An early guide to 2022 NBA free agency, starring Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine

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As NBA free agency trickles to a close this summer, here is an early look at what to expect in 2022.

When is 2022 free agency?

The NBA has not officially set dates beyond the draft on June 23, 2022, but with the calendar returning to normal for the 2021-22 season, the opening of free agency will likely revert to 6 p.m. ET on June 30, 2022.

What are the projected salary cap and luxury tax level figures?

When the NBA officially announced its salary cap of $112.414 million and luxury tax level of $136.606 million for the 2021-22 season, the league also increased its projections to a $119 million salary cap and $145 million luxury tax level for the 2022-23 campaign, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.

What would that mean for player salaries in the 2022-23 season?

Based on a salary cap projection of $119 million for the 2022-23 season, we can also estimate maximum salaries and cap exceptions in 2022 free agency. The projected max starting salary for players with ...

  • 6 or fewer years of experience: $29.8 million.

  • 7-9 years of experience: $35.7 million.

  • 10+ years of experience: $41.7 million.

The estimated starting salary for players who sign the ...

  • Non-taxpayer midlevel exception: $10.1 million.

  • Taxpayer midlevel exception: $6.2 million.

  • Room exception: $5.2 million.

  • Bi-annual exception: $4 million.

The estimated minimum salaries for players with the following years of experience ...

  • 0: $979,466

  • 1: $1,576,305

  • 2: $1,766,970

  • 3: $1,830,527

  • 4: $1,894,083

  • 5: $2,052,971

  • 6: $2,211,863

  • 7: $2,370,752

  • 8: $2,529,643

  • 9: $2,542,236

  • 10+: $2,796,460

Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal is the biggest name in 2022 free agency. (Will Newton/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal is the biggest name in 2022 free agency. (Will Newton/Getty Images)

Are there any All-Stars on the 2022 unrestricted free agency market?

A slew of long-term extensions followed extensive superstar movement across the NBA in recent years, leaving only two returning All-Stars in 2022 unrestricted free agency: Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine.

Beal remains committed to the Washington Wizards, who drafted him third overall in 2012. They rebuilt the roster around Beal this summer, adding Spencer Dinwiddie, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Aaron Holiday in exchange for one-time MVP Russell Westbrook and spare parts.

Beal's stance could obviously change if that core does not produce anything beyond the sub-.500 record, Eastern Conference play-in tournament appearance and first-round playoff exit Washington salvaged last season. The Wizards missed the playoffs in 2019 and 2020, has not won a series since 2017 and has never reached a conference finals in Beal's nine seasons. The franchise has not won 50 games since 1978-79.

Likewise, the Chicago Bulls retooled around LaVine, adding two-time All-Star center Nikola Vucevic from the Orlando Magic at the trade deadline in March and four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan via a sign-and-trade agreement with the San Antonio Spurs in free agency. The Bulls also acquired Lonzo Ball in a sign-and-trade deal with the New Orleans Pelicans and signed Alex Caruso away from the Los Angeles Lakers.

Last season's trade for Vucevic was made to bolster a playoff run, but the Bulls failed to even secure a play-in tournament bid. That cost them the No. 8 overall pick in this year's draft and a first-round pick in 2023, so they spent big to chase their first playoff appearance since 2017 before LaVine hits free agency.  

After making his All-Star Game debut, LaVine demanded "respect" from Chicago in forthcoming contract negotiations, which likely means the 26-year-old will seek a maximum contract extension next summer.

As a 10-year veteran, Beal, 28, will command a projected starting maximum salary of $41.7 million in the 2022-23 season. LaVine would be eligible for the same payday if he makes an All-NBA roster this coming season. Otherwise, he would start free agency negotiations at a maximum starting salary of $35.7 million.

Wait, can't James Harden and Kyrie Irving also become free agents in 2022?

Brooklyn Nets stars Harden and Irving, respectively, own $42.8 million and $34.1 million player options on their contracts for the 2022-23 season, but Nets general manager Sean Marks told reporters at summer league last week, "I feel very confident that first day of training camp we’ll be looking at those three in particular, being signed, sealed, delivered and being a part of the Brooklyn Nets for a long time to come."

Kevin Durant signed a four-year, $198 million extension with the Nets earlier this month, and it seems unlikely Marks would directly address extensions for Harden and Irving without them already in the works.

Who are the big-name restricted free agents in the 2022 class?

Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are the only members of the 2018 draft class who have signed rookie-scale contract extensions this summer. Their peers have until Oct. 18, the eve of the 2021-22 season, to reach agreements with their current teams or enter restricted free agency next summer.

The 10 biggest names remaining in the class:

  1. Deandre Ayton

  2. Michael Porter Jr.

  3. Jaren Jackson Jr.

  4. Collin Sexton

  5. Mikal Bridges

  6. Kevin Huerter

  7. Miles Bridges

  8. Marvin Bagley III

  9. Robert Williams III

  10. Donte DiVincenzo

Which teams can create maximum cap space in 2022?

Using Spotrac's projected cap space figures for the 2022-23 season as a guideline, assuming teams pick up options on foundational rotational players and promising prospects on rookie contracts, the following teams can potentially offer a max salary (or close to it) without creating additional cap space or reaching a sign-and-trade agreement (understanding that star players can generally orchestrate their way anywhere):

  • Orlando Magic ($48 million)

  • San Antonio Spurs ($41.9 million)

  • Detroit Pistons ($41.4 million)

  • Oklahoma City Thunder ($40.5 million)

  • Memphis Grizzlies ($40.4 million)

  • Charlotte Hornets ($33.1 million)

Portland Trail Blazes center Jusuf Nurkic might be the biggest non-star on the 2022 unrestricted free-agency market. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Portland Trail Blazes center Jusuf Nurkic might be the biggest non-star on the 2022 unrestricted free agency market. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

What other unrestricted free agents will be available?

The list of big names in 2022 free agency beyond the two All-Stars is not a long one. Several dozen players will be vying for remaining cap space and midlevel exceptions before the market dries up. Among them are:

  • Jusuf Nurkic

  • Victor Oladipo

  • Joe Ingles

  • Aaron Gordon

  • Terry Rozier

  • Jonas Valanciunas

  • Dennis Schroder

  • Jalen Brunson

  • Mitchell Robinson

  • T.J. Warren

  • Thomas Bryant

  • Kyle Anderson

  • Thaddeus Young

  • Goran Dragic

  • Robert Covington

  • Serge Ibaka

  • Montrezl Harrell

  • Andre Drummond

  • Blake Griffin

  • Kyle Anderson

  • Malik Monk

  • Josh Richardson

  • Otto Porter Jr.

  • Ricky Rubio

Who else could decline a player option and enter 2022 free agency?

Working under the assumption that John Wall and Russell Westbrook will pick up their $40+ million player options for the 2022-23 season, no stars beyond Beal, Harden and Irving can enter free agency in 2022.

However, a number of players who took discounts to join championship contenders will have the option to return to the market next summer: Patty Mills, Bobby Portis, Nic Batum, Kendrick Nunn and P.J. Tucker.

Who will be eligible for a maximum rookie-scale extension in 2022?

Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, the top-two picks from the 2019 draft class, will have max offers from the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies, respectively, the moment free agency opens next summer. Third overall pick R.J. Barrett is next closest to a max contract, but he must show continued progression.

That tier drops off sharply to the next, which includes Tyler Herro, De'Andre Hunter and Darius Garland.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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