Contract watch: What's next for LeBron James, Damian Lillard, other NBA stars?

Contract watch: What's next for LeBron James, Damian Lillard, other NBA stars?

Basketball

Contract watch: What's next for LeBron James, Damian Lillard, other NBA stars?

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Every year there is a transaction cycle in the NBA that begins in the draft and ends in the trade deadline. Speculation begins immediately after the season ends on a new group of players who are generally near the end of their contracts. Because of the static salary cap environment, players have trended towards signing extensions when they became eligible to. This has reduced speculation and general high-profile player movement over the past few years.

The NBA’s current transaction ended following the trade deadline and the next one is set to begin during the 2022 offseason. Most players who could sign extensions already did and several players seeking new homes were granted trades. For example, we got a rare climax to two highly publicized star trade requests when James Harden and Ben Simmons were moved for each other.

Here are several players whose situations could be worth monitoring next season. Most of these players have one or two years left on their current deals and will all become extension-eligible this offseason.

Nikola Jokic (Denver)

Good chance to extend or re-sign

Nikola Jokic is already eligible to sign a supermax extension with the Denver Nuggets after winning the MVP award last season. He just has to wait until he has 7 years of service to sign it, which will happen after this season. The deal is currently projected at five years, $257.9 million, which would average $51.5 million per season and keep him under contract through his age 33 season. Look for him to sign it as soon as the 2022 free agency moratorium ends.

Zach LaVine (Chicago)

Good chance to extend or re-sign

After years of losing, the Bulls have not only finally put a playoff-caliber team around Zach LaVine, but a contender as well. Now he seems like a lock to re-sign with them this offseason, especially with so few teams with cap space or a competitive situation as good as Chicago’s. He is currently eligible for a four-year, $104.8 million extension, but he can re-sign with them on a five-maximum deal worth $210.5 million.

Zion Williamson (New Orleans)

Zion Williamson attacks the rim surrounded by Warriors

Good chance to extend or re-sign

Zion Williamson may head into extension negotiations this offseason without having played a game this season. Last year it was reported that Williamson was unhappy with the Pelicans organization and speculation began on the possibility of him accepting his qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent in 2023. After having such a serious injury and setback recovering from it, it would make sense if he decides to lock down his financial security and accept a maximum extension from the Pelicans this offseason.

Jaylen Brown (Boston)

Worth monitoring over the next year

Jaylen Brown is already just about halfway done through his four-year extension. He will become eligible in the offseason for a three-year, $110.8 million base extension this offseason, but taking that could be leaving a good amount of money on the table. Brown could receive maximum offers from other teams when he becomes a free agent that would average $42 million annually. The idea of splitting up Brown and Jayson Tatum doesn’t seem like the right move to improve the team. His future is still going to be something to monitor mainly because he is set to become an unrestricted free agent so soon.

Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota)

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

Worth monitoring over the next year

Karl-Anthony Towns’ future in Minnesota could become an important discussion soon since he has two years left on his deal. The organization has struggled to put a playoff team around him for all but one season but they’re looking like a good bet to qualify this season. He will become eligible for a three-year extension projected at $127.5 million this offseason, but he could still qualify for the supermax if he earns All-NBA honors this season or the next.

LeBron James (LA Lakers)

Worth monitoring over the next year

The Los Angeles Lakers team was constructed to contend now but this season is looking like a lost one. They are just about all out of tradeable assets and won’t have cap space any time soon to improve the roster. Historically, LeBron James has changed places when his team’s window appears to be closing and is all out of moves to make. He’s under contract for another season, but he’s in a tighter clock than ever entering year 20. If he plans on ending his career with the Lakers, he could cash out one more time this offseason on a two-year, $97.1 million extension.

Bradley Beal (Washington)

Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

Speculation could roll over into next season

Bradley Beal is currently eligible to sign a four-year, $181.3 million extension with the Wizards and that offer is reportedly still on the table, according to general manager Tommy Sheppard. Beal not taking it may have to do more with the fact that he will be eligible for a five-year, $245.6 million contract with the Wizards in free agency rather than the possibility he may be looking elsewhere.

If Beal was thinking of a change of scenery, it would be easier for him to get to a preferred destination if he requests a trade while under contract. There is little cap space available this coming offseason and while a sign-and-trade is possible, that route presents several obstacles for Beal to get to a preferred destination while earning top dollar. Remaining on the roster past the trade deadline would seem to be a strong indication that he will remain a Wizard long-term.

Damian Lillard (Portland)

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Speculation could roll over into next season

Damian Lillard has three years left on his deal but his future in Portland has been speculated on ever since it was reported that he may want out of Portland. The Trail Blazers’ defense completely fell off a cliff last season and it has remained at the bottom of the league this season. They finally blew up the core around Lillard and the Blazers are set to climb the reverse standings towards a high lottery pick in this year’s draft.

While the ball is seemingly in Lillard’s court regarding his future in Portland, the decision to remain competitive around him might not be as clear-cut for them. If the Blazers were to get a top pick in the 2022 draft, would they be willing to trade a potential part of their future core to extend their window with Lillard? And are they willing to offer him the two-year, $107 million extension he reportedly seeks that would pay him $55 million in his age 36 season? If a compromise cannot be met, a decision on a trade could eventually become mutual.

This begs the question: which teams have the strongest trade packages available for players like Lillard or Beal should they become available? The Sixers are now out of the race after acquiring Harden and the Warriors seem content with keeping their recent first-round picks going forward. The Pelicans are a team that can offer a draft picks-heavy-based package while the Knicks can offer both first-round picks and several talented young players to offer. The Hawks and Grizzlies are also teams that have been pegged as sleepers to make a consolidation trade with their accumulation of young talent and draft picks.

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