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Smoke clouds billow across the basketball world ahead of the 2022 NBA free agency.
Finding the source of that smoke—leverage plays by players or teams or legitimate interest in the rumored possibility—is key for making sense of the rumor mill as it spins at full speed.
That’s the aim here, as we’re running each of the top rumors through our trusty B.S. meter to separate fact from fiction.
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Kyrie Irving’s decision to pick up his player option, as relayed by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, provides temporary relief for the Brooklyn Nets. If nothing else, they have clarity on his contract, and they could even pursue a longer extension.
Of course, this doesn’t erase the possibility of a trade. It also doesn’t necessarily settle things with Kevin Durant, who has reportedly been less than impressed with how the Nets have handled things with Irving so far.
“Kevin Durant has not talked to the team in weeks,” The Ringer’s Logan Murdock said (h/t Nets Daily). “I don’t think Kevin is confident in the front office right now. I don’t know if he’s at the stage of leaving, but there’s a big uneasiness from … the KD side.”
This has always been the most significant domino of the Irving drama. If he left Brooklyn, would Durant do the same? Durant reportedly never issued a trade request, per Wojnarowski, and “remains an advocate for the Nets to commit to a long-term deal for Irving.”
Does Irving’s decision settle things down with Durant? Or does the fact Irving is only under contract for one more season still leave an unsettling feeling for Durant?
If Durant’s complaint is the franchise not seeking a super long, super costly contract with Irving, that’s a tricky stance to take. Injuries and personal decisions have limited Irving to 103 games over the past three seasons combined. For the Nets to feel comfortable about anything close to a long-term max, they need to feel a sense of reliability that Irving hasn’t provided.
Having said that, Durant is in charge of his opinion—Murdock says the beef stems from a feeling “the front office didn’t grow to understand Kyrie, whatever that means,” but also the dismissal of assistant coach Adam Harrington, “one of Kevin’s guys”—so the rationale behind it only really matters to him.
B.S. Meter: Not much, if any. You can disagree with Durant’s logic if you like, but it’s his opinion to make. He is probably frustrated with how things have gone so far in Brooklyn, and if he wants to pin some of that frustration on the front office, that’s his call.
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This past season, Miles Bridges took a sizable step—more of an explosive leap, actually—toward stardom.
What he apparently didn’t do, at least as far as the Charlotte Hornets are reportedly concerned, is play his way into a max contract.
“He’s not being offered, from what I am told, a max contract by the Charlotte Hornets right now,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported Monday. “So, he is gonna go out into the marketplace starting on Thursday, Friday and see if he can get that offer from somewhere else.”
This is tricky, as many restricted free agency ventures often are.
From a strictly business sense, the Hornets are arguably making the right call. Bridges has never made an All-Star appearance or All-NBA roster. Prior to 2021-22, he was never remotely close to that discussion. His value on the open market is murky, particularly with cap space at a premium this summer.
Still, this is risky.
For one, the Hornets risk alienating Bridges, much like the Utah Jazz once did with Gordon Hayward when they forced him to find his own offer sheet in restricted free agency, which he eventually inked with—wait for it—these very same Hornets.
Second, while Charlotte holds the right to match any offer Bridges receives, it obviously has no control over his negotiations with other teams. He could sign something with very unfriendly terms for the team, perhaps like the one the Dallas Mavericks once used to pry Chandler Parsons away from the Houston Rockets.
Then again, maybe the Hornets aren’t trying to squeeze a few bucks out of this and simply don’t see Bridges as a max-level player. Charania recently reported there is “hesitancy” on Charlotte’s side to match a max offer for Bridges.
B.S. Meter: Strangely, very little, it seems. It doesn’t seem like the Hornets regard Bridges as a max talent. Having said that, it would be pretty daring (reckless?) to let him walk as an ascending 24-year-old, particularly with the chemistry he has forged with Charlotte’s franchise face, LaMelo Ball.
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Now that the moment of truth has almost arrived, it sounds like things could be a breeze in the Windy City.
“When free agency opens at 5 p.m. Thursday night, expect the Bulls to formally present a five-year, maximum contract offer worth roughly $212 million,” NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson wrote. “All signs continue to point to LaVine accepting this offer at a time of his discretion.”
This always loomed as the most logical outcome of LaVine’s free agency.
Assuming he can stay healthy, there is no legitimate way to knock his max-contract credentials. This was his fourth consecutive season averaging better than 23 points, four assists and four rebounds. His 60.5 true shooting percentage ranked seventh-best among high-volume players with a 25-plus usage percentage.
You can debate where he’s a tier-one superstar. You can debate whether the Bulls can actually contend for the crown with him as their centerpiece.
That’s fine. He is a 27-year-old star who makes the league’s short list of premier offensive weapons. Provided his knees hold up, he can justify the cost of his next contract.
B.S. Meter: None detected. LaVine has earned a max contract, and given the lack of cap space around the NBA, there is no better place for him to sign.
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The Philadelphia 76ers have a pressing need for stoppers since trading away both Ben Simmons and Danny Green. They also have a perpetual directive to maximize their spacing around perennial MVP candidate Joel Embiid.
Could P.J. Tucker be the solution to their two-pronged problem? People around the league reportedly sound certain enough to write his name in permanent marker.
“Numerous rival teams, meanwhile, say with even more conviction now than they did last week—when I first reported on Wednesday—that they expect P.J. Tucker to land in Philadelphia on a three-year, $30 million deal in free agency,” Marc Stein reported.
The Sixers need to create cap space to make that kind of offer, but Stein added they are “expected to continue exploring trade scenarios that feature Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle.” Those swaps could be more than enough to manufacture the wiggle room.
Embiid previously singled out Tucker as the type of tough player this roster needs to get where it wants in the postseason. James Harden, meanwhile, previously spent three-plus seasons with Tucker (and, for much of that stretch, 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey) on the Houston Rockets, so the Beard should be on board, too.
As a player, Tucker should be a seamless fit. He just splashed a career-high 41.5 percent of his threes and ranked in the 83rd percentile for defensive versatility, per BBall Index. If you find a hoops glossary floating around, his picture is as likely as any to be featured in the three-and-D section.
The only potential hangup here is the contract, as a three-year deal for a 37-year-old inevitably carries some risk, even if Tucker has mostly been an ironman. Still, it’s possible Philly needs that third season to win what could be a competitive bidding war among win-now shoppers. It’s also possible the Sixers structure the deal in more team-friendly terms.
B.S. Meter: Not zero, but probably not a ton, either. Tucker makes a ton of sense on Philly’s roster, and while the length of the rumored arrangement might worry us, maybe the Sixers see a big enough reward now to offset any future risk.