a possible extension, but for the time being, there has been no reporting indicating that one is likely. The Warriors are facing severe tax problems, and with Thompson seemingly declining, he’d have to take a pay cut for a new deal to make sense for Golden State. Mike Conley Jr. fits into this group as well, and while he didn’t quite earn the max on his last deal, he has in the past.
Among the younger set are a group of players coming off of either their first or second market-value contract (Markelle Fultz, Tyus Jones, Malik Monk and Gary Trent Jr.) as well as a few 2023 restricted free agents that took the qualifying offer to hit the market next summer without restrictions (Miles Bridges, Coby White). All of those players come with some significant concern or another, and their value will vary by team in ways that max players typically don’t have to worry about. However, there is talent available at almost every position and within every age bracket.
The 2024 pre-agents
No 2023 All-Stars changed teams via free agency this summer. In general, All-Stars rarely wait until the expiration of their contracts to move anymore. The moment they grow unsatisfied, they seek out trades. None of these players have made noise about a possible move yet, but for one reason or another, they need to be considered possible trade candidates next summer if the 2023-24 season goes poorly for them and their teams.
We’ve already endured one rumor cycle surrounding Giannis Antetokounmpo. We may be about to embark upon another one. In October, Antetokounmpo will become eligible for a supermax extension. In April, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said he believed an extension this summer was unlikely. That is probably true for both financial and basketball reasons. Antetokounmpo, 28, can only add three seasons to his existing deal if he extends now. If he waits until next offseason, he can add four.
However, we must also acknowledge that Antetokounmpo himself has made it clear that he has not firmly decided to spend his entire career in Milwaukee. “I just love challenges. What’s the next challenge? The next challenge might not be here,” Antetokounmpoin 2021. His best teammate, Khris Middleton, is 31 and has had injury problems over the past two years. His second-best teammate, Jrue Holiday, is 33 and plans to retire at the end of his current contract in two more years. His third-best teammate, Brook Lopez, is 35 and missed most of the 2021-22 season with back problems. The Bucks, as currently constructed, have a fairly short runway as contenders. If Antetokounmpo does not believe he can win in Milwaukee moving forward, he’ll have to at least consider other options.
Luka Doncic is set for his first spin through the rumor cycle, and it may not even come next summer. Doncic, 24, is tied to Dallas through the 2025-26 season, and the Mavericks have largely earned positive reviews for their offseason. However, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reported in April that the Mavericks are worried about Doncic seeking a move as soon as next summer. That fear is justified. The Mavericks just missed the playoffs. They’ve put all of their eggs into the Kyrie Irving basket, perhaps the NBA’s ultimate high-risk, high-reward bet. If things go badly again, the Mavericks don’t exactly have a pivot. This is their team moving forward. If it can’t compete, it likely can’t keep Doncic.
And then there’s Joel Embiid. There has been very limited reporting on his future, and that makes some sense. He’s coming off of an MVP season, after all, and he’s never given fans reason to believe he’d ever seek a new home. But his first co-star, Ben Simmons, already forced an exit, and his replacement, James Harden, is on the way out as well. Tyrese Maxey could rise up to replace him, but the Sixerswith his current extension negotiations. The 76ers exhausted most of their draft capital over the past few seasons. Their flexibility is extremely limited, and Embiid will turn 30 next season. How much time does he have to wait out another roster revamp? Embiid hasn’t indicated he wants a new team, but logic dictates that many stars in his position might if things continue to go south.
Donovan Mitchell isn’t quite in that tier, and he plays for an ascending Cleveland Cavaliers team that has the talent to win it all next season. So why do these New York rumors persist? He was spotted at a Liberty game with Mikal Bridges earlier in the offseason. That probably doesn’t mean anything, but recent NBA history tells us not to say so definitively. Mitchell can become a free agent in 2025. One way or another, he’ll likely make a decision on his future in 2024. In basketball terms, he should probably stay with the Cavs. But if his priority is playing in a bigger market, then things get more interesting.
Those are the four biggest names teams are watching. There are others, and we’ve covered them in. You’ve also got Karl-Anthony Towns, Trae Young, Zion Williamson and Zach LaVine, who all make some degree of sense as trade candidates in the relatively near future. Any of them could theoretically be available next summer. They could be moved beforehand. But the foursome of Antetokounmpo, Doncic, Embiid and Mitchell is the one with the talent to define the 2024 offseason in the way that Lillard is currently headlining the summer.
Who has cap space in 2024?
This is a complicated question. In most cases, a decent chunk of the league has pathways to significant cap space in the following offseason. That number then gets whittled down by extensions, trades and Bird Rights. For now, according to Spotrac, 18 of the 30 NBA teams have practical cap space next summer. Let’s start trimming teams.
The Warriors (Thompson and Paul), Celtics (Brown), Raptors (Siakam, Trent and Anunoby) and Knicks (Immanuel Quickley and Josh Hart) are near-locks to either extend players or at least stay over the cap with their Bird Rights. The Hawks (Dejounte Murray) and Kings (Domantas Sabonis) have wiped away significant chunks of their possible space through extensions. Finally, we should address the anomaly of the Oklahoma City Thunder. They will have significant cap space next summer but will likely use it as they did this summer: to absorb short-term contracts for draft picks. The Thunder are already planning for the expensive extensions they’ll have to give to Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren. That’s why they aren’t making gaudy long-term commitments to outside players at the moment.
So where does that leave us? The Pistons, Magic, Hornets, Spurs and Wizards will almost certainly be looking at significant space, assuming they don’t add meaningful long-term salary between now and next summer. The Rockets will probably be there too, if we assume that they let go of Kevin Porter Jr. on his non-guaranteed deal. The Pacers can get to a pretty decent number, though they will likely want to retain Bruce Brown (either on his team-option or on a longer-term deal) which could limit their space.
The Nets can create a pretty meaningful amount of space if they don’t bring back any of their own free agents, but given their links to Tyler Herro in a possible Damian Lillard trade, it doesn’t seem likely that they go in that direction. The Bulls will similarly have space if DeMar DeRozan walks, and they could even create more of it if Lonzo Ball’s injury is considered career-ending by a physician selected jointly by the NBA and the NBPA (though, in that case Ball would still be paid, he just wouldn’t count against the cap).
The Jazz are in a somewhat unique position. They’ve extended Jordan Clarkson, but it isn’t clear yet what structure his new three-year, $55 million extension will take. If they front-loaded his deal as a renegotiate-and-extend arrangement, they’d have more space next offseason not only because Clarkson’s salary would fall, but because they would lack the means to renegotiate-and-extend Lauri Markkanen now, which would also keep his cap figure low. They will ultimately have space, but it’s not yet clear how much. As we mentioned earlier, the Warriors, Celtics, Raptors and Knicks will likely emphasize their own players, so they’re out of the cap space derby. That leaves us with two critical teams to cover.
The Lakers will almost certainly try to keep James and Davis. James is not currently eligible for an extension. Davis is, but we don’t know if he’ll get one. If James and Davis both walk, the Lakers only currently have around $70 million on the books for the 2024-25 season owed to Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Gabe Vincent, Jaxson Hayes, Cam Reddish and incoming rookies Jalen Hood-Schifino and Maxwell Lewis. That would give them close to two max slots if James and Davis were to walk and they don’t re-sign any of their own free agents. This isn’t a likely path, but it’s worth noting. If next summer does surprisingly turn out to be the end of the James-Davis era, the Lakers can pivot.
As of this moment, the 76ers only have two guaranteed contracts on their books for the 2024-25 season: Embiid and P.J. Tucker. That positions them for almost two max slots even with Maxey’s $13 million cap hold on the books. Of course, going this route and truly maximizing cap space means holding off on extending Maxey until next summer. He’s eligible now and would likely prefer the security of an extension, but the 76ers don’t have to give him one. In fact, they’ve indicated thus far that they don’t plan to do so. But that’s an enormous risk to take with a possible young All-Star. The last thing the 76ers need is to damage their relationship with another one of Embiid’s co-stars. They’re walking a tightrope here.
Cap space is ultimately a somewhat artificial construct. Teams well below the cap can operate above it by keeping their own players. Teams far above the cap can trade salaries away to create space as the Kings just did. If any team wants to chase any free agent badly enough, they can find a way to do so. However, what we covered above is where things sit at this moment.
Who might try to trade for a star in 2024?
Have you spent the past several months wondering why a Knicks team with years of accumulated assets has largely sat out of the star-trading derby? It’s because the Knicks don’t want just a star; they want an MVP. There are three of them that could possibly become available as soon as next summer. The Knicks would be in the running for any of them. Embiid does not have an agent. Why? Because his former agent, Leon Rose, got hired to run the Knicks in 2020. Luka Doncic said publicly that the Mavericks missed Jalen Brunson last season. Brunson would surely welcome a reunion in New York. He’d also be the best point guard Antetokounmpo has ever played with.
And yet, the Knicks might not even have the best trade off in New York. Brooklyn may owe its own picks to Houston through 2027, but the picks it controls from Phoenix, Dallas and Philadelphia are likely more enticing than any New York has to offer in a trade. Bridges is just as appealing a co-star for a big name as Brunson, and though it went poorly the last time they did it, the Nets have already proven capable of recruiting superstars. Brooklyn will be right there in the mix for any big name that becomes available next summer.
We should acknowledge that the Heat haven’t traded for Lillard yet, and should they fail to acquire him, Miami will almost certainly be in the mix for whoever becomes available next summer. Assuming they make such a trade in July or later, they can make remove the protections on the 2025 first-rounder they owe Oklahoma City to give themselves four tradable first-round picks: 2024, 2027, 2029 and 2031. Toss in some combination of Nikola Jovic, Jaime Jaquez and Herro and you may not have a great offer, but that’s at least potentially a palatable deal for certain players.
Looming in the background sit the small-market teams sitting on war chests accumulated when they were the teams giving away stars. The Jazz, Spurs, Rockets and Thunder all have the means to outbid the Knicks or Nets. Of course, as we know, the highest bid is rarely the determining in factor in trades of this magnitude. It typically boils down to what the player wants. These teams have the assets to trade for a star, but convincing them to play in non-glamour markets will likely be easier said than done.