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Irving, other free agents set to add to hectic NBA off-season

Kyrie Irving Dallas Mavericks Kyrie Irving - The Canadian Press
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Chris Paul has already been traded twice this offseason, ending up with Golden State. Bradley Beal is now with Phoenix, John Collins was sent to Utah, and Kristaps Porzingis is about to start anew with Boston in a deal that sent Marcus Smart to Memphis.

They have new places to call home. It’s time to see if Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green, Khris Middleton and dozens more will be on the move in the next few days.

As proven by the run of trades in recent weeks, and big news from James Harden on Thursday, NBA teams aren’t waiting for free agency to make moves. The window of offseason player movement begins Friday at 6 p.m. EDT, when teams are permitted to start talking to free agents — with the caveat that most deals cannot become official until July 6.

“Obviously, money’s a thing. I mean, that’s just for anybody,” said Miami guard Max Strus, a free agent who's in line for a big payday, going from $1.8 million last season to potentially $12 million a year or more. “These are moments that you work for, and these are opportunities that could be life-changing — so you can’t ever take that out of it. But I love playing basketball and that’s always going to be the first thing for me.”

Money and fit. That’s what players like Strus will be seeking, and that’s what teams will be weighing over the next few days — especially with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and new rules designed to at least slightly curb spending by the deeper-pocketed teams, set to go into effect on Saturday.

That’s part of the reason some trades have been made in recent days and more are almost certainly coming. The Warriors gave up Jordan Poole to get Paul from Washington in part because Paul’s contract expires in a year and Poole is on the books for four years (at more than $30 million annually on average), and Atlanta sent Collins to Utah for Rudy Gay for similar reasons.

Harden could be the next big name on the move. He decided not to enter free agency and exercised his $35.6 million option for the coming season Thursday, with Philadelphia now likely to trade the 10-time All-Star and three-time scoring champion, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press.

“I think a lot can be made of all the challenges that are coming our way, whether it be aging roster, the new CBA with some of the limitations there, anything else you can bring up,” Warriors general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. said. “We’re aware of all those things. But we also feel like we’re in a great, great place, because we’ve got a competitive owner willing to spend ... so we feel confident we can navigate it.”

Another potential trade: Plenty of eyes remain on Portland and whether Damian Lillard will ask to be dealt elsewhere — to Miami or Brooklyn, specifically — or remain with the Trail Blazers for a 12th season.

In the interim, there will be some massive deals struck — some possibly reaching $200 million.

Green turned down a $27.5 million option with Golden State to seek a longer deal. Milwaukee has decisions to make with both Middleton and Brook Lopez, two key members of their championship in 2021.

“Both of those guys specifically are core to who we have been,” Bucks general manager Jon Horst said. “Ultimately, what matters is we’re hopeful to have them back. We’ve been really good and they’re a big part of that and we want to try to keep them.”

There's also intrigue in Dallas with regard to Irving's future.

Irving's talent is unquestioned. He averaged 27 points in 20 games with the Mavericks after getting traded there for the stretch run last season. For his career, he’s averaged 23.4 points, is an eight-time All-Star and won a title alongside LeBron James in Cleveland in 2016.

He and Luka Doncic could form one of the league’s most powerful 1-2 punches. Irving also is coming off a season where he was suspended by Brooklyn for eight games after the team said it was dismayed by his repeated failure to “unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs.” And that saga came after many others involving Irving, who has raised eyebrows for things ranging from saying the Earth is flat to not getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

Still unclear: How many years, and how much money, Dallas will commit to keep him.

“Obviously, he’s someone that we’ve already told everybody that we want to re-sign and we’re excited about,” Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison said.

The new champions have a big decision looming as well.

Denver’s biggest free agency issue is versatile guard Bruce Brown, who was tremendous off the bench for the Nuggets during their run to the NBA title. All the Nuggets can offer Brown is one year at $7.8 million; other teams, such as the Los Angeles Lakers, may be prepared to offer more. Denver can give Brown a longer, richer deal next summer — so it's up to Brown to decide whether to bet on himself or get more money now.

At the team’s championship parade, Nuggets coach Michael Malone made clear that Denver intends to keep Brown.

“Is Brucie B going anywhere? Hell no,” Malone shouted, as the crowd roared in approval. “Hell no. Hell no. We’re running this ... back.”

The next few days will tell if Malone is right.

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