The machinations of NBA free agency have undergone a face-lift in recent years. Fewer big names are hitting the market, let alone leaving. Players are orchestrating exits while still under contract or signing extensions with, perhaps, the intention of figuring out the rest later.
That's a relative bummer when thinking about the avalanche of marquee surprises and movement free agency used to be.
Fewer fireworks doesn't mean no fireworks. Most offseasons still contain a shock or five.
This summer might actually be good for more wild scenarios than usual. And it goes beyond just the much-ballyhooed, extensively rumored James Harden and Houston Rockets reunion.
A handful of big names face uncertain futures in their current digs, and a smattering of teams may be both positioned and driven to explore nuclear acquisitions to speed up or fortify their current timelines.
Our mission, that I have accepted and carried out on your behalf, is to identify what could be the splashiest shakeups. These are not predictions, just so we're clear. They're more like "If free agency gets vigorously turned upside, this might be why" possibilities we should all closely monitor.
Kyrie Irving Leaves the Mavericks
Kyrie Irving returning to the Dallas Mavericks is the most likely outcome of his free agency. They can offer him more years and money than anyone else (up to five years, $272 million) and remain optimistic about his desire to stick around, according to The Athletic's Tim Cato.
Money figures to speak volumes in this situation. Kyrie clearly cares—or, at least, cared—about having his Bird rights transferred to another team. He needn't have agitated for a trade out of Brooklyn otherwise.
Then again, money could be part of the Mavs' hesitance. How high are they willing to go? To his starting max of $46.9 million? And for how many years?
For as talented as Kyrie remains, he is notoriously mercurial—to say the absolute least, in the kindest way possible. If Dallas isn't offering the full boat, he might bolt. And while the Mavs just forked over Dorian Finney-Smith and a 2029 unprotected first-rounder to get him, they have to consider whether they're prepared to tie the next "X" number of seasons in Luka Dončić's heyday to a 31-year-old wild card.
This says nothing of Kyrie's potential desire to just leave. Maybe he agrees to take significantly less than the max—around $15 million or so—to join the Los Angeles Lakers in the event they choose cap space over depth. Maybe the Rockets strike out on Harden and pivot to maxing Kyrie as part of their we-have-almost-$60-million-in-cap-space plan.
Hell, maybe the Washington Wizards go full Washington Wizards and enter the fold as a sign-and-trade landing spot.
This is Kyrie we're talking about, after all. Quite literally anything seems on the table.
Draymond Green Leaves the Warriors
Envisioning a world in which Draymond Green wears another jersey is pretty difficult. All 11 seasons of his career have been spent donning a Golden State Warriors uni, and at 33, it's exceedingly tough to identify teams that'll fork over a lump sum to poach him.
Green could pick up his $27.6 million player option or accept a handsome pay cut in exchange for a longer-term deal. Neither outcome guarantees the Warriors run it back.
Bringing back Green at his player-option number would still have Golden State on track to pony up nearly $500 million in salary and luxury taxes. That's before factoring in any minimum-contract additions to the roster.
Whether the Warriors will let dollars and cents bust up a dynastic core is debatable. A lot depends on how the postseason shakes out. And even if team governor Joe Lacob gets pocket-shy, Green isn't a lock to become collateral damage.
Jordan Poole is about to start a four-year extension that guarantees him $123 million and, with the season he's having, feels more expendable. But Green has always felt like the core player most likely to explore his options.
Could the Lakers and Dray's fellow Klutch Sports Group stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, come calling? Would the Rockets consider paying Green in tandem with another huge acquisition? Should the Indiana Pacers consider offering a windfall to pair him up front with Myles Turner? Might other suitors from left field back up the Brink's Truck as part of sign-and-trade scenarios? Portland? Dallas? Chicago?
Don't rule out Green's free agency turning into chaos just yet.
Sacramento Sends Portland into a Tailspin
The Sacramento Kings can eke out just over $20 million in cap room if they renounce the rights to Harrison Barnes. That's not insubstantial. It's also not enough to steal one of the most prized names set to hit the open market.
Everything changes if the Kings can compensate a fellow cap-space squad to take on the final two years and $24.9 million left on Richaun Holmes' deal. The cost of that dump is a discussion for another day, but it would open more than $30 million in spending power if Sacramento doesn't take back any money.
That much coin should get the Kings a spot at the table of the free agent who, frankly, is the best fit for them: Jerami Grant.
Though he already turned down a max extension from the Portland Trail Blazers, he's not necessarily window shopping. He can sign a deal worth more than $112 millionish total upon entering free agency. The Blazers may be willing to go above that initial number, but, you know, what if they're not?
Better yet: What if Grant doesn't trust the direction of a team caught between middle and the absolute bottom and prefers to take similar or identical money from a franchise that just finished third in the West, pushed the Warriors to seven games and can pretty comfortably allocate a third option's worth of touches his way?
This would be massive for the Kings. It would be even more monumental for the Blazers, who would seriously, for real this time, need to think about starting over if they can't hold onto their second-best player.
Brooklyn Uses a Sign-and-Trade to Land a Star
Vultures will circle the Brooklyn Nets entering the offseason. They traded away both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant this season and must at least consider advancing that teardown and going through a more gradual rebuild.
Related: Don't bet on it.
Houston effectively controls Brooklyn's draft from 2024 through 2027. Starting over will not yield the same first-round fruits for the Nets as it would for other teams. They should be more compelled to read deeply into Mikal Bridges' post-deadline detonation and continue prioritizing their immediate outlook.
It just so happens they're set up to do exactly that. Brooklyn has four outright first-rounders en route from the Phoenix Suns (plus a 2028 swap) and another pick apiece from Philadelphia (2028) and Dallas (2029). The Nets also boast an armory of digestible salary-matching tools that includes larger short-term contracts and highly useful complementary pieces.
Brooklyn only starts to fall short in the tangible building block department. If Bridges is off limits, that leaves Nic Claxton or restricted free agent Cameron Johnson. The latter is more useful in blockbuster scenarios, since he'll be treated as a larger salary. And while he's already 27, teams from all timelines can use plug-and-play shooters with trace floor games who don't torpedo the defense.
Attach picks to Johnson and (assuming he agrees) he can become the financial centerpiece of a bid for Damian Lillard. Maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves look to balance out the roster and recoup draft equity by making Karl-Anthony Towns available. What if the Chicago Bulls shop Zach LaVine? Or if the L.A. Clippers give up on the Kawhi Leonard and Paul George era? The list goes on, and Brooklyn has the asset ammo to pair with a Johnson sign-and-trade to enter the splashiest talks.
James Harden Rejoins the Rockets
Signing a soon-to-be 34-year-old doesn't quite jibe with the timeline of a Rockets squad that has finished with a bottom-three record in each of the past three seasons. But this presumes they'll continue to follow the rebuilding timeline.
There is real urgency for Houston to start winning now. Its first-rounders are owed to Oklahoma City in 2024 and 2026, with top-four protection, and it'll tout nearly $60 million in cap space this summer. Combined with a three-year stay at the bottom of the standings, the Rockets aren't just candidates to go all-out this summer. They're locks to do so.
Landing Harden is, ostensibly, the first part of that process. And the noise surrounding his potential return is real, as most recently confirmed by NBA Insider Marc Stein. Harden has strong ties to the city of Houston, and the Rockets might be more open to shelling out his $46.9 million max salary than the Sixers.
Perhaps this noise starts to die down if Philadelphia makes it out of the second round. It will crescendo into deafening if the Sixers fall to Boston, though.
The ramifications of Harden leaving would reverberate around the rest of the NBA. There's no way he's rejoining the Rockets to play mentor to a bunch of kids. Houston would be obligated to go second-star hunting with its mix of youngsters and future draft equity. Ergo, Harden's arrival would mean at least one other red-carpet name is on the move.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Spotrac.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and subscribe to the Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes.