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2024 NBA player, team option decisions: LeBron James, Paul George, Luke Kennard hit free agency, per reports

Written by on June 30, 2024

It’s official: LeBron James and Paul George are about to be free agents. One of them might even sign with a new team. They are among the many players who, by 5 p.m. ET on Saturday, had to decide whether or not to pick up their player options. Others had to wait until that time to find out whether or not their team options would be picked up.

Here’s a rundown of the news, starting with the two stars:

Lakers might get discount on James; Sixers to pursue George

James isn’t going anywhere, and, if taking less than the max on his new deal means that the Lakers can add a difference-making player, he just might do that, according to a source who would know: James’ agent, Rich Paul, who told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, “He is prioritizing a roster improvement. He’s been adamant about exuding all efforts to improve the roster.”

The Lakers, who drafted James’ son, Bronny, with the No. 55 pick on Thursday, could potentially open up the non-taxpayer midlevel exception ($12.9 million), provided that James is willing to make around $18 million less than he did last season. Good players can be had at that number, and, by the way, Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors appear to be headed for a split.

Both the Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers are among Thompson’s suitors, according to The Athletic. The Clippers’ most pressing concern, though, is George’s free agency. If they don’t offer him a four-year contract, will he leave for the Philadelphia 76ers? Philly reportedly wants him, and on Sunday he’ll meet with the Clippers, the 76ers and the Orlando Magic, per The Athletic. The Magic, like the Sixers, have the cap space to offer him a maximum contract.

Grizzlies decline Kennard’s option, but reportedly want to keep him

When the Memphis Grizzlies drafted two shooters — Jaylen Wells and Cam Spencer — in the second round of the NBA Draft on Thursday, it was fair to wonder about the future of Luke Kennard. Memphis acquired Kennard at the 2023 trade deadline, and, while he has shot the ball efficiently since then, his defensive limitations make him an imperfect fit on a team led by Ja Morant (and he has missed a lot of time due to injury).

Two days later, Grizzlies declined Kennard’s $14.8 million player option, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to replace him with rookies. According to ESPN, “both sides are eager to pursue a restructured deal.”

As ESPN’s Bobby Marks noted, declining the option means that Memphis is now $8 million below the luxury-tax threshold. As things stand, the Grizzlies can’t pay him more than $11.5 million in the first year of a new deal without hitting the first apron. It makes sense that they’d want to avoid doing that, but, unless they reduce their payroll elsewhere, they now risk losing him to a team that offers the full MLE. 

Kennard’s other suitors might have more minutes to offer him, too. As much as Memphis may value his shooting, there will only be so much playing time to go around with Morant, Desmond Bane and Marcus Smart healthy.

Magic’s Wagner (not that one), Ingles to hit free agency

Orlando declined its team options on Moe Wagner ($8 million) and Joe Ingles ($11) million, but, according to ESPN and the Orlando Sentinel’s Jason Beede, both players are expected to discuss new deals with the team in free agency. The Magic now have $52 million in cap space, and they would like to see what kind of upgrades they might be able to make with that money before circling back to Wagner and Ingles, per the Sentinel.

Wagner, 27, is the brother of Franz Wagner, Orlando’s soon-to-be-23-year-old forward (who is eligible for an extension this offseason). He is also one of the best backup centers in the league and, now, one of the best centers on the free-agent market. The Magic had as much big-man depth as any team in the NBA last season, but now risks losing both Wagner and Goga Bitadze.

Both Wagner and Ingles signed two-year deals with team options last offseason, and both played significant roles for one of the more effective benches in the league in 2023-24. Ingles was always likely to see his option declined, but Orlando valued his leadership last season, in addition to his shooting and ability to be a connector on offense. He turns 37 in October, but don’t be surprised if he’s back on a smaller salary.

Thunder decline options on Joe, Wiggins (in order to re-sign them)

The Oklahoma City Thunder, as always, are thinking ahead. Just like Orlando, the Thunder declined a couple of player options on Saturday, but the context here is totally different. The plan is to give these guys raises.

If it had wished, Oklahoma City could have picked up the options and paid Isaiah Joe and Aaron Wiggins $2.1 million and $2 million, respectively, next season. Instead, it plans to sign both of them to long-term deals, per ESPN. The logic is simple: By being willing to pay them more than they otherwise could have made next season, it can potentially lock them up on long-term deals that, down the road, will keep their salaries lower than if it had elected to let them reach free agency next summer. (Also, this allows them to make Wiggins a restricted free agent.)

The young Thunder have about $30 million in cap space to play with before re-signing Joe and Wiggins, per salary-cap guru Yossi Gozlan, but they won’t have this kind of financial flexibility forever. Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams seem likely to earn maximum rookie extensions, and, every year, it will become more and more important for Oklahoma City to have role players signed to team-friendly deals.

In the case of Joe, who made 43.4% of his catch-and-shoot 3s this season — and was willing to take deep 3s, contested 3s and 3s off movement — it would make sense for the Thunder to dip into their cap space, rather than using their Early Bird rights (which would allow them to pay him a maximum of around $58 million over four years). Oklahoma City is in a position to overpay Joe now, so a front-loaded contract would make a ton of sense.

Westbrook picks up Clippers option; Love declines Heat option

Both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love are expected to stay put, but the latter will technically be on the market. While Westbrook picked up his $4 million player option to remain with the Clippers, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Love elected to decline his $4 million player option with the Miami Heat, also per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Love, who was college roommates with Westbrook in 2007-08, is “enthusiastic about negotiating a new deal in the opening days of free agency,” according to ESPN, and Miami reportedly is, too.

Heat’s Martin opts out, Wizards’ Holmes to sign unconventional deal

In brief, here’s what else happened with player/team options on Saturday:

  • Last season, Miami’s Caleb Martin couldn’t replicate the lights-out shooting he displayed in the 2023 playoffs, but it still didn’t make much sense to pick up his $7.1 million player option. He has unsurprisingly opted out, per HoopsHype’s Mike Scotto, and should find plenty of suitors in free agency. Everybody wants wings.
  • I did a double-take when I saw that the Richaun Holmes had declined his $12.8 player option with the Washington Wizards. This isn’t a typical opt-out, though: He will return to the Wizards on a new contract with virtually the same amount of guaranteed money, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, but it will be structured differently: It’s a two-year, $25.9 million deal, but just $250,000 his $13.3 million salary is guaranteed in Year 2. Even if Holmes never plays a minute for the Washington on this deal, his contract will essentially function as a trade exception. In a best-case scenario (for him), either the Wizards or another team will end up guaranteeing that 2025-26 money, thereby keeping the de facto trade exception alive.
  • The Portland Trail Blazers picked up Dalano Banton’s $2.2 million team option, per ESPN. Late-season surges can be deceiving, but if you saw what Banton did in Portland after the deadline, this was a no-brainer.
  • Another formality: The NBA champion Boston Celtics picked up Sam Hauser’s $2.1 million team option, according to the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach. They will reportedly try to negotiate an extension with Hauser, too — on July 9, he will become eligible to sign long-term.
  • The Hawks picked up their $2.3 million option on Garrison Mathews, per HoopsHype, and that’s just good business. I have no idea what Atlanta’s rotation will look like next season, but I know 44% 3-point shooters aren’t easy to find.
  • The Houston Rockets picked up Jae’Sean Tate’s $7.6 million team option, according to ESPN. This is another team that could potentially look pretty different next season, but we know the Rockets want to make the playoffs and Tate is the kind of complementary player every playoff team needs.
  • The Detroit Pistons declined Evan Fournier’s $19 million team option, which means they’ll have about $50 million in cap space this offseason, per ESPN.
  • Via HoopsHype, Cam Reddish opted in with the Lakers for $2.5 million, Thomas Bryant opted out of $2.8 million with Miami, Damion Lee opted out of $2.9 million with Phoenix, Washington declined its team option on Tristan Vukcevic ($2.4 million) and Detroit declined its team options on Chimezie Metu ($2.7 million) and Stanley Umude ($2.1 million).

The post 2024 NBA player, team option decisions: LeBron James, Paul George, Luke Kennard hit free agency, per reports first appeared on CBS Sports.

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